Thursday, January 05, 2006

Metaphor, Authority, and the Moral (3)

Where does moral authority come from? What is it if one is raised without the guidance of a moral community with a tradition of moral precepts? What if you were raised in a cave by a cannibal? What if all you know is the result of being part of a family of killers who look upon the world of others as a food source? What if your intuitive morality doesn't quite extend so far as mine, and what if you think it's just so to eat me?

There is a limited interest all round in this blog. I have a limit to my own interests, and this is one of them, the story of Sawney Beane and his family. We first ran this back in early June as one of our first posts. It's back again. This question will not go away.

This moral story, though not strictly accurate historically, gives us a good vantage point from which to look at Islam, and other aberrant forms of religion and ideology. Who, raised to ruin from birth in an evil environment, is guilty; and at adulthood, who is culpable for the crimes they commit? What is our relationship with Muslims who are culturally insane? How do we deal with them? What do we do with a billion people raised from birth to see the rest of the Human population as little more than a food source?

The work below has far-reaching implications for all of us, of course, but to restrict ourselves to the question of how we deal with Islam is consequential in our time. We, being imperfect, have the duty to strive for better. Part of our struggle is to understand what to do with a billion Muslim people living in a moral cave. We aren't likely to eat them. What is to be done?

The Complete Newgate Calendar
Volume I

Sawney Beane


An incredible Monster who, with his Wife, lived by Murder and Cannibalism in a Cave. Executed at Leith with his whole Family in the Reign of James I

SAWNEY BEANE was born in the county of East Lothian, about eight or nine miles eastward of the city of Edinburgh, some time in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, whilst King James I. governed only in Scotland. His parents worked at hedging and ditching for their livelihood, and brought up their son to the same occupation. He got his daily bread in his youth by these means, but being very much prone to idleness, and not caring for being confined to any honest employment, he left his father and mother, and ran away into the desert part of the country, taking with him a woman as viciously inclined as himself. These two took up their habitation in a rock by the seaside, on the shore of the county of Galloway, where they lived upwards of twenty five years without going into any city, town, or village.

In this time they had a great number of children and grandchildren, whom they brought up after their own manner, without any notions of humanity or civil society. They never kept any company but among themselves, and supported themselves wholly by robbing; being, moreover, so very cruel, that they never robbed anyone whom they did not murder.

By this bloody method, and their living so retiredly from the world, they continued such a long time undiscovered, there being nobody able to guess how the people were lost that went by the place where they lived. As soon as they had robbed and murdered any man, woman or child, they used to carry off the carcass to the den, where, cutting it into quarters, they would pickle the mangled limbs, and after- wards eat it; this being their only sustenance. And, not- withstanding, they were at last so numerous, they commonly had superfluity of this their abominable food; so that in the night time they frequently threw legs and arms of the unhappy wretches they had murdered into the sea, at a great distance from their bloody habitation. The limbs were often cast up by the tide in several parts of the country, to the astonishment and terror of all the beholders, and others who heard it. Persons who had gone about their lawful occasions fell so often into their hands that it caused a general outcry in the country round about, no man knowing what was become of his friend or relation, if they were once seen by these merciless cannibals.

All the people in the adjacent parts were at last alarmed at such a common loss of their neighbours and acquaintance; for there was no travelling in safety near the den of these wretches. This occasioned the sending frequent spies into these parts, many of whom never returned again, and those who did, after the strictest search and inquiry, could not find how these melancholy matters happened. Several honest travellers were taken up on suspicion, and wrongfully hanged upon bare circumstances; several innocent inn- keepers were executed for no other reason than that persons who had been thus lost were known to have lain at their houses, which occasioned a suspicion of their being murdered by them and their bodies privately buried in obscure places to prevent a discovery. Thus an ill placed justice was executed with the greatest severity imaginable, in order to prevent these frequent atrocious deeds; so that not a few innkeepers, who lived on the Western Road of Scotland, left off their business, for fear of being made examples, and followed other employments. This on the other hand occasioned many great inconveniences to travellers, who were now in great distress for accommodation for themselves and their horses when they were dis- posed to bait, or put up for lodging at night. In a word, the whole country was almost depopulated.

Still the King's subjects were missing as much as before; so that it was the admiration of the whole kingdom how such villainies could be carried on and the villains not be found out. A great many had been executed, and not one of them all made any confession at the gallows, but stood to it at the last that they were perfectly innocent of the crimes for which they suffered. When the magistrates found all was in vain, they left off these rigorous proceedings, and trusted wholly to Providence for the bringing to light the authors of these unparalleled barbarities, when it should seem proper to the Divine wisdom.

Sawney's family was at last grown very large, and every branch of it, as soon as able, assisted in perpetrating their wicked deeds, which they still followed with impunity. Sometimes they would attack four, five or six foot men together, but never more than two if they were on horse- back. They were, moreover, so careful that not one whom they set upon should escape, that an ambuscade was placed on every side to secure them, let them fly which way they would, provided it should ever so happen that one or more got away from the first assailants. How was it possible they should be detected, when not one that saw them ever saw anybody else afterwards? The place where they inhabited was quite solitary and lonesome; and when the tide came up, the water went for near two hundred yards into their subterraneous habitation, which reached almost a mile under- ground; so that when some who had been sent armed to search all the by-places about had passed by the mouth of their cave, they had never taken any notice of it, not supposing that anything human would reside in such a place of perpetual horror and darkness.

