Monday, June 9, 2008
To a certain extent, this is just a topic of intellectual exercise, and I realize that. But super commenter Shai Halud suggested the subject, and I do find it worth exploring—is there anything morally wrong with cannibalism. Most arguments against the practice rely upon murder, but what if the person being cannibalized is willing? Is it still wrong?
Here's why I say this is largely intellectual. I really don't think most people will ever lose their basic disgust of eating another person. It's just too ingrained. Even if we can talk through the moral problems, talk through the health concerns, I don't think we can lose the basic, primitive-brain ick factor. But let's talk about it.
According to Wikipedia (with no citation though) there is little evidence that cannibalism was ever practiced as a means for regular nourishment. In other words, it has always been ceremonial—used as part of a human sacrifice, used to further conquer captives after battle, etc. On top of that, there is little strong evidence that really tells us to what extend the groups we traditionally think of as cannibalistic actually were (like the Aztecs, ancient tribes on Fiji, etc.). To some extent, tales of cannibalism were exaggerated by explorers looking to benefit from descriptions of one group or another's savagery—making it easier to justify enslaving the group because they were so barbaric, something like that. Although, there is irrefutable evidence that many, many people have resorted to cannibalism during times of famine and disaster.
What about using deceased people as meat, for nourishment. Let's assume with their consent. I can't find evidence of any society that has ever done this. Does anyone know of any groups who have?
There is of course the German man who advertised for a "well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed." But that seems like more of a kink than an attempt at nutrition. And if you read the description of what happened during this event (follow the link, not for the feint of heart) it's hard not to think of it as two men participating in the murder/suicide of one man. But maybe others disagree with me.
Oh, and the image is Goya's painting of "Saturn Devouring his Son." One of my favorite haunting images by one of my favorite artists of all time. Interesting detail, this work was painted directly onto the wall of Goya's dining room. Bon Appetit :)