6. Insiders and Outsiders
The word 'barbarian' has now come to mean uncivilised or uncultured – a judgement made by those who would assert moral superiority over outsiders. Originally it referred to foreigners with different language and customs.
Nevertheless, many simpler societies have ennobling moral codes and social traditions, arts and technologies which advanced civilisations have lacked. The Chinese have always looked down on Tibetans, Mongols and Uighurs, when these peoples have a relatively cleaner historic record than China itself. Swedes unconsciously expect Finns to have a knife in their pocket, English traditionally regard Irish as drunks and laggards, Chinese regard Vietnamese as backward and Tutsis regard Hutus as uncouth, common and untrustworthy. Americans regard Canadians as frozen provincials, North Italians regard Sicilians as feudalistic criminals and suckers, Ulster Protestants regard Catholics as over-breeding peasants and Israelis regard Palestinians as inferior and a troublesome threat incapable of being otherwise. Such views are rooted not in current evidence but in historic imagery.
'Uncivilised' societies are more correctly cultures, unitary entities of the mind and heart. Meanwhile civilisations are predominantly urban-centred physical-legislative entities – often they lack a human heart. Famously, Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought about Western civilisation, said he thought it would be a good idea. The barbarities practised by many civilisations and empires, reflecting a weakened respect for life and an exaggerated self-importance, beg the conclusion that culture and civilisation are distinct, alternating and even mutually-exclusive.
Many barbarian cultures, though often destructive of societies they conflicted with, possessed high levels of internal integrity and human bonding. This is why the Druids scared the Romans, since the Druids maintained the cultural identity, standards and self-respect of the Celtic peoples – standards altogether lacking in the murderous Roman society of the populist dictator Julius Caesar's day. The Druids also possessed what Romans thought were a weapon of mass-destruction - magic - and civilised people do like to eliminate magic as much as possible since they cannot control it and their ivilisation is often based on terms antithetical to a magical worldview.
Culture is a thing of peoples and their psyches, while civilisation concerns works, laws and material factors. Similarly, when talking about nations and nationality, we need perhaps to distinguish between nations of the heart (such as the Iroquois or Lakota nations of 'Turtle Island' – North America) and nations of the sword or nations of the law (such as the United Kingdom or India). Nations of the heart are generally more ethnically- and culturally-based than modern political entities – nowadays they have caught the name 'first nations'. What characterises 'civilised' people is a certain cultural emptiness or shallowness, an unconscious envy of the freedom, sensuality and happiness of 'barbarians' and a fear of the full-on impact of barbarians' seemingly direct, feelingful and impulsive human feelings.
The localised development of civilisation left, until recent centuries, plenty of space for others in the higher ground, forests and wide open plains. The Romans, confronted with the shady vastnesses of the deep German forest, strategically established their imperial boundary on the Danube and the Rhine, leaving the forest vastnesses to allcomers - the Germans. This was both wise and foolish, since from here the barbarians penetrated the empire. Some barbarian societies did not wish to move into or be accountable to civilisation because they did not want to lose their freedom or social-cultural advantages: the Celts of Hungary, Germany and Gaul, from around 1000 BCE onwards, exchanged ideas and goods with the Greek and Roman spheres, enjoying the odd raid too, without ever seeking to join or take over these 'civilised' cultures. There is also a probability they taught a lot to the Greeks and Romans in the way of law and knowledge.
The Tibetans avoided incursion from China and India as much as possible, for many centuries – they were happy with what they were and didn't consider their neighbours to be better off. To an Aboriginal, modern Australian society possesses little reality: white man destroyed 'dreamtime', the Aboriginal way of experiencing reality. Dreamtime was dissonant with and overwhelmed by white man's values. White man did not destroy the Aboriginal nation, since it did not exist as such – whites destroyed a complete Aboriginal world.
