It’s the end of a slow day in which I posted nothing because I was gone all day. So, rather than have a topic, it struck me that I might just ramble on about nothing in particular (a “safe” thing to do on a Sunday evening when people do not read blogs).
Well, as I thought it over, I remembered some old business. I started a post a while back about one of the pressingly delicious issues of the day: Is it OK to kill and eat someone simply because you and the victim both agree?
Cannibalism and murder by mutual consent?
As the recent German cannibal case makes its way through the courts, some have opined that there is no difference between cannibalism, homosexuality and murder, and that when one is allowed, all are implicitly condoned (on some theory of “act according to your desires”) — and hence Western Civilization is doomed.
Sasha Volokh links to this interesting challenge from Theodore Dalrymple:

The case is a reductio ad absurdum of the philosophy according to which individual desire is the only thing that counts in deciding what is permissible in society. Brandes wanted to be killed and eaten; Meiwes wanted to kill and eat. Thanks to one of the wonders of modern technology, the Internet, they both could avoid that most debilitating of all human conditions, frustrated desire. What is wrong with that? Please answer from first principles only.

A couple of blogs have already discussed the “first principles” aspect. Dalrymple, by presupposing that these principles (and only as he defines them) are controlling, would probably eliminate any argument I might offer.
So this is not intended for him to read.
But I will try to address his central premise (that homosexuality is cannibalism is murder is the end of the Western world….)
Yeah — and a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy!
Since when has absolutism become equivalency? If homosexuality is not immoral, how does that make murder not immoral? And, from where comes the idea that the only argument in favor of homosexuality is based on individual desire?
From where comes the argument that the prohibition of homosexuality is the glue that holds together all other prohibitions? That if homosexuality is tolerated, that it becomes OK to murder, rob or rape people? No one has yet been able to explain it to me. It simply defies logic, yet I hear it over and over.
If we assume for the sake of argument that homosexuality is immoral, how does that make it as immoral as murder? If it does not, then how does legalizing homosexuality render murder acceptable any more than lowering of criminal penalties would?
Might the argument depend on “sodomy” once having been considered a malum in se crime? The distinction between malum in se and malum prohibitum is often invoked to distinguish between crimes which harm others and what are known as “victimless crimes.” Consensual sex between adults being inherently without a victim, the modern view is that laws against it would be malum prohibitum only. But in the old days, “sodomy” was considered inherently malum in se. (Some would argue that it still is.)
I don’t think that settles the question, though, because a variety of things are considered immoral, yet few would seriously maintain that they should be illegal. Lying, adultery, breaking the Sabbath, even coveting are a few examples.
Certainly, there are plenty of other things generally considered to be immoral (cannibalism being one example), but does it necessarily follow from that that all who taste human flesh must be imprisoned?
From where do people get the idea that whether something is immoral (or just bad for you) must determine whether it is illegal? Plenty of things are bad or immoral, but we don’t put people in jail for them. Often left out of the abortion argument (by both sides) is the stubborn possibility that abortion might just be one of those inherently immoral things which society elects not to punish criminally. In any event, the legality of abortion is no argument for its morality, and more than the legalization of heroin (which I support) would render taking that drug a good thing to do.
Might the fundamental disagreement be over whether morality should be internal, or imposed from above? Dalrymple cites Edmund Burke with approval for the latter proposition:

“Men are qualified for freedom in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free.”

