Thursday, April 5, 2012

F*&$in' Cannibals...

This will probably be a relatively short post because I have had a very busy week and I am planning a much longer, research-y post which is not quite ready yet but has been sucking up large quantities of my time.

So today I want to talk about cannibalism.

In doing research for the aforementioned post, I began reading the book “How Pleasure Works” by Paul Bloom. First of all the book is amazing. It reads like Freakonomics so I feel like a genius because I can read it quickly, but it’s also insanely interesting so I feel like an expert now that I’ve read half of it.

The book is all about why we like certain things and other things gross us out. For example, the idea of sex with an immediate family member (mother, father, brother, sister) strikes almost all humans as repulsive and morally reprehensible, regardless of culture. However, many people find eating certain animals (or animals in general) repulsive, but I eat animals all the time without thinking about it.

The book talks a lot about the idea of essentialism. Essentialism is the idea that people, places, and things have an essence: something that makes a thing unique, regardless of outer appearance. Many studies discussed in this book used the idea of “duplicates” or a “duplicating machine” to study how people (often children, as they are the ones that would trust a duplicating machine) react to objects and sometimes living things being swapped for exact duplicates.

The results of the studies are pretty conclusive. Even as young children we realize the value of an original. Even if the original is something small and stupid, like a piece of paper, it is the original. It is ours. And a duplicate is nothing better than a fake. 

For example, if one day you found out that everyone you knew had been switched out for an exact clone, you would probably panic. Even if those people looked, acted, sounded, smelled exactly like the original, it just wouldn’t be the same. There is something important about the inside of our loved ones that is crucial to them and that cannot be duplicated.

The opposite holds true as well. If somebody decides to get plastic surgery and completely change the way they look, they are still the same person. If you loved them before you probably would love them even with the physical modifications (unless it went horribly wrong, I suppose).

And this doesn’t just go for people, this goes for objects as well. An authentic Vermeer painting is worth a lot more than a really good forgery. Many parents will keep a lock of hair from their child’s first haircut. That lock of hair is worth nothing except for the intrinsic, sentimental value of it, so if someone were to swap it out it would be meaningless. The same goes for a child’s security blanket or teddy bear. Often these objects are just cheap toys, yet to the child the object is priceless.

It is this essentialism that causes many people to become vegetarians. Animals have an essence, or a soul perhaps, and so it is as terrible to eat an animal as it would be to eat a human.

But is it really all that terrible to eat a human? 

Well, in many cultures it is not. In some cultures, primarily historical, being eaten after your death is an honor. Dead elders are often eaten so that their essence gets incorporated into the essence of the eater.

You may be thinking that cannibalism like this doesn’t exist in modern society, and you would be right for the most part. But “How Pleasure Works” gives a few very interesting examples of modern day cannibalism.

The eating of the placenta after a birth is something that happens relatively often. The eating of the placenta is thought to help with postpartem depression, the idea being that the baby’s essence is getting reincorporated into the mother’s body. Another example: Keith Richards once snorted his father’s ashes. And then, of course, there is the Eucharist, in which, depending on your religion, you are either metaphorically or literally eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ.

In other words, you are what you eat.

So in some ways, wanting to eat someone is incredibly romantic (if we can get past the creepy bit). You can love someone so much that you want part of them to become part of you.

Perhaps we don’t actually want to eat our significant others, but we can imagine more traditional examples that involve less…well…death.

When women have children, part of the man they (presumably) love is living inside of them. Sex itself is in some ways a form of possession involving either penetration into another person or allowing another person inside of you, depending on your role in the act. Even kissing is a form of this consumption, as it involves an exchange of bodily fluids.

My favorite example given in the book (page 20), involves the overheard phone conversation in which Prince Charles expresses his desire to be reincarnated as his mistress’s tampon, allowing him to literally live in her vagina, soaked in her blood.

Perhaps this last one is taking it too far. I guess now would be the appropriate time to pull it back to Twilight

The idea of the vampiric lust that Edward feels towards Bella has often been thought of as creepy. And, yes, it sort of is. But it is also weirdly romantic.

For starters, Bella’s blood smells better than anyone else’s to Edward. Blood is something deep and intrinsic about a person, so in many ways, Bella's awesome-smelling blood is her essence. If Bella were to be swapped with an exact duplicate, her blood would be different and Edward would probably not love it as much.

Edward has the same romantic desire to consume Bella that many people have towards the people that they love. Maybe the majority of us don’t want to actually eat our loved ones (at least, I hope not…) but we do want to possess the qualities about them that we love. We also want to know them in a way that we never truly can:

In some ways, this desire is the same as the desire to consume someone's essence.

So maybe Edward’s desire to eat Bella isn’t all that creepy and disgusting after all. Perhaps it is no different from our non-vampire desires for intimacy.

(Note: Most of the information presented here comes from Paul Bloom’s book “How Pleasure Works.” If you want to read any more about cannibalism or just want to hear gross things that people sell on Craig’s List (seriously, read it for just that alone) you should read this book. I’ll even loan it to you.)

1 comment:

  1. Glad you liked the Bloom, and good use of a music link in your post.