THE AZTEC EMPIRE'S RESERVATIONS
or, TECH SHAME
Dreamed 1998/3/19 by Chris Wayan
I find myself in a parallel world where Mexico is the heart of North American civilization, and always was. It's still ruled by a dynasty of Aztecs or Toltecs. The territory I know as the United States is just a vast lonely northern hinterland... until recently. Suddenly, in a single generation, huge cities bloomed. Now it's the population center of the continent, with twice as many people as Mexico! Yet big stretches are still nearly empty. It's a land of paradoxes.
The natives in the north, especially the plains and the west, were conquered, and their lands stolen, just as in our world. But here it was Aztecs from the south, not Anglos from the east. The invaders are high-tech and wealthy, but don't share with their new subjects--on the reservations, it looks like the 1920s. Horses and wagons. But is that so bad? Isn't it mainly low-tech innovations, like new crops, wheels, decent roads, glass windows, medicine and dentistry, sanitation, records, phones, and cheap warm clothing, that really make life happier and healthier? Money and high tech is nice, but just a frill.
But despite much better sanitation and medicine, their life expectancy hasn't improved a bit--stuck at 45 or so! Why? Because they feel deprived, dispossessed. They take risks, don't value their lives--so they lose them. The Aztecs aren't killing them--not even their relative poverty is! Materially they're vastly better off than their ancestors. And if EVERYONE ELSE were driving buggies and never heard of TV, the tribespeople would be fine. What's killing the northern tribes is simply hurt feelings. Being told, in a million ways, that they're second class--till they believe it.
Not tech envy. Tech shame.
NOTES NEXT MORNING
The modern Aztec civilization was probably inspired by Andre Norton's alt-world novel Quest Crosstime.
But the "reservation effect" is real. Immigrants to the US, living better than in the old country, have poorer health as long as their social status is lower. Only when they see themselves as accepted, as middle class, do the supposed health benefits of modernity appear...
Isn't this so for people within a culture too? Medical studies show 19th-century technology is all you need for public health--preventing cholera and so on. People get sick and miserable over inequality and injustice, not from lack of computers and fancy shoes! So building ultramodern physical infrastructures gets you less than simple social reform. Information superhighways are just like any other roads--you have to have somewhere worth going, and someone who wants to go.
I could interpret this as a metaphor about my life--about the side of me that's more like the Hopi than the Aztecs. A cooperative, peaceful side that likes tradition and stability--versus a flashy, poetic, volatile warrior-side. My Hopi side feels cheated as the macho imperialists grab all the attention! So my inner Hopi takes health risks, even gets suicidal...
I could play that game, and there'd be some truth to it. But (and this point applies to a million dreams) this dream's ideas could be literal. The dream pulls Anglos out of America like pulling a bad tooth--and into the gap pour the Aztecs! My dream concludes the problem's not racism but technologism. High-tech cultures over-value their own technological edge, and my dream shows this hurts low-tech cultures in ways far beyond simple conquest.
I can't see the Aztec Empire as purely symbolic and psychological--for due to the dream I now see all around me every day... tech shame. And maybe you have too.
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