Reflecting upon The Dream of a Ridiculous Man these past few weeks reminded me a beautiful paint-on-glass animation of the story created by Aleksandr Petrov in 1992. The narration is in Russian with English subtitles and is well-worth a gander, particularly if you've never read the story before.
Some of my most recent posts have focused on Dostoevsky's short story The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, which I highly recommend, especially to those who feel an aversion to Dostoevsky's novels, which tend to be rather long and, in some cases, quite cumbersome. What makes The Dream of a Ridiculous Man such a great read is that in the span of about twenty pages, Dostoevsky manages to cover nearly all the major themes and ideas he later used as the foundations of his longer works such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
Reflecting upon The Dream of a Ridiculous Man these past few weeks reminded me a beautiful paint-on-glass animation of the story created by Aleksandr Petrov in 1992. The narration is in Russian with English subtitles and is well-worth a gander, particularly if you've never read the story before.
The nameless narrator in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Dream of a Ridiculous Man arrives at the following conclusion regarding the alienation, suffering, and nihilism - in his own words, the ridiculousness - that plagues human life on earth:
Love others as you love yourself. And that's all there is to it. Nothing else is required. That would settle everything. Yes, of course it's nothing but an old truth that has been repeated and reread millions of times - and it still hasn't taken root.
The old truth has indeed been repeated and reread millions of times and, a century-and-a-half later, it still hasn't taken root. To me, this indicates two possibilities. On the one hand, the core of the idea truly is ridiculous - nothing more than pipe dream and, as such, utterly unmanifestible and unachievable. On the other hand, the idea itself could be sound, but is forever misinterpreted and misapplied; hence, it has rarely been implemented in the manner in which is meant to be implemented.
For many modern people, the old truth is synonymous with The Golden Rule, which is often transcribed by the dictum to treat others as you would want to be treated. The Golden Rule spans many cultures and traditions and is generally interpreted as a call for people to be indiscriminate and tolerant in their interactions with others - to be kind, accepting, polite, gracious, open, giving, non-judgmental. Put simply, for most people The Golden Rule boils down to one basic doctrine: Be nice! After all, we want people to be nice to us, so we should do everything we can to ensure we are nice to them. If everyone is nice and plays nice, the world will become a place of infinite niceness. This is all fine and good at some level, but a world of 'niceness' is, at best, the application of The Golden Rule can bring about - and it certainly was not what Dostoevsky has in mind in The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.
Though The Golden Rule and the old truth in Dostoevsky's The Dream of a Ridiculous Man appear similar at first glance, they are in fact vastly different doctrines. This difference can be summed up in the key ingredient The Golden Rule lacks - namely, love. Without a firm grounding in love, the best The Golden Rule can aim for is a doctrine of utilitarianism - a society of niceness and civility. Theoretically, the rule is meant to appeal to our highest sensibilities and most noble understanding of what makes people happy. The application of this understanding leads to efforts to maximize the beneficial, useful, advantageous, and pleasurable; and, conversely, minimize the harmful, useless, disadvantageous, and painful. The old truth the ridiculous man exclaims in Dostoevsky's story certainly contains some of this, but the inclusion of love makes it a far deeper doctrine than The Golden Rule could ever be.
Though Dostoevsky understood the utilitarian allure of The Golden Rule, he knew the rule itself would not be enough. To begin with, he recognized the innate relativism of the utilitarian doctrine - a relativism that could only be controlled through some form of legalism. After all, how else would it be possible to define how people should and should not be treated. More importantly, he understood that the utilitarianism of The Golden Rule could very easily superimpose itself upon the tenet expressed in the old truth and, thereby, invert it to create a mode of being centered around the ego and relative, abstract notions of universal altruism rather than upon concrete and personal Christian love. Dostoevsky rejected universal altruism - a rejection he makes evidently clear in The Brothers Karamazov through his depiction of Ivan's inability to accept the viability of loving others as one loves oneself unless it occurrs under the guidelines of love at a distance. Thus, the Ridiculous Man's stated key phrase cannot be equated with the mere application of The Golden Rule.
