Whoa, hi people. Here we are, or here I am anyway, having reached December 27th. I feel like all of Advent I sort of laid my head on Christ's breast, like St. John the Evangelist, whose feast it is today, at the Last Supper....
Anyway, I had a grand Christmas, the high point of which was morning Mass, where I sobbed like a child, followed by a day of cooking and some hard-core eating with my beloved friends. Like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, there were baskets of tri-tip, ham, salmon and sweets left over, which I have actually distributed rather than hoarding, as is my wont. Ten pounds of ham would daunt even me, though I did reserve the bone which will make a splendid split pea soup...
Tomorrow I'm heading out to Palm Springs to house-sit for my friend Christine till January 9th and find myself weirdly, tipsily excited. I'm also working on the manuscript of Stripped, my "cancer book," which requires deep concentration. So having just re-read Tolstoy's last novel, Resurrection, and having remembered that it helped me make the decision, almost twenty years ago now, to quit my job as a lawyer, I think to offer a few excerpts.
I was in civil litigation, not criminal law, but what struck me then, and strikes me with even more force now, is that the constraints of any system based on justice rather than mercy--as all worldly systems perhaps must be (you philosophers will have worked this out)--hold true across the board...
From Chapter XLIV: Book One
It is usually imagined that a thief, a murderer, a spy, a prostitute, acknowledging his or her profession as evil, is ashamed of it. But the contrary is true. People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. In order to keep up their view of life, these people instinctively keep to the circle of those people who share their views of life and their own place in it. This surprises us, where the persons concerned are thieves, bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murderers boasting of their cruelty. This surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere in which these people live, is limited, and we are outside it. But can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth, i.e., robbery; the commanders in the army pride themselves on victories, i.e., murder; and those in high places vaunt their power, i.e., violence? We do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, only because the circle formed by them is more extensive, and we ourselves are moving inside of it.
From Chapter XIX: Book Two
The man on whom depended the easing of the fate of the Petersburg prisoners was an old General of repute--a baron of German descent, who, as it was said of him, had outlived his wits. He had received a profusion of orders, but only wore one of them, the Order of the White Cross. He had received this order, which he greatly valued, while serving in the Caucasus, because a number of Russian peasants, with their hair cropped, and dressed in uniform and armed with guns and bayonets, had killed at his command more than a thousand men who were defending their liberty, their homes, and their families. Later on he served in Poland, and there also made Russian peasants commit many different crimes, and got more orders and decorations for his uniform. Then he served somewhere else, and now that he was a weak, old man he had this position, which insured him a good house, an income and respect. He strictly observed all the regulations which were prescribed "from above," and was very zealous in the fulfilment of these regulations, to which he ascribed a special importance, considering that everything else in the world might be changed except the regulations prescribed "from above." His duty was to keep political prisoners, men and women, in solitary confinement in such a way that half of them perished in 10 years' time, some going out of their minds, some dying of consumption, some committing suicide by starving themselves to death, cutting their veins with bits of glass, hanging, or burning themselves to death.
The old General was not ignorant of this; it all happened within his knowledge; but these cases no more touched his conscience than accidents brought on by thunderstorms, floods, etc. These cases occurred as a consequence of the fulfilment of regulations prescribed "from above" by His Imperial Majesty. These regulations had to be carried out without fail, and therefore it was absolutely useless to think of the consequences of their fulfilment. The old General did not even allow himself to think of such things, counting it his patriotic duty as a soldier not to think of them for fear of getting weak in the carrying out of these, according to his opinion, very important obligations. Once a week the old General made the round of the cells, one of the duties of his position, and asked the prisoners if they had any requests to make. The prisoners had all sorts of requests. He listened to them quietly, in impenetrable silence, and never fulfilled any of their requests, because they were all in disaccord with the regulations.
From Chapter XXX: Book Two
He asked a very simple question: "Why, and with what right, do some people lock up, torment, exile, flog, and kill others, while they are themselves just like those whom they torment, flog, and kill?" And in answer he got deliberations as to whether human beings had free will or not. Whether signs of criminality could be detected by measuring the skulls or not. What part heredity played in crime. Whether immorality could be inherited. What madness is, what degeneration is, and what temperament is. How climate, food, ignorance, imitativeness, hypnotism, or passion act. What society is. What are its duties, etc., etc.
These disquisitions reminded him of the answer he once got from a little boy whom he met coming home from school. Nekhludoff asked him if he had learned his spelling.
"I have," answered the boy.
"Well, then, tell me, how do you spell 'leg'?
"A dog's leg, or what kind of leg?" the boy answered, with a sly look.
Answers in the form of new questions, like the boy's, was all Nekhludoff got in reply to his one primary question. He found much that was clever, learned much that was interesting, but what he did not find was an answer to the principal question: By what right some people punish others?
Not only did he not find any answer, but all the arguments were brought forward in order to explain and vindicate punishment, the necessity of which was taken as an axiom. Nekhludoff read much, but only in snatches, and putting down his failure to this superficial way of reading, hoped to find the answer later on. He would not allow himself to believe in the truth of the answer which began, more and more often, to present itself to him.
From Chapter XL: Part Two
"Perhaps it is necessary to pave the banks with stones, but it is sad to look at the ground, which might be yielding corn, grass, bushes, or trees in the same way as the ground visible up there is doing--deprived of vegetation, and so it is with men," thought Nekhludoff. "Perhaps these governors, inspectors, policemen, are needed, but it is terrible to see men deprived of the chief human attribute, that of love and sympathy for one another. The thing is," he continued, "that these people consider lawful what is not lawful, and do not consider the eternal, immutable law, written in the hearts of men by God, as law. That is why I feel so depressed when I am with these people. I am simply afraid of them, and really they are terrible, more terrible than robbers. A robber might, after all, feel pity, but they can feel no pity, they are inured against pity as these stones are against vegetation. That is what makes them terrible. It is said that the Pougatcheffs, the Razins [leaders of rebellions in Russia: Stonka Razin in the 17th and Pougatcheff in the 18th century] are terrible. These are a thousand times more terrible," he continued, in his thoughts.
"If a psychological problem were set to find means of making men of our time--Christian, humane, simple, kind people--perform the most horrible crimes without feeling guilty, only one solution could be devised: to go on doing what is being done. It is only necessary that these people should he governors, inspectors, policemen; that they should be fully convinced that there is a kind of business, called government service, which allows men to treat other men as things, without human brotherly relations with them, and also that these people should be so linked together by this government service that the responsibility for the results of their actions should not fall on any one of them separately. Without these conditions, the terrible acts I witnessed to-day would be impossible in our times. It all lies in the fact that men think there are circumstances in which one may deal with human beings without love; and there are no such circumstances. One may deal with things without love. One may cut down trees, make bricks, hammer iron without love; but you cannot deal with men without it, just as one cannot deal with bees without being careful. If you deal carelessly with bees you will injure them, and will yourself be injured. And so with men. It cannot be otherwise, because natural love is the fundamental law of human life. It is true that a man cannot force another to love him, as he can force him to work for him; but it does not follow that a man may deal with men without love, especially to demand anything from them. If you feel no love, sit still," Nekhludoff thought; "occupy yourself with things, with yourself, with anything you like, only not with men. You can only eat without injuring yourself when you feel inclined to eat, so you can only deal with men usefully when you love. Only let yourself deal with a man without love, as I did yesterday with my brother-in-law, and there are no limits to the suffering you will bring on yourself, as all my life proves. Yes, yes, it is so," thought Nekhludoff; "it is good; yes, it is good," he repeated, enjoying the freshness after the torturing heat, and conscious of having attained to the fullest clearness on a question that had long occupied him.