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Sections: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Keywords: Sacrifice, Evil, Diner, Meat, Bitter, Resent, Oedipal, Mother, Hell, Properly, Child, Jung

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Biblical Series V: Cain and Abel: The Hostile Brothers

by Dr. Jordan Peterson

I’m going to read you something. I get a lot of mail. I don’t know where I got this. I’ve been a lot of different places in the last week, and this showed up at one of them. I’m going to read it to you. I have no idea what to make of it.

It’s written in a female hand. That’s about all I can tell. There’s no address or name on it. "This isn’t a question but a comment—or, more accurately, perhaps, a message. I spent this past weekend in an Ayahuasca ceremony, which, for those of you who don’t know, is a South American visionary plant medicine. Some of you may roll your eyes at this, but Ayahuasca brings you into direct contact with the archetypal realm of being. Users of this medicine—initiates, I should say—refer to Ayahuasca as she, because the spirit of the plant is decidedly feminine, and an encounter with Ayahuasca is an encounter with the great mother earth, creation, the goddess, the void from which all things come—the feminine counterpart of logos. Dr. Peterson, you appeared in one of my Ayahuasca visions."

It might account for why I’ve been rather fatigued lately. "Dr. Peterson, you appeared in one of my Ayahuasca visions, and I asked her, who is Jordan Peterson? What is he doing?" Which is something I’d really like to know, as well. "And she responded with crystalline clarity: he is here to invoke and initiate the divine masculine principle on earth at this time. So, I’m up here to thank you deeply and profoundly on behalf of the great mother herself, the goddess, the divine feminine principle who has been eagerly awaiting the awakening of the masculine principle into divinity and service."

So…You don’t get a letter like that every day. Actually, I get a letter or two like that every day. What went through my head when I read this—and this is, of course, a completely crazy parallel, but one of the things I learned to do as a psychotherapist was just to tell people who were talking to me what came into my head. It isn’t what I’m thinking, exactly. That’s not exactly the same thing. What comes into your head is more like a dream. It comes unbidden. It’s like your imagination. If you’re thinking, there seems to be a voluntary element of that, right? I mean, God only knows how we think, but it seems partly voluntary, at least.

Jung thought about it like a dialog between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. There as a continual dialog. But when things just pop into your mind, it’s not much different than walking into a room and having something there, which is an observation I also derived from Jung, by the way. He pointed out, quite rightly, that people don’t really think, but that thoughts appear to them. Now you can take the thoughts that appear to you, and then you can subject them to criticism, elaboration, and so on, instead of just assuming that they’re true right off the bat. But people often don’t do that; something pops into their head and they assume that it’s true.

Anyways, one of the things that I tend to do in psychotherapy is to just tell people what pops into my head. Why? Because then the person that is talking to me gets one person’s untrammelled opinion. Not even that—reaction. Not opinion. It’s not really an opinion, I don’t think. An opinion, maybe, is what I think later. There’s this personal flavour to it.

What popped into my head was the story about Socrates. When he was being put on trial by the Athenians for corrupting the nation’s youth—something I’ve been accused of, by the way, although it’s not self-evident to me that it’s me doing the corrupting. Somebody had asked the Delphic Oracle, once—and the Delphic Oracle was this retreat you could go to if you were an ancient Greek citizen. You’d be there, and you’d have a dream, and then you’d go ask the Delphic Oracle to interpret it. Nobody really knows what was up with the Delphic Oracle, and how that worked, exactly. She would interpret your dream, in any case.

Somebody once asked her who the wisest man in Greece was. The Delphic Oracle said it was Socrates, because he knew he didn’t know anything. That’s essentially the story. That popped into my mind. It’s a crazy comparison, but I have a crazy mind, so I guess that’s how it works out.

