Cannibal! The Speech

I'm giving a speech tomorrow. Here are the requirements:

Speeches should be limited to 5-minutes. Presentations must be serious and relevant. The subject matter should either be about something you have a strong view on (policy-related) or, a bit less satisfactory but acceptable, about yourselves.

So my chosen topic is: Why cannibalism should be legalized. I've already written a bit about cannibalism back when the German case involving two adult men, Armin Meiwes (the eater) and Bernd Brandes (the food), was in the news. See: "Why don’t Cannibals eat clowns?" and "The Economics of Cannibalism."

I'm looking for additional economic arguments for legalized consensual cannibalism. My best argument so far is the one mentioned in the previous post,

Consider what might happen if we do punish acts of consensual cannibalism as murder: instead of going to the trouble of finding apparently willing participants, as Meiwes did, those who have a strong desire to slaughter and eat humans will be much more likely to kill innocent people against their will - people who no one would argue gave their consent.

I may also mention the claim that willingness to consent to be eaten is itself evidence of incompetence, making consensual cannibalism an impossibility, and why this defense of paternalism fails. Theodore Dalrymple makes the case for cannibalism (in order to show why conservative paternalism is okay by way of reductio, he thinks) and criticizes the incompetence argument:

Of course, one might argue that by eating Brandes, Meiwes was infringing on his meal’s rights, and acting against his interests. But Brandes decided that it was in his interests to be eaten, and in general we believe that the individual, not the state, is the best judge of his own interests.

Ah, you say, but Brandes was mad, and therefore not capable of judging what was in his own interests. What, though, is the evidence that he was mad? Well, the fact that he wanted Meiwes to eat him. And why did he want Meiwes to eat him? Because he was mad.

There is a circularity to this argument that robs it of force. It is highly likely that Brandes did indeed have “emotional problems,” but if every person with emotional problems were denied the right to determine what is in his own interests, none of us would be self-determining in the eyes of the law, except those of us who had no emotions to have problems with.

Zizka, in the comment thread to an Invisible Adjunct post discussing Dalrymple's article, further explains what's wrong with the incompetence argument:

If we take the incompetence gambit here, we're at risk of concluding that the victim's consent was invalid since he was incompetent, but that the cannibal was also not guilty because of his incompetence. And if cannibalism/willingness to be eaten are considered sufficient proofs of incompetence, without any other evidence, then this case has been defined out of existence. (I think of incompetence as a sort of fudge to sweep messy cases under the carpet, rather than a profound legal insight).

Also from that thread, Radagast's comment is insightful:

It does seem like there are two rather separate issues here: the ending of a life (by suicide, murder, etc.) and the consumption of a human being (cannibalism).

Regarding cannibalism, assuming that someone was either already dead or did voluntarily agree to be consumed post-death, it seems difficult to argue that cannibalism under those situations is always "wrong." One possible point, though, is that consuming human tissue does entail a much larger risk of disease transmission than consuming other species tissues. However, we clearly cannot ban all risky behavior, so I'm not sure where that leads ...

This is a good way to think about the issue. The Meiwes case involves two distinct ethical issues; by seperating them and focusing on each individually, the argument against consensual cannibalism becomes even weaker. Assisted suicide is much less controversial than consensual cannibalism, arguably because our culture respects the motive of compassion and reducing another person's suffering more than the motive of getting off in freaky ways. So we must first decide whether assisted suicide is morally acceptable before we move on to cannibalism.

But suppose we decide that assisted suicide is morally acceptable. Then all we must worry about is whether or not eating human flesh is morally acceptable. We can even answer this before we resolve the former issue, by asking whether it is morally acceptable to eat the flesh of a dead human so long as the person gave consent before he died. I'd be curious to hear reasonable arguments against this practice, apart from, "it's icky."

Another argument against legalizing cannibalism is the fear that poor people will be pressured into selling their bodies to cannibals in order to feed their starving families. This is similar to the anti-organ market arguments.

My response is that we already allow, and in fact encourage this sort of behavior. We honor and respect the brave soldier who throws herself on a live grenade to save the lives of her fellow soldiers, or the soldiers who willingly go on what they know will be suicide missions to help their country. How are either of these cases any different than the poor father who sells his body as food to save his children's lives?

Another friend suggested some other benefits of cannibalism, such as saving burial space, reducing air pollution (no need to cremate), and the nutritional value of human flesh.

