1

Letter of Introduction


Dear Last Barbarians,

I write these letters during the last days of glory for global humankind; I write as the social and economic world of humans is just going in to decline. The great structure which arose from our daily choices survived and grew by exploiting the energy and resources of humans, and the natural world. It is mighty, its brain can find every civilized, incorporated person, it provides for us every thing we need, and drives the want for more. The global social structure, the complex body of humankind is collapsing because we have pillaged Earth so effectively.


You can not guess that 40,000 years ago, when modern humans, your ancestors I hope, began to swarm the Earth, it was rich with life. Trees in great forests spanned the planet; the seas between were rich with fish and marine mammals. Life had filled every possible niche with amazing plants and animals which you can never see, because they are gone. Different things killed them off; mostly it was us.

We, our “Species” of Homo Sapiens Sapiens shared the planet with at least four other humans, but only we are left. Different things killed them off; sometimes it was us


These letters are an explanation, an apology, and a caution. They explain how a simple species came to dominate and destroy the ecosystem and why, and apologize in detail for my part in it, and a warning on what to watch for, should the coming climate instability not kill everyone and humankind adapts and climbs again toward folly.

We owe you these things:

We owe you an image of humankind as an innocent rapist, too ignorant to understand the power it had, too easily amazed by its own antics to ever make thoughtful decisions.

We owe you an explanation of how we came to create the monsters that wrung the planet, profited from and so drove our numbers.

We owe you some advice on how to prevent yourselves from creating such monsters.


I will try sincerely to provide these in my letters.




6

You are not those barbarians

Dear Last Barbarians,

In my time much is made of the fierceness of “barbarians”. Most often they are shown with broadsword and shield, with long hair, or in Asia, short bows and horses.

But we remember two things. First, no barbarians ever called themselves barbarians until you. In the past, that was a name only states used, among themselves barbarians were always just people.

Second, the most violent period for barbarians, and for everyone, was when population was growing, and humans were looking for more good land.

All empires and states had some term for “barbarians”, and they meant what we mean: people who are not incorporated into the empire. They traded with barbarians, and made deals constantly with them regarding their obligations for tribute and soldiers, and made war. Rome, the Ottoman Empire, the Persians, the British, were all defined by the barbarians they persuaded, tricked, or forced into the empire.

It is rare to see people in my time consider the truth of barbarians: that, for most of their history, it was nature they fought, in that weather, or pests, or poor planning could upset their food supply. For most of our history, people were hungry at least part of the year. People picture them roasting elk, or wild hog, but they most often ate grains and tubers, and nuts and fruit when they could get it. They fished, and ate rats and rabbits when they could. It turns out that we weren't intended to get food as we do in my time: whenever and whatever we like.

Barbarians were warlike and fought blood feuds between themselves everywhere, during the periods when populations rose. As population densities increased, people went to war, to find more land, more booty.
Eventually, barbarians came to act like states, and “great bandit kings” emerged to “unify the fighting tribes”. Then, there might be peace for a little while, or he might be killed, or perhaps the kingdom would be attacked by other bandit kings looking for empire.

You must be able to fight viciously, but love tenderly. You must be able to work together in groups, but not so closely that you are subsumed, and take your orders from elsewhere.

Which barbarians are you? The New Barbarians? No, if you fail, there will be no other barbarians, you are the last barbarians.

5

Letter: About the body

Dear Last Barbarians,
About the body; the body is people doing things. If, all at once, all humans were sucked up to heaven, the body would simply begin to die.
What would die?

All the subsystems. Here are a few which are common and easy to talk about:

The food process, by which bankers give farmers money to give to seed and chemical companies and oil companies to plant, grow and harvest food which is either already under contract or is bought by corporations who control the food, though they didn't grow it, who then send it for processing, product development, product sales and product distribution to a grocery store which buys it and sells it to people, many times to the families of farmers. The oil companies get paid several times, and chemical and seed and tractor companies pretty much annually. The farmer repays the bank with interest and tries to buy clothes and health care for her children.

If any of those people (including government regulators and taxing and licensing agents) stopped doing what they do, the system stutters; if they all do, the system stops.
But doesn't die right away. Machines and computers controlling water and chemicals and nuclear reactors would continue to function for a little while, and the bookkeeping programs would run for a long time, until the power plants and grid control system failed.

The body is so dependent on us!

Oh, and we on the body. If the people don't go to heaven, but if instead the body suddenly died, everyone would starve, or kill themselves or eat others. Even farmers wouldn't be immune, because they mostly don't grow food they can eat, the grow food to sell. Some farmers only grow corn, which is for corn syrup and other products and is too tough to eat. Even the farmers who grow beef would have a hard time, because the parts of the body that were left, the local governments and so on, would send out armed people to take food from the farmers. A million hungry, angry people in the city are more of a problem than one farmer and his family, or a thousand.

