The Birth of Tragedy

by David Raffin

The evolution of private property is a fascinating subject, really. Originally, in the state of nature, I would say that we, much like the various American indian tribes, had no real sense of what we would refer to as "private property."

We just sort of wandered about wherever we pleased. Then there was a revolutionary change.

Picture this scene: a man comes out of his hut one morning and sees another man busy building the first fence.

"Hey, what are you doing over there? What's that?"

"Oh this?" the other man replied. "Oh, nothing really. Just a harmless little fence. Nothing to get alarmed about."

"Fence? What's it for?"

"Well, it's got a lot of uses, really. Keep people out, keep people in, you know, the usual. This particular fence is being installed to signify one of our new property boundaries."

"Property boundaries?"

"Yeah, you see, while you slept, we've invented government. It's this new thing wherein you do all of the work, fight all of the wars that we're planning, and we'll take all of the profit. It's a symbiotic relationship, essentially."

"Sounds more like it's parasitic to me."

"Don't be silly," said the fence builder as he wound out more barbed wire. "After a few thousand years we're kicking around the idea of setting up a democracy for a little change of pace. That's where we let you believe that you're the boss, yet we still hold all of the real power."

On that innocent looking front yard, the seeds were sown for the class struggle to take root. The people at the top formed the superstructure, setting up the rules and laws to their own advantage, and then feeling free to ignore them at will.

They based the political, moral, and religious systems on their own interests as property holders. As they were the property holders, the rulemakers outlawed stealing.

"Stealing is wrong because I own all of the stuff," said the members of the ruling class. "All of the stuff that there is to steal is mine, therefore stealing is a bad thing."

One member of the ruling class taking another member of the ruling class' stuff was not stealing, however. It was annexation of some one else's stuff through warfare.

The lower classes did have something in their favor though: they didn't have to worry much about anyone taking their stuff. They didn't really have anything worth taking.

Anything tangible that they did manage to acquire was taken by the ruling class by a method known as taxation.

Perhaps the earliest example of this first new world order was the code of Hammurabi.

The guy who owned all of the stuff in the community, Hammurabi, wrote down a few rules for the rest of the community to follow.

Just so that no one could claim that these were arbitrary rules ("O.K. Hammurabi, so you own all of the stuff, just who do you think you are to make up rules for the rest of us?"), he used the religious angle as well.

He said the rules were transcribed through him, but that they came from God.

This set him up as an indisputable authority. Not only did he have all of the stuff, but he had God in his pocket too.

Yes, the Code came from God, yet you'll notice that it has Hammurabi's name on it.

Envision this great meeting of the minds: God comes down and has His little chat with Hammurabi.

"You know, I like you Hammurabi," said God. "I even admire you. You've got a lot of stuff. I can respect that. You see, I own the universe."

And he may have needed that aura of strength standing behind him, what with those rules. You see, the Code was strict.

Under the code, if a surgeon performed a cataract surgery (Remember, this was c. 1990 BC: "Anesthesia? Yeah, right, Hold still.") and the patient lost the eye, the surgeons hands were cut off.

(It was a real "eye for an eye" sort of deal. You did, however, get a break if the person to whom you caused harm was a member of the lower class. In that case you simply paid a small fine and had done with it. Social standing was everything.)

Need I add that there was no malpractice insurance? A smart doctor just kept a fast sailboat ready at all times.

It must have been hard to find a good surgeon. By the time that they had been in the profession long enough to gain any kind of skill or expertise, they were probably dealing with some sort of handicap. Either they had no hands ("Hey, I figure, what more can they do to me? The code doesn't say about anything other than hands. Hold still, this is hard to do with your feet."), or, they had a good bit of anxiety building up ("Could this be the one?").

There couldn't have been a real long line for this job. In fact, they probably had to draft people into it.

Becoming a surgeon was probably handed out as a punishment for something else.

The judge said, "You, commoner, have been found guilty of not showing enough respect toward authority. I hereby sentence you to become an eye surgeon, or, to pay to this court an arm and a leg; whichever is determined to be more."

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