I always seem to gravitate back to this line of thought for some reason. It tries to make sense of irrationality is a bit of an oxymoron eh
It's hard for my pea brain to wrap around it I have to read certain parts a couple of times to let it sink in
Seems to be a good interpretation of this human experience though
Guess what I am a little bit of a cynic.
I found it easier to read through the link but if your suspicious of links I pasted it as well
Dostoevsky’s book Notes from Underground is an insightful book on the true nature of humans. We like to think of ourselves as rational beings and capable of conducting ourselves in logical ways, but Dostoevsky has a different perspective.
He seems to have a very cynical perspective when it comes to the nature of humans. He absolutely hates the notion that if we strived to be more rational and understand the potentiality of the human race, we would stop acting in ways that harmed ourselves and society and would be able to usher in the utopia that we all long for.
“But these are all golden dreams. Oh, tell me, who first announced, who was the first to proclaim that man does dirty only because he doesn’t know his real interests; and that were he to be enlightened, were his eyes to be opened to his real, normal interests, man would immediately stop doing dirty, would immediately become good and noble, because, being enlightened and understanding his real profit, he would see his real profit precisely in the good, and it’s common knowledge that no man can act knowingly against his own profit.”
Do people only do “bad” things because they are ignorant of their profit, or in the economist’s perspective, their “utility”? Is it true that, once we are enlightened of the potential for utopia, we wouldn’t do things that would consciously go against our own well-being?
Dostoevsky believes this perspective to be naive, and mocks the people who believes this to be true “the pure, innocent child!” He counters this argument by saying that there were millions of instances where people have knowingly went against choices that would bring them the greatest “utility” and well-being.
“What is to be done with the millions of facts testifying to how people knowingly, that is, fully understanding their real profit, would put it in second place and throw themselves onto another path, a risk, a perchance, not compelled by anyone or anything, but precisely as if they simply did not want the designated path, and stubbornly, willfully pushed off onto another one, difficult, absurd, searching for it all but in the dark.”
There is something about being given the freedom to choose for themselves, no matter how self-defeating or self-harming, that entices us and makes us stupid (in a rational perspective.) We will readily give up everything for the sake of this freedom to choose, just to prove that we are capable of this ability.
He then entertains a hypothetical situation where reason and science will have advanced to the point where every action, thought, and desire made by a person will be identifiable as a law of nature, and will be able to have an answer for every single thing that happens in the universe.
The real reason that this utopia isn’t implemented yet is because people are “not yet accustomed to acting as reason and science dictate,” and after some re-education and alignment with the goal, it will be inevitable and we will all be happy when we get there.
“Though man has learned to see more clearly on occasion than in barbarous times, he is still far from having grown accustomed to acting as reason and science dictate.
But even so you are perfectly confident that he will not fail to grow accustomed once one or two old bad habits have passed and once common sense and science have thoroughly re-educated and given a normal direction to human nature.
You are confident that man will then voluntarily cease making mistakes and, willy-nilly, so to speak, refuse to set his will at variance with his normal interests.
Moreover: then you say, science itself will teach man that in fact he has neither will nor caprice, and never did have any, and that he himself is nothing but a sort of piano key or a sprig in an organ; and that, furthermore, there also exists in the world the laws of nature; so that whatever he does is not at all according to his own wanting, but of itself, according to the laws of nature.
Consequently, these laws of nature need only be discovered, and then man will no longer be answerable for his actions, and his life will become extremely easy.”
Now a lot of people believe that they have free will, because, they feel like they’re choosing to move their hands and feet and have the phenomena that, when they will it to happen, it happens.
But what if science is able to prove that you really never had free will but only had the illusion that you were controlling your thoughts and your hands and feet? What if they could predict every thought and action that you would do?
Would any endeavors in your life mean anything if you were already destined to achieve them? Would there be any utility in thinking for yourself anymore, if you already have the definitive answers?
Would people finally be happy? If there was an answer to everything in life and everything about yourself, would it truly be heaven on earth? Can we finally live in peace, eat cakes and lounge around, and live happily ever after?
Many people would accept this utopia and say, “Why the heck not?” We won’t need to needlessly suffer anymore, and everyone will be happy! This is what we were created for!”
Dostoevsky allows you to think that this is seemingly a good idea, until he points to another attractive trait that people tend to have: ungratefulness.
“Man really is stupid, phenomenally stupid. That is, he’s by no means stupid, but rather he’s so ungrateful that it would be hard to find the likes of him. I, for example, would not be the least bit surprised if suddenly, out of the blue, amid the universal future reasonableness, some gentleman of ignoble, or, better, of retrograde and jeering physiognomy, should emerge, set his arms akimbo, and say to us all: “Well, gentlemen, why don’t we reduce all this reasonableness to dust with one good kick, for the sole purpose of sending all these logarithms to the devil and living once more according to our own stupid will!
That would still be nothing, but what is offensive is that he’d be sure to find followers: that’s how man is arranged. And all this for the emptiest of reasons, which would seem not even worth mentioning: namely, that man, whoever he might be, has always and everywhere liked to act as he wants, and not at all as reason and profit dictate; and one can want even against one’s own profit, and one sometimes even positively must (this is my idea now).
… And where did all those sages get the idea that man needs some normal, some virtuous wanting? What made them necessarily imagine that what man needs is necessarily a reasonably profitable wanting?
Man needs only independent wanting, whatever this independence may cost and whatever it may lead.”
He predicts that even when we are sitting in utopia, we will be eternally ungrateful for the things we have.
It’ll be so boring and predictable that, against all common sense and rationality, people will start breaking things just to see something else happen.
“Shower him with all earthly blessings, drown him in happiness completely, over his head, so that only bubbles pop up on the surface of happiness, as on water; give him such economic satisfaction that he no longer has anything left to do at all except sleep, eat gingerbread, and worry about the noncessation of world history — and it is here, just here, that he, this man, out of sheer ingratitude, out of sheer lampoonery, will do something nasty.
He will even risk his gingerbread, and wish on purpose for the most pernicious nonsense, the most non-economical meaninglessness, solely in order to mix into all this positive good sense his own pernicious fantastical element.”
We will sacrifice utopia itself just to prove our point and confirm our beliefs: we are not piano keys but are individuals capable of individual wanting.
What makes you think you’d be happy if you had everything you ever wanted? Maybe you’re able to be satisfied because you know what it feels like to be dissatisfied. What constitutes paradise for us humans? What do we really want?
A rather funny reality this is, where even if we get to the “perfect ending” or heaven on earth, we have the inclination and maybe even the innate desire to destroy it.
“What can be expected of man since he is a being endowed with strange qualities?”
Notes from Underground is a brilliant book criticizing the limits of rationality and the mistakes of bringing in utopia. We actually don’t even want to live in a world where we are simply known as piano keys. We want to be free thinking creatures who are capable of making decisions, good or bad, or at least think that we have the capability.
However much we suffer, however much pain we face in the world, we are still able to feel free and feel like we are making decisions for ourselves, which makes all the difference.
Even if it is an illusion and we are still governed by the laws of nature, we still want to live in ignorance and feel that we are the ones in control of our thoughts and desires.
Maybe that’s the most important part about being a human.
I hope that this does not depress you, but enlightens you of our own nature. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t continue to strive for a better future for humanity as a whole.
Maybe Dostoevsky was short sighted, and maybe he was wrong about us. Maybe we can grow “accustomed to reason and science” and usher in the greatest era of humanity that no one could have imagined.
Although it may take a Herculean effort to prove him wrong, it can’t hurt to try our best.
Edited by flashingrooster, 06 June 2020 - 10:56 AM.