Anyone who says “let's kill the body” is likely to be killed.

What the hell is the body, really? If it is only people doing things, it is only people doing things, let's have them do something else!

The body grew slowly. Here is how it grows, watch:
Two people meet in the forest. They see each other. The seeds of the body form in their brains: they measure the other person, male or female, young or old, enemy or friend, threat or opportunity. When the two meet, if they do not talk but only nod to each other, they acknowledge that they each exist and have been seen; the body forms but extinguishes.
If they do this every day for two years, meet, but do not interact, the likelihood of the body grows. If the two are ever in a place where everyone else is a stranger, they will greet, the body will begin to form.
It will shape itself from the value each has, and they will seek groups they share, “I'm an orthodontist”, or “I like football” or “I love the Christ”, or “I have a teen aged child”, or “I am homosexual”.

The tally of the number of groups they belong to will determine the strength of the body. They will not simply nod, but say “Kaliméra”, or “guten morgen”.
Or, the body might grow quickly and they would agree to be friends. Then, when they were friends, they might encourage each other to join other groups or activities and their body would being to merge with the body of the groups.

The body starts when people interact, and they do this on the basis of three variables, how close they are (in actual distance, or social distance), how alike they are and what they share, and how often they see each other.

At the level of two people, the social culture is still involved. Each has their own social value, which might be different from but still relevant to the interpersonal value (a lower class woman might have less social value than a a higher class man, but in the relationship, he needs her emotionally). The rules and values of the body still apply; to keep one's good membership in the body, they will behave in certain ways. If the body is just two people, they can harm each other or withdraw; in the case of a group of people, the group may act; in the case of a body that is complex, there will be authorities and rules and expectations and things of personal, physical and social value to lose. The more of those connections, the deeper a person's investment, the stronger the body.

We are not bad; we want to live, we want to be comfortable.

But is this not still just people doing things? Bigger is stronger, more is better, there are structural, real life benefits that come from participation in cooperation with other people.

Yes, yes, but at a certain point, the body transcends the participants, it become bigger, it outlives people, it makes rules which ensure its own survival.
The necessity of structure, which means, because of the tasks and logistics of maintaining more people, more complex organization is needed. Remember all the people who took part in the food system; to have so many people doing something so complex, with so many parts, takes structural organization, in other words, complex social structures, in other words, the body.
The body must always grow. It never quit has enough: slaves, resources, organization for the people it has, but since it gains its efficiency from many people doing things, it grows when people are added.

Bigger beats smaller; more beat few.

A body which does not look after its own continuation and doesn't provide at least a sufficient return for its members, dies. See, like anything, a system which doesn't constrain its participants, we mean doesn't make rules to ensure the system itself survives, passes away. More often, it is salvaged by nearby bodies, nearby kingdoms, or other bodies which are close (though today, fossil fuels make the world small and everything is close) and similar, and which it has interaction, in war or peace or trade, in the past.

Those few things the body has to do. Those things people do on its behalf. People pass laws with the intention of protecting the body they rely on. People tell big lies and other people willingly believe them to protect the body. If the body dies, if no one follows the rules, if the things that once mattered are meaningless, we own nothing, we have no shelter, because everything we are and had was in and of and from the body. Our worldly goods, or reputation, or self esteem, all within the context of the body.

So, this is how the body grows, from handshakes to agreements to laws and taxes and resources and energy.


We wanted to live.
We wanted to be well fed.
We wanted to be loved.
We wanted to be admired, by many.
We feared being ostracized.
We feared strangers and enemies.
We feared the darkness, where we are naked and ignorant of what might find us.

               2

Introduction

               3

When to pay tribute, when to fight, when to run.

Dear Last Barbarians,

I have never pretended that barbarians were proof against being absorbed by the body. When a barbarian calls himself “king” or herself “queen” they are no longer barbarians. Too much trade, or too much raiding, or too much of any contact with the system increases the likelihood of incorporation. I discuss why that is in other letters, of course.

But, at some point, a free people have to reconcile the presence of a larger, more organized or better armed people. This is the inevitable history of the last 6,500 years; the story of great empires is a constant tale of death and theft and usurpation. The body needs humans for fuel, it needs their ceaseless economic and political pursuit of “we want to live”. Humans who are not part of the body become either a target for incorporation, or become part of the natural ecology, a resource to exploit like trees or gold or salmon or any other.

So, at some point, free people have to choose whether to pay taxes and tribute, or to fight to the last person, and when to run.

Paying tribute will become burdensome, and eventually, tribute will be translated to taxes. Taxes will involve you in the body, since now all your possessions and activities are taxable and so accountable to the bureaucrats of the body. Taxes and tributes will always increase, both in amount, and number, and likely both will eventually require your young men for war for the body, or as laborers.

When to fight? Fighting is death. The body will always have more troops, more money for arms and training, and more hungry citizens to displace you.

