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The Last Contrarian
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How divine: Humanity's fascination with torture

22 January 2014, 07:35
There is a beautiful practicality to the way much of Africa conducts itself, like, for example, how warlords chop the hands of voters off to prevent a democratic revolution playing out on ballot papers. Even the terms they use are somewhat comical (if one can mentally censor out the accompanying barbarity): long sleeves or short sleeves? Longs sleeves being having your hands chopped off above the wrist, short sleeves being having your arms chopped off just above the elbow.

Another third-world preoccupation and African speciality is that crowd-pleasing favourite amusingly called ‘necklacing.’

Done right, the victim has blue wire pushed through their chest cavity. The blue wire is then tied around a car tyre to secure it in place around the ill-fated person’s neck. The soon-to-be crispy critter (a medical term trauma doctors have for burn victims) is then forced to drink litres of gasoline. For extra effect, some gasoline is poured into the tyre cavity and over the victim’s head and shoulders (one type of dandruff treatment you certainly don’t want). The spectacle is complete when spark meets gasoline and the writhing, screaming victim is engulfed in flames from the torso up. Death is particularly slow—around 15 minutes, with some sessions lasting close to an hour as the victim is put out and relit multiple times to drive home the message: This is what happens when you steal a potato! And who says Africa can’t put on a good show?

Modern derivatives of this age-old classic vary slightly and are hastier in their procession. Usually, the victim is severely beaten as the crowd’s rage intensifies. At this point, no evidence testifying to your innocence will be accepted. And Anything goes, by the way … from merciless strikes with sticks and clubs to indiscriminate pelting with rocks and bricks, on it goes until the offender (or assumed offender) is too weak to resist, at which point they are simply doused in good old Shell 93—the propellant of choice for many a necklacing event—and turned into a human crackling.

Such an experience, you can be sure of it, would make any conscious being regret having a highly developed nervous system. To have your flesh slowly turned into carbon through burning is one of the most excruciating ways to die—which is why grilling the damned is the torture of choice for both the physical and spiritual realms.

For the adventurous, there are some sites on the internet where you can see humanity at its worse. Combined, these sites have literally hundreds of hours of footage for you to gore out on. Be warned, though, you will not see the world the same way ever again after you see the numerous documented cases of human cruelty, yet some people still contend that we did not evolve from savage primates.

As grand and gratuitous as these African customs of torture and execution are, they wither like tomatoes in the desert compared to the horror unleashed by the christians, on innocent people, during the inquisitions and that golden, barbarous era of religious rule: the dark ages.

Due to the lack of video recording equipment circa the 14th century, I can’t point you to any unsettling videos and documentaries depicting how the mercy of the lord was extended to some unbelievers, but I have personally surveyed a grotesque and detailed museum in Malaysia that portrays many of the otherwise deliberately obscured crimes of christianity—crimes one can’t see unless you leave the sanctity of christian nations. Seeing christian history from the perspective of those not keen to flatter or gain the favour of the christian god reveals a striking shrine of suffering, the centerpiece of which is a cup overflowing with blood. This part of the reality of the christian religion has largely been covered up in the west, and with academic precision at that.

Standing in that museum, I was overcome by a moment’s sense of flattery that the christian faith was so determined to weed out those who opposed them. It seems the scientist, the mathematician, and the biologist really did represent undefeatable foes and ideologies to the church and the christian faith at large.

I’d like to thwart my own attempt at using emotional shock therapy and then presenting a target for the traumatised audience to fixate on by highlighting the misconduct even of my favourite historical cultures: Rome and the Ancient Greeks, both of which have gruesome reputations for how they could kindle hellish pain in living flesh.

The Brazen Bull (the Greek’s contribution to the world of torment) is by all comparisons the most nightmarish way to die, in my opinion, for it combines the horror of burning to death with the claustrophobic angst of being buried alive. This metal reconstruction of a bull was hollow on the inside and rather cramped. Into this hollow the person who annoyed the king was then forced through a little door in the side of the bull that was shut once encapsulation had been achieved. This may not sound particularly horrifying, and it is not, at least not until a fire was lit under the metal bull’s belly. The result was a slow death by being cooked alive in a very uncomfortable position that allowed no room to writhe (the buried alive part).

As if contemplating what was happening to the poor sod that landed up in the guts of the Brazen Bull was not enough to preoccupy the masses of yore, inside the Brazen Bull’s head was an intricate arrangement of copper pipes, which would covert the screams of the tormented into the same bellowing sound made by a real bull. What a spectacle this must have been!

(Imagine rolling out one of these Brazen Bulls in a session of parliament when the ANC is again busy putting the ‘troll’ in the petrol price.)

Reading all this information on the info plaque next to the Brazen Bull drew moisture to my eyes as I reflected on the full horror this innocuous looking metal replica of a bull represented. Then, an audible laugh of relief escaped my mouth when read on and discovered that the inventor of the Brazen Bull was the first person on whom the device was tested. Serves him right.

Rome, too, was notorious for its love of real-life bloodsports in its Coliseum. Everything from the common thief to fallen war heroes were pitted against each other or a variety of mauling wild beasts. Alongside these frequent shows in which something or someone was slowly turned into scattered mince in some blood-stained pit, there was an assortment of raping, murdering, and limb-chopping going on in the streets to entertain even those not privileged enough to forego a day’s labour on one of ancient Rome’s many public holidays and join in the crimson festivities held at the Coliseum.

In light of these historical and present-day examples of savagery that I have presented in this article alone, I demand clarification from those who claim that a divine source authored the souls that animate Homo Sapiens to do this to their fellows. Until I am met with a satisfactory explanation—backed up by solid evidence—I find more comfort and explanation given by naturalists: that man is but a clothed beast not much more refined in mannerism or intellect than the other animals still plodding about on all fours.

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