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John W. Campbell

In studying history, there are three general, and quite distinguishable levels of culture we can identify. Our own we naturally call “civilized” or “civilization,” with the implication of “completely matured and fully developed.” It happens to be as far as cultures on this planet have gone; what the fourth, fifth, nth levels of culture may be we can’t guess, of course. But judging from history, we can make one pretty high-probability guess—the next stage of development will yield a cultural system that will appear, to us, utterly abhorrent—a system founded on Evil and practicing degradation and repellent immoralities.

That’s the characteristic of every level so far . . . as seen from the immediately preceding level.

To define what I mean by the three so-far known levels, I distinguish Tribal, Barbarian, and Civil cultures; the natives of the three we call Tribesmen, Barbarians, and Citizens. Preceding all three is the preorganized culture level of the “primate horde”—the sort of quasi-organized group found among baboons and monkeys, in the present time.

The Tribal culture—in its never-actually-existent theoretical pure state—is a system of pure ritual and taboo. “Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory.” The objectively observable system stems from an unstated philosophy—which is unstated because the Tribesman doesn’t know philosophy exists, any more than a dog knows logic exists, or a fish knows that biochemistry exists. The philosophy is, essentially precisely that of the Absolute Totalitarian state . . . minus the familiar dictator. That is, in the Tribe, the individual exists for the service of the state. The individual has no value whatever, save as a replaceable plug-in unit in the immortal, ever-existent machinery-organism of the Tribe. No individual exists as an individual—neither Tribal king nor Tribal slave; each is a unit plugged in—temporarily, for all these units wear out and are discarded in a score or two of years—to the eternal Traditional System of the Tribe. The cells in a living organism wear out and are discarded; the organism is, relatively speaking, immortal. So, in the Tribe, the individual is nothing; the Tribe is eternal,

In return for a practically absolute loss of self-identity, the Tribesman is rewarded with security and peace of mind. The Tribal Traditions have The Answers to all possible real problems; nothing can happen that the Tribal Traditions, in their ancient and time-tested wisdom, have not already solved. There are no doubts; there are answers which involve “these tribesmen must die,” but Death is not intolerable. Uncertainty—Doubt—these are the Terrors that live in the Unknown. And against those horrors, the ancient wisdom of the Tribal Traditions stand a strong, sure defense.

The Tribesman has an exact, clear-cut, and perfectly understandable definition of Evil. Evil is Change. Any Change whatever is Evil. The correlation is absolute—perfect one-to-one.

The Barbarian represents the Ultimate Horror from the viewpoint of the Tribesman; he is the Pure Individual. The Barbarian does not put his faith, his sense of security, in the ancient wisdom of the Traditions—but in the wisdom and strength of a Hero, a living demi-god-man, a Leader who solves all problems.

Barbarism, in other words, is the Dictator, without the Totalitarian State. There is a Hero, who is a strong, and unusually clever leader—an individual who stands out above the men around him.

Tribalism is “a government of laws, not of men,” with the minor change that “traditions” replace “laws.”

Barbarism becomes a government of Men, not of traditions.

It is the first development of human culture which recognizes the value of the individual. It is not true that only civilized people respect the dignity of the individual; any Barbarian will assure you that Citizens have no dignity, that Civilization does not respect the individual. That only Barbarians understand what it means to be an individual.

The Barbarian, in essence, “has too much Ego in his Cosmos.”

It’s perfectly true that all men seek security—but necessarily, that means they seek what they believe is security. A superstitious Tribesman, fleeing a ghost, would happily climb a 100,000-volt power-line tower because he knows that ghosts can’t climb.

The Tribesman’s security is his conviction that the Tribal Traditions have sure answers to all real problems.

The Barbarian’s security is in his absolute conviction that he can handle any problem—and if he can’t, why, of course his Leader-Hero can, and will.

# # #

While the Barbarian leader-hero corresponds with what we think of as a Dictator, the implication we attach is entirely wrong; the Barbarian’s leader-hero is followed out of conviction, not out of fear. Oh, there’s always the Fear of the Outer Darkness—the fear of the Unknown and Unknowable—but the Barbarian follows the Hero because he admires, respects, and adulates, not because he fears the power of the Hero.

When Barbarism first arises in any area, Tribalism is doomed. The two are mutually exclusive, and there is no possible “peaceful coexistence” between them. To the Tribesman, the Barbarian is Evil Incarnate; the Barbarian has utterly rejected all Good, Moral, and Ethical values. He has rejected the Sacred Traditions, and glories in his absolute defiance of them. He blasphemes not casually, but as a way of life.

To the Barbarians, the Tribesman is a slave, a spineless, gutless coward, a disgrace to human shape. He has no self-respect, no courage to take a risk, no faith in himself. He doesn’t respect himself, or any man. He won’t fight for any reward, no matter how great and shining! He’s a stupid, lazy slug, a disgrace to humanity.

