Showing posts with label Child. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Child. Show all posts

Monday, 20 August 2018

Biblical Series XII: The Great Sacrifice: Abraham and Isaac







Biblical Series XII: The Great Sacrifice: Abraham and Isaac
by Dr. Jordan Peterson

Thank you all for coming. I’ve been thinking about things that I’m happy about. What I’m most happy about is that I haven’t spilled my bubbly water into my computer, so far, while I’ve been doing these lectures. I’ll probably do it tonight, now that I’m bragging about having avoided it. This is the last lecture in this 12-part series. I did mention that I have made arrangements with the theatre, to do this once a month for the next four months, and we’ll play it by ear past then. I want to continue, and find another venue, and perhaps to do it every two weeks, but certainly once a month. Maybe I can even get deeper into the material, if it’s only once a month. Then we’ll really slow down to a snail’s crawl.

This is a tough one, tonight. It’s a story that everyone with any sense should approach with a substantial degree of trepidation. I’ve been working on my book this week, on chapter seven, which is called "Do What Is Meaningful, Not What is Expedient." It’s been a very difficult chapter, because I’m trying to extend my understanding of sacrifice—which is, of course, what we’re going to talk about tonight—in great detail. I’ve been wrestling with exactly how to do that. I’m going to read you some of that, I think, today. I don’t generally read when I do my lectures, but this is so complicated that I’m not confident of my ability to just spin it off spontaneously.

It will also give me a chance to test out if what I’ve written—which I’ve been struggling with—has the kind of poetic flow that I’d like to have. If you’re writing, it’s really good to read things aloud, because you can tell if you’ve got the rhythmic cadence right. So, anyways, thank you all for coming. Many of you have, I believe, attended all 12 lectures. That’s really remarkable. It’s amazing that this place has been full every single lecture. It’s completely unbelievable for that to be the case. This has been watched more than 2 million views. It’s not 2 million people, because it would be the same people, I would suspect, many times. That’s also crazy, but it’s a crazy world, and it seems to be getting crazier. Hopefully, this is some addition to stabilizing it, and making it slightly more sane. That’s the hope, anyways.
We’ve got a couple of stories to deal with tonight—complex, complex stories that are not really easy to comprehend, in any sense of the word. With the story of Isaac, God calls on his chosen individual—Abraham, the person he’s made this contract with—to sacrifice his son. How in the world are you supposed to make any sense out of that? It’s exactly that sort of story that makes modern people, who are convinced that the faster we put the Biblical stories behind us, the better—it’s grist for their mill, because it seems like such an incomprehensible and barbaric act, on the part of God. I hesitate to even approach it, because there’s so many ways that an interpretation of that sort can go wrong. But we’ll see how it goes. Let’s walk through it, and see what happens.
We'll start with the story of Sarah and Isaac. "And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said." Remember: when Abraham was in the midst of his appropriate sacrificial routines—which we’ve characterized as his return to the contract he made with the idea of the Good; the contract with God—he was informed, by God, that he would get what he most wanted, which was an heir, despite his advanced old age. Of course, Sarah was very sceptical about that, as she had every reason to be. But this story opens with the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.
"And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age. And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned."

I suppose one of the purposes—perhaps the literary purposes of this story—is to exaggerate, for dramatic purposes, the importance of a child. When people are young—and I think this is particularly true in the modern world—they seem to often regard the possibility of having a child as an impediment to their lifestyle. Of course, in some ways, I suppose that’s true. Although, you have to have quite a lifestyle before a child actually constitutes an impediment, because having a child in your life is actually something that’s remarkable almost beyond belief. You can have a relationship with a child that is better than any relationship that you’ve ever had with anyone in your life, if you’re careful, and if you’re fortunate.

I’ve seen many people delay having children for understandable reasons. It’s no simple decision to have a child. Of course, now we can make the decision to have a child—which, of course, people couldn’t in the past ages, really. But, sometimes, you see people delay, and they delay too long, and then they don’t get to have a child, and then they’re desperate. They spend a decade doing fertility treatments, or that sort of thing, and immersing themselves in one disappointment after another. It’s just at that point that you see exactly how catastrophic it can be for people not to be able to undergo one of the great adventures of life, let’s say. One of the things this story does, by delaying the arrival of Isaac continually, is to exaggerate the important significance of a child, because it’s truly not until you’re deprived of something that you have any sense of what its value is. Abraham was waiting a hundred years—a very long time—and the same with Sarah. So they’re unbelievably excited. Of course, this also heightens the drama that’s inherent in the entire sacrificial story. It’s not only that, eventually, Abraham is called upon to sacrifice Isaac, which would be bad enough under any circumstances whatsoever, self-evidently. The fact that he’s been waiting a century for this child, desperately, and made all the proper sacrifices, and lived in the appropriate manner to allow this to occur, dramatically heightens the literary tensions.
Now, you remember Hagar? This is the next part of the story. Hagar was Sarah’s handmaid. When Sarah was unable to bear Abraham a child, she sent him Hagar. Hagar immediately got pregnant, and she gave birth to Ishmael. The story picks up from that point. I mentioned, in a couple of weeks in a row, just how interesting it has been to scour the internet for the paintings that are associated with these stories. There’s an amazing wealth of great paintings that illustrate every single Biblical story. It’s really been enlightening to find out just exactly how poorly educated I am. I’m a great admirer of artistic talent and endeavour, but there’s so much that I don’t know about the history of art that it’s just absolutely beyond belief. To see this treasure trove of images, that I really had no idea existed…Of course, they’re spread all over the world. It’s only been in recent years that you could have access to them in this way. It’s a constant revelation of the depth to which these stories have absolutely permeated our culture, and the loss that it would be if we didn’t know them properly, and take them with the degree of seriousness that they deserve. So, anyways, this is one of those great images.
"And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son."

There’s been quite a bit of tension between Sarah and Hagar, as you could imagine there might be. Why wouldn’t there be? First of all, Hagar had the first child, and that elevated her status. She was Sarah’s handmaid, and so that’s obviously going to be quite awkward. And then she lorded it over Sarah because of the fact that she got pregnant so easily. And now we see this situation, where Ishmael is doing the same thing with regards to Isaac. That causes a substantial amount of trouble. A familial division is occurring, here.

"And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed."

That’s an interesting outcome, too. We pointed out, before, the fact that, because Abraham has lived his life properly, and has kept a contract with God, there’s every evidence in the story that, no matter what the vicissitudes of Abraham’s life—how the great serpent that he sits on, in some sense, weaves back and forth—there’s always the promise that things will work out positively. You can read that as naive optimism, but I think it has a lot more to do with the actual power of keeping the contractual agreement. I really do believe it, and I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about this over the last couple of weeks, in addition to the decades before that. And all that’s happened, since I’ve been doing these Biblical lectures, is that my conviction in this has been strengthened. What’s quite interesting is that, if you do what it is that you’re called upon to do—which is to lift your eyes up above the mundane, daily, selfish, impulsive issues that might upset you—and you attempt to enter into a contractual relationship with that which you might hold in the highest regard, whatever that might be—to aim high, and to make that important above all else in your life—that fortifies you against the vicissitudes of existence, like nothing else can. I truly believe that’s the most practical advice that you could possibly receive.

I was answering questions last night. I did this Q and A, which I do about once a month for the people who are supporting me on Patreon, and which I also release on YouTube. Somebody was struggling with their religious faith, and they asked what they could do about that. I’d also been thinking about the difference between Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, which I’ll discuss in a minute. I was trying to answer this question in regards to religious faith because this person was shaky in his faith in life, let’s say, which is a better way of thinking about it. It seems to me that the way that you fortify your faith in Being, life, and your own existence isn’t to try to convince yourself of the existence of a transcendent power that you could believe in, in the same way that you believe in a set of empirical facts. I don’t think that’s the right approach. I think it’s a weak approach, actually. I don’t think that’s the right cognitive technology for that set of problems. That’s more a technology that you’d use is you were trying to solve a scientific problem. It’s more something that needs to be embedded in action, rather than in statable belief. The way that you fortify your faith in life is to assume the best—something like that—and then to act courageously in relationship to that. That’s tantamount to expressing your faith in the highest possible Good. It’s tantamount to expressing your faith in God. It’s not a matter of stating, ‘I believe in the existence of a transcendent deity,’ because, in some sense, who cares what you believe? You might, and all that, but that’s not the issue. The issue, it seems to me, is how you act.

I was thinking about this intensely when I was thinking about Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. Of course, you know that Nietzsche was the philosopher who announced the death of God, and who’s a great, great, critic of Christianity, and a vicious critic of institutional Christianity, in the best sense. He announced the death of God, and he said that we’d never find enough water to wash away the blood. It wasn’t a triumphant proclamation, even though it’s often read that way. Nietzsche’s conclusion from the death of God, the fact that our ethical systems were going to collapse when the foundation was pulled out from underneath them, was that human beings were going to have to create their own values. There’s a problem with that. This is something that Carl Jung was very thorough in investigating. It doesn’t really look like people are capable of creating their own values, because you’re not really capable of moulding yourself just any old way you want to be. You have a nature that you have to contend with, and so it isn’t a matter of creating our own values. We don’t have that capacity. It might be a matter of rediscovering those values, which is what Jung was attempting to do.

I think Nietzsche was, actually, profoundly wrong, in that recommendation. I think he was psychologically wrong. Dostoevsky wrote, in many ways, in parallel to Nietzsche, and he was a great influence on Nietzsche. Their lives paralleled each other to a degree that’s somewhat miraculous. In some sense, it’s quite uncanny. Dostoevsky was obviously a literary figure, while Nietzsche was a philosopher—a literary philosopher, but still a philosopher. Dostoevsky wrestled with exactly the same problems that Nietzsche wrestled with, but he did it in a different way. He did it in a literary manner. He has this great book, The Brothers Karamazov. The hero of the book is really Alyosha, who’s a monastic novitiate; a very good guy. Not an intellect, but a person of great character. But he has an older brother, Ivan, who’s a great intellect, and a very handsome soldier, and a brave man. Dostoevsky’s villains—Ivan isn’t exactly a villain, but that’s close enough. Dostoevsky makes his villains extraordinarily powerful, so if Dostoevsky is trying to work out an argument, he clothes the argument in the flesh of one of his characters. If it’s an argument he doesn’t agree with, then he makes that character as strong as he possibly can—as strong, attractive, and intelligent as he possibly can, and then he lets him just have at ‘er. Ivan is constantly attacking Alyosha, and, from every direction, trying to knock him off his perch of faith. Alyosha can’t address a single one of Ivan’s criticisms. He doesn’t have the intellect for it, and Ivan has a devastating intellect—it’s devastating to him, himself, as well.

What happens in The Brothers Karamazov, essentially, is that Alyosha continues to act out his commitment to the Good, let’s say, and, in that manner, he’s triumphant. It doesn’t matter that he loses the arguments, because the arguments aren’t exactly the point. The arguments, in some sense, are a side issue. Because the issue—and this is the existential issue—is not what you believe—as if it’s a set of facts—but how you conduct yourself in the world. Dostoevsky grasped that, and it’s one of the things that makes him such an amazing literary figure, and a genius. He was smart enough to formulate the arguments in a manner that no one else really could, with a possible exception of Nietzsche, and that’s quite an exception. And yet, using his dramatic embodiment, he could still lay out solutions to the problems that he was describing, that are extremely compelling. Both Crime and Punishment, which is an amazing, thrilling, engrossing book, and The Brothers Karamazov—all of Dostoevsky’s great books, really, circulate around those profound moral issues. And so, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from reading him.

Section II

"And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed."

All right. I commented that Abraham is being blessed in multiple directions, even when things are going wrong. This is pretty bad, because his family, in some sense, is breaking up. There’s this emphasis in the text that, because he’s kept this contractual relationship with God, that he’s in an ark—we could put it that way—and that he’ll triumph through the vicissitudes of life, which is the best that you can hope for. It’s quite interesting. Again, one of the things that’s so powerful about the Abrahamic stories is that it’s not like Abraham, even though he’s chosen by God, has an easy time of it. He has a rough life. It’s a successful life, and all that, but it’s not without its troubles. That’s for sure. It’s got every sort of trouble that you could possibly imagine, pretty much. That’s one of the things that makes the stories so realistic, as far as I’m concerned.

"And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba."

It’s funny…I guess this had more of an emotional impact on me this week than it might have because my daughter just had a baby, a week ago. I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing…We’re so happy that that’s happened. I was trying to put myself in the conceptual space of the people who these stories are about, and trying to notice the catastrophe that this sort of breakup would actually constitute. The visual images really help with that, because they’re so carefully crafted. They hit the story from so many different directions that they add an additional layer of emotional meaning to it, which I found very, very significant.

"And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs." She was sent to wander in the desert, you know? It’s not just that she has to leave Abraham’s household: it’s that where she goes is not really amenable to life. It’s an extraordinarily dramatic and terrible tale.
"And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept. And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.

"And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer."

