Outside context problem (O.C.P.)

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Outside context problem (O.C.P.)


An outside context problem is a situation where one society (or civilisation) comes into contact with another which is superior in terms of technological development (Most commonly weaponry and transportation). Usually this results in the subjugation or destruction of the technologically inferior society.

The novelist Iain Banks ‘coined’ the phrase and used the idea as the central premise in his novel ‘Excession’. He described an O.C.P. “as the kind of problem most civilizations would encounter just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop."

‘The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbors were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're all subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.’ – from Excession by I.M.Banks

The sixth episode of ‘Blackadder goes forth’ also makes a passing reference to being part of an O.C.P. when Edmund, in conversation, with General Douglas Haig talks about a successful military campaign where the battle was won due to the enemy being “armed with sharpened pieces of fruit.”

Although flippant, this example describes the means (superior weaponry) by which the British (and other European powers) were able create vast empires. A more extreme example is the destruction of the Inca society by the Spanish.

In the present day, the threat of an O.C.P. still remains, but while chances of encountering one are very remote, the consequences could be catastrophic.

See – ‘Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis’ http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1104/1104.4462.pdf

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