A man has just spent years with the worst criminals in his country in a cold barren prison in Siberia, hearing details of the most gruesome murder stories and living in exile, away from all comforts. This experience was the life of Dostoevsky, who was sent to the worst prison in Russia for his involvement in an anti-government group. While many would be put into a mental institution after this experience, Dostoevsky turned it into a thriving literary career. He is regarded as a philosopher and author, with great psychological insight and foresight.
The life of Dostoevsky is one of the prime examples of resilience, which, in my opinion culminated in the making of the character of Alyosha in his last novel, Brothers Karamazov. He wrote this novel shortly before his death, with little time to edit it, crafting the character of Alyosha in honor of his deceased son.
Despite being raised without his mother, and steeped in debauchery, prostitution because of his alcoholic father, Alyosha somehow remains untouched. Many remark him as “angelic”- some with envy, while others with a somber admiration. Innocence is easily recognized, but impossible to regain, making it often a coveted virtue. While some might determine that Alyosha’s innocence is inherent, I believe that Alyosha made choices to create this persona. However, some may also go on to say that Alyosha’s example is too idealistic and unattainable in the 21st century.
Initially, I wanted to write this post about Dostoevky’s popular quote “Beauty will save the world,” and discuss how to make that quote practical in daily life. However, someone sent me an interview with Vladimir Pozner and Yuval Harani, which brought me back to reality. Yuval Harani is the author of a very popular book titled 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and Vladimir Pozner is an acclaimed journalist and broadcaster. His interview portrays a much different reality than the ideal of Alyosha Karamazov, whose main goal was active love through genuine human interaction. In the interview, he claims that the new evolving generation will be one that is run by technology. It will be the greatest revolution mankind has seen, according to Harani. In fact, he goes so far as to claim that there will be a new race, which will be a combination of both robot and “organic” (aka human) substances.
Pozner reflects that the Socrates era of the thinking human is over, and that machines will make humanity basically irrelevant. How greatly this contrasts with the ideals of Dostoevsky, who created a character based on purely human ideals. Furthermore, what can we do in light of this developing society? Is resilient community development possible or needful? Is personal resilience even worth it?
I say it is, and the answer is within the ideals that Dostoevsky illustrated with characters like Alyosha. What I did not find in the interview (disclaimer: I have not yet read the book) is a description of what the new human condition would look like. If the era of the thinking, loving, feeling human is over, then what would be next? I would argue that it cannot be over, because without human nature there is no purpose. If humans are irrelevant, what would drive a machine to seek betterment?
Harani ends the interview discussing his emphasis on seeking truth. This is what drives him to live. Ultimately, it is the natural human search for truth that has brought humanity to cure diseases, create new solutions and seek development. I am aware that the future is focused merely on function, according to Harani (and many others). However, Rome was built out of a yearning for more than just function– so was America, Moscow, Paris, or any other notable society. Therefore, the practical takeaway of this post is to hold onto your search for truth in order to stay relevant. That is what separates humans from machines, resilient people from the less resilient, and beauty from superficiality.