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Perennial excuse for why the big world-altering secret subculture of the series hasn't had a massive impact on the day-to-day lives of all the mundanes. This is usually done to engage Willing Suspension of Disbelief and to ensure Plausible Deniability.

One possible reason for a hero to maintain a Secret Identity or to ensure that everything remains Invisible to Normals (Other reasons include protecting the hero's family and that Celebrity Is Overrated).

When it comes to advanced technology, the excuse is that Humans Are Bastards and will misuse the technology once given access. (Other excuses is that people often fear anything new or everyone will demand access to the technology, usually to the exclusion of others.) And naturally letting the government get its hands on it is unthinkable.

At any rate, the show acknowledges that the fact that there's an alien invasion going on, a demon subculture, or Imported Alien Phlebotinum that should radically change the entire world. But folks with the power to keep this under wraps don't want the world to be radically changed, so they keep everything a secret.

Can lead to a Useless Superpowers scenario, where the heroes are hamstrung by the fact that they can't risk a crowd or Intrepid Reporter seeing them in action.

Increasingly subverted when it turns out that The World Is Not Ready is just the official line -- really, the people making the call just don't want to share... and will kill to keep their toys.

(Fridge Logic suggests that by just sitting on their knowledge even well-intentioned secret keepers ultimately work to prevent the world from ever becoming ready. This idea will usually either never occur to anybody or else be brought up once, handwaved away, and then never mentioned again.)

For practical reasons, it may be required to avoid changing society into a level which is hard to imagine for an audience, or to reduce the required amount of special effects. Also, there's little drama from story perspective if everyone can defend themselves from an alien menace. If you can instead put the safety of the entire word in the hands of one secret, tiny and underfunded hero team, the stakes get much higher.

However, the trope is not automatically unreasonable. It is possible to conceive of specific situations where the genie, in whatever form, could be put back into the bottle, and under the current circumstances such would be wise.

See also Masquerade. Compare to You Are Not Ready, where its the protagonist trying to acquire something that can help them and only to be denied access for this reason. See also Science Is Bad where new technology is held back out of fear of misuse. Contrast with Just Think of the Potential when someone wants to expose what they've seen for the benefit of the world (and perhaps, naively failing to think of malicious potentials). Supertrope to Alien Non-Interference Clause

Examples of The World Is Not Ready include:


Anime and Manga

  • Subverted in Transformers: Cybertron. Optimus Prime refuses to throw off the masquerade and join with the Autobots, even in the midst of a full-out Decepticon attack on Earth, thinking that humanity would feel betrayed when they found out alien robots had been hiding among them. Not so, it turns out. The Men in Black types that had earlier seemed threatening turn out to be a force for good, and play a role in turning the tide. It's a warm fuzzy moment for everyone but the Decepticons.
  • This is the main reason for The Masquerade in Mahou Sensei Negima. Chao decided to get proactive and force the mages out into the open. Negi never really does come up with a reason that proves it would be a bad thing, but still fights her because he reasons that if she really had a good justification, she would need not hide anything.
  • This is the government's supposed view of the Contractors in Darker Than Black. Ryuusei no Gemini showed that the world could be made ready relatively painlessly; the government agencies simply liked keeping their secret weapons.


Comic Books

  • Effectively averted, or at least ignored, in most Superhero universes -- the world is so filled with heroes, villains, aliens, mole men and so on that they're impossible to cover up. Of course, this leads to Reed Richards Is Useless.
    • Note that even in those universes most people still won't believe in magic, even with magic-using heroes operating openly; they are considered metahumans and liars.
    • One She-Hulk story from the 90s was based on the idea that the existence of aliens was not public knowledge, even after several alien invasions, Galactus standing on the Baxter Building more than once, Skrulls on TV, etc etc.
    • This actually got played straight in What If...? #9, where President Eisenhower orders the "Avengers" team of the 1950s to disband after their first mission - reasoning that the world simply isn't prepared to be protected by a talking gorilla and a wunderkind from Uranus.
  • Subverted in the comic book Doctor Strange: The Oath. Doctor Strange has brought back Otkid's Elixir, a magic potion that can cure any disease, from another dimension. The main antagonist, Nicodemus West, tells him that humanity has to cure its ills through natural means. Strange points out all the inventions, like artificial hearts and CAT scans,that seemed like magic when they first appeared, and notes that there's no reason this would be different.
  • Brutally deconstructed in the comic series Planetary, in which an evil version of the Fantastic Four shows what happens when less than noble people use this excuse. They only claim the world isn't ready for technology so they can keep it all to themselves. They also actively kill and suppress anyone who tries to oust their secrets and take any super discoveries for "safe keeping".
  • In Marvel Comics, billions of years ago, the Watchers tried an experiment. They gave a primitive race the secrets of atomic power, which was an elementary science to the Watchers, but would allow the aliens to make huge advances to their society. The first advance they made was to build an interplanetary fleet with atomic warheads and go invade other planets. This resulted in other aliens killing the first aliens off in self-defense. The Watchers' reaction was to go "oops" and put their Alien Non-Interference Clause into effect.