That’s actually a relevant detail, too: the fact that he became an archer. I think I mentioned to you, at one point, that the word ‘sin’ is derived from a Greek word, ‘hamartia,’ even though it sounds nothing like that word. Hamartia is actually an archery term. It means to miss the bullseye. That’s a lovely metaphor for sin, I think, because it’s associated so tightly with the idea of goal, direction, and aim. There’s a metaphorical idea that’s embedded in that image, and that is that a human being is something that specifies a target—which we do all the time with our eyes, by the way. Our eyes are target-specifying mechanisms. We have very precise central focal vision. We use our focal vision to target the aim of our behaviour. And so we are aiming creatures. It’s built right into our body. We’re built on a hunting platform. We’re aiming creatures. We do that cognitively, as well as behaviourally. As hunters, we take aim at things. We take aim at moving targets, and we’re very good at bringing them down. We’ve been doing that for who knows how long—millions of years, really. Even chimpanzees are carnivorous, by the way, and we split from them about 6 million years ago. And so we’ve been hunting and aiming for a very, very long period of time. We still have aims in our life, right? And that’s how we describe them: ‘what are you aiming at,’ or ‘what are your aims,’ or ‘what are your goals. What’s your target?’ It’s all based on that hunting metaphor. The fact that Ishmael becomes an archer means that he’s someone who can take aim at the center of the bullseye and hit it precisely. That’s an indication that he’s a good man—and, I suppose, he carries part of the narrative weight of the story, because, of course, he’s Abraham’s son, and you’d expect Abraham’s son to be someone who’s very good at taking aim.

"And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran." He could live there and survive, which is no trivial thing. "And his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt."

Ok, so that’s the story of Hagar. It’s a fairly straightforward story. It’s complex emotionally, and it brings up the terrible theme of familial catastrophe, the complications of romantic and familial relationships, and all of that. But it really serves as a prodrome to the next story, which is the one that’s so complex and difficult to understand.
"And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham"—which is a funny thing for God to do, I suppose—"and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you."

It’s really one of the first times that we’ve come across the word ‘worship,’ if I remember correctly. It’s a very difficult word to contend with, too. When I was a kid, it was never really obvious why God would want to be worshipped. You go to church; you offer up your praise and thanks to God. You think, ‘well, really? Does that make a lot of sense? Why in the world is that what he wants?’ It’s almost like you’re kneeling down in front of an ancient, Middle Eastern, tyrannical emperor and vowing your submission. That never sat well with me. I suppose it doesn’t sit well with many people. I think that’s because it’s not the proper way of conceptualizing it.

What Abraham does continually—and this seems to be implicit in the use of the word ‘worship,’ in this particular situation. As we discussed, he has an adventure in his life. It comes to an end. Then there’s a period where he reconstitutes himself, to some degree. That’s when he makes his sacrifices. It seems to me that it’s that reconstitution that constitutes the worship. The worship is something like—this is alluding back to my original proposition that it’s how you act that’s the issue. The worship is the decision to enact the Good in whatever form it is that you can conceptualize it, as well as trying to continually reconceptualize the Good, in a manner that makes the Good that you’re conceptualizing even that much better, right? When you start aiming, the probability that you’re going to be aiming in the right direction is very low. But hypothetically, as you aim, and as you practice, and as you learn, the target is going to shift in front of your eyes, and you’re going to be able to follow it ever-more-clearly. That seems to be a much more appropriate interpretation of what constitutes proper worship, especially given the context that this word is used in, in this particular story. I suppose it’s akin to the later Christian idea that it’s the imitation of Christ that’s the sacred duty of every Christian, and of every human being, I suppose, insofar as that’s an archetypal idea.

The embodiment of the Good is the issue. It’s not your stated belief in the Good. When Nietzsche was criticizing Christianity, this is actually one of the things he brought up as a major issue. He believed Christianity had lost its way because it had introduced a confusion between stated belief, which is, say, your belief in the divinity of Christ—whatever it means if you state that. It isn’t obvious what it means when you state that, because it isn’t obvious what it would mean if you believe it, or even what it is that you’re believing in. As far as Nietzsche was concerned, in some sense, not only was that beside the point, it was dangerously beside the point, because it actually allowed the Christian believer not to adopt the moral burden that was actually appropriate to the faith, which was to—and I’m using a Jungian concept—manifest the archetype within the confines of your own life. That’s to make your relationship with the divine, transcendent, and infinite into something that’s actually realizable in the context of your own life, which is to say that you’re supposed to act out the highest Good of which you’re capable. That will transform your life, to some degree, into an archetypal adventure. There’s no way around that, because as you attempt to climb a higher mountain, let’s say, or to aim at a higher target, or something like that, the things around you will become increasingly dramatic and of import. That happens by necessity, obviously: if you’re aiming at something difficult and profound, and you’re really working at it, then your life is going to become, perhaps, increasingly difficult and profound. But that might be ok. That might be exactly what you need as an antidote to the implicit limitations that face you, as a human being.

"…and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." Now there’s an implication, here, too. It’s foreshadowing that Abraham offering up his son is actually a form of worship, and it’s continuous with what he’s already done. Now I’m going to read you some of the things that I’ve written, and then I’ll return to this. We’ll see how that goes.

"Life is suffering. That’s clear. There’s no more basic, irrefutable truth. It’s basically what God tells Adam and Eve, immediately before he kicks them out of Paradise: ‘unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiple thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; by the sweat of your brow will you eat your food, until you return to the ground; since from it you were taken: for dust you are, and to dust you will return.’"

Rough. We’ve associated that with Adam and Eve’s eyes opening, and them becoming self-conscious and discovering the future, becoming fully aware, falling into history. It seems, to me, to be a very realistic, existential portrayal of the predicament of humankind.

"What should be done about that? The simplest, most obvious, and most direct answer? Pursue pleasure, and follow your impulses. Live for the moment. Do what’s expedient. Lie, cheat, steal, deceive, manipulate—but don’t get caught. In an ultimately meaningless universe, what difference could it make? And this is by no means a new idea. The fact of life’s tragedy and the suffering that is part of it has been used to justify the pursuit of immediate selfish gratification for a very long time."

Even reading Jung—he often writes as if before the rise of the conflict between religion and science, which culminated, say, in Nietzsche’s pronouncement about the death of God. People lived ensconced, quite safely, within a religious conceptualization, and imbued their life with meaning. That was just the state of reality. But there’s ancient writings that make it quite clear that the crises of faith that characterize modern people were certainly far from unknown in the past. Here’s one of those writings. This is from Wisdom 2, the revised standard version:

"‘Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. Because we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts. When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air. Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat. For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth. Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.’"

It’s an amazing piece of writing. It starts with an announcement for the rationale for nihilism and ends with the justification for fascist tyranny. It’s thousands of years old. It’s a remarkable thing to see, and to be laid out so concisely.

"The pleasure of expediency may be fleeting, but it’s pleasure, nonetheless, and that’s something to stack up against the terror and pain of existence. Every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost, as the old proverb has it. Why not simply take everything you can get, whenever the opportunity arises? Why not determine to live in that manner? What’s the alternative, and why should we bother with it? Our ancestors worked out very sophisticated answers to such questions, but we still don’t understand them very well. This is because they are in large part still implicit—manifest primarily in ritual and myth and, as of yet, incompletely articulated. We act them out and represent them in stories, but we’re not yet wise enough to formulate them explicitly. We’re still chimps in a troupe, or wolves in a pack. We know how to behave, if we know who’s who, and why. We’ve learned that through experience. Our knowledge has been shaped by our interaction with others. We’ve established predictable routines and patterns of behaviour—but we don’t really understand them, or know where they originated. They’ve evolved over great expanses of time. No one was formulating them explicitly, at least not in the dimmest reaches of the past, even though we’ve been telling each other how to act forever.

One day, however, not so long ago, we woke up. We were already doing, but we starting noticing what we were doing. We started using our bodies as devices to represent their own actions. We started imitating and dramatizing. We invented ritual. We started acting out our own experiences. Then we started to tell stories. We coded our observations of our own drama in these stories. In this manner, the information that was first only embedded in our behaviour became represented in our stories. But we didn’t and still don’t understand what it all means.

The Biblical narrative of Paradise and the Fall is one such story, fabricated by our collective imagination, working over the centuries. It provides a profound account of the nature of Being, and points the way to a mode of conceptualization and action well-matched to that nature. In the Garden of Eden, prior to the dawn of self-consciousness—so goes the story—human beings were sinless. Our primordial parents, Adam and Eve, walked with God. Then, tempted by the snake, the first couple ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, discovered Death and vulnerability, and turned away from God. Mankind was exiled from Paradise, and began its effortful mortal existence. The idea of sacrifice enters soon afterward, beginning with the account of Cain and Abel, and developing through the Abrahamic stories: After much contemplation, struggling humanity learns that God’s favor could be gained, and wrath averted, through proper sacrifice—and, also, that bloody murder might be motivated among those unwilling or unable to succeed in this manner.

When engaging in sacrifice, our forefathers began to act out what would be considered a proposition, if it were stated in words: that something better might be attained in the future by giving up something of value in the present. Recall, if you will, that the necessity for work is one of the cursed placed by God upon Adam and his descendants in consequence of Original Sin. Adam’s waking to the fundamental constraints of his Being—his vulnerability, his eventual death—is equivalent to his discovery of the future. The future: that’s where you go to die. Hopefully, not too soon. Your demise might be staved off through work; through the sacrifice of the now to benefit later. It is for this reason—among others, no doubt—that the concept of sacrifice is introduced in the Biblical chapter immediately following the drama of the Fall. There’s little difference between sacrifice and work. They are also both uniquely human. Sometimes, animals act as if they’re working, but they are really only following the dictates of their nature. Beavers build damns. They do so because they are beavers, and beavers build damns. They don’t think, ‘Yeah, but I’d rather be on a beach in Mexico with my girlfriend,’ while they’re doing it.

Prosaically, such sacrifice—work—is delay of gratification, but that’s a very mundane phrase to describe something of soul-shattering significance. The discovery that gratification could be delayed was simultaneously the discovery of time and, with it, causality. Long ago, in the dim mists of time, we began to realize that reality was structured as if it could be bargained with. We learned that behaving properly now, in the present—regulating our impulses, considering the plight of others—could bring rewards in the future, in a time and place that did not yet exist. We began to inhibit, control and organize our immediate impulses, so that we could stop interfering with other people and our future selves. Doing so was indistinguishable from organizing society: the discovery of the causal relationship between our efforts today and the quality of tomorrow motivated the social contract—the organization that enables today’s work to be stored, reliably, mostly in the form of promises from others.

Understanding is often acted out before it can be articulated, just as a child act out what it means to be ‘mother’ or ‘father’ before being able to give a spoken account of what those roles means. The act of making a ritual sacrifice to God was an early and sophisticated enactment of the idea of the usefulness of delay. There’s a long conceptual journey between merely feasting hungrily and learning to set aside some extra meat, smoked by the fire, for the end of the day, or for someone who isn’t present. It takes a long time to learn to keep anything later for yourself, or to share it with someone else. And those are very much the same thing as, in the former case, you’re sharing with your future self. It’s much easier and far more likely to selfishly and immediately wolf down everything in sight. There are similar long journeys between every leap in sophisticated with regard to delay and its conceptualization: short-term sharing, storing away for the future, representation of that storage in the form of records and, later, in the form of currency—and, ultimately, the saving of money in a bank or other social institution. Some conceptualizations had to serve as intermediaries, or the full range of our practices and ideas surrounding sacrifice and work and their representation could have never emerged.

Our ancestors acted out a drama, a fiction: they personified the force that governed fate as a spirit that can be bargained with, traded with, as if it were another human being. And the amazing thing is that it worked. This was in part because the future is largely composed of other human beings—often precisely those who watched and evaluated and appraised the tiniest details of your past behaviour. It’s not very far from that to God, sitting above on high, tracking your every move and writing it down for further reference in a big book. Here’s a productive symbolic idea: the future is a judgemental father. That’s a good start. But two additional, archetypal, foundational questions arose, because of the discovery of sacrifice, of work. Both have to do with the ultimate extension of the logic of work—which is ‘sacrifice now, to gain later.’

First question. What must be sacrificed? Small sacrifices may be sufficient to solve small, singular problems. But it’s possible that larger, more comprehensive sacrifice might solve an array of large and complex problems, all at the same time. That’s harder, but it might be better. Adapting to the necessary discipline of medical school will, for example, fatally interfere with the licentious lifestyle of a hardcore undergraduate party animal. Giving that up is a sacrifice. But a physician can—to paraphrase George W.—really put food on his family. That’s a lot of trouble dispensed with, over a very long period of time. So, sacrifices are necessary, to improve the future, and larger sacrifices can be better.

Second question. We’ve already established the basic principle—‘sacrifice will improve the future.’ What is implied by that, in the most extreme and final of cases? Where does that basic principle find its limits? We must ask, to begin, ‘what would be the largest, most effective—most pleasing—of all possible sacrifices?’ and then, ‘how good might the best possible future be, if the most effective sacrifice could be made?’

