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For years and years I have been trying to locate a story I read in a collection... a very long time ago. Anywhere from late '70s to early '90s, with highest probability being at the earlier end of the range. And the title of this post tells almost all I remember about the story.

I think it is told from aliens' perspective, and for some reason I think maybe Ted Sturgeon wrote it (though maybe not). Humans are the (later revealed to be hostile) aliens here. The humans figured out they couldn't directly conquer the other planet's race, so instead they (we) founded a philosophy and set themselves up as gurus. The humans became the spiritual leaders of the protagonist's planet. In the very end, the protagonist discovers that it was all a plot all along. A human tells the protag that the way to destroy a culture is by attacking its roots, so the philosophy the humans have set up is a sneaky way to do that.

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This sounds like Savage Planet by Barry B. Longyear, published in the collection Manifest Destiny in 1980.

The aliens had cat-like quadrupedal lower bodies with a human-like upper body. In the opening scene, a male alien named Armath has discovered the corpse of another male alien, but he doesn't immediately realize that the other alien is dead, because a cultural taboo against males approaching each other too closely prevents him from getting too close.

The taboo is explained by the aliens' unusual reproductive biology in which they were all born female and had to fight for dominance in order to become male - a close approach between two males was seen as a challenge to fight for dominance and the loser would revert to female. This reproductive biology was why the humans thought that their plan of "teaching a race to death" would work - the more the aliens looked up to humans, the less dominant they would become, and those who had become male would revert to female.

When the human teacher tasked with teaching the aliens learns about the plan, he rebels and teaches the aliens to resist. At the end, the aliens have formed an organized government, and Armath, who has become the leader of the government, tells the humans that by their own laws, the aliens' planet is no longer a "savage planet" and humans are not allowed to intervene in its development.

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  • Thank you BeardyMan! That sounds quite similar! But alas, I think it is not the one. First, the story was in a collection of different authors' stories... Second, I seem to recall that the human's gloating monologue about attacking a culture at its roots was the climax of the whole story, followed by the alien's helpless shock at realizing the humans had won. Third, I followed your link and looked at the book. I think it is not a book I have ever owned. And then I searched for "root" in the Internet Archive version of that book. I found two instances, neither of which was the quote I remember. Mar 2, 2023 at 7:08

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