The slippery slope of sacrifice
Sacrifice is a powerful and seductive idea. That makes it dangerous. If we don’t handle it with care, sacrifice can fuck things up. Or we can. So let’s be careful. Let’s not let its hypothetical benefits blind us to its disruptive power.
Our lives need to be in good order and balance, and new ideas and new experiences introduce chaos. We’re used to small amounts of chaos, and when it arrives, we can adapt quickly, often without thinking, and possibly to our benefit.
But new and powerful ideas can destabilize us and produce more chaos than we can readily absorb. Until we can restore balance and order, other small changes can drive us further from stability. The benefit we might have gained from the new could be lost. We might end up worse. We must be careful about introducing ideas and practices that are too new and too powerful.
Sacrifice is such an idea. Sacrifice sounds good in theory: you give up something that you value for something that you value more. You make the world a better place. What’s wrong with that? You don’t want to do it? What’s the fuck is wrong with you?
When you present such an opportunity to yourself, why wouldn’t you say yes to yourself? Jordan Peterson in 12 Rules for Life again.
Maybe you don’t trust yourself. You think that you’ll ask yourself for one thing and, having delivered, immediately demand more. And you’ll be punitive and hurtful about it. And you’ll denigrate what was already offered.
Once you start to sacrifice, when do you stop?
The slippery slope
Until you’ve achieved perfection (not this likely this week), there’s always something you could do that you would admit was better than what you’d otherwise be doing. Unless you’re perfectly shortsightedly selfish, you’re already making some sacrifices. When do you stop sacrificing? How much is enough?
Scott Alexander talks about The Economic Perspective On Moral Standards | Slate Star Codex
We can always imagine a world that’s a little better. Indeed we can imagine many better worlds. I can imagine a world in which I do more, and I am pleased about that. But I can also imagine one in which I do less—a world in which I take on fewer responsibilities.
TANSTAAFL. Both futures come at a cost. Obviously, the one in which I do more requires sacrifices. Less obviously, the one in which I do less requires sacrifices too. To do less, I must give up caring about Future Me. I must give up caring as much as I care about the people and things that I care about—the ones that would be better off. And I don’t want to do that.
What kind of person do I want to be?
Here’s the critical question: “What kind of person do I want to be?”
Let’s suppose that I could know the greatest good that I could do and to do it I had to leave my wife and family and devote myself to whatever-it-was. Let’s make it easy to make that sacrifice. In that future life, I would endure no hardship. I’d be honored for my contribution. I’d meet someone who I would love more than my current wife. She’d have kids who I’d love more than our current kids. Every aspect of my future life would be objectively and subjectively better than my present life. I’d have to sacrifice a part of my current life to do it, but look at how much the world and I would gain.
Who wouldn’t take that deal?
Because I don’t want to be the kind of person who would do that.
I would not criticize a person who would. There’s nothing wrong with making a huge sacrifice for a huge benefit. I just don’t want to be the person who makes that particular sacrifice.
I don’t want a better (different) wife or a better (different) family. It would be great if the wife that I now have and the family that I now have could become better. I hope they do—if they want to— and I will make sacrifices to help them if they want and if I can. If they become worse, oh, well. Shit happens.
I want to be the kind of person who stays with them and who helps them when he can, not the person who abandons them, even for a good cause.
Today is my last day
I keep getting a clearer picture of the kind of person that I want to be—or more accurately, the kind of person that I hope that Future Me can become. Because, I wrote here, today is my last day.
If you’re going to die, why not die for something that matters? Why not die in the service of the greatest good that you can achieve through your living and dying?
People say: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” And that’s true. But it’s also true that “Today is the last day of my life so far.” At the end of this day, I’m gone.
So here’s how I’ve been spending my last day so far. I spent part of it helping Bobbi. I spent part of it writing this. I want to be the kind of person who spends his last day doing those kinds of things.
Perhaps I could have done better. For a while, I considered writing about something different. I did some research. But this was the best thing that I could find to write about, and this is the best thing that I can write on that topic in the time that I’m giving myself. I’m glad I’ve spent part of my final day writing this. I’m sure that Future Me will be grateful.
I wrote it with the Pats game in the background. I could have turned off the game and focused more on writing. But I’m not convinced it would have been any better—that the sacrifice would have gained anything. The writing was always my priority, and I think this came out well.
And the day’s not over. There’s still a lot of potential left. But first I’ve got to stop doing the fun part—writing—and do what it takes. This is just a potential post until I hit Publish, which—by the time you see this—I will have done.
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