Richard Melson

August 2006

Globalization Neuroscience Dostoyevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Discussions on television interview shows such as "Charlie Rose" or radio talk shows on NPR and PRI, always veer back to the "trisection" of globalization/American hegemony, evolutionary biology/neuroscience and history.

If you think of the recent "Charlie Rose" shows on TV with biologists James Watson and E.O.Wilson as guests, you will notice how discussions keep hovering around this trisection and no one sees that all of this was foreseen clearly by world-and-soul watchers of yesteryear such as Dostoyevsky. 

Biologistic views of the world are old hat, something such August 2006 proponents don't grasp.

Watson/Wilson views represent a kind of biologistic "knot in a labyrinth" and are not the ultimate insight that Watson and Wilson think they have in hand.

All of these topics of August 2006, as sorted out or knotted up on TV and radio, were anticipated and adumbrated by Dostoyevsky's fictional characters, such as Rakitin the materialist, in The Brothers Karamazov.

See below:

Chapter 73
The Brothers Karamazov - by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part IV.
Book XI: Ivan
Chapter 4: A Hymn and a Secret

"Imagine: inside, in the nerves, in the head -- that is, these nerves are there in the brain... (damn them!) there are sort of little tails, the little tails of those nerves, and as soon as they begin quivering... that is, you see, I look at something with my eyes and then they begin quivering, those little tails... and when they quiver, then an image appears... it doesn't appear at once, but an instant, a second, passes... and then something like a moment appears; that is, not a moment -- devil take the moment! -- but an image; that is, an object, or an action, damn it!

That's why I see and then think, because of those tails, not at all because I've got a soul, and that I am some sort of image and likeness. All that is nonsense! Rakitin explained it all to me yesterday, brother, and it simply bowled me over. It's magnificent, Alyosha, this science! A new man's arising- that I understand.... And yet I am sorry to lose God!"

It's chemistry, brother, chemistry!

There's no help for it, your reverence, you must make way for chemistry.

"What of brother Ivan?" interrupted Alyosha, but Mitya did not hear.

"You see, I never had any of these doubts before, but it was all hidden away in me. It was perhaps just because ideas I did not understand were surging up in me, that I used to drink and fight and rage. It was to stifle them in myself, to still them, to smother them. Ivan is not Rakitin, there is an idea in him. Ivan is a sphinx and is silent; he is always silent. It's God that's worrying me. That's the only thing that's worrying me. What if He doesn't exist?

What if Rakitin's right -- that it's an idea made up by men? Then if He doesn't exist, man is the chief of the earth, of the universe.

Magnificent! Only how is he going to be good without God? That's the question. I always come back to that. For whom is man going to love then? To whom will he be thankful? To whom will he sing the hymn? Rakitin laughs. Rakitin says that one can love humanity without God. Well, only a snivelling idiot can maintain that. I can't understand it. Life's easy for Rakitin. 'You'd better think about the extension of civic rights, or even of keeping down the price of meat. You will show your love for humanity more simply and directly by that, than by philosophy.' I answered him, 'Well, but you, without a God, are more likely to raise the price of meat, if it suits you, and make a rouble on every copeck.' He lost his temper. But after all, what is goodness? Answer me that, Alexey. Goodness is one thing with me and another with a Chinaman, so it's a relative thing. Or isn't it? Is it not relative? A treacherous question! You won't laugh if I tell you it's kept me awake two nights. I only wonder now how people can live and think nothing about it. Vanity! Ivan has no God. He has an idea. It's beyond me. But he is silent. I believe he is a Freemason. I asked him, but he is silent. I wanted to drink from the springs of his soul- he was silent. But once he did drop a word."


Krasotkin & Ayn Rand

The Brothers Karamazov contains many echoes of the literature of the 1860's. At one point Madame Khokhlakova quotes Bazarov, when she comments that she had always believed there would be nothing after death, that "'a thistle would sprout on my grave', as a certain author once put it" (XIV:52). Two further points are worth noting in this connection. First, in 1876, at the very time he began creating The Brothers Karamazov in his mind, Dostoevsky thought briefly of writing a novel with exactly the same title as Turgenev's (Ottsy i deti), although the book's content apparently would have been quite different. (5) And second, Maxim Antonovich, the radical critic whose most famous single piece of literary criticism was probably his intemperate attack of 1862 on Fathers and Sons, devoted his literary swan-song to a long review of 1881 denouncing The Brothers Karamazov as a "mystic-ascetic novel."(6)

Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done?, the greatest single influence on the radical generation of the 1860's, is the source of several echoes in The Brothers Karamazov. Thus the young socialist Kolya Krasotkin tells Alesha that he is an "egotist", i.e. an adherent of the doctrine of enlightened egotism which Chernyshevsky elaborated in his novel (XIV:483); and toward the end of The Brothers Karamazov Dmitry speaks to Alesha of going off to America with Grusha for three years or so in order to learn English and then return as Americans, much as Lopukhov does in What Is To Be Done? (XV:186).