Film

  • The main premise behind the films and animated Men in Black series is the world not being ready to accept the existence of alien species, let alone be trusted with any of said aliens' advanced technology. Left unspoken is the issue that Earth is the galactic Truce Zone; its important that we be ready because if we aren't ready for the responsibility when the public learns, we'll probably cause a major galactic war or twelve.
  • Used in the Transformers Film Series. After the resident Obstructive Bureaucrat demands to know why the Autobots have not shared their technology with the world, Optimus reasons that humanity would abuse it.
    • See also You Are Not Ready, since its used in the context of the humans wanting new weapons to help fight the bad guys.
    • Funny enough, in the sequal, Sam has a sizable chunk of Cybertronian science uploaded into his brain. Besides being laughed at for saying that Einstein was wrong, he can't even seem to find words for what he knows, lapsing into what sounds like a fax machine having a seizure, just when he's about to correct something.
  • Morpheus in The Matrix explains that most people are not ready to be freed, as they've become dependent on the system. He goes on to explain that some are "so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."
  • Ms. Yutani and her henchmen at the end of Requiem, on the Predator gun they salvaged; "The world isn't ready for this technology. But it isn't for this world, is it, Ms. Yutani?"


Literature

  • In Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead the laws of Starways Congress about contact between the new alien life reflect this trope. Originally the laws were passed to "Preserve the natural culture of the Pequeniños" but it's later realized that the laws are actually there so humans can stay on top of the technological race between species. So that when the Piggies actually can build a starship, and colonize other planets, they'll find that humans have already been there, done that.
  • In "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire", Sherlock Holmes makes brief mention of a case which involved "the Giant Rat of Sumatra", and adds the world isn't ready for that story. Attempting to thwart this trope, numerous later authors have written fan-fic about the Rat.
  • In Top Secret by John Gardiner, the protagonist finds a way to cure world hunger forever by allowing people to photosynthesize. This technology is suppressed by the President on the grounds that it would lead to the collapse of the food preparation industry.
  • A Quantum Murder, a sci-fi murder mystery by Peter F. Hamilton, involves a murder commited via a laser mind-programming device (originally developed as a learning tool) and solved through a neurohormone that enables someone to look back in time. Alarmed by the implications of both devices, Julia Evans, the idealistic but powerful CEO of Event Horizon, arranges for the destruction of all records, and gives a generous job offer (of the accept-or-else kind) to the scientist who witnessed these events so she can keep an eye on him.
  • The antagonists of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light use this as a justification for keeping their vast technology restricted to a tiny portion of the population. The protagonist calls them on it by asking why they've been actively quashing the spontaneous invention of technology.
  • Subverted in the Animorphs series. The Yeerks needed to keep their invasion secret because if humanity knew about it, they would overwhelm the invasion by sheer numbers. As Visser One once put it, "6 billion humans, all firing one bullet, missing almost 100 percent of the time, would wipe out the entire invasion." The Animorphs needed to keep their identities secret because if the Yeerks knew they were human, they could find them. Averted at the end of the series when the Big Bad of the series becomes Visser One and does take the invasion public-and almost wins.
    • Played straight in that the Andalites have their own version of the Prime Directive, "The Law of Seerow's Kindness", enacted when Prince Seerow tried to help another species, the Yeerks, out of their And I Must Scream existence. This bit the galaxy in the ass, big time. Resubverted when the only way to fix the mess is to break the rule.
    • And then subverted again in the final book according to Marco, who says that humanity doesn't panic at the revelation of extraterrestrial life. Or at least the side that wasn't trying to pull a mass Grand Theft Me invasion.

 "People were just glad they weren't the Borg."

