Low Culture, High Tech
"The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite."While you don't need to know how a gun works to know how to use one, the society as a whole must be able to support the thinkers and builders of such a device for it to see widespread and sustained use. Not so when you have Low Culture High Tech; this is a faction, culture, or race that uses technology far in advance of their scientific and cultural knowledge, often for warfare. Usually this group has pirated the technology from someone else. It may be Lost Technology that they have recovered and use, often very sturdy, self-replicating lost tech that only requires raw materials be input, if even that. Or it could be a Black Box tech that none of their existing machines can do without. There may instead be a group of "thinkers and builders" who use the primitives as shock troops or even as a Slave Race. It's also possible the tables are turned and the primitives have either taken the builders hostage or killed them all and taken all of their goodies (without bothering with the instruction manual). If the original source of the tech is Shrouded in Myth, they may become a Cargo Cult. Typically, the primitives will only use a fraction of the technology's potential and not know all of its abilities. At best they will be able to maintain the equipment without knowing how to repair it should a major malfunction happen. It's highly possible that the original creators, or a group with sufficiently advanced science (even just curiosity and a working knowledge of the scientific method), can pull the rug out from under these primitives by either confiscating, hacking, or better using their pirated tech against them. It's worth noting that a civilization doesn't have to be at stone age or Medieval levels of technology for this trope to apply. They just have to routinely use tech far in advance of their ability to comprehend. A story set in 21st century Earth could have this trope apply if the planet were given Imported Alien Phlebotinum. Even space faring peoples can have Low Culture, High Tech if they use stuff they don't understand. Lastly, we want to draw attention to the following from the first paragraph "far in advance of their scientific and cultural knowledge". It's important to point out that not only are they using things they don't understand technologically, but for which they haven't considered the cultural, social, or ethical ramifications. It's one thing to give a hunter-gatherer society an Energy Bow, but giving them a cloning device? Their society may crumble from the onset of massive Cloning Blues, not to mention the ecological disaster of the massive population growth. It's because of this that many aliens (and future humanity) tend to subscribe to an Alien Non-Interference Clause or a You Are Not Ready attitude. Related to Insufficiently Advanced Alien, which is about a race that's interstellar, but every other tech they have sucks comparatively, and they probably don't understand it. Contrast Rock Beats Laser. The Noble Savage inverts this trope, being essentially High Culture, Low Tech. See also Bamboo Technology, Aliens Never Invented the Wheel, Scavenger World, Giving Radio to the Romans, Technology Uplift and Cargo Cult. Not to be confused with "High Tech and Low Life." Compare Klingon Scientists Get No Respect, when a society undervalues the profession that make its desired lifestyle possible. When adding Real Life examples, please use the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement to avoid Unfortunate Implications.
— Thomas Sowell
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Anime and Manga
- The nations of Dissith and Anatore in Last Exile qualify by virtue of not having anti-gravity technology which they lease from the Guild. The best they've developed is small fighter planes.
- In The Familiar of Zero there are caches of weapons from Earth scattered over the continent of Halkeginia, which is a Medieval European Fantasy land. It is the result of a spell that is constantly pulling weapons from Earth for quite some time.
- The airships in Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind rely on engines that reflect technology from before the Seven Days of Fire. Several times throughout the manga, characters scramble to recover the engines from downed ships as they are the only components that are irreplaceable.
- Done in one issue of Thorgal, where a "sun sword" used by a minor warlord to conquer his neighbours turns out to be a phaser left after the villain of one of the previous arcs.
- Some of the civilisations of Skartaris in The Warlord have access to advanced Atlantean technology, but no understanding of how it actually works.
- The early mini-comics from the original Masters of the Universe toyline, that were packed in with the toys. The primitive barbarian tribe He-man belonged to, the Eternians, used technology that had been left by their technologically advanced ancestors.
- In Richard Corben's Den comics, Neverwhere is a primitive Sword and Sorcery planet where Queen Kil has occasionally supplied weapons through magic, ranging from primitive knives to fully loaded automatic firearms.
- The Horde of Strikeforce: Morituri are a race of alien invaders who plunder other worlds for technology and resources, but have a culture built on tribalism and terror. Human characters who manage to board their spacecraft quickly note the numerous jury-riggeed systems used to adapt it for the Horde's needs.
- In Marvel Universe the nation of Wakanda is a subversion. It is a small yet high tech nation in the center of Africa with access to Vibranium, a super element. While its people still live in tribal lifestyle and maintain an absolute monarchy, they single handedly developed high tech capabilities and a beyond first world industrial base. While many westerners think it's odd that such a technologically advanced society is still rooted in tribalism, the Wakandan's usually point out that they have a higher standard of living than most western countries because their social roots remain strong. For this reason it also retains a very isolationist stance. On the flip side, the post of king is open to Klingon Promotion. On the flip flip side, the current king happens to be Marvel's nearest analogue to DC's Batman.