Now, one of the things I’m going to do today—which I haven’t done before—is to read you a little bit of my book that I finished last week. I haven’t read it to anyone. I’ve given it to a couple of friends, to review. One person in particular, a screen writer named Gregg Hurwitz, has been unbelievable helpful. He’s so fast and sharp at this sort of thing. I can send him a dense, 20-page manuscript, and he’ll rip it to shreds and send it back to me in like 90 minutes. It’s just unbelievable. He’s so good at that. He’s been very helpful. But no one else has seen it apart from my editor, and I haven’t read it to anyone. But some of it seemed particularly appropriate for tonight’s lecture.
So I thought I would start the lecture tonight by reading a little bit of it. It’s from a chapter on the issue of sacrifice as such. This is Abraham and Isaac. This is a very strange, little Old Testament story. This is one of the stories that’s contained in the Old Testament that makes modern people think that maybe we should just not have that much to do with the Old Testament, per say, at all, especially with regards—and maybe we shouldn’t have anything to do with the God of the Old Testament, either. I mean, as far as Abraham is concerned, God tells him to sacrifice his own son. Now it turns out that God was just kidding, so to speak. I’m obviously being flippant, but it does raise the question, what do you make of the divine being who would require such a thing? Or, conversely, what do you make of Abraham, who would have such delusions? Either way, it’s a little hard on the modern believability, and on the moral integrity of the Old Testament. These are very, very strange stories, and they are not what they seem to be—or they are, and they’re more.

So we’re going to talk a lot about sacrifice tonight. Here’s some of the things that I’ve been thinking about sacrifice. This is from my book, called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. It’s coming out in January, which I think I mentioned. This is from Rule 7, which is Pursue What is Meaningful, Not What Is Expedient.

And so here’s some of the writing that I’ve been doing over the last three years on the motif of sacrifice. I’ll start with just a brief intro before I read this. It took me a long time to understand what was meant in the Old Testament by sacrifice, which is strange. Once I figured it out, it seemed bloody obvious. It seemed like, oh, well, obviously that’s what it means. But lots of times if you figure something out correctly, it seems self-evident as soon as you figured it out correctly. We’ll see how that goes, but it seemed to work for me, anyways.

I knew, at least implicitly, of the modern usage of the idea of sacrifice. Everyone understands that motif. It’s that, if you want to make things better in the future, then you make sacrifices in the present. Maybe you even do that multi-generationally—in fact, you most definitely do if you’re a good parent. I would say that’s particularly typical of immigrants, right? Immigrants often come from terrible places, and they have to undergo terrible things to come to a new community where they get a rough reception. They have a hard time getting their life going. A big part of the reason that they do it is to make their lives, and the lives of their children, better. Luckily, when they come to Canada—usually, given where they came from—that actually works. Where they came from is worse, and here is better, even though, you know, immigrants often have to struggle to get on their feet again. They have to learn a new language, become inculturated, and face the fact that they’re not part of the mainstream culture. But many of you know that whole story.

So the idea that you make sacrifices for the future, and that you make sacrifices for your children—everyone understands that. It’s part of being responsible, mature, and shouldering the burden of being properly. You do that for yourself, too, if you’re disciplined. In fact, that’s almost what disciplined means. Disciplined means that you’re capable of making sacrifices. You’re not disciplined if you just do something you want more, rather than something that you’re doing. That’s not discipline. Maybe that works, and great. If your life is working out that way, great, man, but that isn’t discipline. Discipline is when you want to do something right now and instead you think, no, I’m going to forestall my gratification, maybe forever, but certainly for a medium to a long period of time. You concentrate on something that you think will bear fruit in the medium to long run. You look into the future, and you decide that, by making today a little less impulsively pleasurable, shall we say, you’ll make tomorrow a little bit more secure and productive. And then you actually do it, too. That’s difficult.

Last week we discussed Adam and Eve’s discovery of the future and the revelation of the possibility of the future, including the possibility of tragedy and suffering in the future. It’s our knowledge of the possibility of tragedy and suffering in the future that motivates us to sacrifice in the present, so that we can reduce the unnecessary anxiety, uncertainty, and pain that awaits us. Now, that’s a negative way of putting it. We’re also doing it so that we can have some joy, and so that we can make life better, and all of that. That’s not trivial. But the fundamental issue, especially once you have small children, is to stave the suffering the hell off, right? That’s what you want to do. That’s your primary moral obligation if you’re a person who has any—if your eyes are open, at all, that’s your primary obligation. And so you make the sacrifices that are necessary, and you set up the future.

The motif of sacrifice is there in the Old Testament, but it’s so concrete that it’s difficult to draw a parallel between the two of these. For me, they didn’t align self-evidently. I went to the United Church until I was about 13. I don’t ever remember anybody pointing out the sacrifices that Cain and Abel were making, or the sacrifice that Abraham was supposed to make, or that the sacrifices that people were making to God were the dramatic precursors to the psychological idea of sacrifice that we all hold as civilized people in the modern world. Although, it seems obvious—as I said—once you lay it out. I don’t remember that ever being explained to me. Let me read this, now that I’ve sort of introduced it.
"Here’s what happened as humanity developed. First were the endless tens or hundreds of thousands of years prior to the emergence of written history and drama. The twin practices of delay and exchange began to emerge, slowly and painfully."

So here’s a cool psychological study. It’s called the Marshmallow Test, and maybe it’s even a reliable study, even though it was done by social psychologists. It’s probably replicable. It’s a nice study. You take small children, and you bring them into a room, and you put something that they would like in front of them—a marshmallow—and then you torture them. You say, see that marshmallow? And the kid thinks, yea, I see that marshmallow. You can have that marshmallow right now or, if you wait—I think the experiment is 10 minutes—then you can have two marshmallows. And so that puts the child in quite the conundrum. They are being asked to trade an actual, concrete, tangible marshmallow for two hypothetical, future marshmallows.

It’s not that easy to conjure up a hypothetical future reality that has the same tangible significance as something real right in front of you. It’s an amazing thing that people can do that. Then the experimenter leaves. Some children grab the marshmallow and just chomp that thing down, right now. Other kids—they videotaped kids. While they’re away, the kids do all sorts of things. They whistle, and they look at the ceiling, and they sit on their hands. They try to distract themselves. Of course, they’re eyeing that marshmallow like a squirrel eyeing a nut, and they’re trying to restrain themselves. What I see in that is that child’s prefrontal cortex. The higher cortical systems are warring with the underlying motivational systems—more primordial motivational systems that govern such things as hunger. The hunger system, the hypothalamic system, says there’s something sweet and fat sitting right there, right bloody now. Grab that thing and stuff it down—now. I’m sure many of you have a constant battle with your hypothalamus in regards to sweet and fat things, and often lose, so you can feel some sympathy for the child. The hypothalamus has these tremendously powerful tendrils upward into the brain, into the parts that we would associate more with voluntary control. The voluntary control centers have these little, weak ribbons going down to control the hypothalamus. It’s pretty obvious, if you know something about neuroanatomy, what part is actually in charge when the chips are down.

It’s not easy for children to learn to regulate those underlying, primordial impulses—the ones that are wired in, and that we share with animals. But they do it, and the cool thing is—this is what Walter Mischel found. He’s the guy that did the study. The longterm outcome for the children who could delay gratification in the Marshmallow Test is much more positive than it is for the children that are impulsive and eat the marshmallow instantly. It’s delay of gratification. It’s likely that that’s associated with trait conscientiousness, although that specific connection has not yet been established. But they seem, conceptually, very, very similar.

Anyways, this emerges in children probably between the ages of two and four. Something like that. They should have it in place by four, because it’s very difficult for them to really interact well with other children without having that delay of gratification in place. If you can’t delay gratification, other kids don’t like you, because you want everything your way, and you want it now, and you’re liable to have a temper tantrum, and that sort of thing. You haven’t got the kind of self-control necessary to make you fun to play with. So you can see that emerging in children, and it’s pretty interesting. Not only that, but as it emerges, it predicts positive, longterm outcomes—just like trait conscientiousness does, by the way. Trait conscientiousness is the 2nd best predictor of longterm success, over the lifespan, in Western cultures. It’s 2nd after intelligence. In our societies, the people who do best across time are the people who have high IQs and work hard. I would say that’s a pretty decent…What would you call it…It’s a validation, in some sense, that our cultures are working properly. What you would want, I would say—if the system is working meritocratically, like it should, and if you’re trying to extract resources from those who can contribute at a higher rate—is for the hard-working, smart people to do better. Hopefully, if that’s the case, then everyone does better. Hopefully. Anyways, you can see this developing in children.