All was more or less well in Roman Europe until, from 200 CE, balances were critically upset by incursions of the Asiatic Avars and Hsiung Nu (themselves earlier set in motion far eastwards by expansionist activities of a succession of Chinese emperors). The Asiatic incursions caused some European barbarian groups to flee to the Roman sphere, arriving at mutually-protective arrangements with Rome: in exchange for settlement within the empire, barbarian clans such as the Franks and Langobards (Lombards) gave fighters, levies and services to Rome, guarding its marches. Eventually they launched their own take-over, as Rome ground down into degeneration – they disliked Rome, yet they did not want to see it disappear! Thus the originally-Nordic Langobards propped up the last vestiges of Rome after it no longer could prop itself up – the last emperors were pure-bred barbarians.
Those we call Celts (Keltoi, an indiscriminate Greek umbrella term) were more of a cultural confederacy than a racial unity, inasmuch as tribes could join the Celtic sphere or adopt syncretic customs and life-ways while continuing to feel distinct. Many were the tribes within Celtia – Belgae, Brigantes, Gaels, Helveti, Veneti, Dumnonii, Picts and many more. Celts were culturally rather than territorially identified, sharing laws, traditions and contact through the almost brahminic caste of Druids. The Druids were possibly an atavism of a numerically-small knowledge-bearing group with their origins on Europe's Atlantic coast, with historic links also to North and Saharan Africa and Iberia. Since Druid culture was whispered and not written down until it was already dying, we have few records of their beliefs or ways .
Celts lived by tribal and communal arrangements, lacking concepts of fixed personal property or station until such time as the Romans superimposed their own ways. Some of the Celts of Britain were leftovers of ancient indigenous peoples – the megalith-builders of Britain and Britanny. Some had migrated westwards from Caucasian Eastern Europe. Some were descendants of escapees from civilisation – Trojans (founders of Totnes and Bath), Scythians in Scotland, Jews in Wales, Sumerians in Somerset and Greeks in Ireland. Just as Chinese think Europeans all look roughly the same, and vice-versa, so Greeks thought Celts were the same, and the name stuck. It lived on in Britain and France, to distinguish them from the more modern Teutonic-Latin English and French.
In the latter days of the Roman empire around 400 CE, many Gauls and Britons had become accustomed to the comforts and regularities of Romanitas – having absorbed Romanitas over a period of 200-400 years. They felt undermined by the collapse of Rome. They went into decline in inverse proportion to the ascendancy of Germanic tribes who gradually squeezed the Celts westwards. The Celtic heart was already softened and broken by the Romans. It never properly revived, except in fits, after the Roman departure – though the romanticised Arthurian period in Britain (500s CE) and the Irish Christian zenith (700s) were impressive.
On the downfall of Romanitas and under pressure exerted by Asiatic Hsiung Nu, Sueves and Juan-Juan (Alans), Germanic tribes (Franks, Saxons, Goths, Vandals, Langobards and others) were pushed westwards from eastern Europe and Ukraine, pushing Celts before them, cutting the Celts off in Ireland, Britain, Brittany and Galicia (Spain). The period of ethnic jostling of the Völkerwanderung (folk-wandering) occurred from the 400s to the 700s CE, out of which, when people came to a rest, were formed Europe's proto-nations. England, Germany, France, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and some other distinct European countries of today are 1,000-1,300 years old.
In these nations we witness a great conceptual and emotional reluctance to drop old national-tribal identifications. The federal model of the European Union – a very European historic device – calls for such a relaxation of old identities. What blocks this is the slowness of people's psycho-emotional conversion of each other (French, British, Germans, etc) from them into us (Europeans). This is not simply a reluctance to give power to EU mega-institutions in Brussels, since EU growth permits a parallel ascendancy of the smaller regions of Europe – Bavaria, Normandy, Scotland, Catalunya, Lombardy and Wallonia. This federalisation leads towards both an upward and a downward movement of power from the traditional nation-states.
Nation-states, for practical purposes, are now becoming defunct. Regions and megalopolitan areas will rise in influence within the European state, owing to their practical viability as social units. Meanwhile, traditional nation-states struggle to justify themselves to maintain power. Most Europeans are not as enthusiastic for emotional as they are for economic integration. Until a serious common threat arises to awaken European commonality, individual nationalities are likely to bicker and haggle even when this is to their disadvantage.
Humans are an argumentative lot. Are we civilised yet?