The ‘Value’ of Self-Devaluation
Author’s note: Before anything, I want to make it absolutely clear that this article is a criticism of the idea of sacrifice as postulated and celebrated in our society as a standard of living and expectation, especially upon men. It is not an admonishment of veterans who have suffered physical loss or have died, people who have elected to save other lives at the cost of their own, nor parents who do everything they can to keep their family alive and together. It is neither a disparagement of charity and love, nor is it a denigration of the disadvantaged, impoverished, and the sick. I realize how this subject, taken for granted in day to day dialogue, is an incredibly delicate one if confronted.
Self-Sacrifice: A Worldwide Lower Common Denominator
Sacrifice – many think it is one of the greatest acts a person can do…in theory especially if it’s of themselves by themselves. Or, if you’re like me, you think it’s something no human being of dignity should have to do, let alone celebrate.
Sacrifice is openly lauded by those who speak of the builders of civilization, soldiers who fight wars, those who give to their families, communities, and country, and in any context toil, die, put themselves in harm’s way, and lose up to everything in the name of the “selfless act”. It seems like to actually speak against celebrating those kind of things is a blasphemy of the highest order, especially to those who have or are close to those who have performed those acts.
No, I sincerely do not wish to be insensitive to those people, but neither do I intend to censor myself on what I think is a legitimate case against sacrifice as this standard held for people at large, and especially men. Look at the aforementioned examples again: those who laud those things are more specifically lauding the men who did it. Exceptions apply; there are of course women who do these sort of things as well as sacrifices perhaps more specific to women (say, risking their own life in the process of childbirth). However, there appears to be a general understanding that men are at expected to serve any permutation of those functions voluntarily or not; else, they aren’t regarded in esteem at all.
If you concur with that last assessment then think about that fact – that they are expected in this capacity. Lauding is different from expectation; lauding is high appraisal of something considered elective, while expectation assumes a standard as a bare minimum. Are the advocates of male sacrifice praising men for that, or do they condemn men who do not sacrifice themselves?
Let’s go a bit further and entertain the idea that it is, in fact, lauding they are doing. What for? The fact that these men give to the beneficiaries of these sacrifices, or the fact that they undergo losses?
If you think that’s an unfair way of looking at these lovers of others’ sacrifices, consider this: would there be as much lauding of an act of giving by an individual that did not have to sacrifice, or worse one in which he gained something for himself in this act of giving? On and on do the complaints go against people who do things for a profit, that is, when there’s something in it for them. Those that do things for gain are maligned in favor of those that act out of charity, “the common good”, and “unselfish motives”.
It’s safe to say that most don’t think twice about these things and consider them a conventional morality and way of conduct. Selflessness and self-sacrifice are so steeped in the common sensibilities that they become synonymous with giving, compassion, love, and the greater good. It couldn’t be an exaggeration that the self is regarded as evil at all times, considering how selflessness (the lack of self) and self-sacrifice (the abnegation of the self) are considered the good at all times.
It has even gotten to the point that even when people advocate for things like “self-care”, they make it a point, almost kneejerk, to distance it from “selfishness”. “Yes, by all means care for yourself,” they would say; “but don’t do it selfishly! You still have to put others above yourself.” Imagine actually advocating for self-care in which the self is not even a proper end to the this act.
In a world where self-sacrifice is normally advocated and practically an active part of almost any given culture at least ideologically, there are going to be a lot of confusions about sacrifice that need to be exposed. What likewise needs exposing are the kind of people that wish it upon another.
From progressive radicals wishing masculinity (if not males altogether) to be sacrificed so as to be rid of it, to traditional conservatives that demand that men become sacrificial beings in service of society (often a code word for “women”) and at the same time profess to be thankful to those dead or broken men, this mindset permeates the public consciousness. Men are put on the spot for the gynocentric altar of sacrifice – from the symbolic in men’s day to day actions sacrificing their souls at the behest of women, to the literal…in which males from their infancy on the religious or clinical cutting board to their prime years as targets for killing in battlefields at home and abroad.