"First were the endless tens or hundreds of thousands of years prior to the emergence of written history and drama. The twin practices of delay and exchange began to emerge, slowly and painfully. Then they became represented, in metaphorical abstraction, as rituals and tales of sacrifice. It’s as if there’s a powerful figure in the Sky, who’s judging you. You better keep them happy, or look the hell out. We’ve been watching ourselves deal with Him for a long time. He seems to like it when you give up something you value. So practice sharing and sacrificing, until you get good at it."
"No one actually said any of this"—so long ago, although they said something very similar—"But it was implicit in the practice, and then in the stories. Action comes first. Implicit comes first. People watched the successful succeed and the unsuccessful fail for thousands and thousands of years. We thought it over, and drew a conclusion: The successful among us sacrifice. The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future. A great idea begins to emerge in ever-more articulated form. That idea is the point of a long and profound story. It’s the moral of the story." I’m going to engage in some foreshadowing, here.
"What’s the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice, and things get better as the successful practice their sacrifices. The question becomes increasingly precise and, simultaneously, broader. What is the greatest possible sacrifice, for the greatest possible good?"

If you push a question in that direction, perhaps there comes a time when you can’t formulate it any more precisely and broadly. That’s the point at which the question, in some sense, and, perhaps, even the answer to the question, becomes archetypal. It comes archetypal, because it can’t be bested. This is like an ultimate question, in some sense. How are you going to ask a more broad-based question than that? Given the initial presuppositions—that you have to make sacrifices—then the logical end point to that is something like, ok, if you have to make a sacrifice, what’s the greatest possible sacrifice, and for the greatest possible good? That’s a good question.
"The answer becomes increasingly profound. The God of Western tradition, like so many gods, requires sacrifice. We’ve already examined why. But sometimes He goes even further, and requires the sacrifice of what is loved best. This is why, and this is another one of mankind’s fundamental discoveries: Sometimes, things do not go well. That’s self-evident. But here’s the rub: Sometimes, when things are not going well, it’s precisely that which is most valued that is the cause."
"Why? It’s because the world is revealed through the template of your values. If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it’s time to examine your values. It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions."

There’s a famous experiment that I’ve alluded to, a couple of times, I believe, in this lecture series: the Invisible Gorilla experiment. In the Invisible Gorilla experiment, there’s two teams of players, each with three members. One team is dressed in the black, and the other team is dressed in white. Each team is passing a basketball back and forth to the team members, and milling about. You see a video of them doing so. They basically fill the video screen. The white team is passing a basketball to the white team members, and the black team is passing a basketball to the black team members. Your job, as far as the experimenter is concerned, is for you to count the number of times the black team passes the basketball back and forth. That’s what you do. Now, you have an ambition, an aim, and a value. The ambition, and the aim, and the value are all the same thing, and that is to perform well at the task. Now, the thing that’s so cool about this—and this is really so cool. It’s just unbelievable that this is the case. It’s like a complete validation of a certain element of the Buddhist worldview.

So, they pass the ball for a couple minutes, then the experimenter says to you, how many, and you say 15, and you’re happy with yourself, because you’ve been paying attention. The experimenter says, yea, that’s right—or maybe not; maybe you missed one. And then the experimenter says, did you see the gorilla? And half of you say, what gorilla? Like, really? And the experimenter says, yes. He rewinds the video and replays it, and like a minute and a half into the three minute video, sure enough, in walks this guy in a gorilla suit, six foot three, or so. He stands in the middle of the game—right in the middle of the game—the same size as the players. Perfectly, obviously, evident. He beats his chest for like a second and a half, and then sort of saunters off.

