Cannibal Culture

Imagine living in a culture where if you and your spouse died then the community would decide to murder and eat your orphaned child.  That actually happened in New Guinea to Wawa, a six year old boy, who had to flee for his life with his uncle, as reported by Paul Raffaele’s Smithsonian article “Sleeping with Cannibals”.

The setting of these events is the present day in a Stone Age era frontier beyond the effective control of Indonesian law.  From the article, let us review some of the facts related to life without government and objective law:

  • People rarely live to middle age;
  • Dehumanization of individuals of a different race (laleo);
  • Extortion of travelers (riverside robbery);
  • Killing outsiders who travel into their territory;
  • Frequent clan warfare;
  • Murdering of individuals accused of being a witch (khakhua);
  • Kilikili, a collector of human skulls and murderer of at least 30 individuals, is an esteemed member of the community; and
  • The trails to villages are strewn with murder victims’ bones as a warning to others.

When anarchists and too many Libertarians praise a lack of government and law, they forecast a utopian fantasy that never has been; meanwhile, these facts from the domain of the Korowai are the truth behind those anti-government ideas [for additional similar cases with actual facts, see: John Rapley, “The New Middle Ages”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2006, p. 95-103].

As Raffaele reports, in areas influenced by the Indonesian government’s punishment for killing witches, the practice is in decline.  This is not unique to Indonesia, as the Liberian and the Burkina Faso governments have had a similar problem on their frontiers with the murder of accused witches [see Law Library of Congress’ Global Legal Monitor].

Not wanting to allow the brutality of these murders to be shirked, let me briefly summarize one particular case.  Bailom’s dying cousin told him that Bunop was a witch who was eating the cousin’s insides and replacing them with ash.  After the cousin died, Bailom and his brother Kilikili captured Bunop and tied him up.  Then, they shot arrows at the defenseless Bunop, while he cried for mercy and protested that he was not a witch.  Finally, they chopped up Bunop’s corpse, cooked it as if he had been a pig, and ate him.  This story was told to Raffaele after he had held Bunop’s naked skull.  Only a multiculturalist would attempt to excuse such murder as a type of “justice”.

While it may be easy to ignorantly see abuses by government today with a nihilist eye, the above facts should demonstrate that without the protection of objective law that a man’s life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  However, we need not make the opposite error of embracing the Leviathan state.

Navigating these brutal extremes is not a matter of balancing conflicting trends toward individual liberty and collective security to find a happy medium.  Instead, it is essential to hold government and its actions in the correct context; does government subordinate retaliatory force to objective law in order to protect individual rights?

In that context, reconsider the trial of Bunop.  Under a legal charge of murder, the facts of his alleged witchcraft would need to be proved instead of simply asserted.  This issue would be decided within a judicial forum with established procedures and rules of evidence, instead of being settled by the dead man’s hungry cousins.

Government and objective law are essential to our pursuit of a flourishing life.  Focusing political discussions upon their role in protecting individual rights is the path to eliminating collectivist excesses and extending the effectiveness of government’s legitimate functions.

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9 Responses to Cannibal Culture

  1. Ben Grabow says:

    If the Korowai organized themselves into a state, their superstitious cannibalism would simply be codified into law. A state would not magically lead the Korowai to have respect for human life and to abandon their superstitions of witchcraft. Instead of laws against murder, they would implement laws against witchcraft and the justice of the situation would remain largely unchanged. Indeed, if a state were organized, it would be easier for the superstitious witch hunters to suppress the voices of the suspected witches, further perpetuating the barbaric violence.

    What matters are the cultural norms for moral behavior regarding murder, cannibalism, and scientific standards of evidence, NOT the existence or non-existence of a state.

  2. Buster says:

    “…the community would decide…” Sounds like a government to me.

  3. Barboo of Oz says:

    Yes, it seems to me that Ben is essentially saying what the author of the original post was saying. Note in the original that the key paragraph in regard to a proper government is this: “Navigating these brutal extremes is not a matter of balancing conflicting trends toward individual liberty and collective security to find a happy medium. Instead, it is essential to hold government and its actions in the correct context; does government subordinate retaliatory force to objective law in order to protect individual rights?”

    “Objective law” is law based not on superstition, magic, whim, or fiat but on facts that can be shown by rational standards of evidence to be sound. And the proper purpose of such objective law is to protect “individual rights”, which is a term that means the right of each individual to be free from the initiation of physical force against his or her person and property, and free from the use of fraud to obtain cooperation or property that would not otherwise be forthcoming.

    “Objective law” and “individual rights” are not what a state based on superstitions would enact. Superstitious, mystical culture has not yet grasped the concepts necessary for a legitimate government. As Ben said, such a state would simply codify the barbarity of superstition into a system of laws.

    Regarding Ben’s comments, I’m not sure how “it would be easier for the superstitious witch hunters to suppress the voices of the suspected witches, further perpetuating the barbaric violence” once a state would be formed on the tribal superstitions. I do not see how it could be any easier than it is at present for the Korowai witch hunters to do their duty to the tribe than it is now.

    I highly recommend reading the Smithsonian article referred to in the original post. It becomes very clear that the superstitious beliefs themselves make it impossible for anyone to voice an objection, should an objection even occur to one of them. Among a people who believe that disease is caused by witches and that the dying know who is guilty of his murder, anyone voicing a doubt would be suspect. A possible danger to the rest of the tribe. Who but a khakhua would try to make others believe the dying can be wrong?

    I think any doubter would know better than to express himself. So the trap is likely to continue until outside influences bring change. No state is required to enforce this, and there is no escape for the innocent accused. Witchhunters such as Kilikili (appropriate name) will always hold the most esteemed position in this tribe, and will do their duty according to the superstitious conviction that not to do so endangers everyone. No more sophisticated or powerful state is necessary to totally hold down the evolution of a reality-based justice system.

  4. I’m running into more and more anarchists on the internet. It seems to be a growing phenomenon. I wish somebody would make a besite or right a book dealing with specific arguments that they level against government.

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