Friday, April 27, 2012

Time, time, time, see what's become of us....

Look at the worldly and at the whole world that exalts itself above the people of God; are the image of God and his truth not distorted in it?  They have science, and in science only that which is subject to the senses.  But the spiritual world, the higher half of man's being, is altogether rejected, banished with a sort of triumph, even with hatred.  The world has proclaimed freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs; only slavery and suicide!  For the world says:  "You have needs, therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the noblest and richest men.  Do not be afraid to satisfy them, even increase them"--this is the current teaching of the world.  And in this they see freedom.  But what comes of this right to increase one's needs?  For the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide, for the poor, envy and murder, for they have been given rights, but have not yet been shown the say of satisfying their needs.  We are assured that the world is becoming more and more united, is being transformed into brotherly communion, by the shortening of distances, by the transmitting of thoughts through the air.  Alas, do not believe in such a union of people.  Taking freedom to mean the increase and prompt satisfaction of needs, they distort their own nature, for they generate many meaningless and foolish desires, habits, and the most absurd fancies in themselves.  They live only for mutual envy, for pleasure-seeking and self-display.  To have dinners, horses, carriages, rank, and slaves to serve them is now considered such a necessity that for the sake of it, to satisfy it, they will sacrifice life, honor, the love of mankind, and even will kill themselves if they are unable to satisfy it.  We see the same thing in those who are not rich, while the poor, so far, simply drown their unsatisfied needs and envy in drink.  But soon they will get drunk on blood instead of wine, they are being led to that.  I ask you:  is such a man free?  I knew one "fighter for an idea" who told me himself that when he was deprived of tobacco in prison, he was so tormented by the deprivation that he almost went and betrayed his "idea," just so that they would give him some tobacco.  And such a man says, "I am going to fight for mankind."  Well, how far will such a man get, and what is he good for?  Perhaps some quick action, but he will not endure long.  And no wonder that instead of freedom they have fallen into slavery, and instead of serving brotherly love and human unity, they have fallen, on the contrary, into disunity and isolation....  And therefore the idea of serving manking, of the brotherhood and oneness of people, is fading more and more in the world, and indeed the idea now even meets with mockery, for how can one drop one's habits, where will this slave go now that he is so accustomed to satisfying the innumerable needs he himself has invented?  He is isolated, and what does he care about the whole?  They have succeeded in amassing more and more things, but have less and less joy.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Vokohonksy.  New York:  Vintage, 1991, pp. 313-314.

The words of the Elder Zosima, a Russian monk.  Aside from a few archaisms (carriages, slaves), the words could apply to the present, especially the assurance of unity and "brotherly [sic] communion" brought about "by the shortening of distances, by the transmitting of thoughts through the air."  Or the internet; or text messaging.


  1. I had occasion to quote from The Bros. K. yesterday too, when a blog atheist claimed that what Dostoevsky said about everything being allowed if there was no God was apocryphal. But your quote is far better. And I like the translation you have better.

    transmitting of thoughts through the air

    It's more likely, from what you can see every day, that Twitter, blogs, Wikipedia, etc. are better at transmitting bigotry, hate and disinformation than they are of truth. What I read online has done more to re-convince me that even being receptive to accurate information is the product of good intentions, of a moral predisposition to think that reality matters more than self-interest and personal desire. It has also convinced me that materialism, in its rigidity, is entirely incapable of accommodating the truth.

    Maybe I'm ready to really understand Dostoevsky now and I should go back to him.

    Anthony McCarthy

  2. Maybe I'm ready to really understand Dostoevsky now and I should go back to him.

    Full disclosure: it took me this long to finally read that far into Dostoevsky.

    Some things you are ready for, some things you aren't.

  3. Adding: I stay away from Twitter and Facebook, and I'm getting kind of tired of the "Reality based community" which seems to know less and less about any issue, and know more and more what it's opinion is on any issue.

    So much for the promise of open and free communication. People do with it what they've always done: reinforce their preferences and prejudices.

    By and large, anyway.....

  4. I would imagine that some sort of "authenticating crisis" is probably in the cards sooner or later.

    I have been so accustomed to rely on the imprimatur of the leading publishers and university presses--I don't doubt that a translation of Kant published by Cambridge, or a novel of Flannery O'Connor's published by FSG, represents a good translation or text. It's not infallibility, but it's a high degree of reliability.

    (Example that just comes to mind: Last year I bought Bart Ehrman's edition of the Apocryphal Gospels. Now, from his popular books, I have very little faith in the judgment of Ehrman. I think the arguments he makes from textual variations terrible. But, because this volume was published by Oxford, I think, well, whatever I think of his popular work, Oxford wouldn't be having him edit this if he weren't very, very good at handling this sort of material. So I buy this volume with confidence, and have so far found no reason to think that I was wrong to do so.)

    But, on the net, we seem to be approaching Borjes Universal Library, which contains not only every truth, but every lie.

  5. Borges library contains everything. Which is to also say, it contains nothing.

    Because the one thing it does not contain, is an explanation. Of anything.

    And Ehrman I class pretty much with Pagels; interesting to the masses, not all that interesting to the scholars. Not that that means much to anyone, in the long run.

    Problem of the problem of explanations, I suppose.....

  6. I'm getting kind of tired of the "Reality based community" which seems to know less and less about any issue, and know more and more what it's opinion is on any issue. RMJ

    It seems to have decreased into a small bunch of people who have a high regard for themselves and disdain for anyone who violates their thought code. A universe whose reality is peculiar to itself, as others have their own realities. As much of a multi-universe as is likely to exist. Eventually, anyone who is at all intellectually curious seems to be defecting.

    Ehrman's analysis of textual variants have one interesting feature, well two. It shows how academic analysis has a POV that colors its conclusions. Contained in both its subject matter and in Ehrman's account of it. I suspect in cases where the scholar becomes a celebrity with a buying public that sometimes has to be figured in as well. I heard a theologian (can't remember who) last year say that if Ehrman's atheist fans knew his academic stuff they'd hate him. I don't know if that's true. They'd probably never read it.

    The second, it's hilarious how many of the middle-brow college grads are scandalized by discovering that ancient texts come down to us in variant versions. You'd think they would have been clued into that reality by writing papers in college. Makes you wonder how they'd handle the relative lack of variants in the Qu'ran. It never came to me before but that fact could make the reliability of single copy survivals of things like their newly discovered hobby horse, "De Rerum Natura", intellectually suspect. Who knows if the copy that survived by mere chance is the real, rerum De Rerum?

    Anthony McCarthy