Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Symbols of Immortality 4: The Fake Human Burger

No sooner did labs begin developing the ability to 3D print a fake hamburger, than Oxford-based evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, stampeded straight for the less obvious question: why not 3D print a burger made of artificial human meat?

Inside the Quest to Make Lab Grown Meat | WIRED (16 February 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

Give him the benefit of the doubt for a moment. It may have been a Swiftian joke. Maybe it was clickbait. Dawkins was Oxford's professor for the 'Public Understanding of Science' until 2008, so he must know about outreach.

A 3D printer creating fake meat. Image Source: ByFlow via BBC.

Over the past few years, the major news outlets have promised that lab grown meat is coming to your table and that this is a good thing: Washington Post, BBC, Bloomberg, The Economist, Reuters. Motherboard and the BBC have covered the topic since the new year. BBC reported that Dutch firm ByFlow has started selling its 3D meat printers to restaurants. ByFlow's motto is: "Think. Design. Eat." Memphis Meats (backed by Bill Gates) and Mosa Meat are two artificial meat start-ups which will start selling fake meat for public consumption by 2021. Another cellular agriculture company is New Harvest.

In the third week of February 2018, news outlets reported that the US Cattlemen's Association filed a petition to the US Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA) against the Silicon Valley start-ups which are creating lab-grown meat. You can read their petition here. They focused primarily on the definition of real meat as created from animals which have been raised and slaughtered, so that fake meat cannot be labeled as genuine meat, thereby misleading consumers.

The Meat of the Future: How Lab-Grown Meat Is Made (2 October 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Lab meat, also known as clean meat, is touted as cruelty free, especially to vegetarians. Vegan Insight reported on 16 March 2018 that 41 per cent of Britons will eat "lab-grown clean meat and fish" in the next decade.

Image Source: Belchonock/Depositphotos via New Atlas.

It is one small step to Dawkins' fake human meat. Fake cannibalism will probably get a lot of support. Under the video below the jump, one girl commented: "As a vegan, I'd be happy to eat cultured human meat. I'm actually very curious and not grossed out at all."

Joe Rogan's interviewee in this video, Sam Harris, said (here) that there was "zero ethical problem ... if this was never attached to an animal, we're dealing with concepts here," that is, the vegan girl would be eating an object cultivated in a vat of human cells.

This issue highlights a moral blind spot in technological progress; it proves that technology is skewing the human ability to judge right from wrong.

Sam Harris On Cultured Meat (Man-Made Meat) (7 June 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

A 2014 article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy found nothing wrong with fake cannibalism. Live Science summarized the findings of intellectually and morally helpless philosopher authors, for whom ethics depends on whether or not certain things fit under particular labels, and if they don't, then everything is fine:
"In a 2014 paper in the Journal of Applied Philosophy,  [G. Owen] Schaefer and his co-author, Julian Savulescu, tried to work through the ethics of eating lab-grown human meat. They couldn't find any convincing philosophical arguments to call it unethical, Schaefer said. In his tweet, Dawkins mentioned consequentialism, which is the idea that the ends justify the means. In that sense, no one is directly harmed by lab-grown cannibalism, because no one has to die and no one's corpse gets desecrated.

Nor was there a good deontological argument against the practice, Schaefer said. In philosophy, deontology is the idea that the means do matter — for example, if you can save five people by killing one, killing that one person still may not be the ethical thing to do. Deontological arguments are usually based in notions of disrespect for persons, but again, there doesn't seem to be anyone disrespected by eating synthetic human meat, Schaefer said.

One possible argument against cannibalism via clean meat could stem from virtue ethics, he said, the idea that humans should cultivate attitudes that are virtuous for their own sake.

'There you could say this is a disposition toward humanity to shift from seeing people as people, and maybe this would push us more to seeing people as meat,' he said. But that shift doesn't seem particularly likely, he said."
The article reference is: "The Ethics of Producing In Vitro Meat" Journal of Applied Philosophy (https://doi.org/10.1111/japp.12056, 27 February 2014):

The prospect of consumable meat produced in a laboratory setting without the need to raise and slaughter animals is both realistic and exciting. Not only could such in vitro meat become popular due to potential cost savings, but it also avoids many of the ethical and environmental problems with traditional meat productions. However, as with any new technology, in vitro meat is likely to face some detractors. We examine in detail three potential objections: 1) in vitro meat is disrespectful, either to nature or to animals; 2) it will reduce the number of happy animals in the world; and 3) it will open the door to cannibalism. While each objection has some attraction, we ultimately find that all can be overcome. The upshot is that in vitro meat production is generally permissible and, especially for ethical vegetarians, worth promoting."
So let me spell it out for all those who are ready to eat a cultured, clean meat human hamburger. Saying that you're willing to eat fake human meat is like saying that the only reason that you don't eat real human meat is because you don't approve of murder. In that case, why don't you already consume humans who have died naturally?

