In a small village there lived a dentist who was a cannibal. Everybody in town knew that he was a cannibal. People laughed at him for it, and his reputation suffered a little bit, in the sense that people took him less seriously as a person. A lot of them liked him for it, in the way that they liked anyone who could never be their social equal, and whose accomplishments they could easily disregard.
He poisoned his patients. He told them he was doing it. “I may be a cannibal,” he’d say, and usually with laughter, “but I’m not gonna eat you.” To prove it he would dose them with little bits of poison, which would barely harm them but with make their meat horrible-tasting and poisonous to anyone who would eat it. If they were a particularly tasty-looking person, he’d make a show of being sad to say goodbye to them as potential meals. “Are you sure you don’t want another dentist?” he’d ask. Nobody supposed that he ever really meant it, he was glad to have a patient and there were plenty of other people to eat.
One day a local lawyer got it into his head that the dentist was using cannibalism for an unfair business advantage. He argued that since the dentist didn’t eat his patients, he was implicitly threatening everyone who didn’t choose him as a dentist with cannibalism.
The dentist hadn’t meant it that way. He just wanted to take care of his patients, because he thought that after he’d made a personal connection with them, it wouldn’t be right to eat them. And it would set them at ease about his cannibalism, because to be cannibalized by someone you know felt like a special betrayal.
And he didn’t think people were coming to his practice just to not be eaten. There were a lot of people in the world to be eaten, and he didn’t think the chances of any one person being eaten were enough to make that person come to him just to avoid it. If anything, the people most afraid of cannibals would be less likely to choose a cannibal dentist, even one who never ate his own patients.
But he agreed that the lawyer was technically correct. He tried to offer a few solutions.
The first was that he would choose to eat one or two customers, enough to balance out the field. But he didn’t want to mistreat his customers, so he wanted to choose those who wouldn’t mind. The lawyer didn’t think the solution worked, because the people who volunteered wouldn’t mind cannibalism, and all his other patients would feel safe.
The second was that he would only eat people who weren’t potential customers. So, people who didn’t have teeth, or who had teeth so perfect they’d never need a dentist, or who had a personal dentist and would never consider a professional dentist. That way, he couldn’t be influencing their dental choices at all. But the lawyer said this was a problematic solution, because then he would be targetting people who were disabled, or extraordinary, or rich. And each of these had its own pitfalls.
The third solution was to make flesh-poisoning a standard practice among professional dentists, so that everyone was doing for their customers what he was doing for his. And cannibalism would never come in play for any of them. The lawyer accepted this solution, provided the dentist could make it happen.
He pleaded his case before the dental association. 4 out of 5 dentists agreed. They liked the dentist, they weren’t threatened by his business, and they wanted to see him continue to eat people. It gave them something to talk about.
It later turned out the lawyer had been paid by the company that made the flesh poisons. It was a great get for them: now they were selling many more units of flesh poison.
And so the lawyer got paid a lot of money. He went home to his family and talked about how much money he’d gotten. He liked that the money gave him status within his family. His wife and kids seemed to respect him more. And having the family enhanced the experience of having money in a different way. People didn’t call him greedy, because he was accumulating money for a family, not for himself. They saw all his decisions as things that he had to do, and in fact they admired him for sacrificing the fun of doing the right thing for the responsibility of giving money to his family. They knew that he had to do it, but doing what you had to do was greatly admired.
The children in the lawyer’s family were very attractive and popular in school and they drove good cars, which he had given them. They attained very high grades. The oldest son, the second oldest child overall, crashed his car into a tree and died. It so happened that he was brought to a morgue where the dentist’s friend was walking as a mortician, and after the autopsy the dentist ate the son’s flesh.
As part of the settllement from the lawyer’s case, the dentist was required to provide the court a running list of everyone he ate, just to be sure he wasn’t doing anything unfair with his choices of who to cannibalize. The dentist asked the mortician for the name of the person he’d given up to be eaten. The dentist saw that the last name was the same as the last name of the lawyer. He looked him up online. It was the lawyer’s son, it turned out.
The dentist was sick to his stomach. He was worried that the lawyer would take it as a personal attack, and take revenge.
The lawyer did take it as a personal attack. He was sad that his son was dead, and was touchy. His son had had perfect teeth, and so he had not gone in to the dentist. And then, as his oldest son had developed talent in football, the lawyer had sent him to a premium dentist once a week.
The lawyer successfully turned the people against the dentist, who was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. The people said it wasn’t enough. The lawyer said he agreed. He wanted the dentist killed. And he let them choose the method.
They chose the shooting gallery. Second place vote was the gas chamber.