The Biblical story of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s sons, immediately follows the story of the expulsion from Paradise, as mentioned previously. Cain and Abel are really the first humans, since their parents were made directly by God, and not born in the standard manner. Cain and Abel live in history, not in Eden. They must work. They must make sacrifices, to please God, and they do so, with altar and proper ritual. But things get complicated. Abel’s offerings please God, but Cain’s do not. Abel is rewarded, many times over, but Cain is not. It’s not precisely clear why, although the text strongly hints that Cain’s heart is just not in it. Maybe the quality of what Cain put forward was low. Maybe his spirit was begrudging. Or maybe God was just feeling crabby. And all of this is realistic, including the text’s vagueness of explanation. Not all sacrifices are of equal quality. Furthermore, it often appears that sacrifices of apparently high quality are sometimes not rewarded with a better future—and it’s not clear why. Why isn’t God happy? What would have to change to make Him so? Those are difficult questions—and everyone asks them, all the time, even if they don’t notice. Asking such questions is indistinguishable from thinking.

The realization that pleasure could be usefully forestalled dawned with a difficulty that’s almost impossible to overstate. Such a realization runs absolutely contrary to our ancient, fundamental animal instincts, which demand immediate satisfaction, particularly under conditions of deprivation, which are both inevitable and commonplace. And, to complicate the matter, such delay only becomes useful when civilization has stabilized itself enough to guarantee the existence of the delayed reward. If everything you save will be destroyed or, worse, stolen, there’s no point in saving. It’s for this reason that a wolf will down 20 pounds of raw meat in a single meal. He isn’t thinking, ‘man, I hate it when I binge. I should save some of this for next week.’

Here’s a developmental progression, from animal to human. It’s wrong, no doubt, in the details. But it’s sufficiently correct, for our purposes, in theme: First, there’s excess food. Large carcasses, mammoths or other massive herbivores, might provide that. We ate a lot of mammoths. Maybe all of them. With a large animal, there’s some left for later, after a kill. That’s accidental, at first—but, eventually, the utility of ‘for later’ starts to be appreciated. Some provisional notion of sacrifice develops at the same time: ‘If I leave some, even if I want it now, I won’t have to be hungry later.’ That provisional notion then develops, to the next level: ‘if I leave some for later, I won’t have to go hungry, and neither will those I care for.’ And then to the next level: ‘I can’t possibly eat all of this mammoth, but I can’t store the rest for too long, either. Maybe I should feed some to other people. Maybe they’ll remember, and feed me some of their mammoth, when they have some and I have none. Then I’ll get some mammoth now, and some mammoth later. That’s a good deal. And maybe those I’m sharing with will come to trust me, more generally. Maybe then we could trade forever.’ In such a manner, ‘mammoth’ becomes ‘future mammoth,’ and ‘future mammoth’ becomes ‘personal reputation.’ That’s the emergence of the social contract.

To share does not mean to give away something you value, and get nothing back. That is instead only what every child who refuses to share is afraid that it means. To share means to properly initiate the process of trade. A child who can’t share—who can’t trade—can’t have any friends, because having friends is a form of trade. Benjamin Franklin once suggested that a newcomer to a neighbourhood ask a new neighbour to do him or her a favor, citing an old maxim: ‘he that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.’ In Franklin’s opinion, asking someone for something—not too extreme, obviously—was the most useful and immediate invitation to social interaction. Such asking allowed the neighbour to show him- or herself as a good person, at first encounter. It also meant that the neighbour could now ask the newcomer for a favour, in return, because of the debt incurred. In that manner both parties could overcome their natural hesitancy and mutual fear of the stranger.

It is better to have something than nothing. It’s better yet to share generously the something you have. It’s even better than that, however, to become widely known for generous sharing. That’s something that lasts. That’s something that’s reliable. And, at this point in abstraction, we can observe how the groundwork for conceptions of ‘reliable,’ ‘honest’ and ‘generous’ have been laid. The basis for an articulated morality has been put in place. The productive, truthful sharer is the prototype to the good citizen, and the good man. We can see in this manner how from the simple notion that ‘leftovers are a good idea’ the highest moral principles might emerge.

It’s as if something like the following happened as humanity developed. First were the endless tens or hundreds of thousands of years prior to the emergence of written history and drama. During this time, 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, told in a manner such as this: ‘It’s as if there is a powerful Figure in the Sky, who sees all, and is judging you. Giving up something you value seems to make Him happy—and you want to make Him happy, because all Hell breaks loose if you don’t. So, practise sacrificing, and sharing, until you become expert at it, and things will go well for you.’ No one said any of this, at least not so plainly and directly. But it was implicit in the practice and then in the stories.

Action came first, as it had to, as the animals we once were could act but could not think. Implicit, unrecognized value came first, as the actions that preceded thought embodied value, but did not make that value explicit. People watched the successful succeed and the unsuccessful fail for thousands and thousands of years. We thought it over, and we drew a conclusion: The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future. A great idea began to emerge, taking ever-more-clearly-articulated form, in ever-more-articulated-stories: What’s the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice. Things get better, as the successful practice their sacrifices. The questions become increasingly precise and, simultaneously, broader: what is the greatest possible sacrifice? For the greatest possible good? And the answers become increasingly deeper and profound.

The God of Western tradition, like so many gods, requires sacrifice. We’ve already examined why. But sometimes He goes even further. He demands not only sacrifice, but the sacrifice of precisely what is loved best. This is most starkly portrayed, and most confusingly evident, in the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham, beloved of God, long wanted a son—and God promised him exactly that, after many delays, and under the apparently impossible conditions of old age and a long-barren wife. But not so long afterward, when the miraculously-borne Isaac is still a child, God turns around and in an apparently barbaric fashion demands that His faithful servant offer his son as a sacrifice. The story ends happily: God sends an angel to stay Abraham’s obedient hand and accepts a ram in Isaac’s stead. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t really address the issue at hand: why was God’s going further necessary? Why does He impose such demands?

We’ll start our analysis with a truism, stark, self-evident and understated: sometimes things do not go well. That seems to have much to do with the terrible nature of the world, with its plagues and famines and tyrannies and betrayals. But here’s the rub: Sometimes, when things are not going well, it’s not the world that’s the cause. The cause is instead that which is most valued. Why? Because the world is revealed, to an indeterminate degree, through the template of your values. If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it is time to examine your values. It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions. It’s time to let go. It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best, so that you can become who you might become, instead of staying who you are.

Something valuable, given up, ensures future prosperity. Something valuable, sacrificed, pleases the Lord. What is most valuable, and best sacrificed?—or, what is at least emblematic of that? A choice cut of meat. The best animal in a flock. A most valued possession. What’s above even that? Something intensely personal and painful to give up. That’s symbolized, perhaps, in God’s insistence on circumcision as part of Abraham’s sacrificial routine. What’s beyond that? What pertains more closely to the whole person, rather than the part? What constitutes the ultimate sacrifice—for the gain of the ultimate prize?

It’s a close race between child and self. The sacrifice of the mother, offering her child to the world, is exemplified by Michelangelo’s great sculpture, the Pietà. Michelangelo crafted Mary contemplating her Son, crucified and ruined." She’s sitting—most of you know this sculpture—and the body of her adult son is in her arms, and it’s broken. He’s been destroyed. It’s a very beautiful but very tragic work of genius-level representation. "Michelangelo crafted Mary contemplating her Son, crucified and ruined. It’s her fault. It was through her that He entered the world and its great drama of Being. Is it right to bring a baby into this terrible world? Every woman asks herself that question. Some say no, and they have their reasons. Mary answers yes, voluntarily, knowing full well what’s to come—as do all mothers, if they allow themselves to see. It’s an act of supreme courage, when undertaken voluntarily.

In turn, Mary’s son, Christ, offers Himself to God and the world, to betrayal, torture and death—to the very point of despair on the cross, where the cries out those terrible words: ‘my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ That is the archetypal story of the man who gives his all for the sake of the better—who offers up his life for the advancement of Being—who allows God’s will to become manifest fully within the confines of a single, mortal life. That is the model for the honourable man. In Christ’s case, however—as He sacrifices Himself—God, His Father, is simultaneously sacrificing His son. It is for this reason that the Christian sacrificial drama of Son and Self is archetypal. It’s a story at the limit, where nothing more extreme—nothing greater—can be imagined. That’s the very definition of ‘archetypal.’ That’s the core of what constitutes ‘religious.’

Pain and suffering define the world. Of that, there can be no doubt. Sacrifice can hold pain and suffering in abeyance, to a greater or lesser degree—and greater sacrifices can do that more effectively than lesser. Of that, too, there can be no doubt. Everyone holds this knowledge in their soul. Thus, the person who wishes to alleviate suffering—who wishes to rectify the flaws in Being; who wishes to bring about the best of all possible futures; who wants to create Heaven on Earth—will make the greatest of sacrifices, of self and child, of everything that is loved, to live a life aimed at the Good. He will forego expediency. He will pursue the path of ultimate meaning. And he will in that manner bring salvation to the ever-desperate world."

Section III
TIMESTAMP
"Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off." It’s not an accident, also, that it’s in a mountain, because a mountain is something you have to climb—and you have to climb to the pinnacle of a mountain. A mountain is up, right? A mountain stretches up, to heaven. It’s a long journey, to specify the right place on the highest pinnacle. That’s symbolic because, of course, it’s a pinnacle that you’re always trying to reach—just like you’re always trying to aim. You’re always trying to climb upward. At least that’s the theory. It depends, to some degree, of course, on your definition of ‘upward.’
"And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
"And they came to the place which God had told them of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me."

When I was answering questions last night, at this Q and A, this guy asked me a question. He said he had parents who were desperate, anti-social, alcoholic addicted, friendless, and that they didn’t want him to leave their home. He was the only relationship they had, and he asked what he should do. And I told him that he should leave. The reason for that is that you have a moral obligation, as a parent, to encourage your child to go out into the world, and to be whoever they can be—to be the best they can possibly be. And, in doing that, you’re encouraging them to pursue the Good. You’re sacrificing them, to the Good. You’re not keeping them for yourself, selfishly. You’re telling them that they can go out, and live their life, and live it properly. That’s the parallel to the idea of the sacrifice of Isaac, as far as I can tell.

You don’t want for your son what it is that you want for him. You want for your son what would be best for him and the world, and you let go in precise proportion to your desire to have that happen. I think this is actually Freud’s dictum, but I’m not certain of that. He said, ‘the good mother fails,’ which is a brilliant observation. When you have an infant, you do everything for the infant, because the infant can do nothing for him- or herself. But as the infant matures, and is increasingly capable of doing things for him- or herself, then you pull back, right? You pull back. Every time the child develops the ability to do something, you allow them, or encourage them, to do it. You don’t interfere. Obviously, there are times that you help them, but mostly you let them learn, so that they can know how to do it in the future. That’s better for you, and it’s certainly better for them.

There’s a rule, if you’re working with the elderly in an old age home. The rule is, something like, ‘don’t do anything for any of the guests that they can do for themselves,’ because you would compromise their independence. So, as a mother, you pull back. You pull back, and you let your child hit him- or herself against the world, and you fail to protect them. But, by failing to protect them, you encourage and ennoble them to the point where you’re no longer necessary. Now, they may still want to see you, and it would be wonderful if that was the case. But the point is that you’re supposed to remove yourself from the equation, by encouraging your child to be the best possible person that person could be. You sacrifice all of your desires to that—your personal desires, even your desires for your child, in relationship to you—because you want them to move forward, into the world, as a light on a hill. That’s what you want, if you have any sense. And so you don’t get to keep your children at home because you need them.

I’m talking generally, obviously. There are circumstances under which families make their own, idiosyncratic decisions. I’m not trying to damn everyone with a casual gesture. But the point is still strong: the good father is precisely someone who is willing to sacrifice his child to the ultimate Good. That’s dramatized in this story, and it’s brutal. But the world is a brutal place, and much wisdom comes out of catastrophe. This is an indication of how much catastrophe our ancestors had to plow and work through, in order to generate the substructure for the conceptions of freedom, even, that we have today—for freedom, and the good. And that’s how the story appears, to me.

I think there’s more to it—I think there has to be more to it. It lays the groundwork, at least in a Christian context, for the eventual emergence of Christ, as I alluded to in my reading. That story, obviously, has to be unpacked, unpacked, and unpacked, just like it has been for the last 2,000 years. It’s also an indication, here, of…well, I would say, of the transmutation of sacrifice into an increasingly psychological form—which is a development that we’ve tracked all the way through the Old Testament, up until this particular point, first acted out, then represented in ritual—those would be the rituals of sacrifice—then laid out in the story, then turned into a psychological phenomena, so that, now, we’re capable of making sacrifices in abstraction, to conceptualize a future that we want, to let go of the things that are stopping us from moving forward, and to free ourselves from the chains of our original preconceptions. That’s laid out in these old stories, as the optimal pathway of being.

