Once upon a time there lived a large tribe of roughly 10,000 cannibals who were governed according to democratic principles. Each year they elected representatives to propose laws that they endorsed by public referendum. Since it was commonly held that the majority was always right, no provision was made to ensure the rights of the minority.
While vegetables and edible tubers grew and flourished with abandon in the jungle, they were low in protein. Opportunities to eat meat were limited. One hundred feet or more above the jungle floor, monkeys and birds lived, plenty of meat seemingly available, but difficult to the point of impossibility to obtain. The dense treetops were impenetrable to the arrows and slung stones of even the most clever huntsman.
The hot, humid climate made it difficult for foodstuffs to be stored for any length of time, even dried vegetables. The tribesmen found it impossible to make provision for the future by saving a surplus, but as long as new, fertile fields were created in the jungle while the old, worn-out ones were abandoned they would seldom starve. But the warm, dank jungle occasionally bred a fungus that would wreak havoc among their domesticated plants and then starvation and hard times for all occurred. The few plants that survived the fungus were used as the seed stock for future farming.
Due to these harsh realities, the practice of human cannibalism arose, then flourished. It became socially acceptable, even in times of plenty. So now that there was no taboo against the practice, the question became a matter of whom would be eaten. Naturally enough, it was decided that it would be those who were on the bottom rungs of society: Prisoners of war, slaves, women too old to bear children, the aged, criminals, and even a few members of the higher classes who had questioned the wisdom of allowing the practice of cannibalism to spread.
At first, warfare with neighboring tribes provided plenty of human flesh to eat. The Tribe's warriors were successful in pursuing The Tribe's wars and would usually gain control of the battlefield. Then there would be a great feast upon the dead. Prime cuts of succulent young meat, usually properly bled and without surplus fat. If the carnage had been sufficiently great and there was too much left to spoil, the victors would often invite the losers to share in the meal before it rotted in the heat. During this temporary truce, both sides could also bid a tearful farewell to any prisoners taken in that battle by the other side.
For hundreds of years, as long as the elected rulers of The Tribe didn't get too greedy, this system worked fine. These wars helped get rid of the more stupid and aggressive of the lower classes, those who never held public office, those who might demand change. A small, quick war provided plenty of human flesh to eat with a minimum of waste. If neighboring tribes were eliminated entirely, so went the reasoning, who would we have to eat next?
But as time went on the wars got larger, bloodier, more wasteful. The smaller, more pacific neighboring tribes were eliminated and replaced by larger tribes governed by despots aware of the current reality of eat or be eaten. The governing elected rulers became electorially entrenched and corrupt, even though they had split into two factions. Each faction wanted the same thing -- power -- but they succeeded in letting the ruled think that there were effective differences between the factions.
The last century started out well. For the first half of the century, the wars were won. Then, a few decades later, The Tribe fought a war they seemingly couldn't lose. The Tribe fought against a distant, much smaller tribe, seemingly easy pickings. But this tribe lived on the savanna, and was equipped for the conditions there. The Tribe fought many a battle and won them all, but they eventually lost the war. The smaller tribe didn't need to exist on human flesh and they denied The Tribe easy access to the battlefields. Eventually The Tribe made ''peace with honor'' and left the far-off tribe to its victory.
But this war cost The Tribe more than a few of its young men. For the first time ever The Tribe had lost a war. The neighboring tribes took notice. The internal affairs of The Tribe were torn by recriminations as to why they had lost the war or had even fought it in the first place. Why had the elected officials not fought in the front ranks? Why were their sons exempt from battle? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
For the first time ever, these warlike people were afraid or too cynical to effectively fight another war. But meat had to be obtained somewhere. So for the first time in living memory, the Change faction pushed to a vote the following question: Who, of our society, should we eat? The Change faction proposed that the two percent of those who were the fattest should, since they obviously were the most privileged of society, be eaten first. From those who have to those who need.
The Traditionalist faction argued that it would be much better to return to the traditions that made The Tribe great. Eat the aged, the slaves (those who were left), anyone who was a drain upon society. Fat people are signs that the gods favor The Tribe, and so should be spared. Both factions agreed that those who held office should be exempt from sacrifice since they were so sorely needed. It was commonly agreed that eating select members of the populace was necessary for the public good, the only differences were as to whom they should be.
This opened up a great debate among The Tribe as a whole. People developed good reasons as to why other people should be eaten and why they themselves should be spared. It got so ridiculous that even the aged, who always voted and were a group that few politicians ever angered, came up with the supposition that since they had sacrificed so much for The Tribe in their day, that the younger generation had a duty to support their parents and thus the young should be eaten first. The fat people argued that The Tribe was fatty-bashing although a few of the smarter ones tried to lose weight or run for office. A number of laws were passed so as to increase the number of criminals available for sacrifice. One law passed was that no one could bad-mouth the practice of cannibalism. A number of the most foolish and wise were eaten because of this new regulation.
Eventually, the law authorizing the eating of fat people passed. Soon after all the fat people were eaten, a famine due to crop failure stalked the land. Since the Traditionalists were now a minority, a new law passed and they were eaten. Only the Change faction supporters were left. Since the famine continued, Change faction officials had to propose and carry out a law mandating that the elderly be eaten next. They were, and this law would have mightily pleased the Traditionalists if any had been left. Soon after the last old person was eaten and they were beginning to eat the younger female children and those women approaching menopause, the crops came in and the flesh-weary tribesmen stopped eating the children and started saving the older women for snack food.
The neighboring tribes warred with the remnants of The Tribe and took most of them captive. They sold the youngest, strongest, those who would fetch the highest price to men of another race who came in large ships and who paid for slaves with bottles of rum and guns to gain more slaves. The rest of The Tribe were eaten or they learned to survive on the margins of the lands they had left. Twenty years after the famine, their name was no longer remembered, their language was no longer spoken on the tongues of men.
Moral: While the majority should rule, it had better respect the rights of the minority lest it forfeit legitimacy and perish. No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.
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