Re: the power of words

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Posted by Mike Zeares on November 01, 1997 at 19:40:47:

In Reply to: Re: the power of words posted by Myrrh on October 31, 1997 at 09:36:07:

: Speaking of terms, though, I dislike the term "barbarian" used to describe Indian cultures. It's like the word "savage" -- makes me cringe. Ah, words are such a trip.

: Myrrh

Ah, I should have added a disclaimer explaining my use of these terms, which don't mean to me what they do to many people. Put simply, a civilization is a culture that builds cities. One definition I've seen for "barbarian" is a culture in which the individual is supreme; "no man can tell another man what to do."
My use of "barbarian" is not meant to imply "barbaric," nor is "civilized" meant to imply anything other than city building. Instead of barbarian, you could read "warrior," for that is what barbarian cultures are. This model breaks down in the details and doesn't quite fit American cultures. Classic barbarians often had difficulty grasping the concept of "trade," for example:

Typical Barbarian: Trade? You mean "raid?"
Civilized Person: No, "trade." See, I give you something, and you give me something in return.
TB: I get it! You give me all your stuff, and I give you a hot foot! Neat!
CP: No, I don't think you quite understand...
TB: Hey, Theodric! Fetch the branding iron!

This is a gross simplification, of course, but the American Indians had been a trading people for quite some time. Also, most Eurasian barbarians were nomadic, which describes the Plains Indians but not the more settled Eastern Woodlanders. I was speculating that, given some more time, the Easterners might have continued to form higher political organizations like the Iroquoi Confederacy. After giving it some thought, I'm not at all sure this would have led inevitably to city building. The Celts and Germans were largely settled without the complications of civilization. Anyway, much of human history is concerned with the conflict between warrior races and civilizations, and I was trying to fit North American history into this pattern. The Indians had the misfortune of getting caught between two strong civilizations. They never had a chance, given a civilization's greater organizational ability and "stick-to-it-ivness." With a few more hundred years, who knows? If the Europeans had been faced with a few large, well-organized nations instead of many small, more loosely organized ones, they might not have been able to gain a foothold here. Hard to say, but fun to speculate about.

I hope this has cleared up what I meant. In my definition, Hawkeye is a classic "barbarian." He acts because he chooses to, not because he is compelled by some distant civil authority. Civilization, which is all about civil authority, has little use for such men, I'm afraid. Anyway, I'll try to be more careful with my words in the future.

Mike, decendant of barbarians.

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