On Barbarism

 

History is marked by greatness. Ages and periods are coined according to great individuals, great inventions, great ideas, great wars, and the rise and downfall of great empires. This fact about history raises the question about what marks the present times, for all of these features exist amidst. There are a plethora of public figures, though a “greater one” is missing. There are so many technological innovations nowadays, that inventions have been stripped from their impact value; actually, the lack of them would be the only outstanding case. Most of present ideas are recycled from older ones. There is no major open war among state powers, thus disqualifying the ongoing “war on terror”. By simple elimination process the answer becomes clear: today’s landmark is an empire; that of the country with most power and influence in the globalized world, the christened United States of America. But since any society or country is in either ascension or decline (there is no real middle, only a pinnacle point), and taking into account that the first symptom of this ruin is barbarism, which corrupts many aspects within and beyond, it could be more accurately judged that this is the period of American decadence. This assumption, when comparing the current state of affairs to historical examples, gains grim veracity: American barbarism’s economic costs and social-political turmoil mark its extinguishing hegemony.

It’s fundamental to establish a difference between the phenomena of imperialism and of barbarism, since both are closely related but it’s only the latter one the main subject matter of analysis about empires’ downfalls. For one, imperialism must not be stigmatized as something abominable. The existence of hegemonic powers is, despite its complexities, just a mechanism for mankind to institute an authority that sets rules, regulations and subsequent order in what otherwise would be a natural chaos. Empires do this at an international scale, providing times of peace and social functioning necessary for the development of a better “civilian” economy (as opposed to warfare, which can boost other economic aspects in addition to stimulating science; wars are mostly decided by technological prowess) and of arts and humanities (philosophy surging during Athenian rule of Greece is the best example). Likewise, the expansion of empires requires an empowerment based upon a balance of humbleness, ambition and constructiveness that allows these rising civilizations, in summary, to steal, assimilate and execute the best traits and accomplishments of other cultures. At first they’re the weak, but then learn from the strong making power shift to their favor. This is what empowered the Romans as military potency after leeching from Hellenism and the Etruscans, or what drove the Spaniards to conquer a new continent and the Philippines thanks to their melding of Arab knowledge and standard European culture. In the case of the U.S., the founders took the best of English and French liberal theories of economy, politics and society, and put them into practice independently.

The key to becoming an empire after breaking free, however, is not only to expand but to keep the foreign-sourced nurturing. The U.S., even when it neglected this point with Native Americans, did assimilate and capitalize from many different cultures: Italians, Irish, Asians, Greeks, Africans, and others gained an “American” prefix, shaping society and enriching its culture prior to the American enthronement in the XX century.

It’s after all of this growth that the dangers of barbarism become latent to any hegemonic potency; not in the form of bloodthirsty-axe-wielding enemy hordes, or in any of the stereotypes taught by regular history courses, for any civilized society can be as barbarian or more than the denominated savages. Nazi Germany falls into the definition, and is a perfect example of how a barbarian regime is bound to fail in its expansion, economics and politics. Barbarism must then be interpreted as a foe from within, a matter of corruption in the outlooks, decisions and actions of the population, its leaders and the ruling institutions. To be more specific, this referred corruption accounts for superbia, dehumanization and effeteness for each of the previously mentioned factors, externally and internally.

The first trigger tilting constructive imperialism towards barbarism is superbia, vitiating the people, thwarting leadership and hence flawing the authorities’ actions. It is best described as the starting “assimilating” mindset deranging into authoritarian and imposing, which means that with the delusion of having “the best culture” an empire starts disregarding and even destroying others in the sake of enforcing its own; a direct attack to what once nourished the imperial strength. Representative of this were the Spanish conquest of America through blood and gunfire, the British wiping out of the Mughals in India, or once again Nazism and the Holocaust. Today, this also can be appreciated pitifully in China’s treatment of Tibet. Furthermore, in U.S. instance, exuberant pride reveals itself more and more in the form of an overcharged ethnocentrism towards the abroad (clue: popular ignorance of international geography) and worse, towards local diversity (clue: religions and even languages being considered a hassle; “English or nothing” prejudices, so to speak).

