SUN GLINTING ON THE WAVES
In this post I will develop some of my thoughts on why this newsletter is called Better Barbarians. It’s intended to be a primer, not a complete manifesto or blueprint. I am not a certified expert or historian, so don’t ask me for “proof” or “sources”. Do your own reading and see what conclusions you arrive at.
On to the stuff.
The Ancient Greeks are known for many contributions to human civilization – not least of which was their comical tendency to label anyone who didn’t speak Greek a barbarian. Look it up – they quite literally thought non-Greeks talking sounded like “bar bar bar”.
They would make strategic use of Bronze Age High IQ and xenophobia (and autism) to create poetry, philosophy, classical architecture and some of the most rad and aesthetic statuary. The Romans inherited and developed many of these ideas, and made a big point of fighting barbarians in the uncivilized British isles and forests of Germany.
The Greeks are also notorious for having been boy fondlers, and the Romans elevated the concept of decadence by staging elaborate blood sports and circuses to distract the plebeians from, well, everything.
And yet we see in the Greeks and Romans that perfect amalgamation of the barbarian’s soul within the body of statesmen and poets and philosophers.
The barbarian is not a thing or a person. It is a timeless state of mind. Wherever there is civilization with its hidebound laws and golden idols, there at the periphery will be men and women who look with disdain at the lights of the city. They see weakness, decadence, degeneracy. They brim with fierce desire for freedom to create something purer, better, different.
The barbarian cannot be eradicated because the barbarian is an innate part of every human who has ever existed. Dig deep enough under the thin skin of modernity and there you will find it grinning red in tooth and claw.
A barbarian, by the way, is not necessarily someone who lives in the countryside. We tend to assume that barbarians are rural or pastoral people but this is not always so. The Goths and Vandals who conquered Rome lived in cities. To be a barbarian is to be a consummate chameleon, using any and all resources available but being perfectly capable of thriving and living well without.
Now more so than ever.
2020 crystallised a lot of things for me.
It got me thinking about physical labor and physicality in general. People began to value for the first time in many decades the simple pleasures of going for a walk or hike and being able to exercise at a gym. It was unnecessary but now we have reams of a data pointing to the importance of exercise, Vitamin D and a well-functioning metabolic system.
As civilization progresses, humanity is pulled toward different extremes, somewhat a continuum. On one extreme, the caged human is skinny with a pallid complexion and weak, twig-like limbs. On the other extreme you have people who are vastly overweight. Neither is healthy. The barbarian is one who revels in the surf and sun and makes it mandatory for himself to move well and move often. Not because of having a more aesthetic physique but because he cannot imagine a life without the exhilaration of movement.
Maybe TOO exhilarating.
The nature of modern work dictates that you WILL be sedentary a lot. Look around and you will see evidence of evolutionary mismatch between the environments our bodies expect, and what they actually get: Kyphotic posture, carpal tunnel syndrome, hypertension, the list goes on.
Humans were simply not built to sit hunched over a computer for hours on end. Our ancestors did not seem to have suffered the same frequency or severity of muscular and neurological degeneration we have. I believe that the morbid conditions we see in our elderly are the natural results of a lifetime of unnatural habits. No exaggeration. Our work is killing us. What to do? Bills have to be paid. To remedy this I had to come up with numerous ways to stay mobile and exercise at the workplace.
Doing so is not a luxury at this point – it’s a matter of survival.
I recommend this life of sun and steel to anyone who has any inkling, or even smallest scintilla of a desire to grow as a human being. It is hard to build a skyscraper; it isn’t hard to build one’s own body. If you have resolved to get stronger in one month you will see two kinds of people: one type spends 3 weeks researching the best program, the best supplements and equipment. The other kind just gets in the gym and blasts it, seeing for himself what does and doesn’t work. When I started I taught myself how to lift, only later seeking guidance and advice for improvement. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about fitness and nutrition, nowadays, just by watching videos.
So much of our world is not physical these days, which is amazing. The fact that we’re so much more connected and information is so much more available. It’s easy to bitch about the fact that we’re stuck in front of these screens, but it’s also, not to forget, a miracle that information just flies around the world so fast.
It’s getting impossible to be oblivious anymore.
The best thing you can do for your mental health is to be physically healthy. Majority of people in the 21st century have some form of low or high-grade anxiety, present author included. I have seen some evidence suggesting that your predisposition to depression, anxiety, or mental disorder may have a genetic or hereditary element. So… there may not be much you can do to change how your brain is wired. But there is plenty you can do to engineer your surroundings and make it more amenable to your brain. Exercise is a a key tool for that.
My favourite class in Diablo has always been the Barbarian. The barbarian is amazing – he just hammers away at the enemy until there is nothing left. A mage will run out of mana and a paladin is quite useless if he is disarmed or if you have a poor build. The barbarian can be stripped of all his gear and guess what he does? He bludgeons you to death with nothing more than his fists. No tricks, no equipment, just raw devotion to eliminating and all obstructions so you can conquer.
The human body is similarly amazing. Machines will overheat, or will get worn out and stop working. The human body responds by making itself stronger so it can accommodate the work. You can’t do it today? Come back again tomorrow and try again. And the day after. And again. And again. And again. And you will notice that the more energy you expend, the more energy you have. If this sounds counter-intuitive, that’s because it is.
Sometimes there is no substitute for sheer bloody-minded determination.
Barbarians get a bad rap because munchkins and nerds like to insist that going around and smashing things takes no finesse, no intelligence. Barbarians are often accused of having no culture or craft. This is simply not true. And at any rate perhaps there are ways to improve the barbarian. Which is where the name of this newsletter comes from.
Next week I will discuss some of the points I have started here in more detail.