What should be the nature of the controlling power? And why can’t men of “intemperate minds” nonetheless be free?
Naturally, Dalrymple (and, doubtless, other fans of Burke) frame the cannibal-and-murder case as a reductio ad absurdum indictment of mutual consent. I don’t think it is that simple. While I can understand that consent might apply to cannibalism alone, murder is entirely different. In my view, consent cannot be allowed to a murder charge, for a very good public policy reason: the victim is dead! If a defense of consent were allowed, then almost any murderer could swear that the victim asked to be killed — and then the burden would be on the prosecution to prove a negative. John Wayne Gacy could have argued that his “victims” came to his house willingly, and asked to be tied up and strangled to death, as the best sexual high they could ever have experienced in their sordid lives as male prostitutes.
No way. It is not in society’s interest to allow a defense of consent to a murder charge. Doubtless, Mr. Dalrymple would dismiss this argument as “utilitarian” or “pragmatic” — but much of the law is precisely that. So, I have no problem with charging and convicting the German cannibal of murder.
As to cannibalism, it gets more complicated. Personally, I find cannibalism morally abhorrent, but I could envision limited situations where the government might not have any legitimate business enforcing criminal sanctions against it. Drinking placental soup under a doctor’s orders would technically constitute cannibalism, and I doubt anyone would maintain that people should be imprisoned for it.
How about a “cannibal club” which you could join, and agree to donate your body to the club — to be eaten by the other members after your natural death? This might be immoral, but how does it benefit society to make it illegal? No harm is done to anyone, save the moral calluses which might result from partaking in human flesh.
Furthermore, while I am no Biblical scholar, try as I might I am unable to come up with any condemnation of cannibalism in either the Old or New Testaments. However, some have argued that the Bible condones cannibalism. (Can anyone help me?)
I have long been puzzled by the fact that moralists — while often quick to condemn homosexuals for “harming” themselves (even though this is by no means associated with homosexuality per se) — refuse to condemn mutual combat between two males. This despite the fact that boxing causes serious injuries, brain damage and occasional death. It is not harmless.
Boxing, a recently revived sport of ancient Greece and Rome, was illegal for thirteen centuries — as well as in the United States until the early 20th Century. It is still illegal in some countries, such as Sweden. In England there is a serious movement to make it illegal.
Why no outcry from the American moralists about boxing being “a slippery moral slope”?
Beats me! (Although I guess if there ever is such an outcry, I’ll have to defend boxing as another “Classical Value”.)
What about bodily mutilation (now called “body modification”)? Increasingly, people enjoy doing things like punching large holes through various bodily parts, even through cartilage, and amputation is not unheard of. This sounds decadent to most of us, although circumcision is still quite common.
There is an interesting libertarian-type discussion of body modification here, and at this site, there is extensive discussion of the arrest of a well-known body mod artist on charges of violating new laws against female circumcision. Here is a site dedicated to eradicating the practice, while here, incredibly, is a web site for eunuchs!
(I should warn you that some of those web sites contain some pretty gruesome, pretty disgusting stuff.)
I haven’t heard of any movement to prohibit cutting of body parts or castration, and the prohibition on female genital mutilation appears to be directed against parents who do that to their girls. Male circumcision remains legal, and as to laws pertaining to castration, I think all the authorities have are laws against practicing medicine without a license. Last April, a Detroit man was sentenced to four years in prison for performing unlicensed castrations on his kitchen table.
Here’s one site offering castration services for parents.
Hey folks, even some of the Romans worried about cutting off parts of the sexual anatomy. Hadrian’s attempts to prohibit castration (interpreted by authorities to prohibit Jewish circumcision) started a war over this stuff — echoes of which resonate to this day.
And what about circumcision? While mechanically similar to modern “body modification”, it was originally intended to uphold the same Biblical morality that Dalrymple wants to uphold. Dalrymple even condemns tattooing (and would probably prohibit body modification), yet I can find no condemnation by him of male circumcision.
In view of the decline in circumcision rates coupled with the apparent decline in standards of sexual “morality”, couldn’t Dalrymple and others argue that there is a statistical correlation between the decline in male circumcision and the decline of public morality?
Did people in the old days know something?
Let’s see….
How would the argument go?

1. Masturbation causes homosexuality.
2. Masturbation can be prevented through circumcision.
3. As circumcision decreased, homosexuality and immorality increased!