There’s a philosopher of science named Karl Popper—a very sensible and down-to-earth person, who was talking about thinking, and its nature. He thought about thinking in a Darwinian fashion. He said that the purpose of thinking is to let your thoughts die instead of you. It’s a brilliant notion: You can conjure up a representation of yourself. You can conjure up a variety of potential representations of yourself, in the future. You can lay out how those future representations of yourself are likely to prevail or fail. You can cull the potential yous in the future that will fail, and then you can embody the ones that will succeed. You do that while, simultaneously, conjuring up a representation of your current state, and determining for yourself—because of your undo suffering—which elements of your pathetic being need to be given up, so that you can move forward into that future. What is it that you’re aiming at, with that work, and with that sacrifice? That’s the ultimate question. That’s the question I was trying to address, in that writing. What is it that you’re trying to do? You’re trying to improve the future. You believe that the future can be improved. You believe that it can be improved as a consequence of our sacrificial work. So, once again, what are the necessary limits to that? I would say that we don’t know. I would say, as well, that that’s actually something that the entire corpus of Biblical stories is desperately trying to figure out and articulate. We conjured up this remarkable idea: The future exists. We can see it, even though it’s only potential. We can adjust our behaviour, in the present, in order to maximize our probability of success in the future. How best to do that? Well, the idea is something like, don’t hesitate to offer the ultimate sacrifice, if you want the future to turn out ultimately well. Now, obviously, that idea is clothed in metaphysical speculation and religious imagery. But it still remains an intensely practical issue. What is it that you could contract for, let’s say, if you were willing to give up everything about you that’s weak and unworthy?

There’s continual hints of that in the Old Testament. What happens with Noah, of course, is that he establishes the proper covenant with God—the proper contract with Being, let’s say—and thrives, as a consequence. And then Abraham does the same thing. There’s a strong intimation that that’s how the world is set right. That idea develops and magnifies, as the stories progress, into something like the concept of Heaven on Earth—the notion being that the proper sacrificial attitude produces a psychological state, and then a social state, that’s a manifestation of that attitude, that decreases the probability that the world will careen into Hell, and increases the probability that people will live high-quality, meaningful, private lives, in a society that’s balanced and capable of supporting that. None of that seems, to me, to be questionable, really. I also don’t think it’s anything that people don’t actually know.

People have told me, many times, that, when they listen to me talk, they’re hearing things that they already knew, but didn’t know how to say. It’s something like that. This is one of those things that I think is exactly like that. I think it’s at the very core of our moral knowledge, which is our behavioural and perceptual knowledge. Let’s get this straight: moral knowledge is no trivial matter. It’s knowledge about how it is that you orient yourself in the world. There’s no more profoundly necessary form of knowledge. It’s predicated on the knowledge that we have to make sacrifices. We know that we have to aim at what’s good. So then why is it that we don’t aim at what’s best, and make the sacrifices that are necessary, in order to bring that into place?

It seems to me that, in some sense, that’s self-evident. The question is why we don’t do it. But there’s an answer to that, too, already, in the material that we’ve covered. Life is hard, and it hurts people. It’s rife with limitation. Some of it’s arbitrary, and some of it’s unjust. Some of it’s malevolent, which is even worse, and something that I haven’t talked about, at all, in this lecture. It’s not surprising that a combination of vicissitude can turn people against Being. But I think, even when that happens—and, even when people have the kind of history that, if they revealed to you, you would say, ‘well, it’s no wonder you turned out that way’—the people who turn out that way still know that it’s wrong. They still know that, however deep their own suffering—however arbitrary their own suffering, however much that’s caused by the malevolence of others, as well as the tragedy of existence—that does not, in any way, justify their turning away from the Good. And I believe everyone knows that—I believe that they know it implicitly, even if they don’t allow themselves to know it explicitly. And I believe that, if they violate that idea, then they violate themselves. They end up in Cain’s position, which is the position of the man who’s been given a punishment that is too great to bear.
"And the angel said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.
"And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba. And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor; and Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her."

Section IV
TIMESTAMP
Well, I don’t exactly know what to do, now. Hah. I’ll review what we’ve covered, and then I’ll bring this to a close. We can have some more questions than would be usual, tonight.

What have we established, by this point? The stories that have been revealed, so far, contain the idea that there’s something divine, that’s analogous to the human capacity for communication and attention, and that operates at the genesis of Being itself. That’s the initial account from the Old Testament. It’s an account that places the role of spirit centrally in the nature of Being. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, because, in some ways, I’m as materialistically oriented as modern people typically are. But the stories make sense to me, in many ways. The idea that there’s something world creating about human conscious, and that that’s akin, in some sense, to the divine force that called order out of chaos at the beginning of time, seems, to me, to be a very powerful, metaphysical idea. It also seems, to me, to be an idea that is, immovably, at the foundation of Western culture. Our entire legal system, our society, our mutual expectations—all of that—is conditioned, to the final degree, by our presupposition that each of us has an intrinsic value that transcends the local conditions of our Being. It’s with that presupposition that we’ve been able to establish a society that functions well, and has its current characterization. That’s an unlikely occurrence, and it’s a nontrivial reality. I don’t see any way out of that conclusion. I don’t see anything that it can easily be replaced with.

So, God calls order into being, out of chaos, at the beginning of time, and it attributes to human beings the same essential capacity. Then we turn to Adam and Eve, in the garden, and they’re unconscious, by all appearances—allied tightly with God, but unconscious. They don’t seem aware of the future. They don’t seem aware of themselves. They don’t seem aware of their own vulnerability. They make the fatal error of having their eyes opened. They discover their own vulnerability. They also discover their capacity for evil. We reviewed that, to some degree. What’s the association? Because it’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—the fruit of which they eat. What’s the association between the discovery of vulnerability and the emergence of moral knowledge? As far as I can tell, it’s something like, you actually don’t know how to be evil, or to be good, until you’re actually aware, consciously, of your own vulnerability, because the essence of evil is the exploitation of vulnerability—perhaps for the sake of that exploitation. I can’t understand how to hurt someone, until I know exactly how I can be hurt myself. And I can’t understand how I can be hurt myself, until I become cognizant of my mortal limitations—until I understand what brings me pain; until I understand the suffering that goes along with my mortal limitations: inevitable death, and the suffering that goes along with that. With the accrual of the knowledge of mortality, and good and evil, Adam and Eve are cast out of Paradise, and history begins.

That seems right, to me, because I don’t think that history did begin before human beings became self-conscious. So there’s something about that that’s right. History doesn’t really begin until people become aware of the future; history doesn’t really begin until people work and start to build. We would still be ensconced in, essentially, an animal existence, until we’re aware of the future, and start to buttress ourself against it—start to wear clothing, build buildings, make cities—all in consequence of having become aware of the fact that we’re fragile, and that the future is a dangerous place. So that seems, to me, to be existentially correct.

And then we have the story of Cain and Abel, brilliantly placed immediately afterwards. Those are the first two people in history, essentially. They make sacrifices, so that goes along with the idea of the discovery, and necessity, of work, and the discovery of the future. And then exactly what you’d expect happens: one segment of mankind, let’s say, makes the sacrifices properly, and prevails, and the other segment makes the sacrifices improperly, and fails. That’s perfectly reasonable, given what you see around you, because that’s what seems to happen all the time. And then, more interestingly, I would say that the sacrificial failure produces embitterment, and that embitterment produces a hatred for Being, and a desire for revenge. That seems perfectly appropriate. When I look at people who are bitter, and want revenge, it’s generally because their sacrificial efforts have failed. Now, I’m loathe to say that that’s a matter of their own doing—although, sometimes, it clearly it is. The embittered and vengeful complain to God, and blame him for the structure of existence.

I read about the Columbine massacre and the kids who undertook it. That’ll make your hair stand on end, if you want to read something that will really disturb you. Reading Eric Harris’ writings will really disturb you. No matter how much you know about human beings, reading Eric Harris’ writings will disturb you. Eric is Cain, you know? He says it, straightforwardly: he hates human beings; he hates Being itself. He would destroy everything, if it was within his power to do that. And, of course, him and his colleague were motivated to produce far more carnage than they managed, that day. What was successful was only a fraction of what they had planned. And Harris said, very straightforwardly, that he had set himself up as the judge of Being, and that it lacked all utility, in his eyes. Human beings, certainly, should all be removed from the face of existence, because of their pathology, and because of the fundamental horrors of Being itself. So there’s nothing in the Cain and Abel story that isn’t real. It’s real. Cain complains to God, as people will, when their dreams are dashed. And that goes for people who don’t believe in God, too. It doesn’t really matter. It’s harder, I suppose, if you’re atheist, to figure out who to blame. But that doesn’t mean that the sentiment is any different, right? The same drama is being enacted: you shake your fist at the structure of being, rather than at God Himself. But it doesn’t make any difference, except in the details.

So God responds to Cain, and tells him that he’s got no right to judge Being, before he gets his sacrificial house in order. And, even worse, he says that Cain is the architect of his own downfall—that he invited catastrophe into his own house, willingly, entered into a creative union with it, and, therefore, brought about his own demise. It’s that additional self-knowledge—imagine you’re facing the failures of your life, and let’s say that you had a failed life. You’re bitter about that, and then you meditate upon it. You think, ‘why has this come about?’ And then you think, ‘well, perhaps I did something wrong.’

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote The Gulag Archipelago, which is the book that detailed the catastrophes of the Soviet Union, and helped bring it down. There’s one part of that book that struck me so viciously, when I read it. He was in the gulag, and he was there for a very long time. He said that he observed a variety of people in the camps, who he really admired. They were rare. They were usually religious believers, in his experience, who were not participating in the pathology of the camps—at all; period; no matter what. He said he learned a lot from watching those people. He had a hard time believing that they could even exist. But he said that one of the things that he was brought to—as a consequence of watching those people live their contract with Goodness out, even under the most horrifying of conditions—was that it was possible that he himself was responsible for his position in the camp.

Now, it’s a very dangerous line of argumentation, because who wants to be the one who blames the victim of the catastrophe? You have to be very careful, when you walk down that road. But Solzhenitsyn was speaking about himself. He was a communist, and he arrogantly and forthrightly moved the movement out into the world, and had not fully gone over his life with a fine tooth comb, to find out what mistakes he had made that brought him so low. But his contention, eventually, was that part of the reason he ended up where he ended up was because he, and many others, had completely forfeited their relationship with the truth, and had allowed their society to degenerate into deceit and tyrannical catastrophe, without mounting sufficient opposition. And so he decided, when he was in the camps, to straighten himself out, bit by bit. That culminated in the production of The Gulag Archipelago, and that book really demolished, once and for all, any moral credibility that the communist totalitarian systems had left. And so one man, in the depths of catastrophe, who determined through good example, at least in part, to stop lying, produced a book, eventually, that demolished the foundation of the very system that had imprisoned him. That is really worth thinking about. That’s one example of the absolute grandeur of the human soul, and the capacity for transformation that it has, when let loose properly on the world.

So let’s say you’re conceptualizing your own failure, and you meditated on it, and you come to the conclusion that God forced Cain to: ‘Hey, not only have things not been going very well for you, but it’s actually your fault. And not only that—you brought it on yourself. And not only that—you knew it all the time.’ Well, then you might think that you’ll wake up, and fly right—you’ll get your wings in order, and fly right. But there’s no reason to assume that, at all. That’s not what happens to Cain. The conclusion just makes him more bitter, and you can understand that, if you think about it for just a second. It’s bad enough when something horrible happens to you, but then to have to swallow the additional pill—to have to take in the information that you could have done something different; it was avoidable, and you knew it at the time, and you decided to do it anyways. I think people are in that situation a lot more often than anyone is willing to admit. You have that little voice in the back of your head that says ‘don’t do it,’ and you override it. You know it’s arrogance that makes you override it. It’s always arrogance. It always warns you. It’s always arrogance. ‘Yeah, I can get away with it.’ It’s like, no; you can’t. I don’t think you ever get away with anything. And maybe your experience has taught you different, but my suspicions are that it hasn’t. And if you think it has, well, the other shoe hasn’t yet dropped.

So Cain doesn’t take the opportunity to let God’s wisdom reorient his character. That could have been the outcome. He could have got down on his knees, so to speak, and said, ‘oh my God, I’ve been wrong all along. I’ve been living improperly. I’ve been making the wrong sacrifices. Abel deserves everything he has. I got exactly what was coming to me. Could I possibly, now, straighten myself out, live in repentance, and improve my position?’ That’s not what he did, at all. He said, ‘all right. Fair enough. I get it. I’m going to go after the thing I most admire. I’m going to destroy it, and I’m going to do that despite its cost to me, and I’m going to do that just to spite the creator of Being.’

That’s exactly what Harris did at Columbine. It’s exactly what he says, in fact, in his uncanny writings. It’s why the mass murderers always shoot themselves afterwards, and not before. Because you might wonder, ‘if you’re so upset with the structure of Being, why don’t you just commit suicide, in your basement? Why do you have to go out and mass murder, before you top it off with a gun to your forehead?’ Well, you don’t make the point as effectively, if you just commit suicide, in your basement. It’s like, ‘my life means nothing to me—but neither does anyone else’s, and neither does the structure of Being itself. I’ll take all my revenge as much as I possibly can, and then, just to show you how little I care, I’ll tap myself off at the end.’ People say, all the time, ‘I don’t understand how that could happen.’ I don’t believe that. I think an hour of real thought about your darkest feelings about existence itself illuminates the pathways to that sort of behaviour quite clearly. I mean, I might be wrong. I might be a darker person than most. Hah. Well, at least, I think there are plenty of people out there who are sufficiently dark to know exactly what I mean, when I’m saying these things. I would also say that, if it doesn’t lead to your understanding how that pathway might be illuminated, then you need to know a lot more about yourself than you actually know, now. Because whatever you might say about someone like Eric Harris, he was a human being, too.