Half the people who watch the video don’t see the gorilla, which is absolutely shocking. What that means is that your ambitions blind you to the nature of reality. Now, they illuminate some reality, but they blind you to most of it. That’s fine, because you’re not—there’s not a lot of you, in some sense. You’re a very pinpoint thing, like a laser beam, and so you just can’t be attending to everything, all the time. If you’re suffering dreadfully, then one possibility is that you’re so fixed on the point that your fixation might be integrally related to why things are going so catastrophically wrong. Now, perhaps not, because there’s a lot of arbitrariness about life. And perhaps you suffer even when you don’t deserve to. That seems to happen in the book of Job, for example. Job is a good guy, and God has a bet with Satan—which seems like another relatively nasty thing to do—to, let’s say, torture him. Satan does, quite nicely, to see if Job will turn against God. It seems like a rather playground sort of thing for God to engage in, but the point is that, even in a document like the Old Testament, there’s ample suggestion that. sometimes, people just get wiped out, and hurt, even if they’re living good, moral lives, aiming properly, and all that. There’s an arbitrariness in life. But it’s possible that it’s what you’re clinging to that’s hurting you. It’s even possible that the thing that you’re clinging to the hardest, that’s hurting the most, could easily be someone you love.

Lots of times I see people in therapy, and they’re miserable for one reason, or another. Sometimes, it’s because a very close relationship with a family member just isn’t working. The family member, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll say, is not really oriented towards helping them have a good life. The family member is, instead, oriented towards making them as bloody miserable as you can possibly make anyone, and exploiting the bond between family members in order to enable that. And then, sometimes, the sacrifice that’s necessary is either merely distancing yourself from that person, sometimes substantively, and sometimes seriously distancing yourself from them, like we don’t talk anymore, ever. So that’s pretty damn rough, and it hurts, and all of that, but it’s a good example of the fact that, sometimes, in order to extract yourself from the miserable bit of chaos that you happen to be enmeshed in, you have to let go of what you love best.

"If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it’s time to examine your values." That’s really worth thinking about, because the alternative is to curse fate. If it isn’t you, and there’s nothing you can do to change, there isn’t something you’re doing that’s wrong, then it’s fate itself. It’s the world itself. It’s other people, let’s say, because they’re a huge part of the world. Or, it’s the nature of the world itself. Or, it’s God himself, in whatever form you either believe in, or don’t believe in, because it’s fundamentally all the same in this sort of situation that I’m describing. One of the things that’s really interesting—and I mentioned this before, about the Israelites in the Old Testament—is that they got this right. It’s really something.

What happens to the Israelites, over and over in the Old Testament, is they get all puffed up about how wonderful they are, and then they make moral errors. They’re arrogant, and then God comes along, and just cuts them into pieces, for like generation after generation. They wobble back to their feet, but they always maintain the same attitude, which is, we did something wrong. We did something wrong. It’s like an axiom, rather than an observation: if things are not laying themselves out for us, as they should be, then we cannot curse God; we have to look to ourselves. And you think, well, why not curse God? Because maybe it’s his fault. That’s a really good question. One of the things that I’ve tried to figure out over the last 30 years is, well, why not just curse God? Because there is this arbitrary element to existence, and we are vulnerable, and there is plenty of suffering, and things are unfair. There’s problems, right? There’s injustice, and there’s unfairness, and all of these things, and endless suffering. Why not just lay it at the feet of God? Whether God exists, or not, with regards to the metaphysics of this particular discussion, is not relevant. The point remains the same, either way. The answer, as far as I can tell, is that, if you refuse to take on the responsibility yourself, and you attempt to lay it at the feet of either society, or being itself, then you instantly start to act in a way that makes everything much worse—not only for you, but for everyone else, and maybe even for being itself. It’s not helpful.

Now, if you decide that it’s you, that you’ve got the problem—maybe that’s not even true. Maybe you are someone who’s been tortured by the bet between God and Satan, and too bad for you if that happens to be the case. But it still seems to be the appropriate thing for a human being, who’s standing on his or her own two feet in a proper manner, to take the responsibility on for themselves, regardless of the counterarguments that might be made against it. That’s really something.

"It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions." I also think of that as a deadwood issue. One of the things you see with motifs like the phoenix—remember when Harry Potter goes off to fight? He’s like Saint George. He goes off to fight…The hell is that thing…The basilisk that turns you to stone when you look at it. It’s a dragon, for all intents and purposes. It’s guarding a virgin. What’s her name…It’s not Virginia. It’s close to that, though. Ginny? Ginevera, which is a variant of virgin, and a variant of Virginia. Well, when he gets bitten by the dragon, and poisoned—that’s the dragon of chaos, right? The thing that turns you to stone when you look at it. When he gets bitten by it, and he’s going to die—and, yea, well, if you get bitten by the thing that turns you to stone when you look it…Man, if you’re not dead, you’re gonna wish you are. It’s one of the two.

