Our dominant cultural image of barbarians is of filthy, illiterate, bloodthirsty brutes: imagine a fur-clad, lice-infested savage ferociously raiding a village, axe in one hand and torch in the other, who then heartily celebrates with a flagon of ale and a giant roasted leg of some animal or another. Barbarians are noted for their contempt for and domination of the weak, yet barbarians are also admired for their brawn and tenacity: think of Conan the Barbarian and other pop-culture images of warrior-heros who spurn the refinements and discourse of civilized culture and deal with problems through the sword and conquest.
Historically, the term "barbarian" came from the ancient Greeks, who heard the unfamiliar languages of other peoples as the nonsense syllables “bar, bar,” akin to our word “blah” (if we were to invent the term today we would call him Conan the Blahblahian!). Of course, not all peoples who were foreign to the Greeks were uncivilized or primitive. Nor were the Vikings or Mongols or other groups upon whom Western cultural images of barbarians are based, who had developed sophisticated ways of dealing with their problems, and who were in many ways were more sophisticated than the medieval Europeans who judged them barbarous -- especially in the case of Arabs. Indeed, Middle Age Europeans were themselves rude, filthy, illiterate, and belligerent brutes, and the Romans who had preceded them had been cruel and oppressive, and only differed from “barbarians” in that they had learned how to effectively organize large armies and large cities, and to engineer and build massive structures with marble and concrete.
Barbarism still exists today, despite all the advances of modernity and science; but the real barbarians are not to be found among the Earth's few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, but among the most modern and technologically advanced societies. Modern barbarians are barbarians with toys, possessors of all the sophisticated technological devices and organizational structures created by science and other forms of modern knowledge. Advances in technology and technique have been harnessed not to create a paradise on Earth in which all human beings can flourish, but to serve primitive, impulsive drives, and to perpetuate them.