Why am I singing? To relieve my broken heart. Why should I spin yarn if in the end the yarn will be cut? Why should I remember if remembering only breaks my heart?

Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2014 documentary masterpiece The Look of Silence opens with these lyrics sung by an elderly Indonesian man who partook in the 1965 Indonesian massacres that claimed over one million victims. The doting grandfather nonchalantly recalls of one particular victim, “I ripped him open. His intestines spilled out…I threw him, his head hit a rock.”

When asked by Adi, the brother of one of the massacre’s victims, if his neighbors fear him, another retired killer declares, “They know they’re powerless against me. Because I’m part of a mass movement… If we didn’t drink human blood, we’d go crazy… Some killed so many people, they went crazy. One man climbed a palm tree each morning to do the call to prayer. He killed too many people. There’s only one way to avoid it, drink your victims’ blood, or go crazy. But if you drink blood, you can do anything!”

Later another local leader, M.Y. Basrun, speaker of his regional legislature since 1971, says the killings “were the spontaneous will of the people,” despite the fact that the army and police escorted the victims from prison to be killed at the river. “I’m setting the record straight…” “But a million people were killed,” Adi interjects. “That’s politics,” the speaker retorts. “Politics is the process of achieving one’s ideals. In various ways.”

Sharing a Meal

Statist cultures demand that we feed them constantly with the shed blood of victims.Culture begins with the sharing of a meal and the telling of stories. We can imagine this primordially occurring around a campfire as humans shared symbols to make sense of who we are.

The late anthropologist Rene Girard defined culture as “Remembrance.” He suggests modern language gives hints at the origins of culture. Indeed, he says, archaic “remembrance” is the remembering of a common sacrificial victim’s body back together. Religions, or cultural bindings, universally provided controlled acts of sacrificial violence of victims in order to “re-member back together” the original victims upon which their society rests. Wars, scapegoat lynchings, social purging; all come from this remembrance.

Archaeological evidence suggests ritual human dismemberment and cannibalism was an essential worldwide phenomenon of ubiquitous prehistoric and ancient pagan religions. Humans did this because, as Rene Girard has shown, “the essence of desire is to have no essential goal. Truly to desire, we must have recourse to people about us; we have to desire their desires.” We desire our neighbor’s possessions or status so much because we desire to be our neighbor. We envy them. They envy us in return. This reciprocal imitation – Girard calls it mimetic desire – leads to the greatest acts of beauty in humanity as well as its worst cycles of envious vengeance: we eat each other.

We can see this mimetic trait in a surface form in the schoolyard game of copycatting. A person feels a maddening loss of self the more he or she experiences their every word being copied. This loss of self is what the Indonesian killers experienced to a much greater degree during their ecstatic frenzy of mimetic collective violence against their victims. The only “cure” many of them discovered was to “complete” the sacrifice: to drink the blood of their victims. To consume their strength. To consume their death as a kind of antivenin for their own death anxiety. Far from being a barbaric fluke, the Indonesian commandos were unknowingly performing a ritual at the primal core of what it means to be human.

Killing for Power…  read more here