A Question For You to Consider

Having a fine time in San Diego, thanks for asking — the students and faculty at Thomas Jefferson Law School, which I spoke at, were lovely people, and I’ll no doubt talk about that more when I get back home. But for now I want to throw open to discussion something which came up last night over dinner.

Which is: As you know, there was a mild controversey this last week when Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards said that at some point in the recent past, he had mixed the ashed of his father with some cocaine he was doing and — toot! — snorted his dad. This claim was later retracted– Richards’ handlers claim he was just having a little April Fool’s fun with us all. I suspect Richards did it, because, come on, he’s whacked out of his mind on drugs half the time anyway, but whether it’s true or not it brings up an interesting question:

If you snort human remains, are you engaging in cannibalism?

There were arguments for an against the “snorting remains = cannibalism” claim.

For: Snorting the remains gets the substance of the remains into the bloodstream quickly (this is why one snorts cocaine, for example) and of course from the bloodstream it’s just a hop, skip and a jump into incorporating the elements in the ashes into the body.

Against: Intent is key — one does not snort remains to “ingest” them and anyway introducing material from other people into the bloodstream does not necessarily count as cannibalism, otherwise any time anyone had a blood transfusion, we’d have to declare them cannibals, and we don’t do that.

We argued the point back and forth and didn’t come to any particular resolution, which is why I’m now throwing open the question to you folks. Does snorting human remains equal cannibalism? I crave your input. Hopefully we’ll arrive at a solid legal interpretation regarding whether Keith Richards is a cannibal, or merely a drug-addled freak with a creepy sense of humor. And I think the world will be a better place when we have that sorted out.

53 Comments on “A Question For You to Consider”

  1. Well, I think we need to ask a little further. For one thing:

    Do cannibals eat for nourishment or to make a statement?

    Then, by extension:

    Does Keith Richards snort for nourishment or to make a statement?

  2. hugh57, the anti-Kafkaesquí…

    Does Keith Richards snort for nourishment or to make a statement?

    That is the funniest sentence I’ve ever read.

  3. As, the sweet divorce from reality of a student law faculty. It truly takes me back.

    If he was so whacked that he did not understand the nature and quality of his act, I’d say that M’Naghten would point to absence of mens rea and, therefore, no offence at all.

  4. You’re weird, John.

    Cannibalism is the act of eating human flesh, right?

    Snorting human ashes is not eating human flesh.

    Different, no matter what the intent. And I’d also argue, snorting human ashes is weirder, in that there is no purpose whatsoever for it except that its just wacko. Whereas, one could argue, that cannibalism does have a sane purpose in that it stems from at base a very real need to survive and eat. Most animals will eat their own kind when faced with total starvation. Even if that isn’t the intent of some canabalism (ie. Jeffrey Dahmer, or weird ritualistic stuff), it is derived from that. Snorting ashes is just…weird shock value drug induced insanity.

    Good God! I can’t believe you have me typing these words on a Saturday morning. What in God’s name were you there to talk about with these law students, anyway.

    I’m going to take a shower now. shivers

  5. Does snorting human remains equal cannibalism?

    Nope. I’m with Lisa. But is sure is a great way to get some free media. When was the last time you saw the Rolling Stones on the cover of the New York Post?

    Silly aging rock star.

  6. We are constantly told that the majority of household dust is made up of sloughed-off human skin. We breath in tons of dust throughout the day. Are we committing cannibalism every day? I think not.

    To hold that snorting formerly-human cells is cannibalism is to condemn all of humanity as cannibals, and that’s not a statement this court should be making.

    I reserve the rest of my time for rebuttal.


  7. If you say snorting = eating, you’re not far from saying smelling = eating, and then smelling a corpse is cannibalism. I’d lean against it – snorting is not eating, and Richards is not a cannibal (at least, not due to this incident, if it occurred).

  8. Funny aside, Chang’s expansion to the question is not necessary. Cannibalism is practiced for a number of reasons, which includes for purposes of nourishment (well known examples are the plane crash survivors in the Andes, and – possibly – the Donner party in the Sierra Nevada mountains), as well as to make a “statement,” that is for spiritual and/or symbolic, ritualistic purposes.

    But to riff off Lisa’s comment, say I ate the fruit of a tree growing on a freshly dug burial site. As at least some of the tree’s nutrients are derived from the decaying corpse (hey, it is pretty morbid!), am I now a cannibal?

    I find it hard to claim that by injesting the cremated remains of someone you are now a cannibal. Unless he wasn’t cremated, and Keith was snorting his dad’s entire left elbow!

