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I've been reading some of the wikis about the uncontacted peoples of the world and the often repeated attempts to establish contact with a a number of them even after being rebuffed (sometimes violently). Should these peoples have a right to complete privacy and isolation? Or is it unethical to not integrate them into modern civilisation?

Edit: As a corollary question, take for example a completely isolated island in the middle of a vast ocean where an uncontacted tribe resides. Should an offer of contact even be made to them?

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Is it really reasonable to evaluate perceived "benefits" without registering the disease and cultural-degeneration aspects of connectivity with the larger world community...? –  Joseph Weissman Dec 18 '12 at 16:56
@JosephWeissman I've left it a li'l more open-ended. Cheers. –  coleopterist Dec 18 '12 at 17:09
In asking, do they have a right to privacy, as opposed to should they have a right to privacy, I think you are asking more of a legal question than an ethical one. There is, after all, a big distinction between one's ethical universe and one's reality. –  SAHornickel Dec 19 '12 at 3:11
just noting that privacy ties in with sovereignty. –  Mozibur Ullah Dec 19 '12 at 17:04
@iphigenie I can actually see it both ways. When the question is "do they", an implicit follow-up question seems to be "According to which third-party?". When the question is "should they", it seems to be more of a question of personal judgement or philosophy. Perhaps, I should have do in the title and should in the body :) In any event, your answer addresses my intended question admirably. –  coleopterist Dec 20 '12 at 19:14

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you're asking about the moral aspects of forcing them into society, there are different approaches you could look at:

In general, social contract theories assume that the act of joining society has to be 1) voluntarily 2) out of self-interest 3) based on strict reciprocity. As society makes demands on you, your rights and your behaviour, it seems plausible that you should have to agree to that in advance. We would then conclude that they do have the right to remain outside the society. You can find that thought expressed in the three major social contract theories, namely the Leviathan, Locke's Treatises and Rousseau's Social Contract.

A different example is Kant, who claimed that there's a moral obligation to leave the state of nature and that one may use force to make others join a legal state. There must be a legal relation between all human beings who could interact with one another or have influence on others (which, today, is pretty much everyone). According to Kant, they would not have a right to remain the way they are then, and in fact, I think that's plausible: They demand property and to be left alone. These claims are dealt with legally, and as soon as they are legal persons, they are part of society. Of course the native tribe (e.g.) is a society in itself. The "problem" is that Kant claims that the same applies to communities/states. They, too, need a legal relation to deal with differing interests. You can find some details here or in the first part of Metaphysics of Morals. On the relation between states, have a look at The Perpetual Peace, a very interesting short book.

This are just two examples how your question could be answered, I bet there are other approaches I didn't think of. I wish to add that, whether we agree with these approaches or not, I find them much more satisfying than an answer that is based purely on rational considerations.

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@Chris I'm not sure that actually matters. They might not join the dispute, they might not feel part of society. That doesn't mean society doesn't absorb them. Depends on the perspective, I guess. –  iphigenie Dec 19 '12 at 10:03
let us continue this discussion in chat –  iphigenie Dec 19 '12 at 10:07
Thank you. Kant's claim is very interesting. –  coleopterist Dec 19 '12 at 14:19
I don't think the Kantian argument is quite right. Surely the uncontacted tribe is a society, and a legal entity in itself. Each person in this society has moved from a state of nature to live 'legally' with the others in his tribe. We then have a world of societies, each sovereign - presumably social contract theory works out in this world too. –  Mozibur Ullah Dec 19 '12 at 17:12
Why the downvote? –  iphigenie Dec 20 '12 at 11:10

Yes they should have a right to privacy. Why should they be forced to be integrated and consequently almost inevitably become dependent on society. Why would we want them to be integrated against their will? Unaccustomed to modern civilization and the skills valued for employment in our society, these people will probably just become dependent on welfare payments, and be later accused of leeching from society. If they want to be left alone, it is in everyone's best interest to respect that.

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Thank you. FWIW, though there are examples of contacted tribes who have not done well upon integration, the converse also exist. Setting that aside, take for example a completely isolated island in the middle of a vast ocean where an uncontacted tribe resides. Should an offer of contact even be made to them? –  coleopterist Dec 19 '12 at 13:40

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