The case against sacrifice is not limited to that of men, far from it, but men’s sacrifice is normalized to the point that too many traditionists, antifeminists, and even some Men’s Rights Activists still appeal on the basis of men’s disposability. One wonders who they are trying to please with such an argument – feminists? This is why not only I will hereby make the case against sacrifice, but I will appeal to men’s unsacrificed individual spirit with no apologies.
Where does the man who does not wish to sacrifice his spirit turn to, when every culture and mindset on the planet share this lower common denominator of the sacrificial creature as the ideal man?
The Survival of the Sacrifice Ideology
When it comes to preachers of sacrifice, be it in the world of religion, spirituality, politics, activism, and in the academics, the proper question to ask is not for who are its ardent advocates, but for who isn’t. Ayn Rand seemed to stand alone in her time in her advocacy against self-sacrifice during her time with her message eloquently depicted in her works, notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
I will define “sacrifice” in my own words in Part 2 of this essay series, but Rand’s definition is absolutely worth mentioning. From “The Ethics of Emergencies” in The Virtue of Selfishness: “‘Sacrifice’ is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue.” From “Galt’s Speech” in Atlas Shrugged: “If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is. If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is.”
Self-sacrifice and altruism still see wide appraisal with every excuse thrown to bolster it from the left and the right of the political spectrum and from religions and secularists alike advocating for either worship of an exterior force (God or the State) at the expense of the self, to asceticism and denial of experiencing both world and body. Self is defined as its own indulgence, and indulgence is defined as its own over-indulgence. Self-abnegation (often framed as “killing one’s own ego”) is seen as the good, or the path to enlightenment. Giving is seen as a virtue in itself, and giving is not even properly considered giving if the giver received something substantial in return, or received something in any way on his own terms.
Having taken these things into consideration, I think that those who preach self-sacrifice and yet deny that they are against the self are cognitively dissonant, if not downright lying. They simply cannot get away with “But we’re not anti-self!” after every attempt they’ve made to denigrate the idea of the self while assuming the role of “the others” and “society”.
Then came Jordan Peterson into the spotlight just as politically correct idiocy infiltrated mainstream society more and more from the academic cesspool. The time was right for him to speak out against the lunacy of postmodern thought and reality-denial as well as the media attacks on masculinity and men losing a sense of direction. Peterson brought a lot of much needed sanity and conversation that drew the deserving attention and devotion of many.
There was much value to derive from the myriad of ideas Peterson brought to the zeitgeist, as it were, of intellectual discussion. However I must admit to profound disagreements with his postulates. In particular, a key disagreement I have is his open advocacy of sacrifice in most situations, especially involving men’s role in society.
Peterson stressed the notion that man must choose his sacrifice. The context as I have understood it is that Peterson says man is always faced with a crossroads during his life in which he must make a sacrifice in that given time; the upside, however, is that he gets to pick his sacrifice. We can derive from this that the man would make the sacrifice that is of overall least detriment to him, but he makes it nonetheless, and if he doesn’t make sacrifices then he will go in a bad way.
This has given yet a new context for sacrifice in the world of philosophic discourse, especially for younger men desperate for guidance (or a savior?), and has only bolstered it. Although I have seen no worthwhile evidence that sacrifice has been fading as a moral norm even after all this time, this practical revitalization of the idea of sacrifice serves as more fuel to the fire in making self-sacrifice that much more fashionable – for men to commit it, and for women to uphold it as a standard for the ideal man.
I stand by in my disagreement towards the idea that sacrifice is a crucial requisite to masculinity or an individual’s development in general. To the idea that we get to pick our “damn” sacrifice (Peterson seems to enjoy tacking “damn” into that phrase perhaps to make it sound cool), I offer a response in the form of some questions: must everything in life, if any, really be a sacrifice, and who is collecting said sacrifices (and for what reason)?
If you think I’m exaggerating about whether sacrifice is actually regarded as a requisite, you need only look at those that profess to praise masculinity strictly on the grounds that men have provided, sacrificed and died. If a man has not sacrificed (lost something of himself), or worse, has profited, then he is not given the same praise. Instead, he tends to be maligned.
