Is Sacrifice Inevitable?
Is Sacrifice Ever Good or Necessary?
After all I have stated, I recognize that this is a fair enough question to ask. Allow me to give its due consideration.
Take a hypothetical situation of self defense. Say you are faced with somebody trying to loot your private property or worse, threaten immediate harm to yourself or somebody you value highly, a family member for instance. Whereas this intruder may only have a knife, you have a trusty shotgun ready. He is in no position to win against you. Assuming you haven’t shot him already, the best thing he can do is give up. Let’s say in his recklessness he doesn’t. You shoot him dead. In this completely tragic state of affairs, the intruder has become sacrificed, and it is his own fault. He has in effect arranged for his own sacrifice at your hands to fulfill some foolish wish to misappropriate what is yours. You, your property, and your family are safe, and that is good.
What is the point I am trying to make here? Simply put, a sacrifice sometimes presents itself in inevitable situations. The intruder could have, to invoke Jordan Peterson in a way he may not have necessarily intended, picked his sacrifice and surrendered while he could and be apprehended and taken in by the authorities. It would have been a better sacrifice for him than being put down with no moral qualms, as you and the people and things of your value are rightly more than this creature that tried to destroy any or all of that.
From your point of view, there is also a choice of sacrifice to be made: you and your family, or him. You’d be a colossal fool to allow yourself and your family to be sacrificed just so this creature, who doesn’t value your life in any way in turn, gets what he wants. Don’t do the altruistic thing and sacrifice for your enemy.
After the previous two parts I spent reviling sacrifice, I am not saying that sacrifices are something we can always escape in our lives. What I am saying is that sacrifice is not a force of virtue in itself. The hypothetical situation with the looter illustrates a tragedy from every angle. The “good” scenario is rather which that whole situation never had to happen; the looter could have made better choices to earn the things he wants, and not threaten to harm anybody. If the situation where the looter is apprehended or killed is in any way good, then it is only relatively speaking. You are absolutely right to defend and even kill the intruder in this self-defense situation. It is the best case scenario, and your ability to fight back is even virtuous and self-interested, all things considered. Again, the true best case scenario is one in which this never had to happen, no matter how unattainable or realistic that would have been.
As much as I rag on about Jordan Peterson on his view of the “damn” sacrifice, I have to admit that there is truth about this: sacrifices usually presents itself as a choice. Lose this or lose that; pick wisely.
There is absolutely a case for using your value responses, even drawing from your self-interests, to effectively make the sacrifice that is thrust upon you, assuming there isn’t a third way out that allows you to come out on top without sacrificing (were it that all situations were this simple!) But this is to be made absolutely clear: sacrifices are typically always thrust upon you. A sacrifice is something you don’t ask for. A village doesn’t freely ask for the monster to come take its resources and people.
And, you certainly don’t have to treat sacrifice as this wonderful thing. That will lead to a whole series of troubles for the one deemed sacrificial.
To Save the One You Love
You don’t ask for a debilitating disease to strike somebody you love, but yet you are presented with a choice: to pay for the treatment and cure (“sacrificing” your money, so to speak), or sacrifice the one you love. Chances are, you’ll opt for treatment, and you do in fact willingly offer your resources for that. It is the truly better decision to make, and perhaps the only type of sacrifice (this, and situations like the self-defense scenario) in which gratitude for the sacrifice is acceptable.
But even then, this is not cause enough to consider sacrifice, the cost to hold things together, a virtue in itself. This is rather a response to a turn of events even more difficult to control than the village monster. Some call it “God’s will”, some call it “Mother Nature”, and some just call it fate. Try as we might, we are in no position to exact full control over the forces of reality and nature. Sacrifices become inevitable, even though we have the right to be indignant in making them. And if we are to call anything virtuous about the aforementioned situation, let it be the honest unsacrificed love of the one that is willing to let the one he loves remain unsacrificed as possible given the circumstances.
When it comes to children and actually raising a family, parents are said to sacrifice for their children in any given way to ensure both their survival and development. If everything I have said up to this point has been taken to heart, this can in turn portray the very idea of raising a family and having children to be a consignment to drudgery and toil. But I don’t think we have to think this way.