Today, there are a few barbarians attempting to maintain autonomy, but even they are tools of other great players. One greedy nation provides war materials, for a price, to a struggling people to fight the friends of an opposing nation. It is war by proxy, and it is very profitable for the global economic system, the great body, and for many larger nations.

In my time, there is almost no way to beat the system at war. No longer does the system send whole armies to conquer barbarians. Now, from space, cameras look at us; they see us in the darkness; they see our fires day and night, from the blue or black sky. From a chair in a warm place, they send a small flying machine, too fast and high for us to see, and from that distance to anywhere in the world, they can drop a bomb on your family at dinner. Their soldiers see in the dark; they are linked through the invisible wires of the internet to each other and command, like the brain links the fingers to the hand. They are armored and well equipped.

Barbarians have, for a time, successfully beaten back systems. But, eventually that system or another comes back.

Against the body, fight only in a desperate instance, when the alternative is death or slavery, and then run, leave your possessions, gather your loved ones and run. Don't spend your lives, fight on your terms, in the place of your choosing, a place best for your weapons and tactics and worst for your enemy. Lead your enemy to places where the land can kill them, to swamps and wildfires and tumbling heights. But, avoid fighting whenever you can.

Otherwise, there are means which barbarians from long ago used when occupied and unable to flee.

There are other ways. Rather than overcoming the army or tax collectors of a system, you bleed them. You don't kill their warriors or lawyers, because then they kill ten times as many of your people. You steal from them, quietly. You foul their water. You put sand in their grease. Or, you find gray area ways of undercutting their economics. You increase the cost of keeping you under control, but don't do anything too organized, or too focused. Your efforts should be diffuse, but ceaseless.

However, if you are caught, you likely will be killed or enslaved, so remember it is still war.

In my current time, armies put cameras on roads and fuel storage and bridges. There is no escaping it, yet still there are some barbarians who continue to struggle against incorporation.

When to run? Thoughts on when and how:

When the threat is long term, when a change in land occupation has taken place and you are being outnumbered.

When you have a place to run to, when there is somewhere you can go without displacing other barbarians,. You should know in advance where to run to, what food there is, who lives there. Always, some barbarians travel, higher into the mountains, farther into the valleys, anywhere there is no town, always making notes of what they find. Look for a place that has enough for you to live, but not enough for others to covet. That is the key to being a free people, being able to have enough, but not too much.

When you are prepared. Unless you have weeks to move, and roads where you are going, you will leave things you love. Running is an act of desperation. Leave nothing for your oppressors, burn it. Let the ashes of your things be the tribute you pay.

Leave like ghosts, with two or more groups leaving first who take distracting routes, and the old and young leaving last in a more direct route, but take different paths instead of leaving a trail.

Leave at an inconvenient time, at night, during a storm, or when your oppressor is occupied with war and violence elsewhere.

Food, water, shelter, weapons, direction. Never flee, always run, knowing where you are going, how you will live along the way. The more you carry, the slower you go; the faster you go the closer hunger follows. Always eat whatever doesn't make you sick, and be ready to do without food, or if possible, shelter. Always have water and know how to find it. Never drink from water tainted by disease, pollution, or radiation. What does it profit you to run and then die along the way of disease and misfortune?

Always, when you run, remember: do not take the contagion of death with you. Don't move into someone's place and fight them for resources. If possible, find someplace no one lives, though inhabitable places will be hard to find. If not possible, make peace at once with people like yourselves, who value freedom. Find what they value or need and find a way to provide it.
There is no easy response to the theft and violence of large social structures. You will have to decide as a group what to do. It won't be easy, you want to live...

9

King You

Dear Last Barbarians,

Bears do not have kings. When bears meet in the mountains, they might fight, or they might copulate, or they might move on, but that is all. One bear might tacitly be recognized as the most powerful in that moment, but that is all, and when they move on, the moment is over. Never will one bear say to the other: I can beat you, you are my slave now, you work for me.

Never will one bear attempt to persuade or draw investment from the other, they will never promise to meet on Tuesday to gang up on a third bear. One bear will not support another bear in a disagreement of bears.

But, apes will do those things. Apes will establish networks of support; they will attempt to persuade, and they will plan an attack. We are king of apes.

The bear is suited to its environment; it does not rely on contact with other bears, and so it does not seek to be admired by other bears.

Chimpanzees do somewhat rely on their place in the group for opportunities to food and protection and copulation, and so chimps want to be admired.

Human groups are larger than chimp groups, and even include imaginary people, and human well being is almost completely reliant on other humans, and so we form large, complex hierarchies, social pyramids with a few wealthy at the top and more and more people the farther down the social scale you go. That shape, the pyramid, forms naturally, it is part of the nature of social systems to encourage kings; it is in our nature, too.

Leaders are created when the system generates a surplus. We want to be admired by many; a surplus brings admiration.

