In a preliterate society, there is only art, no science. Everything is passed word of mouth, and professions are apprenticed because there is no other way.

To destroy or reform tradition in a preliterate society, you must remove or remodel the reservoirs of tribal knowledge. To put it bluntly: you kill the people who know, you keep them from passing it on, or you convince them to try something new.

So in a preliterate society, when you want to remove the tradition of, say, IED making, you have to remove or reform those who are capable of making IEDs so that they don't pass on the art. This particular instance is not an insurmountable challenge. There are not usually very many successful illiterate IED makers, because learning to do it from scratch means you will probably not survive your first failed experiment, and if you do it too often, your number comes up eventually, IEDs being what they are.

Let us consider the same concept in a literate society. To remove the capability to build IEDs from a literate society would be impossible. You would be forced to try to burn all the books that contain information on how to make IEDs, and all the books that contain information on the building blocks of how to make IEDs, and so on and so on until eventually you have to burn all the chemistry textbooks, because a motivated and literate individual can start pulling on the smallest thread until the whole sweater has been converted to a pile of new yarn. And even then, you're forced to eliminate the accumulated knowledge of ten million chemists and engineers before they can pass on even a shred of their passion and knowledge.

So removing a tradition in a preliterate society is comparatively simple when stacked up next to doing so in a literate society, and is absolutely trivial when compared to building a tradition instead. Instead of building IEDs, let's talk about building a tradition of shitting in the toilet instead of on the roadside, the porch, or one's own roof.

And more importantly, trying to do so in less than, say, five generations. Even five generations assumes you are able to convert the most influential people in a given population, and that their descendants will continue to carry a big social stick.

When you can't even resort to printing pamphlets regarding roof-shitting, how are you to proceed?

How can you convince even one individual who is completely oblivious to something as basic as regular bathing, let alone germ theory, that the convenience of frequently and liquidly shitting wherever you like is outweighed by a laughable and highly tenuous promise, proffered by a wrong-believing foreigner no less, that doing so is somehow related to sickness?

After all, has he not been shitting all over anywhere he pleases for his whole life and yet still lived to the ripe old age of 27? Did not his father and his father's father void diaphanous, fuming excreta anywhere the urge struck, and with no change in the way things are and have always been?

With no experience of not-shitting-everywhere to compare to, and no capacity for hypothetical thought, there is no motivation to change habits that have always been and always will be.

Now, reader, consider that this hypothetical person, utterly devoid of any education, knowledge, or thought beyond that absolutely required to subsist, is not hypothetical. In fact, there is an entire country full of them, and I'm trying my very hardest to get them to wash their hands once in a while, and to quit shitting all over everything.

I put down my rifle because I was tired of killing. In a bizarre charade of that old "swords into poughshares" bit, I traded in a machinegun and a killing smile as the down payment on a trencher and the belief that for a successful society one should start with not being a walking biological weapon.

Once upon a time, this preliterate society was rich, colorful, highly developed, and even, believe it or not, three quarters of the way up the path to contemporary civilization. "Once upon a time" was about 1960, and Kabul was a beautiful, modern city that drew jealous eyes from thousands of miles around. Education was starting to get so out of control that it began to draw the occasional grumble from people who were better served by having their peons unable to read the writing on the wall.

And then, of course, and as there always seems to be here, there was war. First the Soviets, and then their withdrawal, and then a few decades of civil war that quickly deteriorated into a four way salt the earth campaign.

So, in an extrapolation on the ease of kicking over a sandcastle that took two hours to build, fifty years of brutal infighting, political pogroms, minor genocides, and massive displacement have killed off the reservoirs of tribal knowledge, prevented those who survived from passing on their traditions, and convinced those in the best position to affect real progress to turn their backs on their grandparents' homeland and seek a better life elsewhere, usually with the benefit of a formal education.

Build and scratch and plead is all we can do. If the standard of living was worth not dying for, if even the smallest glimpse into civilization were not an insulting shock to the marginally aware, perhaps there would be no reason to build IEDs and strap them to little girls.

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