Every few months or so a puff-piece poofs into existence, on CNN or Fox or MSNBC or Vox—it makes no difference where since they’re ubiquitous across the media spectrum—courageously honoring our courageous national heroes, cops and soldiers in particular, for their courageous sacrifice.
Sacrifices come great and small. Sacrifices can be made of many things for many different reasons. Beneath this dubious praise is a general social agreement that defines the highest sacrifice as the laying down of one’s life directly to save the lives of others. This is the “highest” sacrifice. It would follow that those who knowingly place themselves in a position (or profession) where the likelihood of this occurring is higher than average should be praised for this very “willingness to sacrifice.” And this holds true, I suppose. The same puff-pieces use the terms almost interchangeably. A commensurate and interchangeable superstructural heft is attached to sacrifice and the willingness to sacrifice alike.
Yet these are not the same thing. Sacrifice arises externally by and large due to circumstances outside the control of the individual sacrificing themselves. The situations which call for sacrifice are not planned for by the sacrificer, though they may very well be planned: sacrifice need not only occur in emergency. One does not plan to sacrifice themselves. One cannot.
This willingness-to-sacrifice, however, takes on a fundamentally different and sinister nature. It falsely posits an a priori condition whereupon the moment of sacrifice takes on hyper-romanticized characteristics. It is an unreal fiction; it neither occurs on its own nor is brought into being by belief or action. The man willing-to-sacrifice, who we’ll refer to as the “sacrificial man”, has ostensibly agreed (with whom? with what? we should ask) to forfeit his life—finally, that is “when the time comes.” But whom among us knows when and where this will be? The sacrificial man, gambling with his own life so to speak, feels that he must ensure that his sacrifice will not be in vain, that his sacrifice will not be wasted. The sacrificial man is really only willing to sacrifice his life as a last resort, when all other options fail.
There is nothing inherently wrong in valuing one’s own life highly. We all do it every now and again. A person who sacrifices their life actually, the day before the sacrifice, the week before, even the very second before, had no thought of doing so and likewise valued her own life quite highly as well.
The difference is that the sacrificial man continues to do so indefinitely, continually postponing his own ill-defined moment of sacrifice. In reality, like Oedipus he avoids any situation which may call for it. The sacrificial man only agrees that at some point in the future his life may need to be forfeited. The sacrificial man is at heart a coward. He reasons as follows:
Aren’t there others whose lives may be forfeited first? Criminals, perhaps? Terrorists? Or, as we saw in Uvalde: children. In some instances, he directly participates in the sacrificing of others first. The line between sacrifice and murder vanishes. And so it goes. Our sacrificial man, like Saint Paul, beholds a heaven-fallen bounty for his own devouring. Only after this red feast we’ll see if my personal sacrifice is required, he says.
The sacrificial man is nothing more than the real embodiment, the metastasis of social and cultural oppressive forces which posit the need for such an unreal fiction to continue, and extend their mechanical necessity in the absence of substantive economic benefits. This willingness-to-sacrifice is absolutely essential to the fascist, capitalist, imperialist, and white supremacist project. Without it, the veil is torn asunder, so to speak. It should no longer be lauded by those wishing to bring real change into this world.
As a general conclusion: those willing to sacrifice their own life are more than willing to sacrifice the lives of others first.
To conclude for liberal technocrats if they’re reading this: willingness-to-sacrifice is a poor metric for determining the efficacy of any social formation, most especially those with institutional power, and its willingness to sacrifice themselves for others.
To conclude, for my comrades: The dereliction of police in Uvalde was not a momentary lapse in judgment. It was not the result of “miscommunication” or “poor training” or “underfunding” or any other ad hoc reason. It cannot be glossed over. It is the result of a set of genocidal cultural, political and economic beliefs which glorify destruction, which enforce oppression, and which must be overturned once and for all. Long live justice and equality. May all oppressors find at our hands the self-sacrifice they laud.