Not all human groups have hierarchies. Not all human groups value things, surplus, over other values. But all human groups that value things have hierarchies. It is a nature of the social structure, it creates opportunities for some to profit from the labor and consumption of others.

Not all social systems are equal; in the world of bodies, some are strong, some are weak. As in any assemblage of bodies, some weak do well by specializing, presenting something to the group which no one else can or will. In general, though, when a strong and violent society confronts a society which specializes in simply caring for its people, the strong body takes slaves and kills the rest.

It is the monotonous lessons of history, too common to bother you with examples. Spin the globe, put your finger down and there is a history of pointless cruelty, hardship and always death. Yet, for all their wars, they drove population growth and created ever larger and more powerful civil bodies, incorporating more and more slaves.

Kings are bad for humankind. They are bad for the world.

Yet, you would be king bandit. Here is why:
You want to live, you want your children to live. To do that well, you need to have social status; if your status is high, you will have a buffer from want and hardship, because the body generates surplus from the labor of some, and from the Earth, and gives that surplus to those higher up the social ladder. Being admired by many will give you access to more of the surplus of those beneath you.

For example, in my day, I can go to a restaurant to eat my meal. I will order a nice meal, because I am reasonably far up the social ladder, but working in the restaurant will be people who can not afford to eat there, they are paid so little, it is beyond their means. The food the comes to the restaurant is like that, too, the people who work in the fields, who tend the stock, likewise would not be able to eat in this restaurant. Above me in the social ladder are people who eat in restaurants I couldn't afford to eat in. If I could get a job there, because of my low status, I would not make enough money to eat there. The people above me live off me because they sell things to me: the owner of the restaurant I go to can afford to eat in a better quality restaurant than her own.

So, to live well and have your children live well you want to be admired by many, and so to collect the surplus from the labor of many, many.

This places you in the body in such a way as to cause you to attempt to creep higher and higher, because we judge ourselves, and our place in the body, relative to others like ourselves. This is just what people do, they often don't mind that the bandit king steals from them every day, but if a neighbor gets something they don't have, something they think the neighbor doesn't deserve, they become angry.

It is called “relative deprivation” which means we judge the world by our peers, not our betters, but we want to be at the top of our peers.

Why do we do this, compare ourselves to others like ourselves, instead of becoming angry at those who are much better off? Because we interact most with those like ourselves, and so those are the people we most know and understand. And, because we have the status, the admiration, to question our peers, but not usually our betters. And, because they have more admiration than we do, and the body will protect them from us.

And so, we arrange ourselves in the body according to the admiration we have. By comparing ourselves to those like ourselves, and by insisting they follow the rules which protect your admiration, you solidify the body. To protect your place in the body, you protect the body. Anything you can do to improve your status among your peers, you will do.

Association with the group above your group, a kind of admiration, also increases your status among your group. For example, the wealthy of Britain had huge yards of lawn; the point was that they had so much land, they could afford to have some just sit and be green, instead of producing income. As a result, those who had more modest holdings also put in lawns, because they wanted to associate with the higher status people.

But, to become bandit king, you have to have more admiration, because people of equal admiration will challenge you, and try to take those beneath you away, for their own profit. It takes admiration to raise money for war, wars are often fought on speculation. Initially, in the early days of king bandits, soldiers often get paid in the booty they stole, and the higher ranking people got paid in gold and land and slaves. One bandit king would finance and army of another bandit king to thug a third bandit king, and then they shared the booty.

So, if you love things, and you appreciate the advantage of living off the surplus of others, you might be king. To become king you might have to kill another king, but that is OK, because they would have done it to you, if they could. But, it is your friends who helped you do this, and they helped you kill one king to get booty, but now that king is gone, and you have so much.

You will have to reward your friends often, and to do that, you will have to make war so you have the booty, and to make war, you will need friends, whom you will have to reward, by making war.

And so, people and the Earth suffer, but the system lives and thrives, and doesn't care who is king, just so there is one.

Maybe king bandit you?

              4

8

Letter: upstream, downstream


Dear Last Barbarians,


Here is a story that I once heard. I do not know if this story is true, but I do know of similar situations.

A woman, an environmental anthropologist, was working her way up a small river in a place where everyone was a barbarian. They belonged to different tribes along the river.

At the mouth of the river, which was rich with biological sediment, she was told that the tribe traded with other tribes up river, but they didn't like to trade with their neighbor tribe because they shit in the river.

When she worked her way upstream to the next tribe, she asked if they shit in the river and they said, “we get our food from the river, we wouldn't shit in the river. It is the people upstream. They shit in the river and they're cheap when trading. Only the poorest of us marry their women, they steal.”

But upstream, she was told that the river was sacred, and they would never shit in it. It was a tribe upriver, who hated everyone.
As she went up river, she found that it was always the tribe upriver who shit in the river. She also noticed a variety of animals who poop and pee in or near the river.