If we are to remain positive about the family in society and advocate for it, here is some advice: let love and care for family be an aspirational value response instead of a sacrificial obligation “for the common good”.
I’ve made it clear in the past that I am the farthest thing from anti-family. However, it has been my observation that too many pro-family advocates continue to push for it in a way that it makes parental subordination to the family a standard, instead of a joy and a self-interested objective to raise children and maintain an environment to love and to teach independence.
Child-rearing can absolutely be an object of self-interest and perhaps is preferable to any sense of duty or obligation that can turn the experience into a joyless ordeal. It is why there can be no mistake: raising children is a gigantic undertaking that needs earnest self-investment. That’s obvious, you’d say, but then tell that to those who are resentful of having had children. The responsibility and cost of children should be understood beforehand, and accepted head-on.
In the rush to uphold the family as a foundation of society, I see too many on the pro-family side advocate for rushing into a marriage and having children. I won’t get into the myriad of problems involved in the current state of affairs when it comes to marriage for men – others in the Men’s Movement are vastly more qualified to speak on that.
This in effect demands that men sacrifice their dreams and delegate their work and income for the near-total devotion of the sustenance of that family. Why do I get the feeling that it’s this advocacy of the family in a tribalistic, self-sacrificing context is what ultimately distances people from families?
I’ve always thought it ironic that traditional conservative “pro-family” women often tout the importance of the existence of fathers being there for their kids and at worst complain that their husbands are never around, while at the same time demanding that he stay out and work hard to earn money and “sacrifice” for her and the family. These women truly seem no different than the feminist in wanting total contentment of womankind as offered sacrificially by men.
Imagine a parent telling you that he has given up his dreams just to raise you, in effect saying that he has been “selfless” in his role as a parent. Why is this a good thing? Why are you feeling anything but sadness to hear that you are the result of drudgery and cold compliant duty? If you are made to feel like an accident, you can’t be blamed for feeling that way.
Why can a parent not freely admit self-interested joy at the fact that he is raising his children? As I’ve stated before, sacrifices are sometimes understandably made, especially when the children get sick or injured, or if they do something bad and the parent has to assume responsibility. But otherwise, should a parent not be in a position to tell his son or daughter, “I wanted to have you, and raise you, and now look at how far you’ve come! You are my pride and joy!”.
If these words sound familiar to you, it’s because I am certain that many parents do in fact say this, fortunately. My concern however is that it is often mixed and confused with the elements of self-sacrifice, which I have already made clear is not synonymous with love.
Instead of encouraging men to give up their puer and sacrifice their dreams, why can he not hold onto all that and be a formidable father at the same time? Why can’t he be a living example of a man pursuing his visions for his own children and the mother of his children to look up to? By living his own dream, perhaps a father can inspire unabashed dreams of their own children. This is the kind of family I would rather uphold.
Finally, the subject of war. Many soldiers and military men in our time, whether they were drafted or they volunteered, have died or become crippled in the horrors of war that so many, including myself, likely cannot begin to properly imagine. As stated in the very beginning of this series of essays, I have no intention of downplaying the sacrifices they’ve made…but they are sacrifices, and my definition of it has not changed.
Soldiers are treated as sacrificial. They always have been, it seems. His own side would sacrifice him strategically, while the enemy would sacrifice him to preserve their own side. The more vague the reasons for war over the decades, the less certain what the solider even sacrifices for becomes. We thank them for their service, and then proceed to move on with our lives while too many of them don’t seem to get the care and proper treatment they may need. We in effect thank them strictly for their sacrifice, and for too many of them that’s all they have left in the eyes of the citizenry.
What kind of dreams did these soldiers have before they were made to fight and die? Who were they as unsacrificed men, as individuals, before they became expected to die for their country? What were their consciences and values like, before they were made to betray them?
Soldiers don’t just sacrifice their physical selves in war. It isn’t just their lives that they put on the line; oftentimes it’s their values. The more sterilized and run-of-the-mill war becomes in today’s day and age for those of us in the Western world that are largely shielded from it, the less we resonate with its true horrors, and we thank sacrifices almost as a force of habit. This sacrifice becomes an expectation for soldiers, without a real regard of their value as their own individuals.
Those of us who don’t know war keep electing politicians that keep voting for more war. We philosophize about its virtues and watch as the soldiers move across the chessboard. We keep praising these men for being “naturally” selfless because of how they readily put themselves on the line for their fellow solders.
Those that are willing to fight for what they value are to be rightly esteemed. But this can’t happen in a way that makes their very purpose in life as a man a sacrificial one. Fighting and self-defense is a valid, virtuous response to situations otherwise beyond our control. But fighting and self-defense is not about becoming expendable.
Let’s take the fighter – the warrior, if you will. To hear the horde of people praising warriors for their sacrifice, you’d think that the warrior is a sacrificial profession. But is this really so? Rather, the warrior fights to live, not to die.
If you are a fan of, say, boxing, when you root for the boxer that you do, you aren’t asking him to get bloody and beaten. You want him to be the last one standing in the ring but having fought his way to do so, because that’s what he does.
What kind of morale boost would a warrior have and make him feel valued than to tell him, not “I want you to die for me”, but rather, “I want you to fight for your life”? The warrior ultimately fights to win and survive. If he were fighting to die, his tactics would tragically ensure it much more. If a man desires to protect the object of his value, he must be esteemed so as to live to protect another day, and enjoy the fruits of his protection. Expect him to die, and he may tragically do just that.
Closing Thoughts – The Case for the Unsacrificed Individual
The next time you thank somebody for their sacrifice, think of what it is that you are thanking. Think about what offerings you are collecting. The man who has sacrificed has lost what he shouldn’t have, allegedly for your benefit. Consider whether it is morally right to derive benefit from the loss of another. You may be consigning this person to a false sense of societal fulfillment that he is validated as a man and a human being because he has made the sacrifices expected of him.
Then ask yourself, can’t he be just as valid and valued for not having sacrificed? Why are we as a society so vehement in our hate against the man who won’t live and die for others? Who are we to topple anybody off of their own hierarchy of values and impose ourselves in his place while we call ourselves “the others”?
If sacrifice defines a man, or a woman for that matter, then it’s to sanction those that impose it for their own, parasitic ends. An appraisal of sacrifice is a validation of what could be a vicious cycle. Consecration of sacrifice only comes with a misguided notion that the one that negates himself for the good of the whole is a hero, whereas the hero in the form of the unabashed man fighting for his own life and the right to it is downplayed if not ostracized.
It’s been brought up to me that we have largely come from the self-sacrifice of our predecessors, as in, if it weren’t for self-sacrifice, we wouldn’t be where we are now. To that I respond: it should be clear by now that we can live our lives in fulfilling ways without sacrificing ourselves, and we can look back and say that none of this was necessary, and how tragic that they weren’t able to live their lives unsacrificed and instead at the behest of the social powers that be that cost them their very selves.
From times when were were in tribes to feudal eras marred by warfare, human value wasn’t given the thought we now know was always needed. To hear evolutionary psychologists talk, most certainly men were not valued as such, or their deaths (not their lives) were of value. Perhaps it’s time to uphold the unsacrificed self as a standard to replace the broken standard of self-sacrifice, which has long confused too many people on the true nature of giving, love, compassion and value.
I don’t deny that sacrifices are something we can’t afford to avoid completely, as it does present itself in situations we could have no possible interest but we nonetheless expect and prepare for. I want to again be clear that Jordan Peterson wasn’t necessarily wrong on the fact that a sacrifice is something you have to choose if faced with it. What I am opposed rather is the spirit behind his attitude towards sacrifice, in which man is a sacrificial being. There is nothing virtuous in that, and it certainly won’t help men or really any individual.
So long as sacrifice is worshipped, we will keep wishing it on self and others instead of finding the true value in an unsacrificed self of a man.
I salute and praise he who is unsacrificed. As for those who have ended up sacrificing in their lifetime, I can only wish the best for him to reattain all that he has lost, but he has to be the first person to stand back up and reach for it.
[Featured image taken from https://flic.kr/p/271yHBf]
[Once again, special thanks to Peter Wright for his insight and feedback for this series of essays. You give me courage when I am tempted to remain silent instead.]