There’s this idea in the New Testament that Christ was he who put the sins of the world onto himself. It’s a very complicated idea, but part of it is associated with the idea that he met the devil in the desert, as well. To take the sins of mankind onto yourself is to understand that within you dwells exactly the same spirit that committed the atrocities at Columbine, and ran the camps at Auschwitz, to actually understand that that’s part and parcel with your makeup, and then to take responsibility for it. I think that, in the aftermath of the terrible 20th century, that’s what we’re left with: we’re left with the necessity to take responsibility for the most terrible aspects of ourselves. And that way, perhaps, we can stop those terrible things from happening, again. That also means that you don’t look for the purveyor of malevolence outside yourself—it isn’t someone else, even though, sometimes, it’s someone else. You know what I mean. There are identifiable perpetrators, but that’s not precisely the point. The point is more that the proper place for the encapsulation of that malevolence—at least, the proper place to start—is within the confines of your own existence—and, perhaps, within the confines of your family. That way you’re not a danger to those that you misapprehend as malevolent and evil, because you won’t get your aim right, to begin with. You’ll identify them improperly, and you’ll take your revenge in a manner that allows you to omit your own responsibility, and to act out your own unconscious desire for revenge, and to move the world just that much closer to Hell.

So Cain kills Abel, and then Cain gives rise to his descendants, one of whom is the first artificer in weapons of war. And then comes the flood, which seems perfectly, miraculously reasonable to me. It’s so amazing that the story of Cain and Abel segues into the story of the flood. It is the case that the catastrophes that beset society can best be conceptualized as the spread of individual pathology into the social world, and the magnification of that pathology to the point that everything comes apart. And I truly believe that, if you familiarize yourself with the last hundred years of history, that that’s the conclusion that you would derive. The people who are most wise, that I’ve read, who commented on that, say the same thing, over and over: the key to the prevention of the horrors of Auschwitz and the gulag, in the future, is the reconstruction of the individual soul, at the level of each individual. And that’s a terrible message, because it puts the burden on you. But it’s an amazing message, because it also means that you could be the source of the process that stops that catastrophe, and malevolence, from ever emerging, again. It’s hard for me to imagine that you have anything that could possibly be better to do with the time that you have left.

Well, then we see Noah, who walks with God, and whose generations are in order—which means that he’s entered this contract with the Good, let’s say, that has the protective function of the ark. He’s put his family together, and he can ride out the worst catastrophe. He’s actually our ancestor. It’s so interesting—these people that get their act together properly, and make a contract with the Good, are constantly presented as the genuine ancestors of mankind. That’s a really positive element of the story, as well, and it’s one I believe. It hasn’t been easy for us to get here. We are the descendants of the great heroes of the past, and if you took all those heroes, and you told their stories, and you distilled their stories into a single story, maybe you’d have a story like the story of Noah, or the story of Abraham—the story of the successful; the story of our forefathers, and not the ‘cancer on the planet’ that certain people tend to think that we are. And so the goal is to be one of the people like that. There isn’t anything better that can possibly be done. The alternative is something like Hell. And so Noah rides out the storm, and that’s what everyone wants. You want to ride out the storm. You don’t want to be happy, because that’ll just happen. But you definitely want to constitute yourself so that you can ride out the storm, because the storm is always coming. So then you’re fortified against the worst, and that’s what you want, because, well, the best, you can handle—the worst, you have to prepare yourself for.

And then we see the same thing repeated in the story of Abraham, essentially. Abraham makes this contract with the Good, and he constantly renews it. That’s his sacrifice, and his worship. He constantly renews it. He has the adventures that are sufficiently typical of the adventures of a human being who’s alive and engaging in the world. He bumps himself up against all the horrors of existence, and yet, the story is told in such a manner that reveals that his primary ethical commitment to the overarching good is sufficient to protect him against the vicissitudes of existence. Well, that’s an optimistic story. As a pessimistic person, I appreciate an optimistic story that’s believable. There’s great demands placed on Abraham. It’s not just as if this comes to him as a gift. He has to be willing to sacrifice whatever’s necessary in order to maintain that contract. That seems, to me, to be realistic. There’s no reason to assume that life isn’t so difficult that it actually demands the best from you—that it’s actually structured in that manner, and that, if you were willing to reveal the best in you, in response to the vicissitudes of life, that you might actually prevail, and you might actually set things straight around you. Well, what if that was true? That would be a remarkable thing. I can’t see how it would not be true, and I can’t see that it’s not stamped on the soul of everyone who’s conscious. I think we all know this perfectly well, although the stories remind us.

Socrates believed that all knowledge was remembering. He believed that the soul, before birth, had all knowledge, and lost it at birth, and then experience reminded the soul of what it already knew. There’s something about that that’s really true, because you’re not just a creature that emerged 30 years ago, or 40 years ago: you’re the inheritor of 3.5 billion years worth of biological engineering. You have your nature stamped deeply inside of you—far more deeply than any of us realize. And when you come across these great stories—these reminders—they are reminders of how to Be, properly, and they echo in your soul, because the structure is already there. The external stories are manifestations of the internal reality, and then they’re a call to that internal reality, to reveal itself.

Well, and then we come to the end of the Abrahamic stories—at least this section of them—with Sarah’s death. Abraham was called upon to make the supreme sacrifice. And, interestingly enough, because he was willing to make the supreme sacrifice, he actually doesn’t have to. That’s an interesting thing, as well. I believe that it’s reasonable, from a psychological perspective, to point out that, the more willing you are to face death, for example, the less likely it is that you’re going to have to face it, at least in an ignoble manner. And so with that, then we’ll bring this 12-part series to a close.

I think that applause is for everyone. I hate to say that, because it sounds so New-Agey. Hah. But it really does seem, to me, that this is a participatory exercise, and that it would not be possible for me to go through these stories, without having you here to listen. I always think—when talking to a crowd—that it’s a dialog. It’s a dialog. You sit, and you listen, and you’ve all listened. Thank God for that. That gives me a chance to think, and it gives me a chance to watch, and it gives me a chance to interact. You’re emblematic of humanity at large. I suppose that’s one way of thinking about it. For me to be able to craft what I’m saying so that it has an impact on all of you, here, also means that I can, simultaneously, craft it so that it has an impact that, in principle, can reach far beyond this place. I’m really hoping that one of the things that can start to happen with this, at least, is that we can put our culture back on its firm foundation, because it’s something that’s desperately needed. In order to do that, we have to understand both the evil and the nobility of the human soul. That’s a fundamental truth, and I don’t think you can get to the nobility without a sojourn through the evil. I really don’t believe that, at all. It’s no place for the naive to go. That’s for sure. Anyways, I would like to thank you—as you thanked me—for your close and careful attention, and your support, during all of this. It’s been really a remarkable experience. It’s certainly developed beyond my dreams, so thank you.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Biblical Series V: Cain and Abel: The Hostile Brothers






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.

Section II
TIMESTAMP

"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.

Section III
TIMESTAMP
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.
Is it right to bring a baby into this terrible world? Well, every woman asks herself that question. Some say, no, and they have their reasons. Mary answers yes, voluntarily. Mary is the archetype of the woman who answers yes to life, voluntarily. That’s what that image means, and not because she’s blind. She knows what’s going to happen. She’s the archetypal representation of the woman who says yes to life, knowing full well what life is. Not naive, and not someone who got pregnant in the back seat of a 1957 Chevy, in one night of half drunk idiocy. Not that, but consciously, knowing what’s to come—and then, also, allows it to happen. That’s another thing that’s a testament to the courage of mothers.

My mother was good at this. My mother’s a very agreeable person—too agreeable for her own good, but that’s what happens if you’re agreeable. That’s the definition of agreeable. She’s a nice person—and still is, luckily. She’s still alive, and we’ve had a really good relationship. I’ve always been able to make her laugh, which is a good thing. But she was a tough cookie, that woman. I was out playing in this little baseball diamond, in an empty lot, in this little town I grew up in. I was about 10. She walked by. I was there with a bunch of my friends. I was about to have a fistfight with this little tough kid that I hung around with. There were half girls on the team, and a fistfight had some relationship to status maneuvering in relationship to that. Anyways, we were going to have a fight. My mom walked by. She took a look, and I could see from her demeanour that she knew exactly what was about to happen. She looked for a second, and then she walked by. And I thought, whoa! Good work, mom! No kidding, eh? The last bloody thing I needed at that moment was for her to come charging up, and say, you boys aren’t planning to have a fight, are you? It’s like, well, yea, mom. We’re actually planning to have a fight, and now that you came and intervened, I actually lost before the goddamn thing even started. So two thumbs up for mom. She was also the person that said—I had some trouble with my dad when I was an adolescent. He had some trouble with me. It was 50-50—no, it was probably 70-30, with me on the 70 end of the trouble. Anyways, I left home when I was about 17. She said something really interesting when I left home. She said, if it was too good at home, you’d never leave. I thought, hey, mom, that’s pretty good. For an agreeable person, you’ve got a real spine. That was pretty good.

The mother is the person who also says, get out there and take your goddamn lumps, because you’re tough enough so that you can handle it. She doesn’t say, just stay down there in your bedroom, brooding away, because the world is unfair and treating you badly, and your suffering is too much. She says, yea, there’s a lot of suffering out there, but you’re a hell of a lot tougher than you think you are.
"In turn Mary’s son, Christ, offers Himself to God so completely that his faith and trust in the world is not broken by betrayal, torture, or death. That’s the model for the honorable man." You have an interesting dynamic, there. You have the woman who’s willing to make the sacrifice, and who lays the groundwork for the son, who is willing to make the sacrifice. That works out pretty nicely. It’s a good thing to know.
"In Christ’s case, however—as He sacrifices Himself—God, his Father, is simultaneously sacrificing his Son." That’s one of the oddities of the Trinitarian model, is that God sacrifices himself to himself. The same thing happens in Norse mythology…German mythology. Zeus sacrifices himself to himself. He actually hangs on a tree. He’s actually wounded in his side. It’s a very interesting parallel. But I think part of the idea is the human race is trying to work out, what’s the ultimate sacrifice? It’s something like the ultimate sacrifice of value. Well, the Passion story—and I told you I was foreshadowing. I’m bringing into consideration things that we won’t talk about for a long time, and maybe not at all in this lecture series, because I don’t know how far I’ll get. There’s a supreme sacrifice demanded on the part of the mother, and there’s a supreme sacrifice demanded on the part of the son, and there’s a supreme sacrifice demanded on the part of the father, all at the same time. That makes the supreme sacrifice possible, and, hypothetically, that’s the one that renews. That’s the sacrifice that renews and redeems. It’s a hell of an idea. The thing about it is that—I don’t know if it’s true, but I know that its opposite is false.

Generally, the opposite of something that’s false is true. Its opposite is false, because if the mother doesn’t make the sacrifice, then you get the horrible Oedipal situation, or something like that, in the household, which is its own absolutely catastrophic hell. If you want a really good insight into that, watch the documentary Crumb. That’s been rated by some critics as the best documentary ever made. It is some piece of work, man. It is the only thing I’ve ever seen that actually lays out the Oedipal catastrophe in its full nightmare. So you could look at that. If the maternal sacrifice isn’t there, that doesn’t work. If the paternal sacrifice isn’t there, if the father isn’t willing to put his son out into the world, let’s say, to be broken and betrayed, and all of those things, then that’s a nonstarter, because the kid doesn’t grow up. And then, if the son isn’t willing to do that, then who the hell is going to shoulder the responsibility? If those three things don’t happen, then it’s cataclysmic; it’s chaotic; it’s hell. If they do happen, is it the opposite of that? You could say, well, maybe it depends on the degree to which they happen. It’s a continuum. How thoroughly can they happen? Well, we don’t know. You might say, how good a job do you do of encouraging your children to live in truth? That’s part of the answer to this question. The answer likely is, you don’t do as good a job of it as you could. It works out quite well, but you don’t know how well it could work if you did it really well, or spectacularly well, or ultimately well, or something like that. You don’t know.

People have an intimation of this. One of the things that’s really cool about having a young baby…There’s two things you don’t know…There’s a lot more than two. There’s three things you don’t know until you have a baby. The one is that you didn’t grow up yet. You actually don’t grow up until someone else is more important than you. You can’t. People think they grow up if they don’t have children, but they don’t. They just think they do. Now, there are some people who make sacrifices of other sorts, but this is a whole different ball of wax, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not a very elegant metaphor, but…You learn that it’s kinda a relief not to be the center of attention. That’s cool—that you can sit back, because, of course, your child, in your family, and in society, is immediately the center of attention. Unless you’re narcissistic, then you allow that to happen. And then you learn all sorts of really good things about other people.

