Dostoyevsky: Atheism–> Socialism–>The Tower of Babel

I am savoring my journey through Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. It’s not a story to rush through. Even if I wasn’t a slow reader to begin with, this is a thoughtful book that deserves a measure of contemplation as you go through it. The story is rich, compelling, and complex and I’m only through the first one-third of it. For this week’s Friday Fave I decided to share a quote from the beginning of the book. Despite having read it a week ago, it repeatedly floats back to the top of my consciousness at regular intervals. I’d love it if any of you find it intriguing enough to weigh in and share your perceptions. Here, the author introduces the beliefs and lifestyle of Aloysha, the youngest of the Karamazov brothers:
As soon as he reflected seriously he was convinced of the existence of God and immortality, and at once he instinctively said to himself: “I want to live for immortality and I will accept no compromise.” In the same way, if he had decided that God and immortality did not exist, he would at once have become an atheist and a socialist. For socialism is not merely the labour question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to-day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth. Aloysha would have found it strange and impossible to go on living as before.
The question occurs to me again and again: how often do we, having ostensibly reached some profound conclusion about the nature of life, continue to go on living as before?This beautiful quote about the trajectory of Aloysha’s resolve resonates with me. I am reminded of a much less eloquent quote that is, as far as I am aware, unattributed:
We live what we believe. Everything else is just talk.

Dostoevsky asks: Is Such a Man Free?

An appropriately melancholy quotable literary quote from The Brothers Karamazov:

…Interpreting freedom as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual envy, for luxury and ostentation. To have dinners, visits, carriages, rank and slaves to wait on one is looked upon as a necessity, for which life, honour and human feeling are sacrificed, and men even commit suicide if they are unable to satisfy it. We see the same thing among those who are not rich, while the poor drown their unsatisfied need and their envy in drunkness. But soon they will drink blood instead of wine, they are being led on to it. I ask you is such a man free?

Did this man really die 129 years ago? It’s almost as if he’s a fly on the wall of the 21st Century.

Or maybe it’s just that human nature is what it is…

Quotable Literary Quotes: Booker T. Washington

Throughout most of my adult life, it’s been my practice to focus on people who have overcome struggles, hardship, and adversity to achieve their goals. Most inspiring to me are those who have achieved success through hard work, ingenuity, and a commitment of service to others. These are the stories I have taken pains to teach our children. The stories of people such as Madam C. J. Walker, George Washington Carver, and Frederick Douglass frame the backdrop of any discussions of black history.

Without question, the man whose work and writings have inspired me more than any is Booker T. Washington. In the absence of a Word Nerd Wednesday installment, I have decided to offer some of Washington’s most notable and timely literary quotes.

On the foolproof formula for happiness:

“The happiest people are those who do the most for others. The most miserable are those who do the least.”

On the true measures of success:

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.”

Another:

“Success waits patiently for anyone who has the determination and strength to seize it.”

On the folly of being sucked into personal animosity and battles based on ethnic differences:

“I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”

Another:

“Of all forms of slavery, there is none that is so harmful and degrading as that form of slavery which tempts one human being to hate another by reason of his race or color. One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.”

Lastly, On the motivation of grievance peddlers:

“There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

Food for thought. Timeless, from a great thinker who died more than 100 years ago.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, no?

 

 

 

 

Friday Fave: Quotable Literary Quote

It occurred to me quite recently, after my post in memory of Roger Scruton, that while I have watched his documentary on beauty a couple of times, and read many of his online essays, I’d never actually taken the time to read one of his books. I took some time this week to do so. A review of Culture Counts is forthcoming at my earliest convenience, but for now, I thought this quote was profoundly true:

It is sometimes said that we now live in a “knowledge economy,” and that “information technology” has vastly increased the extent and accessibility of human knowledge. Both claims are false. “Information technology” simply means the use of digital algorithms in the transference of messages. The “information” that is processed is not information about anything, nor does it have its equivalent in knowledge. It treats truth and falsehood, reality and fantasy, as equivalent, and has no means to assess the difference. Indeed, as the Internet reveals, information technology is far more effective in propagating ignorance than in advancing science. For, in the conquest of cyberspace, ignorance has a flying start, being adapted to the habits of idle minds.

There’s a lot to be said about this (and I hope you’ll share your thoughts!), but the biggest takeaway for me is that we have erred greatly by conflating information and knowledge as if they are synonymous. We are much poorer for it, in my opinion.

 

On Books and the Unchanging Nature of Things

old and new

The wonderful thing about books is that if you’ve read a sufficient number, you quickly realize that King Solomon was right: There truly is nothing new under the sun. Cultural shifts occasionally offer the illusion that we’ve cooking up something new, but once you take a bite, it’s readily apparent that this just another case of, “New Look! Same Great Taste!”

