Why Barbarians?


Fifth Estate # Daily Barbarian Number 1


FIFTH ESTATE, #298, June 19, 1979

Barbarian: 1. A fierce, brutal or cruel person. 2. A brute, uncivilized, rude, savage, cruel, barbarous.

Example: “he is merely a barbarian on the loose in a museum” (Yvor Winters).

Civilization: 1. The process of civilizing or becoming civilized. 2. To civilize; to bring out of a condition of savagery or barbarism; to better the habits or manners of; refine.

Example: “he is the utmost product of civilization. He stands courteously in line at gas stations” (Winter Yvors).

“Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. If this is civilization, then death to civilization!”

Quotation: Marx, June 1979

The Daily Barbarian grew out of a leaflet (an extended version of which appears on the back of this sheet) we put together for the recent anti-nuclear demonstration in Midland, Michigan. Half-facetiously we signed it “The New Barbarians” in an attempt to indicate the intensity of our opposition to a “civilized” society which could develop not just nuclear power but an entire social system dedicated to the proposition that human beings are expendable. We soon realized our own pretentiousness in attempting to adopt the mantle “Barbarians,” as we also soon realized that, in a way, we were as much the victims of the prevailing wisdom as those we were lampooning in adopting the name.

Barbarian is always a deprecatory epithet in this civilized world, applied to individuals who are vulgar and unsophisticated, but more often used to describe societies which have yet to come under the enlightening influence of civilization. It is taken for granted that, while modern life may have its drawbacks, it is in every other sense an improvement over the barbarity which preceded it. But the more we looked at pre-civilized societies the more we realized that, like so many other aspects of the way this society justifies itself, current formulations about civilization/barbarism stand everything on its head.

For “civilized” does not mean, for instance, a society which has transcended homicide (in fact it means a society which has taken mass homicide to previously undreamed of extremes); it means only a society which has refined the mechanisms by which homicide can legally be performed; it means a society where an individual may not legally kill another but the state can; it means a society where there actually exist sets of “accords” (the Geneva Accords, specifically) which set humane standards by which the populations of such states can be set to massacring each other. Civilized is a society wherein a woman’s right to work around toxic substances which will harm her reproductive system and cause birth defects in her children is guaranteed by law so that employers cannot discriminate against her by refusing her access to the job. Civilized is a society which systematically tramples every other species and divergent culture then congratulates itself for having the sensitivity to lament the loss.

Barbaric, on the other hand, is a pre-agricultural society where individuals enjoyed more autonomy in their daily lives than at any time since; where they rose and slept at their own inclination, spent an estimated three hours a day meeting their needs and enjoyed more “leisure time” than the average citizen of any of the advanced industrial states. Barbaric is a society free of cops, priests, soldiers, bosses, kings, politicians, bureaucrats and heads of state; a society free of factories, time clocks, alarm clocks, prisons, chemicals, nuclear weapons—we could go on indefinitely.

The truth of the matter is, the barbarity of our society appalls us, and the only thing we find more appalling is that anybody could call this civilization. And the true barbarian is anyone who does.

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