Blogawards / Consensual Suicide, Take II.

Too much to say, too little time to write it down. Moreover, I am suffering from a little pre-X-mas depression. Well, it’s more a like a garden variety November rain induced melancholy aggravated by composing songs with Dido lyrics (really nice ones, though), and it’s likely to be gone as soon as my new computer works as supposed to and as the weekend nears. But who can blame a writer for being a bit more melodramatic as clinically diagnosed depression is now becoming the illness de jour among young men of my age?

In other news, I’ve been thinking about a little linguistic variation. Now that I am also writing for A Fistful Of Euros, I was wondering about having a German (or even French) post here at almost a diary from time to time. Or maybe I’m gonna start an extre blog in German for the occasional comment in my mother tongue.

Btw, you can nominate “almost a diary” in various categories for the first German Blogawards.

blogawards button

Clicking the button will only take you to the main site. Should you actually want to nominate a (or even this) blog you will have to enter the title and URL in the form for the respective category. Nominations are open until December 8. After that, people can vote for the ten blogs which received the most nominations in each category. Not that I expect to win anything – certainly not after recently neglecting this blog a little bit – but it would be nice to get at least some nominations. I think my design is actually quite nice for a blog…

In other news, the weirdest German trial of the year – and possibly this decade – started today (Stern, in German). About a year ago, Armin Meiwes was arrested for killing and partly eating Bernd Jürgen B., who, according to a videotape had agreed to being killed and eaten after having his penis cut off to be grilled and at least tasted by both men.

Then as now I think the strangest part of the story is not the perpetrator but the victim. And the biggest question is how to deal with the increasing amount of consensual weird behavior facilitated by falling transaction costs on the internet. The judges will have to decide not only whether someone “in his right mind” (meaning not otherwise legally prohibited from contracting) can agree to being killed but also under which cicumstances it has to be assumed that the killer actually understood to be acting under the terms of a “contract” which is important for the sentence he is facing. Tricky. Really tricky.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote a year ago

A new kind of suicide. Between two consenting adults.

When I briefly mentioned the cannibalism case revealed by German police in Rotenburg, near Frankfurt, yesterday, I had just heard about it. Normally, I’d say there’s not much more to it than I wrote yesterday. It obviously goes without saying that it is unbelievably sad that things like cannibalism keep occuring on this planet. Most of us would prefer to live on one in which they wouldn’t. But we can’t choose yet. So we have to cope.

Is this the end of the story? Not quite. However tragic, there is probably more to this latest case than a life sentence for the perpetrator and some disbelieving head shaking for the rest of us. It’s about a new kind of suicide, the social ‘contract’, and, at a slightly more abstract level, about transaction costs.

It was quite interesting to see all the psychological experts interviewed on tv at loss of words. Not about the perpetrator’s behavior, which, although fortunately rare, happens frequently enough for psychologists and others to have given it some thought and at least be able to come up with wishy-washy sexual, social or genetic explanations – but they do not have the slightest idea why someone would agree to be killed and be eaten afterwards, as the victim, a gay 41 or 42 year old man from Berlin explicitly did.

Let’s recapitulate: There was a guy who seriously repeatedly posted classified ads on the internet looking for people wishing to be killed and eaten. According to “The Scotsman’s” English coverage of the story, he used the following words (well, in German, I suppose) “Seeking young, well-built 18- to 30-year-old for slaughter”. And while the crime in all likelihood happened only once, five additional suicide candidates seem to have stood in line. Before being killed, cut to pieces and being eaten or deep fried, the victim agreed to have his penis cut off, which was then cooked and at least tasted by both men on camera.

While the deed technically qualifies for first degree murder, according to the local prosecutor, I wonder what the legal repercussions of the victim’s taped consent to be killed will be. I suppose, some so far neglected or even undiscovered issues will now attract attention, eg the already questioned human free will (aka real consent), our social norms and abnormal, apparently suicidal sexuality. Clearly, not everything that goes on between two consenting adults in a bedroom (or basement) should be treated as their own business. But in a society in which mutual consent between adults is de facto the only enforced and probably enforceable sexual convention, I can’t help but wonder what should not be regarded as such? And, more importantly, why – based on which principle? I don’t know. But I fear these questions will have to be answered more precisely rather sooner than later.

Before the internet, it was probably a lot harder to find like minded partners for perverse activities such as the one discovered yesterday. But on the web, self selection processes have become a lot cheaper. If some consensual abnormal transactions have been barred by prohibitive transaction costs (too costly to find a partner) in the non-digital world, reduced transaction costs will by definition lead to an increase of these transactions.

Thus, with transaction costs close to zero (in some ways), we might be forced to witness more and more consensual but clearly abnormal behavior in the future. But let’s hope I’m wrong.