Other people really like babies. It’s so cool. I lived in Montreal when we had our first child. I lived in a pretty rough neighbourhood, by Montreal standards. It’s like, Montreal’s such a great city, like Toronto. Even the rough neighbourhoods are more like charming with a little dark underbelly. Something like that. But there were some rough characters in our neighbourhood, and it was pretty poor, and we’d push her around in her stroller. These grizzled, wrecked, old guys would come by, look at her, and just light up. They’d come over and smile at her, and you just saw the positive element of their humanity well worth. There has to be something seriously wrong with you if you don’t respond that way to a baby. That’s not good. But it was so cool to see these people, who you’d generally kind of walk around on the street, and, all of a sudden, the layers that were on them would just fall off. The babies are sort of like public property, weirdly enough, too—sort of like pregnant women. People often treat pregnant women sort of like they’re public property, too—in a positive way. They do all sorts of cute things.

The reason I’m telling you that is because there’s a strong impulse in people to know that there’s something miraculous about the existence of a new human being. The miraculous element is all the potential that’s there. Potential is all that is there. With every birth, there’s the potential for something remarkable to be introduced in the world. One of the things I’ve thought, too, is that babies are generic until you have one. Your baby isn’t a generic baby, at all. Instantly, it’s a person with whom you have a relationship that’s closer, perhaps, than every relationship you’ve ever had, and that you can keep perfect, right? Most of the relationships that you’ve had already are with people who are screwed up in 50 different ways, and so are you, but here you’ve got this baby. It’s not ruined, yet. You have this possibility of maintaining this relationship that starts out—that baby really likes you, and generally that continues for quite a long time. They’re two years old, you come home, and they’re really happy to see you. It’s kind of like having a puppy. It’s like, they’re thrilled when you come home. How many people are thrilled when you come home? It’s like, oh, it’s you again. No, not a little kid. A little kid is thrilled when you come home, and you can keep that going. There’s this pristine element to the potential relationship between parents and children that’s terribly devalued in our society. It’s almost as if we’re willfully blind to it. I think it’s an absolute catastrophe, because there’s very little in life that can compare to establishing a proper relationship with a child. They make great company if you keep your relationship with them pristine.

It’s worthwhile. The reason I’m telling you this is because people look at infants and they think this could be the potential saviour of mankind. That is what they think. That’s how they act, so that’s how they think. The thing is, it’s also true. Now, how true it is, I don’t know. But that’s, I think, probably because people don’t dare to find out. That’s how it looks to me.
"In Christ’s case, however—as He sacrificed Himself—God, his Father, is simultaneously sacrificing His Son. It’s for this reason that the Christian sacrificial drama of Son and Self is archetypal. Nothing greater can be imagined. That’s why it’s an archetype: you can’t push past it. That’s the very definition of ‘archetypal.’ That’s the core of what constitutes ‘religious.’ The greatest of all possible sacrifices is self and child. Of that there can be no doubt."
"Pain and suffering define the world. Of that, equally, there can be no doubt. The person who wants to alleviate suffering—who wants to bring about the best of all possible futures; who wants to create Heaven on Earth—will therefore sacrifice everything he has to God—to life in the Truth." So that’s a page and a half from the book that I’m going to release in January. Back to Genesis. We’re already up to Genesis 4.
"And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord."

This is after Adam and Eve have been chased out of the garden of Eden. What’s really cool about this—I really think that the Cain and Abel story is the most profound story I’ve ever read, especially given that you can tell it in 15 seconds. I won’t, because I tend not to tell stories in 15 seconds, as you may have noticed. But you can read the whole thing that quickly. It’s so densely packed that it’s actually unbelievable.

Ok, so the first thing is that Adam and Eve are not the first two human beings. Cain and Abel are the first two human beings. Adam and Eve were made by God, and they were born in paradise. It’s like, what kind of human beings are those? You don’t know any human beings like that. Human beings aren’t born in paradise and made by God. Human beings are born of other human beings. That’s the first thing. It’s post-fall. We’re out in history, now. We’re not in some archetypal beyond—although we are still, to some degree. Not to the degree that was the case with the story of Adam and Eve. We’ve already been thrown out of the garden; we’re already self-conscious; we’re already awake; we’re already covered; we’re already working. We’re full-fledged human beings. So you have the first two human beings: Cain and Abel; prototypical human beings.

What’s cool is that humanity enters history at the end of the story of Adam and Eve, and then the archetypal patterns for human behaviour are instantaneously presented. It’s absolutely mind boggling, and it’s not a very nice story. They’re hostile brothers. They’ve got their hands around each other’s throats, so to speak, or at least that’s the case in one direction. It’s a story of the first two human beings engaged in a fratricidal struggle, that ends in the death of the best one of them. That’s the story of human beings in history. If that doesn’t give you nightmares, you didn’t understand the damn story.

Now, in these hostile brother stories, which are very, very common, often the older brother—Cain—has some advantages. He’s the older brother, and, in an agricultural community, the older brother generally inherited the land, and not the younger brothers. And the reason for that was, well, let’s say you have like eight sons, and you have enough land to support a bit of a family, and you divide among your eight sons, and they have eight sons, and they divide it among their eight sons. Soon, everyone has a little postage stamp that they can stand on and starve to death on. And so that just doesn’t work. You hand the land in a piece to the eldest son, and that’s just how it is. It’s tough luck for the rest of them, but at least they know they’re gonna have to go and make their own way. It’s not fair, but there’s no way of making it fair.

Well, you might say the oldest son has an additional stake in the stability of the current hierarchy. He has more of a stake in the status quo. That makes him more of an emblematic representative of the status quo, and, perhaps, more likely to be blind in its favor. It’s something like that. That motif creeps up very frequently in the hostile brothers archetypal struggle. The story of Cain and Abel fits this pattern, because Cain is the one who won’t budge, and who won’t move. He’s stubborn. Whereas the younger son, who’s Abel, is often the one who’s more…Not so much of a revolutionary, but, perhaps, more of a balance between the revolutionary and the traditions, whereas the older son tends to be more traditionalist-authoritarian—in these metaphorical representations, at least.

"And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord." There’s the first human being: Cain. I told you that the Mesopotamians thought that mankind was made out of the blood of the worst demon that the great goddess of chaos could imagine. Well, the first human being is a murderer, and not only a murderer, but a murderer of his own brother. And so, you know, the Old Testament, that’s a hell of a harsh book. And you might think, well, maybe that’s a little bit too much to bear. And then you might think, yea, and maybe it’s true, too. So that’s something to think about.

Human beings are amazing creatures. To think about us as a plague on the planet is its own kind of bloody catastrophe—malevolent, low, quasi-genocidal metaphor. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t without our problems. The fact that this book, that sits at the cornerstone of our culture, would present the first man as a murderer of his brother, is something that should really set you back on your heels.
"And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground."

There you see a very old representation. There’s Abel. He’s got his sheep up on the altar. Cain is bringing a sheaf of wheat. I don’t know exactly what’s happening here. Blood, or it’s a ray, perhaps. It’s something like that. The overall impression of the image is that something transcendent is communicating with this sacrifice. You think, oh, how primitive. How primitive, that these people were sacrificing to their God. It’s like, those people weren’t stupid, and this is not primitive. Whatever it is, it’s not primitive. It’s sophisticated beyond belief. The idea, as I already pointed out, is that you could sacrifice something of value, and that that would have transcendent utility. That is by no means an unsophisticated idea. In fact, it might be the greatest idea that human beings ever came up with.

It’s an answer to the problem that’s put forward in the story of Adam and Eve, right? We became self-conscious, and then we discovered the future, and then we knew we were going to die, and then we knew we were vulnerable, and then we became ashamed, and then we developed the knowledge of good and evil, and then we got thrown out of paradise. It’s like, that’s a big problem. So what the hell are you going to do about it? Sacrifice. That’s the hypothesis. Well, that’s a hell of a hypothesis, man. That’s what we’re doing. You make plenty of sacrifices—even to sit in this theater—and many people made plenty of sacrifices to have a theater like this exist. Many people made sacrifices so that we could actually freely engage in the dialog that we’re engaging in, in a theater like this. All of this is built on sacrifice, and sacrifice bloody well better work, because we do not have a better idea.

Sacrifice. What’s the counter position? Murder and theft. So, let’s go with sacrifice, shall we? And, perhaps, we won’t consider it so damn primitive. It’s not so primitive.

"And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground."

Some people have read into this the eternal battle between herdsmen and agriculturalists, which raged in the American West, for example. The herdsmen like to have their herds, sheep, cattle, go wherever they were going to go. The agriculturalists—the farmers—have things fenced off. The agriculturalists actually won in the final analysis. But, anyways, Abel is a keeper of sheep, and that’s interesting, because that makes him a shepherd. I think that’s part of the critical issue, here, because a shepherd—we talked a little about shepherds before. If you look at Michelangelo’s statue of David, which is another staggering work…I mean, that David, he’s no trivial figure. Of course, it’s David who slays Goliath, right? Goliath is like the giant of the patriarchal enemy. It’s something like that. Middle Eastern shepherds take care of sheep, and they’re edible, and the lambs are very vulnerable, and there were lots of wild animals around. It wasn’t like England in the 16th century. There were lions, and you got a slingshot, or a stick, or some damn thing, and so your job was to keep the sheep organized and not let them be eaten by the lions—alone. You had to have a clue, and be tough, and self-reliant, and all of those things. You had to be tough and self-reliant. You had to be able to take care of a lot of vulnerable things, and you had to be able to do it on your own. That’s all built into the shepherd metaphor. It’s not a great metaphor for modern people, because we tend to think of the shepherd like some Little Lord Fauntleroy, and certainly not as a lion-killing, hyper-masculine monster. That’s not a shepherd. Shepherd’s dance around, and, you know…That’s not the metaphor, here.
"Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord." Ok, so he’s participating in this sacrificial ritual. "And Abel, he brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering."

You don’t know why that is. This is a built-in ambiguity, I think. I think there’s textual hints, but I’m not sure. "Abel brought the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof." Ok, so what does that mean? Well, he brought a high-quality sacrifice. You don’t know that Abel’s sacrifice is low quality, because it doesn’t say that, you know, Abel brought God some wilted lettuce and then burnt it. It doesn’t say that. But there isn’t a sentence, there, that talks about how high quality Cain’s sacrifice is. But, in any case, the Lord has respect unto Abel and his offering. So there’s a hint that Abel’s putting a little bit more into the whole sacrificial thing than Cain. But there’s also a hint that, maybe, God is just liking you a little better than he’s liking him. That’s, I think, useful from a literary perspective, because there is that arbitrariness about life.

One of my own children, for example, has had…Things come easy to him. He’s lucky; fortunate. However you want to put it. He seems to be that sort of person. Whereas my other child, it’s like, it’s just like one horrible, Job-like catastrophe after another. It’s so strange to see that, because, as far as I can tell, the characterlogical differences are certainly not accounting for the difference in destiny. The one child, who’s had so much trouble, was just a wonderful child…Amazingly happy, easy to get along with, fun, and she had a terrible time of it. So, who knows what God’s up to, but distributing fate equally certainly isn’t one of them.

"And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth."

Angry. Wroth is a tough word. These are translated many times. It’s hard to get the full flavour of the words. But, "wroth, and his countenance fell," well, to have your countenance fell…This is sort of up. To fall is to have it be heavy, depressed, for sure. Angry, for sure. Resentful, probably. Wroth: that’s anger. So, Cain is not a happy clam, that his hard work has been rejected by God. Now that’s worth thinking about. You think about how human that story is. You’re out there—well, we could say, you might be a useless character, and you’re whining about how catastrophic your life is. It’s pretty much obvious to everyone around you, and to you, that it’s your fault. You just don’t try: you don’t wake up in the morning; you don’t get a job; you don’t engage in things; you’re cynical; you’re bitter; you’re angry; you don’t try to help the people near you; you don’t try to fix up your own life, and you don’t take care of yourself. And then things go wrong. It’s like, well, really? What did you expect? But that doesn’t mean someone in that situation will just say, well, that’s ok; I deserve it; and they’ll be happy about it. They won’t. They’ll be absolutely bitter about it and angry. But, you know, put that aside for a moment. There are people who seem to struggle very forthrightly, let’s say, and still have one catastrophe after another happen to them. There’s no easy answer in this story. It’s like, you can fall afoul of God because your sacrifices are second rate, or you can just fall afoul of God, and you don’t know why. Well, tough luck for you. And then what happens, in either case, is exactly this, almost inevitably: "Cain was wroth, and his countenance fell."

People like this write to me all the time. I’ve seen this in many, many clients. They’re not often 20. 30, more commonly. Sometimes, 40. Their lives haven’t gone well. They’re in a pit of despair, of one form or another, and not only are they in a pit despair, but they’re extraordinarily angry about it, and God only knows what they’d do with that anger if they had that opportunity to give it full voice.

