How Can I Be Happy in Such a World as This!
by Frank Mosca
THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV OF DOSTOEVSKY: A REPRISE OF THE CHAPTER "PRO AND CONTRA" FROM AN OPTION PERSPECTIVE
Last chapter we looked into the myth of the wrongful beginning and the question of "how things got to be the way they are." In this chapter, we will broach the thorny issue of freedom, for this is at the core of the truth about happiness. As we describe our existences as contingent upon others or the world around us for our happiness, so do we unseat freedom from its central place in the history of any individual self.
Guilt is only a pseudo correlate to freedom. That is to say, we do not feel guilt because we are free and therefore responsible for what we are. Rather we feel guilt (that is bad about being who we are; shameful, and bad about whatever we have done or plan to do) because we believe WE HAVE TO! Not to feel bad about what we have done would confirm our basic evil nature and mire us more deeply, perhaps irretrievably into the morass of evil that lurks everywhere around us seeking to seduce us into ever more horrendous thoughts and behaviors. Now of course, all of this is governed by whatever cultural/ religious/ ideological rules that we have taken in and consented to as being valid for us. The proof that we believe them is precisely that we FEEL bad, or guilty or ashamed over having transgressed those rules.
All this pain and bad feeling is meant to be an internal corrective moral gyroscope, designed to give us a "shock" of moral pain in the form of guilt, etc., whenever we exceed the limits of the permitted. Presumably, this internalized pain device will maintain private and public order and promote the common good. Thus, does Dostoevsky call evil the "indispensable minus" in this novel, in the spirit of being the "necessary" contrast to the "good" that acts as a moral beacon to humans seeking equanimity. Of course, he is speaking somewhat ironically in his work, since the one who reminds him of this phrase is the avatar of evil, the devil himself (or herself, I suppose to be politically correct!).
What is important as preamble is simply to note the presence of "evil" and the apparent ease with which all fall prey to this reputed ever present malignant gravitational force drawing us to our moral doom. Seeing evil as present everywhere underscores why humans DREAD FREEDOM. For, with freedom comes the possibility of choosing evil, of being bad for ourselves. Better to contrive not to be free and thereby, perhaps escape the apparently horrible dilemma of being human:
People choose what they feel and think about anything People are free everywhere, and yet choose to believe that they are constrained in their opinions, beliefs, attitudes, decisions, and OPTIONS. WHY DO PEOPLE BELIEVE THUS? They choose to believe that they do not choose. In some way they must believe that they would be responsible for something bad if they had to realize that they freely choose. People fear being free because if they were free they would be ‘too’ free and would do evil or something bad.7
For those who are not familiar with the novel, what is essential to know is that one of the brothers, Ivan, understood as the intellectual or philosopher among them, is in a state of despair, tasting, as it were, the unbearable wrongness of being as all his assumptions about life seem false. Agitated and sensing a mental collapse he is haunted by what he perceives as the failed hopes of a utopian revolutionary youth and the further blows of unrequited love and the internecine struggle of his brothers among themselves and with their patriarchal father. We enter at this point in the novel with this version of what could have been. This hypothetical reworking would come after Ivan’s long discussion with his brother Alyosha and after he has had an experience with another apparition, seen by him as the devil.
A DOUBLE RETELLS THE LEGEND OF THE GRAND INQUISITOR
Ivan was sitting alone in his room, the conversation with his brother Alyosha, and the taunts of the petty demon still pulsating in his mind. His feelings were a mixture of incredible agitation and precipitous depression, as he stands on the edge of an abyss and shudders over the thought of how delightful it would be to just hurl himself headlong into it, to let go of all restraints and finally let happen whatever will.
Just at that instant, he thought he heard a voice, a familiar voice, indeed his own voice say: "Why are you so unhappy?"
Ivan froze and after a moment relaxed slightly and resumed his tragic ruminations, but then, again, he thought he noticed a shadow, no something more substantial, something nearly human, sitting in the chair across the room, hidden in the semidarkness created by the pale flickering light of the candle. He rubbed his eyes and blinked several times, but he could not shake the sense of a presence not eight feet from where he sat. The figure was motionless as if wanting a more formal invitation to be in being. Ivan’s hair stood up in the back of his neck, but then, eyes glittering, he laughed in the fullness of despair and half shouted, half whispered: "Yes, yes, this is the abyss. Why shouldn’t I see the face of my own madness. Come, come into the light and proceed with whatever purposes move you to be who you are."