Many modern people associate The Parable of the Good Samaritan from The Gospel of Mark with The Golden Rule. The same could be applied to "love one another" in The Gospel of John. In our contemporary world, the Biblical commands to love one another and to love thy neighbor as thyself have essentially been hijacked and appropriated by leftists as proof that, above all else, Jesus desired to establish a world of universal altruism perfectly analogous to The Golden Rule. What leftists - and many Christians - fail to include in these interpretations to love others as you love yourself is the prerequisite of loving God first. Re-establishing this omission helps clarify what Jesus and, subsequently, the Ridiculous Man really mean by the injunction to love others as you love yourself.
Loving God first has direct implications on the self a person should love. Making the love of God primary entails loving the self that loves God. The self that loves God is our highest self; our most authentic self; our real self; our Divine Self. That part of us most aligned with Creation and Divine Will. The part that comprehends the Truth most directly. The part that transcends our earthly circumstances and the confines of our ego. When the Ridiculous Man arrives at the conclusion that the secret to life on earth is to love others as we love ourselves, he is speaking from the Divine Self, not a false self. In others words, he is speaking from the Truth and not from lies.
The old truth can only manifest in reality if it is based on the Divine Self centered on the Truth because this is the only alignment that can create the kind of love needed to bring about deep and lasting change at both the societal and individual level. Attempting to establish some sense of the old truth from a false self is impossible, as the Elder Zosima makes clear in The Brothers Karamazov:
“Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to the passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself.”
Before he experienced his transformative dream, the Ridiculous Man was in a far worse position. Alienated, nihilistic, incapable of love, unable and unwilling to indulge his passions due to the seeming meaninglessness of indulging them, he decides his best course of action would be to simply commit suicide by shooting himself in the right temple. His encounter with the dismayed little girl before his dream demonstrates his inability to love. In a true-to-form altruistic manner, he dismisses the girl and instructs her to go to the police for help. He then treats her the way he wants to be treated by refusing to become involved with her or her suffering. Later, when he is back in his room, he realizes he feels sorry for the girl. This awareness has a discombobulating effect on him. On the one hand, his reason cannot understand why he should feel anything for the girl's suffering at all, especially since he was planning to off himself that very night. On the other hand, the pang of pity makes him understand he is not the meaningless zero his intellect had painted him out to be. After his transformative dream, the Ridiculous Man begins to love from his Divine Self, and he wishes to seek out the little girl he had rejected and chased away, demonstrating the acceptance of a concrete and personal form of love that does not shrink away from the suffering of others.
The old truth - loving others as you love yourself - only becomes viable if it emanates from the Divine Self. This aspect elevates it far above the doctrine of The Golden Rule. Another aspect separating the old truth from utilitarian altruism is the apparent misunderstanding that the old truth must strive to be universal and must also strive to establish some sort of altruistic earthly utopia. After his transformative dream, the Ridiculous Man devotes himself to a life of preaching in the hope of involving others in the Truth he has seen. At the same time, he knows most of his contemporaries will consciously reject his claims as ridiculous. Though he professes to love everyone, he practices his love with those who are willing to receive it - in this case, the suffering little girl. The same holds true for Jesus' commands. Only those who love God first are capable of loving their neighbors as themselves, whereas the instruction to love one another was directed specifically at the Apostles and not, as many claim, to everyone and anyone.
What the Ridiculous Man advocates for in the end is a world in which the "awareness of life is of a higher order than the laws of happiness." This awareness of life must include love that rises from the Divine Self and seeks to aid, comfort, and support the Divine Selves of others. Unlike The Golden Rule, the old truth does not concern itself with the laws of happiness, but rather with the awareness of life, which here means an awareness of Divine Reality.
Loving your neighbor as yourself is not about establishing a utopia free of pain and suffering - as is apparent in the Ridiculous Man's comprehension of the undesirability of the unfallen world he visits in his dream - but, rather, about aligning human consciousness with Divine Will and seeking to engage and support this aligned human consciousness in others to foster and sustain Reality and Creation. Dostoevsky intones this alignment would not usher in any sort of universal utopia, but it could usher in something even better, and, as the Ridiculous Man reveals at the end of the story - "if everyone wanted it, it could be arranged immediately."
