BERLIN-Armin Meiwes, the German computer technician convicted of murdering and consuming a man he met over the internet, will be retried, since many consider his conviction too lenient. The 41-year old man, who claims to have fantasized about cannibalism since early childhood, was convicted of manslaughter in January 2003 and sentenced to eight and one-half years behind bars.
What continues to fascinate the German public about the Meiwes case is that his murder and subsequent consumption of 43 year-old Bernd-Jurgen Brandes was entirely consentual. Indeed, the pair met after Brandes replied to an internet personal ad which explicitly solicited “young, well-built men aged 18 to 30 to slaughter” in March, 2001.
Though Brandes’s former girlfriend claims never to have heard him express an interest in being eaten and insists that “Bernd would never have allowed himself to be killed… it was murder,” a videotape recorded by Meiwes and Brandes in the former’s Rotenburg home seems to indicate otherwise. In the two-hour film, Brandes allows Meiwes to sever his penis from his body, cook the appendage, and consume it together. After the “meal,” if one can call it that, Brandes prepares for his slaughter by drinking a large quantity of alcohol, imbibing cold medicine, and swallowing some twenty sleeping pills. Following the killing, Meiwes prepared the corpse, froze pieces of it, and continued eating Brandes for several months.
Meiwes was only arrested after an Austrian student noticed another ad the man had placed online seeking an arrangement similar to the Brandes situation.
Now, obviously, people have been drawn to the case’s shocking nature and Meiwes’s calm demeanor (he has granted several interviews, expressed a desire to write his memoirs while in prison, and has warned people to curb their cannibalistic desires lest they end up like him). Of course, the fact that Meiwes informed the German newspaper, Die Welt am Sonntag that he has “intense and positive memories of Bernd” and that “I have his face permanently before me. That’s the sign of a friendly relationship,” only disturbs people all the more.
One need not be a genius to know that the more extreme the behavior, the farther into the fringes of human behavior a person may plumb, the greater the media interest, but Meiwes’s case is particularly fascinating because of its legal implications.
In some ways, Meiwes behavior has been compared to that of Jack Kevorkian. Basically, if you kill a person with their consent, some folks would argue, you aren’t behaving as badly as if you kill a person aginst their will. (In Horace McCoy’s excellent They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? the reader sympathizes with the protagonist because he faces the gallows for having killed a depressed woman in accordance with her wishes, showing that such an argument has, at the very least, been advanced before).
The event has been further complicated by the fact that Brandes’s death came, apparently, while he was in good health, both mentally and physically. In other words, Brandes’s death was not that of a suicidal man or of a person suffering from a physical ailment. It was, it would seem, motivated purely by an extreme form of sexual fetishization. And this is what disturbs the hell out of people.
I would suggest that more people are probably frightened of what the case may reveal about human nature than by any fear of the smiling man behind bars. Indeed, this is the problem people face when confronting forces ranging from psychopathy to rage. The fact that these things do exist implies that no matter what our rules and regulations do, they will continue to exist, somewhere and in some form.
Let’s look at a psychopath or sociopath for a moment. Little could be more frightening than the realization that it is entirely possible that a person might not have any qualms about killing for fun (Meiwes, Dahmer, etc.) or profit (those fellows Rae Carruth hired), that they might not even care if they are caught or killed in response to their actions. Really, all this does it remind us that rules and laws are limited. They only protect people insofar as most people are willing to follow the legal restrictions placed upon the world. Basically, some people will not care about the rules we have put into place to make living a familiar and comfortable state of being. We are reminded that, though most people may share certain values or beliefs, the rules that emerge out of these shared values are, essentially, arbitrary. In other words, for a person with no regard for these regulatory measures, nothing prevents them from killing or otherwise harming others.
It is a deeply existential realization. The world is not as kind and nice as it may seem; that is simply a veneer we choose to see and believe in. Sadly, we only begin discussing these things when we see something as unsettling as the Meiwes-Brandes affair. We can’t blame a cold-blooded killer motivated by greed; we can only observe that lust, the warped, bastard cousin of love, precipitated an unimaginable (to the mainstream) act.
As Meiwes estimates, there are upwards of 800 cannibals in Germany, though only a very few ever act on the urge. Whether or not this is true, it does remind us, again, that what we do not want to exist, does. See, the problem with laws is that, for the most part, they are made for the people that will follow them. They do little to prevent their being ignored by those people indifferent to them.
Once in a while something comes along that scares the shit out of us, not simply because of its brutality or pathos, but owing much to its screaming reminder that we can dress Relativism up in any way we’d like, but still remain, in the end, helpless in its face.
We’re just luck most of us agree to be nice and law-abiding. I mean, we’re all snug underneath the legal-moral-ethical blanket we drape over the world and assume everyone likes, but there are a few heads peeping out of the corner recognizing, as Paul Bowles would have it, it is only a sheltering sky blocking out what Nietzsche would call the sun of nihilism.
Originally published at www.sobriquetmagazine.com.