Right?
Wrong, actually.
It may sound counterintuitive, but according to this study, circumcision was associated with a higher incidence of masturbation, a higher incidence of oral sex, and even a higher incidence of homosexuality! (Of course, these statistical associations can be seen as running afoul of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. One would have to isolate other factors, such as income, race, culture, etc.)
Obviously, analyzing this stuff could also get very Freudian. (Freud believed that circumcision was “the symbolic substitute of castration” — and a feminizing influence on a boy.) Bear in mind that it was Freud (not Kinsey) who said,

The only unnatural sexual behavior is none at all.

I haven’t finished digesting my Sunday night indigestibles, but I can’t wait to read Freud’s last book, Moses and Monotheism — which touches on circumcision, and much more. Written at the end of his life, when the Nazis were closing in on him in Vienna, he grapples with Jewish history. A very controversial book, it has been interpreted as saying things like this:

The catastrophe which befell on the feminine object of lust reinforced at the collective level the homosexual libido of the Jewish people, as a child who loses his mother redirects his libido towards the father.
Jewish monotheism may be interpreted, at this level, as the strengthening of homosexual libido after the loss of the heterosexual object.

Monotheism strengthens the homosexual libido? How widely known is this? (And what are the implications for this blog?)
And what about the relationship between magic and “cruel military cultures”?:

What Freud admires most about the effect of the Mosaic faith upon Jews is how it ?formed their character for good through the disdaining of magic and mysticism by encouraging them to progress in spirituality and sublimations.? [ii] Why? It ?signified subordinating sense perception to an abstract idea; it was a triumph of spirituality over the senses; more precisely an instinctual renunciation accompanied by its psychologically necessary consequences.? [iii] The ?athletic virtues,? Freud says, are associated historically with cruel, military cultures. I agree that intellectual regulation of socially developed instincts forms one dimension of ethics. But Freud?s syncretic urge hesitates just when it might have drawn more sustenance from practices endorsed by generous, nonmilitary, nontheistic pagans such as Epicurus and Lucretius. Freud?s depreciation of paganism may have encouraged him, first, to invest too much therapeutic efficacy in the talking cure (even though lying on the couch is a corporeal tactic), second, to draw the line of distinction between therapy and ethico-political life at the wrong place, and, third, to depreciate the profound significance of multimedia arts to political and ethical life.

Yeah, I can see why such a book might have engendered controversy. Freud was a contrarian to the end — and a good one. I have no idea whether I’ll agree with him, but I am looking forward to the book.
As usual, I have settled nothing, raised more questions than I’ve answered, and reviewed a book I haven’t even read.
(But nobody reads these Sunday evening posts….)
ADDITIONAL TIDBITS: Andrew Ian Dodge seems about as impressed with Dalrymple’s arguments as I am.
And, speaking of cannibalism, here’s the learned Noam Chomsky — chomping on the corpse of Michel Foucault:

Foucault is an interesting case because I’m sure he honestly wants to undermine power but I think with his writings he reinforced it. The only way to understand Foucault is if you are a graduate student or you are attending a university and have been trained in this particular style of discourse. That’s a way of guaranteeing, it might not be his purpose, but that’s a way of guaranteeing that intellectuals will have power, prestige and influence. If something can be said simply say it simply, so that the carpenter next door can understand you. Anything that is at all well understood about human affairs is pretty simple. I find Foucault really interesting but I remain skeptical of his mode of expression. I find that I have to decode him, and after I have decoded him maybe I’m missing something. I don’t get the significance of what I am left with. I have never effectively understood what he was talking about. I mean, when I try to take the big words he uses and put them into words that I can understand and use, it is difficult for me to accomplish this task It all strikes me as overly convoluted and very abstract. But -what happens when you try to skip down to real cases? The trouble with Foucault and with this certain kind of theory arises when it tries to come down to earth. Really, nobody was able to explain to me the importance of his work…

Deconstructing the leading deconstructionist?
Now that’s cannibalism!
UPDATE: The above post was linked by Southern Musings in this week’s Bonfire of the Vanities. Go read them all!