Friday, September 07, 2007

Brothers Karamazov

Finally finished it. I won't lie, I felt the book was about 400 pages too long. I decided to read it due to the continuous references to it in the debates I had been watching about religion versus atheism. There is a section in the early part of the book which covers Christopher Hitchens' arguments against religion just as good as he does. Unfortunately, this in-depth analysis of faith and religion sort of stops early on and is then illustrated by an exceedingly long and painstaking narrative in which every main character (with the exception of Alyosha Karamazov the young religious brother) seems to be in a state of hysteria with a touch of schizophrenia. My Serbian friend who read the book simultaneously told me that this is exactly how Russian culture is (I'm not sure how far I would take that). Every scene and every character is set within the context of emotional hysteria over big or small things (doesn't matter) and reading this tome becomes exhausting because despite everyone's never ending hysteria and conflict, it never seems to end.
The most oft reference to this book is the idea surrounding Ivan Karamazov that without religion everything is permissable. This exact line appears nowhere in the book as far as I could tell even though it is regularly set in quotes (which is my way of smugly saying nanny-nanny boo boo I actually read the fuckin' thing).
But Ivan's dilemma was not very perplexing to me in the face of Darwinian evolution.

Ivan didn't understand that primates have a natural moral sense which is biological in nature. Before Darwin, I assume everyone looked at moral choice making as a function of some sort of metaphysical auric field that hovered around their head waiting to respond to an act of perfect free-will. Even this far along after Darwin most people still don't acknowledge that there is ANYTHING biological about moral choice making, despite a virtually infinite amount of evidence to the contrary. Ivan, being the most intelligent and educated of the family was forced to wrestle with a dilemma which is a total non sequiter to everyone who is not religious today. Simply put, Since human nature involves having a moral sense which is hard-wired and inherent in primate biology, the result is that everything is not desirable even if it is permissable (due to the absence of the cosmic dictator). Its no more complex than that. It is only a perplexing and contraversial theme to religious people who can't comprehend or refuse to acknowledge basic biology. Despite Ivan's atheism, it is not at all suprising or even worthy of contraversy that he was willing to judge himself so harshly as a culprit of the murder of his father or the difficult choice he had of whether to try to save his brother Dmitri by his testimony (at the risk of his own life). Ivan was driven to madness on account of the fact that he was born 100 years too early, in a culture basking in religious superstition and bereft of scientific knowledge about the truth of human nature. Ivan was trapped in an artificial forced choice experiment between belief and immorality. Religious people to this day try desperately to frame the debate this way, relying on the willing ignorance of their listeners.
Dostoyevsky's insight into human nature is astounding. His insight into the conflict of faith and reason is displayed to a remarkable extent by his ability to take multiple opposing viewpoints with his characters and argue them to the hilt. And now, after reading this headrest I can understand why Christopher Hitchens says "he was probably a schizophrenic".

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