Conan the Barbarian was right



When you mention Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard's famous literary character, people might think of a no less famous quote:

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

That's from The Tower of the Elephant, a 1933 novelette. And it's remarkably topical in 2018, when literal Nazis demand to be debated over things beyond debate, such as human rights: a way of legitimizing the dehumanization of entire minorities in the guise of "civilized discourse", while the decent people who tell them to shut the fuck up and get the fuck out are labeled barbarians (pardon, social justice warriors) for refusing to be polite about, you know, genocide. It's likely not a coincidence, given when the original story was written. And don't get me started on how the warnings of writers, especially of the speculative fiction persuasion, were dismissed as mere stories back then too... until it was too late.

My favorite Conan quote however is from elsewhere:

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

Specifically, from Beyond the Black River, from 1935, easily one of the darkest featuring Conan. And sure enough, look how many bad things we thought gone forever have been returning in force as of late:

  • the aforementioned literal Nazis;
  • infectious diseases we had all but eradicated;
  • unbridled capitalism;
  • the threat of nuclear war;
  • Christian religious extremism dictating policy in developed countries.

And all that happened because, like Conan before hearing those words, we believed for the longest time in a narrative of progress that anyone with decent knowledge of history could have told us was a myth. A convenient one, because if progress was inevitable and automatic, that meant we didn't have to lift a finger for it to happen. Others would take care of everything. For our convenience, of course.

Sounds familiar? It was the same tactic that kept a lot of good people out of politics for the longest time. And look what mess we're in now.


Tags: society, literature