With that, the figure moved slowly at first, and then with gathering assurance, as if delighted with a newly experienced corporeality, until he was in fact sitting on the divan directly in front of Ivan. Now, even in the anemic light of the candle, Ivan could see the stranger in full figure, no not a stranger at all but himself, yes unmistakably him, perhaps a bit younger, but there he was, as if he had just boldly stepped out of a mirror and somehow was here, a willful, self created replica of Ivan. Silence ensued for a moment before Ivan broke in:
"Are you my final torment? The other apparition had the courtesy at least to be an "other" and not myself. Am I to suffer the ultimate humiliation of losing myself to another before I dash the cup and finish with the business of life altogether?"
"I may be a mere reflection of you," began the double slowly," but I am that half of the fullness of human possibilities that you just might want to listen to."
"Ha," spat back Ivan," you are a sorry specter indeed to be the mere reflection of one who is himself but a mere reflection and soon to be even less than mere. Away with you, I do not require the dubious consolation of your presence to confirm my misery."
"What are you miserable about?" queried the double in an even, neutral tone.
"What, well what indeed," smiled Ivan with barely restrained rage.
"Where to start is more the question. Have you dropped from the moon? Oh yes, in a way I suppose you have. You are but the projection of my incipient madness made palpable by the condition of being on the borderline of fragmentation. Are you the lost innocence of my youth, the abandoned shell of idealism and the feverish fermentations of late adolescence?"
"I am what I am," replied the double calmly: "you recall moments years ago when you thought and wrote sentiments of joy and optimism about life and the world. I can be those potential moments and sentiments reborn for you, if you allow it."
"God," shouted Ivan as he brought his fist full down on the table in front of him, "are you going to throw those wretched imaginings of a hopelessly naive mind all too infected with the myths of what might be in my face? Spare me, for I shall rend you into the shadowy shreds that you most certainly are should you attempt that, I warn you!"
"Not at all, "came the reply reassuringly," I am simply offering you to know what in truth you already know but have merely forgotten. That is why I have asked you why are you unhappy?"
"So," started Ivan, sobering up slightly and scrunching up his face with curiosity, while leaning across the table in the direction of the divan, "you would know from me the roots of my misery, would you. Very well, though certainly you must know them already if you truly are what you purport to be. Nonetheless, why not. It will be nothing if not amusing in some ironic way to speak to myself in one finale, one crescendo of blistering deposition about the true nature of this accursed existence.
Where to begin, for the litany of human sufferings and heaven’s high crimes cram the dusty shelves of history. I am unhappy because the world is the way that it is, a world where fear, hate, greed, power, pain and destruction are the ruling virtues. Where evil rides the high horse and gleefully accepts praise and adulation from the ignorant, adoring multitudes, while the pious and the meek nurture their weak and bleeding bodies in countless dungeons, where women and babes cry to the silent heavens their endless complaints of rape and untimely death. That is but the briefest menu of the travesty of what passes for life in our age, perhaps in all ages."
"Then," came the reply in firm syllables, "what would you select from that menu as being the item that you are most unhappy about?"
"What about the cry of a child in the stillness of the night after its mother has been foully murdered. Yes, there is a juicy item worthy of note. Tell me, my very self, what joy is to be found here? What happiness flows from the cries of that desolate waif?"
The double’s reply came back quick as thought itself: "What about the situation you describe causes you personal distress?"
"All about it my dear, the stinging nuance of every change of tone of that baby’s shrieks finds its painful resonance in my heart."
"I’m sure that is true, but still what specifically upsets you?"
"Merciful heavens is not the thing itself evidence enough of why I would be upset. There is death, desolation, abandonment and unrequited longing here. Surely you see these things even with your shadowy eyes!"
"Whatever I may see, what about this vision is so painful for you?"
"Ivan brought his fist down again on the table but then slumped slightly forward in a gesture of deep fatigue: "The thing itself, then, you would have the thing itself," started Ivan with a tone of abiding weariness, "well let it be that I reject it all, the whole awful sideshow of existence with all its false promises and broken vows. I say it plainly, there is something wrong with the very nature of what is! It is from that basic flaw that our multitudinous miseries derive and have their being."
"How do you mean that?"
"Just as I said it. It is a fraud, a kind of divine joke that we believe ourselves to be other than pawns in some evolving larger picture. Whatever the forces at work, they are of no relevance to us, puny bipeds."
"Do you recall your own earlier assessment of this vision, the story about the Grand Inquisitor?"
"That poetic travesty. I warned you about dredging up the past, but then again in some sense I suppose you are my past, and perhaps my future too. In any event, you do me a disservice to remind me of having had those thoughts and worse of having actually brought them to life by writing them down. Must I endure the intellectual vomit of my former days now? But stay, no, perhaps there’s pleasure, à la Karamazov even in that. No, go ahead, tell me to myself!"
"The tale I will tell is not exactly the same as the one you might recall, but by telling it this way, it may present you with a sense of options for understanding yourself and the world that presently are not what you experience and believe. Will you hear it then?"
