Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cannibalism. How wrong?

OK, for those of you who don't want to think about cannibalism, don't read this post. Seriously. Stop now. For those of you who like thinking about random things, culture, ethics, society, etc. read on, you may find this interesting...

What I'm wondering is why cannibalism is so wrong. If someone dies suddenly of natural causes (e.g. broken neck) should it be wrong to eat them? Presume the dead person is definitely healthy to eat. Note: these are only my own (crazy) views / ideas. I could be wrong.

On a desert island you may have no other food sources. I bet most people would resort to cannibalism if they had to. If you think you would resort to it, do you think it's actually wrong to resort to it? If it's not wrong to resort to it, what would have to change to make it wrong?

From a non-social viewpoint (e.g. if you were a recluse cannibal and no one knew), most people would probably not eat another person due to the fact that the dead body represents the past life of the person who's body it was. If you believe people just die when they die (no afterlife) then there should logically be no connection between a dead body and a persons life.

If you believe in an afterlife it could get complicated. Christians believe a dead body does not contain a soul or a spirit, so they should have no problem eating them on that basis (although they would have other reasons, see below). As far as I'm aware, Muslims and Jews believe the same (please correct me if I'm wrong, I'd like to know).

People who believe in reincarnation, ghosts, contacting dead people, etc. would probably attach more value to the dead body. I don't really know though. Anyone care to comment?

Christians, Jews and I expect Muslims believe that God (or Allah) provided people with food such as plants and animals to eat, not other humans. In that case, it would be a sin (wrong) to go against what God wanted for us. Though, is it a sin to eat a dead body if you're starving on a desert island? Would you be tempted to sin, or would it be the right thing to do? Would God want you to die when you could easily live?

What about the millions of starving people in places like Africa? It isn't very ethical to waste chicken, port or beef meat when there are people who haven't had a meal in over a day. Is it ethical to waste human meat?

I guess this all sounds controversial, disgusting, distasteful, and so on. Sorry about that. Our culture has taught us that it is wrong to eat dead people. Why has it taught us that? Our society used to be mainly Christian in the UK, that cold be affecting today's culture. Or maybe cannibalism isn't evolutionally very efficient. Maybe it's because eating creatures which have naturally died can give us diseases. Maybe it's because people associate eating food with killing it.

I'm not condoning cannibalism. I think it is wrong as God did not tell us to eat other humans. I know it's socially wrong: eating people from car accident scenes is sick. I know medically it's probably a bad idea. Though I'd like to know why non-Christians think it's ethically wrong to eat someone.

Anyone like to fill me in? Argue? Correct me? Back me up? I'd really like to know what people think.

Update: Tom's commented nicely. To summarize (not very well, sorry Tom):
Cannibalism is bad because of the same reason stealing and murder are wrong. It affects families / friends. People want to know where their deceased loved ones are. People want to visit where their corpse is to pay respects.
Last-resort cannibalism is like donating organs as its saving someones life. People could say there's nothing wrong with necrophilia if casual cannibalism is alright.
You don't need a God to tell you not to do something to make it wrong, people always know murder and stealing is wrong and the such things, its built into most people's morals.

My reply: If cannibalism is bad as it affects families / friends then it should logically be OK to eat someone with no family / friends. Maybe? On a different note, why do we as living people like to know about dead people? Why does it help with grieving? I don't really know psychology stuff.

Good point about cannibalism being like donating organs. I never thought of that. Necrophilia is a whole other (grim) topic, but to summarize I think sex is best when 2 people are in love (e.g. married). I think necrophilia is wrong for the living person, though I don't (personally, at least yet) respect dead bodies. For example, I would have no problem with my body being chucked away or used for ammunition testing if I was dead.

Where did we get morals from? If we murdered then our friends would not like us and we would be at a higher risk of getting murdered ourselves. The same with stealing. It's bad for society, so society affects our morals. Do we get our morals from anywhere else? Cannibalism is only bad for society as it is bad for society. If it were socially acceptable to murder, steal and cannibalize then people would stop killing, for fear of death; they would stop stealing, for fear of burglary. What reason would they have to stop cannibalizing?

Becky has also commented about vampirism, (most probably as it's that day of the year when little kids come round, knocking on your door and you wish you had one of these). Vampires generally only take blood from living victims. This is basically murder. If the person is dead already and someone just wanted to drink their blood (some people are actually into that kind of thing) then that's a different matter.