One of the things I’ve always thought about Hitler is that people…You have to admire Hitler. That’s the thing. He was an organizational genius. The thing that doesn’t stop people from being Hitler…People don’t refuse the ambition to become Hitler because they don’t have the genocidal motivation. They don’t follow that pathway because they don’t have the organizational genius. They’ve got the damn motivation. If you take a hundred people, randomly, and you talk to them—and you really talk to them—you’ll find that five percent of them would take their vengeful thoughts pretty damn far if they were just given the opportunity, and, in fact, they do. They make life miserable for themselves, and often for their family, and, sometimes, for anybody they can come near. And then maybe another 20 percent of people have that bubble up in them on a pretty damn regular basis. You can have some sympathy for Cain. If you don’t have any sympathy for Cain, then you’re not…See, Cain and Abel don’t just represent two archetypal types of being. It’s not like you’re Cain, and you’re Abel. It’s like, you’re half and half, and you’re half and half, and you’re half and half. It’s something like this. This is two different potential patterns of destiny. You don’t manifest one purely and the other zero. It’s like the line between good and evil that runs down the human heart. It’s exactly the same idea. Maybe you’re more like Cain, or maybe you’re more like Abel, but there’s still a little Cain in you, no matter how Abel you are. And maybe more than a little—and probably more than a little. If you watch your fantasies, which I would very much recommend, you’ll find that they show you dark things about you that will shock you if you allow yourself to be conscious of what you’re thinking.

When you’re having an argument with someone, especially someone that you love, it’s a good time to just watch the pictures that flash in the back of your mind. That’s part of, let’s say, coming into contact with what Carl Jung called the shadow. The shadow is the manifestation of Cain. That’s a perfectly good way of thinking about it. One of the things that Jung said about the shadow—because Jung was not someone that you mess around with lightly. He said the human shadow has roots that reach all the way to hell. Jung meant that. That’s no metaphor for him. He might not have meant it in the same way that a fundamentalist Christian from the Southern U.S. might mean it, but I would say that Jung meant it in a way that’s far more terrifying, and also far more true. "And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell."
So there’s Abel, burning his offering away, there. He’s in this sort of relationship with…let’s call them the archetypal figure of culture. The archetypal Father. It’s something he respects. That’s the thing—the posture’s an indication of respect. And then there’s Cain, in the background. His face is in shadow. He’s jealous of what’s happening. He’s going through the motions, perhaps, and maybe God just doesn’t like him. We don’t know. But he’s going through the motions. He’s not very happy about it. That’s actually a phrase that you could carve into many people’s tombstones as an epitaph for their life: went through the motions, but wasn’t very happy about it.
This is really an interesting one, I think. I don’t know what God’s doing here, exactly. He’s helping ignite the sacrificial flame. That’s kind of an interesting idea, I think, because…Let’s say you have an impulse to make a sacrifice. You think, well, I should change this about my life. Well, where does that come from, that impulse? It just manifests itself out of nothing, or you came up with it. Well, you might want to stop thinking so surely that you come up with your own thoughts. You don’t come up with your damn dreams, do you? They just happen. God only knows where they come from. They come from your brain—oh, boy; that’s a sophisticated answer. They come from your unconscious. Well, that’s not much better. At least it’s somewhat better. Those amazing dramas take place in the theater of your imagination at night. You don’t even understand what they are, and yet they occur night after night.

Dreams can contain wisdom that it just…Well, it just staggers the person who has the dream once they get the key to the dream, and once they remember it. It’s like, oh, look, you just revealed a bunch of wisdom to yourself that you didn’t know. Where did that come from? You don’t know. How in the world can you dream up things that you don’t know? That’s a tough one. Maybe we’ll talk about that, at some point, in this lecture series, because there are some reasonable things that can be said about that. The idea that there’s something that’s not you…Jung would call it the Self, which he thought of as the totality of your being across time and space. It’s something like that, and that, you know, each second that you exist is a slice of the Self manifesting itself across time and space. He thought of the Self as partly the voice of conscious, whatever that is, that helps guide you when you have to make a difficult decision. A difficult decision might be, well, what do I need to sacrifice? How do I need to discipline myself? What do I need to forego? Well, how do you figure those things out? This picture is trying to put forth the idea that, perhaps, if you’d established the proper relationship with God the Father—and we’ve talked about what that might mean—then he would help figure out how to get the sacrificial fires burning, so that you could stay in a proper relationship with Him across time. Is that such an unreasonable proposition? What’s the alternative proposition? Well, this isn’t working out very well. That’s for sure.

Cain seems to be doing…I don’t know what it is. It’s as if he thinks he can only do it himself, or maybe he wants only to take credit for it, or something like that. He’s not in this…Grateful, let’s say, and inquiring. Grateful and inquiring posture. That’s what a prayerful posture should be. It should be grateful and inquiring. Grateful is, thank God things aren’t worse for me than they are. You should be grateful about that, because they could be a lot worse than they are, man. They can be so bad. Inquiring would be, well, I don’t really know how I could make it better, but I’m open to suggestions. If I can figure out how to do it, I’ll try it. That’s the humility: a humble inquiry. How could I make things better? It’s something like that. What sacrifices do I need to make in order to make things better? That’s a good question to ask yourself.

You could ask yourself that every morning. What sacrifice do I have to make to make things better? You can decide what constitutes better. How about that? Then, it’s not even as if it’s being imposed on you. Come up with your own notion of what constitutes better. Try to make it sophisticated. It shouldn’t just be better for you, because that isn’t going to work very well, right? You’re just going to fall down stairs if you do that, because you have to live with other people. And besides, it’s stupid. What are you going to do? There’s nothing you can even say about that. It’s so…That’s the attitude of a very badly behaved, hyper-aggressive two year old. I mean that technically. You could ask yourself, well, I have this day that lays itself out in front of me. What thing could I let go of that’s impeding my progress, that, if I let go of, would make my life better, and my family’s life better, and my culture’s life better, and my being better? That would give you something to do for the day, wouldn’t it? And to justify your miserable life.

You need that. That’s the whole point of the first story of Adam and Eve. What do you have? A miserable life. Ok. What am I going to do about that? Well, if you just have a miserable life, you’re just going to suffer stupidly and get bitter about it. That’s what happens to Cain. It’s like, well, how about not doing that? That just seems to take a bad deal and make it worse. How about making a sacrifice, and seeing if you can please God and put being on track? God, that would be something to do. What could be better than that? What could possibly be better than that? That’s why it’s archetypal, man, because nothing’s better than that. That’s where it tops out.
You can do that. You can do that every day. You have to do it in a little way, because what good are you? You’re not going to go and bring this socialist utopia into being in one fell swoop. You might also think that one of the things Cain might figure out there—there are a couple of things that aren’t just going right for him. Downwind of the fire? Not the right place to blow from. And the fact that he’s enveloped in haze and smoke, and breathing it in, and the fire isn’t burning, might be an indication that he’s doing something wrong, or he would be wiping his eyes and saying, Jesus, what kinda stupid bloody universe would produce smoke like this? It’s like, yes, well, that’s a more likely outcome.
"And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?"

Now that’s an interesting line. I’ve looked at a variety of different translations of this seventh verse. That’s a critical line, and the translation really matters. I’ll tell you what I think this story is, and what I’ve been able to figure out. I’m sure I haven’t got it completely right. God says, if you do well, won’t you be accepted? There’s a hint there, right? It’s something like, well, things aren’t going so well for you. The first thing you might think is, you’re not doing well. Does that mean you’re not doing good? Does that not mean you’re not acting properly? It’s the hint. God is suggesting that, if you were acting properly, you would be successful.

Section IV
TIMESTAMP
I had a friend, at one point, who was a very bitter person. He had a bunch of problems. Some of them were self-inflicted, and some of them were fate, I suppose. He had become very, very destructive—murderously destructive. Genocidally destructive, I would say. You could see it in his dreams. He lived with me for a while. I knew him very well. He was a friend of mine from the time I was 12 until the time he committed suicide, when he was about 40. When he lived with me, I was trying to help him get on his feet, which was why he had come to live with me. He thought that maybe I could help him get up on his feet. He could only take relatively low-level jobs. He had some mechanical ability. He didn’t get educated, but he was a very, very smart person. He probably had an IQ of 135, or something like that. He was bitter, too, because he hadn’t educated himself to the level that his intellect would have demanded. He had to take jobs that were beneath him, intellectually. He had that real intellectual arrogance, and really smart people often come to believe that only smart matters. If they’re smart, and all that matters is smart, and then the world is sort of laying itself at their feet, then they’ve been terribly betrayed. Then they point to their intelligence, which is more like a talent or a gift. It’s like a false idol, which is exactly what it is, and a very dangerous one. They get cynical about the stupidity of the world and the fact that their talents weren’t properly recognized. That’s just not that helpful. Smart is a good thing, but, I’ll tell you, if you don’t use it properly, it will devour you, just like all arbitrarily assigned talent. You might have the talent, but it’s your friend if use it properly. If you misuse it, it will be your enemy. Maybe that’s how God keeps the cosmic scales adjusted.

Anyhow, my friend was a very smart person, although not as smart as he thought he was, unfortunately. He hadn’t done what would have been necessary with that intelligence to make it manifest itself properly in the world. That also embittered him, because he also knew that there was more that he could have done if he would have done it, and perhaps more that he could still do. What I was suggesting to him while he was living with us—because he was two levels from homeless at that point—was that he should find a job that he could find—working in a garage, working in a shop, or something like that, because he had some mechanical ability—and that he should separate himself from the arrogance that made him presume that such a job would be beneath him. At that point, no job was beneath him, but, more importantly, it’s not so obvious that jobs are beneath people.

Imagine that you have a job as a checkout person in a grocery store. That’s a fairly unskilled job. You can be some miserable, resentful, horrid bastard doing that job. You can come in there just exuding resentment and bitterness, and making mistakes, and making sure that every customer that passes by you has a slightly worse day than they need to. You can pilfer time—and, perhaps, pilfer goods—and be resentful about the people who gave you the position, because they’re above you in the dominance hierarchy, and you can gossip behind the backs of your coworkers. You can take your menial position—self-described—and turn that into a very nice little slice of hell. That’s for sure.

I always think of the archetypal diner in that way. You guys have been in this diner. There’s a really good opposite diner. There’s a great diner on YouTube. It’s Tom Waits reading a poem by Bukowski. I think it’s called Nirvana. It’s about a good diner that he happened to visit when he was a kid. A diner where everything was going well. You could listen to that. It’s great. But this is the opposite diner, that I’m thinking about. You go into a diner, right. It’s seven o'clock in the morning. You order some bacon and eggs and some toast. You look around the diner, and you think, it was like 1975 when the windows were last washed. There’s this kind of thick coating of who-gives-a-damn grease on the walls. The floor, too, has got that sort of stickiness that you really have to work at to develop over the years. The waitress is not happy to be there. The guy behind the counter isn’t happy that that happens to be the waitress that he’s working with. And then you walk down the stairs to the washroom, and that’s its own little trip. You come back, and you order your damn eggs, and you order your toast, and you order your bacon. It comes, and the eggs are too cooked on the bottom, so they’re kind of brown, and then they’re kind of raw on top. They’re cold in the middle. You really have to work to cook an egg like that, man, but you can master that with like 10 years of bitterness. It will teach you how to cook an egg like that. And then the toast—here’s what you do with the toast. You take the white bread—the pre-sliced stuff that no one should ever eat—and then you put that in the toaster, and you overcook it. You wait, and then you pop it out of the toaster. Because it’s overcooked, you scrape it off. You knock off the crumbs so that it doesn’t look too burnt, and then you wait until it’s cold, and then you put cold margarine on it. First of all, it’s not butter. But, if you put cold margarine on it, you can also kinda tear holes in it. Then it has lumps of margarine in it, and it’s really dry, except where it’s too greasy. That’s like its own little work of art, man.

You put that on the side with eggs. And then you have the potatoes. This is how you cook the potatoes properly: the leftover potatoes—and you keep dumping new leftover potatoes into the old leftover potatoes, over weeks. Some of the potatoes have half returned to mother earth. Then you flap them on the grill, and you sort of burn them a bit, I guess. And then you slap them on the plate. Jesus. You don’t want to eat those, man. That’s for sure. That’s the point.

You have the bacon, and you want to make sure you buy the lowest possible quality bacon. That’s how you start. Then you throw it on the grill—and your grill has to be overheated to do this—and you have to cook the bacon so that it’s raw in places and burnt in other places. It has that delightful pig-like odor that only really cheap, badly-cooked bacon can provide. Or maybe you use those little breakfast sausages that no one in their bloody right mind would let within 15 feet of anything living. And then you serve that. And you serve it with the kind of orange juice that is only orange is color, and with coffee that’s…Agh…What would you say? It was started too early in the morning. That’s the first thing. Bad quality coffee started too early in the morning—got cold once or twice, and has been reheated. And then you serve that with whitener. It’s like, here’s your breakfast! It’s like, no, man. That’s not breakfast. That’s hell, and you created it. And then what you do if you have a diner like that is—because you have a miserable life if you have a diner like that, and you really worked on that—you go home, and you curse your wife, and you curse your kids, and you fucking well curse God, too, for producing a universe where a diner like yours is allowed to exist. And that’s your bloody life. Also, that’s what God’s trying to point out, here.

"If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." Well, I looked at lots of translations for this. Actually, the next line is, "And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him."

Yes. What God actually says is something like this…Things aren’t going so well for you, but if you were behaving properly, they would. But, instead, this is what you’ve done. Sin came to your door, and sin means to pull your arrow back and to miss the target. Sin came to your door. But he uses a metaphor. The metaphor is something like, sin came to your door like this sexually aroused cat-predator thing, and you invited it in. And then you let it have its way with you. It’s like you entered into a creative—he uses a sexual metaphor. You entered into a creative exchange with it, and gave birth to something as a consequence. What you gave birth to, that’s your life. And you knew it. You’re self-conscious, after all. You knew you were doing this. You conspired with this thing to produce the situation that you’re in.

