A passage from Wilson1 describing a mystery surrounding the Hungarian prince Vlad Teppis, a man who killed up to 100,000 of his people. The story goes that Vlad invited two monks to a magnificent banquet one night, and then afterward asked them what his people thought of him. The first monk dissembled, and told Vlad that the people thought him a fair but just ruler. The second monk told the truth, and said everyone thought Vlad was a sociopath. Vlad then impaled one of the monks. At this point, two stories which look authentic diverge, disagreeing on which monk was killed.
In Wilson's universe, the story is a published in a popular novel, and, "Arguing about Vlad's choice, as it was soon called, spread from coast to coast." It appealed to people on an intuitive level with some being sure Vlad would kill the flatterer, and others just as certain he would kill the honest man. Some of Wilson's characters takes on it:
"I'd do what the first monk did," Simon Moon said, ... "I'd tell Vlad he was the very model of a Christian statesman--which, in fact, he was."
"I'd tell the truth," said Markoff Chaney, on a Greyhound bus, "just to prove that little men have big balls."
"I'd lie," Dr. Frank Dashwood admitted at a posh Nob Hill party in San Francisco. "The most dangerous thing in the world is to tell the truth to a goverment offical who is a primitive barbarian, in fourteenth-century Transylvania or twentieth-century America."
Wilson ends the passage by applying Game Theory to the problem, pointing out that the puzzle is simply a restatement of Hagbard Celine's "Snafu Principle" from,
"his witty, perverse little booklet Never Whistle While You're Pissing," and concluding that Vlad's choice is a serious challenge to any hierarchical social order by anarchy. I differ with Wilson's conclusion. I think this situation is more like the "Shit happens Principle". The monks are dining with a man that routinely puts people on pikes, who inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula! Vlad is going to kill whomever he wants to kill. It might be the color one monks robe, or the way he pronounces a certain word. He might even kill them both. History doesn't leave us this account, but it already gave us two others, maybe someday we will get a third. Vlad could kill either of them for a reason that has nothing to do with the answer. For this reason instead of anarchy, I say in a crazy world the only winning move is not to play. Let First and Second Estates play amongst themselves while I go off and hide somewhere far, far away.
1Wilson, R. A. The Trick Top Hat. New York: Pocket Books, 1981. All quotations from pp. 69-71.