It is a wonderful story, for two reasons. First, it shows how we are about other tribes. Next, it allows me to talk about how we shit in the river now.

I don't know how you live, but traditionally among barbarians there is competition which is most intense among similar groups in the same area.


To an outsider, the tribes might seem nearly indistinguishable, but between the tribes the differences are obvious and immutable.


You probably know that often, the tribes put aside their differences at certain times; maybe there is a feast they share and they party and trade, or maybe a larger group threatens both. Otherwise, though, the tribes have reasons to hate and fear each other.


Those reasons keep the tribe together. They create an “out group” of people, and members of the tribe reaffirm their special nature by contrasting it to the bad tribe. It also provides an explanation for unknowable things. Who threw the bloated animal carcass in the stream? The tribe upstream.


Further, if the tribes don't maintain their differences, or if a larger outside power forces the tribes together for the convenience of the body, they may, over time, form a part of a larger human group, a higher and more complex level of social structure, which of course both increases the security and so population and decreases the autonomy of the tribes. The larger group doesn't care if you like the tribe upstream, and you might both be displaced by a dam, and become refugees who share more with each other than with the people you encroach on. So, if the tribes want to maintain who they are, they need enemies upstream.

Do you have enemies upstream?

We have no enemies upstream where I am. Instead, we have stream agreements which protect the river and the fish, and prevent most people from using them to survive. Often times, the body has decided to have a “hatchery” where fish are raised until large and then let free so people imagine the river is still alive and rich with fish. For money, we are allowed to fish for these. You see, there were far too many people, the river couldn't feed everyone, and every so often someone would actually shit in the river and steal all the fish, putting them on ice in the holds of ships, or boxcars of trains, or in the bellies of airplanes or the freezing boxes of refrigerator trucks. Then, after spending so much fossil fuel, they are delivered to the customer who buys them for money. You see, they have money, but they live where you simply can't find food, where there is no land or water for gardens but only concrete and oil asphalt. From the wealthy to the poor, they buy fish from the river (the poor buy the small fish; the wealthy the freshest). So, those people, who catch the fish and wholesale sell them thousands of miles away, they shit in the river, and the incorporated people who live thousands of miles away and pay money for them, shit in the river.

But, we have stream agreements, and so money is paid all along the way, but, oddly, the people along the river have no more say in the use of the river than the people in the body. This is what makes the stream agreement fair, and if the local people might make trouble, give them jobs catching fish, and give them money so they can live like the people in the city, the poorest people in the city.


Here is a story that is true: when the Europeans first came to the colder parts of North America they found people living there. The people living there were barbarians, and the Europeans were of the body, first the body of the government of Russia, and then the body of the government of the US, or perhaps the body of the French, or Spanish, or English. They were more like separate bodies back then, less woven together with blood vessels and nerves, with laws and trade agreements, with extradition treaties.


When the first members of the body found these northern barbarians they lived among many other mammals, on the land but especially in the sea.
The animals were given a value by the body, and the members offered to enslave or kill the barbarians if they didn't drop everything and drive those mammals to extinction.
Then, they gave them alcohol to drink.

Alcohol is strong medicine, it cleans things and sterilizes, but as a drink, it drives barbarians crazy, it drives members of the body crazy, too. Alcohol was a toxin the Europeans were more used to.

The empires had plenty of sugar, made by slave stolen from one land and dragged as property to another to work to death. The sugar was made in to rum which was used to cripple and enslave the people of the New World.

In those days it was still wind that powered ships back and forth across the seas. But, because the body was strong, wind is all that was needed to power the companies and captains and sailors (who were treated only a little better than slaves) they grew sugar and distilled strong drink. It was far easier to give the barbarians drink, which they were not used to, and which put them in a pleasant stupor until their men were weak and their women had no value on the market.


The barbarians, from drink and loss of homeland, and war with Europeans, began to disappear.


Then, the bodies changed their minds. Instead of rum, they offered money. They offered incorporation.

Those barbarian tribes now are incorporated, or live on the thin edge of what is left to them when the body is finished, when the river agreements are revealed to be paper. Money, incorporation, worked better than rum, because the citizens did not die.


The tribes used to sometimes know famine of food in the winter, when storms were early or the mammals moved north, and now no one starves. Now, they have a famine of spirit, a famine of place in the world, and though they can not starve, they are more poor then they ever were.


So, those who were once rich on the river are poorest, and those who are farthest from the river are richest, and it is the body who shits in the river, through all of its parts, through the actions of citizens, working for money.


7

Not so complicated, history

Dear Last Barbarians,

How tiresome human history is. All that unnecessary suffering and slavery and endless rivers of blood.