Why is there no global industry to eat the dead? The reason we don't eat dead people is because there is something more to this question. And to counter the philosophers, the barriers are not just desecration of the dead or supposedly-obsolete virtue ethics. The barriers are inequality, authenticity, natural law, and immortality.

Dawkins' promotion of artificial cannibalism alongside artificial meat is odd. The pro-artificial meat innovators argue that they are solving world hunger and are environmental conservationists. That would be enough to convince a lot of consumers to accept their products. The new industry is already confronted by challenges from the established meat industry.

So why throw cannibalism in the mix as an unfriendly afterthought? Dawkins' idea weds the vegan moral argument to technological innovation. Then, right at the instant of capability (the moment we can create fake meat), he tacks on the darkest taboo. Dawkins' slogan would be: Solve world hunger (PS: Add abomination)! Why?


There are a few warning signs that this undertaking is not about solving world hunger and compassionate meat cultivation. First, there is the class divide: this is another example of how technology is creating a culture of haves and have-nots. Who do you think will be eating the Soylent Green fake meat - the 99 per cent, or the 1 per cent?


Second, the fact that the meat is fake or cruelty-free does not lift moral injunctions against consuming it. Just because it is grown in a dish, the fake meat is still an organic product of our reality. It is a by-product of other lifeforms and their thoughts and actions. It is a logical consequence of a set of larger decisions about life. Therefore, it is a tool, an extension of who and what we are, just as a robot would be, or a cloned animal.

Technological simulacra are upsetting traditional morality, when they should reinforce it. Philip K. Dick addressed this problem fifty years ago. Technology creates a deadly confusion between the real and the fake and what kind of actions are permitted with fake artifacts and artificial creations.

For anyone who eats a fake human hamburger, the moral rules are theoretically suspended. But the rules are not suspended. This act allows the person to normalize cannibalism. They will be that much closer to thinking that eating a real human hamburger is not strange and horrifying. They will be more likely to try the real thing. Pretending that fake substitutes and simulacra permit otherwise depraved acts damages the conditioned person.

Scandals (like deadly cyberbullying and Ashley Madison) reveal that a lot of people think that in the 'fake' realm of virtual reality, all rules are lifted, anything goes, all bets are off. A lot of people have become Internet libertarians who confuse responsible liberty with irresponsible libertinism. They think that anything that would be forbidden in the 'real world' sphere is permitted in the artificial one.

The compartmentalization of reality and restriction of moral rules to isolated boxes is a classic symptom of psychopathy and sociopathy. It is a form of dissociation, and is one of the signs of broken morality. Morality, by definition, is holistic.

There are no safe zones where you can go hide out of sight to do whatever you want in one area of existence, and then obey the rules in another area. It is all one arena of related actions and consequences. Always. Period, end of story.

Dick concluded that one could not abuse robots without moral consequences for the human condition. The arena of the fake would (and will) become more authentic than the original, real realm. The introduction of simulacra and virtual and digital cultures should reinforce the understanding that causes (anywhere and everywhere) really do have effects (anywhere and everywhere).

In the current environment on the Internet, that awareness of universal cause and effect has been largely short-circuited. That depends partly on the confusion between the real and the fake.

Natural Law

Before technology became an out-of-control factor in our lives, the other area of human activity where the fake and the real were deliberately switched was magic.

This is how black magic works: magic is about swapping out a real circumstance, replacing it with an illusion, and getting people to believe the illusion. It's not just about manipulation and trickery. This practice involves temporarily gaining power because the magic-wielder has broken Natural Law. The grand cosmological order of the universe can be temporarily violated or bent out of shape, and from that effort, a type of vacuum or potential to do things is created. But it is a borrowed power, which lives on borrowed time.

From this subtext, thousands of religious stories, fables, and myths have sprung up about the battle between good and evil. It doesn't matter whether you are religious or secular of mind: these are metaphors which teach an intuitive recognition of entropy.

You don't have to be a fundamentalist Christian to know the age-old recipe for gaining power and authority in any human circumstance: tell a lie. But everybody knows that the power thereby acquired is limited. Freeze the clock as the lie holds sway, its spell will work for a time. Then the illusion dissipates; the truth reasserts itself and the clock marches forward again. At that point, it is time for the liar to face the consequences.

Thus, anything that switches the fundamental conditions of life between the real and the fake concerns the temporary interruption of cause and effect and the flow of time. This is a disruption of the normal flow of the entropy, an actual force in the universe. The brief surge of energy from this violation can be exploited. But the disruption always collapses, and the power associated with artificiality and associated manipulations is always destroyed.