And then the phoenix flies in, and cries tears into the wound, and that heals him. The phoenix is the thing that allows the deadwood to burn off, occasionally, let’s say. Well, I think it’s once every 100 years with the phoenix, and, of course, it’s pretty dramatic. The whole damn bird has to go up in flames, and then there’s nothing left but an egg. But there’s a very serious message there, too, which is that you can compare yourself, in some sense, to a forest. A forest has to burn, now and then, for the deadwood to clear—so that the forest can actually maintain, and continue its existence. If you stop the forest from burning for a long period of time—which happened in the United States when they were trying to manage the forest fires too tightly—then all that happens is the deadwood accumulates, and accumulates, and accumulates, and accumulates, and accumulates, until the whole damn forest is deadwood. And then lightning hits it, and it burns so hot that it burns the tops off. And then there’s nothing left. Nothing grows. That’s a good moral lesson, which is, don’t wait too long to let the damn deadwood burn off. Maybe a little self-immolation on a daily basis might be preferable to burning yourself all the way down to the bedrock once every 20 years, or so, because maybe there won’t be anything left of you when you do that.

That happens to people all the time. I’ve seen that happen to people many, many times. The deadwood accumulates, the mess around them gathers, the chaos that they haven’t dealt with accumulates. One day the spark comes, and they burn so far, and so fast, that there’s not enough left of them to recover. And then they’re the people who’ve been eaten by the dragon, and now are inside its belly—another very common archetypal motif. Well, maybe a hero will come along and rescue them, or maybe they’ll just stay in there forever. That’s a precursor to the idea of hell. It’s not something I would recommend. So, a little medicine on a regular basis is a lot better than total immolation on terms other than your own, sporadically.

"It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions." There’s another thing that…When Solzhenitsyn wrote about the Soviet Union and its pathologies—it sort of peaked in terms of its pathological authoritarianism when it became illegal to complain that your life wasn’t going well. You just think about how horrible that is, say, because, you know, lots of times your life isn’t going well, and I don’t mean this in some casual way. I mean, maybe you have diabetes, and maybe you’re going to lose your feet, or something. It’s really nothing trivial that’s going on here; something is not good. Or maybe it’s economic, or maybe you’re unemployed. But, you see, the idea in the Soviet Union was, well, we already have all the answers. Everything’s perfect, already. That’s what totalitarians think. Well, if everything’s perfect, and you’re suffering, then, well, maybe there’s something wrong with you. Everything is perfect, after all. If you’re suffering, what are you going to do? Come out and say you’re suffering? Well, then you’re evidence that things aren’t perfect. You’re like a widower, or an orphan, in an Old Testament story. When the kings got too high and mighty, then they wouldn’t pay enough attention to the widows and orphans. Then a prophet would come along and say, you know, those widows and orphans are far more important than you think they are, and if you don’t pay attention to them properly, then things are going to fall apart around you in a way that you just can’t even imagine. Well, then you’re sort of like your own widow, and your own orphan, but you don’t get to say, hey, look, things aren’t perfect yet, because I’m still having quite a rough time, here. You don’t get to admit to your own suffering. If you can’t admit to your own suffering, then you certainly—the suffering, especially the excess suffering, should be treated as evidence that you’re not doing something quite right, yet. It should be treated as evidence that you’re wrong. There’s something important, that you’re doing, that’s wrong. I understand how harsh that is, and I’m not saying that everyone who’s suffering is suffering because they’re doing something in some simple way that’s wrong.

