The Ultimate Taboo Essay

Submitted By Janie-Ervine
Words: 694
Pages: 3

The Ultimate Taboo: ‘Survival Cannibalism’
Reflective Assignment—Grade 12 Law Course

Cannibalism is often regarded as one of the most deeply repugnant acts to be committed in a civilized society--one that is fraught with obsessive fears and fascination. However in such extreme circumstances as that of R v. Dudley and Stephens (1884), State v. Holmes (1841), or the case of the Donner Party (1846-47); these extremist of situations had about them a kind of normality found only in our innate human nature and the instinct to essentially survive. Such taboo subjects often become the subject of jokes, and comically macabre poetry responded to by well-known writers, including Bryon, W.S. Gilbert and W. Thackeray. This is a nervous humour that unfolds in our society when faced with the unspeakable ways that we as ‘civilized human beings’ assimilate these great horrors into our culture. To look extensively at one case in particular, it must first be addressed that among the scientific and anthological community, anthropologists have divided anthropophagy (cannibalism) into two broad categories. The first is ‘learned cannibalism’ also referred to as customary anthropophagy and the second, is classified as ‘survival cannibalism’ as found in the multiple cases that have been listed above. Anthropologists agree ‘survival cannibalism’ is innate and cannot be learned, perhaps in that regard, it is more easily forgiven in the minds of civilized societies and Westerners. It is under terrible circumstances that perhaps murder for self preservation or survival can be excused as a basic act of instinct and that prior to turning to human flesh for sustenance: dogs, candles, leather, shoes, and blankets are all consumed before cannibalism becomes the ‘only recourse’ for human survival. The concept of justifiable homicide in criminal law ‘stands on the dividing line between an excuse, justification and exculpation’. It differs from other forms of homicide in that, due to certain circumstances, the homicide is justified as ‘preventing greater harm to innocents’ (Martin, 1980).
In the case of R v. Dudley and Stephen, State v. Holmes, and the case of the Donner Party; there is only (one) viable recourse for survival and that is to either ‘kill or be killed’ or die from dehydration and starvation. As Professor Sandel addressed in his lecture, there is common question that always comes into play when exploring the philosophical, moral and ethical boundaries of extenuating circumstances: why should the lives of the few be saved over the lives of the many? Why save one, when you can save five? Either way, you are making a conscious decision—a decision that is premised on either the utilitarian prospective (a measure) or an act of moral consequentialism. The story of the Mignonette was an exception. For one thing, the ritual was not observed,…