Our understanding that the Mayans and other civilizations once used human sacrifice in their ritual observances sits and contrasts uncomfortably with our sense of civilization. Apart from written history, we have access to more visceral experience of the horror: Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” depicts both the individual impact, and the larger scale trauma of the practice. Who, having seen it, can forget the scene of the terrified hero of the movie stumbling across a valley of literally heartless corpses, sacrificed to appease the angry gods?
Surely a macabre example of the history of primitive civilization, and isn’t it a relief we have moved on from such barbarity, justified by the cultural, spiritual and social narrative of that age.
The final scene in Gibson’s movie shows the ships of the Conquistadors arriving on the horizon, an ambiguous reference to more horrors yet to come? Or the promise of a dawn of a better civilization?
May 19, 2018. I watch, one more time, an impassive summary of the latest high school mass shooting, this time in Santa Fe, Texas. Distant video of a school, small figures in obvious distress in the distance, obtaining and giving whatever consolation is possible in the circumstance. Yet another massacre of the innocents. I have seen it before and the horror of the reality will only be eclipsed by the banality of the response to this latest shooting. There will be the outpouring of commentary, which initially will express horror and grief, but will soon give way to predictable statements on the realpolitik of gun control laws and the right to bear arms enshrined, apparently, in their Constitution. A right so fundamental it is beyond serious debate in that nation. A right so incomprehensible to anyone who lives in every other one of the advanced societies which have against all odds somehow protected their civilization and essential freedoms with various degrees of sensible restrictions on gun ownership.
In the past, I would attempt to discuss with otherwise intelligent citizens of the USA the paradox of their belief that people are safer from violent crime when more of them have guns. I won’t do that again, run useless parallel arguments which rarely intersect with the narrative of the Second Amendment. It is clear to me that something is operating in US society which defies otherwise rational analysis.
Today, watching again school children crying in terror, I realized that the ancient Mayan ritual lives on in the USA. That society, with the acquiescence if not outright support of its political leadership, brings a fundamental visceral belief into reality through what I now understand is the regular if unscheduled sacrifice of around 33000 of its citizens every year, some of whom are children in its schools. They are sacrificed to achieve a higher purpose, it seems, than any one of their individual lives was worth. And that is to appease the angry god of the Second Amendment.
Any protests against the barbarity of this practice of ritual sacrifice are met with stony quasi-religious justification or at best a fatalistic acceptance of its inevitability.
The Exceptional nation, having anointed itself as the protector of the liberal internationalist order, will not turn and look toward itself. From sea to shining sea, its political leaders will no more seriously question this ritual than the body painted Mayan high priests would have in their time.
But, unlike the Mayans, we see no ships on the horizon bringing with them the promise of change.
Andrew Pesce is an Obstetrician and former National President of the Australian Medical Association.