Any other ideas? Suggestions welcome and appreciated.

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Off topic: do you have any

Off topic: do you have any evidence that any woman has ever thrown herself on a grenade (and if so, been honored for it)? I rather doubt it. Is this not newspeak?

That reminds me of my computer science textbooks that use exclusively feminine pronouns to refer to programmers. If only!

How 'bout eugenics? It is

How 'bout eugenics?

It is likely that the propensity to want to be eaten is strongly influenced by genes, as are many aspects of our minds. Presumably in the long run, under a legal regime those people who are genetically inclined to become meals will be selected against strongly and be weeded out of the gene pool. Whereas by repressing cannibalism we let such genes propogate in the gene pool.

Off topic: do you have any evidence that any woman has ever thrown herself on a grenade (and if so, been honored for it)? I rather doubt it. Is this not newspeak?

Do this in rememberance of

Do this in rememberance of me.

Cue remarks about the

Cue remarks about the cannibal pot of utilitarianism.

Of course, without statist intervention there would be no need for people to go to such ridiculous lengths to feed their families.

Humans are the only meat you

Humans are the only meat you can eat with the consent of the meal. In a way, that makes cannibalism MORE ethical than any other form of carnivorism.

This one?

Cannibalism is illegal?!?

Cannibalism is illegal?!?

The first and last word on

The first and last word on Cannibalism comes courtesy of Monty Python with their 'Cannibalism Sketch'.

After this, you might want

After this, you might want to tackle something truly controversial, like eating humpbacked whale or bald eagle.

Arguments like this are why

Arguments like this are why small government philosphies have been relegated to the role of freaks in some political sideshow.

Of all the issues with government intrusion on individual liberty, the banning of canibalism has to be thousands of entries down on the list.

Yet it's stupid issues like this which seem to suck up all the attention.

Yes, one troubling aspect of

Yes, one troubling aspect of cannibalism (at least, homicidal cannibalism -- it seems as if it would be perfectly possible to cannibalize a person in a non-lethal manner) is that it leaves no victim behind. This is troubling because without the victim to testify that he consented, we are missing a key chunk of evidence usually available to us in other instances, such as sexual scenarios.

That's an argument for rather stringent safeguards against cannibalism, perhaps a contract in writing -- two signatures and an initial here at least.

Hmm! Interesting argument.

Hmm! Interesting argument. The primary issue with legal cannibalism is that it requires dead humans. Would it be opening the doors to a demand for dead humans and the troublesome issues that involves? And then there is the issue of determining whether consent was involved in the first place. Sometimes it's easy to tell, sometimes rather more difficult.

I do not necessarily have a moral issue against cannibalism given proper consent, but it can lead into tangled territory. This is also why, while I can envision circumstances in which animals and even children can consent to sex, I support keeping such activities illegal primarily because of the many issues involved (such as determining whether the animal or child truly consented). Enforcement would be a true bitch and either meaninglessly weak or erring on the rigid side as it is now.

I don't think small

I don't think small government philosophies are out of the mainstream, even if the specific libertarian conception thereof is.

Nor do I think unpopular arguments are the same thing as, strictly, "stupid" arguments.

Stormy, I disagree. Let me

I disagree. Let me be the first to volunteer to manage Micha's campaign for political office on this platform. How can we lose?

Well, if that's the plan, I

Well, if that's the plan, I should put this out there, because the press is going to find out about it eventually: Micha likes yaks.

I mean, he really likes yaks.

SeaLab <3s

SeaLab <3s cannibalism:

Sparks: "I've got a book."
Debbie: "What's the book?"
Sparks: "A Modest Proposal."
Debbie: "By Whom?"
Sparks: "Johnathan Swift."
Debbie: "And what is the book about?"
((long pause))
Sparks: "Eating babies."
Debbie: "...the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Sparks: "It's like veal, only babies."
Debbie: "That's sick!"
Sparks: "I'm talking real baby back ribs."
((long pause))
Debbie: "...the foulest thing I've ever heard!"
Sparks: "RIBS!!! Dripping with sauce!!! Falling off the bone!!!"
Debbie: "You sick bastard!!"
Sparks: "Just trying to help out a single mom."

(transcript courtesy of


Actually MP did several

Actually MP did several sketches that included gags about cannibals including the 'Undertakers Sketch', 'Lifeboat Sketch' and the 'Lake Pahoe Expedition.':beatnik: