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In our world, we consider human life to be precious and valuable. It is meant to be preserved, and a deliberate act of taking a life is considered deplorable by society. This is considered normal. The people of this setting also consider life to be valuable, as it was given to them by God. As it is precious, human life is the only thing worthy of being sacrificed.

This continent is controlled by a theocracy that promotes a culture of self sacrifice. God demands tribute from his people, and being sacrificed to him is the highest honor one can achieve. However, only a select few are worthy of such honor. Slaves, the destitute, and average people are not applicants for this. The gods want those of merit, who have achieved great things and made many contributions to their society. Warriors, scientists, top athletes, etc. These are considered the best of the best, and are the people who the gods look to for this prestige. During this sacrificial ritual, the individual is killed and their soul is offered to the heavens, where they will be reincarnated in the god realm and become deities.

The religion demands for society to kill of its best people routinely. This makes it hard for it to advance technologically. It also may serve as a deterrent for people who want to achieve great things. I need this to be a culturally viable long term model. How can this society advance as a civilization while it sacrifices it's best and brightest?

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  • $\begingroup$ there are way it could work but what would stop the really smart people to stay low and play dumb while exposing stupid people as the best? A quick experiment in human sacrifice could validate if gods really want the best sacrifices or just sacrifices. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 16 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ I think you answerd it your self: In order for people to be wothy of sacrifice they have to contibute to science and tecnology so there has to be tecnological progress before someone is sacificed. $\endgroup$ – Soan Jan 16 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ I think the answer would be 'slowly'... $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jan 16 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ "In our world, we consider human life to be precious and valuable" sort of. Mostly recently, too. Also, your descriptions sounds similar to Aztec society in a lot of ways but seems a bit more advanced, I suppose. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 16 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ You have a society where people have one set of values, and the primary religion has a different set. Can you explain how that is stabilized in the long term? The answer to that question will almost certainly provide insight into how to keep advancing, because that massive cognitive dissonance will be the primary driving force in everything your society does. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 17 at 1:49
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The answer to your question is written in it (emphasis mine)

The gods want those of merit, who have achieved great things and made many contributions to their society. Warriors, scientists, top athletes, etc. These are considered the best of the best, and are the people who the gods look to for this prestige.

The sacrifice is done AFTER the contribution to the society, not before. Therefore, the sacrifice is not taking a toll on progress. It's the same difference between cutting corn plants before or after corn has ripened. Cutting before leads to starvation, cutting after leads to harvest.

Take a top scientist, the equivalent of Einstein. After he published the equivalent of the theory of relativity, he has already contributed to the advancement of society. Sacrificing him won't remove the theory from the heritage of the civilization.

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    $\begingroup$ Exactly what I wanted to answer. $\endgroup$ – Soan Jan 16 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ It would be slower. Einstein spend a lot of time after publication to teach and spread the knowledge and how he get to the theory. Involving more people in all processes for more people to carry the knowledge further would slow the process. Also it would be funny if 100 people started pointing finger that it's not them who contributed. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 16 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ Also, they sacrifice a limited number of people per year. Just before the sacrifice, the victim(?), passes on his crown to the next year's sacrifice, selected by the priesthood. For the next year, the sacrifice gets to live like a king (and encouraged to pass on his genes), before passing on his crown to his successor. See Kumari tradition, Sacred King. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jan 16 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ the problem with this answer is that it ignores human nature. the reason many "great ideas for improvement of humanity" fail is that people adapt to the new rules instead of going on with their old habits. In this particular case they will stop publishing discoveries if the reward is early death. $\endgroup$ – Milo Bem Jan 16 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @MiloBem, some people already choose an early death to chase their ideals. So I would say it's all but not into the human nature. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 16 at 15:07
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My take is that this would have an extraordinary impact on the culture of such a people. Perhaps it is an honor to be sacrificed for having done a great deed, but most great inventions and technological progressions have been done in the name of prosperity or, lacking that, genuine curiosity.

Surely those seeking prosperity will stop these activities immediately. There is no prosperity in the possibility of a swift death. Those doing it for genuine curiosity or for personal use, may continue, though their discoveries and usefulness would extend only to themselves and their families. If someone discovered a means to pump water from a well, they would install it inside their own home, away from prying eyes. Most would not know of its existence, but the ones who do would not want to be accidentally discovered as its discoverer.

This said, you may have fools and desperate people proclaim to have invented certain things. Afterall, you are considered a hero and worthy to the sacrifice of the gods. If nothing else, you can redeem your name and die bringing honor to your family.

But for the most part, progression would be very very slow. Nobody would question the system, as questions either get you killed for bringing unwanted change or get you killed for performing some great revolution that gets your name nominated for being sacrificed. The norm would be to keep to yourself, and play dumb for the most part. Talking about technology in of itself would become a taboo.

Clever people would herald their enemies for having discovered some technology in order to get them sacrificed, meaning there would be very much a witch-hunt type mentality in the population. And since this is a religion, those who don't follow cannot revolt for fear of putting their names out there. The society would be not more advanced than the dark ages for centuries to come.

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Oddly enough many advances in science and technology aren't made by the best people. The sacrifice system that consumes its high achievers will mostly not comprise its forward progress. As others have pointed out they will have made their achievements.

For example, many of the members of Royal Society, offered a Fellowship is a recognition of significant scientific achievement, only had second or third class Honours degrees. Alpha types are extremely good at finding out more about what is already, it is often left to the lesser lights to show genuine sparks of originality.

Certainly in science it is often necessary to have a few really bright minds to see further than everybody else. They are the geniuses (so-called) responsible for great intellectual leaps forward. The majority of science is advanced in small steps and this can be done by people with a reasonable degree of intelligence and creativity, which makes them otherwise ordinary persons who are simply employed in the business of research.

The advancement of science and technology isn't solely based on the achievements of the best and the brightest. It is cumulative enterprise, while the occasional scientific or technological genius might spark things along, they are by no means essential. Therefore, a system that sacrificed the best in any field would be effective at providing career opportunities and employment positions once the top performers are cleared out. Progress will march on undaunted and unhindered.

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Following from L.Dutch's point. You end up with a culture to match your customs.

If you always sacrifice the great name in charge of a project or behind a great discovery, then you end up with a sacred king system. The leader is a figurehead, still someone worthy of honour but not actually the person in practical charge, but you've extended it such that every major project has a sacred "king".

Society still progresses nearly as fast, but the great and the good are more careful not to stick their heads above the parapet, as any heads above the line tend to be cut off. So great discoveries or inventions may be held back until later in life to ensure a decent lifespan, then released to get the great honour for the family of being sacrificed.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's funny to think about the implication of such system. There would be some sort of agreed criteria for sacrifices, like "anybody who published four scientific papers". This is then made even funnier because - people who prefer to live would just game the system. They might publish under an alias or maybe publish a "scientific essay" rather than "paper" to avoid the number and so on. I'd be interested to read fiction where all people try to avoid being sacrificed with similar tricks. And yet Something Bad Happens because of the lack of sacrifices still. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 16 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ @vlaz, that's the joy of the sacred king system, as soon as Something Bad happens, you sacrifice the king. Always play the system and never be the king. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 16 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ My idea was that in the story everyone would avoid being sacrificed but sacrifices are actually required for the sun to rise or something. I picture that as a comedy rather than a faithful representation. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 16 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ @vlaz, yep, hence the king, Terry Pratchett uses it as part of the backstory in Hogfather. Nobody wants to be sacrificed but if you don't sacrifice someone then the sun won't rise again. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 16 at 12:13
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Don't tell them

The priestly classes believe fervently in this doctrine but they keep it secret as they have done for centuries. When a prominent figure has reached their full potential and then descended into their dotage, an assassin ninja priest is sent to infiltrate their dwelling. The assassin grasps the old dodderer from behind and suffocates him or her with a small ceremonial cushion whilst quietly chanting the ritual of the offering to God. The assassin then departs the way they came leaving the relatives to discover the old-timer lying dead on the floor. Of course the death is attributed to old age. No-one ever realises that the sacrifice was made.

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Make it Worth it

Pretty simple concept, I think. If you're killing off the most successful people, it makes sense to reward them for it ahead of time.

The mechanism is as follows; the most successful people are chosen for sacrifice. Before the sacrifice is actually followed through on, the people are given a life of total luxury.

By presenting them with harems of willing volunteers and luxury beyond luxury, many people would be willing to own their contributions to live totally carefree and happily for half a decade or so. The more influential and successful the person, the better the reward and the longer the time they have to enjoy it.

From a 'societal advance' perspective this means the successful person has time to not only pass on their genes, but also to pass on their knowledge.

This does mean, however, that it will be extremely important for the Theocracy to maintain an extremely high delta of 'quality of life' between the 'pre-sacrifice' way of life and the 'normal' way of life. If the difference is too minor, people won't be interested.

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Ive seen plenty of good answers here, but it seems that there is a biases to modern day life.

Modern society sees life as sacred and important. Now a society that does not hold the same values and sees self sacrifice as important would not avoid their demise so intently as others have suggested.

If the society offered the ultimate reward, a quick death, for great works, then people would probably do their best to achieve such feats. The best thing to encourage greatness is to have some tantalizing reward at the end, be it riches, fame, glory or the satisfaction of accomplishing the feat. In this societies case to sacrifice ones self to sustain the society.

Now, to ensure a constant advance and not a collapse, this reward would have to come at a time where we would retire from the field. Once they have no further influence on their field, they go to receive their severance.

For Athletes, this may come early in life. Once they are no longer competitive, once they spent years as a trainer and coach, they retire. Great warriors may be the same if they do not advance to field commander or general. I would imagine conscripts wont be eligible, but can volunteer to become a career warrior to get the chance to be sacrificed.

Scientist, they would have to live out their life, forgoing their ultimate prize to better society with their works. this may be a corrective action of, as L.Dutch mentioned, they need to pass on their knowledge otherwise their great works may go away as no one understands how it works. Imagine a great aqueduct is built for the capital city. All the engineers and architects receive their reward for a fantastic job. 20 years later the aqueduct need updating, but no one is around that knows how it was built in the first place.

Politicians and clergy may have self exempted themselves from this sacrifice, as they may have a better understanding of how truly futile it is, they understand the true nature of the sacrifice.

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