Friday, January 13, 2012

Dostoevsky on loving one's neighbors

From The Brothers Karamazov:
"I must make you one confession," Ivan began. "I could never understand how one can love one's neighbors. It's just one's neighbors, to my mind, that one can't love, though one might love those at a distance. ... Beggars, especially genteel beggars, ought never to show themselves, but to ask for charity through the newspapers. One can love one's neighbors in the abstract, or even at a distance, but at close quarters it's almost impossible."
I have never read anyone quite so perceptive about the human condition as Dostoevsky writing through fictional characters.

I think this is exactly why we humans are always giving over ever increasing power to governments and authorities: we prefer to love in the abstract rather than in person. Once our noble intentions become embedded within an institutional structure, we are loathe to give it up, even when in fact those institutions no longer do any good. Oh yes, we do have noble intentions. And out of great reverence for those noble intentions we erect the most grand and most absurd idols, only we forget to laugh at ourselves for doing so.

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