The Philosopher Between the Capitalist and the Communist
Chapter 4 : A Philosopher Among the Capitalists
"The communists are trying to get all of the truth to themselves! They probably plan to communalize it, and give each person an equal and fair share of truth. We need to get us some of that or there won't be any Capitalists with truth!" This is how the day began at the throne room in Babylon.
"Of course, sir," Hammurabi's servant replies.
"Mobilize the troops right away. Hunt down that truth by the point of the spear, if you have to."
"Perhaps, sir, you should just invite him here. He might come, as he did when he was invited by King Solon."
"Ah, yes, brilliant plan. He shows up, we seize him, and then there will be nothing he can do as we purloin the truth from him. The very nature and plan of the stars in the sky, in their eternal luminescence and their hopeful brightness, all of that shall be ours, once we punch him in the stomach and then run off with it."
There was a quiet calm in the throne room, until the king spoke again. "Invite the philosopher here at once, I demand it!"
"Do you want him to cause trouble? That is what he is reputed for."
"Do you know what the world will think when it becomes well-known that truth can be found in the Communist city but not in the Capitalist city? Do you have any idea of the implications of negating and ignoring the truth?"
"I'll send for the philosopher right away, sir." But Hammurabi's servants had as much difficulty as the servants of the Communist King. "We looked everywhere from the Nile to the Tigris, anywhere either sunlight touches the earth or breathable air can be found -- there was no philosopher to be found, there was no truth to be had," read his general's report.
Like Solon, Hammurabi lost interest in his question, and eventually let the project fall to the side. Many weeks later, when in the security of his palace and surrounded by his imperial guards, a soldier informed him that the philosopher had been spotted in the marketplace of Babylon. "We have sent the police to bring him here," the soldier said.
"And you made sure to inform the police that this person isn't a criminal and shouldn't arrive damaged, right?"
"I promise the incident with the Egyptian diplomat will not be repeated. Remember, you instituted the sensitivity training?"
"That's right. Well, once he's found, bring him here, waste no time, and don't hurt him." The sun set and darkness covered the sky, and yet, there was still no philosopher in the throne room of the Capitalist King. Hammurabi had difficulty sleeping that night, knowing that his forces were unable to apprehend one of the oldest people in the world. He must've been humbly buying some grapefruit when troops rushed past him, not noticing that he possessed the only thing that could really threaten them.
The next morning, Hammurabi's first official action would be to inquire into the status of the philosopher's freedom. A police report was produced for his review, but it indicated the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of an old woman. She had been mistaken for the philosopher, "because she was wickedly old and hideous."
After hearing this news, he went to sit down at his throne, but then stopped short -- "No! I cannot accept it! There is no reason why Communists should be allowed to have the truth but Capitalists cannot!" The king stood up from his throne and walked toward the tremendous doors that guarded his throne room
"Shall I fetch your coat and bodyguards, sire?"
"Yes, and make sure to get Maurice, the one-eared guard; nobody messes with us when we're in the marketplace."
The guards arrived and the national sovereign left the palace surrounded by his entourage. Once at the market place, Hammurabi resumed his old position of directing the group: "This is a marketplace and we're looking for a philosopher, so try to think of any food that would satisfy someone who had their filling of truth."
"Well, that depends really -- what does the truth taste like?"
"You should know, you're the ones here who have most likely tried it."
"I've never had any, but I bet it would be slightly or somewhat sweet, probably with a wholesome feeling after eating."
The king retorted: "Are you sure it wouldn't be bitter?"
"If you had a bitter one, you might've just had a really sour truth -- food?"
"It would obviously be a fruit," Hammurabi replied.
"Fruit's not filling like bread. How can you have an unfilling truth?"
And just then, a man walks past Hammurabi, "You can have an unfilling truth, because it just leaves you wanting for more. Good day, sirs." The figure disappeared back into the mass of moving clothing and flesh that is a marketplace crowd.
One of the guards turned back to the King, "You know, it could be a vegetable. I've had a few sweet ones."
The king's eyes widened, "Just hold on there -- that's him! That's the philosopher! Get him!" Like an alpha male from a pack of wolves leading by the snout, Hammurabi bolted into the crowd with his index finger waving wildly about in the air -- "Get the philosopher! Get the man of truth! Don't let him escape! We must have him!"
Maurice and the other bodyguards bolted into action, swinging wildly back and forth with their clubs at anyone who might obstruct their passage. The crowd reacted, and a barrage of rotten fruit, most of them filled with stones, brought the guards of Hammurabi to their knees. At the heels of the philosopher, Hammurabi looked back just in time to catch a glance of Maurice losing a tooth from a slingshot -- but Hammurabi felt no concern, for in Babylon, everyone citizen is consoled by the rule of a tooth for a tooth.
The philosopher took no notice of the king, turning occasionally from the fruit selection before him to look at Hammurabi.
The king didn't care for being ignored. "You came here through the marketplace? You shouldn't be traveling through the common public like that. It could be dangerous. You need to learn to be more responsible, philosopher."
The stranger finally replied, "Do I know you?"
"I'm King Hammurabi."
"So, I don't then.... oh, wait -- you mean, the Hammurabi who is going to punch me in the stomach and take off with my truth, eh? Funny, I just checked my satchel when I was making a barter in the marketplace, and, it seems that I forgot all of my truth at home."
"What? You mean, you don't carry any spare truth on you, like, in case of an emergency?"
"And what kind of emergency would I need truth for? When meeting a king whose intentions are deceitful?"
There was no response from Hammurabi.
"You only want the truth because Solon wanted it. Why is it that every time a Communist does something, that a Capitalist must do the same thing?"
"Isn't every city made greater by the presence of truth?"
"Yes, that I certainly can agree to," the philosopher replied.
"Well, if you knew that I wanted you, and that I wanted the truth, why didn't you bring it with you?"
"And just what are you planning to do with it? What's your grand plan? Are you going to inscribe it on great, huge monuments, like your laws? Or shall you devote your time, your life, and your energies to it? What use does a king have for truth?"
"I could afford someone to make it useful to me."
"You couldn't afford me; I don't accept payment in your tender."
"It's a crime, you know, to refuse payment in Babylonian coin."
"Are you threatening a man who somehow carelessly slipped through an army of your police and soldiers, with as much ease, as say, pealing a grapefruit?"
"I hate you.... You must've been avoiding specifically me on purpose, right?"
"Everything I do is on purpose, but I know you wouldn't accept my explanations."
"What makes you say that?"
"You are after me because I am the guardian and admirer of truth, right? Because there is something in my possession that you envy, right?"
"Yes, very true. Please, let's finish this conversation in my closer quarters."
"Are we going to discuss something that the general public should not be hearing about their king?"
"Those are the only things I discuss."
"And why should I even go with you? Five minutes ago, all you were was just some other person in the mob of buyers and sellers."
"What do you have to buy and sell here that's more important than having a discussion with the king?"
"How do you know that I don't just give truth away, a little bit at a time, to everyone who asks for it? How do you know that this isn't important?"
"What do you want from me?"
"Your humility." Hammurabi stood there without making a word, still sweating from the mad dash through the marketplace. After letting a moment, the philosopher said, "Fine, let's go."
The philosopher of truth and the king of Capitalism took a short walk and without much time, they were at the imperial palace of the Babylonian Empire. The king took time to impress the philosopher of the goods that Babylon could offer: silk, incense, spice, every metal imaginable melted and pounded into every imaginable shape. In response, the philosopher was careful to give acknowledging gestures, without committing to any trade deals. And just then, the two reached the palace, and the king was once again surrounded by a horde of curious, onlooking bodyguards, like a swarm of locusts. "So, philosopher, what will it take for you to part with truth on behalf of what we here in Babylon want to give you?"
"I already told you, I don't have any truth with me. I left every ounce of it at home, but if you're intent on robbing me out of something, feel free to take these well-worn sandals. Think of the story they'll tell in the villages after that -- the king, after finding out he could steal truth, beat up the philosopher to get it, and was too stupid to realize that he was walking away with a pair of heavily used footwear."
"I've had children stoned to death to saying less to me, but your my guest, so I'm still going to invite you inside."
The two walked up the stairway of the king's palace, toward Hammurabi's thinking room. The king pulled the philosopher close to him for a moment, so that the two could exchange a few brief words beyond the earshot of the guards.
