Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Meditation on Sacrifice

One of the things the Christian apologists had to contend with while debating their new system into legitimacy was the extreme antiquity of the divine sacrifice motif.

Indeed, it’s probably right up there on the great cosmic tree of human belief. A divine being’s sacrifice (and typically dismemberment) being integral to the proper function of Creation is sufficiently widespread to be considered universal. If you have read your Witzel -or Star.Ships- you will be familiar with the hypothesis that the dragon/monster/titan dismemberment and subsequent building of the universe out of its component parts is where these things originate.

Another way of saying that is Jesus is Tiamat’s grandson. Because these mythemes explores aspects of the same spectrum of sacrifice… of skin in the game, as Taleb inevitably describes it in the piece about sacrifice.

Here’s an excerpt from Pieces of Eight:

The spirit world quickly becomes fascinated by sacrifice, probably because it is a rarely observed event. Almost no other creature does it and those that do are alarmingly intelligent -approaching humans in their use of language and symbolic thinking- such as the corvid, octopus or elephant.

Sacrifice is fascinating because it is a topological rearrangement of the universe, either in its material form –burnt offerings, ritual murder, etc- or in its temporal form –fasting, sexual abstinence, etc. Rearranging the topology of the universe is almost by definition a godlike power given that that is probably how the whole enchilada was created in the first place. To echo or mimic that is certainly a very good way of getting attention.

Sacrifice is the fundamental psychological effect that builds all human culture because it is a removal of now for future payoff -whether in wealth or food or song recall or reliable shelter or present-day enjoyment of princesses. This is cosmologically huge and rarely observed among non-human persons. It is reasonable to posit that just this delayed gratification was part of the first extradimensional exchange with whatever appeared at the Campfire’s Edge. It seems to me one of the things we would all want individually squared away in our heads is whether/how 'sacrifice' to external entities is either quantitatively or qualitatively different to the emergence of delayed gratification in one's own developmental psychology.

Because there is a lot to play for: The Easter motif explores the ultimate today/tomorrow payoff which -performed correctly- leads to immortal life. Little wonder that it is traditionally preceded by a long period of fasting. Taking an unlicensed psychoanalytic approach, we could say it also maps to the appearance of ‘delayed gratification’ in childhood development. And it turns out mastery of delayed gratification is among the best -if not the best- predictor of future success.

There is a slight danger in erroneously conflating one of the cornerstone concepts of human psychology stretching back up to a million years ago with a particular late capitalist interpretation of the protestant work ethic and evidence-free claims of meritocracy. This should be resisted. Sacrifice in the sense of delayed gratification is what we might call "necessary but not sufficient".

In any case, it seems an excellent time of year to ruminate on the sacrifice motif and its topological implications -particularly if you have overindulged in chocolate and are idly wondering if it's somehow not too late to start on Lent.