Friday, September 1, 2006

Friday Reflection: Sacrifice and Betrayal

We've written about Keith Olbermann before, and called him one of the most lucid voices in the media today. Well, here's further proof. Simply outstanding—watch and listen to all of it, please. Oh, and by the way, the link to that came to me from my Republican partner, Terry McKenna.

Now, by way of introducing the Friday Reflection, I should announce the sole correct response to our "who's quoted in the banner this week?" question. For the benefit of those who don't look at the banner (and anyone who will be reading this off the archives later), here is the quote once more (we can now expand it a little, to include the "giveaway" part):

Harry! Don't you see? Voldemort himself created his own worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!

The speaker, as Miss Bitty of the Hallway observed, is Professor Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Book Six of J.K. Rowling's epochal series of tomes.

Prof. D. is speaking about the costs of tyranny, though not in terms of the price paid by its victims. He instead refers to the cost to the tyrant himself. In light of this week's further descent into psychotic paranoia on the part of our nation's Secretary of Defense, I think Dumbledore's message is especially timely.

The tyrant's first and final victim is, of course, himself. The more he kills, the greater the sweep of his oppressive mania, the steeper is his descent into madness. In psycho-spiritual terms, Rumsfeld's Voldemort-consciousness is a manifestation of the possession by Narcissus. Let's hear what Thomas Moore has to tell us about that, from his classic Care of the Soul: the presence of Narcissus the soul shrivels into an echoing voice. Narcissism has no soul. In narcissism we take away the soul's substance, its weight and importance, and reduce it to an echo of our own thoughts. There is no such thing as the soul. We say...We can prepare a city or national budget, but leave the needs of the soul untended. Narcissism will not give its power to anything as nymphlike as the soul.

The encounter between Dumbledore and Harry, in which our quote occurs, happens in the context of their pursuit of Voldemort's horcruxes—objects in which this Rumsfeld with a magic wand had invested certain split-off portions of his soul, in order to preserve and defend his immortality. As if to complete the analogy with Rumsfeld, Mrs. Rowling adds that the magical requisite for this ability to slice one's soul and save it amid glittering relics of fame is that Voldemort must commit one murder for every portion of soul he wishes to hoard. Into how many lies and images, I wonder, is Rumsfeld's soul divided? And how many bodies of charred innocents were required to preserve this monument of excess, this penumbral cloak of perfection and omniscience that Keith Olbermann so clearly exposed?

But I have written elsewhere at length of the connection betwen Rowling's metaphor and the cultural institutions and influences that beset us in our world (see, for example, "Attributes of the Ministry of Magic"). Here in this segment of the blog, we like to keep the focus at the level of the individual, for that is where real transformation takes place.

Therefore, I would ask that each of us look around the circle of our own lives and see where this soul-splitting, this making of horcruxes, may be happening. Look within your family, at co-workers, friends, enemies, competitors, passing acquaintances—and most of all, within yourself. Where is soul being divided, rationed out into images and vapid, glittering symbols of corrupt belief, bygone glory, or deluded self-aggrandizement?

Certain of these images derive from ideas that may have been fed to you since childhood—notions that are among the most honored, nay, worshipped, idols of our culture. Chief among these is the belief in sacrifice—specifically, self-sacrifice. We are taught to sacrifice ourselves—for our parents, then for our own children; or on behalf of a spouse, one's family, one's company, and, of course, one's nation. The troops, as we hear every day from the lips of our leaders in Washington, make "the supreme sacrifice." To sacrifice is to become a hero.

It is also to split off the soul that you were born whole with, and which Nature intended that you keep that way. We do not need to discard the idea of giving of oneself on behalf of others; but we do need to reconceive what it means, to feel that experience differently, and thus recover the true meaning of devotion.

Sacrifice, viewed properly, is an investment—a spontaneous payment of venture capital of the soul. It is to give up something of yourself, on behalf of a person or an outcome that only you can see or feel. Thus, it is a supremely practical act, because it works in a beneficent circle, whose arc of blessing returns to us, through the good we do for others.

But to spin such an investment as sacrifice is to distort it, to make it into an act of self-immolation, a painful climbing onto one's own cross that will bring no return except regret. Sacrifice turns you into a victim; but investment reveals the visionary within you.

Trust the outcome that you foresee, even as you turn away from the sacrifice demanded of you by that Voldemort/Rumsfeld consciousness of fear and betrayal.

1 comment:

Miss Bitty said...

I'm famous, woot woot! :)

I'm intrigued by this idea that sacrifice can be a soul-splitting phenomena and not always the glorious martyrdom we've been taught to believe. I certainly know from personal experience how I've been expected to sacrifice who or what I am, to subvert myself in a way, to meet someone else's expectations or needs/wants. (especially wrt family) And I'm a people-pleaser by nature, which made me more susceptible to falling into this trap.

It gave rise to some not-good consequences for me eventually, including a resentment that took the people who'd always known me (and, I'll note, were some of the worst perpetrators) by complete surprise. It ended up causing large rifts in those relationships, but that was actually better for me in the end because I had come back to being "true to myself", to use a tired phrase and I now guard against offering myself up instead of extending myself. A subtle distinction, but a big one.

The idea that when we make investments of ourselves, instead of sacrifices, we realize the true benefits of that action perfectly encapsulates this concept.