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by Caroline Gaudriault

The Feast of the Barbarians

Man is benevolent enough to have created a system that protects him from himself. He has become civilised and socialised; he has pursued a democratic ideal focusing on the development of justice and equality. He has even built a series of ramparts to shield him from his pragmatic and unreasonable nature. But that is no longer enough. He is now nearing a new shore, an intermediary age that implies a profound reappraisal. It has become urgent to make the crossing.

On one shore, he leaves an accomplished masterpiece: geographical and human conquests, his journey to the Moon and his vision of the Earth, the understanding of the microscopic and the macroscopic, technological innovations that have mastered space and time. Progress has made glorious strides, while artistic genius has created magnificent works. But with humanity traversing such a troubled period, it is still hard to make out the other shore. If we are indulgent with Man, we would say that he is anxious about doing things well, caught up in a sense of guilt: he thinks about the dark side of his inventions, about the fear of not being able to renew himself, about the ethics that poses limits on the kind of research that can be carried out in the future, about the demographic threat to the planet, and about the consequences of modernist desire that casts a shadow over his very survival. If we are more realistic, we would say that, for the first time, Man – due to cowardice, egoism and fear – no longer dares to advance. Man, who has had everything his own way, finds himself in an embarrassing situation. Now, after the age of splendour and the age of decadence comes the time of the Barbarians…

The Barbarians arrive … when democracies least expect it, when Man is least able to defend himself. Installed in a comfortable society, waiting patiently for the arrival of the happiness that he has been promised, thinking that his rights and words will be respected and heard, he is caught in the trap of individual pleasures. A pernicious lethargy ensues. Man has retreated into debate, he is too afraid of action. Once having demonstrated so much in the way of genius, he now finds himself at an impasse. Rather than reinventing a life that preserves his dignity, he allows his languages to die. He witnesses the effacement of his memories. He forgets the meaning of his acts. He feels his courage waning. He accepts lies. He incites catharsis by the crazed purchasing of the useless. He sentimentalises everything, rendering the whole world infantile. He denies the real. He creates virtual spaces in order to flee his responsibilities. Man has become tired, he no longer knows what’s holding him up, but he’s never been so afraid of ageing, of being ill and unhappy. As if he were eternal! When the world starts to fragment around him, when the economy becomes a dangerous game and the environment a question of survival, he withdraws into himself. He focuses on his desire for immortality, on his hedonistic dream and his egotistical conquests. He has experienced the war for resources, the cost of modernity, galloping demographics. But he doesn’t want to see. Too late. The situation’s too good not to exploit.

It is from the flaws of their contemporaries, subject to the comforts of Western society, that the Barbarians are able to profit. These last exploit the democratic precept that we live in the best of all possible worlds, an idea supplemented by the illusion that this situation will last forever, with the danger of complacency that implies. The least easily duped of all, the Barbarians introduce a moral and intellectual savagery into our so proudly civilised societies. The savage state that they insidiously distil is not one of cruelty, crime and rape, but one of ideological combat. Free of all complexes, willing to go all the way, the Barbarians are those who push the limits, ushering in excess and chaos. They are not lacking in genius. They use all means necessary, ready to overturn established codes, free themselves from social rules, overthrow lifestyles, transcend the human race. They elaborate the premises of a society with no frontiers, no singularity. A transgender society. The word “taboo” will lose all meaning. Birth and death will be controlled artificially. Bodies will be monetised. Life will be reduced to a digital function. The Barbarians ignore the past and ridicule ethics. They transgress laws because they have nothing to lose. They are willing to use any weapon: exaggeration, moral oppression, culpabilisation, speed, bad faith, superiority complex, certainty and nerve. Their savagery shakes up everything in their way. Mentalities change, spirits are lost, the whirlwind that they create becomes uncontrollable. It is a real process of mind-washing. They arrive by all possible roads, attack all minds starting with the weakest, hampering even the most intellectual thought, enter politics and change laws. Sometimes they don’t use force, contenting themselves instead with pushing open doors that are already ajar, doors that blissful Men watch opening. They exploit their weaknesses and doubts. They exploit wait-and-see tactics. Then they move, taking society by surprise. They find immediate solutions to questions while Men, caught in the trap of their global thought, are still discussing collective responses. When Men lack confidence, seeing such conviction reassures them. These sworn opponents of an archaic humanity could very well elaborate a transhumanist project, in which chance, imperfection and error would become a thing of the past. They are preparing the next stage, that of Man’s obsolescence.

However, Men have not yet reached the other shore: the human species is at issue. Are they still able to choose? Whatever the case may be, history will never be the same. They are still, and probably for the last time, masters of their own fate. But time is short. Either they will adapt to the new issues, or the Barbarian putsch will install a new kind of civilisation. We still don’t know what it will look like, but the hold-up may happen sooner than we think. Man has mixed up progress and modernism. The first led him here, the second will usher in, regardless of his desires, a new history. Perhaps the Barbarians mark an obligatory change, a transition. All movements can contain positive ideas. What if they incarnated a shameful desire? If Man is now seeking to move beyond his human nature, perhaps it is because, in the end, he finds in insupportable.

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