Friday, April 29, 2011

On Human Sacrifice

Human sacrifice was not uncommon historically. There are mentions of it in the Old Testament, recent archaeological research indicates it was quite likely practiced by the Druids, and it is known to have been quite common in Mesoamerica, having been practiced in one form or another by the Inca, Maya, and especially the Aztecs. Usually it involves the sacrifice of one or more victims to a deity, believing that blood was a form of nourishment for the god, sometimes the sun. From the movies or your reading you probably are aware of the procedure supposedly used by the Aztecs. Slaves or other captives would be ritually sacrificed atop a pyramid, the victims being held down by priests, while one would plunge an obsidian danger into the chest, remove the still beating heart, offer it to the deity, and the body would be rolled down the stairs to the crowd below where it might be eaten or decapitated and skinned, depending upon what account you read. Also, depending upon your definition, different procedures might all be considered human sacrifice, the burial of servants with their master, for example, or suttee as practiced in India when a wife would sacrifice herself on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre.

There is no doubt that such sacrifices were offered although there is little agreement about how often or how many victims were sacrificed either at one time or over time. Michael Harner has suggested the Aztecs might have sacrificed 250,000 victims a year, an estimate I believe to be grossly exaggerated. It is known that both women and children could be victims as well as men, and there is archaeological evidence for this. Also unknown is why such practices existed. Some have suggested there was a protein shortage and cannibalism was a motive. Others have suggested it may have been a form of population control. In any case you must be careful to separate motive from function. That is, the function (or result, if you will) of the sacrifices might have been cannibalism or population control, but that does not seem to have been the motive. The motive was probably the offering of the sacrifice to a deity of some kind. It is entirely possible that people are unaware that their ostensible motives were divorced from the functions of their acts. The most important function of rain dances or other ritual performances may well have been to promote and cement the social solidarity of the group, for example, even though that was not the motive for the performance.

How far-fetched is it to suggest that we here in the United States have a form of human sacrifice? What we do may not be very closely identical to human sacrifice as it is “classically” understood or described, but its function may well be similar. While the Aztecs offered their sacrifices to the god Huitzilopochtli, or other gods they believed in, we are motivated to offer our sacrifices to our great god, “Profit.” Unlike the Aztecs we do not literally or physically remove the victim’s beating heart, we do it symbolically by slowly breaking it over time, as the victim becomes aware of his victimhood and suffers more slowly and painfully as his wife and children observe his increasing helplessness and mortification. He loses his job, exhausts his savings, eventually loses his home, and instead of rolling down the stairway, he rolls inevitably into the gutter as his unemployment benefits run out and he has nowhere to turn for further help. This pleases our Supreme Being, “Capitalism,” because he/she/it benefits from the victim’s misfortune, and also gets rid of a surplus population that might otherwise require some form of welfare. It also pretty much guarantees that his children will be relatively uneducated and able to perform only menial tasks for minimum wages, and his surviving wife will also become a menial or worse. Who says things are not “functionally related?”

What used to be the “American Dream” has now slowly morphed into the American Nightmare. Unemployment is rife, foreclosures are commonplace, wages have been stagnant for years. The rich get even more rich and the poor get even more poor. This poses a great problem for Capitalism, or would if corporations were truly persons, because with modern technology and cheap labor overseas no one needs the poor, or even the middle class. But capitalism is heartless, doesn’t care about the poor or the handicapped, even the nation, the environment, or the planet, as it seeks only short-term profits, the more the merrier. And controlling most of the wealth it can buy whatever it wants, and does.

“Hungry and out of work, eat a Republican.”

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, the wedding. I heard it was “awesome,” “groovy,” and “super.” No doubt the poor and the elderly took time out from their dumpster diving and feasts of cat food and basked happily in the glory of it all. You have to hand it to those “Brits,” they know how (and when) to put on a show.

No comments: