World History: What parallels exist in today’s world when considering human sacrifices?

The more I study and teach history, the more committed I am to notions of history repeating, that humans haven’t changed that much, and that History is the study of the present, not the past. 

In Mexican American History I class we recently discussed human sacrifices. No one was willing to sacrifice themselves, so I am indeed worried about the impending future! Seriously, though, in the course of the conversation, we briefly pondered various parallels to human sacrifices for a second, but the question has stuck with me. 

Are there parallels to human sacrifices today, which were practiced around the world for thousands of years, and if so, what are these?

In today’s society, “capitalism,” “power,” and “efficiency” represent the “God(s)” we sacrifice to because we say it is best for society, the lesser of evils, and unavoidable, for example.  

In order to begin fully thinking about this question, we have to recognize that human sacrifices to those cultures that practiced them were not “barbaric,” “weird,” or without deeply-rooted purposes. They were everyday, per se. People were sacrificed to please their God(s) and for other purposes aimed at serving the best interests of their culture.  

Shifting our focus to today, people die of unnatural causes all the time. People die in war, car and industrial accidents, from food and other environmental poisoning, and from a variety of other causes. If we place these in the long trajectory of human sacrifices, we see people have been fully committed to not only being fully satisfied with human “death” in such involuntary circumstances but also unable to see it or question. 

Paralleling deaths in war or even car accidents today with acts traditionally classified as “human sacrifices” works because we are, apparently, completely okay with such deaths. Such “deaths” remain largely unseen, are for the “greater good” and allow society to function efficiently, and seem to be an unavoidable part of our world. Those with demographic variables privileged by society are also generally immune (or much more immune) from death in such circumstances. 

We sacrifice life all the time for purposes of emphasizing foundational policies and philosophies we call “capitalism” that are aimed at saving the world from the “evils” of communism or any other known world view.

We sacrifice life for speed and efficiency and for not understanding other points of view or other methods that will be seen by future peoples. For example, unhealthy food cost less than healthy food. Cars are much more dangerous at 65 or 70 MPH than they are at 50 or 55 MPH, yet we drive 70 and 75 MPH and even faster. We sacrifice life all the time because we don’t give true emphasis to education or those with long-term illnesses.  

We see it as being for the best that things work out this way and that individuals sacrificed are allowing society to continue functioning. After all, actually caring for the sick and giving equal opportunities for education would cause the world to end! Western Society emphasizes the individual… until it gets right down to it.