Human Sacrifice

We experience the world as solitary individuals, entirely isolated from each other, psychologically, competing with some and cooperate with others, to our own advantage. 

Yet we crave company and understanding. We are endowed with the extra-ordinary capacity for empathy and care, but our own experiences are immediate and overwhelming, while those of others are merely deduced and imagined. The deaths of others, their utter extinction, are merely formative experiences for us, as ours will be to those who survive us.

Such a state of affairs isn’t necessarily a sign of a dysfunctional society. To come over all “evolutionary psychologist” on your asses, selflessness could benefit a species without being of any benefit to an individual at all. A genetic advantage might be conveyed by allowing only the alphas to procreate and not weakening the species by contesting that right, which would involve your kin in costly battles. 

If such a drive existed it could be without immediate personal reward; it would probably be a puritanical aversion to self-indulgence, held by some lowly individuals[1], while others, the more able, revelled in sybaritic pleasure and saw no reason not to. 

So we may not be able to map a simple positive correlation between benefits to a society and benefits to an individual. It may feel highly unsatisfying to do the right thing. The immediate experience of sexual fidelity, for example, is deeply upsetting, presumably as frustrated sex hormones, unreleased, rage through your blood-stream. 

This is problematic both for the utilitarian perspective, which relies on collecting a numerical majority of personal benefits, and for straightforward liberal humanism, which tells us that its systems are guaranteed to benefit us all, individually, through its concept of inalienable, individual rights. 

So, a sense of well-being, personally, is not an indication of a just society, and a sense of personal misery is not necessarily indicative of the breakdown of society. 


[1] Some parents, especially mothers, will put themselves in danger to save their own offspring, as we all know, but this isn’t exactly what I mean. The evolutionary benefit is obvious and they are trying to ensure the survival of their own, personal genes, not benefitting the species/ genepool as a whole.

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