Where are the Barbarians, then?

Fact is, I am supposed to be nominating some. The schematic is that I go off and explain how what someone is doing is very bad, that Spinoza would not be happy or something, and that they are barbarians, therefore.

I haven’t managed to partly because I am in the US, the happy home of the current crop of Ultimate Barbarians, and the barbarity seems, well, just like folks. Far too many people are still horribly fat, but that is hardly the barbarity. The main barbarity is that all the barbarities are so well documented, so everyday, so painfully obvious, I don’t think I can write about them in this forum in a useful way right now.

So I will quote Iain Banks, whose latest I just finished, and who has summed up how I have felt for the past year or two:

He wanted peace and love and all that shit for the whole fucking world and you’d imagine that sort of stuff would be fairly near the top of everybody’s wish list, but it was all going in the other direction, descending into madness and barbarism, reverting to a mind-numbing, morality-sapping set of cruel, mutually intolerant superstitions and authoritarianisms. Stupidity and viciousness were rewarded, illegality not just tolerated but encouraged, lying profoundly worked, and torture was justified — even lauded. meanwhile the whole world was warming up, ready to drown.

But in reality, just as when a falling stock makes you reach some sort of maximum pain threshold and you decide to sell it, marking its bottom, I am actually fairly sure that the current nadir has signs of hope.

Early doors, but the right party, and the only presidential candidate with some feeling and understanding for how the US is perceived abroad, is looking more and more like a winner in 2008.

The enemy is in the process of being flushed out.

And I have had useful discussions with people here who really do seem to understand what has happened. Or at least nodded when I ranted insanely at them. No link, I was drinking scotch with my brother.

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3 thoughts on “Where are the Barbarians, then?”

  1. Maybe it would be useful to start a classification scheme for barbarians? There are those who are barbarians towards themselves (the fat), towards their own kind (televangelists) and then there are the ultimate barbarians, those who would have you hate the other.

    Among the ultimate barbarians, there are gradiations, of course. You have the kind of identity smearing, where all Arabs or Muslims become potential terrorists, and hence morally reprehensible avant la lettre. Here, if you will, the intentions are good but the direction is hell. Then there are those who purposely demonise a group — be it Jews, liberals thinkers like the de Witts or gays — attributing all manner of evil to them a priori. It’s this latter kind that is the ultimate kind of barbarity, as Spinoza pointed out, and it is the kind to which all of history’s most reviled leaders subscribed.

  2. Oh, one more group: Where shall we put the people that follow the ultimate barbarians? They are human all too human, but does that alleviate a measure of guilt? Would the mob that ripped apart the de Witts and then ate bits of them rank as high as the leaders that incited the violence?

    I’m inclined to say yes — you can’t have barbarian leaders without barbarian followers. They are in perfect symbiosis. There would have been no Hitler without the Germans. Or, is it more accurate to say that there would have been no Hitler without the common man?

    I sometimes wonder if our inner barbarian — the thin veneer of civilization that is so deftly peeled back in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness — is the great enemy here, and that which Spinoza labored egainst in all his works. More later about his concept of an exoteric religion, one fit for the masses, as opposed to his esoteric philosophy, which takes hard work. Seems to me, for example, that Spinoza sees a need to pacify the masses with some kind of story regarding God that is easily swallowed, a state religion that maintains order and controls the more outlandish impulses. Not very democratic, actually, but we can’t really demand that Spinoza event everything before his time.

  3. Well I think I could agree to the idea of barbaric gradations. But for me the most ultimatest barbarians, and really the only meaningful ones, are the ones who undermine the basic structure of the spinozist social and political model, the open society, of supremacy of the individual and freedom of thought. For me revoking habeas corpus and instituting torture as an instrument of state, or invading a multi-ethnic state, dismantling all its institutions and watching it dissolve into anarchy so that 650,000 men, women and children die that otherwise would not have, all that is a lot worse than being say fat, or a televangelist. But not, I would say, a US Talk Radio host, see below.

    So while yes, I agree with your classification, I think here at Ultimi Barbarorum we have to triage our barbarians. I can’t be having at The Fat all the time when the rest of this crap is going on. Note also we would have to call the site Omni Barbarorum if we were going to tilt at everybody.

    Your second comment is interesting, and very perspicacious. It IS against our inner barbarian that we have to strive. Spinoza says again and again in the Ethics that the path of reason is hard, we are beset by passions, tossed about like salad. But reason gives us the ability to control the passions and our inner Hagar the Horrible. The ultimate barbarians at the De Wits murder were the educated ones, the Talk Radio hosts, the Radio Rwanda, not the thicker mob members who couldn’t have known better.

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