I have vague, conspiracy-theory-esque worries that actually the conquistadors really did just all get lucky
I like history and military history in general. I think I have easily read detailed accounts of hundreds and hundreds of battles, sieges, empires collapsing and there are plenty of examples where one side has won out by finding colluders from the other side just like the conquistadors. Sometimes you need luck but often not—there almost always is some disunity among groups that just begs to be exploited.
Imagine a rogue AI sending an email to every person on earth. Tailoring the content to fit every person. Telling you that he sees your children in school, telling you where you get your morning coffee. Telling you what is the colour of your bedroom curtains and then asking you to do this one small thing for it or something bad will happen to you. Or promising you money so you can help your sick child/parent/pet. This is all information that already exists freely on social media. Doesnt take a superintelligence to exploit that.
In my mind there is no doubt that a misaligned AI, even one limited to human level thinking and reasoning abilities, could easily wreak havoc once it is able to roam free online. How many millions or hundreds of millions would immediately support it on just a promise of something good or threat of something bad? I have never thought about it like this but now after reading your post it really does look like that the human race is indeed the Aztecs and Cortes is a misaligned barely competent AI just waiting to be unleashed.
I agree. However, it can’t just be that groups are often disunited and therefore exploitable—because why was it that the conquistadors were able to exploit the locals and not the other way around? The conquistadors were disunited also. And why weren’t the conquistadors able to do to e.g. France what they did to Mexico? I think technology is clearly part of the answer here… but not just technology, also cunning/experience.
In general I am excited about looking for more parallels/comparisons between the AI case and these historical cases. And looking for more historical cases, for that matter.
I wonder if language was a factor here. Cortés had La Malinche to translate. If most or all communication had to go through her, that would make it hard to divide the conquistadors. I don’t know about the other cases.
The smaller and more similar your group the easier it is to keep up unity and guard for any attempts of outside meddling. How could the natives even approach separate conquistadors to find anyone to be swayed? Aztecs had a big empire over a wide area with a lot of vassals. Cortes could easily approach them and make his sales pitch.
And sure technology played a role. Conquistadors were different, unknown and that made the sales pitch easier to make as they looked more powerful than they actually were. Plus they were a small outsider group. The natives that sided with them likely didnt fear them long term.
Conquistadors were not that alluring to French. They could never hope to do the same thing to a neighbouring country that is both powerful and hates your guts even if they found people willing. Plus a failed attempt like that would have meant retaliation against your own country which would not have been desirable. If their gambit had failed in Mexico there would have been no larger consequences. But it was still seen a lot in medieval europe. 100 year war was full of nobles switching sides like this. Almost a daily occurence in Holy Roman Empire throughout its existence. It was a slow day when one set of Princes didnt betray another set to join a third set to be betrayed and conquered by a fourth set.
I agree. I think what’s coming out in this discussion is that novelty played a role somehow; if only the Aztecs knew more about the Spanish (even if the Spanish also knew more about the Aztecs) things would have turned out differently. This maybe suggests that the Spanish were better at learning about the Aztecs than vice versa—and perhaps this was because they were fewer in number? I think a better explanation is that they had experience doing this sort of thing. They were explorer-conquerors, after all.
Edit: Oh, and there were plenty of opportunities to pit the conquistadors against each other—situations in which some were cut off from the others, situations in which some had been taken prisoner, situations in which they were actively fighting each other!
I agree that their sales pitch was easier because they could make themselves seem more fearsome than they were… but notice that this is in tension with the idea that their local allies didn’t fear eventual betrayal due to their small numbers. The same fearsomeness that makes them good allies should also make them scary enemies, no? So why didn’t the Tlaxcalans fear that they would be overthrown next after Tenochtitlan?
I think the Spain vs. France hypothetical has more to do with technological and knowledge parity than with threat of retaliation.
because why was it that the conquistadors were able to exploit the locals and not the other way around?
Have you considered the possibility that it was a case of mutual exploitation? The Aztec allies of the conquistadors weren’t there out of the goodness of their hearts; they had found a new angle that would help them defeat Tenochtitlan. They lost the post-victory power struggle, but it was always going to be someone.