"I said as much, did I not. Say it out as you choose. I’d as leave have my double rewrite my words as some fawning or pretentious editor or critic."
"Very well. As you know the story begins in Seville, in the 15th century, when the Cardinal Archbishop, the Grand Inquisitor, notices a commotion in the square while on his way back from the cathedral. It seems the populace were gathered around a figure, lean and Semitic, who had just resurrected a dead child as that child was being brought for burial. The crowd was awed and aroused by this extraordinary event and murmurings of praise began to rise up, when the wizened old man had the stranger arrested and brought to his private chambers.
Alone with the stranger, he addressed him "why have you come back? Your presence here the first time was disruptive enough, your promises were impossible to achieve; the masses only fell into despair over your teachings. We have corrected your work and given them the necessary excuses for their failures to be what you wanted them to be."
"What do you mean," came back the stranger’s voice, deep and resonant.
"You know what I mean," replied the old man impatiently. "You spoke of love and joy in freedom and what has history taught us except the opposite; that there is only confusion and suffering in freedom."
"How do you mean that?"
"That freedom is an illusion since choosing is a disastrous activity for the majority. They torture themselves with what they should be choosing and how badly they feel for not choosing the right things."
"What do you mean by ‘choosing the right things’?"
"The things that you prescribed as the path to follow to salvation."
"Whatever you may have understood my message to have been, let me ask you this question, why are you angry about the way people use their freedom?"
"Because they don’t know how to use it properly and only cause themselves grief and harm."
"Even if some people claim to be unhappy by virtue of their not choosing the ‘right’ things, why does that upset you or anger you?"
"As I said, their freedom is for the development of right attitudes and sanctity, and they seek golden idols which we now happily provide them in various forms; by endowing humans with freedom you have only ensured their continuing unhappiness."
"In what way does freedom ensure unhappiness?"
"Because then they must believe that they are responsible for their actions and thereby suffer with guilt for their wrongful choices."
"Are you saying that you personally suffer from guilt because of what you call your ‘wrongful choices?’"
"That is my purpose, don’t you see. We have taken away the burden of freedom from the people and they have become as infants or sheep. We prescribe for them the total texture of their lives, but do so compassionately in the sense that while we demand strict obedience, we are quick to overlook many of the peccadillos of human nature. We make it clear that they are not responsible for their actions, that they are but followers who must simply adhere to our merciful dictums and so avoid the pain of regret or guilt over how their lives proceed.
I have taken upon myself the burden of guilt in the knowledge of freedom and good and evil and will gladly bear the consequences of my creating for them the illusion of well being. Indeed, I am far more merciful than you precisely because I have opted to shield them from the glaring light of freedom, the horrible freedom to be miserable in pain and in want."
"What do you feel guilty about?"
"All the laws that are broken, all your commandments that are breached by the herd of hapless human sheep. I contrive to hide this from them but I cannot hide this from myself."
"What do you mean when you say ‘laws’?"
"I mean the eternal verities that of course no one can possibly live up to, but nonetheless there they are to be obeyed or to suffer the pain of non-compliance. Only now I alone, along with some of the truly compassionate, suffer for them."
"What do you mean by ‘eternal verities’?"
"Ha, this is truly a wonder. You are asking me! Well, of course there is the mysterium iniquitatis standing in the middle of history’s path, the great spirit of evil which has stymied progress if we are to believe tradition. Evil is all around us, informs all of our instincts, debases all of our intentions, causes us to fall in spite of ourselves. Better to cooperate with the Great Spirit who offered you true wisdom in the desert; there is compassion in just letting oneself dissolve into the inevitable."
"What do you mean by ‘evil’?"
"What indeed! Why, you who are the quintessence of unattainable good ask what is evil? Evil is thinking feeling and acting against what is good. Our fear of evil is perhaps primal, since it seems to corrupt the very process of choice and somehow, mysteriously, we end up thinking or feeling or acting a way that we did not want, against our wills as it were. Ah, and anticipating your question, then, what is the good? The good is right thinking feeling and acting."
"What do you mean when you say evil thoughts, feelings or acts or for that matter good thoughts, feelings or actions?"
"Curse you and your questions; this all harkens back to the beginning, to the baleful choice of our forbearers to forgo Eden; but they too could not bear the burden of goodness. What is goodness? Is it not ultimately what God approves of, even as Evil is that which God disapproves of?"
"What do you mean when you say ‘God approves or disapproves’?"
"I mean that God decides something is good or evil."
"In what way does God decide that?"
"I do not know. God is free to choose as God pleases."
"Precisely, and did not God give to humans the same facility to choose as they see fit."
"Well, ostensibly God did indeed do that; but that divine trait of freedom is too intense for mere humans. That is why your message is in error, that is why we have corrected your work!"