"Back there in the alley way, before when we were talking to each other -- you had said, you would only come and talk with me if I gave you my humility. Thanks for putting that tab on the house."
"I'm not going to charge someone who can't be expected to pay. If that's the type of personality I have, then I would've moved here to the home of Capitalism, here in Babylon."
Hammurabi closed the doors to the room in the citadel's tower, with just a few guards in the hallway. Now, the both of them were in each other's complete solitude.
"Why can't you barter away truth like every other merchant who comes here with their wares? What's so special about it?"
"There's plenty that's special about it -- for anyone who has the time and the energy to seek it out."
"Well, I'm seeking it out now."
"Name your price. And I want prices by volume, not by unit."
"Well, let me ask you some questions."
"That's what you want in trade? Questions for truth? Uncertainty for certainty?"
"You're the author of 'An Eye for an Eye', aren't you?"
"Of course I am, and I'm proud of it."
"What's the disclaimer?"
"How do you mean?"
"Well, I've read it, rule #196 of Hammurabi -- an Eye for an Eye. Right?"
"Yes, that's what it says."
"What about rule #198 of Hammurabi?"
"What about it?"
"Doesn't it say 'But if you poke out the eye of a poor person, then you shall pay a fine of 1 mina of gold.'? Isn't that rule #198?"
"Ah, you read past all of the popular and horrifying ones, right down to the technical language that most others pass over. So what?"
"Why not... an eye for an eye, for everyone?"
"Everyone must be afraid of those in society with the most status and power in society. It's a natural law. If someone knocks out the eye of the king, and another person knocks out the eye of a poor, illiterate, potato farmer -- would you really met out the same punishment to both offenders? Would you convict them of the same crime and send them to the same punishment?"
"I can see why you wouldn't sentence them the same -- but why shouldn't I?"
"This is your damned question? Really? You don't sound a damned thing like those Communists. Now I'm wonder what the hell my aid was warning me about."
"What? Oh, yes... It's 1 mina of gold. That's affordable. Besides, most of the time, the fee is for knocking out the eye of a slave. And at 1 mina of gold, even you could afford that."
"I couldn't afford a fee over zero mina of gold."
"Did the Communists teach you that trick? Appearing humble and poor so that you can seem honorable and just?"
"They're teaching me the same thing you are."
The king turned and hesitated. "Maybe you've spent too much time among them, and maybe I should've listened to my aid. Is that really a question, or is it a complaint against the way I administer my empire?"
"My point is that a restriction which arbitrarily treats identical quantities differently is ultimately against the truth."
"Even Solon keeps slaves. You know that, right? Is that your problem with what I'm doing? I know he hates it whenever I mention that."
"Yes, I know that King Solon is the owner of slaves."
"So what's your problem?"
"Truth isn't about seeking out problems to criticize them. It's about getting behind, underneath, and around things, so that you can see them in a way nobody else does."
"Isn't truth just what you need to understand?"
"Truth is about equality."
"There's equality! Equality among the rich and the riches!"
"Certainly not equality among the riches, and besides that, what do you think is going to happen when everyone knows the phrase an eye for an eye, believing it's about equality, but then someone looks it up, and discovers that disclaimer, 'an eye for an eye, unless the victim is poor, then there is a penalty of 1 mina of gold.' [*1]? What do you think that person will think of you then, after having worshiped the Capitalist image of equality?"
"Everyone equally has a right to pay that fine, and if they couldn't pay that fine, then they wouldn't be rich. Isn't logic the basis of all philosophy, philosopher?"
"I want the logic behind the logic."
"You can't have that logic. It's a forbidden logic. I can give you the rationalization behind everything we do, but that -- I expect you'd know that yourself, anyway."
"And perhaps I do."
"Perhaps the punishment isn't meted out equally against and perhaps the punishment doesn't exist when the accused is rich -- but that type of inequality is the natural result when everyone has an equal right to stake their riches in the free economy."
"Equality breeds inequality?"
"It breeds it excessively! If you see a marked difference between rich and poor, it's only an indication of how strong we believe in equality of the social and economic system. Seeing men and women prostituting themselves out for a mere handful of bread is proof that we must have more millionaires than any other country on the planet."
"How do you know you won't be overcome?"
"You know the old saying -- the only person who has lost all security is the person who believes that they are completely secure."
"Yes, I've heard it now and then."
"So then you have your answer; citizens who have to maintain their own standard of living are going to be tough and responsible. Any neighboring government that nourishes its people with 'bread for all' and 'everything to everyone who needs it' is going to breed a weak citizenry. They won't have the cruelty to cut a man's throat in battle and they won't bombard a city's defenses if the inhabitants line up their children on the city walls. As Capitalists, we are more fit than any other nation to lead and command the Mediterranean, because our people are fit -- our government makes them so."
"Does that mean Capitalism is more fit for those who want to lead and command than those who want to live and work?"
"It means that our people are better than the people of any other nation! A society where anyone can build themselves up out of nothing and into someone important is the society that is going to rebuild the world out of itself. There's no citizen in Athens who can build themselves up, except for Solon. Everyone is given their home, given their bread, given their job. There is no more private conquest and private ambition. Just the moral character of the Communist people, their ease and carelessness, sickens me. Running a Communist government is like being a father in a family where all your sons are failures and need you to help them live. But running a Capitalist government is just about letting the ambitious and self-disciplined take whatever they could have claimed by force and violence, if they were allowed to use it. It avoids the bloodshed, while not sapping our country of those who till the fields and fill the armies. The dead are most valuable when they die in the fields, either of farming or battle, and not as a victim to a private king rising through the ranks of the economic elite."
"You're not just a Capitalist, then, are you?"
"Heavens no! I'm a King! Just like Solon! That's the one thing we both have in common, between all of the differences -- we run our own governments, tell our people what to do, and kill or enslave anyone who gets in our way. Sure, he may be a Communist, and I may a Capitalist, but we are both Statists. We believe in the supremacy of authority and power above all else. He believes in it 'so he can take care of his people.' I do it for the same reason, but people are best taken care of when they have conquered every corner of the globe and have nothing to oppose them. But we both do it."
"I only wanted to know why you don't have equality -- and I think I have my answer."
"That's right. Now you know. We have equality, except in the right way."
"I think it's time for me to leave."
"But you haven't agreed to give us truth in exchange for any of our highly prized goods -- pottery, silk, tea, spices, slaves. We must have something you want. That's the only reason we are as powerful as we are for a city-state. Everyone wants what we have. That's enough to rule the world."
"And truth? What do you have for someone who comes here seeking out truth?"
"If everything works out right between us, truth will be ready in stores for purchase as soon you bring the first shipment."
"I will do my best to devote my thoughts to the topic."
"I have your guarantee, don't I?"
"Hammurabi -- have I ever asked you for a guarantee of anything?"
"You are right. But before you go, I heard a rumor that you let Solon give you a name. You need to be a self-made person and give yourself a name."
"Do you have any suggestions?"
"You know, I do actually, and it's much better than Olmo. Long ago, there was a man here who worshiped the gods the way we worship them -- there was someone who prayed with the same words we use, in complete rejection of all that was well established all over the world at that time. His name was Amin, and he was crucified. There haven't been any like him yet, but in the middle of our conversation today, you made me think of him. So, I bestow upon you the name Amin. You shall be forever known as Amin the Philosopher."
"It's just a name."
"You know, Amin, today you made me think about a lot of things. You made me think of my people, my empire, even my life, but -- HEY!" Hammurabi turns around just in time to see the Philosopher slip down a rope hanging outside of the window.
"Guards! Guards! Hurry in here! The philosopher has disappeared!"
A handful of guards, slowly swelled by others attracted by the commotion, burst into the room. Each was equally curious about their visitor, "What happened?" ~ "Did you have problems tricking the guardian of truth?" ~ "You tried bribery, right?"
"You know, I'd like to be able to scream for the guards one time and not hear someone ask that question about bribery." They searched everywhere for the Philosopher. Like a pot of boiling water sitting by itself, they only produced heat and steam, but no sustenance.
*1. "The Code of Hammurabi," by Hammurabi, Translated by L. W. King, composed about 1780 B.C.E., Paragraph 196 and 198, http://