This background helps explain why Dawkins' comments (intentionally or not) encouraged the Internet rumour that establishment elites promote and practice black magic cannibalism. This wild conspiracy theory draws from medieval anti-Semitism.

The corpse cake from the 2011 MOCA gala. Image Source: Scholar Blogs.

Images from the 2011 MOCA art gala (see my related post here) did not help. At the gala, celebrities ate a life-sized cake, made to look like a woman's dead body. Other celebrity parties - like the 2013 Watermill Center benefit - have also featured human body cakes, with fake blood and red cake, baked to resemble human flesh.

The artistry here is officially about challenging norms, values and taboos. It's not really a profound, imaginative, or creative artistic statement, rather is iconoclastic and destructive. It creates glorified art pieces from the Id (see my earlier post on Gaga, here) and makes this taboo more socially acceptable. As with eating the fake human hamburger, the fake engagement with cannibalism here is normalizing and popularizing the idea for the public.

Lady Gaga and Marina Abramović at the Watermill Center benefit, the Hamptons, New York, USA (2013). Image Source: Daily Mail.

Internet trolls don't oppose these incidents merely because they are offensive. The trolls have interpreted these corpse cakes to be public signifiers of an ugly reality which goes on behind closed doors. The trolls think the party is an artificial replica of a genuine event. They suspect that in a mirror scene, an actual cannibalism of a real body is transpiring somewhere else, possibly even at the same time that the party with the fake cake body occurs. Unfortunately, the trolls' bizarre speculations and fears do scan with occult ideas.

Without believing hideous conspiracy theories, it is enough to say that it is weird that celebrities are flaunting the trope of cannibalism, while at the same moment that they are being accused of practicing it. And it is doubly unsettling that a respected Oxford professor would come out in this climate and promote consumption of artificial human meat.


No, not immorality - immortality.

The final barrier to eating fake human meat is immortality. Among the First Nations Algonquian tribes of North America, starvation in the wild was no excuse for cannibalism - ever. This taboo did not imply that cannibalism was immoral in the Christian or western ethical senses. Rather, it indicated that anyone who ate human flesh became an immortal because they stole extra life force from another to stay alive. As a result, they were forced to walk the world forever in the shape of a tormented monster called the Wendigo. You can read my earlier post on the Wendigo, here.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a rash of cannibalism broke out in 2002-2004, warriors claimed to eat human flesh because it demonstrated power, but also allowed them to take the life force and soul energy of those they consumed. Cannibals claim that eating human flesh gives them mystical powers, particularly the stolen faculties of those consumed. This aligns with historic accounts of what is called aggressive cannibalism. As with the violation of Natural Law idea, this vampiric power concept involves sitting at the table, and stealing more for yourself than what you are normally allotted by the rules of the universe.

What kind of life force does a cultured meat have? See my earlier post, 'Live' Artificial Jellyfish Made from Rat Cells. What makes something alive? If you think that muscle cells in a dish are just nutrition, then you should read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Any form of cultivated cellular life has some form of integrity, even if it is not a living organism. In consuming that culture, you are still interacting with it and taking something of what it was into yourself.

Whether the swap between real and fake involves manipulating consequences, time, public support, acquiring power over others, or taking power for yourself, this is the moral exchange that sits at the heart of the artificial meat question. And we will undoubtedly hear more about it.

The Peter Greenaway film, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) savagely attacked working class upstarts who arose in Thatcher's Britain. The antagonist in the film becomes a cannibal. The soundtrack included the song, Miserere (1989) © by Michael Nyman. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube. The full recording is here.

Miserere lyrics (Abridged and adapted from Psalm 51, Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God)

Have mercy upon me
Have mercy upon me
blot out my transgressions
blot out my transgressions
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Miserere mei
Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness:
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, iniquitatem meam.
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness:
According to thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. ...

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight:

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight:

Have mercy upon me
blot out my transgressions ...

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.


Have mercy upon me, according to thy loving kindness: ...
that the bones thou hast broken may rejoice.

Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. ...

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Unto thee

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
Have mercy upon me
blot out my transgressions
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

ADDENDUM (1 April 2018):  On 10 March, a Latvian art gallery in Riga, Museum LV, presented a performance art piece with artist Arthur Berzinsh, in which a cannibal ritual was performed (Hat tip: The Outer Light). The claimed intention was to show what people will do when resources run out. The police later investigated.

Artūra Bērziņa deleģētā performance «Eshatoloģija» galerijā «MuseumLV» 10.03.2018 (12 March 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

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