The Brothers Karamazov also contains a running polemic with Dostoevsky's great ideological opponent of the 1860's, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin. At one point the gushing Madame Khokhlakova talks of Shchedrin as her mentor in the matter of feminine emancipation: she had recently, she says, dispatched to him a brief note with the text:

"I embrace and kiss you, my writer, on behalf of contemporary womankind, keep it up," and signed it: "a mother." (XIV:350). Here Dostoevsky twits Saltykov by asserting that his most ardent followers are flighty, brainless females. At another point later in the novel Dostoevsky distorted some of Saltykov's writings of 1875 through paraphrase (XV:78). Saltykov, incidentally, followed these details quite closely, and was quick to reply to his old opponent. Such muted polemics were not the most important part of the novel, of course, although they are strongly reminiscent of the 1860's.

As in Dostoevsky's earlier and more overtly antinihilist novels, the characters of The Brothers Karamazov are divided into those who exist on a more superficial, political level, and those who embody more profoundly metaphysical problems. In Crime and Punishment Lebezyatnikov serves as an example of the first category, Raskolnikov and Svidrigaylov of the second. In The Idiot the first category is represented by Burdovsky and the young radicals gathered about him. In The Possessed Petr Verkhovensky is a very well-developed example of the first grouping, while Stavrogin is a most powerful example of the second. In The Brothers Karamazov we find an entire constellation of figures who fall into the first category. Adelaida Miusova and then Madame Khokhlakova are samples of the scatterbrained emancipated female; Petr Miusov is the fashionable anti-clerical activist; Smerdyakov has grown up as a committed nihilist, and a dangerous one as well, for he is capable not just of murder but of parricide; and the divinity student Rakitin spreads his evil intellectual influence throughout the novel, all the way down to Kolya Krasotkin, who admires Rakitin as his teacher and openly declares his socialist convictions. And then, in the second category, there is the great metaphysical figure of Ivan Karamazov. Ivan not only - in his "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" - recasts Shigalev's doctrines on the dominion of the enlightened few over the innumerable herd in religious terms, but he and Alesha also grapple with the central religious question of Dostoevsky's world.

The globalization phenomenon:

"Mankind as a whole," Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, "has always striven to organize a universal state." In his novel, "The Brothers Karamazov," Dostoyevsky maintained that the great conquerors - Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, etc. - were manifestations of that craving for universal unity.

Whether that's the case or not, many authors have explored that theme, and, invariably, most of them depicted it as a nightmare - think of George Orwell's "1984," Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We."

As for the reality, that's been worse than fiction. In the 20th century, those who sought to impose universal government unleashed such suffering that words and images can only hint at their monstrosity. Mercifully, the political systems they created are dead.

Yet now, in one of history's great paradoxes, the free enterprise system has created what Lenin, Hitler and others failed to achieve: a universal state of sorts, consisting of giant multinational corporations, multilateral financial and political institutions, and the worldwide communications web.

The phenomenon known as "globalization" makes it possible for a gargantuan ship built in the Netherlands and registered in Panama to bring Saudi oil to Texas refineries that provide gasoline for cars assembled in Japan, Korea or Germany. The drivers, wearing clothes sewn in Singapore from Australian cotton might be listening to an Argentine tenor singing Italian arias recorded on a magnetic cassette made in Mexico and played on a tape deck assembled in China. In another car, the driver might be using a Finnish cell phone to tell a broker in New York to buy stocks in a Canadian company that does business in Brazil.

This phenomenon, this "globalization," is utterly staggering, and, predictably, it's engendered its critics. The annual meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the G-7 (plus Russia) provide a forum for demonstrations and riots, although, in fairness, the vast majority of protesters are peaceful and raise legitimate concerns about human rights, labor conditions, the global environment, poverty and disease. Scores of international alphabet agencies - the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, UNESCO, UNICEF, etc. - try to address them, with uneven success, but the fact is, for better or worse, we live in a global society.

Globalization Dostoyevsky Neuroscience

August 20, 2006