Omar Khayyám’s Equation for Human Perfection


God created the human species such that it is not possible for it to survive and reach perfection unless it is through reciprocity, assistance, and help. Until food, clothes, and a home that are the essentials of life are not prepared, the possibility of the attainment of perfection does not exist. -Omar Khayyám (Ḍarūrat al-taḍād fi’l-‘ālam wa’l-jabr wa’l-baqā‘, 143).

Recently a colleague of mine spoke to me about her criteria for dating men. “I don’t date guys who don’t have a car or don’t have a job.”The next moment she seemed to looked at me as if  she just said could be something that as a guy, I could have taken personally. But I agreed with her. “Why should you hitch your dreams to some broke-ass piece of shit?” Now I don’t have anything personally against broke-ass pieces of shit, in fact, I’ve been one myself a few moments in life, but it has to be said, being broke is a tremendous pain in the … well, ass. My statement seemed to startle her. Perhaps she hadn’t expected me to utter such an inelegant spew, so maybe that’s why she gasped. Maybe she was taken aback that I agreed with her criteria of dating. Having a standard isn’t so bad, but a lady who dates unemployed men is just asking for problems. But this conversation led me back to consider the notion of economic determinism that I have muled over recently, along with new insight of more of this subject’s dimensions.

Here was a young lady who was basing her potential relationships specifically on the ability of a guy who had a job (access to money) and transportation (a necessary instrument in regularly attaining access to money). Undoubtedly this criteria for a relationship is intimately linked to security and stability. And like everything else in this world, security and stability costs money.


Omar Khayyám was a Persian mathematician, astrologer, theologian, philosopher and poet – among other things, who died in 1131 CE. Perhaps it was through his mastery as a mathematician that he was able to work out the above equation of which relationship – values  need between people need to be in place to create Heaven on Earth. We have all recognized which essentials of life are the most important to us, because we know that if we were forced to survive without the benefit of money, making it through a day is a hellish struggle. It doesn’t take much imagination to place yourself in the shoes of a homeless person, or a child factory worker sewing cheap garments for brutal hours and little pay, or as a someone who can’t afford to pay a hospital bill after a catastrophic illness.  Buying your right to survive, or rather, possessing the absolute necessities of life is determined by one very important thing: one’s access and relationship to money.

Determinism is the claim that all events have an antecedent condition, which can be expressed in mathematical or natural law and contrasted with the claim of “free will.” In the metaphysical context the spiritual dimension of determinism has been expressed as “Divine Law” or predestination. In economic terms, Karl Marx [1] and Frederich Engels formulated the social theory of economic determinism, which they never explicitly stated, but touched upon it and implied its existence throughout various arguments and analyses of their studies between the state and its economic superstructure.[2]  These arguments led their followers to the reductionist claim that all relationships in society are based on economics. This claim was one from which Engels quickly backed away, as he despaired that was misused by others who didn’t  fully understand its nuances and complexity.  Perhaps this is true. But I believe that it is also very easy to see and understand that the claim of economic determinism can explain why the reality of economic inequality exists within a society which promotes the discredited fantasies of “equal opportunity” and economic justice. In the 21st Century, capitalism is now under neoliberal control where the State and corporate interests of the elites are one. And from this, all relationships in society are determined by the amount of money one has in their control.

It is a truism that environment, and more importantly, one’s connections and relationships with key figures has a telling influence in determining the likelihood of one’s success or failure within society. Obviously the odds of leading a successful life are increased with one’s successful relationship and access to money – the advantages that are baked into the lives of those who can afford superior education, diet and living situations go a long way in determining how well one can exist within the world economic system. But what can this all mean to those who have lived for and believed in the American Dream  who see that dream whither before their eyes?