- Also from the Marvel Universe, the Breakworld seen in Joss Whedon's run on X-Men possesses some very impressive technology, but exists in a constant state of warfare and tyranny. Most of the Breakworlders don't think this is a bad thing, and the one that does is the true Big Bad of the arc and an Omnicidal Maniac who wants to blow up her own planet to boot.
- DC has the New Gods of New Genesis and Apokolips; they possess super high tech, and depending on how they are portrayed, are a super advanced alien race / or Physical Gods. Apokolips are styled in Greek / Roman aesthetics, with slaves being lorded by the New Gods.
- Twice in Battlefield Earth. Much of the Psychlos' technology was stolen from their rivals, at one point they had a slave race of scientists which they later destroyed. They got away with this by using massive and sudden deployments of chemical weapons in their conquests, so that enemy races were defeated by the time they knew they were under attack regardless of technology. The humans end up this way towards their own and Psychlo technology.
- Played for laughs in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure when Beethoven gets access to modern synthesisers.
- And when we see cavemen chewing bubblegum.
- The aliens from Cowboys and Aliens give off this distinct impression. They have interstellar travel, powerful energy weapons, and all sorts of other advanced technology, but when it comes down to it, Wild West humans come off as more civilized (let that sink in for a second). They seem to prefer brutally ripping their enemies in hand-to-hand combat, and some even eat fallen humans, or at least go for the throat, despite having ubertech guns that can blow up houses. Also, they have a bad case of interstellar Gold Fever.
- It's also claimed that a single ship with a few scores of these things is enough to destroy all of human civilization.
- The Prawns from District 9 are pretty animalistic, but only because the ones we see are part of a rather unintelligent worker caste that don't know how to do anything unless they're told. All the more intelligent leaders died before their ship arrived at Earth. Well, most of them did.
- In The Fifth Element, Arms Dealer Zorg agrees to sell crates of ultra-cutting-edge assault rifles to Omnicidal Maniac Warrior Race the Mangalores in return for their finding him the Macguffin. And then as soon as he walks out of the room, he deconstructs this trope by pointing out that anyone smart enough to use the weapon would be smart enough to ask how it works. The Mangalores promptly blow themselves up by accidentally triggering the self-destruct button.
- The original Planet of the Apes (1968) film has the apes wield repeating rifles (the movie props are modified M1 carbines), at least a century more advanced than any other tech they're shown using.
- In the Predator franchise, the Predators are an ancient alien race that have advanced technology like plasmacasters, cloaking devices and advanced metallurgy for melee weapons. However, their society seems to be extremely primitive, almost tribal in nature, with no visible culture beyond hunting and warfare. According to Expanded Universe and Word of God, this is because their species scavenged technology from failed alien invaders and they neither develop their own technology or have any understanding of how the advanced stuff works. So, as a species, they're stuck.
- Other sources instead claim that they did make their own technology originally, but they've become so culturally fixated on hunting over cultural or technological development that they've made no meaningful improvements for thousands of years — the weapons they were using before human civilization rose are the same ones they're using roughly contemporary with the Alien films. And yet another interpretation backed up by other works is that their technology is still advancing, but they don't use anything beyond what we've seen because it's not considered "sporting" to use against humans.
- A partial example in Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, where Pirk, Dwarf, and Info are stuck on modern-day Earth after traveling from their own time. When the First Contact with the Vulgars is messed up by a rock star (the Vulgars are too busy partying and doing drugs), Pirk takes it upon himself to establish the P-Fleet by using a bunch of disgruntled Russians to build the CPP Kickstart (Expy of the Enterprise-E) based on Info's remembered plans and the Vulgar Anti Matter reactor. He then allies with the Russian President and retools the Russian military with futuristic technology, quickly conquering the world and establishing the P-Union with himself as The Emperor. However, Info reveals that the comparatively low level of human technology means that the ship's systems are not up to their usual standarts (due to impurities in Anti Matter, the Kickstart can only go to "twist" factor 2). As such, despite Pirk using the resources of the entire world to build a space station and dozens of ships, they lack the power to actually reach other stars in any reasonable amount of time (years at best). The CPP Kalinka (an Expy of the original Enterprise) looks so crappy compared to the Kickstart because they ran out of good-quality materials and had to make due. During the Space Battle, the Kalinka sustains damage despite the fact that it was never fired upon. Hell, the enemy doesn't even bother attacking the rustbucket, figuring it'll fall apart on its own. Pirk's entire reason for invading the Babel-13 universe is to conquer habitable planets and get more resources.
- Yor: The Hunter from the Future has, as Spoony called them "Cavemen with Lasers".
- The barbarian class in Zardoz are given rifles and guns by more advanced humans.
- A bizarre example in Idiocracy. The futuristic technology was built before the human race began its slide into stupidity, so now the descendants of the people who built it have no idea how it works.
