Felix Writes: Vicious, biting dogs: a fable of security

DigitalThoughts / Vicious, biting dogs: a fable of security

2010-06-27

Once upon a time, in a faraway country, there was a man who kept having trouble with a vicious dog. After being bitten a few times, he fashioned himself a spear to keep the dog at bay. Seeing that, other men started doing the same, as they too were plagued by vicious dogs. For a while, all was well, but not everyone had self-defense in mind. Some of those people started using the weapons to attack their neighbours instead. The ruler of the land heard the outcry, and for some reason decided that the spears were to blame. So he decreed that from then on, only a select elite was allowed to wield spears and fight the vicious dogs. Trouble is, these "policemen" -- as they were called -- were never enough. Moreover, they started thinking themselves privileged and abusing their position. And of course some civilians kept attacking their peers with or without spears. Overall, people were even less safe than before, but too afraid to make any more changes. As for going back, that would have been uncivilized...

Meanwhile, in the next country, they saw the failure of their neighbours, and determined to do better than that. They started putting the vicious dogs in cages, so people wouldn't have to defend against them all the time. Soon, the land was strewn with cages full of snarling, barking dogs who had to be cared for, straining the economy, yet people still weren't all that safe, since of course there were always more dogs at large. A few voices suggested killing all those captured dogs, but everyone else was rightly horrified at the idea. And so the time passed...

There was a third country in the region, a small, peaceful one. Now, the ruler fancied himself a wise person. When one of his own citizens came to complain about a vicious dog, he had a solid cage built and locked the man in it, correctly figuring he'll henceforth be safe from any dog. But the poor man could do absolutely nothing useful in his small, empty cage; his newfound safety was useless. Worse, he could not defend himself against other dangers; he died in the next earthquake. Yet the leader continued applying the same treatment to anyone who came to complain about dog bites. "Do you want to end up like our neighbours?" he asked, and people didn't know what to say...

The worst thing? In all this time, various people kept pointing out that maybe all those dogs aren't that vicious after all. If only they would receive a little food and love they would stop biting people. I think that's hopelessly naive, but as long as nobody tries it on a large scale we'll never know.

What would you do if you ruled one of these countries? What if you didn't, but lived in one of them anyway?