Monthly Archives: November 2013

Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire; Are Lies and Murder the Essential Elements of Human Culture?

The late Anthropologist “Cultural Evolutionist” Leslie A. White, is justly famous for his antecedent definition of “culture”, which may be loosely paraphrased as “man’s uniquely extra-somatic adaptation to the environment, dependent upon symboling.”   The late “Conservative” British PM during WWII, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill (he had a great-grand niece named “Lady Diana Spencer”), is for his part justly famous for commenting something to the effect that men are the only creatures who periodically set out on campaigns of mass murder against their conspecifics for reasons only tangentially related to food and mating, the essential building blocks of evolution, if at all.

Preceding both White and Churchill was Sir James G. Frazer, the author of the 12 volume Golden Bough, “the mother of all” anthropology encyclopedias.

This week the beauteous Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire premiered in Los Angeles and happy I could be here to see it happen.  Suzanne Collins second book of the Hunger Games Trilogy is but poorly abstracted in the movie.  I’m not sure that anyone who had not read the book could really make sense of the plot.  The first Hunger Games movie provided a much more coherent summary of the written text, but luckily or unluckily that’s just not the point at all.  In some ways, spending two hours or so gazing at Jennifer Lawrence’s unique and unending deliciosity is quite enough but, after seeing the first movie some 17-20 times and reading and studying the trilogy intently for the entire summer thereafter, I have concluded and still believe that

The Hunger Games Trilogy is a brilliantly allegorical Revolutionary Text designed as a protest against the De Facto Reality of Modern American Statist (Degenerate Communist Realpolitik) “political reality.”    

Suzanne Collins officially states that her original inspiration for the story of the Hunger Games Tributes was the story of the Minotaur in Ancient Crete’s Labyrinth.  And this is quite on point and consistent with my own analysis.  The Minotaur mythically and allegorically recounted the historical transition from  rituals of human sacrifice to bull sacrifice to “game” among the ancient Hellenes.  Earlier this evening I was discussing Francisco Goya’s Tauromaquia series, and how this related to the story of the Minotaur and the Hunger Games.  (“Tauromaquia = tavromachia = “bull fighting”).  I feel I grew up with bullfighting in the Opera Carmen, in my years in Mexico, Colombia, Honduras,  Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Spain….although to be honest in all those years I never once attended a real live bull fight—call me a stuck up WASPY Prude, go ahead, I dare you…. but I think I understand that there is a strong emotional and psychological connection between games which involve ritualized murder and the risk of death…..the very story of the Golden Bough….

Or is it the story of humanity?  Are lies and murder the essential elements of human culture?  “Man’s uniquely extra-somatic adaptation to the environment dependent upon symboling… In that all symbols by necessity abstract reality in an arbitrary manner, are all symbolic expressions essentially lies?  Does all linguistic expression inherently falsify the real world?

Or are some lies worse than others?  The movie does not manage to portray the deviousness or the oppression of President Snow’s regime in Panem, or of the role the Hunger Games play in that reality.  But every element of politics in Panem is false and deceitful.  And the magic of Katniss Everdeen is that she possesses an emotional will to surmount the ritual combat, murder, and sacrifice for the sake of love…. So the Hunger Games seems to reduce life (by and with a marvelous array of symbols) to Freud’s abstractions of the forces of Eros and Thanatos—“Love and Death” (also the title of a marvelous movie by Woody Allen and Calvert Watkins’ selection of the primary elementary themes of all ancient myths and epics…)

Earlier this month I commented on Human Sacrifice in Africa—why indeed is Human Sacrifice—MURDER, so absolutely essential to human life and society?  If it is not essential, then why is it everywhere, universally and diachronically omnipresent?  In both Frazer’s original works and all spinoff commentaries, from Jessie Laidley Weston’s From Ritual to Romance to Gillian Feely-Harnik’s more recent commentaries, the question: WHY IS MURDER SO IMPORTANT TO HUMAN CULTURE? Remains unanswered, and yet clearly it is. 

Hollywood may be disgusting and degenerate in a thousand commercially successful ways (ok, possibly several million, actually), but it seems to reflect something real and genuine about the (quite possibly disgusting and degenerate) essence of human nature.  Hollywood could not make it through one week of television or cinema without killing off hundreds of people in more-or-less “true life crime” scenarios.  Why is that?   Why are all or nearly all religions, including everything from Christianity to Aztec Idolatry to the post-World War II “secular religion” based on the memory (or imagination) of the Nazi Holocaust, why are all human religions based on murder?  How many (if any) great stories can you think of which do not either focus on or center around one or more murders, unjust killings, senseless wars?  Can human culture exist without murder and deception?  Can human language exist without lies?

For All Souls Day (aka “Day of the Dead” and/or Feast of the Faithful Departed): Human Sacrifice in Africa Today

Should we be surprised that Human Sacrifice, Slavery, and Cannibalism are Prevalent All Over Africa, today in late 2013?  In Colonial Mexico and Central America, after the Spanish Conquest, there is good evidence that Human Sacrifice persisted in many rural areas for at least 200 years after the Spanish Conquest despite continual Spanish Rule and the violent and often brutal suppression of the Native Mesoamerican priesthood, the tragic burning of ancient libraries, and the systematic destruction of temples.  There are many parallels between the practices of Human Sacrifice, Cannibalism, and Slavery in Africa and Mesoamerica, as Sir James G. Frazer noted in the Golden Bough, and as in fact was apparent even to the Spanish Conquistadors themselves, as in for example the writings of Bernal Diaz del Castillo.  