In my time history is a big obsession. Some believe that history is grand, a ceaseless pageant, leading from before there was writing, until yesterday;

I have studied some history. I share it with you, often, but the big thing to remember is this: it is mostly a horror story of greed and hunger and cheap human life. All great conquerors were simply mass murderers. All great kingdoms, celebrations of slavery. All kings and queens are thieves, and behind their power are lies and dishonor.

To be clear, our hands evolved to make fists and our faces to take a punch; we are far less violent than chimpanzees, but violence is in our repertoire. At first, we fought in small groups, we guess: one group would steal women or food from another. When they could, the second group would retaliate. But, back then, there was little point to owning a slave, and slave and master shared the same house.

What of the technologies which allow me to sit in comfort, warm air blowing to keep my toes toasty, and my fingers busy on a machine composed of hundreds of parts, all mined, and processed, and assembled by very poor people far away. All our technology is slight of hand, it gives to some and steals from more. Going to the moon is the modern equivalent of building a pyramid in the desert. It is all vanity, and it all bears the stain of exploitation.

Truly, civilization brings out the worst in us.

Then, there is religion. At first, and for a long time, our religions were woven from the world around us. We believed in things we could see, and gave them thanks, and begged for assistance, and told stories about them, animals and mountains and water springs and stars.

But, then we gave special privileges to our priests and doctors. They became our emissaries to the gods, we could no longer speak to them without intersession: we had invented the first bureaucrat. Eventually, as the body grew to control more and more people, all over the world, religions and governments began to work closely together; often the religion and the state were one, the king bandit was declared a god. In China, in Egypt, in Britain in its empire, in South and Central America, the ruler was assumed to be anointed by god, or actually god. There is literally no end to the cruel and bizarre behavior. The religious kings demanded sacrifice, even human sacrifice, either the religious slavery of the person, or in actual blood sacrifice.

Be assured, all groups of people can be cruel; when there are too many mouths, ingenious ways are found to close them. When there are too few hands, ingenious ways are found to enslave them. When there are too many of an enemy remaining after a battle, take their young women and kill everyone else, or sell them abroad as slaves, or make a sacrifice to your god.

In my day, there are too many mouths, and not enough hands, so the system struggles to churn the flesh of the world, to feed them, build them houses, keep the peace. The system now has grown so perfect that it cycles as many people as it can get, even surplus humans can consume, run capital through the body: labor consume; labor, consume, and at every step some money accrues to the system. Each person is a little money generator for the body.

But, that can't go on for ever, or even for very long. The system also cycles the environment, and human reproduction might be inexhaustible, but the physical world is not.

So, the future is not very complicated, either. The body will fall.

When it does, those last barbarians left will have to do what no humans have done: find a way to restore the balance between life and death, to understand the destructive power of our wanting to live, to see our children live, to be respected, by many.

You will have to compensate for the many advantages the strategy of forming large groups provides. There is no way to both form large groups and prevent the formation of social structures which ultimately drive population and resource extraction. There are no magic laws that do not require bureaucrats, where the power to organize and direct resources and humans will inevitably allow the system to perpetuate itself. The natural functioning of a social system in a complex environment will always seek to profit from, and so alter, the behavior of humans, and those systems which are most efficient at it will grow, increase not only in the breadth of power, but also in the fineness, the penetration of power into life. It is the most efficient way to use the energy of humans and the environment.

Even understanding the nature of social structure and the power of culture, (which we generally do not, now,) how will you do that? How will you make the hard decisions, when you want to live, to love your children and want to see them live?

History is not so complicated; you will find it very complicated to live without repeating it.

10

Letter: what it is like now
    
Dear Last Barbarians,

I think of you as friends, as grandchildren. So, I will share with you what it is like here now.

The body of global humankind is dying, but it doesn't know it yet, so life is good. I have devices at my command which might amaze you: a fire that cooks food through in minutes! A device that lets me communicate with anyone in the world, at any time! Medicines that keep this dead man alive, the life that is denied the old and sick in your time.

However, imagine me, laying in warmth, comfort and safety and well fed; it is dawn just before day, and the last straggling clouds of a storm catch the light before it has touched the ground and the sky is brilliant orange. There has been no serious effort to put chemicals in the sky to cool the planet yet, so the dawn sky is sharp and bright.

Now, with my mind, let your mind reach out and imagine the people of the Earth. Some are at sunset now, ready for their evening meal, perhaps. Some drench in sweat under the noon sun; some see only stars in the sky, or perhaps the moon.

We are at this time seven and a half billion people, 7.5 billion, 7,500,000,000. Go outside, and look at the stars, or imagine a starry sky; how many stars can you count? Millions? Tens of thousands? No, it is half a thousand, about 4,800 stars and points of light, that is all. That is the number of people in one very small town. Seven and a half billion is far more. Seven billion hours ago, for example, our ancestors weren't modern humans yet. There were different humans wandering the Old World back then, but none of them were us.