- The Jedi of Star Wars kind of subvert this. The galaxy around them may have reached the pinnacle of technological development, but they stick to (comparatively) lower tech and chivalric ancient customs... because they're more civilized than the current ones. Whiiiiiiich comes to bite them in the ass. Just because you cling rigidly to custom doesn't mean your archenemies have to. The Sith actually become more successful once they ditch the Evil Wizard schtick and become modern politicians.
- Not to mention countless species who were early in their development when they became part of the Republic/ Empire. The Tusken Raiders are comparable to Bedouin nomads but have access to laser rifles, the Gungans have force field generators but deploy them on mounts, etc.
- The ruling class in Book of the New Sun have access to anti-gravity, energy weapons and genetic engineering. But since they get all these things by trading with aliens, they don't actually understand how any of these technologies work. The actual technological level of the society is more primitive than ours, though it's not clear how much of that is lost knowledge and how much is simply that their desperate material poverty makes it impossible to maintain a technological society.
- In the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, this is one of the major themes in the first book. As the Galactic Empire begins to come apart at the seams, planets on the very periphery of the Empire lose the ability to build nuclear reactors. Even in the heart of the Empire itself, scientific knowledge has stagnated so much that they can only perform routine maintenance on their power plants. As early as 25 years after Hari Seldon predicted the fall of the Empire, a reactor on a planet experiences a Chernobyl-like meltdown, and the response by the Empire is to restrict further nuclear testing. The Foundation first manages to establish hegemony in the fringes of the Galaxy by providing the independent Kingdoms around them with nuclear technology, as well as technicians able to run and maintain the devices (and keeping for themselves anyone smart and educated enough to design new technology).
- In the first Honor Harrington novel the Havenites gave a faction of the primitive Medusan natives flintlock rifles in an attempt to manufacture an incident that would give them an excuse to invade the system (and claim its wormhole) as a "peacekeeping action". Unfortunately for them Honor discovered the plot and sent a platoon of marines in Powered Armor to curbstomp the offending faction.
- Also unfortunately for the Havenites, they underestimated the Medusans' skill and tech base, and found that the primitives were now mass producing the weapons, leading to their Havenite handlers losing all control of the situation.
- Known Space has the Kzin, tribals bootstrapped by an alien race as mercenaries turned galactic conquerors. Had no idea reaction drives could be used as weapons. Their culture also is heavily influenced by what happens when Bronze age cultures get genetic engineering and try to engineer their men into Heroes, and make their women become less naggy. They make their women effectively non-sentient, and their men into buff warriors with few skills but leaping and yelling.
- This is a common theme in Known Space, the Slavers, or Thrintun, have massive psychic abilities but are barely able to move. They are borderline idiotic, but they met the Tnuctipuns, who are insanely smart, and the Tnuctipun were instantly slaves to a society that could barely move. The Thrintun may still be around as the Grogs, who have at the very least learned to leave well enough alone: Grogs work very hard at appearing (and actually being) harmless objects of ridicule, possibly, if they really are descended from Thrintun, because they still remember what happened before when they didn't.
- The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad, features "The Steel Commander", a metal truncheon that has an apparent weight and mass of tonnes and yet can be effortlessly wielded by a person of sufficient genetic "purity". It was created by an enclave of scientists who'd survived "The Fire" (a global nuclear war) for Heldon, the father of a fascist movement to preserve a core of unmutated humans (and who slew them for their trouble).
- Novella "Minla's Flowers" and short story "Merlin's Gun" by Alastair Reynolds take place tens of thousands of years after humans had colonized the Galaxy, and while protagonists (and their enemies) have interstellar flight and other technology far beyond 21st century, they are in awe of things built by people long lost in the past (but far future for us).
- In Old Man's War one alien faction was gifted a device by a more advanced species that allowed them to predict exactly when and where ships would be arriving via FTL. This immediately grants them a massive advantage in their war against the humans, who have to come up with an exceedingly risky plan to counteract it.
- The entire plot of the Robert A. Heinlein novel Orphans of the Sky. The novel's characters live on a Generation Ship whose crew mutinied several generations back. By the time the novel takes place, the crew has become so backward that they think the ship is the whole Universe, and a large portion live as subsistence farmers. The only reason the ship still works is that its reactornote can convert any matter into energy at pretty much 100% efficiency. Everything that is no longer useful, including the dead, are used as fuel for the reactor.
- In Uplift every single extant alien race was uplifted by another and got their technology from "the Library", several species uplifted as warriors seem downright barbaric to humans who had to develop a near-utopian society through trial and error.
- In World War the British, unable to build a lightweight radar unit to install in their planes, cannibalize surviving radar units from the Lizards' planes that they've managed to shoot down, citing this premise in doing so. Similarly, the Nazis develop armor-piercing, discarding-sabot shells based upon shells they've captured from the Lizards.