"What do you mean when you say freedom is too intense for humans?"
"I mean exactly that they end up in the vast majority of cases choosing wrongly."
"What do you mean they ‘choose wrongly’?"
"That they do not choose the things that they are supposed to choose."
"What do you mean when you say ‘the things they are supposed to choose’?"
"I mean the things that would align them with the Divine Will, not things that involve their base instincts or selfish pursuits, though that is all humans are truly fit to follow."
"What do you mean when you say ‘Divine Will’?"
"Well, that is what God wants and desires."
"Do you believe God wants anything else than happiness for humans?"
"Oh yes of course, but then in the same act of wanting happiness for them God endows them with that one divine attribute that guarantees it to be unattainable, that is freedom."
"Does not God act from God’s knowing and is not what God knows what is?"
"Yes that is so."
"But do humans have omniscience in the manner of God?"
"No, that’s the point, they fire their freedom blindly into the night not knowing what the purpose of their power is."
"If they are not omniscient, then they can only know whatever they know in the very moment that they know it and act, given all the circumstances that flow into the moment of their acting, is that not true?"
"Yes, I suppose that is correct."
"So they are always acting out of what they are believing is real or ‘good’ to use your term in the moment that they are indeed acting."
"That is true, but what they may be enacting may not be ‘good’ as we, as, I understand it."
"Yes, but it would be good as they understood it in that instant of action, is that not so?"
"Ah, but whose version of good is the good, if we all are seeking the good, does it not matter what we do?"
"Whose version would you prefer?"
"I am obliged to say God’s, since God is the author of all Good."
"That being the case, then is it not written that at each stage of creation, God pronounced all that is ‘Good’?"
"Yes, but how can we reconcile that divine appraisal with what has followed."
"What do you mean?"
"The horrors that have ensued as humans, yes humans alone, since nature acts without malign intent, humans have so scourged themselves with their freedom that all cannot be good. Has not even the divine complained about the conduct of humankind. There are many things that are written, after all."
"Many things have been attributed to the Father and to Me, that do not come from us. My question to you is if all are acting from what they know and believe in the moment they know and believe it, then how can they be held accountable for what they do not know and do not believe?"
"Ach, you bring questions that are truly worthy of the fire, the very fire that I personally often light under those who insist on their freedom."
"Does not the Church as it exists insist that no one forswear their own beliefs if that is what they truly believe, even though it be in direst contradiction to most sacred doctrine and highest authority. Are not those whom you burn often the bearers of greatest truth about freedom, that it is the most elevated of all human traits, indeed it is what the Father gave that makes humans to be human, the very essence of shared divinity and grace."
"So, then, is that your message now; that all are good and none are evil, indeed that evil is an illusion, for what could it mean if all are seeking the truth as they see it out of their freedom. But, most hateful damnation, I have personally been responsible for the painful deaths of many; I have borne the guilt of the herd and its sins are upon my shoulders. Am I a mere rogue or simply a fool?"
"Are you saying that you are unhappy about the specifics of your life?"
"I am maddeningly in despair, and have been so before your most ill timed return. You come again with the words of freedom and now I hear the words of compassion, that all are good but were I even to accept your teaching, what of those who have known the tortures of the fire?"
"What about your having killed these people is painful for you?"
"Their faces twisted in agony, their cries against me, against God, against their cursed fate; not all it is true, but many. How dare I allow myself to feel the felicity, the balm of happiness when these souls knew only perdition at my hands?"
"Are you saying that your way of making certain that you know that you care about what you have done is to bestow this intense pain of guilt and anguish upon yourself?"
"How could I do otherwise and remain sane. How could I still the screams that yet echo inside my mind and not feel that I would be even a worse monster than the multitudes already have named me to be."
"Are those screams and that pain, I repeat, then your way of making sure that you are not the monster you suspect yourself to be. And what are you afraid would happen if you were not to hear those screams or feel that pain?"
"Why then as I said," and the old man now twisted up in a posture of pleading and anguish, "I would truly be insane, beyond all hope of redemption."
"And when you carried out all these deeds for which you now suffer so fiercely, did you not believe at the time that they were the appropriate thing to do to preserve the Faith and order as you understood it?"
"Yes of course, but because of those beliefs scores have perished. It is true also that I have attempted to soften the burden, as I have understood it, of people’s conscience by giving them permission to sin and call it something else, but still I carry the mark of slayer and torturer. I should not have been the agent of destruction."
"What do you mean when you say ‘you should not’?"
"I ought to have done otherwise."
"But if you were doing exactly what you knew to do given your beliefs, then what could it mean to say ‘I should or ought to have done otherwise.’?"
