Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One Man's Meat

As the world population balloons blithely towards seven billion people, one of us is missing and presumed eaten. A German tourist (by now a redundant expression like 'round circle') has disappeared in the bush of Nuku Hiva, a large island in the South Pacific archipelagoes. The chap was reported lost by his female traveling companion, taken off on a goat hunt by a resident guide who returned without him, attempted to lure the lady into the brush on a search for her "injured" mate, and then attempted to molest her credulity further by tying her to a tree and making some suggestions which did not invite a broad interpretation.

 The Preprandial Tourist

Searchers have found recently charred human remains, including teeth, bones, jaw and skull fragments and what appear to be melted dental fillings scattered around an extinguished fire. Both local authorities and French police are searching for local tribal people, many of whom had noticeably left before the dessert course. According to one "newsiness" source, "The tribe suspected of killing and eating Mr Ramin had claimed they gave up cannibalism years ago. Local authorities are investigating but it remains unclear if any tribesmen have been held, or even found."

It would naturally be unconvincing to merely deny having enjoyed Mr. Ramin at all (as if they might have stood accused of a mere dietary lapse or a hankering for a seasonal specialty). No, the times demand that the practice itself be soundly repudiated. The current age also demands that French and Nuku Hivan authorities, wherever their personal proclivities may tend, concertedly launch a furious and outraged search for the absconded dinner party.

"Not me, Doc - can't stand tourists."

In this age of "individual rights" it is natural to suppose that we all have the right to travel freely and unmolested wherever the wind or democratic fancy might take us. In our saner moments, we (especially Americans) understand that this isn't the case. But it's easy to think that Siemens and ExxonMobil and Mitsubishi and Tata and Suzlon and Nissan have not only tamed the globe but that they own it and obligingly invite us to burn their gasoline in their automobiles and airplanes to enjoy the usufructs of their civilizing global omnipresence.

Without diminishing the gravity of murdering - or, more charitably, eating - an innocent traveler, the world is not yet like that. It seems to make a difference that the German was probably eaten, but why should it, really? Had this happened in, say, the United States (saving Texas, Utah or Nevada), it would be a clear case of psychotic aberration. But we Amero-European naifs can still stray beyond the pale of "civilized" humanity into old and "unaccustomed" customs, into places of the globe where (unbeknownst to us) we had no business being in the first place - places like Afghanistan where, though we may not be eaten outright, we might be converted to a godless Islam or shot on sight. We know better than to walk through the Hindu Kush these days, but how much else do we know? Dead is dead, whatever the state of the corpus delicti. Other cultures, not so distant from our own, already know this vaguely.

(They can't remember how Captain Cook tasted)

The "global" economy is one of our fondest myths. Even to call the act a murder is to presume that our own "developed" moral code has suffused the globe and made it a finer thing than it was at the creation. Had the poor sod not (by all appearances) been a group barbecue it would have been just the murder or disappearance of a luckless traveller, the usual Muslim terrorist cells would have been under heightened suspicion for a week, a foreign minister would have expressed condolences, and that would have been the end of the affair.

But, presuming he's been eaten, the moral abhorrence is palpable. Whatever for? Most of what human beings have done over the last, say, six or seven or eleven millennia was never dictated by some theory of "free market forces" nor by some Judaeo-Christian proscriptions about what's fit to eat, nor (mirabile dictu) by any "global" economic considerations such as fostering a "robust tourism industry" or "encouraging World Bank participation through the good faith removal of economic barriers." But it's still the case that large cultural tracts on the globe owe Western capitalism no moral debt whatsoever. Quite the contrary.

An ancient culture still rules in many places, mainly because culture is an evolutionary mechanism that still bonds us. Talk about "economic barriers to development." Maybe we still need some faint gasps of cultural individuality (maybe not cannibalism, but . . . ). It once fused us into survival groups (however murderous we were). Granted that survival is, for roughly two-thirds of the globe's population (so far), not an immediate issue; granted that lots of those old cultural adaptations may be a bit outdated or irrelevant to modern survival.

Nonetheless, custom dies hard. Adaptive behavior is not abandoned merely because it is no longer necessary - if that were the case, who in the hell would willingly eat a turkey at Thanksgiving?

(Which ones just smoked some weed before dinner?)

No, much of what humans do and persist in doing beggars the economist, the global market theorist, the theologian, the aid worker and the missionary. Take them all in all, human beings are a tough lot. Too bad more of us aren't a hard sell.

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