Monday, March 05, 2018

History of Human Sacrifice

The Atlantic has a story by Laura Spinney on a mass anthropology study of the role of human sacrifice in human societies throughout history:
Were human societies able to grow so large and complex because cruel practices like human sacrifice shored them up, or because human sacrifice was abandoned in favor of other forms of social glue—notably, major religions like Christianity?
The study tries to get beyond merely anecdotal evidence by pooling historical data about large numbers of societies into substantial databases. It suggests the theory that human sacrifice can be a unifying force in societies of up to 100,000 people, but is actually socially disruptive in larger ones.

I wonder if they are forcing the data a bit, but what really struck me was the definition and assertion about human sacrifice.
Human sacrifice is defined as the ritualized, religiously motivated killing of a human being. It is no longer sanctioned by any state
I don't know about the "no longer sanctioned" part. The Atlantic has also been giving extensive coverage to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting where 17 people were killed. Doesn't that shooting meet the criteria for human sacrifice?

Virtually no American, I think, wants any particular kindergartener, high school student, concert-goer, church-goer, or other ordinary citizen gunned down horribly by the latest aggrieved or disturbed shooter with a tricked-out automatic weapon that he was able to buy legally on the open market.

But the faith is strong in the United States that it is vitally important that men, at least white Republican men, must have the means to assert justice as they see it. This is the Second Amendment cult, perhaps the most powerful faith community in the United States today. In many countries the collective rule of law is affirmed. In the United States it is widely held, by citizens and by lawmakers, that collective law can be legitimately nullified by the personal law of a righteous man who holds the means to impose law himself. The rule of personal law requires private ownership of powerful weapons. The Second Amendment is a sacred thing.

Second Amendment cultists doubtless do grieve when the faith is abused by those who kill little children and other innocents instead of imposing American justice. But what they make plain is that they do accept those deaths as worthwhile and even necessary. They are the price the Second Amendment requires of Americans, the constant human sacrifice that underpins the faith. For many, many Americans, these sad losses are, finally, a price worth paying. They believe in gun ownership more than individual human life.

The database builders need to integrate data like the American shootings into their research.  It is their theory that in very large societies, human sacrifice becomes a class and power issue, with the powerful sacrificing the weak until social cohesion is lost.  In the United States, however, the killings at schools, theatres, and churches don't seem to be a matter of class control -- the children of NRA members seem as much at risk as anyone else. 

It's complicated.
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