- It helps that the Race's military technology is ahead of that of humans by a few decades at best. It's heavily implied that the Race arrived at just the right time in our history to pose a threat to humans without being able to completely steamroll over us. Had they arrived only a decade earlier, this is what would've happened. Had they waited a decade or two (as some of their superiors wanted), they would've faced a Cold War-era world with thousands of nukes and two superpowers gearing up for war, not to mention the beginnings of space exploration (i.e. orbital delivery platforms) and advances in computing.
- Inverted in Roger Zelazny's The Guns of Avalon: the inhabitants of the mythical land understand very well how firearms work and how to build them; the problem is that the intrinsic magic of the land blocks the use of explosive agents, so... no gunpowder. Until the climax, when everything is at stake.
- "We won because I brought rifles. I finally found an explosive agent that functions here."
- In the Hammer's Slammers novel At Any Price the generally stone age natives have powerguns purchased from human traders, which actually makes them better armed than the human colonists whose army is equipped with shotguns. But not the Slammers of course.
Live Action TV
- Babylon 5 is interesting in that most of the races qualify to varying degrees. Much of the Narns' technology is reverse engineered from captured Centauri examples, and while the Narn seem quite capable of building and using the weapons, they never acquired the Artificial Gravity technology used by the Centauri's ships, meaning they were still at a marked disadvantage. Similarly, the Minbari were given advanced technology by the Vorlons, and the humans ended up acquiring Shadow technology. In both of the later cases, the younger races were hard at work figuring out how the technology worked so they could apply it to their own designs.
- Speaking of the Centauri, this happened to them multiple times. The first time it was actually passing Technomages teaching them enough things to advance their technology from Renaissance-era level to 20th-century level (enough that, with Technomage assistance, they succeeded in repelling the Shroggen when they invaded their homeworld while chasing the Technomages themselves), but after that they started grabbing every piece of advanced or unknown technology they could buy, conquer or get away with stealing, study its inner workings and use the knowledge so obtained to both improve their technology and build a copy of it (an example are Earth's magnetic monorails for moving inside space stations: the Centauri first saw them brand new on Babylon 5, and a couple years later their capital city has a whole transportation network of them). Between this and their pride imposing them to perfect everything, they became the most advanced of the Younger Races bar the Minbari, and, at least in some fields (most notably energy weapons), aren't too far behind them either.
- Doctor Who
- A Sontaran gives rifles to a 12th-century English warlord.
- The Power Of Kroll has the boss of a mining rig hire an arms dealer to sell defective weapons to the natives of a moon that orbits his planet. This is to justify removing the natives because his company wants that moon.
- In the early 21st century, humanity are in possession of a weapon that can one shot spaceships out of orbit, salvaged from alien technology that has been recovered from Earth. The Valiant was built with a smaller version of this weapon, in addition to using designs given to them by the Master.
- On Earth 2, the Terrians (underground-dwelling humanoids who share a symbiotic relationship with their homeworld) appear to be tribes of Hunter-Gatherers, but due to the green rock-like properties of their planet, wield staffs that shoot lightning bolts. It's implied several times in the series that the Terrians used to be much more like humans, and may even have had more conventional, industrial technology, before they evolved into a species of benevolent symbiotes. It's also implied that the Terrians are also not native to Earth 2 and are colonizing it as well.
- The Pylons from Land of the Lost are remnants of a past civilization yet are more advanced than anything the Sleestaks could create.
- The Library of Skulls.
- In one episode of Lexx, the Lexx visits a planet populated by a seemingly medieval-level society composed entirely of men. When Kai wonders how they reproduce, one of the elder members explains to Kai that their ancestors left behind special pods that produce new brothers. In the end, he reveals the truth: their ancestors wanted to create a simple society free of sexual competition, believing that was the only way to maintain peace. Their advanced knowledge was passed down only to a select few like the elder. Believing that Xev's presence has permanently "tainted" them, the elder triggers the self-destruct sequence of the entire planet.
- The alien invaders in one Saturday Night Live sketch apparently had this problem. After landing and threatening the people of Earth with destruction, they overplay their hand, as the Earthlings do not, in fact, tremble before the power of their mighty flintlock muskets. It seems all their technology other than starships was woefully behind that of 1990s Earth. The police dealing with the situation suspect their ship was stolen.
- Stargate SG-1:
- It has this apply to humans and the slaves of the Goa'uld. SG-1 gets a lot of tech they only barely understand, and later on the Asgard gift humanity with a database and replicator for all of their advanced tech (which most likely will take centuries to reverse-engineer everything). The Goa'uld purposely make their (also pirated) tech user friendly for the Jaffa to use.
- The Jaffa, whose society is almost identical in theme to the page image. They expertly utilize the extremely advanced technology provided by the Goa'uld, even to the point of flying their motherships for them. Yet Chulak, the Jaffa homeworld, is apparently still stuck in the Middle Ages.
- The Tollan deliberately invoke this with "primitive" societies that haven't reached their technological level. They once gifted their technology to another species to help them, and as a result the species wiped itself out in a single day. Since then they have been extremely leery about sharing tech with anyone else, even Earth.