  • A major theme of Atlas Shrugged, though used unconventionally. First seen when a technology that allows electricity to be gathered from the atmosphere without any adverse side effects, pollution, or factories, lightweight and apparently easy to construct, is hidden by its inventor out of fear that the setting's collectivist governments would exploit that inventor and people like him. Later the same principle is applied to innovation and skilled labor in general, to greatly destructive effect.
  • In the first book of the Harry Potter series, Hagrid answers Harry's question about this with: "Everyone'd be wantin' magic solutions to their problems." (Hmm, is it still okay for wizards to acquire those magic solutions from other wizards? Right then.) The question is never raised again for the rest of the books.
    • Some have suggested, inferring from the implications of some Word of God statements, that the real reason is that the Ministry is terrified of what would happen if the Muggles ever did find out. Just imagine the practicality of modern technology enhanced to an unlimited degree with magic, Muggles would be unstoppable. So the wizarding world has cultivated condescending paternalism towards Muggles in their culture to conceal this underlying fear.
    • If the Muggles find out that the Wizarding World has been living among them in secret for centuries, they are going to be scared and really PISSED OFF.
      • The fearful reactions of the Muggles are justified and demonstrated in the fifth book when Dudley, a Muggle teenager, gets attacked by a Dementor, the Harry Potter equivalent of a soul eater. Dudley is predictably mentally scarred by this and does a turnabout in treating Harry and accepting the existence of wizards... but only after being brought home from the attack in a shell-shocked-like state... and if Harry hadn't saved him he flat-out would have DIED.
  • In Ray Bradbury's 1953 short story The Flying Machine, a man invents the titular device in ancient China. The Emperor realizes that the machine could be used for war (such as for flying over the Great Wall of China), and has the inventor executed and the machine destroyed.
  • Hinted at in The Lord of the Rings, in which Gandalf observes that any device of an art deeper than one's own is dangerous. This doesn't go all the way to saying such devices should not be used, it's more like an observation and a call for caution, the reality of the risk is displayed by Denethor and Saruman.