I was in an elevator, once, in a hospital. It’s a very terrifying thing. This person got on, who was just in an absolutely state of shock. It was really not good. I don’t remember how this happened, but I engaged the person in conversation. They said that they’d just been diagnosed with, what looked to be, terminal cancer. What was horrifying about it was that they were going over their life in the elevator, and trying to figure out what they had done to deserve such a fate. They’d immediately taken it upon themselves as a moral failing. That’s not what I’m saying. You can’t come up to someone who has cancer and say, well, if you weren’t such a bloody idiot throughout your whole life, you wouldn’t have cancer. Believe me, that happens a lot more than you think. People who have disease like that get blamed for it. That’s not what I’m saying. It’s not like that. It’s a more generalized attitude that if life isn’t yet what it should be, then you have a primary responsibility to do something about it. The place to start looking is to your own errors, and to fix them. That’s a safe bet, man, because you’re probably doing some things that you wouldn’t have to be doing, that, if you fixed, would make things better. "It’s time to let go, and to sacrifice who you are for who you could become."
In case any of you are interested in how to catch a monkey, now you’re gonna know how to do it. First, you have to take a large, narrow-necked jar, just large enough in diameter at the top for a monkey to put its hand inside. Then you have to fill it part way with rocks, so it is too heavy for the monkey to carry. Then you scatter some treats near the jar, to attract them, and you put some inside the narrow-necked jar. A monkey will come along, if you’re lucky, and grab the goodies. He’ll want the ones inside the jar, too, so he’ll put his hand in there, and grab what’s in there. If you’ve set up your monkey trap properly, then he won’t be able to get his hand out, because he’s got the goodies. Now, without unclenching his hand, without relinquishing what he already has, the monkey catcher can just walk over and pick up the monkey. The monkey isn’t into the whole sacrifice thing. He’s just a monkey. And so you can catch him as a consequence of his own unregulated, hypothalamic desires. To be…what would you say…charitable to the monkey—if you put out candy or something like that, it’s like, how often does a monkey get candy? He’s probably a little bit more motivated than you are to not let go. But you get the point. The monkey catcher can just walk over to the jar and pick up the monkey. The animal will not sacrifice the part for the whole. That’s actually a pretty good phrase, eh? It’s the animal that will not sacrifice the part for the whole. Perhaps this story is apocryphal, but as an eccentric psychology professor once told me, fiction lies to you in the most truthful possible manner.
"Something valuable, given up, ensures future prosperity. Something valuable, sacrificed, pleases the Lord." Those are equivalent statements. One’s more articulated; I would say that’s the first statement. The second one is more dramatic, and more embedded in a collective religious dream, you might say. What’s most valuable and best sacrificed? Well, obviously, that depends on the culture and the time. What is, at least, emblematic of that? A choice cut of meat. Well, if you’re a herdsman, for example, that’s a big deal. Generally speaking, throughout human history, meat has been a very valuable commodity—as it is, by the way, among chimpanzees. Chimpanzees hunt. They like to hunt colobus monkeys. They’ll basically start eating the damn monkey alive—they weigh about 40 pounds—despite the fact that the thing is screaming away. That’s pretty interesting. One of the things it indicates is that male chimps—the ones that do the hunting—aren’t really inhibited that much when they’re in hunter mode, by what you might describe as empathy. There’s certain elements of human behaviour that are reminiscent of that. You see that sort of thing emerge now and then in human battlefields, when groups of men seem to abandon all internal regulation, whatsoever, to a degree that makes you wonder if internal regulation even exists.

There’s a good book by Richard Wrangham, I think, about the human invention of fire. I think I’ve told you a little bit about this. Wranham claimed that we discovered fire, mastered it, maybe two or three million years ago. That’s a long time—longer than people had thought—and that’s what actually transformed us, physiologically, from our chimp-like ancestors into the svelte creatures we are, now. It’s a lot easier to digest cooked meat, and meat is a tremendous source of nutrition, energy, raw materials, all of that, especially if it’s cooked. So, meat’s a big deal. Cooked meat is a big deal, and maybe it’s a choice cut of meat—the kind you might offer to a guest if you’re not…I always say this wrong. Is it vegan? Vegan? Or is it vegan? I always think vegan, but that’s wrong. That’s a star. Vega’s a star, right? They’re not like star creatures. Anyways, you might offer that, especially if a guest came to your abode, and you were a herdsman. You might sacrifice a high-end animal, and offer your guest a nice choice cut of meat. That would actually matter. It would mean something—from the best animal in a flock.

