On cannibalism


Do you ever wonder what the little pieces of goldfish crackers are doing at the bottom of the bag? The spare head, the extra tails? They are not misplaced parts of goldfish left over from manufacturing; rather, they are actually goldfish that have been eaten by their fellow goldfish friends while in the bag.

I’m kidding, of course, but cannibalism has actually taken the front page in the news this week. Not in terms of goldfish crackers eating one another, but something much more serious and frightening: evidence has recently surfaced proving that several 17th century Jamestown colonists were actually cannibals. The starving settlers resorted to eating a dead child during a winter when there was no food.

When people read articles and watch the news about rape or murder cases, they become upset. But when people hear about cannibalism, they are horrified and repulsed and, to a certain extent, completely terrified. There is a different fear factor involving cannibalism that no other crime or action has.

We grow up in a culture that views cannibalism as disgustingly wrong from moral and ethical standpoints. When a few people revert to cannibalism, when they resolve to do the unthinkable for whatever reason, they lose a piece of their humanity.

But at what moment do people decide to cross the barrier and willingly do the thing that disgusts/horrifies/repulses them?

Survival obviously plays a role in that decision. In 1972, an airplane carrying the Uruguayan Rugby team and the players’ friends and family crashed in the Andes mountains. Of the 45 people on the plane, the 16 who survived the crash and the following avalanche resorted to cannibalism. They were rescued over 2 months later. Had they not eaten the dead passengers, they would not have survived.

In an article on Slate, author David Plotz argues that there is nothing wrong with cannibalism when people are starving from lack of food. “I have never understood the horror and shock about starvation cannibalism…In a dire food shortage, one of the very first things you should do is eat the corpses of the dead.”

I’m not arguing for or against starvation cannibalism, but I see Plotz’ point. It’s a matter of desperation and survival, and some are willing to do whatever it takes to live.

It says something about the will of the human race to survive if we are willing to turn to cannibalism in times of absolute desperation. The human race’s will to live is greater than their high moral standards. Our race is resilient and strong, and the means we take to live are evident in situations like the airplane crash in the Andes and winters in Jamestown. Unless we have been in a situation exactly like their, we have absolutely no place to judge.



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