Friday, May 26, 2006

Thoughts on Notes From the Underground

Fyodor Dostoyevsky says that to think to much is a disease. I’m a college educated person, trained in how to think. Thinking is like a science or an art to me. Yet, Dostoyevsky has a point. Thinking to much can lead one to not take action on those thoughts. To think to much is to commit yourself to a life in the reverse of the brainless zombie we see in horror movies. Yet despite this reversal, to think to much leads one to act just like those zombies, unable to do anything, wandering aimlessly, seeking only food (whether it be brains or food for thought).

In the activism I’m involved with, I see how thinking to much is a disease almost everyday. People talk about action way to much. There is an overabundance of theory and a serious lack of action. It’s gotten to the point where people call talking about their thoughts an action. If they shout their thoughts in public it’s called a protest.

Meanwhile, the machine acts. It ships arms in our backyards, and rains death upon those who oppose it. The machine has it’s thinkers, it’s Karl Roves, it’s Projects for New American Centuries, but the system also has it’s army of those who do it’s bidding. Mindless drones, pawns in chess who when they receive orders to do so, act without thinking about it.

What do to many people do about this? Instead of fighting the fascists, to many are content to rationalize them, debate them, ignore them or attempt to educate them. Meanwhile our teeth are being kicked in, our faces dragged through mud, and our voices ringing hollow on ears that refuse to listen.

To think to much is to sit on ones ass. It’s like playing video games. You think your playing football, but really your just sitting on your ass and fiddling your fingers. Instead of actually playing football, you are imagining that you are playing football.

Further when one plays video games, like when one thinks, they are limited by what has been created before them. One can not play the video game that has not been created, coded, tested, packaged, shipped and sold. With thinking, one can not imagine a new religion that has nothing to do with the old religion. Even if it’s the reverse, knowledge of that older religion influences the new faith, the new mythology. Many Christian holidays are celebrated the day that Roman holidays were on.

Dostoyevsky goes a step further though. He doesn’t just say that thinking to much is problematic, he actually says that stupidity is praise worthy because stupid people take action. In a sense he’s right, but the question he fails to address, is who’s action do they take. Is it really their own formulation or is it someone who is commanding them to take action? For example, a soldier in the army takes action, but it’s not always in their own interest, and as dissident soldiers, C.O.’s and others have shown, it is often not in their own will.

Dostoyevsky argues that often people enjoy doing that which is actively bad for them. He compares it to a toothache, and how people can derive pleasure from it. So perhaps some people don’t mind being pawns in chess. Perhaps some prefer 2 + 2 = 4, no mater how terrible that trail of death is for them.

What Dostoyevsky doesn’t discuss is how taking to much action can be problematic. To be continually moving, fighting, engaging, is to never reflect on what the effects of that action are or whats behind why you take that action. To not think about that, is to repeat the action. Repeat the action. Repeat the action, until the spark dies out. I feel it is best to create a praxis of theory and practice. Action and thought united in a cycle so that each feeds off the other, both practiced by the same person.

My biggest problem with Dostoyevsky, is that at a certain point, his irrationality becomes very rational. His comparison between “uncivilized” people and supposedly “civilized” warmongers makes perfect sense. That which society deems irrational, might only be different. The person ranting on the corner makes no sense until you hear them out. Listen to them explain their views and why they have them. Then it makes sense. The person who has been taught their whole lives that Christianity is a religion of life, will be flabergasted by the person who tells them that more people have died in Jesus’ name than any other. But if they stop and listen to the stories of inquisitions, wars, and crusades, they will get a different picture.

The other part of Dostoyevsky that becomes rational is the issue of mass acceptance. 2 + 2 = 4 because society declares it so. But if all of society declared that 2 + 2 = 5, wouldn’t the person who insisted that 2 + 2 = 4 seem irrational? In many ways we see this contradiction with the culture of individuality. Everyone wants to be an individual, to stand out, to be different. Yet, they all become the same in this process. What’s so different about being different when everyone is different?

I would say that the life I’ve lived is closer to 2+ 2 =5, in that it has been unorthodox, but I’m trying to create a world where 2 + 2 = 4 isn’t destructive, where the normal way of doing things isn't destructive. In many ways the world we live in today is closer to -2 – 2 = -4. As Dostoyevsky points out that many times people don’t desire what is in their best interests. They don’t want the positive, they want the negative. This is one of the greatest obstacles on the path towards a utopian society. So to take the world out of it’s negative ways, we need to break out of the mold. If the messed up world is -4, a person living a 2 + 2 = 4 life still leaves us in the neutral zone, whereas a person living a 2 + 2 = 5 life would actually give us a positive 1...... and the hope of a new world.

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