Friday, 8 November 2013

The Selfish Sacrifice

I really wanted to come back with a BANG and a new Duke story on the 8th of November, what with the 88 theme going on and 8/11, eight times eleven - you get the idea. But that's taking a lot more time and effort than I expected, so I decided I'd give you all a post to let you know, I'm not done with blogging! I've had my break, but now I'll get back to my regular schedule. Hopefully next post will be a Duke Forever post, but if not I'll just continue posting along with my unofficial blogging schedule.
So, coming back, what is on my mind? Well, a lot of things really. There are some things I've done that I don't want to talk about; some things I haven't that I do & even some things I really really want to talk about, but won't.
But the biggest thing on my mind right that I am both able and willing to talk about is sacrifice; which is why the Word of the Day is: 'SACRIFICE'.
Sacrifice /'sakrəfuys/ n. 1. The offering of life or some material possession, etc, to a god. 2. The giving up or destroying of something prized for the sake of something considered as having a higher claim. 3. Something sacrificed. 4. A loss suffered in selling something below its value. 5. Theology Christ's offering of his death to God for the sins of humankind. ♦v.t. 6. To make a sacrifice of. ♦v.i. 7. To offer or make a sacrifice.
After my last post, with the parellel-posts for "Beltane" by myself and "Samhain" by the dear Miss Sridhar, I've been thinking about sacrifice. It was brought to my attention that both of these holidays involve sacrifice in different forms and I've been thinking about the concept.

In mythology sacrifice is everywhere. In Christianity, obviously, there's Jesus' sacrifice for one's sins. In Buddhism, one chooses to sacrifice worldly possessions and ideals to get closer to Nirvana. In Hinduism, there's many a story of sacrifice, like the demon, Ravana, sacrificing his ten heads to the creator, Brahma, who granted him boons in return (and he had his heads grow back). Then in Islam & Judaism, they sacrifice the pleasure of eating bacon and other foods, and there are rituals that make us sacrifice our time or freedom in the name of some god's will, yada yada.
The point is that there's a lot of sacrifice to be had in mythology and religion, which goes hand in hand with the first definition of sacrifice as an offering to a god. Now, while that does bug me because of my dislike for religion, in theory that kind of sacrifice makes sense - in the sense that you are giving up something you might otherwise want or enjoy, for your god. That is a respectable notion, even if it is meaningless in practice, because it's about giving something for a greater good.

Yet, it still kind of bugs me, because to me it's quite selfish. Yep, here we go again with my "Everyone is Selfish" theory; but hear me out - according to the story why did Jesus sacrifice himself? To accept the punishment for humanity's sins. It was more a bargain with God than a sacrifice: "I'll do this if you do that," it wasn't an offering on its own merits and it wasn't unconditional. In the story of the demon Ravana it's the same thing, he cut off his heads (which grew back anyway) in exchange for near-immortality. In the rituals and creeds of the other religions, followers do as the religion dictates because to not do so would be against their religion which leads to punishment, sin or takes away their chance of enlightenment. These are sacrifices, but they're still selfish.
There's the concept of making a "deal with the devil", standing at a crossroads and summoning a demon to do something for you in exchange for your soul. I see little difference between this exchange and that of the sacrifice for your god, except that one of these is considered a sin although I don't understand why, it's all very confusing.

In fiction, be it movies or books, there aren't many examples I can talk about as most stories have their sacrifice in the third act, meaning their spoilerific, but one recent example that comes to mind is Star Trek Into Darkness.
[There's a proper sacrifice at the beginning of the first Star Trek reboot movie, but I enjoyed that movie so I don't want to ruin it. However, the Into Darkness movie is shit, so I have no shame in spoiling it.]
At the very beginning of that movie, Mr Spock enters a volcano to activate a device for the purposes of stopping the catastrophic eruption and saving the local people, however, he gets stuck in the volcano and saving him would mean revealing the ship to the locals and violating the Prime Directive. Instead, he chooses to remain behind and die, essentially sacrificing himself. Now, he fails, since he's a main character and that would be the most pointless death in Star Trek history (yes, including Lieutenant Yar). But if this weren't a J.J. Abrams movie, that kind of sacrifice could actually mean something. Yes, Spock is doing this in exchange for something else, but it's a benefit that he does not receive. Technically, by exposing the citizens of the planet to alien influence before they were prepared would irrevocably alter their evolution and development, for which Starfleet would be solely responsible. Spock wishes to avoid that, even if it means dying for that cause, as it could be catastrophic for those indigenous people in ways that you couldn't even fathom.
Of course, the movie doesn't talk about this kind of thing, because (as I said) it's a shit movie, but to me, that would have been a meaningful sacrifice. Sure, the pain and torment that you'd receive from chopping off your head ten times or being crucified for someone else's sins is a lot to go through, but it's still a goal to your own ends [In that story, I think that Jesus sacrificed himself so that people would believe in him. Agree or disagree, talk amongst yourselves]. Spock wasn't doing it for a god or for himself, hell he's acting against his own desires, but he does it anyway because it's the right thing to do. While I still think there's a sense of selfish pride or honour behind this kind of sacrifice it is still, by and large, a selfless act .

