Barbarians At The Gates: A Parable Of Dueling Philosophies

by Geoffrey Hart

“Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.”

Thomas Sowell

History is not a precise science. It deals in many unquantifiables, and documentation is often scant or contradictory. The collapse of Western civilization in the late 20th century or early 21st century (records have been lost and start dates are unclear), a pivotal moment in human history, is a textbook example of how such knowledge is profoundly contextual, and how myth often overtakes fact through the passage of the years and loss of context. Historians therefore disagree over precisely when the loose collection of tribes known to history as Economists, or by their pejorative nickname, the Quants, first invaded the peaceful western lands that resulted from that tumultuous period known, for reasons that elude scholars, as the Great Brexit. There is nonetheless broad agreement that this world-changing event occurred in several phases as different tribes of barbarians swept across the broad plains inhabited by the Brexitans like a hurricane of conflicting ideologies.

Those historians who cling to the discredited doctrine of environmental determinism propose that the Quants were driven from their former lands by a warming climate, a theory that is justifiably scorned by modern theorists. Social historians point out, as did leading philosophers of the era, the lack of evidence for such a driving force, though perhaps that evidence is concealed beneath the waters that consumed the coasts of eastern North America and Eurasia. Instead, they propose the Quants were driven from their native societies by a relentless accumulation of social pressures created by their endless bickering, which led to vigorous intellectual debate and a proportionally high body count. So the Quants fled, bringing their logical positivist philosophy into direct conflict with the more sensible Brexitan theology that recommended peaceful coexistence and cooperation, with occasional forays into coopetition with their frenemy states. This clash of cultures inevitably created conflict between the Brexitans’ blind faith in their Pax Brexitannica and the Quants’ blind faith in their mathematics.

Whatever the merits of each proposed explanation of the serial invasions, the sequence of historical events and their consequences are reasonably clear. First came the Hayeks, emerging from the dark woods of their blackly forested eastern homeland. They came singing, at great length, of dwarves and golden rings, their male warriors accompanied by burly blond shieldmaidens who fought every bit as fiercely as their men. Each invader bore two throwing axes, which doubled as debating tools and tools for felling trees to construct the temporary camps they built to protect their goods while they ravaged the countryside. Historians believe that these camps acquired their name (laagers) from the prodigious kegs of pale amber beer that fueled the invaders’ aggression, but which slowed the invasion whenever they were forced to pause their assault to brew more because supplies had run low. Their taste in beer appalled the gentle Brexitans, whose phlegmatic nature was undoubtedly encouraged by their languorous parliamentary debates in a chamber hung with red tapes and the many mellow wines they preferred to sip while debating.

The Brexitans, who were a sedentary agricultural people, had never met axe-wielding barbarians before, and being unprepared for such vigorous debate, were quickly overwhelmed, their hastily repurposed agricultural implements having proven singularly ineffective debating tools. Waves of refugees fled westward to escape the onslaught—and ran straight into the second wave of barbarians.

The second wave originated around the same time the Hayeks began to establish their new home, when the Keynesians invaded from the west, arriving at the storied shores of the Brexitan lands on overpriced, yet technologically impressive, landing craft that bore nimble swordsmen on horseback. Upon clearing the beaches of defenders, the horsemen immediately began raids with the goal of freeing the Brexitan markets. By capturing goods and departing before the villagers could respond to their lightning-quick raids, they liberated the Brexitan–Hayek society from the burden of production by selling these goods back to the original owners at a handsome profit. Although this stimulation of demand seemed (paradoxically) to have improved the economic lot of the Brexitan­–Hayek culture, the barbarians were broadly resented, not least for their insistence on drinking a weak beer the Brexitans disdained and the Hayeks openly mocked. This led to spirited debate wherever the two tribes came into contact, swords and axes both reaping a red harvest. (Here, we use red in the sense of bloody, rather than in the traditional historical sense of unrepentant socialism, whose waves had crashed upon the Brexitans and receded several generations earlier.)

The third and most intimidating of the tribes were the Friedmans, who were clad in powerful and impenetrable logic that turned aside the staves of the Westerners, the axes of the Hayeks, and the swords of the Keynesians with equal ease. They rebuffed those futile prods with crushing swings of rhetorical bludgeons mounted on long staves that kept them at a safe distance from the commoners they preferred to oppose, while still delivering crushing logical blows to the slow witted or unwary. The origins of this tribe are unknown; based on what little evidence has been gathered, they appear to have sprung into existence, sui generis, in a storied western city, Chicago, famed for its winds, which may have inspired the blustery Keynesians.

Though the Brexitan­–Hayeks were a peaceful society, they were hardly defenseless. In addition to their doughty peasants, who had belatedly learned to wield their staves and pitchforks and rakes and hoes with surprising effectiveness when suitably provoked, the Brexitans had a secret force of elite warriors they could call upon in times of crisis. These elite warriors, the Empiricists (or Emps for short), spent years mastering the skills of logic and the scientific method, and worked in cloistered monasteries known as laboratories, where they were instantly recognizable by their knee-length white coats. These coats had been carefully designed to shield them from fire, caustic chemicals, and even small explosions, and had proven effective in countless skirmishes and occasional pitched battles between laboratories with different prevailing central dogmas. Where these warriors were available in sufficient numbers, their ruthless application of empirical logic drove the Quants to their knees; many ran in terror before the Emps could close to within rhetorical range. But there were never enough Emps, and the Quant tribes easily circumnavigated the Emp forces and defeated them by cutting their supply lines. Without funding to support their forays into the field, the Emps were forced to retreat to their laboratories and conserve their resources against future need.