The Tribesman won’t fight for reward, he won’t take a risk for great gain—because that is not in the Traditions. A Tribesman can’t fight an enemy tribe for that enemy tribe’s land; his tribal traditions refer to his tribe’s land. If he did take the neighboring tribe’s land . . . there would be no traditions to tell what to do with it. It would, in fact, be a Change, and therefore Evil.

The “battles” between two ritual-taboo tribes, anthropologists have long since observed, are practically pure rituals, and actually have a vanishingly small casualty rate. Not greatly different—for all the use of spears!—than in modern college football clashes. The spears are hurled while at a range so extreme that it’s sheer accident if someone gets hurt.

When Barbarism appears—that situation changes in a hurry. The Barbarian army isn’t going through a ritual; they’re out for blood and loot. They don’t have traditions as guides, nor as limiting fences about them.

When Genghis Khan appeared, the Mongols, who had been ritual-taboo nomads were converted to Barbarians—and it was only the sheer overwhelming mass of geography that finally stopped them.

Barbarism is one of the great breakthroughs in cultural evolution; for the first time, it establishes that the individual has great value, that the individual must be respected. That it is not true that all men are interchangeable plug-in units.

Barbarism introduces the idea that Man can, and should, make his fate, rather than accept it. That Man can accomplish, that Change comes in two varieties, Good and Bad, and that the correlation Evil-Change: Change-Evil is not a one-to-one system.

Of course, it horribly complicates the problems of life; where before it was only necessary to show that X was a Change to prove conclusively that X was Evil, it now became necessary to decide whether X was Progress or Degeneracy.

Like most fundamentally sound and necessary ideas, the importance of the individual, which Barbarism first discovered, was very promptly overdone. The Barbarian respects only the individual; his respect for self becomes the only effective respect he has. He does not respect Gods, Demons, or other men. He will swear a mighty vow that will endure “so long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows,” but which will, in fact, endure until his personal inclinations veer, and he decides he was tricked into the vow.

A democratic vote means nothing whatever to a Barbarian, in consequence. He is a Free Soul, and he spits on sniveling cowards who allow themselves to be compelled to do what they don’t want to. Crawling slaves!

So, of course, to accept a vote that goes contrary to his own ideas is impossible; only a whimpering slave lets other people determine what he shall do!

When the Barbarian encounters Civilization, therefore, he is going to be enormously confused and baffled. The Barbarians of North Europe, meeting the Citizens of the Roman Republic, were meeting men who allowed others to order them about, to tell them what to do and when to do it. Who obeyed commands they didn’t, themselves, agree with. Obviously, a pack of servile slaves!

But these cowardly Roman Legionnaires, for some incomprehensible reason, did not collapse in battle. These Legionnaires, who had no self-respect, who did not fight man-to-man, but used short swords so that no one of them could say, when he returned home, “I killed Urhtoth!” but only, “I am a member of the Fourth Legion,”—these Romans strangely didn’t flee before the fiercest Barbarian charges.

To the Barbarians, the Citizen shows the symptoms of all the things the Barbarian rejects as vile and degrading—the essence of cowardice. The Citizen yields his will to the demands of others. He allows himself to be limited, and allows himself to be compelled against his own desires.

To the Barbarian, the Citizen shows the same loathsome abnegation that the Tribesman does.

Which makes it all the more incomprehensible that these sniveling Citizens win battle after battle. They who have sacrificed their Manhood, have given up their right to individual dignity, somehow prove able to fight like maddened demons!

At each stage of cultural evolution, the preceding stage appears loathsome . . . and the succeeding stage appears to partake of those same loathsome characteristics.

As a rough guess, it’s highly probable that the next stage of cultural evolution will appear, to us, to be Barbarism, and be a horrible, degenerate, loathsome system indeed.

Just as the Civil system appears, to the Barbarian, to be the Tribal system, in which the individual has no dignity, and a man is not a Man, for he lacks the courage to express his individual worth and will.

# # #

In a previous editorial, I discussed the effect of the cultural system of the local natives on the type of relationship that grows up between colonists and natives.

Notice that the root philosophy of the ritual-taboo tribesman is such that it is inherently impossible to cooperate with him in establishing a colony. So long as the natives are true Tribesmen, Change is Evil—and the colonists are introducing change. There is no such thing as “a good change” in a pure-tradition system: “Change is Evil; Evil is Change.”

More immediately, the Tribesman’s sense of security stems entirely from having a sure source of Answers. The Tribesman has no answers himself, and has no sense that he can be a source of answers. His sense of security, his defense against the Unknown, is a Source of Answers. He expects to be told what to do, when, and how; if his Tribal Traditions don’t do so, then some other source of Answers must. He has no expectation or desire to be responsible for his own acts; that way lies the terror of the Unknown.