When discussing Dostoevsky's ideas and beliefs concerning Christianity and God, most critics and academics focus solely on the intellectual arguments Dostoevsky presented through his fiction. More specifically, they tend to focus primarily on the style of reasoning the acclaimed author used to arrive at his affirmation of Christianity and the existence of God. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it ultimately contradicts the encompassing conclusion Dostoevsky stresses in so many of his works - one cannot uncover the Truth by intellect alone.
On the contrary, Dostoevsky blames the sudden over reliance on the intellect in the nineteenth century - the over reliance on reason - for nearly all of the social and moral decay he witnessed and depicts in his novels. If anything, Dostoevsky cites the intellect as the chief vehicle through which people abandon faith in God and religion. Put simply, as far as Dostoevsky was concerned, proving the existence of God was more a matter of the heart than it was of the mind ( a point I hope to elaborate upon in a future post).
At the end of the short novella, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, the unnamed narrator drives this idea home by declaring, "You see, I've seen the Truth. I've seen it, and I know that men can be happy and beautiful without losing the ability to live on earth. I cannot - I refuse to believe that wickedness is the normal state of men. And when they laugh at me, it is essentially at that belief of mine. But how can I not have faith, since I have seen the Truth. I didn't arrive at it with my intellect; I saw it in its entirety, and it is inconceivable that it could not exist."
Though Dostoevsky recognized the primacy of the heart over the mind when it came to matters of faith, he did often resort to using reason to argue in favor of the existence of God and the eternal Truth of Christianity, as demonstrated in the passage below (an excerpt taken from an essay titled The Philosophy and Theology of Fyodor Dostoevsky:
For Dostoevsky, human beings are a unity of spiritual souls and material bodies, with the spirit being primary but somewhat limited by bodily incarnation. Of itself, the human soul is immortal, oriented to immortality and the divine, but like Dostoevsky himself (who called himself “a child of the age, a child of disbelief and doubt . . .”), a human person struggles with doubts and arguments about the meaning of life and the existence of God.
Dostoevsky himself even used reason to bolster his Christian faith and to argue with his religious opponents. He was most interested in using reason to argue for immortality, which he considered the “highest” idea of human nature. He offered proofs based on both reason and faith for personal immortality, such as
(a) the experience of lifelong human growth and development;
(b) the experience of the lifelong desire for moral perfection in pursuing the human good;
(c) the experience of lifelong human love of God;
(d) the need for life to have meaning beyond death;
(e) the need for a virtuous life to have rewards or punishment beyond death.
All of these led him to declare that “I cannot conceive that I shall not be” or that a divine being would create people with these innate traits who could not achieve their fulfillment.
William Wildblood has posted an incredibly incisive piece on his Meeting the Masters blog today. Coincidentally enough, it ties in very well with my own post from today concerning leftism's mission to render people defenseless against evil:
I don't think assault is too strong a word when what we are witnessing now is the attempt to expunge any notion of a spiritual component to the human being at all, one which will lead, if followed through to its natural conclusion, to the complete separation of earthly man and the spiritual realm to disastrous effect. There may still remain something called religion or spirituality but it won't be that at all.
It is now evident that the only way to preserve a real spiritual integrity in the world today is to reject modern ideology in toto. If you allow its tenets to enter your mind in any form they will act like a cancer and spread throughout your whole system. Any concession will eventually bring about submission to the idea that humanism (see previous post) overrides the reality of God. This is why such things as feminism, anti-racism and all the other -isms are pushed so relentlessly nowadays with the pushing becoming harder and harder and resistance increasingly depicted as sinful. The whole of modern thought is fundamentally an attack on God and if this wasn't always apparent, it surely must be now.