"Ach, again," grunted the Inquisitor uncomfortably, "you torture me with questions." He paused and put his bony and withered hands to his forehead in a gesture of solace and introspection: "So, it is true as I think of it now that I could not have done otherwise. Are you saying in essence what I have only partially said, and then only by way of believing that I was creating an illusion; that is, are you saying that All is Permitted! That there is no wrong, no evil, that people are always doing the best they know how given what they know and believe at any given time?"
"I am saying only that All is! Being requires no permission to be."
The old man slumped in a nearby chair with his hand outstretched upon an adjacent table. He paused for a moment. The stranger stood quietly and patiently by, then the old man spoke: "Then can it be that my railing against freedom has all been a misunderstanding? For if I am to believe you, no, to say more accurately if I am now to believe myself, then humans have not squandered their freedom; they simply have been exercising it as they have seen fit, each according to their beliefs. And can it further be that I and others like myself over the centuries have aided and abetted the illusion that humans could not handle freedom and required some relief from the very thing that most makes them like unto God.
Indeed we have instituted three pillars of illusion to placate the masses, Miracle, Mystery and Authority. Miracle is the illusion of no self-sufficiency. It is the myth that to be is too painful without the promise of external transformation or magic to sustain hope, the myth of the necessity of an outside agency required for happiness since the hope of happiness through personal freedom is scant. Since we then believe we have no control over ourselves (that is after all the essence of evil, the experience of our loss of control and the terror and hopelessness it inspires) then, as I say, we revere what seems to offer us sustenance, that is, whatever force seems to get us some of what we want, or believe we need, particularly when we have experienced ourselves as impotent to get that for ourselves.
It may be the panem et circences, the bread and circuses of political power or the mysteries of religion which gives us (at least as I have arranged it here) the aura of having received it under the auspices of the arcane, the unknowable. Thus they believe that their welfare is dependant upon us totally; that they are a mystery unto their very selves and as such require the exegesis, the interpretation of Authority, Hierarchy to explicate themselves to themselves. Secure with that interpretation, they might then have a modicum of the modest goods and pleasures we might deign to dole out to them as it seems politically astute to do so to maintain control.
Further, from the promise of miracle comes the illusion of mystery. Mystery, again, is the assertion that life’s burdens are bearable only through some unknowable schema which is revealed to the elite; through their exclusive possession of that knowledge, and their manipulation of that knowledge to foster the illusion that the populace is secure from the evil of loss of control, they, we, thereby gain the last leg of the Trinity of Power.
They acquire Authority over the masses precisely because they are the fount of the yearned for miracles which are mediated by them alone through the arcane gyres of Mystery which thereby encircles the elite with the requisite mantle of Authority as the dispensers of this hidden wisdom. For to speak the truth, we have lived out of Dread, the Dread of Moses to see the face of God, the Dread of falling into the clutches of the Great Spirit of Evil through the enigmatic loss of control. We, I, have resented that Dread, but have attempted to shield ourselves and the people at large from the truth, as we understood it, by controlling freedom, lest in their freedom, they might offend the Dreaded God of Wrath.
Even your Euvangelion, your ‘good news’ was not taken seriously, because the burden of Good and Evil had not been resolved, and as long as these concepts abided with us as realities, then freedom was truly a terrible risk; better the servitude of the confused and the bewildered than the dreaded solitary vacuum of the free."
"What do you feel now about that?"
With an almost vacant, wistful stare, lips pursed in a look of disbelief, the craggy figure examined something inside himself, then with a face that changed from disbelief to puzzlement, he exclaimed: "For an instant, a blessed instant, one that seemed in a way almost sweetly eternal, I felt so strangely unburdened, so light, so free in here," and he accompanied these words by pointing to his midsection.
"Thoughts, even memories of a time when I would walk by the sea as a child and chase the seagulls, smell the soft excess of the sea wrack and turn into the wind with arms outstretched in the joy and vitality of a life just beginning, all this came instantly flooding into the space in here where only leaden, numbed sensations existed. Not since the earliest days can I recall such feelings. But then," and his brows clouded over with anguish, "the wall of darkness crowded in on me again and like a stone of unimaginable weight I found myself once more possessed of all the intensity of my pain, yea even yet reinforced somehow by my having dared to allow myself a respite from bearing the cursed garments of my shame."
"What about allowing yourself to feel a respite from your pain distresses you?"
"How dare I offer myself what I have withheld from others who have begged it from me." "What about offering this to yourself do you find unacceptable?"
"How does a monster like myself deserve any respite?"
"What do you mean by ‘monster’?"
"I despise myself for having been and being who I am."
"Are you saying that it would be wrong for you to be happy in the way you were for an instant just a moment ago?"
"The very stones of this city would cry out in protest against my delivering myself from this guilt."
"Are you saying that your guilt and all the distress it implies is what you need to make sure that you are not the monster that you claim you have been and are now but somehow would be in even worse fashion if not for the guilt?"