Jung said something similar about the Oedipal mother situation. What he said was very politically incorrect. Of course, every single he wrote was politically incorrect. That’s how you could tell that he was a thinker, by the way. He talked about the unholy alliance between hyper-dependent children and their mothers. He said, well, it’s actually—Freud thought about it as a maternal thing. I’m not putting Freud down. Freud mapped out the Oedipal situation brilliantly. I’m not putting Freud down. But, you know, Jung was taking the ideas and expanding them outward. He said that there as actually an unholy alliance between a hyper-dependent child and an Oedipal, over-dependent mother. The alliance was, the mother would always offer—so maybe the kid is supposed to go off and do something that would require a little bit of courage and effort. The mother says, well, are you sure you’re feeling well enough to do it? And then the child could say, yes, or the child could say no. But the thing is, the child made the damn decision, too. You might think, well, that’s pretty harsh. But just because children are little, that doesn’t mean they’re stupid.

You don’t know children if you don’t know how children know how to manipulate. They are staggeringly good at that. They’re studying you nonstop, trying to figure out, A, what you’re up to, and B, how they can get what they want in the way that they want it. They can play a manipulative game, no problem, especially if they’re well schooled in it. It’s sort of like that. Maybe the mother is a little timid and a little inclined to over-protect, and maybe the child is a little manipulative, and a little willing to not take that courageous step out into the world, and to regress into infantile dependency, instead. Then you get a terrible dynamic building across time that is like a vicious circle, or like a positive feedback loop. It just expands and expands and expands. Sometimes, in families, you see a hyper-dependent child and a perfectly independent child, and the same mother. Mothers are very complex, and mother for child A and mother for child B are not the same mother, even if they happen to be the same human being. The literature’s quite clear on that, but you get my point.

God’s idea was that, not only are you not doing well, but you’re not doing well because you’ve actually really spent a lot of work figuring out how to not do well. This is like creative effort on your part. If you want to read about truly malevolent people, you could start with the Columbine killers. They left some very interesting diaries behind. I would recommend them. There’s plenty of serial killers you could read about, and the people who’ve really gone out and done dark things. I’ve read more than my fair share of that sort of thing, and I understand it quite well. If you really want to have your countenance fall and be wroth, 10 years of brooding on your own catastrophe, sort of alone, and letting your fantasies take shape, and egging them on, allowing them to flourish and, let’s say, take possession of you…That’s exactly the right way to think about it. That will get you somewhere like this. There are more people who are like that than you think, and you’re more like that than you think.

So, Cain is obviously not very happy about this whole answer. The last thing you want to hear if your life has turned into a catastrophe and you take God to task for creating a universe where that sort of thing was allowed, is that it’s your own damn fault, and that you should straighten up and fly right, so to speak, and that you shouldn’t be complaining about the nature of being. But that is the answer he gets. Then what happens? Well, we have to infer that, if Cain was angry before, he’s a lot more angry now. Of course, that’s exactly what the story reveals.
"And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass. when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him."

I’m going to read you something else. This is foreshadowing. This is from the same chapter, by the way.
"Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient. Jesus was led into the wilderness, according to the story, to be tempted by the Devil (Mathew 4:1), prior to his crucifixion. This is the story of Cain, restated abstractly. Cain is far from happy, as we have seen. He’s working hard, or so he thinks, but God is not pleased. Meanwhile, Abel is dancing away in the daisies. His crops flourish. Women love him. Worst of all, he’s a pretty good good guy. Everyone knows it. He deserves his good fortune. All the more reason to hate him."

When I used to teach at Harvard, now and then my wife would have some of the younger graduates over. We used to joke afterwards, because many of them were very remarkable kids. They were super smart, or they were athletic, or they had some dramatic ability, or they were musicians, or they’d done some spectacular charitable work. Because, basically, to be accepted into Harvard, you had to be top of your damn school, and then you had to have at least two other outstanding things going for you. What was so annoying about most of these kids—this was our joke—you really both liked them and respected them. My joke was, you’d think they would have had the good graces to be dislikable sons of bitches, at least. With all those other great things going for them, they had to add respectability and likability to it, as well. So you thought, well, you know, it really couldn’t happen to a better person. It’s like, good God. Well, that’s Abel’s situation. The funny thing, too, is that that’s an ideal. That’s the ideal. An ideal person, let’s say, would be someone who you would want to be like, and someone who is operating in the world like you would want to operate, and someone who fortune is smiling on, and someone who is making the right sacrifices. It’s really what you would want to be. And so Cain kills that.

It’s a psychological story, too. You see this in the cynicism that people have about people who have done well in the world. They’re always looking for some reason why they’ve done well. They must be crooked, or they must be conniving, or they must be arrogant, or they must be psychopathic, and, of course, all of those things exist. But it’s a very bad trick to play on yourself to make the proposition that the person in the world who represents your own ideal is that ideal because of despicable reasons. Because what you do is train yourself that the ideal that you should pursue can only exist if it’s motivated by despicable reasons. And then what? Not only is Abel, your brother, dead, as your brother, in the field, in reality, but you’ve also slaughtered your own ideal. Well then what the hell are you going to work for? How are you going to live, then? Bitterly and miserably. That’s for sure. Bitterly, miserably, and hopelessly. That’s how you’re going to live. It’s so rare that I see—especially publicly—that people honestly admit—with sports figures they’ll do it. That’s one place where that seems to happen. But it’s so uncommon for expressions of admiration and gratitude to manifest themselves in any public communication, of any sort. Newspapers, TV, YouTube, Twitter. It’s almost always undermining, backbiting, and criticism, and very often directed at people who have often done little else but bring good things into the world for other people. That’s part of why this is such a profound story.

"He’s a pretty good guy. Everyone know’s it. He deserves his good fortune. All the more reason to hate him." That’s for sure.
"Cain broods on his misfortune, like a vulture on an egg. He enters the desert wilderness of his own mind. He obsesses over his ill-fortune and betrayal. He nourishes his resentment. He indulges in ever-more elaborate fantasies of revenge. His arrogance grows to Luciferian proportions. I’m ill-used and oppressed, he thinks. This is a stupid bloody planet. It can go to hell. And with that, he encounters Satan in the wilderness, and falls prey to his temptations. He does what he can, in John Milton’s unforgettable words, to confound the Race of Mankind in the first Root and mingle and involve Earth with hell—done all to spite the Great Creator. He turns to Evil to obtain what Good forbade him, and he does it voluntarily, self-consciously and with malice. Let him who has ears hear."
So that’s the first two human beings. The resentful, bitter, failure taking the axe to the admirable success. "And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not; Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What has thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;"

If you want to understand that, which I would recommend, you could read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. That’s a great novel. I think it might be the greatest novel ever written. I haven’t read every novel, but, in my experience, it’s the greatest novel. It is exactly this. It says what happens psychologically if you commit the ultimate crime. It’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing. There’s no psychologist like Dostoyevsky.

"When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the Lord, my punishment is greater than I can bear."

One of the things that’s interesting about this is—I think the punishment that God lays on Cain…It’s like the inevitable consequences of Cain’s action. It’s like, well, he killed his brother. There’s no going back from that. Good luck forgiving yourself for that, especially if he was your ideal. Because you haven’t just killed your brother—and, of course, tortured your parents and the rest of your family—you’ve deprived the community of someone who’s upstanding, and you did it for the worst possible motivations. There’s no up from there. That’s as close to hell as you can manage on earth, I would say.
"And Cain said unto the Lord, my punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid…”

That, too. There’s also no turning back to God, let’s say, after an error like that. You’ve done everything you possibly could to spite God—assuming he exists—and the probability that you’re going to be able to mend that relationship in your now-broken state, when you couldn’t mend it to begin with, before you did something so terrible, starts to move towards zero.

"And it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him."

That’s an interesting thing. I wondered about that for a long time. You might think, why would God take Cain under his wing, so to speak, given what’s already happened? I think it has something to do with the emergence of the idea that it was necessary to prevent tit-for-tat revenge slayings. It’s something like that. There’s hints of that later in the text. It’s like, well, I killed your brother, and then you killed two of my brothers, and then I kill your whole family, and then you kill my whole town, and then I kill your whole country, and then we blow up the world. That’s probably not a very intelligent solution to the initial problem, even though the initial problem, which might be a murder, is not an easy thing to solve. But I think it’s something like that.
That’s William Blake. Adam and Eve have discovered their dead son. Cain has become cognizant, I would say, of what he did and of what he is. It’s another entrance into a form of self-consciousness. The self-consciousness that Adam and Eve developed was painful enough. They become aware of their own vulnerability, nakedness, and, perhaps, even their capacity for evil. But Cain becomes aware of his voluntary engagement with evil itself, and sees that as a crucial, human capability.

That’s something modern people…It’s no wonder we don’t take it seriously. Among intellectual circles, for decades, the idea of evil has been…It’s like, what are you? Medieval, or something? The whole idea of evil is a non-starter as an intellectual starting place, and as a topic. That’s something that I’ve just been unable to understand. I cannot understand how you could possibly have more than a cursory knowledge of the history of the 20th century—much less a deep knowledge of the history of the 20th century—and walk away with any other conclusion than, well, good might not exist, but evil…The evidence for that is so overwhelming that only willful blindness could possibly explain denying its existence.

That was actually a useful discovery for me. I also concluded that, if it was true that evil existed, then it was true, by inference, that its opposite existed. The opposite of evil. Let’s say the evil of the concentrate camp. We could get more specific about it. There’s this one thing that used to happen in Auschwitz, where they would take people off the incoming trains—those who lived, and that weren’t stacked around the outside of the train cars and frozen to death because it was too cold. Those who only had to be stuck in the middle, so it was warm enough. Maybe the old people died because they suffocated, but at least some of them were alive when they arrived at Auschwitz. They took those poor people out, and one of the tricks that the guards used to play on them was to have the newly arrived prisoners hoist like hundred pound sacks of wet salt and carry them from one side of the compound—and these compounds were big. This was a city. It wasn’t like a gymnasium; it was like a city. Tens of thousands of people were there. They would have them carry the sack of wet salt from one side of the compound to the other, and then back. That was to make a mockery out of the notion that work would set you free. It’s like, no, no. You work here, but there’s nothing productive about it. The whole point is exactly the opposite of sacrifice, in some sense. We’re going to make you act out working, but all it will do is speed your demise. And maybe we can decorate it up a little bit, because not only will it speed up your demise, it will do it in a very painful way, while simultaneously increasing the probability that other people’s demises will be painful and sped up. It’s a work of art. That’s for sure. To know about that sort of thing and to not regard it as evil means…Well, you can figure out what it means for yourself.
"And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived…" A fairly common criticism of these Biblical stories is, well, if Cain and Abel were the only two people from Adam and Eve, where did all these other people come from? Doesn’t that make the story simpleminded? No. That makes the reader simpleminded. I mean, really? That’s the best criticism of this you’re going to come up with? You might say, ah, you missed the point. That would be the right response: you missed the point.

"And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch, and he builded the city, and sold—" It’s Cain that builds the cities and starts the civilization. That’s pretty rough, too. It’s the first fratricidal murderer who builds the cities after the name of his son, Enoch.
"And unto Enoch was born Irad…" Et cetera, et cetera. I’m going through the generations. "And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other was Zillah." This is an attempt to flesh out the genealogy and describe to how culture started, in some sense, in these tribal communities. "And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle. And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. And Zillah, she also bear Tubalcain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron." Tubalcain, traditionally, is the first person who makes weapons of war. "And Lamech"—back to Lamech, descendent of Cain—"said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Heed my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold."

Well, what I see in that is this proclivity of this murderous capacity of Cain manifesting itself, as society develops, to a murderous intent that transcends the mere killing of a brother. You hurt me; I hurt you back. No—you hurt me; I kill you and six other people. The thing that happens after that is, it’s not to make it seven people, but to make it seventy people. And so there’s this idea that once that first murderous seed is sown, it has this proclivity to manifest itself exponentially. That’s a warning. That’s also why, I think, Tubalcain, who’s one of Cain’s descendants, was the first person who made weapons of war.

And that’s pretty much the story of Cain and Abel. It’s a hell of a story, as far as I can tell. I think it’s worth thinking about pretty much forever. It has so many facets. I think the most usefully revealing of those facets is the potential for the story, once understood, to shed light on not your own failure—not even on your rejection by being, let’s say—but on the proclivity to murder the best, and the best in you, for revenge upon that violation. What that means—and we know that knowledge of good and evil entered the world, so to speak, with Adam and Eve’s transgression—is that now, not only does humanity have to contend with tragedy and suffering, and even the unharvested fruits of proper sacrifice, but with the introduction of real malevolence into the world.

There’s the Fall into history, and then there’s the discovery of sacrifice as a medication for the Fall. And then there’s a counterposition, which is the emergence of malevolence as the enemy of proper sacrifice. And that’s where we’re left at the end of Cain and Abel. And that’s the end of that lecture. Thank you.