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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, March 03, 2024

A Dilemma in Speculum: An allegory of modern policy

Speculum, a minute, secluded village encircled by dense forest, has a security problem. Though the village itself is relatively safe, danger lurks beyond its timber borders. Every time a member of the community ventures into the woods, they return a monstrous version of their former selves. In some cases the transformation takes years; others reappear by nightfall. Regardless, their intention (do they still have intentions?) is the same: to wreak havoc on the community and prey upon the weak. They froth at the mouth like rabid dogs, covered in cuts and bruises beneath the tattered remnants of their former clothes. Some say they no longer feel pain, running at full speed despite missing limbs and inconceivable wounds. Such ghoulish imagery dominates the frightening tales told to Speculum’s children and occupies the minds of their apprehensive parents.

And though the appearances of returning ghosts—referred to as ‘visits’ in ashen murmurs—have recently dissipated, the danger sustains. Most of Speculum’s adults know a previously lost soul, and the elders can remember anarchic periods in which the very existence of the community was at risk. Indeed, for many years the threat of woodland ghouls was daily; children were snatched in the middle of the night, and the stench of rotting flesh perfumed the morning breeze. Luckily, however, a solution was attained. After years of tinkering, a young man named Rex produced a mechanic contraption capable of eliminating the ghouls effectively. And effective it was—Rex adeptly employed its power to allow for relative peace and stability. But, due to its complexity, only Rex was capable of using the mighty weapon. At first, the village raised no objection to this arrangement (one doesn’t protest when ghouls are at one’s door). But after the fog had cleared, and the last wave of ‘visits’ was repelled, pensive heads grew anxious.

And the village is right to be concerned. First and foremost is the dangerous arrangement of human physiognomy, in which one’s hands are subject to the direction of one’s brain. To endow such immense power to the former is to expose it to the stormy waves of the latter. And though we hope that Rex is a benevolent and trustworthy compatriot, this may not always be the case. Within all lies Narcissus; within all lies Hyde.

The second concern is a result of the first: By way of possessing a monopoly on the use of force, Rex has de facto power to identify to whom that force should be directed. Admittedly, identifying a ghoul is usually simple—the frothing mouth and thirst for blood is a giveaway. But just last year, a bold young bachelor, hoping to court a beautiful girl, stepped into the woods just briefly, returning, according to his companions, unchanged. Regardless, Rex eliminated the intrepid adolescent immediately, claiming he could see an alteration in the color of his eyes. Such confidence provided no assurance to the young bachelor’s family, and the swiftness of Rex’s action has inspired a newfound fear of going near the village borders. Who, indeed, is Rex to decide who is a ghoul? Further, what if, in the elimination of ghouls, Rex makes a mistake? Causes unintentional collateral damage? Such hazards are far from theoretical—a pessimist would go so far as to predict their inevitability.

One village elder proposed that a counsel of men and women be composed, whose vote would be necessary for Rex to label an individual a ghoul and initiate an attack. But what if, as is often the case, the danger is eminent? Surely Rex can’t be expected to idly wait for a majority decision as ghouls are punching through the windows. Indeed, the very advantage of Rex’s weapon is that he can attack swiftly and effectively, premeditating closer encounters. If deliberation restricts the ability of Rex to defend the village, is this not just as dangerous as his current, autarchic control? The extent of this risk, one supposes, depends upon a subjective assessment of ghoulish threat.  

Such is the crux of Speculum’s dilemma. On the one hand, the village must defend itself from the danger that lies in the woods. And yet, Rex and his machine, though effective in their defense, lack accountability. Perhaps an intermediate scheme can somehow assuage the concerns of both parties, but until then, the community must defer to the status quo. Their predicament is one from which all communities could learn; for if one were to take a close look at the tiny, encircled village of Speculum, one would see a reflection of themselves, or at least a version thereof.

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