I just started reading Dorothy Sayers’ Mind of the Maker, originally published in 1941. In light of our current political, social, and cultural trajectory, this quote from the first chapter stood out to me:

The more closely the moral code agrees with the natural law, the more it makes for freedom in human behaviour; the more widely it departs from the natural law, the more it tends to enslave mankind…

This corroborates what we already know, at least some of us. Our tendency to enforce utopian ideals by fiat, despite their blatant incongruency with the ingrained laws of the universe, is not a new one. It hasn’t worked before, and despite the technologies that have shrunk our world, it isn’t working now, for obvious reasons:

The moral code depends for its validity upon a consensus [8] of human opinion about what man’s nature really is, and what it ought to be, when freed from this mysterious self-contradiction and enabled to run true to itself. If there is no agreement about these things, then it is useless to talk of enforcing the moral code.

It’s not that we don’t know these truths. We do, but it sates the soul when those who have gone before, and are smarter, more articulate and presumably more wise than we confirm what we can see and sense in our hearts as true.

Behold the power of a great book!

* I’m still reading this particular book, but have learned that it is a part of the public domain in Canada. Ergo, although I’ve already spent money on it, there is online access to it. Weirdly, we are supposed to consult the laws in our country before reading it or something, so consider this your public service announcement.

A Preview of Coming Attractions: The Two-Income Trap

Due to my haphazard style of reading several books at once, it often takes me longer to finish a book than it would if I’d just pick a book and stick through it already. My reading is much more targeted when I read fiction, and especially so if I am enjoying the characters and plot. With nonfiction, however, it may  take as long as two months to finish a book as I pivot from one volume to the next depending on the topic I’m in the mood to read about.

I’m currently moving -albeit glacially- through Elizabeth Warren’s The Two-Income Trap, which I’ve been reading for a few weeks. I should finish by May’s end, as I’m more than halfway through it at this point. However, in the interest of keeping my personal commitment to write more and post installments here with greater regularity, I decided to preview the forthcoming review with a rather profound insight from Mrs. Warren, found on page 67 of her book:

So how did families get sucked into the Two-Income Trap? The answer is unexpectedly simple: No one saw it coming.

The politics that surrounded women’s collective decision to integrate into the workforce are a study in misdirection. On the left, the women’s movement was battling for equal pay and equal opportunity, and any suggestion that the family might be better off with Mother at home was discounted as reactionary chauvinism. On the right, conservative commentators accused working mothers of everything from child abandonment to defying the laws of nature. The atmosphere was far too charged for any rational assessment of the financial consequences of sending both spouses into the workforce.

The massive miscalculation ensued because both sides of the political spectrum discounted the financial value of the stay-at-home mother. [emphasis mine]

Despite my feelings about Elizabeth Warren the politician, this is very insightful commentary from the Elizabeth Warren of 16 years ago, the professor.

I look forward to reviewing this work in a fuller context sometimes next week.

 

Quotable Literary Quotes: Marcus Aurelius

Marcus

Marcus Aurelius was Rome’s emperor from 161 to 180 AD, but my interest in him is largely confined to the superb number of quotable literary -and life- quotes found in his famous collection of meditations.  In an age where things often seem upside down, many of his thoughts are worthy of dissemination and contemplation.

On the choice to ignore the noise:

You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.

On the silliness of being obsessed with the impressions we make on others at the expense of personal integrity and character:

I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.

But if you want to leave a good impression, here’s how:

If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.

A good rule of thumb in a world gone mad:

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

I hope you enjoyed these gems from the meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

A fascinating read on the state of postmodern relationships.

I am currently reading comedian Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance. At 1/3 of the way through the first chapter (which follows a hilarious and spot on introductory section), I am taking so many notes that I don’t know if I could possibly do this book justice in one review. So I’m documenting the book here a couple of chapters at a time.

Of course, this assumes that the remaining 250 pages will keep me as interested, amused, and in agreement as the first 28, and that is probably quite the stretch. I hope not however, because despite the clearly secular bend of the book, the first little bit is overflowing with truth. For example, this quote from Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, which is now another book added to my increasingly long “must read” list (I sure hope it isn’t a divorce apologist tome):

So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide:

Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.
And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.

Like I said, interesting book, so stay tuned for periodic updates as I blog my way through it.

 

Quotable Literary Quotes #3

This one is courtesy of the ever profound and straightforward Zora Neale Hurston. I have included it before in a review of one of her books but the thought has been pushed to the forefront of my thinking of late. It’s worth sharing:

“I did not know then, as I know now, that people are prone to build a statue of the kind of person it pleases them to be. And few people want to be forced to ask themselves, ‘What if there is no me like my statue?’”

This era of Pinterest, Snap chat, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs makes it all too tempting and all too easy to build statues which draw viewers to admire as well as those who spend inordinate amounts of energy looking for the crack in the statue. It creates a perpetual and vicious cycle.

Enter this bit of wisdom from Voddie Baucham, which blessed me greatly:

“Whatever is the worst thing you think about me, I know something worse about me. Whatever the worse thing is that you could say about me is almost surely not the worst thing about me. I could no doubt do you one better.”

Pause and think about that and what it really means. Freedom perhaps?

In the spirit of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I would call this one alternately the “Must-Have-Others-Think-Well-of-Me” cure.

Have a great weekend!