The number of the people these savages destroyed was never exactly known, but it was generally computed that in the twenty-five years they continued their butcheries they had washed their hands in eke blood of a thousand, at least, men, women and children. The manner how they were at last discovered was as follows.

A man and.his wife behind him on the same horse coming one evening home from a fair, and falling into the ambuscade of these merciless wretches, they fell upon them in a most furious manner. The man, to save himself as well as he could, fought very bravely against them with sword and pistol, riding some of them down, by main force of his horse. In the conflict the poor woman fell from behind him, and was instantly murdered before her husband's face; for the female cannibals cut her throat and fell to sucking her blood with as great a gust as if it had been wine. This done, they ripped up her belly and pulled out all her entrails. Such a dreadful spectacle made the man make the more obstinate resistance, as expecting the same fate if he fell into their hands. It pleased Providence, while he was engaged, that twenty or thirty from the same fair came together in a body; upon which Sawney Beane and his bloodthirsty clan withdrew, and made the best of their way through a thick wood to their den.

This man, who was the first that had ever fallen in their way and came off alive, told the whole company what had happened, and showed them the horrid spectacle of his wife, whom the murderers had dragged to some distance, but had not time to carry her entirely off. They were all struck with stupefaction and amazement at what he related, took him with them to Glasgow, and told the affair to the provost of that city, who immediately sent to the King concerning it.
In about three or four days after, his Majesty himself in person, with a body of about four hundred men, set out for the place where this dismal tragedy was acted, in order to search all the rocks and thickets, that, if possible, they might apprehend this hellish cure, which had been so long pernicious to all the western parts of the kingdom.

The man who had been attacked was the guide, and care was taken to have a large number of bloodhounds with them, that no human means might be wanting towards their putting an entire end to these cruelties.

No sign of any habitation was to be found for a long time, and even when they came to the wretches' cave they took no notice of it, but were going to pursue their search along the seashore, the tide being then out. But some of the bloodhounds luckily entered this Cimmerian den, and instantly set up a most hideous barking, howling and yelping; so that the King, with his attendants, came back, and looked into it. They could not yet tell how to conceive that anything human could be concealed in a place where they saw nothing but darkness. Never the less, as the bloodhounds increased their noise, went farther in, and refused to come back again, they began to imagine there was some reason more than ordinary. Torches were now immediately sent for, and a great many men ventured in through the most intricate turnings and windings, till at last they arrived at that private recess from all the world which was the habitation of these monsters.

Now the whole body, or as many of them as could, went in, and were all so shocked at what they beheld that they were almost ready to sink into the earth. Legs, arms, thighs, hands and feet of men, women and children were hung up in rows, like dried beef. A great many limbs lay in pickle, and a great mass of money, both gold and silver, with watches, rings, swords, pistols, and a large quantity of clothes, both linen and woollen, and an infinite number of other things, which they had taken from those whom they had murdered, were thrown together in heaps, or hung up against the sides of the den.

Sawney's family at this time, besides him, consisted of his wife, eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grandsons, and fourteen granddaughters, who were all begotten in incest.
These were all seized and pinioned by his Majesty's order in the first place; then they took what human flesh they found and buried it in the sands; afterwards loading themselves with the spoils which they found, they returned to Edinburgh with their prisoners, all the country, as they passed along, flocking to see this cursed tribe. When they were come to their journey's end, the wretches were all committed to the Tolbooth, from whence they were the next day conducted under a strong guard to Leith, where they were all executed without any process, it being thought needless to try creatures who were even professed enemies to mankind.

The men had their hands and legs severed from their bodies; by which amputations they bled to death in some hours. The wife, daughters and grandchildren, having been made spectators of this just punishment inflicted on the men, were afterwards burnt to death in three several fires. They all in general died without the least signs of repentance; but continued cursing and venting the most dreadful imprecations to the very last gasp of life.

The question of the authority of the moral is one that disturbs the sensitive atheist. Many of our contemporaries find there is no answer, that all morality is relative and contingent. We could kill them. Who'd care? We could eat them. Maybe they're not really worth more than the lives of chickens after all. But even if they, the relativists, aren't worth dead birds, others likely are, and we should consider why we think so. We'll return next time to look further at this question. And we'll likely return to it again and again.


mara said...

Even if the Sawney Beane story is not true, it could be true. In all places throughout the world evil exists, because men everywhere are broken.

Lying, stealing, hypocrisy, cheating, murder, anger, sexual immorality, gossip, slander ... is there any end to what we do to each other?

Yet good exists. Love exists. How is that explained? You care about what is true and good. Why is that?

How do we even know how to define any of those terms?

How do we know what good is? Or evil?

Why does the story of Sawney Beane sicken us? If there is no absolute standard for what is good, it should make no difference, and we may all live as Sawney Beanes, looking out only for ourselves, devouring one another.

Listen to what the apostle Paul says in the New Testament in the book he wrote to the church in Galatia (now Turkey)

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,

envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

dag said...

Mara, that was delightful. Thank you again for your contribution.