- One episode in particular has SGC retrofit a Goa'uld fighter with Earth-tech modifications and show it off to other members of the military. On a test run they accidentally triggered a homing program that tried to return it to its point of origin across the galaxy at sublight speeds. Given that SGC didn't have anything nearly fast enough to retrieve the ship and crew they had to call for help from the Tok'ra, who berates them for slapping an Air Force label on a ship they didn't understand. Later episodes showed they learned enough about the technology to build comparable fighters from scratch and eventually made their own battleships.
- It is often pointed out that the Goa'uld aren't all that different. They are just as 'unready' for certain Ancient technologies and this seems to be one of the things that causes the large amount of infighting that allowed human and Jaffa to overthrow them. Despite the Goa'uld having stolen the capacity for interstellar flight thousands of years ago, the Ancients and Asgard are still sufficiently far beyond them. Both of those races had reached intergalactic flight technology (with at least the Ancients even having traveled to galaxies outside their original local cluster long before their technological peak) before the Goa'uld even got off their original planet.
- An early episode had O'Neill resolve a problem late in the episode by giving a local Mongol warlord his handgun, which the warlord celebrates by Firing in the Air a Lot, and O'Neill lampshades that they should get going before he uses up the ammo in the single magazine.
- Provides an Establishing Character Moment in Stargate Atlantis, when it's revealed that the Athosians are not the primitive society that they initially appear to be, but merely The Remnant of an advanced society that had been repeatedly bombed into the stone age by the Wraith. For instance, not only does their settlement reside in the shadow of ruined high-tech city, but one of the rare pieces of Athosian technology to survive is a lighter that uses energy beams to ignite objects.
- The Ferengi in Star Trek: The Next Generation were originally designed to follow this trope and were introduced by one of the characters explaining that they are a species who simply should not have been given access to advanced technology yet, as they have not yet reached a sufficiently developed state to use it responsibly. However, there was a very strong sub-human racist vibe to it and they mostly disappeared until being revived as a greedy merchant species in Deep Space Nine.
- The Pakleds are bright enough to steal whatever technology they can get their hands on (as well as abduct Engineer Geordi LaForge), but express themselves in infantile terms (they want LaForge to "make [their ship] go" so that they can be "strong") and are fooled into surrendering by a harmless, if Technobabble-laden, pyrotechnic display. Whether these two Pakleds are representative of their entire species is never really addressed, however.
- Another Star Trek example has the episode "A Private Little War" from Star Trek: The Original Series. Kirk and McCoy discover that the Klingons gave flintlock weapons to the natives who didn't have them before. To restore the balance of power, Kirk provides another group (a bunch of cavemen) with them. McCoy compares their situation to the "Brush Wars" of the mid 20th Century.
- This is also the origin of Klingons themselves. They were originally a slave race who overthrew their masters and stole their tech.
- The episode "Bread and Circuses" featured a world with 1960s-level tech(television, firearms) but a society that mirrored the Roman Empire, complete with the slow rise of Christianity(albeit 2000 years late).
- The Kazon from Star Trek: Voyager don't exactly inspire confidence with their technical abilities. However, they only recently acquired it, namely by overthrowing their Trabe conquerors. There's a reason the Borg deemed the Kazon to have absolutely nothing worth assimilating.
- A sketch on Dave Allen at Large shows Allen as a native American chief who a British explorer is negotiating with; he is offered trinkets for various tracts of land. He wants the "stick that goes boom" (a rifle) but is refused. Finally he offers all the land they're trying to acquire for the "stick that goes boom," and the Brit, seeing this as a huge bargain, agrees. Brit gives Chief the rifle. Chief shoots Brit, and then he & his tribe members take the chest full of trinkets.
- In the Australian/Polish sci-fi series Spellbinder, the Land of the Spellbinders is an agrarian/mining society with technology equal to the medieval era. The land is ruled by the Spellbinders, an order of scientists masquerading as sorcerers. Their power comes from technology based largely on electricity and magnetism (such as radios, flying ships and electrical combat suits). The Spellbinders' technology was created so long ago that the current Spellbinders do not even know how their own equipment works, nor can they repair it if it breaks.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- This is pretty much the hat that the orks wear. Some of their tech is either extremely basic, looted, or only works because they think it's supposed to. Other technological knowledge is carried genetically in Meks.
- The Imperium from the same setting has completely lost the scientific method, the closest it has to scientists and engineers are a priest class that does almost everything by rote and individuals hoard knowledge which is then lost when they die. A common feature of their technology is that you have to be advanced to design it, but not to build it (for instance the Lasgun laser weapons require less manufacturing ability than a modern assault rifle and is more reliable to boot). As a result their technology has been in decline for thousands of years, and they don't know how to build their best ships and weapons anymore.