Robert Hilton says: “If we assume that the laws of history are a reflection of the laws of nature, economic determinism is a very important law. Marx and Engels, among many others, deserve credit for their work in refining economic determinism into a coherent doctrine that helps all scholars explain history and political economy. Gorbachev was indeed correct that many forces precipitated Communism’s downfall, among them economic. Semi-integrated into the world capitalist-system while pursuing its own regional integration, the Communist bloc was neither Communist nor capitalist, but a mixture of an anachronistic enclave that operated very inefficiently without meeting the material needs of its people and without offering much hope for the future. Ironically, the doctrine of “Economic Determinism” explains the fall of Communism. That should give hope to those who believe in Socialism as a viable system, and it should be a source of concern for those advocating globalization. The same forces that brought down Communism are at work in any political economy that fails to serve society and fails to keep pace with change”. [1]

Returning to Khayyam’s statement, I am pleased to see such an ancient and timeless consideration about the Human Condition addressed so simply. It is clear that social unrest, inequalities and political dysfunction within and between societies is an outflow of the priority we’ve given to the negative nature of our relationships. I am pleased because it means that the world can be different, if only we would be strong enough to make it so. We have been so engrossed in our own personal project towards wealth accumulation and affluence that we’ve made it impossible to imagine that a world could be a mutually beneficial place for everyone. There are certainly enough resources to go around. We’ve all been programmed to believe that to get something for ourselves, someone has to get less. Or worse, if others couldn’t keep what they have, then they had no right to own it in the first place, and if they suffer abuse, neglect, torture or murder… well, too bad. It must be the Will of God.

My belief is that we live in a deterministic, existential universe. Therefore “free will” can only exist within a limited set of responses or “choice.” But within that limited range of human response there is a gift. We could decide to change our programming and leave the universe of competition, war and mental illness within the Zone of Survival, and aspire to the next phase of human development, which is ensuring a dignified life for everyone. That would be a profound use of our “free will” capability. The Living Wage movement is one of many attempts at awakening the world’s body politic – and will be the defining issue of the 21st Century.

Omar Khayyám’s equation for human perfection was something I tripped over while researching this article, and I’m so glad I did, because I experienced a gratification that some ancient teacher actually possessed enough practical common sense to  “get it.” And although it will take a regrettable sociopolitical cataclysmic event that will affect everyone equally so horribly that a living guaranteed income will be the only reasonable economic model to move forward with , such an idea will arrive in the fulness of time.


[1] Economic determinism can be implicitly unearthed within careful exegesis of Karl Marx: “In the social production which men carry on, they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society–the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.” A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Kerr, 1904), Preface, pp. 11-12.

This last sentence is crucial to understand, for what Marx is saying (and what social sciences have confirmed) is that one’s economic environment determines the nature of one’s consciousness. .Recent studies have shown, for example, that children who are raised in upper-income families have vastly larger vocabularies than children scuttling about in poverty. In the Information Age, vocabulary is everything, and offers a child much more intellectual power to understand their place while navigating through the world systems. 

[2] Hilton, Laws of History: Economic Determinism

“Marx’s conception of economic determinism has a number of implications for what is generally understood as “freedom of the will”; the range of possible courses of action and belief are always already suggested by the environment from which they arise and flourish, and yet the choices we make among them are always, in one way or another, influenced and directed by our values, attitudes, and beliefs. But these, in turn, are determined and directed by the contingent environment in which we find ourselves, and for Marx, that environment itself arises from general economic conditions. Generally speaking, Marx does indeed reject the traditional idealistic assertion of libertarian free will that the human agent is capable of making choices and taking action independently of any external influence.” Estelio Iglesias,
Materialism and Economic Determinism: Freedom of the Will and the Interpretation of Behavior, paper, Athene Noctua: Undergraduate Philosophy Journal, Issue No. 2 (Spring 2014) Florida Atlantic University.


2 thoughts on “Omar Khayyám’s Equation for Human Perfection

  1. El cambio de cada UNO depende de como utilizamos cada UNO el libre albedrío; pero no, ese libre albedrío que nos ensenaron, No; es ese libre albedrío que nos permite diferenciar cual camino es el que nos indica que es , lo que es mejor para cada Uno y para todos. Como el tema es tan extenso que da para muchos comentarios , comparto la opinión de que sin lugar a dudas, mientras no tengamos acceso a techo y comida y todo lo que implica vivir en este planeta, la supervivencia sera un verdadero infierno aquí en la tierra.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s