What’s above even that? Well, in terms of the thing you could sacrifice, well, your best animals is good. Well, how about you? How about your child? Well, that would be next on the hierarchy. It’s kind hard to get past that, right? I think it’s a tossup, whether the sacrifice is greater if it’s you, or if it’s your child. I would say, being a parent, that it’s greater if it’s your child. I think most people who have established…I hesitate to say proper, but I’m going to, anyways…a proper relationship with their children…If push came to shove, they’d take the bullet; and let their kid go and live.
The sacrifice of the mother is exemplified, profoundly, by Michelangelo’s great sculpture, the Pieta. Mary is contemplating her son crucified and ruined. That’s his body, after he’s been crucified. It’s her fault. It was through her he had entered the great drama of being. So, what’s the meaning of this sculpture? It’s a great sculpture. It’s just an absolutely unbelievable sculpture. You just can’t believe that someone could exist who could make something like that. It wasn’t the only thing Michelangelo made, right? It wasn’t like, that’s it. It was something that he just tossed off in a couple of months while he was doing other, unbelievable things. It’s an object of contemplation, which is why it’s in a great cathedral, and in a great city. It’s an object of contemplation. The idea is something like, well, what’s the role of the mother if she’s awake?

I had a client come to see me not very long ago: a woman, who’s about 30, trying to make decisions about her life. She was pretty career-oriented, and so I asked her about—although, maybe having a bit of trouble with her career. I’ve seen this many, many times. This is a story that’s an amalgam. I talked to her about the other elements of her life. You only do five things in life. So, you’ve got your career down. What do you do outside of your career that’s meaningful and engaging? How are things going with your family? Do you have an intimate relationship? And what’s your plan for your own family? And apart from those five things, there’s sort of something like, get some exercise, now and then, don’t eat too badly, and try to stay away from the drugs. That kinda lays out life. If you miss any of those five things, or if you do any of those other things wrong, then you’re in trouble. You can get away with missing a couple of them, but not all of them. She said something along the lines of, well, I’m not sure if I should bring a child into this world. I thought, oh, God. Christ. You gotta come up with something better than that! It’s such a bloody cliche, which is what I told her. I said, you must have thought that up when you were 16. It’s like, really? You can’t do any better? This was a very, very smart woman. It’s like, really, you can’t do any better than that? Yes, obviously this is a veil of tears, and a well of suffering, and all of that. If you ask 30 people who are wondering about having children why they’re wondering, 20 of them will say that. That tells you how original it is. It’s not original, at all. It’s not a thought. It’s a meme; something that lives in your mind. It’s not a thought. It’s certainly not something that you should just take at face value and say, well, I’m not having a family. No, you kinda look at that, and you criticize it a little bit.

That’s the other one that’s very common: there’s too many people on the planet already. I really don’t like that statement. It’s like, just who are you gonna ask to leave? Just how are you going to get them to leave? It’s a serious question. And who says there’s too many people? What the hell’s wrong with people, anyways? We’re running around, and ruining the planet. Yea…I think it was the Club of Rome who prophesied, by the way, that there would be so many people on the planet by the year 2,000 that there would be widespread starvation. They were completely and utterly wrong about that. I think it was the Club of Rome who compared us to either a virus or a cancer on the face of the planet. It’s like, oh, really? That’s what you think about people, eh? Hm, aren’t you something? Isn’t that something to think about human beings—viruses and cancer. What do you do with viruses and cancer? Invite them in, and make them at home? It’s like, no. You try to eradicate them. You bloody well better watch your metaphors, folks, because it isn’t clear if you come up with them, or if they run you, so you better watch them.

So, anyways. Mary’s the Great Mother. She’s the Mother. That’s what Mary is. Whether she existed or not is not the point. She exists, at least, as a hyper-reality. She exists as the Mother. What’s the sacrifice of the Mother? Well, that’s easy. If you’re a mother who’s worth her salt, you offer your son to be destroyed by the world. That’s what you do. That’s what’s going to happen, right? He’s going to be born; he’s going to suffer; he’s going to have his trouble in life; he’s going to have his illnesses; he’s going to face his failures and catastrophes, and he’s going to die. That’s what’s going to happen. If you’re awake, you know that, and then you say, well, perhaps he will live in a way that will justify that. And then you try to have that happen. That’s what makes you worthy of a statue like that. Bestow the sacrifice of the Mother