In short, seven and a half billion people is a lot, the planet squirms with us like maggots on rotting meat. Many don't have enough water, or food, and many, many are completely dependent on the body.

Everywhere, though, in nearly every incorporated village and in the homes of towns and cities, there is modern magic. Nearly all of us have some magic device, even the poorest of us have something magic from this age. All of them were wrought from natural resources, swept up at great local cost and assembled cheaply and distributed across the globe. Fossil fuels create everything, all the magic.

So, you must imagine great machines, constantly churning the sea, constantly exhausting in the sky, all moving things and people from here, to here, to here; you must imagine lights in the sky held there with the magic of petroleum, and great ships of goods plowing the waves, and roaring trains on their steel roads, and growling semi-trucks crawling every road.

You must imagine the hungry billions, and the rivers of food, planes and boats and trains and trucks of food, some of it animal flesh and plants as anyone knows them, but more of the food is less food than product. It is sugar and corn, which are dear to barbarians, but which we now have far too much of. It is chemicals to color, to flavor, to suspend life. It is all brightly packaged, since people are prompted to pay for food by the package, rather than the contents.

You must also imagine seven billion humans, in turns around the globe, crapping and pissing, rivers of crap and piss, and they are too dangerous, too heavy in metals and too polluted with medicines to be safe to put on the ground.

Imagine our poor Earth, now, rapidly on the way to the world you will inhabit. Forests gone; rivers disappeared; earth salted and barren; seas no longer rich but dying, with acids building up, and currents not running right, and methane bubbling up, and plastic everywhere, everywhere. The sky on the way to becoming a monster which whips us with drought and flood and grows always hotter.

But, for now, when I am, not too bad yet.

Now, pause for a moment, and think of me, seven billions times over, using resources we could have saved for you!


Letter: Propensity

Dear Last Barbarians,

Why did we destroy the rich and heartbreakingly beautiful Earth? We preferred things.
Here is a list of our propensities:


We wanted to live.

We wanted our children to live.

We wanted to be comfortable.

We wanted to be well fed.

We wanted to be loved.

We wanted to be admired, by many.

We wanted to stand in the sun or lay in the shade as we chose.

We feared death.

We feared hunger.

We feared beasts that eat us, both very great beasts and beasts too small to see.

We feared being ostracized.

We feared strangers and enemies.

We feared the darkness, where we are naked and ignorant of what might find us.

If you New Barbarians have all of these, you, too, might destroy the Earth.

A “propensity” to something, like “a propensity to want to live”, means a “tendency towards”. See the magic? It doesn't mean all people did these things all the time; sometimes people acted inverse of these tendencies.

But, in the scheme of things, in the great churning plow of the universe, marginal differences make all the differences; a tendency towards something means that eventually it will tend to dominate. It can imply “exponential growth” where each iteration, each generation, is bigger by the degree that the former was bigger.

In complex systems, which repeat themselves (like generations of humans do), small differences make all the difference.

Those propensities, and the emotions which guided us towards them, are what struck the Earth nearly lifeless.

We will talk of these again, many times. It is important for you to understand them, and how they bring about the body, and then the end.

Letter: the best of being human

Dear Last Barbarians,
This letter is to share with you the rejoice and desperation I feel at all that is passing.

All our history life was hard. Not every life had a pleasant moment, some were born into slavery and died young. Some were born badly damaged and failed to die, living on in misery. All kinds of things happen when you have so many hundreds of thousands of years of humans, and so many millions and billions of humans.

But, for most people, from the humble to the lucky, there are moments of peace, of contentment, of happiness.

Most often, it is other people who make us feel happy and accepted, but many times it is just one person alone, perhaps, and the natural world.

One person perhaps on the cold scrubbed stone of a mountain peak, and below, the foothills and woods and meadows and waters, and around as equals only the peaks of other mountains.

One person perhaps at the edge of the sea, in the breeze moist of salt and iodine, seeing hearing feeling the ceaseless breathing of the oceans sometimes light as a sleeper, sometimes pounding and screaming and terrifying.

One person perhaps canoes a river, at one and at peace so the prow seems to sit and the banks stream by on both sides, now showing this deer or that long legged bird or this bridge dark beneath, and everything just fleeting, gone without time for consideration.

One person, perhaps holding a little child, when children were still a blessing, perhaps gazing into wide eyes, wondering what they would see one day, imagining this little person proud and well and safe in the world.

I love the wind. I love the turmoil of it, the doubt it has rounding a rocky point but the forward determination of the whole, rushing thoughtless of origin, and heedless of destination, pulling me where I can not go and pummeling me for the weight of my fear.

How good it is to be a human. How fine we are on the Earth; we know it better than any.

How sad I am to see it pass.

What makes you well, last barbarians? What heals you if not family and the breath of the world?

