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."