After gorging myself on food for the last week and a half while I am on a business trip, I am reminded how amazing the modern world actually is. Throughout most of man’s history the biggest issue was finding enough food to survive. In history sometimes cannibalism was the regular practice, so much so that “human flesh was sold, with some pretense of concealment, in the markets”. Per “View of the state of Europe during the middle ages” by Henry Hallam:
11 The poor early felt the necessity of selling themselves for subsistence in times of famine… This long continued to be the practice; and probably the remarkable number of famines which are recorded, especially in the ninth and eleventh centuries, swelled the sad list of those unhappy poor who were reduced to barter liberty for bread. Mr. Wright, in the ” Archaeologia,” vol. xxx., p. 223, has extracted an entry from an Anglo-Saxon manuscript, where a lady, about the time of the Conquest, manumits some slaves, ” whose heads,” as it is simply and forcibly expressed, “she had taken for their meat in the evil days.” Evil, indeed, were those days in France, when out of seventy-three years, the reigns of Hugh Capet and his two successors, forty-eight were years of famine. Evil were the days for five years from 1015, in the whole Western World, when not a country could be named that was not destitute of bread. These were famines, as Rodulfus Glaber and other contemporary writers tell us, in which mothers ate their children, and children their parents, and human flesh was sold, with some pretense of concealment, in the markets. It is probable that England suffered less than France, but so long and frequent a scarcity of necessary food must have affected, in the latter country, the whole organic frame of society.
And per Ralph Glaber:
Moreover, about the same time, a most mighty famine raged for five years throughout the Roman world, so that no region could be beard of which was not hunger stricken for lack of bread, and many of the people were starved to death. In those days also, in many regions, the terrible famine compelled men to make their food not only of unclean beasts and creeping things, but even of men’s, women’s, and children’s flesh, without regard even of kindred; for so fierce waxed this hunger that grown-up sons devoured their mothers, and mothers, forgetting their maternal love ate their babes.
Eating one’s own children is a theme also mentioned in Josephus. The takeaway is both that we live in an amazing time, and that human beings are capabile of extreme evil when pushed by necessity. As Mises.org puts it:
In the midst of our present civilization, with all its abundance, the idea of enslaving and cannibalizing other people (including children and babies) is horrific and revolting, but it is a reality of human nature that this can come about under dire circumstances. What protects us from this result is the accumulated capital of the past, and our capacity to protect that capital by formulating an appropriate moral order to guide our actions. If we are reckless about the connection between our moral order and the accumulation of capital, then we are asking for disaster.