Letter: Today's barbarians

Dear Last Barbarians,

Once, everyone was a barbarian. Every person was free as a monkey, no one was incorporated. We were so free, we didn't even need the word “barbarian”, and we never called ourselves that. It was brought in to being by the early empires, the early bodies, to mean someone who was “strange, foreign, ignorant.” It really just meant anyone who was not part of the body, not part of the city.

Here are words to think about: incorporation; civilization; social structure; barbarian.


For almost our whole existence, we, and the monkeys who came before us, lived in scattered groups. We lived with our kin, and friends of kin, and often we moved from place to place. If we lived in a really nice area with plenty of food, we didn't move much. If the land we lived on was sparse, we might move every day, we might use the land from this mountain we know, to that river we know, to this valley we know. At the edges of our home were often the homes of other humans. When we saw them, depending on how things were, we might welcome them and feast, or we might flee, or we might trespass on their home and try to kill them. More people take from fewer people, the biggest group wins the battle. Busy busy busy.

In those years, though some of us did live to be somewhat old, most of us died in the first few years, and nearly all of us died in 35 years. Perhaps that is how life is for you.

Now, most of us live longer, and many of us live more than 70 years, twice as long!

The things that make us live long are the things that improve our food and security.

We wanted to live.
We wanted our children to live.
We wanted to be comfortable.
We wanted to be well fed.

As we know, more takes from few. So, we got together in larger groups.

Finding, processing and preparing food is a lot of work. Many hands make much work light. With more of us, we could assign some tasks to people, to make sure the work got done. In the times now, that tendency toward specialization and work distribution means nearly everyone works most days to keep the group going, and the group is huge, it literally covers the entire Earth in a network of ownership and incorporation.

There's the word: you are either a barbarian, an unincorporated person, or a citizen.

Here are the words: “incorporation” means “to be made part of the body”. The body is the system, the organization, the group. If you are a member of the body, like I am, you are incorporated. I am not a barbarian, I am a member of the body. I am trapped here, and can not get out. I rely on the body, I would die without it.

A “citizen” is a member of the city; a city is a large group of people, and the city has all kinds of rules and laws to regulate humans and resources. It is odd to be a citizen. All citizens are incorporated, part of the body.

Barbarians are not part of a large social system. Barbarians live in smaller groups, your justice is more immediate and less abstracted, you tend to rise and fall with your fellow group mates. It is very different for barbarians.

There are barbarians today. Some of them live in small groups just as you do. Most often, they work very, very hard to remain out of the body. Sometimes they move around, sometimes they change their names, sometimes they pretend for a few moments to be part of the body, but then take some fat, some resource, and run. Run! Run! Into the mountains, too steep and mysterious; into the desert too hot and featureless, into the ice and snow.

The body does not like the barbarians. Always it seeks to bring them in to the body. In this day where I am, barbarians are sometimes hunted and killed. The body has to know your name and give you a number. It has to know where you live, and what you own. It has to know if you have something, or are doing something, you shouldn't. It has to tax you, and imprison you.

Look: in most barbarian groups, there are the same laws. They decide who you can kill, if you need to. They decide, maybe, how much of something everyone gets.

But, there are differences, and the body lives in those differences.

For most barbarians, the people who make decisions about you are right there. You know them. You might appeal to the whole group, or perhaps, if things are that bad, offer to kill them. You might talk among the others and decide to leave with a group of them, “we're going over than hill, we'll get with you on the solstice to feast and fornicate, but don't hunt on our side of the hill.” (Even barbarian societies are very complex, with this person fighting with that person unless the other person is involved and then we both fight them; kin relations, past interactions, the likelihood of future interactions, all play a part in each person's decision).

In the body, no one knows who makes the decisions, or why. You don't speak to them, you speak to someone who works for someone who works for someone who works for someone who knows them, maybe.

Among barbarians, when you make war, you know why you are fighting and who decided to make war.

In the body, you never know; instead lies are told, big, big lies. But, you are buried in the body; how can you know? When you are in the body you kill as slaves: we kill who we are told without our reflection or participation; we are told how and when to do it. In the heat of battle, of we disagree with the body, it will pause killing the enemy for a moment to kill us.

Don't forget this: more is better, it wins wars, it makes food, it protects resources from abuse, but when we come together, when we aggregate, when our numbers in any area become too great, too dense, the body must arise, or each must kill all until the population is lower. That is what births the body: too many of us in one place. There, cities will arise, and kings of them, and busy bureaucrats counting and making marks, and before long, the body will be hungry for more people, and it will grow as big and powerful as it can.

Once you are in the body, there you are.

Barbarians live as they can; you are probably hungry often, or for the last part of the year, perhaps. The body, in exchange for your person, will feed you.

But, our barbarians today continue to live by this rule: take nothing from the body; own nothing it wants, and when it puts its finger where you are, move, run. Run! Run! Into the mountains, too steep and mysterious; into the desert too hot and featureless, into the ice and snow.