Just as people are currently being pressed into faceless, dehumanising, anonymity-creating, bureaucracy-conforming wearing of masks in an increasing number of situations under the guise of protecting yourself and (even more insidiously manipulative) protecting others, so many modern attitudes are presented as advances in terms of fairness, tolerance and compassion. Who would want to hold out against such things? But in the same way that mask wearing creates a culture of suspicion, distrust and fear and subtly modifies human behaviour and psychology in all sorts of adverse ways so these modern attitudes corrupt our minds on a spiritual level. By focusing on the purely human, using that word to refer solely to human beings materialistically considered, they cut us off from deeper spiritual truths. Which is, of course, the real intention.
We can tell this by the fact that the process never stops.
I encourage you to read the rest of William's fine post here. (As an aside, I also encourage you to become a regular reader of William's excellent blog, which is a veritable source of spiritual wisdom and discernment.)
"People with strong psychological boundaries cannot be exploited by psychopaths. Likewise, people with strong spiritual boundaries cannot be exploited by demons. Modern Leftism is all about training people not to defend themselves against evil."
The above comes from a comment Epimetheus left on yesterday's post. I am very aware of the truth the statement above contains and have written about this phenomenon many times on this blog. Nevertheless, Epimetheus's observation served as a well-coined and well-timed reminder for me. The prime purpose of modern leftism is to render individuals and whole civilizations vulnerable and powerless against evil for the overarching objective of individual and mass soul damnation.
That's basically it.
And within modern leftism we must include practically all (if not all) corporations, governments, global organizations, media, entertainment, sports, non-governmental organizations, education, politics, law, science, and yes, even organized religious institutions including most (if not all) Christian churches.
There is only one line of defense against leftism, and that line of defense is religion; and for Westerners, that religion is Christianity.
The eternal Truth Christianity has revealed is the only viable defensive wall an individual or group can erect against the perpetual onslaught of leftism. It is the only fortification in the world that can withstand the leftist siege because modern leftism essentially possesses no weapons with which it can breach a bastion of Christianity.
The only way leftism can breach Christianity's defenses is by convincing Christians that leftism is a force for good - that it intends no harm. Once this has been achieved, it doesn't take much for leftism to persuade Christians to abandon their positions along the rampart, willingly lower the drawbridge, and open the gate.
Unfortunately, over the past two centuries or so, leftism has done a rather stellar job of rendering Christians defenseless. It's come to the point where it is truly difficult to find any Christians willing to defend themselves or their religion.
Modern leftism - quite the remarkable training program, I must say.
Though atheists and non-Christians are faintly familiar with the instruction to love thy neighbor, they are unlikely, unable, or unwilling to ascribe the message to Jesus. Instead, they are more apt to classify showing love for neighbors within the nebulous category known as 'being nice.' This immediately raises a question: Is there any inherent difference between love for the neighbor and being nice? Of course there is!
To begin with, loving one's neighbor is preceded by loving God, a crucial point even self-professed Christians tend to neglect or forget. Put another way, true love for one's neighbour can only manifest if it is preceded by supported by love for God. Loving God first serves to concretize love for the neighbor and elevates it above murky, abstract notions of love. In addition, loving God first personalizes love of the neighbor, lifting it to the level of tangible relationship and interaction - of beings aiding and helping other beings.
In this sense, loving one's neighbor enters the realm of authentic compassion; the sort of authentic compassion that motivates an individual to help someone in need, all without the calculated expectation of receiving any sort of compensation or advantage in return. At the same time, practicing love of the neighbor does increase the likelihood of reciprocity - that the individual who helped his neighbor might one day receive aid from the neighbor when needed; however, true love of the neighbor should not be motivated by such expected stipulations. On the contrary, any love of the neighbor that expects the precondition of 'repayment' cannot be considered true neighborly love.
This is where loving God first and faith come into play. If an individual loves God first, he or she will have demonstrated this love through the love he or she has given to the neighbor; will understand that this in itself is enough; and will also sustain the faith that God will arrange things in such a way that aid will be extended to the individual when required.
