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Spelunkers Reflection Essay

In: Social Issues

Submitted By dazzl113
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The Case of the Spelunkers: Murder in a "Cave Cathedral"

Murder is the most heinous of human acts, and unless it is committed in true self defense can never be justified. During a weekend spelunking trip, four close male friends become perilously trapped within a "Cave Cathedral" with little food and limited water. After just a week passes with no rescue one of the men suggests the macabre idea of drawing straws to determine who will be "sacrificed" for food so that the remaining three men can improve their chances for rescue. A critical wrinkle occurs when one of the men, Paul, chooses to remove himself from the process and tells the others to leave him out of it. Unfortunately, the other three keep a straw in the game for Paul which ends up being the fateful short straw and Paul is murdered and eaten in spite of his protest. This essay will argue that regardless of the difficult circumstances that befell the spelunkers, humans rights were violated, when acting against their morals, they committed murder and cannibalized a friend and the resulting punishment upon their rescue was warranted.

The spelunkers' predicament put them in very challenging circumstances to be sure but not severe enough to warrant their criminal behavior. Although, certainly scared the men were not entirely without food and water as they had four Powerbars and access to a small source of "trickling" water. Ultimately rescue happens after 4 1/2 weeks of isolation, though strangely the decision by three of the men to draw straws to see who will be "sacrificed" occurs at just one week into the ordeal. We simply must consider this a premature act given that "it is the general belief that humans can go 35-40 days without food if properly hydrated before significant starvation symptoms set in". (Peel, 1998; c.f. Janiszewski, 2011). These men did not come to this decision as a result of duress from hunger and thirst in just seven days. Furthermore, it would be reasonable to assume that these "best friends" agreed on this excursion because they were fit, knowledgeable of the outdoors, and perhaps even had some spelunking experience and therefore would have not only considered this fateful possibility but would be somewhat more prepared to endure longer than most.

Accordingly, to avoid becoming potentially delirious from lack of food too quickly they would have tried to improve their situation by setting up a plan to ration their resources and not get too stressed. Certainly helping their frame of mind would have been, Peter, who an ordained minister, would have been offering prayers, motivational thoughts, and uplifting comments to help reduce the fear caused by such isolation. Peter would have expectedly espoused against the idea of human sacrifice at such an early stage given his relationship with God. These men would not have needed to go to the extreme of killing and eating a dear friend in just seven days under these circumstances and certainly would be conscious of everyone's human rights.

Equally, these men shared the same human rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" (U.S. Declaration of Independence) that we all do and they violated Paul's. These liberties are engrained in all of us and it would be natural to expect that these would have been especially valued by these men as they supposedly cared deeply for each other. Though our initial human reaction might be to see this differently, we cannot as there are many laws in effect in our society of which these men were members, whether in a cave or not. We all must abide by these requirements to have a proper society. These men knew that murder was against the law as clearly stated in California Penal Code Section 187 (a). Three of the men chose to make the decision to kill more palatable to their respective consciences by a staging a majority over minority vote for the straw drawing method. However, ignoring Paul's decision to not participate in the plan and to move forward without reducing the number of straws from four to three they criminally and unconscionably violated Paul's rights and brought their morals into serious question.

In addition to violating their dear friend's right to life, three men in particular, Peter, Greg and John, within just one week of being trapped, criminally and willingly disregarded their morals when they betrayed and murdered Paul. Certainly the dramatic irony that this terrible event occurs in a "Cave Cathedral" with three men having strong biblical names (John, Paul, and Peter) and Peter being an ordained minister would not have been lost on Peter. Peter had a moral and religious obligation to his God to not murder (Christianity, 6th Commandment) and to prevent killing. The other men had moral obligations to each other to not kill and they prematurely chose to lose faith and disregarded proper morality to survive as long as possible without murdering. Our legal system is intertwined with moral law in that "moral law directs free rational beings toward their ends by imposing obligations on the free will - thus imposing moral necessity" (Fagothey, 1959; c.f. Kizza, 2010). We see clearly that the ability for these men to act morally was still possible as evidenced by Paul's reaction to and decision not to join in the process. Paul's behavior indicated it was too soon for such drastic measures to be taken and he was going to try to survive some other way which he had the freedom to do, morality in check. By Peter, Greg and John not modifying the odds of the straw drawing as result of Paul's withdrawal they betrayed their morals which resulted in Paul's murder leaving his daughter without a father.

To be sure, these men faced a terrible ordeal that is the stuff of nightmares but committed a murder which simply cannot be acceptable. As civilized humans we realize that life has extreme value, not only to us individually but to the greater society in general and killing is a crime because of this value we hold for life. It could be put forth that the spelunkers did not want to slay anyone that day, but make no mistake, these men were deliberate in dishonoring of Paul's right to life. They acted with premeditation as the plan had been thought of and discussed in advance, and the unfair straw drawing method ensured that their acts were criminal. This crime was committed in line with the definition that "it was an unlawful killing committed with malice aforethought (premeditation)" (California Penal Code Section 187(a)). We must insist that murder when committed under such circumstances will not be tolerated and punishment was warranted for the spelunkers.

Without doubt punishment is a critical component to ensure a properly working society, as important as the laws and moral codes that we all operate within. Without proper accountability for breaking laws breakdown of a society would soon result. Following their rescue, as the details of the spelunkers ordeal become public, they were shunned and public hatred was widespread. There are two general schools of thought on the role of such accountability in society, (Bentham, 1962) posits a "utilitarian" approach in that "social harmony" is best served when future harm can be curtailed via some deterrent outcome. The other side is based on the balance of justice, when a crime is committed they must be brought back in balance by some punitive sentence (Carsmith, Darley, Robinson, 2002). Additionally, when crime is committed it can be construed that the criminal has gained in some way and the victim is therefore entitled to some "retribution". The spelunkers actions allowed them to continue to enjoy their right to life, however Paul is dead as a result and his now fatherless daughter is owed some form of retribution and society requires the maintenance of our laws and morality by penalizing these men. An effective human society requires as much fairness as possible for us to co-exist well together, accountability is critical to provide that and therefore the remaining spelunkers must be held accountable and punishment the end result.

Though the reasons why these men murdered and ate their friend can be debated, we know they did not act in self defense and it was premeditated and this equated to a murder that simply cannot be tolerated. They violated a dear friends right to life, kept him in an unfair game with life or death consequences against his will and ultimately murdered and ate him. The uniqueness of our society is that regardless of our individual situations we exist on the basis that we are equal, that we behave in reasonably proper ways while all under the protective and deterring notion that serious consequences will result for causing harm. This over arching system provides us a foundation of fairness, security and understanding that we can operate within. As tragic as the spelunkers' story was their decisions, behaviors and actions must be judged in the context of us all and therefore charges were appropriate and justice properly served.

Reference List

Kizza, J.M., (2010). Ethical and social issues in the information age. Texts in computer science, 2, 15-30. doi:10.1007/978-1-84996-038-0_2 Carlsmith, K.M., Darley, J.M., Robinson, P.H. (2002). Why do we punish? Deterrence and just deserts as motives for punishment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 284-299

Janiszewski, P. (2011). The science of starvation: How long can humans survive without food or water?
Retrieved from: Ash, T. (2003). Can punishment be justified?
Retrieved from: Amnesty International USA & Flowers, N. (Eds.) (1998), Human rights here and now: Celebrating the universal declaration of human rights, appendix 5. Human Rights Resource Center, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.

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