What does it mean to be a ‘barbarian’ in the Far Future?
Merriam-Webster defines barbarian as “a person from an alien land, culture, or group believed to be
inferior, uncivilized, or violent”. Let me emphasize some of those words. Inferior. Uncivilized. Violent
OED has several definitions. The most relevant two are:
A foreigner, one whose language and customs differ from the speaker's
A person living outside the pale of the [Roman] Empire and its civilization
With the general idea being simply ‘you’re not one of us, and that fact makes you inferior’.
For many fans of adventure fiction, ‘barbarian’ brings to mind Conan the Cimmerian. He wears hides & fur, and wields a sword. If you read Howard’s works, you find that the differences between Conan and the ‘civilized’ people have little to do with technology. Conan despised ‘civilization’ because he saw it as morally bankrupt. He was not jealous of their fancy toys.
|This is an AI-generated image.
We readers can also see Conan as ‘primitive’. Compared to 20th/21st century technology, Cimmeria was primitive. Compared to Aqilonia, they were not that far behind. Lack of sophisticated technology does not make one a barbarian.
Here’s another definition. Civilized is defined as “At an advanced stage of social and cultural development, usually marked by the existence of organized communities and an adherence to established conventions of behaviour; highly developed; refined and sophisticated in manner or taste; educated, cultured”
“a relatively high level of cultural and technological development”
A modern New Yorker, with his smart phone and digital everything (TL 8-9) might think of the poor rural dweller in, well, anywhere that isn’t NYC, to be a primitive. He doesn’t have a smart phone and a Tesla model 4! He does have other accoutrements of TL 7-8 life, though. Cable television, modern medicine, new model cars, and a comparable public education. All that it takes is one TL of difference. The label barbarian may be all in the eye of the beholder. Small-town man does not think of himself as a barbarian, or inferior to fancy-pants city man.
In my Church and Empire setting, from the Talaveran point of view, all the residents of the Corridor could be considered barbarians. Their tech is lower (how uncivilized!), sometimes far lower. They don’t speak Talaveran. They do not hold to Talaveran customs of behavior. Thus, barbarians. Barbarian can be no more than a term of snobbery, a means for looking down upon one’s fellow man. Pride of race/culture. I don’t present the Corridor worlds that way, and my play group has not adopted this attitude, I’m pleased to say.
Keep in mind, that Stavanger is TL-12 and Lanzhou is TL-13. Almost as good as the Empire, but still behind. But do they therefore not meet the definition of ‘civilized’? Of course they do! Mavramorn and VanGoff’s World at TL-10 out-do modern America. Yes, they’re civilized.
What I’m getting at is: think beyond the stereotype of the pidgin-speaking, melee-weapon, primitive barbarian. A barbarian can come from any world, at any tech level. They are a group apart, separated for whatever reason from the main government and society. They might come from a Subordinate world, or live out on the edge in Ungoverned Space.
Let us now consider the Barbarian career, both what it states, and what it implies.