I like to dabble with the concept in my own stories - villains seeking death to stop the suffering they cause; heroes dying for the greater good & even people dying meaninglessly, because they thought it was the right thing to do and were wrong. It's an interesting concept, and if you're a part of NaNoWriMo and are looking for some interesting drama for your story, I recommend you take a look at the many aspects of sacrifice and explore them with your characters.

But you know, not all sacrifice is a sacrifice of your life. So often it is in fiction, because it's one hell of a pay day to cash in that cheque so it's seen as one of the "bigger" ones, but in the real world it's just silly.
That's why I've been thinking about the word so much, there are so many sacrifices that we make, but when you play them through the filter of "everyone is selfish" it puts them into a new light.
Is it really a great sacrifice to give up carbs to lose weight, or is it just a necessary downside? Is it truly a meaningful sacrifice to work longer shifts to pay for your kid's tuition, or is it a fair exchange of time for money?

Okay, what about a hypothetical:
Let's say you're in a relationship, but in order for you to be together, you need to live in a different suburb. Actually, that's not all that bad. Inter-state?
No, country! Let's say, in order to be with the woman you love, you had to move from your home country to a foreign land. On the one hand, it seems like a big sacrifice. Depending on how attached you are to your friends, family and country, it could be a devastating move . . . but even so, I still don't think it's all that much of a big sacrifice. Sure, it's a big change, but while there's the downside of leaving the life you know, the upside is being with the one you want to spend your life with. Weighing one life against another with the girl of your dreams, it doesn't seem so much like a sacrifice but rather like a fair exchange. Quid pro quo. It's not so much as offering something at a loss, than paying your dues.

Don't get me wrong! Giving up worldly possessions for your god; dying for humanity's sins & moving country for your beloved - these are all still great sacrifices, to be sure. They are self-serving, but they have meaning.
See, the reason it's on my mind is because I used to think of sacrifices as some great . . . well, sacrifice: Surrendering your life; offering your soul or sacrificing your first-born child. Yet life is full of little compromises, deals & interactions that involve a degree of sacrifice.
Because fiction and mythology always treat sacrifice as some grand and sacred thing, I didn't so much appreciate the little things. There's this concept of great sacrifice for greater good, that sacrifice is about how much you lose or how much you gain. But the real world doesn't work like that.
There are those that give up their lives for something bigger than them, but they're more the exception than the rule. Real life isn't about big sacrifice, it's more to be had from those little compromises we make. As you grow up and have responsibilities of your own, you come to understand that life involves a large number of small sacrifices. In the end most of them are for your own benefit. But just because a sacrifice is small and just because a sacrifice is selfish, I don't believe that makes it meaningless.
Sacrifice isn't about what you gain or lose, or who you do it for, sacrifice is about having faith and taking a risk.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd and, until next time, I'm off to sacrifice a bit more of my time and social life, so that I can get some writing done.


  1. Another great blog post. I appreciate an honest take on why in real life sacrifices often mean less.

    In fiction, sacrifices often feature heroes paying a high price for what they want, sometimes questioning their decision. As you mention, however, a high price does not equate a sacrifice by definition two, unless the protagonist or villain receives no merit. One good example of the latter would be Buffy having to kill Angel to prevent the apocalypse, since she does not feel that it was a fair reward at the end of season two, hence why she runs away and tries to build a new life for one episode.

    One last note: that poor cattle in the drawing. He does not stand a chance. :D

    1. Actually it's a sheep, my drawing is atrocious - it's a poor recreation of "Agnus Dei", an oil painting by Francisco de Zurbarán (because I'm pretentious like that).

      But you're dead right with the Buffy example, I don't think I could put it better myself. So I won't!


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