Friday, September 21, 2012

Prayer and Sacrifice

Jason Kuznicki, over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, recently posted this blog entry on voting...Voting Part I: I Am Jason, of the Lizard People.  It's pretty great except for a few minor details.

In his post he compares voting to sacrifice.  Actually...voting is closer to praying...and paying taxes is the sacrifice.  To sacrifice means to give up something you value.  But if you just give up something you value for nothing...then that isn't a sacrifice...it's a waste.  That's why, when we sacrifice something we value, we expect something of greater value in return...   
Sacrifice will always be distinguished from the pure gift (if there is any).  The sacrifice proposes an offering but only in the form of a destruction against which it exchanges, hopes for, or counts on a benefit, namely, a surplus-value or at least an amortization, a protection, and a security. - Jacques Derrida, Given Time: Counterfeit Money
In other words...we all want to profit.  Therefore, "sacrificing" is the same thing as "spending".  Consider this dialogue from John Holbo's book on Reason and Persuasion...
S: You could have been much more concise, Euthyphro, if you wanted to, by answering the main part of my question.  You're not exactly dying to teach me - that much is clear.  You were just on the point of doing so, but you turned aside.  If you had given the answer, I would already be well versed in holiness, thanks to you.  But as it is, the lover of inquiry must chase after his beloved, wherever he may lead him.  Once more then: what do you say that the holy is, or holiness?  Don't you say it's a kind of science of sacrifice and prayer?
E: I do.
S: To sacrifice is to give a gift to the gods; to pray is to ask them for something?
E:  Definitely, Socrates.
S: Then holiness must be a science of begging from the gods and giving to them, on this account.
E: You have grasped my meaning perfectly, Socrates.
S: That is because I want so badly to take in your wisdom that I concentrate my whole intellect upon it, lest a word of yours fall to the ground.  But tell me, what is this service to the gods?  You say it is to beg from them and give to them?
E: I do
S: And to ask correctly would be to ask them to give us the things we need?
E: What else?
S: And to give correctly is to give them in return what they need from us?  For it would hardly represent skill in giving to offer a gift that is not needed in the least.
E: True, Socrates
S: Holiness will then be a sort of art for bartering between gods and men?
E: Bartering, yes - if you prefer to call it that.
Oh man, Socrates cracks me up.  That's probably one of the earliest documented cases of economic imperialism...as in economics invading other fields of study...in this case religion.  There's famine (scarcity of rain) so you sacrifice a cow to your god and pray for rain.  The objective is always abundance...which is epitomized by Eden and Heaven.  And it's the same concept with our political system.  We sacrifice our taxes and pray for economic growth...aka abundance.  So here's the breakdown...

Religion: trade between man and god
Politics: trade between man and government
Economics: trade between man and man

But it's all trade!  Therefore, it's all economics.  The debate...as always...is which company/party/god actually does listen to our prayers and is capable of providing abundance.  By far the very best reference that I've run across that encapsulates this debate is in the Bible...1 Kings 18.  If you haven't already read the Bible then this is the one story that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Here's a bit of background on the story.  The people of Israel started worshiping another god...Baal...and because God is a jealous god...he caused a severe drought.  These days droughts are still a big deal...but thanks to the extent of international trade...they don't have as severe an impact as they used to have.  The closest equivalent we have are depressions/recessions.

In order for the Israelites to understand exactly why they were experiencing such a severe drought...God sent his prophet Elijah to inform them.  Perhaps most of them already suspected that other people's behavior had something to do with the drought...but they couldn't be certain.  Kind of like with us and depressions.  What we all want is irrefutable proof.  So Elijah offers to conclusively prove which god is the true god.
20 So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
22 Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.
27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
30 And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.
31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.
40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
41 And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.
Man, I really love that story.  It's timeless and infinitely applicable.  For example...it applies to the debate between liberals and conservatives and it also applies to me right here right now.  Who am I?  I am Elijah...I am a prophet of Baal...I am Joel Osteen...I am Rand Paul...I am Paul Krugman...I am just another entrepreneur trying to sell you a product/belief/idea that will increase your abundance.

What I want you to consume is the belief that tolerance will produce abundance.  You spend your money on your products/services and I'll spend my money on my products/services.  You make your sacrifices to your gods and I'll make my sacrifices to my gods.  You spend your taxes on your public goods and I'll spend my taxes on my public goods.  There's no fundamental difference...it's all trade for abundance sake.  The thing is...most of you already believe in economic and religious tolerance...but barely anybody believes in political tolerance.  But if you don't believe in political tolerance...then unfortunately you don't understand how tolerance produces abundance.

How does tolerance produce abundance?  Tolerance produces abundances because it allows for heterogeneous activity.  It gives people the freedom to tackle the same problem from different angles.  The problem of scarcity has an infinite number of solutions...and abundance abounds when we give each other the freedom to come up with new and innovative solutions.  And this is as true in the public sector as it is in the private sector.

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