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Cannibalism and the Acquisition of Attributes in Human Relationships

For some time, I have pondered attraction in humans and the social relationships that emerge from it. Such relationships may be friendships, sexual and/or romantic partnerships, or marriages. The brief treatment below points to a connection between a type of human attraction and cannibalism. I know this sounds strange, but stay with me.

In many cases, at the center of relationships of the sort mentioned above is some attribute of one of the partners, such as their youth, intelligence/education, beauty, wealth, or social class. In many such cases, the attracted person perceives themselves as lacking the attribute in question, and on some level believes that they acquire the attribute by being in a relationship with the person who possesses the attribute. Thus, an older person might seek a relationship with someone who is considerably younger than they are, whereupon they perceive themselves as being young. Likewise, someone who is sensitive about their looks may gravitate to someone with better looks, even if that person lacks other qualities that would make them an appropriate partner.

This is of course a form of delusion, but there is no denying that it is a powerful one, with its source possibly buried deep in the individual’s subconscious. It is a delusion because, for example, the 70-year-old man who marries the 25-year-old bombshell does not in fact become younger himself (and thus further from death) even if he perceives himself as such. Likewise, the uneducated woman who gravitates to male intellectuals is not in fact any more of an intellectual as a result of that relationship (even though she might become one over time if they stick together). And the oligarch who surrounds himself with gorgeous models is no more beautiful as a result of those associations.

As I pondered this phenomenon, I was struck by its similarity in a way to a type of cannibalism. In that form of cannibalism, the cannibal eats parts of his vanquished enemy, both to establish their dominance over their foe and to acquire attributes of that foe connected to parts or all of the body. Thus, the cannibal may believe that they will acquire the enemy’s life force or the enemy’s strength or courage by ingesting their heart. Of course, science tells us that no such exchange of attributes is taking place. But the cannibal nevertheless lives in a delusion that it is
indeed taking place.

For those of us who prefer not to live in delusion, we need to be careful to steer clear of this cannibalistic instinct. Instead, we need to keep our eyes wide open and not be distracted from recognizing what our relationships are in fact really about and the real reasons why we should involve ourselves in them.