Do human norms matter?

Why we should respect our human norms

A story emerged in December 2003, about a cannibal internet network. Its members discussed eating each other!

In March 2001 Armin Meiwes, a 42-year-old computer technician advertised on the internet for a ‘young well-built man, who wanted (was prepared) to be slaughtered and then consumed (eaten)’.

A 43-year-old Bernd-Jurgen Brandes replied the advert and thereafter voluntarily went to Meiwes’ home inRothenburg,Germany, where he consented to be eaten.

On the evening of March 9, the two men went to the bedroom in Meiwes’ house. Brandes swallowed 20 sleeping tablets and half a bottle of schnapps. Meiwes then set up a video system to record the events that unfolded thereafter.

Meiwes first cut off Brandes’ penis (with Brandes’ agreement), and fried it for both of them to eat. The video actually showed both men eating the fried penis.

In the early hours of the morning, Brandes (by this stage bleeding heavily) then took a bath. Meiwes then kissed Brandes before stabbing him through the neck, chopping his body into pieces with a large kitchen knife, deep-freezing parts of it and burying the excess flesh including the skull in his garden.

Over the next weeks, Meiwes defrosted and cooked parts of Brandes in olive oil and garlic. He consumed around 20kg of Brandes’ flesh which he claimed tasted like pork, before police caught him.

After killing Brandes, Meiwes met five other men who also responded to his advert. However, he didn’t kill them probably because his freezer was ‘still well stocked’.

In Stuttgart, Germany, Demetrious Saupolos and his wife Traute, a former beauty queen desperately wanted a child. But Demetrious was sterile.

Demetrious calmed his wife’s protests by hiring Frank Maus, to impregnate her at a cost of $2,500. The ‘terms of agreement’ included a ‘work’ schedule covering three evenings a week over a period of six months.

There couldn’t have been a better candidate than Frank, who doubled as a neighbour and friend, and who was married and blessed with two healthy children. As a bonus, Frank’s physical bodily characteristics resembled Demetrious’.

When Frank’s own wife objected, he pleaded with her to ‘try and understand’! It is stated that he told his wife that, ‘I don’t like this any more than you, but I am doing it for the money’.

Unfortunately, Frank’s 72+ ‘inseminations’ failed to yield any fruits. When Traute failed to get pregnant, Demetrious insisted that Frank takes a fertility test. To (almost) everyone’s shock (including Frank himself), the medical test revealed that Frank was actually also sterile!

Demetrious sued Frank for breach of contract. In his defence, Frank argued that, ‘he didn’t guarantee conception but only that he would give an honest effort’ – and that in fact he hard tried as ‘hard’ as it was humanly possible during those six months!

These two contrasting real life stories represent a small ‘iceberg’ in an ocean. The first amounts to a criminal act, but one which is difficult to prosecute because of the overwhelming physical evidence that two adults consented to the act.

The second falls under the category of ‘personal’ social issues where the most immediate response from those involved (particularly if they live in the West) could be, ‘this is none of your business’.

Be it criminal or indeed ‘none of our business’ doesn’t (shouldn’t) stop us from making our own judgement using our standard yard stick, ‘the human behavioural norms (normal behaviour)’.

The human race has long established institutionalised norms – religious, cultural, racial, national governments, etc – overlapping in some instances, but conflicting in others.

Some of our human norms have evolved over time. Some are flexible – they may vary according to age, sex, religion or even race/culture. There is no definitive line distinguishing normal behaviour from abnormal behaviour. We instead have an acceptable tolerance margin of (ab)normal behaviour, thereby introducing an element of subjective judgement into what constitutes (ab)normal behaviour.

Meiwes and Brandes are in my vernacular ‘very sick/mad people’ – which automatically places them in the obvious zone. However, what amazes me is the fact that often once such an act is exposed, neighbours, friends and relations come-up and make statements reflecting their shock because as far as they were concerned, the culprit behaved like a ‘normal’ person, etc, prior to that incident.

I beg to differ. The first instinctive action in the conscious or indeed sub-conscious minds of the culprit’s neighbours, friends and relations is to reflect back in time. Upon doing that, they more than likely identify particular incidents where they recollect the culprit acting ‘abnormally’. They then realise that they wrongly gave the culprit the benefit of doubt, which with hindsight they shouldn’t have. They plead ‘guilty’ to themselves for committing that ‘crime’, and sentence themselves to ‘absolute secrecy’ – locking-up that information and keeping it as a personal secret to ‘from ash we came….’.

In fact, it was later established that Brandes had a psychotic syndrome, which more than likely some of his neighbours and/or friends and/or relations knew about. Likewise, some of Meiwes neighbours and/or friends and/or relations more than likely recollected some of his abnormal behaviour, which they have now permanently locked to themselves.

Demetrious, Traute, Frank and Frank’s wife – much as many libertarians will most certainly initially disagree with me, I am of the view that all the four crossed the boundaries of our human norms.

At times, you are able to make better informed judgment when you turn yourself into an action character. For the men (women), imagine you are Demetrious (Frank’s wife). You are neither involved in polygamy (polyandry) nor promiscuity (prostitution). In what state of mind (normal/abnormal) would you be during those 72+ inseminations? Wouldn’t you have to enter an abnormal zone to be able to contain your emotions?

Truate – In what state of mind would you be during those 72+ inseminations if you were Truate? Only women are better placed to answer this question.

Frank – let us first examine certain facts. Pregnancy in this particular case would result from ejaculation, which in turn would result from an errection, which in turn could happen only if Frank had a sexual desire (natural and/or drug induced) for Traute.

There is a high likelihood that Frank achieved his errection naturally, and probably always looked forward to his ‘work’ – after all Traute was a former beauty queen!

Frank isn’t alone. Many men would volunteer to do Frank’s ‘job’ without pay; many more would volunteer to do it for a fee – moreover without giving any thought to our human norms!

Only Frank’s wife acted normally by objecting, but only initially. Her eventual acceptance is abnormal, and happened for a reason – she was guilty with her locked-up secret. She is the only one who knew that Frank wasn’t her children’s biological father. Had Frank been the biological father, the story could have taken only one of the two options – a divorce or no ‘work’ for Frank, and no ‘work’ winning.

Put another way, it is testimony that Frank’s wife’s initial secret abnormal behaviour made her lose the powers to exercise her rights, thereby inducing another abnormal behaviour. It also affected her ability to think logically. With her wealth of information, she knew that Frank wouldn’t deliver the contract. Had she stood her ground, her personal secret wouldn’t have been exposed!

If you notice your friend/relative’s behaviour/actions crossing what in your view is the boundary of our human norms, don’t give them the benefit of doubt. ‘None of your business’ shouldn’t be sufficient reason to stop you from intervening. Tackle the problem immediately by directly questioning/challenging them. Engage in a constructive manner, which is best achieved through a mature objective discussion, under which you should be prepared to listen to and to respect their point of view, particularly given the fact that the boundary is a bit subjective. By doing that, you could avert a situation that could worsen with time.

Let us respect the human norms within the social-economic, geo-political, religious, cultural environments we find ourselves. We should then use them as a yardstick for not only judging our own behaviour, but for challenging our relatives and friends whenever we have reason to believe that they have gone outside our comfort zones.


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