“Activists would benefit immeasurably by reading Dostoevsky.” — Howard Zinn
While U.S. citizens — “Americans” — were engaging in the unnecessary bloody Civil War and its horrific aftermath, Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was producing three of his greatest novels and two of his best novellas more than half a world away.
Life didn’t meet Dostoevsky half way, though. During the period I’m spotlighting, the Russian author remarried, fled his Mother Country to escape from importuning creditors and grasping dependents, and lived in hardship obscurely in untenable quarters in Germany and Switzerland. His bride made him a father twice, and his toilsome existence was unrelieved except by occasional — and invariably unsuccessful — jaunts to various gambling casinos. Talk about Russian Roulette!
It’s truly incredible — that he was capable of creating so many literary masterpieces so rapidly — considering that he not only had to cope with grinding poverty and continual changes of residence, but also with recurring fits of epilepsy that incapacitated him for days at a stretch.
It’s not a stretch to rank Dostoevsky’s output during this short stretch of time high enough to place him on a list of the top ten of all time. Such lists are silly, admittedly, for a number of reasons, and not at all to be taken seriously for additional reasons, but — still — Dostoevsky deserves a quiet respect in reviewing his oeuvre, as he has much to teach us.
For activists, his instruction is spot on. Crime and Punishment alone, a novel which changed my life forever at the impressionable age of 16, can provide ample sustenance for a lifetime of moral living. Giving the reader a basis for believing in something other than the secular principles which seem to guide the vast majority of protesters these days.
What Howard Zinn advocates in the footage I provided above in my first paragraph would not be possible to implement now without our having a spiritual foundation underneath our activism. And it should be noted, furthermore, that the suffering he describes — the unnecessary suffering that went on — was the consequence of “dissidents” doing self-serving service to their Cause. The suffering was greater than what Dostoevsky went through during the period I’ve covered above, of course. And it went on long after the Civil War was over, continuing in many respects into our present day.
The EMANCIPATION that everyone cheers in our schools and society in general was forced through with payment in blood and bones by select profiteering scions of society and many possessed souls, convinced that God was on their side.
Dostoevsky, I tell you, did a good deed for the dissidents of today, laboring through his delineation of Raskolnikov’s transformation for us. For, truth be told, most activists see themselves as Great Men or Great Women or Great Transgender Souls… you get what I mean, I’m sure. It’s kind of like a Napoleon Complex in reverse politically, socially. They feel — Hey, it’s quite okay to generalize here after interacting with 18,000 well-meaning concerned citizens since 2004 incessantly! — …they feel small, and want to make their mark. Want others to notice them. They might not demand to be placed on a pedestal or permitted to speak from a podium on the lecture circuit, but they sure as hell wouldn’t flinch from causing the painful-to-watch downfall of this or that member of the opposition if they can only advance their Cause (usually though of as CAUSE in boldfaced caps). We attempt to emancipate people of color, animals… inject injustice here and there regardless of the costs. Hell for others never works for anyone. Benefits not a soul.
Which brings me to the soul of Dostoevsky. Read Crime and Punishment. And if you’ve hit it before check it out once again, dwelling on its denouement. It’s meant to give you a reason to live.
And that reason, I promise, will help you — maybe — to see the treason behind today’s factions, both Left and Right. With the latter, I’m speaking of the betrayal of country, but with the former I’m addressing treason of the soul.
Richard Martin Oxman can be reached easily at email@example.com. Following first contact via email, interested parties will be given his telephone number for further interaction… and fresh movement in solidarity.