- Though this is more or less the "official" stance, in truth it is very much dependant on the author for the Imperium. Some characters, both in the Mechanicus and out, are depicted as clearly knowing how science and technology work. In some cases, the Imperium is not even in technological decline, but merely advancing extremely slowly - given the risks of historically developed technologies, and recovered technological advancements will have a small chance of being tainted by Chaos to disastrous effect. Any new technology can take centuries of study before being approved for general use. And those centuries were an example involving a tougher material for kitchen knives, it's implied that more important technology that could be used in warfare would take even longer.
- Demonstrated explicitly in the Priests of Mars novel. When asked how it's even possible to analyse the life cycles of stars, a tech-priest is forced to explain basic (as in high school) principles of scientific proofs and methodology. It's a testament to the state of the Imperium that her audience isn't even stupid or from a crude society; he's fairly intelligent and is the captain of a starship.
- It makes sense when one considers the Imperium an almagram of cultures from 1000-2000 AD with a Gothic veneer given technology far in advance of it.
- Eldar Exodites seem like this trope, but are actually a subversion. They live in low technology tribal society, yet have access to laser- and fusion-weapons similar to Craftworld Eldar, as well Knight Titans (a smaller, but still quite large, class of the setting's Humongous Mecha). However, rather than being a primitive society using high technology they don't understand, the Exodites have the necessary knowledge to make all the high tech stuff their Craftworld cousins have; but choose to only use as much technology as necessary, to avoid falling back into the decadence that caused the Fall.
- The Necrons are also an example, only a very limited caste has a clue how their technology works, all construction and maintenance is automated. The leadership caste comports themselves like bronze-age warlords, and the rest of the race is almost non-sentient.
- The Kroot are also an example, having gained their technology by eating Orks and inheriting their genetically encoded technology. As a result you have a tribal society with solid-propellant weapons (later chieftans are given plasma-based weaponry after they became a client species for the Tau Empire) and Warp-capable starships. Though they tend to have limited technological standing otherwise, though the reason for this appears that their philosophy is that having low levels of technology keeps the species strong.
- The Rogue Trader RPG features the Rak'Gol, a race of aliens that makes the Orks look positively cultured. Though their technology is primitive compared to just about all races (for example, their spacecraft are powered by unshielded nuclear reactors instead of plasma drives) it's a wonder they have any technology at all, let alone FTL-capable ships, since they seem to be little more than extremely violent beasts. It's debated whether they can even be considered to have a culture of any kind. It's hinted they may merely be pawns of some other race that presumably uplifted them.
- Though the Rak'Gol are a Chaos-worshipping race, so this taints their culture. They've been known to do make extensive use of crude bionics, but so large and bulky that it gives them some pretty impressive stats.
- A few societies in Exalted are in this boat, most notably Lookshy of the Scavenger Lands.
- In the Dark Sun setting of Dungeons & Dragons, the civilized halflings have actually lost most of their life-shaping technology (though it is still miraculous to anyone else). They can still replicate life-shaped tools and creatures, but only in a ritualized manner, much like using a cookbook for doing advanced chemistry when you don't know anything about chemistry, but still having it work.
- In Traveller, the Aslan are a Proud Warrior Race with little social organization above the "clan" level. They somehow developed Jump drive and became a major race, it's been suggested often that they reverse-engineered it from one of the "true" major races.
- In BattleTech the Successor States don't know how the Lost Technology they rely upon, most notable Faster-Than-Light Travel, works or how to replicate it. In a twist they're more or less the same civilization that invented them, it's just that most people who knew how it worked died in the first Succession War. In a subversion the Clans have a culture that seems like it would fit bronze age warriors (as opposed to the Successor's feudalism) but they know how their technology works (or at least their scientist caste does) and have even improved upon what the Inner Sphere considers "Lostech".
- One of the many Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG is give feuding TL1 tribes TL12 weapons and post the results on Pay Per View.
- The theocratic Covenant of Halo base most of their technology on Forerunner tech, and despite their copied tech being inferior to the original, any attempt to even better understand it, much less actually improve it, runs the risk of being seen as blasphemy. It's gotten to the point where their grasp of Maxwell's equations is actually worse than that of humanity's.
- While operating a captured Covenant ship, Cortana rewrites the firmware to make the ship's slow-moving plasma mortars shoot pinpoint focused ion beams. The native shipboard AI is so enraged by her simply fiddling with the settings that it accuses her of blasphemy and notes her changes as one of its chief grievances in a distress signal.
- Even on a social level, many of the Covenant races are somewhat old-fashioned; the Elites live in a feudal society complete with serfdom, the Brutes and Grunts still organize themselves by clans and tribes, and the Jackals have no real governments of their own outside of the Covenant High Council, though it's worth noting that the Jackals and Elites still managed to independently develop space colonization technologies not only back when humans were still using swords and bows, but before they ever began reverse-engineering Forerunner artifacts.
- In Mass Effect 2, Professor Mordin Solus refers to the "uplifting" of the Krogan as this.
Mordin: Like giving nuclear weapons to cavemen.