The old man’s eyes flashed as he studied the stranger’s face for a moment and then a barely detectable grin colored the edges of his mouth as he responded: "That does sound somewhat inane doesn’t it. I have been what I have understood to be a monster over these many years, but, as I have come to understand from our earlier discourse, I have also been what I believed I was supposed to be, what I was acculturated to be and informed and accepted I should be, given what I did in fact believe. Even when I was out of faith with your teachings and attempted to correct your work, I was sincere, however I may have gnashed my teeth. My guilt, then, never helped me to be any different nor to deter me from my chosen path when I believed I had to act."
"Then, what would surrendering the guilt and its feelings mean about you?"
"What I traditionally have believed, although I never made it explicit, and only now see it in this light, is that the guilt somehow preserved me from being totally lost in my deeds. Yet, not once did it deter me, not once did it cause me to offer succor to those crying out from the flames. Indeed, in some strange way I cannot yet articulate, it often enraged me further, drove me on to even greater cruelties, as if I resented those who cried out for mercy as if they were causing me the pain of my guilt! Yes, time and again I overrode those feelings and would only feel the pain more intensely by way of compensation."
"And surrendering the guilt?"
The old man turned his face away from the stranger and as if speaking to the wall said in a bare whisper of astonishment: "I would run again as in my childhood on the beach with a body free of pain and full of zest and wonder."
There was a long pause and suddenly the old man sprang from his seat and fell on his knees before the stranger, hands uplifted in a gesture of pleading; tears and sobs broke from his body as he shouted hoarsely to this still figure: "But how, how can this be! To feel felicity, happiness, joy in a life, lived so long in the darkness of misery and despair, a life obscene in its length because it shortened so many other lives. How can it be that happiness is mine? Can there possibly be another so undeserving of it as me?"
The figure remained still and gazed full into the agonized face of the sobbing old man: "To be is to be human and nothing that is human is alien to me as one of the Latin sages wrote ‘Homo sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto’ What do you mean, then, when you say ‘deserve’?"
"Is nothing deserved then? Is all truly free? Are all equally invited to feast upon happiness as they find it through their freedom?"
"What about that being true do you find difficult?"
"Then not only was my avowed villainy, however sincere over a lifetime, in vain, but so was all my suffering about it!"
"Would you rather it not be true so that you might have your pain?"
The kneeling wizened figure grabbed at the stranger’s hand and shook his head violently from side to side: "No, no, no," shot out his reply, in tones of rising assertiveness, "the words of your original teachings were to proclaim the joy of the good news about being. I felt so alienated from those words by virtue of my beliefs about freedom and what I considered its enigmatic, hateful consequences. Now the scales have fallen from my eyes and I am glimpsing what appears to be a whole new shape to reality."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"I feel like the archest of heretics, and yet I feel that there is hope after all. My soul had dried up with disgust over life and being and now rain has fallen upon the desert of my spirit. No longer do I feel obliged to defend what I never loved nor cherished; no longer do I feel obliged to sacrifice others on the pyres of illusion to buttress what is truly illusory: the existence of Evil and therefore the assumed untrustworthiness of freedom, the exercise of which would presumably only subject hapless humans to the risk of hopeless entanglements in the snares of Satan. Now I can find my former self, so long lost under these magisterial robes," and with that he stood up and tore off his dark princely outer garments and revealed the plain inner dress of a peasant, a commoner.
"I have always worn the coarsest of clothing beneath the canonical dress of authority; it was my way of proclaiming secret solidarity with those that I brutalized, though for them it was the emptiest of gestures. Now in this very dress, I will leave this place, this sepulchre of the smoldering ashes of miracle, mystery and authority, and I will live what time remains to me in the coastal land of my childhood. To others I will leave the defense of illusion. Perhaps some day your teachings will find fertile soil among the tribes of your creatures. The trappings of my life up to now I cast aside, not in judgement, but with the deepest true sense of compassion I have ever known. For ALL are happy even in their not knowing. The mercy of the truth about being is that ALL IS! Not in the sense of being permitted, but simply in the sense of being, being freely, spontaneously in all the ways that being has and will manifest itself.
Now, still gently holding on to the stranger’s hand, the somewhat less stooped figure of the old man, eyes glittering with gentle tears, spoke softly: "My deepest gratitude to you dearest teacher. Tell me, where do you go now?"
"I follow the will of the Father and the wisdom of the Spirit. And I say to you, the life of the child that I returned to its mother is a miracle pale by comparison to the miracle of your freely coming to know the truth of being through your own freedom. Go in peace." And with that he stepped forward, embraced the ascetic body of the old man and planted a kiss on his cheek. Then, he turned and in a flash was gone. After a moment’s pause, the old man too, after the briefest glance around him, exited the door and was lost in the anonymity of nearby street crowds.....
