Human Sacrifice (Scharf)
Feb 04, 2003 05:48 PST
"What, if anything, can we do to counter the shared anxiety of our time?
Something for psychohistorians and us all to think about?"
This seems to be the heart of the matter.
As Lloyd noted in another thread, psychohistorians have little or no access
to the media or academia. The internet seems to be our best hope.
When I was a boy, we had air-raid drills in school and bomb shelters all
around, as many of you will remember. There were fears of domestic communism
and of foreign invasion. We were told that we needed a strong defense, that
our way of life was in peril, and so on.
In spite of McCarthy's claims, our government was never taken over by
communists and at length the Soviet Union folded like a paper tiger.
Now we are told we have to fear terrorists like Sadam. Besides "The" Gulf
War, we have bombed Iraq on many occasions because we had to show that we
were tough, would not accept terrorism, and so forth.
This did nothing to prevent 9-11 and there is no reason to think further
attacks upon Iraq will "make us secure."
You may recall a post I did on the subject of religion in which I wrote about
the conduct of shamans in promoting anxiety.
I want to examine this further.
I have used Paul Radin's writings on religion because they are
anthropological standards and because he is hostile to a psychoanalytic
approach. To the extent that his data is accurate, he does not think it
supports a psychoanalytic view. It may or may not, but it is consonant with a
Radin observed that primitives live in an atmosphere of great anxiety.
Ostensibly, the shaman is one who can decrease this anxiety by his putative
magic. However, Radin observes, the shaman actually sows anxiety, kind of
like the guy who has the drink concession turning up the heat in the arena.
The real point of sowing anxiety is to urge the people to make sacrifices.
Things might otherwise be going well when someone falls ill. Some enemy from
another tribe is blamed and that tribe is attacked. Nobody stops to think if
the enemy really has the power to kill, with its supposed magic, more people
than will be lost in raids and counter raids.
Meanwhile people continue to live in fear of retaliatory raids and further
There really is no fighting magic but the entire existence of these primitive
peoples is organized around just that. Their lives are full of taboos, trips
to the shaman, and ways of placating spirits. Anxiety is a way of life and
apparent measures to reduce anxiety are a way of keeping the "threat"
present, not of diminishing it.
If these people could understand the real causes of illness and natural
calamities, instead of blaming sorcery, they might have stopped imagining
that enemies were everywhere and that the sacrifices they made in the service
of their paranoid beliefs were far greater than would occur from illness and
Of course, there was no question of them abandoning their world view. What
they lacked was not the scientific world view, but psychological security.
Things have not advanced that far.
Our politicians serve as shamans who are endlessly identifying dangers and
promising remedies. They dream up phantom evils or exaggerate existing ones.
They are not in the business of arresting anxieties, but of sowing them. As
ever, the "remedies" involve sacrifices.
I was talking to a friend about the possibility of having conscription again.
I have nephews who are draft age and employees who are draft age and if the
choice is between sending them to Iraq (or elsewhere) and another terrorist
attack, I'll take my chances on the latter.
Of course, an invasion of Iraq is no guarantee against future terrorist
attacks and if it does not involve conscription and only a few deaths of
Americans, it will surely involve the continued carnage of Iraqi children.
That is an awful price for a sound night's sleep!
But, of course, there will be no sound night's sleep. Enemies will continue
to emerge and, as with Moloch, there is not enough blood of innocents to
quench their thirst.
We no longer think that disease is caused by sorcery and we have the
technology to resist the vagaries of nature. Yet we still follow leaders who
see enemies everywhere and who prescribe only one remedy--human sacrifice.
Science has not saved us because this is still not a question of knowledge
but of psychological security. Like a serial killer, we get a short respite
from our anxiety by shedding blood. After the rush of "kicking some ass," the
anxiety returns and with it the search for sacrifices.
Who can believe for one minute that there is any substance to this talk about
making us more secure? Who would choose slaughter as the price of it? Are we
really secure when the only thing we can imagine will keep a bomb out of a
public place is sending our sons and daughters to foreign battle fields or
killing innocent children? Neither Dante nor his demons imagined a hell so
bleak that it proffered such a dilemma!
Sadly, it is a price we have been all too willing to pay--not even a price
for real security, but for a rush. This is the path of least psychological
resistance, the "homeostatic mechanism" in Lloyd's words. How do we escape
this insane devotion to violence?
We must protect children from trauma and treat them with respect and