In his book ‘the Brothers Karomozov’ Fyodor Dostoyevski invents three brothers that serve as archetypes for different facets of the human condition. In this article we’re going to focus on Dmitri Karomozov who is a caricature of man’s romantic passion.
My neighbor lady has a strange way of viewing theft. When we first moved in she told us that we needed to give her the equivalent of thirty dollars US in order to get our power turned on. When the workers came she took them aside and told us she would handle everything which didn’t seem totally unreasonable as merchants raise the prices considerably for Americans. I was actually appreciative for her intervening. They turned on the power with no problem but then she approached us saying she needed the thirty dollars or else they would shut it back off. I went for the money but my wife became suspicious after the workers left without taking the money. Our neighbor said they would be back and we should leave the money with her. Needless to say we decided to wait until we could verify what she was saying. The next day it rained buckets. Here, when it rains like this no one works which is why we were surprised when we got home and the neighbor lady said the power company came by twice to collect the money and were upset because they hadn’t been paid. My wife asked the neighboring shopkeeper who sits in front of his shop every day waiting for customers if the power company came by our house.
“In this rain?” he asked sarcastically.
Our suspicions were confirmed. The neighbor lady was lying. She was trying to take us for thirty dollars. “So you’re a thief,” I thought.
A few days later thieves broke into her bar and stole boxes of beer along with money. She paced to and fro in front of our house lamenting about the thieves in the neighborhood and the deteriorating conditions in the world. At that moment I realized that even though she was planning on taking money from us she didn’t consider herself a thief. We would be giving her the money willingly so in her head she was not stealing even if our act was motivated by a lie.
Her loose interpretation of what qualifies as theft reminds me of an explanation given by Dmitri Karomozov on his view of theft. The following is an excerpt from this explanation.
“I’ll put it more plainly for you perhaps it’s really difficult to understand you see. Listen carefully.
I appropriate three thousand entrusted to my honor and spend it on a wild party and having spent it I come to her the next morning and say Katia I’m sorry I squandered your three thousand. Well is that nice? No it isn’t. It’s dishonest and cowardly. The man who does such a thing is a beast. He has no more self restraint than a beast. Isn’t that so? But he’s still not a thief is he? Not a downright thief. Not a downright one. You must admit he squandered the money but he didn’t steal it.
Now a second a still more favorable alternative. Please listen carefully while I may get confused again I’m afraid my head’s still swimming.
So Here’s a second alternative I spend here only 1500 out of the three thousand that is half of it. The next day I bring to her that half. Katia take the fifteen hundred from me blaggard and thoughtless scoundrel that I am I’ve squandered half the money and may therefore squander the other half so take it and keep me from temptation. Well what about such an alternative? Anything you like. Beast and a blaggard but not a thief not entirely a thief for if I were a thief I would certainly not have brought the other half. I would have appropriated that too. Here she would see that since I brought back half the money I’d bring back the rest that is the money I’ve squandered that I’d try to raise it all my life. That I’d work to get it and return it. I’d be a blaggard then but not a thief. Not a thief whatever you may say…I do regard it as a vital difference. Everyone can be a blaggard and I dare say everyone is but not everyone can be a thief. Only an arch blaggard can do that. Anyways I’m afraid I’m not very good at these subtleties only a thief is viler than a blaggard. I’m convinced of that. Now listen. I carried the money about with me for a whole month. Tomorrow I may decide to give it back and then I’m no longer a blaggard. But the trouble is I can’t make up my mind. Though I make it up every day, though I egg myself onto it every day to do it. ‘Make up your mind you dirty blaggard make up your mind’ yet for a whole month I can’t make up my mind. Yes sir well what do you think? Is that nice?”
“Why in the first place,” the examining magistrate asked, “did you divide the three thousand into to equal parts squandering one part and hiding the other? What exactly did you hide it for? What exactly did you mean to do with the fifteen hundred?”
“Why of course,” cried Dmitri striking himself on the forehead. “I’m sorry to be such a nuisance to you I haven’t explained the main thing or you’ve had understood it at once. For you see it’s in the motive of it that the disgrace lies you see…”
“…I craftily counted out half of the three thousand and cold-bloodily sewed it up with a needle, sewed it up intentionally, sewed it up before I was drunk and having sewn it up I was off to get really drunk on the rest. Dear sir that was vile. Do you understand now?”
A thief is a thief. But as Dmitri Karomozov and my neighbor lady illustrate, the conscience has a great deal to do with what we view as acceptable. If not trained by a standard, everyone’s conscience is different resulting in differing behavior sharing the same clear conscience.
– William Chasterson
When Metaphysical Man, Atro City’s resident superhero and trendsetter is inadvertently sucked into an alternate world by a mysterious super villain he’s forced to overcome his only weakness; reality. Read more at http://smashwords.com/books/view/540303#amreading #amwriting