Child sacrifice, reported as widespread and common in Africa up through the present day (and even as a “thriving commercial business” in Uganda and Nigeria), was common among the prehispanic Mesoamericans.  There are relics surviving at least until the 1980s (by my own personal observations) of the importance of live children “bound with ropes and croaking like frogs” under the table of the Cha-Chaac, the modern Yucatec Maya Rain Ceremony, during years following the discovery of massive offerings of childrens’ skeletons under the altar of Tlaloc (the Aztec raingod) in the Templo Mayor excavations of Aztec Tenochtitlan in the heart of Mexico City.  Habitual child sacrifice was recorded at least as far north as among the Natchez of the Mississippi Valley up through the final obliteration and extermination of the Natchez by the French in the late 1720s.  Vestiges of Child Sacrifice (including the Sacrifice of adult children, such as the sons of the Kings of Israel and Judah who were made to “walk through the fire” in the Books of Chronicles and Kings) occur throughout the Bible, and legends of Jewish cannibalism of children are part of the “blood libel” that persisted at least through 15th century throughout Europe (consider the story of “Little St. Hugh” of Lincoln, which was one of many stories which led to the expulsion of the Jews from England in the 1320s.  (I had an uncle named “Hugh”, who now counts among the “Faithful Departed”).   As highly prejudicial and undocumented as the charges against Mediaeval European Jewry may be, the archaeological evidence recovered at by Harvard archaeologists at Carthage in Tunisia and by many excavations throughout Syria and Lebanon all document the ubiquity of child sacrifice among the Phoenicians  (most closely related by their alphabet and other customs to the Israelites) and all other Western Semitic peoples of the Bronze and Iron Ages.  Whether this heritage could support the legendary evidence that the Jews carried child sacrifice with them after the diaspora into Western Europe is, without archaeological evidence, a matter of mere conjecture.

Leaving Aside Slavery and Cannibalism, and considering only Human Sacrifice and Ritual Killing (including child sacrifice throughout Africa, and leaving aside the highly controversial questions of racially or politically motivated murders in, for example, Liberia, Sierra Leon, and above all in post-Apartheid South Africa, as of fourteen months ago, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights made this rather timid, cautious, almost apologetic report, allowing as how human sacrifice might violate the UN Charters on Individual Human Rights even if it infringes on the rights to freedom of religion and exercise of human conscience: http://hrbrief.org/2012/09/the-practice-of-ritual-killings-and-human-sacrifice-in-africa/

The Practice of Ritual Killings and Human Sacrifice in Africa

September 6, 2012 By \\

Despite the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights’ that provides an individual is entitled to respect for his life and integrity of his person, ritual killings and the practice of human sacrifice continue in several African countries. These practices entail the hunting down, mutilation, and murder of the most vulnerable people in society**, including people with disabilities, women, and children. Reports indicate that killings of this nature occur in Nigeria, Uganda, Swaziland, Liberia, Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Because of the secrecy involved in ritual sacrifices, a majority of these incidents go unreported and uninvestigated. Anti-sacrifice advocates face an uphill battle in combating these rituals because the practices are largely denied and touch on cultural underpinnings, resulting in an ideological conflict between protection of human rights and respect for the beliefs and practices of other cultures.

Those who practice sacrifice and ritual killings believe them to be acts of spiritual fortification. Motivations to carry out these acts include the use of human body parts for medicinal purposes and the belief that human body parts possess supernatural powers that bring prosperity and protection. In Uganda, reports indicate that child sacrifice is a business where the wealthy pay witch doctors to conduct sacrifices in an effort to expand their fortunes. In Swaziland and Liberia, politicians allegedly commission ritual killings to improve their odds in elections. In parts of South Africa, ritual killings are culturally accepted, and the practice is often not reported by community members.

Questions of cultural relativism may arise with respect to ritual killings because they may be linked with religious beliefs. Article 8 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion. The article also states that “No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.” While a broad reading of Article 8 guaranteeing the right to religious freedom could theoretically permit ritual killings for religious reasons, the “subject to law and order” clause may be invoked to limit the free practice of religion with respect to ritual killings. Furthermore, reading the Charter in its entirety supports a prohibition on ritual killings. For instance, Article 5 states that every individual shall be “entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person.” If ritual killings were permitted as an acceptable exercise of religious freedom, the door is opened to many of potential human rights violations on the basis of religion.

In response to recent reports of ritual killings allegedly conducted by some traditional healers, other healers have spoken out against ritual killings, arguing that those practices are a disgrace to the history and culture of African medicine men and healers. In March 2012, Sierra Leone’s union of traditional healers met to put forward their campaign against ritual killings. Since the union’s founding in 2008, their mandate has always been to stop indiscriminate killings and afflictions of the innocent.

Activists rallying against ritual killings are calling for stronger protections, including legislation that would allow for the regulation of traditional healers. Some countries, such as Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria have taken steps to begin regulate traditional healers, but regulation is not widespread. Appropriately regulating traditional healers could provide necessary protection for individuals seeking care from traditional healers and could hold healers accountable for unlawful acts, such as ritual killings. Furthermore, regulation could provide protection for traditional healers, for example, with respect to intellectual property rights.

As they have done for centuries, traditional healers continue to fulfill an important role of providing beneficial medical services to communities. However, the practice of ritual killings and human sacrifice goes against the fundamental human rights norm of ensuring respect for an individual’s life and integrity of person. Although the African Charter guarantees the right to freely practice one’s religion, ritual killings are not permissible on this basis. The positive contributions of traditional healers to many African societies should not be compromised by the practice of ritual killings. Activists and governments can ensure respect for the human rights of all individuals by working to ensure transparency and accountability among traditional healers.

**CEL III Note Added: is it even worth mentioning that the minority Whites in post-Apartheid South Africa, not to mention any whites foolish enough to remain in Zimbabwe or Namibia, are among the most vulnerable members of society?