Live Action TV

  • Sometimes the reason that the Power Rangers must keep their identities a secret, even though the villains always know who they are.
  • Justification for International Rescue keeping their technology to themselves.
  • Justifies the secrecy of the SGC in Stargate SG-1, though it turns out that a lot of this is being enforced by international businessmen who want to use Imported Alien Phlebotinum to dominate the tech industry. Whether or not the world actually is ready is not as open to discussion as it should have been, given that in the Aschen timeline in "2010", the Stargate's existence was publicly revealed and people just treated it as another form of public transport. But the main-timeline SGC never learned anything about that timeline other than that they must not go to the Aschen homeworld, so they had no way of knowing this.
    • They could have learned from all the other human cultures, in two galaxies, both primitive and advanced, none of which have a Masquerade. In the end the Masquerade only hurt Earth's defense, as seen already in the first season when one Obstructive Bureaucrat was enough to get the Stargate program shut down because they couldn't go through proper channels to appeal.
      • I'm not so sure. I can only think of a few cases where knowledge of the Stargate was disseminated to the general population of a previously ignorant world - most of the time, SG-1 dealt with government/military officials. Of those few, one was a civilisation that had already suffered a massive catastrophe, and thus there was little damage the revalation could do, one was a highly advanced star-faring civilisation that was already made up of two completely separate sentient species, and the final one suffered from a religious coup followed by an apocalyptic war as direct result of SG-1's appearance. And we did see the consequences of ending the Masquerade on a parallel Earth - mass panic, and the apparant transformation of the US into a dictatorship.
    • One late episode had a particularly interesting use of this trope: SG-1 visit another planet where they encounter a man who they end up telling that the Stargate (which was just a museum piece there, no-one knew that it did anything) can transport you to other planets. At the end of the episode, the alien government finds out about this, and, to the horror of SG-1's ally, declares that the world is not ready and begins their own Masquerade.
    • Alien technology is being slowly allowed to filter out into public use, however, "laundered" through various labs. Medical nanotechnology, for example, is more advanced in the Stargate verse than in real life due to things that have been learned from alien sources.
  • Sometimes the reason that the demonic subculture is kept a (not particularly secure) secret in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • The reason for the secrecy of the Blackwood Project in War of the Worlds.
  • Knight Rider: The technology controlled by Knight Industries is kept a guarded secret lest it be used for ignoble purposes.
  • Played straight in The Lone Gunmen "Like Water For Octane" episode with the car that runs on water. The heroes themselves decide to suppress the technology because they felt humanity would make so many cars that engine oil would cause a greater environmental threat than gasoline usage would and that mankind wouldn't figure a way around that problem (besides, you know, recycling the stuff, like we do nowadays).
    • I thought it was to save the US economy from the collapse of the gasoline-based automotive industry.
    • A comparable discovery (broadcast power) is concealed by the heroes in Legacies, a Repairman Jack novel. Averted in that it's covered up because the late inventor's daughter, whom he'd molested, didn't want a bastard like him to be remembered as a great genius.
  • Babylon 5: "Deathwalker" A notorious Dilgar war criminal has an medication that will give a person immortality. She later sadistically reveals that the essential components come from other beings of sapient species. Thus she intends to throw the various civilizations into murderous chaos in revenge. However, just as she is transported to Earth to give her medication and carry out her revenge, a Vorlon ship suddenly appears and destroys her ship, her and her medication. When the Vorlon ambassador, Kosh, is asked why that was done, he simply responds "You are not ready for immortality" and given the threat of the villain's scheme, it was apparently a good call.
    • Except it also denied everyone the opportunity to study the process and do research that could have eliminated that flaw. And considering how the Vorlons ended up treating the younger races, it's more a case of "we don't want you to have what makes us special."
      • Debatable. Most people wouldn't be that willing to wait and have the years slip them by when there's a potential source of immortality right there. It should also be noted that the Vorlon's have seen things like that happen before. And end badly... To be rather polite about according to the back story.
        • Years slip by to develop what? Cloning and recycling the dead...20th century technology.
    • Also the common excuse for the Minbari not to reveal why they surrendered at the battle of the line. Or that Valen was in fact Jeffrey Sinclair.
      • Actually, that excuse was more for the benefit of their own people. Humans would have dismissed the revelation as meaningless Minbari mysticism. It was the devastating consequences for the insular (and frankly quite racist) Minbari society that the Gray Council was worried about.
  • The basis of the Prime Directive in Star Trek.
    • One episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ends on this for an alien world with the government deciding that their people are not ready for space exploration or the knowledge of aliens because of the reaction of a cabinet member.
  • The Fourth Doctor once told the tale of the planet Minos. The Time Lords of Gallifrey, being a young race then, decided at help out the primitive planet Minos by instructing them in science and technology. The Minosans responded by kicking the Time Lords out at gunpoint then engaging in a nuclear war that reduced their homeworld to an asteroid belt. After that the Time Lords put their Prime Directive in place.
    • ...That sounds kinda familiar... (see the Comics section)
    • In the Doctor Who Series Frnarg two-parter 'The Hungry Earth'/'Cold Blood', a plan for the Silurians, the original reptilian inhabitants of the Earth, to re-emerge gets postponed for this reason. Considering that peace talks between them and the humans had broken down because of the murder of PO Ws, this is probably one of the more justified examples. The Doctor also puts into motion a plan to make the world ready, by asking the humans to spread the message of the Silurlians' return in 2,000 years.
    • In a more mundane example, an episode set in 1969 features an FBI agent thrown out of the service before of who he wants to marry. After he helps save the world, President Nixon concludes that she must be black and says he might be able to hep with the legal issue, since the US seems to be ready for mixed-race marriage. The ex-agent then corrects him, saying he is black. Nixon decides that landing on the moon is far enough.
  • Often mentioned in Torchwood as a justification for having to hide the existence of aliens or alien technology.
  • In Dollhouse this is the reason given for why their technology is so very misused. Not that, frankly, they seem particularly ready for the tech themselves.
    • As it turns out in Epitaph One they're absolutely right and the widespread use of their technology destroyed civilization. As Echo put it:

   Kids playing with matches. And they burnt the house down.

  • In Friends to avoid hurting Joey's feelings, Rachel tells him that the world is not ready for him and his unisex bag.
  • Allie in Steven Spielberg's Taken miniseries was supposed to be a gift to humanity, a mixing of human and alien, but they decided the world wasn't ready for her.


Music

  • Played with in Ayreon's 01011001 when some of the Forevers argue that humanity isn't ready for advanced technology. They give humanity technology anyway - turns out humanity wasn't ready...