- Technically applies to all races in the setting, since they are purposefully manipulated from trying to explore or understand the technology and principles behind the Citadel and the Mass Relays. Before the Protheans altered the Keepers to prevent them opening the hidden Mass Relay built into the Citadel itself, millions of years worth of Cycles ended with the Reapers showing up and taking control of the Citadel, locking down the Mass Relays and declaring Game Over to the entire galaxy.
- Humanity freely admits that discovering the Prothean archives on Mars jumped their technology level ahead over 200 years. Upon their entry to the galactic scene they were roughly on par with the turians in term of technology development, despite having only having mass effect technology for 11 years at that point, while the turians had possessed it for little over a millennium.
- Every game is like this, with only a few of the most advanced factions (Brotherhood of Steel, Enclave) actually understanding any technology more complicated than basic firearms and explosives, although other factions do utilise them, thanks to it being a Scavenger World.
- And all of the factions who understand the technology selfishly guard it because of the advantage it gives them. In Fallout games with a crafting system, this allows the player to become a Badass Bookworm.
- Applies to the Pre-War society as well. Even in 2077, with an abundance of futuristic technology at their disposal, America (and perhaps the entire world) remained culturally locked in the 1950s.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, due to House's machinations the Mojave was spared the worst of the Great War, allowing for a lot of advanced technology to survive the collapse of civilisation. Later he would "civilise" three tribes into governing his casinos, while he himself maintained New Vegas' independence from NCR annexation by using his Securitron army to prevent any attempt to take over the Strip.
- Taken to new heights in the Fallout: New Vegas add-on ''Honest Hearts." The entire reason the plot is in motion is because the White Legs tribe were given automatic weapons by Ulysses, as well as a huge store of ammunition and the knowledge of how to clean them. The White Legs are otherwise a stone age civilization, yet their "storm-drummers" have tommy guns.
- Every game is like this, with only a few of the most advanced factions (Brotherhood of Steel, Enclave) actually understanding any technology more complicated than basic firearms and explosives, although other factions do utilise them, thanks to it being a Scavenger World.
- The Skedar from Perfect Dark, who have spaceships and cloning technology but no culture to speak of besides warfare and violence.
- Somewhat the case involving the Pieces of Eden in Assassin's Creed, although by the time of Revelations (the fourth main game) the Abstergo Industries articles given to Abstergo Industries' secret insiders reveal that they knew a lot more about the Pieces than was let on in the first game.
- Shown in passing in Mortal Kombat 9, with Kano supplying modern weaponry to the Tarkata who clearly have no idea how to use them. One nearly blew their own head off by curiously looking down its barrel.
- The people living aboard the Generation Ship Mugunghwa have somehow degraded culturally into something resembling Joseon-era Korea. It's implied that none of them understand the principles of how the ship works, or know anything about astronomy.
- In Wings of Dawn, this is the case for the Nordera. Their spaceship technology is crude and primitive compared to the other species' (it works, but only just), but even that much was given to them by the Hertak. On their own, the Nordera had gotten about as far as discovering large-scale metalwork and explosives.
- The Cuotl in Rise of Legends is a Mayincatec empire ruled by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. Their warriors give off a distinct Stargate feel. Their battle dress looks similar to that worn by Jaffa, and they wield energy weapons shaped as staffs.
- Humanity itself in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where you spend the game furiously reverse-engineering alien tech just enough to know what it does and how to build more of it. Justified by humanity being at war, fighting against extinction or enslavement. Your R&D teams seem pretty confident that, given time, they could take the tech all the way apart and learn how it works. For now, though, "here's a new gun, it shoots plasma, we can build it, ASK QUESTIONS LATER" is pretty solid tactics. That being said, XCOM's Chief Engineer Dr. Shen openly states his fears about pretty much this trope coming into action after the war.
- In Final Fantasy X the population of Spira has existed for a thousand years under the control of an anti-technology theocracy. People do not understand how what little advanced technology they have access to even works. The Al Bhed tribe actively salvages and studies advanced technology and are deemed heretics for their trouble. Even with their better understanding of engineering principles, the have learned almost everything through painstaking reverse-engineering and still don't understand how some of their most advanced technology (i.e.: flying ships) works.
- Starbound has Avians, who received spacefaring technology from a precursor race, and yet still have priest-castes and human...well, avian sacrifices to their god, with atheism being a crime. So, you have Mayincatec Bird People in space.
- Much, much worse are the Florans, a race of tribalistic, flesh-eating Plant Aliens who somehow managed to reverse-engineer a crashed avian spaceship and subsequently became a menace to the galaxy, going so far as to drive the Hylotl from their own homeworld. It's only recently that SOME of them are beginning to understand the concept of sentient animal life and the value thereof. Expect the occasional tasteless remark.
- In Jix the Ambis acquired much of their advanced tech from another species who tried to invade their homeworld.
- One SCP is a pair of hillbilly Feuding Families stuck in a Forever War with random weapons, sometimes primitive, sometimes futuristic.
