The Modern Barbarian

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately just thinking about what I want out of not just me, but men and women in general. I’ve also mentioned a certain quote by Conan creator Robert E. Howard quite a bit, and that whole idea has deeply crawled inside my brain to set up housekeeping.

The idea is that we probably need to be a little less civilized and become modern barbarians.

The modern barbarian isn’t someone who skewers missionaries in his driveway. At least not as a general rule.

No, a modern barbarian is someone who exists with the understanding that beneath the facade of civility lives a massive number of people who use that as a shield to protect themselves from the repercussions of their incivility.

At the core of a modern barbarian is an understanding that quote by Howard I mentioned earlier:


“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

Robert E. Howard

What the modern barbarian does is use this quote as their basis for life, in a lot of ways. They operate under the assumption that not only do they live under it but so does everyone else.

As such, they navigate their life by not seeking to give offense. They don’t intentionally get belligerent with people. They don’t antagonize people over things without a really good reason.

When they do, it’s a calculated and intentional thing. It’s a signal that the person they’re giving offense to is someone unworthy of their respect, of their fear, even. They actually inviting that other party to engage in combat, if they so choose.

They’re not afraid to demand apologies, but they’re also quick to give them as well.

But they’re not doormats. They don’t just tolerate incivility and insults. Not only are they capable of returning them in kind, but they’re also not above inviting someone to step outside to deal with the issue man-to-man (or woman-to-woman or woman-to-man or whatever).

A modern barbarian is someone who understands the world owes them nothing. The capricious nature of the cosmos means they’re not owed success in their career, success in their relationships, or success in anything else. Instead, they have to work for it. They have to be tireless, ruthless, yet not to the point of crossing that previously mentioned line.

To a modern barbarian, their word is their bond. They do everything they can to keep it. 

Oh, they don’t get stupid and eschew contracts or anything. “Barbarian” isn’t a synonym for dumb, by any stretch of the imagination. But when they say they’ll do something, even without a contract, they endeavor to do just that.

They love their families deeply and passionately, but they’re not doormats for them either. Children are expected to listen to their elders, but also learn to be thinking, functioning people of their own. They should learn respect, but also understand it from a barbarian perspective.

What a barbarian isn’t, though, is someone looking for a fight. They shouldn’t seek out confrontation, except perhaps in sanctioned sporting events as a test of their skill.

They may be ready to kill to protect them and theirs, but they don’t want to kill. They don’t see any reason in murdering enemies when they know that enemies own pathetic nature will drag them down soon enough all on its own. Instead, they simply act when required.

When action is needed, though, the modern barbarian doesn’t play around. He puts his opponent down. Hard. He doesn’t worry about the minimum required force, but the maximum force allowed by the laws of civilization.

You see, while the modern barbarian is just that, a barbarian, he or she still has to live in the civilized world. They have to conform, at least outwardly, to the rules men have created. That means they don’t go out looking for trouble, otherwise, they won’t be conforming to what’s required of them.

Yet deep down inside, the modern barbarian understands the facade. They understand that civilization is a fragile thing and that it can shatter all too easily. They understand that some who count on civilization to protect them will also slam up against the sides of that civilization, constantly threatening to break the facade into a thousand pieces. They understand this not because it’s necessarily something they desire, but because understanding the possibility is armor against the shock of seeing that thing happen.

Personally, I’m realistic enough to know that my dream world will never happen. Nor am I stupid enough to believe that a modern-day world of barbarians would be a particularly pleasant place, especially for the weak, the stupid, or for jackasses.

But even in that world, the weak can get stronger, the stupid can be educated, and jackasses can learn the error of their ways.

In this one, there’s no reason for the weak to get stronger, the stupid to be educated, or for jackasses to behave themselves. Instead, all of that is re-enforced by our modern society that seemingly celebrates all of that.

The thing is, we don’t need an entire world of modern barbarians. We just need enough so the jackasses out there have to take that into account when they want to start their crap. We just need enough so the culture shift at least a bit more from the super-fragile and into a certain degree of resilience. 

Yes, all of this is mostly a dream, but it’s a goal. It’s a goal of who I am trying to be, who I want my children to be, and who many of us can strive to be ourselves.

We have to start somewhere, so we might as well “be the change we want to see in the world” and start with ourselves.

I’m starting with me.

What about you?

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7 thoughts on “The Modern Barbarian”

  1. This is really good, Tom. Yes, for years I thought of my training, in a way, as training for battle. Even though I’m 43 and have an office job. I like the mindset you describe here, and I like the idea of being prepared to act like a barbarian if it’s ever needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In my humble opinion, that’s the precise way to look at your training. Sounds like you and I are on the same wavelength in that way.

      Especially since we both are in our 40’s and work in very sedentary jobs. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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