The narrator decides upon actions that may directly oppose his true interests for the sole reason of proving that he is an unpredictable man who enjoys his own free will and ability to make voluntary decisions of his own, without being restrained by the ideas of rationality and reason. A particular profit (advantage) is revealed in the narrator’s philosophical ranting that describes man’s ability to decide to act in an unpredictable manner. The narrator challenges the definition of profit saying, “What is profit?
Will you take it upon yourself to define with perfect exactitude precisely what man’s profit consists in? ” (Dostoevsky 21), and continues by introducing his idea of an overlooked advantage that is so important that all the other advantages rely upon it. He describes this masochistic advantage, questioning “And what if it so happens that on occasion man’s profit sometimes not only may, but precisely must consist precisely in sometimes wishing what is bad for himself, and not what is profitable? ” (21).
This abnormal advantage refers to an individual’s freedom, the ability to choose, when given multiple options, a detrimental course of action over a more favorable option with the intention that one may demonstrate their free will, in order to express that they are unpredictable and refuse to be easily categorized and stereotyped by others. The common desires such as prosperity, wealth, freedom, and peace cannot possibly describe the complex needs of the human mind, and if there was a way to study desires in such a complex method, it would severely limit the feeling of free will and personality that an individual possesses.
My questions for the Underground Man would be this: What if someday they really do discover the formula for all our desires and whims or the thing that governs them? What if they found the precise laws that produce them, how exactly they’re applied, where they lead in each and every case? I think that the Underground Man would reply saying that if they found the genuine mathematical formula, then all at once man might stop desiring, and he probably would. I don’t necessarily agree with this. Who would want to desire according to some table?
It would make desire completely predictable and consequently less desirable. Desire, in this sense, is directly related to our nature. The narrator uses the example of a toothache (15) to explain why he hates the laws of nature. Like the laws of nature, a toothache is something that causes us pain but that we have no control over. The only response to this powerlessness is spite. If we listen to the moans of a cultured man with a toothache, we will realize that he is moaning only out of spite, to annoy himself and others.
The consciousness of one’s powerlessness against the laws of nature is humiliating, so no one with consciousness can ever respect himself. A conscious human being can only act by deceiving himself. Men of action can act because they think they have reasons for acting. Anyone with consciousness, however, can see that there are never good reasons for acting. For example, one may try to seek revenge out of a sense of justice, but when one thinks about justice, one sees that there is really no such thing.
The laws of nature are responsible for everything. People with consciousness can act only by deceiving themselves into thinking they have reason to act, but later they will hate themselves for this deception. People with consciousness, then, can never do anything, so they are overtaken by inertia and get very bored. I completely agree with the Underground Man’s thoughts here. I believe that people are attention-seeking by nature. So, considering moaning for a certain injury, who is it really for?
I don’t believe moaning is a natural occurrence due to pain. It has to be, then, a way for others to notice the pain, and give attention in response. Is it really in their best interest to be attention-seeking? The Underground Man claims that throughout history, human beings have consistently done things that were obviously not in their best interests. There must be some other interest that is even more advantageous than peace and prosperity. He goes on to say that utopian theories are just logical exercises with no grounding in reality.
The utopians argue that science will show that human beings are nothing more than piano keys under the control of the laws of nature and will teach them to act according to those laws. Once everyone is enlightened and utopia is attained, the crystal palace can be built. The Underground Man responds that such a world would be very rational and boring and someone would certainly destroy it despite all its advantages. What human beings need is not rational desire, but their own desire. Utopian theories ignore the human need to make independent decisions, based on nothing more than one’s own whims and free will.
When physiological science starts to break down what affects the human condition, people lose their feeling of freedom, and will act in any self-destructive way in order to preserve what free will they have left. Speaking on this subject, the narrator claims that “If you say that all this, the chaos and darkness and cursing, can also be calculated according to a little table, so that the mere possibility of a prior calculation will put a stop to it all and reason will claim its own- then he will deliberately go mad for the occasion, so as to do without reason and have his own way! ” (31).
The mathematic properties that have been set as law are restraining people’s free will, and people will go crazy just to retain it. The narrator describes this in his “two times two” analogy. He asks what sort of free choice will there be when it comes down to tables and arithmetic, when all that’s left is two times two makes four? Two times two makes four even without my will. Is that what you call free choice? (31). In order to demonstrate his discretion and unpredictable nature, the narrator suddenly bewilders his audience by announcing that what he stated before had been nothing more than a poor attempt at a joke.
He states, “Gentlemen, I’m joking, of course, and I myself know that I am not joking very successfully, but one really cannot take everything as a joke” (32). I do not know exactly how much information he had been joking about, possibly the two previous chapters, four chapters, or the entire work. I can even be speculate that the narrator was never actually joking, but isn’t confident enough to admit to the claims that he has made. Either way, his shot at humor, though hard to understand, humanizes him; and it exhibits yet another contradicting statement.
The narrator leads into another confusing announcement when he proclaims “Even this would be better here: if I myself believed at least something of all I’ve just written. For I swear to you, gentlemen, that I do not believe a word… I sense and suspect that I’m lying like a cobbler. ” (37). By combining this with the previously mentioned joke statement, and assuming that both statements are meant literally, they create a double negative, canceling each other out. This reverses everything that he has claimed. Why would he do this?
Would this be no more than another example of the advantage or profit he previously described? Is this his self- sabotaging method of being unpredictable? Without jumping to conclusions, a following passage illustrates how the narrator believes a reader might react to his writings. I feel that Dostoevsky believes that there is some truth in people but no chastity. Consequently, they bring their truth out into the open and they shame it. This means that they really want to say something, but conceal their final word out of fear because they lack the resolve to say it and are cowardly.
By now, the narrator may seem that he is cowardly in coming out and saying exactly what he wants to, and instead dances around it by distracting his audience with statements to detract from the serious nature of his arguments, and the reader’s response only furthers that theory. Through this interpretation, the previous areas where the narrator proclaims that he is either joking or lying are rendered meaningless. So why would he include statements to intentionally mislead the reader? For no other reason than to demonstrate his free will.
All that he writes are his, and only his, writings and he is free to do whatever he pleases with them. If he wants to deliberately include passages that contradict what he has already stated, he may do so. This freedom he shows in his writing is directly related to his idea of the free will advantage that he deems so important. Obviously, just the fact that the narrator includes such a response to his writing within his argument proves this to be correct. My favorite part of Notes from Underground is Dostoevsky’s popular phrase that states “The ends justify the means”.
I think he means that this is an excuse used often by individuals whose motives may be questioned. Through his method of writing, the narrator renders this phrase ineffective, while raising a question of the phrase itself. Why do the means even have to be justified at all? The narrator shows that he can decide upon actions that may oppose his interests to prove that he is an unpredictable man with a free will and ability to make voluntary decisions of his own, without the need to justify them with reason. We should all be this way.
1. In what sense can a subculture be associated with criminality? Illustrate your answer with examples.
2. “The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied.” (Howard Becker 1963). Discuss this claim in relation to labelling theory.
3. Critically evaluate the contribution of feminist perspectives to gender and crime.
4. What impact might a lack of social bonds have upon delinquency?
5. Consider the usefulness of ‘rational choice theory’ in understanding crime and deviance
6. Assess the significance of right realism and left realism approaches to crime.
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