I could elaborate on these ideas for pages, but the purpose of this post is not to dissect the various complexities of neighborly love, but rather to share my experience with it over the past week. Last Wednesday I entered the hospital to undergo a same day operation on my foot. Knowing I would not be able to drive home after the procedure, I had planned to take the bus to hospital and enlist the services of a taxi for the ride home. One of my neighbors somehow got wind of this and immediately insisted on taking me to and from the hospital by car. A few days later, another neighbor offered to drive me anywhere I needed to go until my foot healed. Another neighbor has helped my family by taking my wife grocery shopping. Yet another neighbor - a nurse by vocation - appeared unannounced and offered to change my bandages and provide any other assistance I might require.
Needless to say, I have found the outpouring of neighborly love I have received over the past week more than a little overwhelming. Much of this stems from my predilection towards independence and self-sufficiency. I generally like to care of things myself and am reluctant to 'burden' anyone with my own personal problems and troubles. At the same time, I have learned that it is both unwise and impious to refuse the offer of neighborly love when it is extended. Yes, impious. Impious in the sense that all adamant and unqualified refusals of neighborly love interfere with what I would describe as a divine process. Much has been said about the proper provision of neighborly love, but the proper acceptance or acknowledgement of neighborly love has often been overlooked.
My experiences over the past week have brought me much comfort and has deepened my faith in both people and God. At first I was tempted to wholly attribute the generous aid my neighbors have provided to the simple fact that I live in a small, rural settlement, but I can sense there is far more to it than that. Some of the neighbors who have helped me are friends - people I know and have helped myself in the past. Though I did not expect them to help me, their offers of aid did not surprise me when they came. On the other hand, some of the neighborly love I have received has come from people who are more or less strangers to me, and I cannot attribute their offers to assist me to anything but to the love of God.
Unsurprisingly, my experiences over the past week have inspired a great deal of thinking about what love of the neighbor implies. This post has not done much justice to the bulk of that thinking, but it will provide the vehicle through which I wish to express the following observation: Love thy neighbor is vital to Christianity. Nevertheless, love thy neighbor can only be vital to Christianity if it is properly interpreted and properly understood.
As is the case with so much of what appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the command to love thy neighbor has been thoroughly inverted and misapplied by the forces of leftism who have convinced many well-meaning Christians that loving thy neighbor entails a blanket, indiscriminate, abstract sort of love passively leveled at anyone and everyone, preferably through the channel of some bureaucratic system. This interpretation appeals to many because of its apparent indiscriminateness and unconditionality. But this indiscriminateness and unconditionality is, in fact, highly discriminatory and conditional, for it can only 'exist' by taking the love of God out of the equation. Without the love of God, this abstract love of the neighbor achieves the opposite of what it claims to do because it is built on a foundation of anti-love instead of genuine love.
Destroying love of neighbor that is based first on love of God appears to be one the goals of the anti-society that is currently being constructed, driven primarily through the vehicles of the recent (and in some cases, still active) social distancing and lockdown measures imposed by the birdemic crisis. Social distancing and lockdowns not only drive a wedge between neighbors - both proximal and motivational - but also invert the command to love God first by invoking fear and base survival instincts. More than that, SD and LD serve to undermine and reinterpret the vitality and necessity and neighborly love by claiming that remaining 'sheltered in place', 'avoiding others', and relying on official, bureaucratic channels to be the sole source of neighborly love are in themselves 'best practices' when it comes to loving thy neighbor and doing what is best for 'the common good'. I offer an example of this kind of rationalization below, taken from this site, issued about two months ago when the birdemic was cresting in many places:
While it makes sense for all citizens to follow the reasonable restrictions that have been imposed to contain the virus, for Christians doing so is also a matter of faith, charity and justice. After all, these are some of the stars we steer by:
I appreciate the allusion to celestial navigation in the above because it contains a truth - we all need stars to steer by, but we must ensure our navigational instruments are properly calibrated. We must also ensure we are using the right stars in the right way. Miscalculations and misinterpretation will cause us to go off course or, worse, run aground, especially when it comes to loving our neighbors.