Video Games

  • This trope inadvertently led to some of the conflicts of Final Fantasy IV. Some Lunarians wanted to simply observe the planet and leave humans alone; others, like KluYa, wanted to grant them the gift of advanced technology, producing the Tower of Babil, the Devil Road, and airships, but didn't take it further lest they adversely affect existing human civilizations. Dissidents like Zemus wanted to take over the planet wholesale, and giving the Puny Earthlings mechs and tanks puts a crimp in those plans.
  • Retroactively inverted in Mass Effect 2. Mordin will explain that this is what should have been done with the krogan when the salarians found them. Instead, they gave the krogans (who had achieved nuclear technology only to blast themselves back to the stone age) spacecraft and advanced weaponry, the reason being that krogan toughness, aggressiveness and sheer numbers were needed to combat the rachni. As a result of this "uplifting", the krogan expanded explosively with nothing to check their numbers or their aggression, necessitating a Depopulation Bomb that meant that only one out of every thousand pregnancies was born. Had the krogan naturally developed beyond their aggression, Mordin explains, this may not have been the case, and the krogan could have been prosperous.
    • This is a common theme in Mass Effect 2. Legion states this as the reason why the majority of the geth did not follow Sovereign. The Reaper was offering what they wanted - true unity - but they preferred to reach it on their own. Also invoked when discussing the fate of the Collector Base.
    • To say nothing of the Reapers, of course; one of the big reasons the Council denies their existence is to prevent the galaxy from descending into panic. Not that they'd need to cover it up in Mass Effect 3, of course...
  • At the conclusion of the College of Winterhold questline in Skyrim, the Psijic Order monks decide that Ancano's attempt to control the Eye of Magnus (nearly wiping Winterhold off the map in the process) is proof that world is not ready for the Eye of Magnus.
  • Present in one of the endings to Deus Ex, and heavily implied throughout the game. Everett literally asks - "Do you think they`re ready for this? After everything you`ve seen? Everything you`ve done?" That question gives JC pause, and he answers - "No. Not yet."


Webcomics

  • Combined with Groundhog Day Loop in a particularly Mind Screwy way in the webcomic Grounded Angel.
  • The Invasion of monsters in the webcomic Parallel Dementia is kept secret, because the more people know the nightmares exist, the more there will appear.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, when Jean takes offense at the alien Princess Voluptua's referring to the human race as "wildlife," Volly responds, "Jean, don't take it personally. Until you start interstellar space travel, everybody's wildlife."
  • Played for laughs in El Goonish Shive when aliens show up at Tedd's house.
  • In The Dragon Doctors --a world where magic is already known to exist-- a spy on an exploration team tries to sabotage the discovery of the fountain of youth, fearing it will change the world for the worse. It doesn't, as we have seen already (this is a Backstory chapter).
  • In Wapsi Square, Monica is quite convinced that the world is not ready for the paranormal things that she deals with on a daily basis. The line itself first comes up after Shelly suggests using the Aztec god of alcohol to open a bar.


Web Original

  • The Paradise setting involves a Masquerade brought about by some unknown cause randomly, permanently transforming humans into (possibly gender-changed) Funny Animals in a way that is Invisible to Normals. Early on, characters opt to continue the Masquerade rather than trying to break it because there are too few of them yet for the world to take seriously.
  • Actual real lightsabers, in the YouTube series Three in The Afternoon, and its sequel Six In The Morning. As Travis warns Jonathan and Corey, if they are spread throughout the world, people (especially children) cutting each other in half will become a regular occurrence, and much of the story is spent trying to stop renegade Lucasfilm execs from ruining civilization for a buck. After they seemingly succeed, George Lucas of course begins mass-marketing them anyway.


Western Animation

  • After admitting to her partner Matt that the Gargoyles exist, Elisa says that part of the reason she never told anyone was because she wanted to feel special as their Secret Keeper. Later events in the series would demonstrate the world probably wasn't ready after all.
  • In "X-Men: Evolution", the existence of the mutants is hidden because Professor X believes humans are unready to accept the mutants. When Magneto releases a Sentinel in public at the end of the second season, thus forcing the X-Men to use their powers out in public, the Professor's theory that mutants will not be accepted is proven right.
  • In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien "The Flame-keeper's Circle", Julie tries to convince Ben that wide-spread alien technology could benefit the Earth. Ben warns her that it could destroy Earth instead. It's happened before to other planets, and one of the reasons the Plumbers exist is to prevent it from happening again.
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