The inn exploded with indignation.
“Not Madame Vestrati!”
“On a stage, no less!”
“Is there no shame left in the world?”
“Gentlemen, it pains my heart to continue, but I must push on. With the illuminous support of Madame Vestrati, the waste-holding party grew in leaps and bounds. A man’s wisdom was now valued by the size of the pile he could carry. Clever merchants designed arm supports which, hidden under the clothing, could help a man support truly stupendous amounts of waste. Less clever but shrewder merchants bought up the City’s supply of sewage and sold it back to the people who made it.
“Criminals began breaking into the homes of the rich and stealing the contents of chamber pots, and the Judges rose up to condemn this intellectual theft. Soldiers were posted at the homes of scholars, poets, and musicians to protect their waste, which was considered of great value.
“For the Priests, this was naturally an opportunity to divide into two warring factions: The Clean Hands and the Wise Hands, as they called themselves. The Clean Hands maintained that this was a disgusting practice which encouraged godlessness, and that the Wise Hands should be imprisoned and their property turned over to the Clean Hands.
"The Wise Hands maintained that this was an ancient practice dating back to Isaiah, the first man to live by his own waste – and that the Clean Hands should be imprisoned and their property turned over to the Wise Hands. Much ink was spilled on the debate, but the Soldiers prevented any blood from being spilled.
“And I, poor soul, was forced to wait in lines that attracted more flies than men.”
The town minister spoke up. “So it is in these evil times, when men value their own shame more than the good gifts of-” The good patrons shouted him down, wanting to hear the rest of the story.
“Well, needless to say, I slept little and ate less for the rest of my time in the City. I stayed locked up in my room at the inn, which seemed to be the last place in the city where a man could breathe freely. Good people, you know that I am not a religious man-” A round of mumbling assent. “But surely a hand full of prayers has more value than a hand full of waste!”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said the old man. “You may have no use for waste, but we farmers use it to fertilize our crops.”
“And it sounds like waste fetches a good price in the City – maybe we should gather ours up and take it to market.”
Bill shuddered. “Only if you are willing to carry some in your own hand. No one will do business with a Clean-Hand; they’d worry that you were tricked into selling cow waste!”
The crowd muttered about that one. Only a City person could mistake human waste for cow waste.
“As I was locked in my room, I ran the events of my trip over and over again through my mind. The young madman, the people at the inn, Madame Vestrati danced gaily through my mind, taunting me with their outstretched hands. Finally, as I was on the verge of giving into madness, I had a sudden realization: the young madman mentioned a teacher! He had not thought of this madness on his own, it was proposed to him as an experiment!”
“So, tying a handkerchief to my face, I ran to the City Library and poured over their books, searching for any mention of this experiment. With the help of an effluence-dripping librarian, I found it – a book written by a professor at the City College of Philosophy which mentioned this very experiment.”
“I poured over the pages hungrily, wanting to understand the source of this madness. This was the wicked teaching that had driven an entire city to the depths of depravity. Imagine my surprise, then, when I read that the entire thing was only supposed to be a thought experiment.”
“What’s a thought experiment?” asked Fred.
“It’s an experiment where you’re only supposed to think about doing instead of actually doing it. For example, what would happen if you stuck your hand in that fire?”
“Well, I suppose it would get burned.”
“Exactly! That’s a thought experiment. You were not supposed to actually relieve yourself into your hand, but rather just think about what would happen if you did.”
“Well, I suppose you would have a hand full of-”
“Exactly! So you would have more in the hand you relieved yourself into than the hand you prayed into, right?”
“Well, yes. But it would be-“
“Apparently, the young madman had misunderstood his professor and done in deed what he was only supposed to do in thought. Without delay, I ran to the College of Philosophy and inquired after the professor. Perhaps, working together, we could convince the city to confine their waste to their heads instead of their hands.”