Thursday, July 3, 2014

What the Heck is a Parabarbarian Anyway?

I get that question occasionally. I usually just ignore it but I must be in an explaining mood.

Many years ago I read an essay by John W. Campbell who was then the editor of Astounding/Analog magazine. In it he discussed the difference between various perceptions of how human groups are organized and managed or ruled. Basically what Campbell did was to describe human society -- just a bigger group -- in terms of three different but commonly understood ideals.

I found this link which purports to be a faithful copy of the original. I cannot vouch for the accuracy but it does match my memories -- such as they are at my age.

Anyways, here are Campbell's divisions. The explanations are my summaries and any way they may differ from Campbell's original intent is my fault.

  • The Barbarian: Does not respond to social control or law in any manner other than might-makes-right. Allegiance is usually to a strong leader who achieved his position by soundly defeating the competition.
  • The Tribesman: Responds to custom and social pressure. Allegiance is to the tribal group and to its customs. Often this is expressed as allegiance to a tribal or religious leader.
  • The Citizen: Responds to authority and generally does as he is told. Usually because he believe that it is a citizen's duty to obey the law. Allegiance is to the nation and its dominant culture.

Bear in mind that the above are ideals and, as such, are standards of conduct or virtue to which an individual might aspire. The above three are pretty much platonic in that purity and reality is almost always messier. A real world individuals may be a barbarian with regard to X, a tribesman with regard to Y and a citizen with regard to Z. Nevertheless, the categories have proved useful to me in understanding why people do or believe some of the things they do. I am an INTP personality type and I used the categories to help clarify my thinking (or belief if you prefer) on various issues where answers are more than just a result of reducing data. They helped me construct a mental framework that cut through a lot of the bullshit.

Somewhere along the line I decided that I wanted a new category that better described my unique combination of the three facets. Eventually, I borrowed a label -- I have no idea where I first saw it -- filed off the serial numbers and applied it to myself. I give you the final bullet point:

  • The Parabarbarian: Respects the law if and only if he considers that law as valid, productive, efficient and effective. He has no automatic respect for institutions and is suspicious of anything other than results. He has a sense of social responsibility but without the burden of cultural loyalty. He sees culture as a social tool and society as a mutually agreeable but otherwise arbitrary arrangement among individual members of a group.

Now you know.

07/04/2014 -- "Obeys the law..." -> "Respects the law..."

1 comment:

  1. And here I thought a parabarbarian was who you went to when you couldn't find a licensed barbarian, like a paramedic.


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