Prices for most food items in Hungary have increased quite markedly (at least 10% for most things; as high as 50% for a few selected items) since the beginning of the birdemic in the middle of March. Since Hungary is practically food self-sufficient, availability is generally not an issue over here; however, some staples - imported fruits and vegetables, for example - are definitely in short supply.
At this point, it is difficult to ascertain the primary causes for the increase in food prices. On the one hand, it could simply be a matter of currency devaluation; the Hungarian national currency has dropped to roughly 355 forints to the euro, down from the roughly 330 forint level it occupied in March. That alone could account for the increases. On the other hand, the price increases could be attributed to supply chain disruptions. Perhaps both factors are at play.
In any event, I am curious to know what the current situation with food prices/availability is in other parts of the world.
Have you noticed any food price increases/food availability issues where you live? If so, what causes do you ascribe to these?
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Thanks to all who take the time to respond.
Despite previous reservations, I decided to undergo a surgical procedure for my hallux rigidus problem, which I briefly described here. After numerous consultations with doctors, I came to the conclusion that surgery was the best option in my case.
I underwent the same day procedure yesterday morning. It was a walk-in and then hobble out sort of deal, and I and am now at home, my swollen, bandaged right foot elevated on a stack of pillows. I doing quite well all things considered; however, the doctor has instructed me to do as little and rest as much as possible over the next few days.
In light of this, I will be taking a brief break from blogging, probably for the remainder of this week (unless I become extremely restless from all the recovering). I hope to be back by the weekend at the latest.
Until then, all the best.
Note added: Special thanks to Bruce Charlton and stef for the information they shared with me regarding this condition.
Gyula Aggházy (1850-1919) painted mostly in what is referred to as the naturalist style. Some of his finest paintings, like the second one below, have an almost rough, somewhat unfinished, sketch-like quality about them, while many others are as polished as gems.
Either way, Aggházy - who was equally interested in music and played violin at the National Theatre in Budapest for a short spell - had a wonderful way of capturing the magic and beauty (or raw emotion) within the seemingly mundane.
Contemporary leftists who fall under the pernicious spell of Marxism/communism tend to do so because they assume the grievously mistaken belief that human lives matter within the utopian framework the ideology espouses.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Though the point has been solidly stressed many times by many people in many ways, I would like to take a moment to make to a declaration which, at this point in history, should not even have to made; under the banner of Marxism/communism, no lives matter. Full stop. End of story.
For the sake of elucidation, let's briefly make our way through a non-comprehensive list of lives that did not matter under Marxism/communism.
Some lives didn't matter from the get go.
Other religious lives.
Other lives mattered for a while, and then didn't matter anymore.
Proletariat/working class lives.
Agricultural smallholder lives.
Red army/military lives.
Party member lives.
Party leader lives.
And so on. When all was said and done, no lives truly mattered. All lives were considered potential threats. All lives were open to the possibility of liquidation, even the lives of the people who helped establish Marxist/communist regimes.
Tens of millions of lives from Russia to China, from southeast Asia to Africa, from Central Europe to Central America; none of these tens of millions lives (perhaps more) mattered.
In light of the lists above, I must say I find it unsurprising that the latest (rather lame and farcical) incarnation of Marxist/communist revolutionary slop parades under a flag declaring that lives matter. In this specific case, the lives that matter are of a particular skin color. Likewise, the ruling global elite have also increased their communist-inspired rhetoric about improving lives, leveling the playing field to provide opportunities for the marginalized and the oppressed, and ensuring dignity for all human lives.
The premise behind Marxist platitudes is elementary. There is an oppressive system in which some lives matter more than others. Marxism purports it can change that through the elimination of oppressive structures, thereby creating a world in which it would be socially, economically, and politically impossible for some lives to matter more than other lives. At its core, communism professes to be an emancipatory force; one that not only liberates the oppressed from their oppressors, but also liberates the oppressors from their burden of having to oppress. Simply put, Marxism emancipates.
Unfortunately, history has shown that the only real freedom Marxism/communism can guarantee is death; that is, freedom from mortal life.
Something to keep in mind in case the Marxist/communist rhetoric currently being thrown around intensifies.
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