Austerian Sacrifice

Austerian Sacrifice

by digby

Krugman's column today is about the new faith based economics in which central bankers and politicians are the High Priests calling for human sacrifice. I think that's a very apt metaphor. I have a passing interest in ancient Mesoamerican history (admittedly, mostly confined to insomnia fueled wee hours viewing of the Discovery Channel) and have learned that the human sacrifice rituals were very stylized political pageants. Here's an example from the Aztec, who made a virtual industry out of it:

Not all inhabitants of Mesoamerica were candidates for human sacrifice. The main victims for human sacrifice had to be captive warriors who were from a Nahuatl culture.

In order to acquire captives in time of peace, the Aztec resorted to a form of "ritual warfare", or flower war. The "flower wars" were originally a treaty made between the cities of Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, Tlaxcala and Huexotzingo. The treaty was motivated by a famine in Mesoamerica in 1450. The Aztecs believed that sacred wars were needed to end the famine. By 1455, there was again prosperity in the region, so the sacred wars (xochiyáoyotl) were continued.

The Cihuacoatl (Grand Vizier) Tlacaelel is credited with originating the idea of the flower wars in order to ensure a supply of captives in times of peace. The capture of prisoners for sacrifices was called nextlaualli ("debt payment to the gods") so that the sun could survive each cycle of 52 years. The flower wars not only gave the Aztecs a constant supply of prisoners even in what were otherwise times of peace, but became an important part of their religion. Smaller numbers of Aztec prisoners were also sacrificed in Tlaxcala and Huexotzingo.

The Aztec eventually took over Texcoco and Tlacopan so that they became Aztec cities. As a founding member of the alliance, Texcoco had a lot of privileges, since it provided the Aztec with their most cultivated citizens. Eventually Texcoco was exempted from the ritual war. The Aztecs began to conquer the territories around Tlaxcala and Huexotzingo.

Tlaxcala was a Nahuatl culture that was never conquered by the Aztecs. As a condition of remaining independent, the Tlaxcalteca agreed to continue provide victims for human sacrifice by means of the "flower wars". The high price of their freedom, paid perennially in human lives, was a major reason why the Tlaxcalteca became allies of the Spaniards. By the time of the conquest, this ritual war had escalated to the level of a real war, and it was accepted that it was only a matter of time until the Aztecs would try to conquer Tlaxcala. Almost a hundred years of conflict had led to a lot of hate and bitterness between the rival cities with related cultures...

Human sacrifice was nothing new, nor was it something unique to the Mexica. Previous Mesoamerican empires, such as those of the Toltecs and Olmecs, sacrificed their enemies, as did ancient European cultures such as the Greeks and Romans. What distinguished Mexica human sacrifice from these was the sheer scale of the carnage, the importance with which it was embedded in everyday life, and the political function it served.

The high-profile nature of the sacrificial ceremonies indicates that human sacrifice played an important political function. The Mexica used a sophisticated package of psychological weaponry to maintain their empire, aimed at overawing and instilling a sense of fear into local tlatoque. Whereas European empires were typically secured through the creation of garrisons and installation of puppet governments in conquered towns or settlements, in Mesoamerica such methods would be prohibitively expensive and largely impractical. The part-time Mexica army was needed to expand the frontier and was, in any event, disbanded during the rainy crop-growing seasons. The Mexica honed human sacrifice as a weapon of terror, using it even against the Spanish. Tlatoque from across the empire even those of enemy towns were invited - or in the case of tributary towns, obliged - to attend sacrificial ceremonies in Tenochtitlan. The refusal of a tlatoani would be considered an act of defiance against the Mexica and result in serious consequences, perhaps even war.

This psychological weapon was also a means of discouraging internal unrest. Commoners participated in the maintenance of a temple according to a rotating monthly schedule, and assisted the priests in sacrificial rituals. A commoner would have been lucidly aware of the fate that awaited those who opposed the Mexica leadership. Safety was to be found inside the Mexica polity rather than risk death outside it. Human sacrifice perpetuated the myth of invincibility that surrounded the Mexica army.

Just pointing out that the concept, if not the violent execution, isn't exactly new to human experience. One might have thought we'd moved beyond organizing civilization by superstition and fear, but it's fairly clear that on a number of levels that's exactly what we're doing right now. It is undoubtedly good news, however, that we haven't regressed to literal ritual human sacrifice. Yet.

Anyway, Krugman's point about none of the calls for austerity making any rational sense is correct. It doesn't even make any sense in terms of psychology or behavior. But it's happening anyway. And what it speaks to is either a rather frightening retreat into primitivism or a full scale advance into shock doctrine theology.

BTW: I thought economists weren't supposed to be funny:

But the apostles of austerity — sometimes referred to as “austerians” — brushed aside all attempts to do the math.
Lest you think that's just an obscure inside economics joke, consider that the teabaggers are actually putting this in GOP state platforms:

To Promote the General Welfare:

a. Return to the principles of Austrian Economics, and redirect the economy back to one of incentives to save and invest.

b. Cut spending, balance the budget, and institute a plan for paying down debt. Proclaim that generational debt shifting is immoral and unconscionable and will not be tolerated!

c. Pass and implement Fed bill #1207 (Introduced by Ron Paul), to Audit the Federal Reserve, as the first step in Ending the Fed.

d. Return to transparent and honest reporting of economic statistics free of gimmicks and distortions.

e. Require the government and all its agencies adhere to the same GAAP accounting rules that businesses must follow.

f. Restore the provisions of welfare reform removed with the stimulus bill.

g. Defeat Cap and Trade, investigate collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth, and prosecute any illegal collusion.

h. Freeze current stimulus funds, prohibit any further stimulus bills, and apply all unspent funds towards the debt they created.

i. Promote energy independence aggressively by removing the obstacles created by government to allow private development of our resources; natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear power.

j. Institute Zero based budgeting on all programs.

k. Espouse and follow the principle: It is immoral to steal the property rightfully earned by one person, and give it to another who has no claim or right to its benefits.

The sad thing is that Krugman isn't even talking about teabaggers. He's talking about mainstream Republicans, Democrats and formerly respectable economists and bankers. They're all smoking the same shit. As he says this isn't about reason or science --- the economy is now faith based in every sense of the term. And average citizens are the human sacrifices.