- In the AlternateHistory.com story MalÍ Rising, the Kingdom of the Arabs (OTL's southern Algeria), a sparsely-populated desert state, suddenly finds itself flush with money upon the discovery of oil. The nomadic way of life and traditional social structures that prevailed before oil begin to break down as young people head to the boom towns, producing crime and unrest. As a result, the government starts heavily subsidizing the remaining nomads to prevent further flight to the oil towns (and all that that brings with it), leading to the evolution of a nomadic lifestyle of luxurious RVs and shopping and entertainment brought to them by motor caravans.
- Justice League: At one point, two time-traveling Thanagarians crash landed into Ancient Egypt. They couldn't get home, so they spent their days giving technology to the nearby villagers. Naturally the village became a grand kingdom within a generation. The people never learned how to make the tools though - only use them - and when the aliens died, the society collapsed pretty quickly.
- When it was in power, the Third Reich was regarded as this trope embodied, by British and Francophone sources on one side and by the educated classes of German society on the other. German society before the Nazis had been very classist, playing on conservatism, modesty, classical German culture, Catholic and Protestant religion, and established social relationships. The Nazis, however, disregarding the British proverb which said "it takes 3 years to build a ship, but 300 years to build a tradition", judged everything by power as the universal medicine. They could build advanced weapons and industrial machinery, motorways, modern architecture, and public TV stations, and for this reason they felt no obligation to listen to anyone else. They could afford to disregard entirely the evolution of culture and arts before them, and throw anything not suited to their ideology into the garbage as "degenerate and Jewish art".
There was no surprise in the fact they were hated for it and treated like primitives suddenly endowed with power and technology. The nouveau riche attitude of the political leadership, with men like Robert Ley, Christian Weber, and Hermann Goering ruling their departments and flaunting their wealth like Mafia bosses, only made things worse. In more practical terms, the Nazis took the same attitude to Jewish scientists like Albert Einstein and rejected their research in favor of promoting hare-brained ideas in physics and other fields simply because non-Jewish Germans came up with them. Among the results of that bigotry were that many of those scientists fled to nations like Britain and the United States, which gave them the advantage of the skilled personnel needed to develop nuclear weapons.note
- Global commerce can cause this too, with societies that have cell phones with more computing power than was available to put humans on the moon, who also still have chunky water.
- Also kind of a hobby of most of the major powers in the Cold War, who were arming their various Third World allies with ultra-modern weaponry in an effort to stymie the other side. Of course, after the Cold War ended most of those alliances fell apart, leaving a lot of guns in some rather questionable hands.
- Political scientist Basam Tibi termed the desire of fundamentalist organizations or societies to gain access to sophisticated technology (especially weaponry) while totally avoiding any social modernization whatsoever "the dream of incomplete modernity".
- The idea that humanity in general is Low Culture, High Tech is a common thread of many primitivist and anti-industrial thinkers.
- This was a key part of the ideology of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber. In his manifesto, he alleged that the behaviors and social organization needed to run a modern industrial society clashed with basic human instincts written by thousands of years of natural selection, producing most of the social ills of the modern world in the process. Therefore, he felt that humanity was biologically unsuited to any mode of organization and technology more advanced than hunter-gatherers, and used this as justification to launch a terrorist campaign aimed at airlines, universities, and industrial and high-tech concerns.
- Let's just say, this trope + modern weaponry = Very Bad Things.
- Korean (and to a lesser extent, Chinese and Japanese) culture can be considered this when it comes to aviation, with the highly hierarchical "respect your elders" culture being in some cases lethal in airplanes. The co-pilot has to double check everything the captain does, yet co-pilots often are afraid to correct their captain's mistakes, as the captain is their elder. This has actually led to crashes. Korean Air has acknowledged this and is attempting to fix the problem with new pilot training.
- American ex-military junior pilots sometimes also have this problem. They are among the best in the world technically, but they can occasionally fall back on their conditioning to respect a chain of command.
- Conversely it's sometimes said that the safest co-pilot to have in the cockpit is an Australian, because they are culturally least likely to recognise any hierarchy except that of professional competence, and are thus more likely than any other nationality to tell an erroneous Captain what he's doing wrong.
- This was likely the cause behind the horrific double-Jumbo crash in Tenerife in the 1970s, still the worst in aviation history. The captain responsible was THE public face of KLM as well as being one of the senior flight instructors, and he seems to have bullied the co-pilot (whose job hung in part on his captain's approval) into accepting an airways clearance as a takeoff clearance (when the airport was bedecked in fog and a Pan Am 747 was taxiing up the runway, unseen, in front of him). The rest is history.
- The internet. Especially when in the midst of a Flame War. Lampshaded here.
- What happens when traditional "sons, not daughters" societies as in the Middle East, India and China gain access to prenatal gender testing and abortion? Well despite laws actively trying to prevent it, the birth ratio is as skewed as 100 male to 90 female newborns in some places. If there were no laws against it, the ratio would probably be even worse.