The flickering light of the candle on Ivan’s table wavered as the double ended the tale. Ivan, silent and transfixed, sat frozen in a posture of total attention and it seemed like ages before the silence was broken. Ivan’s tongue felt thick and unwilling as he struggled to speak:
The man-god,came from him in twisted guttural tones barely comprehensible, "the man-god is what you have regurgitated to me, that folly of my arrogant youth. All is lawful indeed! The Christ of my story was silent and you have made Him into a Socratic stooge for your own purposes. Do you wish to dispense with Evil when another apparition earlier aptly described Evil as the indispensable minus? I threw my tea at him in a gesture of contempt, but at least he knew the truth about morality. What, would you have me overstep the barriers of all the old morality, as I spoke about it in my stupid statements of years ago?
Shall I plant the flag of the man-god, even if it be a solitary flag? For who shall dare to ascribe to such notions, in the middle of the human community and proclaim ‘All is Permitted, All is Lawful,’ at least for me since nothing is forbidden to God! Shall I declare a feast of happiness joy and unending love without the trials of earthly woe, without the teaching constraints of morality, without the threats of pain and damnation, without the promises of heavenly bliss eternal in a life beyond life? Shall I decree this life, however configured and acted upon in freedom, to be sufficient warrant for happiness in the moment, whatever the moment may bring; for love without debt or obligations, need or reward, no matter what the response or lack of it? C’est charmant as the other apparition would say; he is the one who said that the idea of God must be smashed so that the new order might be proclaimed:
As soon as men have all of them denied God ...the old conception of the universe will fall of itself...and, what’s more, the old morality, and everything will begin anew. Men will unite to take from life all it can give, but only for joy and happiness in the present world. Men will be lifted up with a spirit of divine Titanic pride and the man-god will appear. From hour to hour extending his conquest of nature infinitely by his will and his science, man will feel such lofty joy from hour to hour in doing it that it will make up for all his old dreams of the joys of heaven. Every one will know that he is mortal and will accept death proudly and serenely like a god…. (F. Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov, Grosset & Dunlap, N.Y.)
Ivan paused, and with a fierce glint of defiance in his glowing eyes, his jaw set, he stared intensely at the double. The other did not move so much as an inch, remained with a calm, benign look on his face and at last said: "Would you have preferred the Inquisitor to have continued in his pain and guilt and thereby continued in his unloved and uncherished but undoubtedly ongoing work of burning heretics and, since we are quoting ourselves, what about your version of the Inquisitor. Recall his admonition to Christ about the illusory nature of freedom and the necessity, therefore of submission:
Didst thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering... Thou didst desire man’s free love, that he might follow Thee freely...In place of the rigid ancient law man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know that he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice?... But with us all will be happy and will no more rebel nor destroy one another as under Thy freedom. Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us.... And all shall be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them....who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. (Dostoevsky, Grosset & Dunlap, N.Y.)
The double continued: "And so I ask you again, would you have preferred the Inquisitor to continue with his ‘corrected’ version of Christ’s work?"
Ivan turned his face away from the double, half snorting his answer: "No of course not, but is the choice then really between the terrible freedom in the knowledge of good and evil or soporific submission to the blind collectivity of an ‘anthill’ utopia?"
"In what way is freedom ‘terrible’?"
"Ah, I know, I know. I heard the tale you wove about how the old man’s coming to know that Evil is an illusion based on some fundamental Dread that being is somehow flawed at the root and hence requires some constant correction and eternal vigilance against the forces spawned by that flaw. That Evil then somehow blunts the purposes of freedom and causes us to feel and do things against our will, the ‘primal terror’ I believe he called it. But is this not the foolish petty demon of mediocrity prancing and fawning before us, promising us that we can be happy simply upon our own decision to surrender our unhappiness. Suppose we are wrong?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean what if we are mistaken?"
"What do you mean by mistaken?"
"Damn you specter, know you not the language and its meanings? I mean who or what has promised us that we are going to be correct in all our choices and particularly if we choose this overarching choice to cut loose all our present woes and the beliefs that presumably create them?"
"In what way could you possibly be wrong?"
"Ah, so you are going to repeat the dialogue with the old man about all doing the best they know how given what they believe, is that it?"
"Is that what you understand from my questions?"
"Can it be true that happiness is all there is and we are unfolding the universe to ourselves in the best way we know how according to our choices, given what we believe and know in any given moment?"
"What do you believe?"
