Why “sacrifice”?

Sacrifice is everywhere in politics. Austerity programs are sold as “shared sacrifice” — and pundits who take great joy in the notion of politicians ignoring what their constituents want are constantly hoping for some Great Man who will have the maturity to call for “shared sacrifice.” We are supposed to be deeply grateful for the sacrifices that members of the military make on our behalf. One of the greatest criticisms people had of George W. Bush was that he failed to call on us to make a sacrifice after 9/11.

This constant invocation of secularized sacrifice calls for analysis. Yet there is something even more important than analyzing where it comes from and why it is so effective: totally rejecting it.

We don’t need any kind of “sacrifice” in response to the economic downturn. There is no need for any country to cut any public service. There is no need for companies to lay people off. There is no need to lower our quality of life — certainly not because of some accounting fiction known as the government’s budget deficit. None of these things are necessary at all, and clouding the issue with the moralistic language of sacrifice does not change that reality.

Similarly, there is no need for the members of the military to die at the behest of their country, because they are not doing anything that is useful or helpful for the country. Dying in Iraq or Afghanistan isn’t a sacrifice — it’s a waste. Even if we stipulate that the majority of the soldiers individually think of themselves as serving their country, that just makes the situation worse, because our leaders are cynically manipulating their noble intentions and directing their efforts toward ignoble ends.

Now in the interest of justice, it is necessary that some people give things up. Many people who are accustomed to power and money need to be deprived of it. Yet that is not a “sacrifice” either, because their power and money corrupts them, damages their personality, deadens their moral senses — in short, it makes them less human. It turns them into vengeful gods demanding sacrifice, evicting people from their homees because that’s where the “incentives” are, raiding the public treasury to keep their businesses afloat and then rewarding themselves with billions of “bonuses,” pouring more and more troops into a hopeless war in a pathetic attempt to save face rather than concede defeat, and ordering subordinates to kidnap and torture people for essentially no reason. If you or I woke up in the morning and learned that I had done all that, we would commit suicide — for them, it’s just a day in the life. Depriving those people of the chance to do more harm is the best possible thing we can do for them.

What we need, in short, is not “shared sacrifice,” but a shared rejection of “sacrifice” — a refusal to offer it up and a removal of the power to demand it.

8 thoughts on “Why “sacrifice”?

  1. I think the student protests in the UK are in a very real way doing this – refusing to be forced to sacrifice their futures while corporations are dodging *their* taxes.

    Because “sacrifice” is the one thing that the powerful in the present are *not* doing.

  2. chris hedges talks a lot about the intoxication of sacrifice, how it’s wielded as a weapon by politicians and religious fanatics, how susceptible we are to its promise/reassurance that we’re doing something good when we’re actually just being lulled into complacency and/or committing a crime by not speaking up (depending on how you look at it)

    my question is: what fills the vacuum left by its absence/rejection?

  3. “What we need, in short, is not “shared sacrifice,” but a shared rejection of “sacrifice” — a refusal to offer it up and a removal of the power to demand it. “

    Beautifully and succinctly put.

  4. or alternatively if the shared rejection of sacrifice is impossible then I’d suggest we invoke the sacrifice of elites, the sacfrigfice of the ruling classes…

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