The Tyranny of Imagined Futures
That an ancient Mayan, an accomplished athlete in the prime of his life, might strip naked and paint himself blue, then willingly submit to public decapitation, is a ghastly image that we modern humans can’t accept. Nor can we begin to explain it in rational terms. Yet, it is true that elite Mayan athletes, the best and brightest of their time, occasionally surrendered themselves in exactly this way.
As advanced as they were, the Mayans lived in fear that Nature would cease providing their needs. In the belief system that sprang from those concerns, only blood sacrifice could transcend the gap between the Mayans and the gods who held absolute sway over their lives. In Mayan belief, even the sun would cease to rise into the sky, if blood was not spilled to please their sacred, but capricious masters.
So the top athlete who embraced death did so to save his people from certain death. That is a reason we could stretch our minds to understand, if we did not know, for a fact, that a thousand, or even a million beautiful men could live or die without changing the trajectory of the sun. Barbarous acts such as bloodletting and ritual decapitation that the Mayans perpetrated on innocent victims for the safety of the whole exhibit the tyranny of imagined futures that have afflicted every civilization that has existed up to, and including, ours.
Ritual sacrificing cannot be explained in rational terms because the practice, wherever it occurred, was based on fear, not reason. And the fact that young men willingly gave up their lives, while the crowds looked on in celebration, reveals how the tyranny of imagined futures can disconnect us from life’s real issues. The Mayan’s concern about the future led them to see life as a struggle between good and evil. They believed that the only way to keep the sun rising, crops growing, and people healthy was, on occasion, to sacrifice a valuable human being. The sacrificed individual was offered a direct entry to heaven, bypassing the many levels normally required to get there.
The Mayans had no evidence that to keep the sun rising and the grass growing required human sacrifices. Yet, ceremonial sacrificing became essential to their sense of wellbeing and order.
Instead of gaining favor with imagined gods, what the sacrificing turned out to be was a power grab by which certain individuals gained positions of privilege and authority over the larger populace. But no one knew it was a power play, not the priests conducting the ceremonies, not the state leaders who authorized the sacrifices, nor the people on behalf of whom the sacrifices were being made. They all thought the sacrifices were essential to their future wellbeing. More significantly, once the practice got under way, it could not have been stopped, even if some people began recognizing it as a sham. Success at revealing the truth in such situations gets the messenger crucified, as was the case with Jesus. Or the individual might be banned, which is what happened to Galileo.
The sacrifices couldn’t be stopped because everyone’s sense of wellbeing, order, and purpose had became dependent on the way of life that resulted from the sacrificing. Indeed, everyone saw themselves as winners—
(To read more go to the Essay “The Tyranny of Imagined Futures“)
(To see the front and back view of the book cover, click on the picture. To read Chapter 1, click on the Table of Contents.)
Following is a partial listing of the
Numerous Prose and Poems by various authors are Interpersed between the chapters.
This is a partial list.
“A Hard Day on the Planet”by Loudon Wainwight III
“Creaziness” by Lewis Thomas
“Interwoven Values” by Chet Shupe
“Ozymandias”by Persy Bysshe Shelly”
“Faith” by Martin Luther King Jr.
“If the World Is To Be Saved” by D. Patrick Miller