Socially, anything or anyone not inherent of the home culture is branded as invader. Ironically, as already explained, most of what’s considered “truly integral” wasn’t originated by the host. On the other hand, in a sense, this simple labeling turns them into actual invaders, ones that disrupt the system since they’re forced not to fit in rather than be assimilated. And with the commotion this all causes in matters of economy and politics, the rightful local masses start demanding a solution from the authorities, who mishandle the issues due to corruption and their straying from homeland interests (as explained further on). Discontent is then the only common involvement of the invaders and the nationals.

To clarify this complex interaction and its resolutions, there are three opposing historical examples. First is the mismanaging of the “Jew problem” by the Nazis: literally erasing the invader problem was more of a waste of efforts than a real solution, since everything else crumbled down while focusing on this pettiness (speaking with military and economic objectivity, not humanistic subjectivity) when compared to any other war affair. Second are the parallel cases of Spain and Britain and their attitudes towards their colonies: both reckoned their colonizers as a sort of second-grade citizens (creoles in the case of Spain) and both exerted blatant disrespect for the natives mostly towards the collapse of their rule (most notably for the British in India) to the produced insurgencies. Third is the scenario met by the Romans with the rise of Christianity: they tried to eliminate it, only to fail, reassess and opt to assimilate the new religion, saving the empire massive amounts of energies, and inversely providing refreshed human resources and social operations that perhaps extended its lifespan for two more centuries. Now, equating these examples of elimination, negation and assimilation with the current U.S, controversy on immigration, there is no doubt that this “invasion” issue is a defining point for all American social strata to either rearing or ascertaining its barbarism.

In fact, underlying this prideful disdain towards “invaders” dwells dehumanization, the second barbarian trait. It can be easily noticed by revising the entertainments enjoyed by the society, like the abundant morbid reality shows of today (modern version of gladiators) or the idolizing attention immoral celebrities get from the media and the public. Plainly backtracking to apply these humanity judgments, branding foreigners as “invaders” is dehumanizing in itself since this slight change in vocabulary makes for a larger perceptive deviation about these people, reducing them to sub-humans or materializing them as “a problem of jobs and services” (for the American instance).

However, dehumanization can be best examined through leaders’ decisions and institutional actions abroad, where the roles of invaders switch and people, both foreigners and nationals, are deemed as mere statistics for economic reasons. This scenario is a wrongful invasion, either by open or concealed belligerence, because it ceases to be about assimilation and improvement but about exploitation and intrusion; a situation that withdraws leaders’ attention from homeland issues and focus the institutions more on material gains than human affairs, as previously mentioned. However, this is also a sign of dehumanization, for it isn’t exactly the government the one at fault (even when flawed for the circumstances). It’s the institutions, better recognized as corporations, corrupted by greed guided solely by material interest the ones to blame. These are who deviate efforts, override human interests by overtaking the government and mask the high costs (which include lives, jobs, social welfare overseas and at home, and damaged international public image) of this wrongful invasion with material spoils for a selected few. The truthfulness of this premise is usually highlighted by a popular disapproval and discontent, unheeded by those in power taking the wrong actions for the worst reasons, destining the campaign to fail sorrier the more they refuse to accept their illegitimate intrusion in foreign territory or affairs. Corporations don’t care about this, for they are nameless, self-governed, and mainly money-driven organizations that ultimately look after the preservation of these traits, not caring any havoc caused. It happened to the Spanish when they clung to their occupation of the Netherlands while Seville’s trading company leaked Latin-American precious metals off the royal treasury, impoverishing the government, the people and wearing thin the whole Spanish imperial infrastructure before it collapsed. The same took place with the British and the Eastern India Company, or the Holy Roman Catholic Church and its legions trying to control the Middle East. Today, it’s precisely there again where the matter of American corporative interest lies, as oil and pipes instead of relics and trading routes (despite Holy war claims by either party). And although the Iraq conflict hasn’t ended, nothing good foreshadows for its finale.

This detachment between authorities’ dutiful actions and the people’s needs produced by materialistic corporative ambitions is the effeteness that, tallied with pride and dehumanization, corroborates the decay of a barbaric empire. With all these indications present in modern times of a feeble American hegemony, either of two new inquiries must follow: how can the downfall be halted, or maybe more importantly, what or who exactly will come in succession?  The great answers, most definitely, are for history to reveal.

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