A word of warning to those that think sacrifice is a proper method to progress through life: if you have to make a sacrifice every time you come to an important decision, then sacrifice will soon become the only way you can respond. Note the Petersonian implication that the more you supposedly sacrifice, the more you supposedly benefit. What’s more, you could run out of yourself to sacrifice, and before that you could end up sacrificing others, perhaps those close to you. A philosophy centered on self-sacrifice sees no qualms with expecting the same sacrifice of others. One cannot think of a single state or tyrannical force that didn’t rely on man as a sacrificial animal to fulfill its malicious exploits.
A mindset defaulting to the worship of sacrifice ultimately amounts to the worship of everything that had once been a man’s but is now lost, and when his very self is sacrificed then he is seen as a hero. It becomes clear that it isn’t about the fact that he gave what he did, benefited what he did, or protected what he did. If he was able to do it without any loss to himself, then this at best won’t be a newsworthy story. The fact that he fulfilled true selfish interest and self-investment to his act is never considered, often even by the man himself, and is generally regarded as impossible, as if compassion cannot come from true self-interest. Only through disregard of the self is compassion, charity, reliability, concern, love, and service seen to be operable.
It is the same thing as feminists consistently do, that is, to see man’s normal nature as brutal and evil. Horseshoe Theory rings true again – both feminists and tradcons see men’s nature as one of depravity, both meeting at the ends to advocate for male altruism and self-sacrifice, albeit for different motives. One side wishes to eliminate men and/or masculinity on this basis; the other uses it to be apologists for feminists as thus: “But men aren’t like that! Look at how they die and mutilate themselves to build society for us! Isn’t it wonderful? Must we not be grateful?”
The more normalized sacrifice is, the more prettied up and acceptable it is. From a distance, a sacrifice looks as noble as if it is second nature. When a man endures a sacrifice with the mind that it is all for the better and for the greater good, they become indignant when that sacrificial attitude comes into question from fear that what he put himself through was truly all for naught. It is understandably a terrifying idea that one doesn’t want to face. I draw a parallel from those adult men who had been circumcised as infants that become indignant and defensive in the face of those that speak the truth that they were cruelly mutilated at their parents’ authorization. They fear greatly the fact that they have been victimized as infants, or the fact that their parents not only allowed but fully intended to have his genitalia cut in this way.
Just as they try to justify it by continuing the cycle as they arrange for their own sons’ circumcisions (often as “sacrificing one’s son to God”; looking at you, Ben Shapiro…you too, Jordan), those that have sacrificed in other ways seem to want the cycle to continue, all in the name of social norms, the common good, culture, tradition, selflessness, and whatever other justification they can scrounge for. To add to that, we praise male sacrifice so much in any given context that one wonders why so many men commit suicide!
Jordan Peterson is a type of individualist thinker that well understands the perils of collectivism. I’m still thankful that such a voice has found the publicity it did. It is precisely that which makes me even more disappointed with his enthusiasm towards the idea of sacrifice. In my opinion, the individual and sacrifice are incompatible, and I don’t think that advocating for sacrifice is ultimately the best way to advocate for men’s identity and direction, in the capacity that he actually does.
In Peterson’s 2017 lecture for his book Maps of Meaning he goes as far as to say “You don’t get to not make (a sacrifice). You’re sacrificial whether you want to be or not”. If you aren’t one of the many undergoing the conceited high from aspiring to self-sacrifice as a means to maturity, you’d actually see this message for what it is: damning. Childhood is dismissed as mere potentiality to be sacrificed in order to attain adulthood, ignoring the fact that an adult without a healthy puer to serve as his essential core is only a life of drudgery beholden to society…usually women that Peterson always assumes wants to “grow up” in contrast to presumably childish idiot men who have “failed to launch”.
It appears to me that society’s confusion when it comes to the idea of sacrifice is has become exacerbated with this new context, and I must disagree as respectfully as I can with Peterson here and try to make it clear what I’ve discovered to be the actual nature of sacrifice. It’s time to expose the truth about your “damn” sacrifice.
Rand, Ayn, Atlas Shrugged. Random House, 1957.
Rand, Ayn, The Virtue of Selfishness. New American Library, 1964.
[Also, once again, eternal thanks to Peter Wright of Gynocentrism.com for his insight and feedback during the writing for this series of essays.]
[Featured image screenshot from Jordan Peterson’s 2017 lecture of his book Maps of Meaning]