If some colonist comes in and overthrows the Tribal Traditions—then the Colonist must be the Source of Answers. The Tribesman cannot cooperate on a man-to-man basis with the colonist, no matter how the colonist may seek to establish such a system. The Tribesman doesn’t know he’s a man; he knows only that he’s a Unit of the System—that he has to be a unit of some system.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. And you can lead a Tribesman to Liberty . . . but you can’t make him free.

If the colonists move in to an area where there are Barbarian natives . . . again, cooperation is strictly impossible. Barbarians can’t cooperate among themselves; they do not operate as a cross-linked, integrated team in any operation, but as individuals heading toward the same goal, and hence incidentally traveling parallel paths. Like the pellets from a shotgun charge, they produce a net group effect, but not by reason of being in a cooperating system.

The colonists, seeking to set up a civilized colony, are presenting the Barbarians with an irresistible challenge; the colonists are showing the weakness, the spineless cowardice, the slave mentality, of allowing themselves to be pushed around by their masters. And they’re demanding that the Barbarians give up their self-respect and crawl among them!

He’d rather die in honorable battle, than knuckle under, than crawl before masters, like that!

Of course, if the natives have already reached the Civil level of culture themselves, cooperation is not only possible, but practically inevitable. When there are free men who can and will work, slaves invariably prove too expensive.

The Citizen can be enslaved; on that, the Barbarian is right. The Barbarian cannot be enslaved; he’ll either kill himself trying to rebel, or die of psychosomatic illnesses brought on by hopelessness if rebellion is impossible. He loses the will to live, if he cannot live as a Free Barbarian.

A Citizen can be enslaved, because, with him, freedom is not an absolute thing, as it is with the Barbarian. But such men are more efficiently productive as free men than as slaves—and they will, therefore, wind up free-in-fact, whether slaves-in-name or not.

If the natives in an area being opened for colonization by a civilized people are themselves civilized—the result will be a hybrid civilization, with mutual respect between natives and colonists.

If the natives are Barbarians, they cannot be enslaved, and it is impossible to cooperate with them, or establish any form of peaceful co-existence. But the Barbarian is only a short step from civilization himself. After those “sniveling, cowardly slaves” of Citizens have repeatedly defied all the certainties of Barbarian ideas by shellacking every Barbarian attack, the Barbarian—who is not stupid!—starts reevaluating his ideas.

At this point, cooperation may set in—because the Barbarians have ceased to be Barbarians.

The Spanish Conquistadors represent a very unusual sort of “Colonization”; they were, actually, typical Barbarians themselves! Like the Barbarian, each of them was a force unto himself. He may not have thought that he was, himself, God, but he definitely acted on the basis that he was God’s Chosen Instrument. They had unlimited faith in themselves—right up to the instant of death. Nothing had ever been able to kill them; they were invulnerable! Death and disaster was something that happened to others.

The resultant personality made possible a level of achievement that was, quite clearly, far beyond any reasonable man’s level. Their self-will and self-importance absolutely dominated anything else.

They came from a Civil system, and had many aspects of the Civil system—but they were, individually, Barbarians.

The Barbarian is not a worker; he’s a looter. He’s a high-risk gambler. He will never develop a land; he will only loot it. For him, vast, rich farm lands, just waiting for an industrious population to develop them, are of no value whatever.

# # #

The Spanish Conquistadors never achieved anything whatever in the United States area; all the natives in this area were Barbarian-level themselves—and nothing is less profitable to a Barbarian than getting into a clawing match with other Barbarians.

The Conquistadors did just fine in Mexico and in the Inca empire; there, the natives had recently developed a civilization—they were very-late-Barbarian early—Civilization. They could be enslaved . . . and were.

Spain never established a foothold anywhere where there were no enslaveable natives.

Wherever the enslaveable natives were early-civilization level people . . . the slavery lasted just long enough for the natives to learn the higher-order techniques of mid-civilization. Whereupon the now-educated natives dumped the conquerors: the result is a hybrid civilization.

It’s interesting to wonder what would have happened if the British, instead of the Spanish, had been first into those areas. In the areas where British colonists met natives of early-Civilized level—the Polynesians in New Zealand and Hawaii, for example—hybrid cultures grew up from the start.

It’s also interesting to wonder what will happen if we go in to some planet, and find what seems to be a Barbarian culture . . . which isn’t. It would certainly be baffling, and almost certainly be disastrous in a way we cannot dimly imagine.

It would mean the destruction of our very souls. Just as Civilization, by merely contacting Barbarians repeatedly, brings about the corruption and degradation of their dignity, their self-respect—their very souls. And turns them into cowardly, weakened, crawling things that actually cooperate with another human being.

We can’t, of course, guess just what form of loathsome corruption of ourselves, our dignity, looms before us.

It doesn’t really matter; we’re going to get it anyway, whether from outside, or from our own unwanted, yet inescapable, evolution.

But we won’t like it. Any more than a Tribesman likes becoming that essence of corruption and evil, a Barbarian. Or a Barbarian likes becoming that sniveling thing, a Citizen.

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