What about if a living person has a limb amputated then donates it to you for food? That would be a weird thing to do but I don't see anything morally wrong with it. What if that same person said when they were dead they would be OK with someone eating them? That is it morally right? What if on average the general population didn't mind their dead body being eaten? In the same way that most people are OK with donating organs. Then would it be morally wrong?

All very interesting hypothetical situations. Though remember readers: eating people is wrong (at least for now).


Tommeh said...

The same reason why we think that stealing or murder are wrong, and not just because we've grown up in a social situation when it is unacceptable. When you eat someone its not just, "oh they're dead, they don't care", what about their families, and friends, I'm sure they wouldn't care for the fact you're eating their son/wife/friend. You can see this as the way people always want their loved ones remains back, for instance the latest cuffle at Ground Zero where they've found more human remains. Humans want to know where their loved ones have died, most people, even if they believe the person's spirit has moved on still want to visit where their corpse is to pay respects.

Then again if its either you die or not I dunno, because then it could be compared to donating organs as its saving someones life and perhaps you could go on and cure cancer or something. But casual cannibalism, I'm not sure about that. Where would you draw the line, people could then say there's nothing wrong with necrophilia if cannibalism is alright.

I also don't think you need a God to tell you not to do something to make it wrong, people always know murder and stealing is wrong and the such things, its built into most people's morals.

*wins competition for longest comment* Disclaimer: I know nothing.

Tommeh said...

whoops forgot to say in first paragraph that in stealing and murder you're hurting people, and u might be with cannibalism as well.

becky said...

do you reckon there's anything wrong with vampirism? that's a bit like cannibalism...

becky x

Tommeh said...

I've reread this post, once more in my insomniatic state, and I think I'm inclined to agree with you Dave. Your point about someone having a limb lopped off and then letting people eat it is interesting. Would it be less wrong if they ate it themselves?

What about that guy that wanted/let some dude kill him and eat him? As that crosses a different boundary (obviously killing) but he gave consent in the same way the amputee dude gave his/her. In the same way what if someone gave consent to be necrophilised when dead. I dunno, I guess there has to be a line drawn at some point, how/when and by whom I dunno. I'm gonna stick to cow though.

Anonymous said...

What about eating placenta's? That is a relatively commonly done and socially acceptable thing, if a little cringe worthy. A more common example but similar to the amputee example. I'm still none the wiser as to what is wrong with eating human flesh, although having said that i am not convinced i would try it!

Tuesday's Child said...

The reason eating humans is wrong is one you alluded to - evolutionary health issues. Eating your own species (animals don't know the difference between sudden death, toxins and diseases and neither did humans until recently) so animals tend to avoid eating their own kind.

Our morals come from various places ( but I don't think this is a moral issue. It is a disgust issue. The reactions people have to this are similar to the reactions if you tell them the food they have just finished has fecal matter in it. That is not moral outrage, it is disgust. We are disgusted by things because that gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage by avoiding doing those things, like incest.

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Anonymous said...

in my mind it isn't wrong. i see morality as nothing. nothing is moral, nor is it immoral, morality is immaterial. This is distinct from immorality because i don’t acknowledge the existance of objective morality, whereas somebody who follows immorality recognises them but chooses not to comply with them.

for those who do believe in morality, think about this:
Armin Meiwes (born 1961 in Germany) is a cannibalistic internet user who became known the “Rotenburg Cannibal”. Meiwes posted an advertisement on the internet, looking for a willing victim to be killed and eaten. Bernd Jurgen Armando Brandes replied to his posting, and they arranged to meet up, Meiwes proceeded to kill and eat Brandes.
just about everyone would view this as immoral.
cows are bred with the purpose of killing them for the consumption of humans, cows are not willing, especially when their sole purpose for being alive is to be killed and eaten.
now which one is moral? according to morality, the cannibal would be the worse of the two. i mean the people who kill cows haven’t been prosecuted and imprisoned. but why is it worse to kill and consume a willing human (who still is made of flesh, just like a cow) than it is to kill and consume a cow who is not willing and is only alive for this purpose?

March Hare said...

What is more immoral, the taking of food, and land which could grow food, to allow the cultivation of animals for human consumption at the expense of said land and food for the poor AND the wastage of human flesh after their death; OR the use of safe human flesh as meat for a meat-hungry rich world with a subsequent reduction in grain and arable land usage for meat animals?

Basically what I am saying is that eating human flesh would enable the stable human population to rise above 10 billion which is unthinkable at the moment unless we switch to being vegetarian. Although I do have, in the back of my mind, an argument that we should all be veggies...