The Fable of Can and Abol: A Parable of Personhood and Property

The Fable of Can and Abol: A Parable of Personhood and Property

By Harlan Brown

Once upon a time there were two brothers named Can and Abol. They lived in the kingdom of Amnesia, where the people had forgotten their king. The king was a loving ruler, who had given the people good and just laws to produce peace, prosperity, and happiness, protecting the innocent and guaranteeing justice for all. The people, however, were a lawless bunch, and most ignored their king and did whatever they pleased.

Can and Abol lived in a village named Prominence, which was blessed with more prosperity and influence than any of the other villages in the kingdom. Prominence had two classes of inhabitants, the Weeds and the Eugenes. The Eugenes had founded Prominence and brought the Weeds to Prominence from another village. The Eugenes decided that the Weeds should be considered as property, not persons. That way the Eugenes could own the Weeds and control them.

Some of the Eugenes, however, thought that the Weeds should be considered persons and treated as equals. This eventually led to a serious dispute that ended with the none of the Eugenes owning any Weeds. Some of the more elite Eugenes who lost the dispute decided that if they could not own the Weeds they would send them back where they came from. When that plan failed, they encouraged the Weeds to have fewer children. They told them that by having fewer children the children they did have would have a better quality of life. The Weeds did not buy that.

Then the elite Eugenes decided to revive a religious custom that had existed for many years in Amnesia: limiting family size by sacrificing children to the god of Double-ego. The king had strictly forbidden that custom, but the leaders of Prominence decided to make exceptions to the rule. Children would be considered as property and not persons in certain situations. Several types of exceptions were proposed:

  • Size: Babies under 24 inches long can be sacrificed.
  • Level of development: Children who cannot walk or talk can be sacrificed.
  • Environment: Children in the privacy of the home can be sacrificed.
  • Degree of dependency: Children who cannot feed themselves can be sacrificed.

The village elders agreed that a child who met all of these criteria could be sacrificed. They additionally agreed that a child who met any one of the criteria could be sacrificed if his or her father was a criminal. In that case, each villager would be required to pay so that money could be given to the family that was sacrificing the child.

The elite Eugenes, cleverly discerning when they had a good thing going for themselves, also arranged for the villagers to hire a group of individuals to promote child sacrifice by the Weeds. The program was so successful that the village reached the point where Weeds were five times as likely as Eugenes to sacrifice their children. The elites rejoiced.

The plan proceeded on course until the king learned of it. He sent emissaries to warn the elites that they were violating his laws and he was not pleased with what they were doing. The villagers discussed what to do, and Can and Abol became involved in the discussion. Both opposed child sacrifice and would never have considered doing it themselves. However, the two brothers had differing views regarding what the village policy should be.

"We need to abolish child sacrifice," Abol said.

"The villagers can continue the practice," Can replied. "Many of them do not understand that it is wrong, and it would not be right to force our values on them."

"We need to abolish child sacrifice," Abol said.

"Even if we outlawed child sacrifice, we have neighboring villages where it would still be legal," Can said. "People would simply take their children there to perform the ritual. Are we going to have laws to restrict travel to other villages where it is legal?"

"We need to abolish child sacrifice," Abol said.

"Education is what is needed," Can said "We need to educate the villagers as to how wrong it is to sacrifice their children, not force our values on them and try to prevent them from doing what they are going to do anyway."

"We need to abolish child sacrifice," Abol said.

"Some of the families in the village are overly large and some of the children unwanted," Can said. "We should allow the parents to reduce their family size, and child sacrifice is an established practice in our village and most of the kingdom."

"Child sacrifice should be abolished in our village and throughout the kingdom," Abol said.

"Whether it is illegal or legal it will happen; we won't stop it," Can said. "We can't change human nature. We need to at least make some exceptions."

"We need to abolish child sacrifice totally," Abol said.

"But what about the case where the child's father is a criminal, not even married to the mother, and conceived the child against her will?", Can said. "Certainly we must be merciful and allow the mother a choice of what to do."

"We need to abolish child sacrifice totally and completely," Abol said. "You know that the king is not pleased with what is taking place. He loves each of the inhabitants of his kingdom, from the least to the greatest."

The controversy in Amnesia continues to this day. Action by the king appears to be imminent.

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