should we intervene with the Sentinelese under any circumstances?

Sentinel Island is part of the Andamans owned by India, and famous for having a tribe living there that have successfully and violently resisted all attempts to make contact with them. The Indian government now has the official position of leaving them along and ban anyone coming within 3 km of the island. They do fly over in a Helicopter occasionally, and after the Indian ocean Tsunami they dropped food and supplies to them.

Not a lot is known about their culture but sooner or later we’ll have tiny drones that can be disguised as insects and in theory be able to observe them without being noticed. Is there any practises you think would justify forcibly intervening in their society? Eg lets say they practised human sacrifice, or slavery? Gang rape rituals? female genital mutilation? Cannibalism? It is quite likely they do in fact practise Infanticide in some form, since the population seems to be stable and they don’t have any method of birth control. Would any of these justify us forcibly intervening to prevent them occurring in future?

As an alternative, what about if the intervention was in the form of using technology to create the illusion of a divine being floating in air instructing them that certain practises were now forbidden? After we learnt their language and their own religious beliefs from the drone recordings, so we would change their culture as little as possible.

If your answer to all of the above is “no, leave them alone” is there any circumstances you would support intervening? Suppose they all started to die of a disease that we could easily cure? Rats or other vermin floating on bits of driftwood or other garbage could easily introduce a disease to the island that they have no immunity to.

Good question.

Philosophically, I don’t believe that traditional cultures like this necessarily have special value such that their practice should be preserved – rather, all cultural practices should be studied and recorded, but it’s no loss to humanity if their active practice dies out as long as this is by individual choice and not any sort of cultural imperialism (assuming the practices were recorded for study). So if there was a strong reason to believe that some individuals of the island would like to leave their culture, to escape some sort of oppression or violence, then I would support giving them this chance (though I’m not sure how this would be arranged).

But with the track record of such contacts, I think it’s quite reasonable to believe that the lives of the islanders are not likely to improve with contact. But my opinion might change depending on the actual practices involved.

It’s ‘quite likely’ they’re practising infanticide because their population is stable?

This seems a remarkably silly thing to believe or opine. Pretty hard to take anything you’ve said seriously, after that beauty.

If they don’t want contact we should leave them alone. Even if we have cool non invasive technology. What’s hard to understand about that?

I think the question is a bit more difficult, since while the island power structure might want no contact, individuals (especially any oppressed individuals, such as women and girls subject to rape, or children subject to abuse, or similar) might choose to leave if that were possible.

But I’m not sure how it’d be possible to go about finding this out non-invasively.

Its not silly at all. infanticide was remarkably common in the past. You can only feed two children , your wife gets pregnant again . What do you do ? With no birth control each woman on the island can expect to get pregnant seven or eight times during her fertile age range. Sure it’s possible they some highly rigid system of taboos about sex that prevents this but that would be quite unusual compared to other societies.

During earlier encounters mass displays of public fornication were observed , possibly as a dominance display. yes many children would die from disease in their first four years anyway but do the math and they should
Still have population growth , especially on a tropical island with good fisheries and no place to introduce new diseases from .

If infant mortality is very high, and/or the society is sufficiently violent in general (such that small-scale “wars” tend to start between neighboring groups if populations get too high), then infanticide may not be required.

Give us a cite that this is actually occurring in the Andamans OR that it’s the ONLY reason for a population to remain stable. Because it’s been historically practiced throughout the world doesn’t mean that’s what is happening here. It may be as simple as high infant mortality due to lack of Dr’s, hospitals, vaccines etc. No need to assume infanticide, I think.

And again, if you’ve got hard evidence that women or children are suffering abuse, please provide it. If all you’ve got is, ‘it COULD be happening!’, that’s not enough to my mind, to force contact with this population.

You seem to be missing the point of the thread. I am not arguing we should in fact force contact with this tribe. I am posing a hypothetical around which to have a moral / ethical discussion. Its a real world version of the prime directive.

Infanticide is common on island cultures, Solomon islands and many parts of polynesia it was common. I don’t know if other Andaman islands had this practise or not but thats probably not really the point of this thread. The point is to ask what if any practises would you consider abhorrent enough to make it justified to intervene?

Should we intervene in Saudi Arabia? We know women are being oppressed there. What about North Korea? Pretty much everyone in the country is being oppressed.

The Sentinelese seem rather fascinating. I’m just wondering (in a neutral, “knowledge-is-knowledge” way – not seeking to get into matters of “religion is loathsome / mankind’s only hope / anything in between”): have any missionaries ever tried to “reach” this group? Probably a very effective way of gaining a martyr’s crown; but for some of the extremely zealous, this factor would likely be an actual attraction.

John Mace, There is political / military reasons for not doing those interventions. The Sentinelese don’t have any military or any lobbyists spending 100’s of millions of dollars to promote their interests so it’s purely an ethical question.

The islands in question are part of India. What’s the difference?

Its an ethical question, I’m not saying the rest of the world should intervene against India’s wishes. I’m not pushing for any particular answer. I’m trying to get people to discuss and disclose their opinions on what practises would be sufficient to justify an intervention if you were the government official in charge of that decision. Like I said its a real world prime directive question.

The governing authority is India. If the Indian government suspects serious human rights abuses, they should intervene. They don’t have a “Prime Directive” in their constitution.

The OP was confusing, asking if “we” should intervene. “We” should not. They should, given sufficient cause. Only they can define was is sufficient, though.

Ok sorry if it was confusing. What in your opinion would be a serious enough human rights abuse to justify intervening? Thats the question I am asking.

Would even this kind of surveillance be ethically acceptable? I, for one, sure as shit don’t want any insect-sized drones in my bedroom! Why should the Sentinelese have to put up with it, even unknowingly?

Yes thats a different ethical question but for the purposes of this discussion lets assume the decision has already been made to made to study them using fake insect drones. So the question is, what practises / acts would you consider to justify an intervention (by the Indian authorities I mean).

It’s entirely possible though there is no specific “missionary” example, but if any have tried, they are dead, and you can’t get martyr credit if you die and are buried in a place that remote.

I am pondering the OP’s question but find it quite a puzzler, really. The more I contemplate it the more I don’t know for sure.

I think a big part of the point is that they are expecting God to give them martyr credit, which doesn’t require any witnesses other than God.

The OP asks a very interesting question.

To me this sounds like the neighbor-problem: At what point does it become unethical to stay out of your neighbor’s affairs? Generally, what is happening in your neighbor’s house is none of your business. If your neighbor is cheating on her husband with the milkman, you may feel bad for the husband, but generally this is none of your business. You are under no obligation to inform the husband and indeed it might even be unethical for you to do so. If on the other hand you have reason to suspect that your neighbors are abusing their children, the situation is different. Now it would be unethical to assume a “none of my business” stance. The ethical thing would be to do what you need in order to find out, whether the children need help. You would, however, only do that, if you had good reason to suspect something was off to begin with. Here is where I draw the parallel to your island:

If we do have good reason to suspect that something might be amiss on Sentinel Island - such as after the Tsunami - then it is the right thing to carefully have a look and see whether something needs to be done about it. As long as we do not have such reason, we should stay away.

I understand you also want to know, what situation I would classify as “something being amiss”. Two things: For one, any situation, whether self inflicted or not, that poses an immediate threat to the tribe’s survival. And for another any situation that constitutes a grave and ongoing violation of human rights - the kind that we would not tolerate in other parts of our country (in that case India). In both cases it would be upon the Indian government to make that call and decide on the measures to be taken.