A fourth tribe of Quants, known as the Ecologists, had settled among the Brexitans shortly before the invasions by the more aggressively rhetorical barbarians. Etymologically, they were related to the Quants through the shared phoneme “eco”. The meaning of this term is lost to history. Some believe it translates as “dealing with numbers”; others suggest it to be an obscure Indo-Turkic word for troublesome nomads. Little credence is given to the theory that it related to cultivation of diverse gardens, as no archeological evidence has been evinced to prove these gardens ever existed. Unlike the fiercer Quants who came later, the Ecologists understood the importance of coexistence and diversity, which was no doubt why they fit in so well in the lands of the Brexitans. Unfortunately, they had embraced a life of quiet contemplation of nature, and were no match for their more vigorous relatives in the heat of battlefield debate.

Had there been enough advance warning, the Brexitans could have relied upon their elite hereditary warriors, the Dawkinses. The founder of this quasi-mystical order, motivated by a seemingly unquenchable desire to selflessly spread his genes, had briefly run amok among the Brexitan women and inseminated more of them than any historical figure had achieved, even the legendary Genghis Khan. Some historians estimate, based on recent genetic evidence, that nearly 10% of all modern Brexitans bear genes from this lineage. Irrespective of their founder’s amatory exploits, these soldiers were masters of the secrets of the heart, and used them to seduce their enemies into breeding with them. Over time, they would defeat their foes by, quite literally, becoming their foes and agreeing not to fight among themselves. (Making babies, referred to as “the continuation of diplomacy by other means”, was more fun in any event.) But growing babies into warriors took more than a decade, there were few pure-blood Dawkinses remaining, and the Brexitans’ time was short.

So it was that the Brexitans came up with a desperate strategy: they would give all their money to the Friedmans, in the hope that descendants of the other two tribes would turn on them. (Even if that didn’t happen, they rationalized, it would be good for the economy.) History had shown that epic battles among the three Quantic tribes tended towards the Hobbesian; that is, they were nasty, brutish, and short, even by the bloodthirsty standards of historians. The hope of the Brexitan government was that their troops, no longer outnumbered, would be able to move in once the dust settled and mop up the few surviving Quants, thereby restoring peace to their lands.

Sadly, their bold plan failed, as the Friedmans, who represented an estimated 1% of the total population of Quants, took the money and withdrew overseas to a mythical haven in the far west, known to students of mythology as the Cayman Islands, or by their shorter colloquial name, famed in song and story: Avalon. Though this greatly reduced the military pressure being exerted on the Brexitans, the remaining Quant forces were still too powerful for them to meet in open battle.

All seemed lost, until a new group of nomads entered the picture. They were known as Neocons, a word believed to comprise a portmanteau combination of the words neophyte (meaning naïve and inexperienced) and con (meaning an attempt to deceive). They were champions of liberty, though not to be confused with the Rands, who in turn are not to be confused with the randy Dawkinses. (You can see how ancient English makes life difficult for the intrepid historian, as there are many subtle linguistic traps into which the unwary may fall!) Neocons viewed any interference from governments as sacrilegious. Led by their general, the infamously subtle Ponzi, their scheme made short work of the other Quants, and became the de facto government of the Brexitan territories.

Historians, being historians, have drawn many lessons from the events of this turbulent period, and disagree bitterly over which lesson is most defensible. Some believe that those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to be conquered by Economists. Dawkinsesians are too busy spreading their seed to be bothered much with history, which some take as a different lesson: that if you screw around too much with the economy, it will only end well for those doing the screwing. Neocon historians believe that no nation can long endure without a powerful and aggressive military. And Ecologists grumble that if only governments listened to them, utopia would lie within our grasp. But nobody listens much to them, which is probably a good thing.

The truth of this matter may never be discerned, for such is the curse of history: that so much of what we know must be inferred from scant evidence. Yet the true lesson, I feel, is this: that barbarians come and go, some fleeing with the family silverware and others teaching us how to get along with the real business of life, which is finding a way to enjoy life and someone to enjoy it with. Success in life, as in government, depends on knowing which type of barbarian one is dealing with.

~

Bio:

Geoff Hart works as a scientific editor, specializing in helping scientists who have English as their second language publish their research. He also writes fiction in his spare time, and has sold 49 stories thus far. Visit him online at geoff-hart.com.

Philosophy Note:

I’ve always been fascinated by how real historical events are transformed into myths and legends that retain only a superficial resemblance to the truth. The aspects that are retained tell us much about what cultures found sufficiently important to preserve. This story may have been triggered by reading The Mongoliad and musing about mass population movements and “the continuation of economics by other means”.

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