Ivan turned to the double full face, grabbing the front of the table with both hands firmly gripped and leaned almost pleadingly in his direction, saying with a great force of words bursting from his breast: "Specter, I do so yearn for what you describe to be true. But can happiness be bought so cheaply, without the agonies of struggle and doubt. How many countless generations have come and gone, living in the throes of endless variations of myths and illusions that brought them precious little succor, at least as it seems to me. To simply reach out, as it were, and grasp fully the chalice of felicity and quench the endless thirst of human suffering by a change of perspective. Well...it is either the most audacious villainy or the most compassionate revelation; it totters on the borderline of genius or madness, I am not sure which."
"What about believing this troubles you?"
"I cannot, I dare not surrender this maddening doubt, this torturous worm of fear gnawing like a thousand insects at my very being."
"What are you afraid what happen if you were to surrender this torturous worm of fear, as you describe it?"
Ivan paused, still poised in viselike tension, gripping the edges of the table till his knuckles turned milky white: "My God, if I were to give up this doubt and fear, then I would be helpless before my own freedom, before the possibility of my own happiness."
"Are you saying that your way of ensuring that you do not place yourself in the position to make such a choice is by creating so much agony of doubt and fear that you would never accede to such a possibility?"
Ivan’s glittering eyes turned vacant for an instant; his whole body frozen in the posture of holding on with fiercest intensity seemed to shudder in its maximum effort. Then, the shuddering ceased and ever so slowly, accompanied by an extraordinarily long exhalation, the body relented, the grip relaxed and he shifted gracefully back into the chair until he was stretched out along its length.
Then he spoke: "So, I struggle against what I most yearn for. This is truly a marvel in the Karamazov tradition. I was the one who taunted Alyosha, my dearest brother, with the tales of tortured children, the little girl locked in the outhouse with excrement smeared on her face, the tiny boy forced to run naked while dogs tore him limb from limb in front of his mother, all to satisfy the pique of a general’s wounded pride. These tales were designed to ensure that he, I, would never relent in our endless agonies about the horrors of life. That happiness would remain a taunting, devilish dream, and for that reason I threatened to dash the cup of existence to the ground, to return my very ‘ticket’ of being back to God and spit in God’s face in defiance of such a world where things of this nature could occur."
"In what way has God anything to do with the things you describe?"
"Oh no, I understand. God simply gave us freedom and the ability to be happy, to be standing in the awe of being and to be filled with its unending joy. Now I see that it is we who are the creators of illusion. Out of our fears, doubts, agonies, jealousies, hatreds, rages, we have created the face of the human landscape. And, no matter how it looks, it has all been done believing that it was the thing to do. The parents of that little girl, the angry general, they were all acting out of their version of an unhappy world. Yet, over and over again we stand righteously in defense of the very mores and beliefs that inspire such actions. Then, we wring our hands in the throes of disbelief that the world could possibly be so harsh and cruel. Perhaps we, they, are all Karamazovs at heart. Well," and now he stood up full length and made as if he were going to move toward the double, "now is the time when this Karamazov steps out of the circle of illusion and into the light."
And with that he moved toward the double who also stood up as if in anticipation of Ivan’s intentions. But, as Ivan went to throw his arms around him, he found himself embracing the empty air. Brought up short by this, he stood dazed and then he heard, (it was clear but seemed more in his own head than in the open space in front of him), unmistakably his own voice saying: "And now you have yourself to yourself whole and entire. What you now embrace is not the empty air but rather the you, the very self that you have at last discovered. You have no need of me for now our voices are as one!"
THE CURSED QUESTIONS
In the Russian intellectual and literary tradition of the l9th century, the term "the cursed questions" referred to the basic questions about life and its meaning. In this chapter, the Option questions have been highlighted and their import, hopefully, amplified in the dialogue between the characters. As you review these questions in your own mind: WHAT ARE YOU UNHAPPY ABOUT?, WHAT ABOUT THAT MAKES YOU UNHAPPY?, AND WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID WOULD HAPPEN (WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID IT WOULD MEAN) IF YOU WERE NOT UNHAPPY?, you can perhaps pick up the rhythm of the process between the characters in the story.
Here the primary issue was one of freedom and guilt , but what could you know in reviewing your own life that reflects those themes? So many times people have come to me with these concerns. One woman recently came filled with anxiety and panic over being in a relationship she no longer wished to be in. However, her parents believed that it would be wrong to leave the relationship, that it would go against the moral imperatives they believed were to be observed at all costs. The actual way in which the procedure unfolds, unique to the manner that each person opens themselves up to acknowledging their beliefs, is what resolves their unhappy feelings. In this person’s case, the question, "What do you think it would mean about you were you not to be unhappy about the disapproval of others?" proved to be a crucial, transformative one for her. Truly knowing this, she soon deconstructed the major structure of her belief in her unhappiness, and joy and peace were the accompanying legacy of that decision. Take a good look inside and allow your creative impulses to see how you have written the script of your own life production.
by Frank Mosca
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