  9. Ice, liquid water, and steam are all forms of water.

    Ashes that result from burning human flesh are a form of human flesh.

    If cannibals incinerated their victims prior to ingesting their remains, I suspect we would still call them cannibals.

    However, what makes cannibalism illegal — I believe — is that in general cannibals kill then eat. I believe Alferd Packer, the Colorado Cannibal, tried to defend himself by saying that the victims were already dead. At least according to This song.

    No one is accusing Keith of killing his father first.

    Here are the questions I would want answered:
    1) When Keith’s father was cremated, who received ownership of the ashes?
    2) If it wasn’t Keith, did the individual who owned the ashes give Keith permission to snort?
    3) If Keith owned the ashes, or was given permission to snort by the owner of the ashes, I judge him not guilty.

    Of course, I am categorizing cannibalism into legal cannibalism and illegal cannibalism. I still think snorting is a form of cannibalism.

    There…is this snorted to everyone’s content?

  10. I once attended a citizens’ police seminar where a narcotics detective talked about “wet” marijuana, which is pot mixed with something else, usually PCP. He mentioned that some wet pot is actually mixed with formaldehyde. Naturally, hands shot up asking who was the idiot who discovered this.

    “Well,” the detective said, “you have to remember that there are people in this world whose main goal in life is to see what kind of high just about everything will give them.”

    I firmly believe Keith Richards is one of them. “Hmm… Never snorted human ash before. Wonder what this does if you mix it with coke?”

    Reminds me of Denis Leary’s old chestnut about Keith Richards’ anti-drug ad: “Keith, we can’t do any drugs now. You did them all. The only way for us to get high is for you to die so we can smoke the ashes.”

  11. …cannibalism? I crave your input. Hmmmm. I’m not quite sure how to take this.

    Most guys act a little juvenile when they’re away from the wife for a week, but really, John, cannibalism?

  12. I wanted to gain a greater knowledge of the subject of cannibalism before making a statement for or against the proposition that snorting human ashes would be an instance of the practice; thus, I went to Wikipedia, where I found this nugget:

    “Likewise it has to be questioned whether the practice of some South American peoples to consume the bone ashes of their deceased relatives can be considered cannibalistic.”

    Are bone ashes legally considered human flesh? I decided to check up on the legal status of “cremains”, or the ashes left over from cremation. As their dispersal is governed far less stringently than the disposal of human bodies, blood, or flesh, I would argue that bone ashes are not considered human flesh under current environmental laws. Whether these laws would impact the definition of “human flesh” in criminal statutes forbidding cannibalism is a different manner, as environmental laws are more concerned with the spread of diseases rather than the offense of sensibilities.

  13. Hmm, I think Chang and Kafkaesquí are onto something. While cannibalism is mostly considered the eating of flesh of the same species, in this case humans, for humans cannibalism is mostly a ritual event. The act of cannibalism for survival is an aboration in human history. Most societies that practice cannibalism don’t do so for substanance but for magic or religion. For someone like Keith, the snoring of coke can be the equal of a religious experience, and including his father’s cremains in the mix would be the social equivalent of other societies who do practice the cannibalistic consumation of their elders. So I would have to go with that in this case, yes, Keith was engaging in cannibalism. If that was his intent, though, is an entirely different question.

  14. If you say snorting = eating, you’re not far from saying smelling = eating, and then smelling a corpse is cannibalism. I’d lean against it – snorting is not eating, and Richards is not a cannibal (at least, not due to this incident, if it occurred).

    If we equate “smelling” and “eating,” the things I’ve eaten over the past 35 years of my life really makes snorting your dad look sanitary. In such a case, I’m going well past “lean against” to “must formally protest in loud and certain terms.”

  15. Are not the ashes inert carbon with minerals that will only get stuck in the membrane mucus of the sinus rather than get absorbed into the body anyways? Bout as cannibal as a chimney sweep.

  16. Interesting that this question should come up now. On Tuesday, I was scouting a Cemetery with the manager of the site. When we passed the crematorium, he felt the need to provide me with information I hadn’t asked for.

    It turns out that the consistency and substance of the “ashes” from a cremated body are commonly misconceived. After about an hour and a half, there’s almost no ashy substance remaining from the flesh and there’s a bunch of identifiable bone fragments which will have taken on the consistency of pumice. These bone fragments are then pulverized in a sort-of cuisinart. The pulverized bone fragments make up most of the volume of the ashes.

    So, I’d say the flesh is no longer flesh, and barely present in the ashes, so No Cannibalism Involved. Case Dismissed.

    BTW, I worked on a Stones video a few years ago, and met Keith Richards, ever so briefly. I’d lay odds that he actually did snort Daddy.

  17. I knew immediately Richards was engaging in a bit of April Tom Foolery. I mean, the the very idea of a healthy young man like him taking drugs…

    But anyway, it’s often said that we’ve all incorporated molecules that were once part of Shakespeare, Milton, Newton, etc. anyway. In a few centuries they’ll all have molecules from Keith, and Scalzi, and us, inside them too. Hopefully the human race will survive.

  18. I’m going to go for the pedantic answer, I’m afraid. I don’t think snorting human bone ash is the same thing as eating human flesh, organs, etc. I don’t think the X-Files could have done an episode about Keith Richards getting Creutzfeldt-Jakob from snorting cremains, for example.

  19. Eating flesh vs. eating ash is largely a factor of how much the grill is flaming up. Nonetheless, it’s eating, a.k.a. consuming for sustenance.

    I don’t know that snorting *any* substance up one’s nose — be it blow or ash or a medium-rare sirloin — in any way makes a claim on sustenance. Which, of course, explains why super-models are so skinny.

    I vote “not cannibalism.”

  20. I vote no, on the grounds that neither organ transplants nor blood donations are considered cannibalism, which strengthens the case the word only applies to eating, not to general cases of incorporation of the deceased.

  21. Someone’s got to use this Stones’ phrase:

    “Sympathy for the Devil.”

    I enjoyed the Heinlein reference. But RAH often stated his disgust for how the essentially illiterate Charles Manson perverted (literally) “Stranger in a Strange Land” — to the tune of “Helter Skelter” and washed in the blood of innocent human beings.

    My family is disappointed that Keith Richards has backed away from his interesting statement, insisting that he was only joking. I think that he was serious, although I have no way to tell if this was truthiness.

    Also consider Sangre — A planet ruled by a cannibal elite in Norman Spinrad’s The Men in the Jungle. Eating Eloi (not cannibalism, species barrier) in The Time Machine [1896]. Soylent Green. Deathlands #77: Cannibal Moon. by James Axler. “The Moon Goddess and the Son” by Donald Kingsbury [Analog Dec 1979 novella] and later novel expansion.

  22. Keith Richards is a stinkin’ cannibal.

    To see why, (and because I’m bored) I must first define what a cannibal is. To do that, I need to dispel some of the faulty arguments put forth in this thread. So here goes…

    1. Many cannibals consume human flesh with absolutely no thoughts of sustenance and no requirement on the amount consumed. (Religious rituals, in which token amounts of human flesh are swallowed, fall into this category:)


    ——A. Any sustenance criteria seem unsustainable.


    ——B. Any “quantity consumed” arguments seem unsustainable.

    2. The cannibal slaughtering its own meal is never a pre-requisite for one’s being considered to engage in cannibalism. (Many instances of cannibalism have occurred when human survivors were forced to eat their not so lucky companions).

    ——- Therefore, any argument requiring the cannibalism also be the killer also seem unsustainable.

    3. We do indeed breathe lots of human throughout the day. But, when I kiss my wife (even lightly) I’m consuming some of her cells, too.

    ——Therefore, the inadvertent breathing of human cells should not insulate the act of deliberately snorting human cells from the charge of cannibalism any more than kissing (or licking or…whatever) another person would insulate the deliberate eating of human flesh from the charge of cannibalism. (INTENT, however, seems to be a major criteria in the determination of what constitutes cannibalism).

    4. While a typical cremation does result in very little actual ashes derived from the flesh, it does contain a LOT of bone dust. And there is no body part preference requirement for a cannibal to be considered a cannibal. Some eat brains, some eat flesh, some eat various organs. Also, some like their people cooked, some don’t.

    —- Therefore, the portion of the body cannibalized, and how it’s prepared, have no bearing on one’s cannibal creds.

    5. The utilitarian use of one human’s body in another’s (blood transfusions, transplants, etc) is indeed not labeled cannibalism. While I don’t know of any medicines derived from humans that are taken orally, there certainly could be, and I don’t believe that anyone taking such medicine would be deemed a cannibal in the word’s normal usage.

    —–Therefore, why one utilizes the flesh of one’s own species seems to be a major factor. For purposes of “healing”, we don’t seem to call it cannibalism. For purposes of “consuming”, we generally do. The idea of consuming seems key in all cannibal definitions.

    In summation: If Keith really did snort his dad, then the method he used to ingest his pappy is not the issue, since passing human flesh through the mouth is NOT a determining factor of cannibalism (see 3 above). Instead, his INTENT to ingest his father, and his doing so with an aim much more akin to CONSUMING then healing, puts him squarely among the ranks of Hannibal Lechter, Jeffrey Dahlmer, and Mike Tyson.

    Disclaimer: The above is of course rendered moot if it is determined that after years of chemical assault, Mr. Richard’s DNA no longer is that of a human being.

  23. Cannibalism is eating flesh. He didn’t do that.

    What it would take for me to debate this further: Invent a new term for snorting pulverized bone dust.

  24. Generally:

    1) When you cut your finger, the first thing you do is put it in your mouth.

    2) At least once in your life, you have licked your own tears as they ran down your cheek.

    3) At least once in your life you have eaten your own nasal discharge (intentional or not).

    4) Lot of folks chews their nails, and swallow (I’ve seen it).

    5) During oral sex (of any kind) you will probably swallow some of the other person’s fluids (intentional or not).

    6) It’s a good bet that when you were a baby, you drank milk from your mother’s breast.

    7) Have a piece of dead skin on your finger? Most folks will sneak a taste of that at one time or another. Yup.

    8) Earwax? Yup, you have probably had a taste of that too.

    Just saying…

  25. OK, I’ll come at this from a different angle. Every definition of cannibalism I can find involves eating.

    Not snorting. Not consuming by various other means. The only qualifying orifice seems to be the mouth. And, yes, I think you have to swallow.

  26. Snort, snort my ash. It can’t be cannibalism because he will just end up with a clogged sinus and a bunch of boogers. No need to worry about Richard’s mental state because it’s been addled by too much drugs. Wasn’t he the one who fell off a coconut tree before? That might be a contributing factor since his noggin has been shaken and not stirred.

  27. I want to say first of all that Keith Richard’s daddy snorting is one of the most, if not the most, pressing questions mankind is grappling with today.

    >>> Every definition of cannibalism I can find involves eating. >>>>

    Well, yeah, current definitions involve eating, but snorting is a zany, unexplored twist on the concept, and that’s the whole point of this debate.

    Specifically, is cannibalism really only defined as someone eating human flesh. Is the “eating” part an essential, defining characteristic?

    As it’s been stated many times in this thread, there’s lots of human flesh eating that’s NOT considered cannibalistic, at least in the broad, pejorative sense of pointing at someone and screaming “cannibal!!!”

    Therefore, you might say: One who eats human flesh is not necessarily a cannibal, but to be a cannibal, one MUST eat human flesh.

    Obviously, though, if this is the case, there are other cannibal-positive factors involved that tip the balance one way or the other.

    What are they? And why, in their presence, is the mere method of ingestion such an overriding factor?

    Should it be? Why?

  28. I would normally say “no,” but perhaps intent matters in this case.

    Assuming Richards had any thought in his head beyond “Snort some Dad. Why the fnck not, man?,” he might in fact have been thinking along Heinleinesque lines when he did a line or two of powdered Papa.

    That is, maybe he did want to somehow make his Dad part of him, achieve some cosmic connection, oh Lord I can’t believe I’m actually writing this.

    But still…

    If Richards’ intent was achieve oneness with Dad, then it’s cannibalism.

    If his intent was to be an idiot and snort whatever powderized substance he could lay his palsied hands on, then it isn’t.

  29. “If his intent was to be an idiot and snort whatever powderized substance he could lay his palsied hands on, then it isn’t.”

    Either way, he seems to have accomplished the latter beyond his wildest dreams.

  30. I think the point of ‘legal vs illegal’ cannibalism is germain. Because you may attempt to argue snorting is cannibalism, but would it matter?

    Snorting bone dust is not specically illegal so the only way to prosecute is to attempt to argue snorting is canabalism. Yet the definitions of cannibalism is too vague. So my guess is that any judge would throw this out, and no new case law would be made, thus no resolution on further parsing the definition of cannibalism.

  31. I’m still snickering at the slippery-slope aspectness of it… Should we condemn vegans that plant non-GMO wheat on Indian burial grounds?


    (ps: answer: Yes!!)

  32. ashes to ashes
    dust to dust
    if the coke don’t get you
    the daddy must.

  33. Daniel B:

    Do me a favor and don’t try to code html in the comments. You end up making them very hard to read.

  34. Cannibalism? My answer is going to change from moment to moment. Yes it’s human remains, even if not quite recognizable as such. But no, burnt to such a crisp means it’s nothing but memories.

    At any rate I’m glad my father’s ashes are underground where Richards can’t get to them. Though since my brothers sometimes have memory problems that burial almost didn’t happen. Instead of paying the mortician $2.50 a mile to take the ashes to the burial we were going to transport them ourselves. My brothers had the ashes by the door, walked out of the house and were thirty miles away before they recalled what they hadn’t put in the car.

  35. I would file this one under the; Holy Shit this nation has far worse things to be worried about and this is what they’re spending time on at law school?

    Besides, I’ve read that Richards has either denied saying/doing this, or that it was a joke. Not to mention that if it’s shock factor he was after, then (at least for me) he missed the boat. A group of stoners snorted the ashes of their friend in the second season of 6 Feet Under. We can put this one to rest and go back to the really important stuff again, like who’s Mel Gibson screaming at this week, is Brit Brit back in rehab, and when is the next Paris Hilton homemade porno coming out?

  36. Darren, the discussion was at dinner, not at the law school itself, as noted in the entry. Also, it’s noted in the entry that Richards denies this.

    Did you read the initial entry?

  37. Hm…I’m not sure it counts anyway when it’s your own dad you’re putting into your bloodstream, since he’s already in there anyway, genetically speaking.

  38. >> Do me a favor and don’t try to code html in the comments. You end up making them very hard to read.

    Sorry–I didn’t see breaks in the preview, and of course only now noticed your warning about it right in front of my face in the Post Comments section. (I did notice that my posts were a bit…white space heavy.)

    Are comments for bolding ok, or are all HTML tags frowned on?

    -Daniel B.

  39. Not sure if it’s cannibalism, but it (ingestion) is along the lines of what I want to happen to my carcass when I shuffle off the mortal coil.

    I want to be cremated, and my ashes packed into little envelopes labeled “FREE SAMPLE! REVOLUTIONARY NEW MEAT TENDERIZER!” and mailed off to people that I don’t like.

    The frightening thing? I think my kids (well, at least my youngest one) would actually honor that request.

  40. The more interesting question is whether snorting human ashes has any psychoactive effect.

    If Keith’s story was true, apparently not in this case. But then, Keith’s father was pretty much a normal human being, except for, y’know, being the father of Keith Richards.

    But… what if Keith Richards lost, say, a finger to an accident, dried and powdered it, and then snorted himself?

    Considering how deeply pickled in drugs his body must be after all those years of abuse, it would be unreasonable to say he would not get high on his own substance.

    Would this create a feedback loop, where his body’s psychoactive effects would become even stronger? If he snorted a second finger, would he get even higher?

    The logical end of all this, of course, after many, many bits of slicing and dicing, is that eventually only Keith Richard’s nose would be left sitting on a table, glowing radioactively with the inconceivably concentrated high-ness of its recursive self-snorting, with one last little line of powdered Keith on the table before it.

    One last, final, ultimate snort, and Keith Richard’s nose will turn inside-out as it reaches the ultimate high, then vanish in a sparkling burst of light as it moves completely into another dimension.

    A higher dimension, of course.

  41. “Did you read the initial entry?”

    I have to admit that I skimmed, and missed those key components. Mainly because I’ve seen this in several other places. I apologize, my comments were as they were because I’m totally suffering from celebrity gossip fatigue. Anna Smith about did me in seeing her death everywhere in the news while really important stuff was/is being ignored.

  42. In China I was taught to say cannibal like so:


    That is, chi ren ro de ren or “person who eats people-meat”.

    It would just be too complex to change it to “person who eats people-meat or ingests the ashes of people-meat through another means.”

    Of course, this definition is purely for my convenience since I don’t want to learn the words for “ashes” or “ingest.”

  43. Two things to consider:

    1. Comatose patients are often fed through a tube in their nose. Are they “eating” or “snorting”?

    2. Much that’s snorted ends up part of the nasal drip and ends up in the stomach. It’s very likely that at least some of Keith’s dad ended up in the digestive system. Some very likely would have made it from the nasal passages to the mouth–at which point it would have been swallowed.

  44. I’m in the cannibalism camp as well. Both because Richard’s clear intent was to ingest part of his father’s body, and because a part of his father’s body ended up in his stomach, where it was digested and some portion of his father’s cremains was added to his body, as was his intent.

    No other reason exists to snort the ashes of another, and I don’t think a dead body, cooked for however long, can ever be cooked enough to stop being a dead body. And I think that it is irrelevant how it entered his body, so long as the intent was to absorb or commune with some portion of his father.

    In any event, to take this out of the law school ivory tower, the true deciding factor as to whether it was cannibalism depends on the jurisdiction he was in when he did the alleged snorting.

    Berkely California: Not cannibalism, and protected by his right to freely practice religion as well.

    Deep in the heart of a god-fearin’ Red State: Yup, that’s cannibalism, and he’s going to do some time or pay the fine.

%d bloggers like this: