Demons

Demons

Upon my life, the tracks have vanished,

We’ve lost our way, what shall we do?

It must be a demon’s leading us

This way and that around the fields.

-Alexander Pushkin

Demons, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, is 700 page pamphlet detailing the rise of the Russian proletariat and presaging the revolution of 1917. It’s about nihilism, anarchy, and atheism. It is a complicated novel detailing Russian society as it descends into chaos, anarchy, and madness. The demons referred to are actually ideas, emanating from the west, that infect the characters minds and causes them to take extreme actions such as suicide, murder and arson. The action takes place in a fictitious small town in provincial Russia but is based on a true story that Dostoevsky took from the newspapers.

Pesky Dostoevsky. Every time I say I am not going to read another 700 page book I get pulled back in! I say pamphlet because that is how it is described in the critical literature.  Only thing is, last time I checked, there are not that many 700 page pamphlets lying around. A few manifestos, no pamphlets.

I had to read 500 pages before I got to the part that inspired me to read this behemoth in the first place. The part that Camus refers to in his Myth of Sisyphus. “If there is no God life is meaningless. And without meaning, men and women will go stark, raving mad.” Camus described the novel’s importance this way: “The Possessed is one of the four or five works that I rank above all others. In more ways than one, I can say that it has enriched and shaped me.”

According to Camus all of Dostoevsky’s characters ask themselves about the meaning of life. Kirlov feels that God is necessary and that He must exist, but he knows that He cannot exist. “Why do you not realize that this is sufficient reason for killing oneself?” he asks. “If God does not exist, I am God.”

The book title was originally translated as, The Possessed. This is not the title Dostoevsky originally had in mind. The Russian title, Besy, does not refer to the possessed but rather to the possessors. Therefore the new title, Demons, refers to some of the characters in the book (from the foreword by Richard Pevar) and is more in line with Dostoevsky’s thinking.

All the characters have three names and each name has three syllables and each time a character is mentioned or introduced all three names are used except when they aren’t and then they are referred to by their nick names or their shortened names which we the reader have not been given fair warning and have absolutely no idea who the author is referring to. I had to take to underlining each character’s name each time they made an appearance and by page 500 or so I finally figured out who was who. I must say, the last 200 pages were page turners and my eyes were so glued to each page I couldn’t look away. The novel had to be good or I would not have stuck with it to the end.  I did and I am glad I did.

There is a missing chapter in the book which was censored by the Russian authorities when it was first published due to it’s salacious nature. I almost didn’t read it as it was included in the appendix and I didn’t realize how important it was. It is absolutely key to understanding the central character Stavrogin. It is called at At Tikhon’s and in it Stavrogin confesses to a horrible crime.

One of the most important takeaways from the novel for me were the revolutionary ideas of the intellectual of the revolutionary group, Shigalyev: “My conclusion stands in direct contradiction to the idea from which I started. Proceeding from unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism. Ninety percent of society is to be enslaved to the remaining ten percent. Equality of the herd is to be enforced by police state tactics, state terrorism, and destruction of intellectual, artistic, and cultural life. It is estimated that about a hundred million people will be needed to be killed on the way to the goal.” This is oddly prophetic of what actually occurred in Russia under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.

I see strains of some of these ideas in modern day writers such as George Orwell who admonished us that if we want you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever. These currents have resurfaced again today in American politics and it is pretty frightening.

Like Camus, I can say that this novel has enriched and shaped me.
 

 

 

 

 

 

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Highway 109

At day’s end I climb into my auto gleaming

And like a silver salmon swimming

I move along the concrete streams of

Interstate highway 109

Drawn by unseen demons dancing

Ever splashing onward dashing into rays yellow slanting

On I go swiftly moving navigating smoothly

Through white waters in my head and in my soul

Alpha beta delta theta waving pulsing and convulsing

Extolling precious price for previous postures

Whipping weakened weary body

Into flagging frazzled frenzy likely shocking sons and daughters

And ladies of innocence

But before all is lost control is gained and once

More forward moving I gather speed and momentum

Falling headlong into Revelations

Breaking through seals one through seven

I scream with pain to the terrible crushing roar

Of the silence in the dark of the deep

Heavy impenetrable void of the black

Silent mystery we know as God-

Let us pray.

 

 

 

 

Gun Violence in America

US-CRIME-RACISM-POLICE-SHOOTING-PROTEST

A protester displays a placard at the Union Square in New York on April 14, 2015 during a demonstration against the recent shooting death of Walter Scott by a South Carolina police officer. Walter Scott, a 50-year-old father of four, was shot in North Charleston, South Carolina after fleeing from a routine traffic stop while a bystander caught the event on video. The shooting follows a series of similar incidents that have provoked outrage and protests across the United States, most notoriously the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last August. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

The killings of the five police officers in Dallas recently by lone sniper Micah Xavier Johnson was a vicious, calculated and despicable act. I condemn these killings in no uncertain terms. I also condemn the killings of black citizens Alton Sterling, age 37 of Baton Rouge and Philandro Castile, age 32 of St. Paul, Minnesota at the hands of police. Nothing justifies these killings but one cannot escape the nexus between these three events. There is no question that police overstep their bounds and brutalize and murder the citizens they are sworn to protect. With the killings in Dallas the situation is only going to get worse. I stand in solidarity with the Black Lives matter movement but I believe we are all at risk, white, black, brown, or whatever. We should not have to live in fear of those who are supposed to serve and protect. I am very concerned about the militarizing of police across this country. They have been given and allowed to purchase weapons and tools of war. Who are they going to use these weapons against? I am very concerned that the Dallas police department used a bomb carrying robot to neutralize Johnson.  This sets a very dangerous precedent.  I believe we are moving in the direction of a police state and a fascist nation. George Orwell said, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

I think that an armed citizenry is not necessarily the answer. The police are scared shitless out there on the streets because there are so many guns. Sterling and Castile both had guns but they were legal. What do you think is going to happen if you get stopped by a cop and you have a legal gun in your possession? This is dangerous set of circumstances to say the least. If you are driving while black and you have a taillight out it could be disastrous.

I am a gun owner and believe in the second amendment. But I believe common sense gun regulation should be in order. Backgrounds checks are necessary and should be beefed up to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. Loop holes should be closed. Also, no citizen needs a military type assault weapon of the kind that killed the five officers in Dallas or the 49 patrons at the Pulse Nightclub in Dallas. This is pure insanity.

We need to change policing modelling in the country to a more community based model. Hiring practices must change. Police departments must stop hiring homicidal maniacs. If you are a policeman and you are so scared that you shoot first and ask questions later then maybe you should consider a different line of work.

I have had my share of run ins with the police. I was very nearly arrested at the Dali Lama visit here in Louisville when I was harassed by a Louisville police officer for trying to bring in a bottle of water that was sold to me but the YUM center. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor so I let it go, but I felt threatened and intimidated. Also, the irony was not lost on me the type of event I was attending. This was not the first time I have been harassed by police. The first time being when I was eight years old walking alone along a street in Ridgecrest, California when a police car pulled up beside me and asked what I was doing there. I of course was immediately put on the defensive and felt threatened and intimidated. There have been many instances since then. And, I hasten to add, I am a law abiding citizen that has raised a family and has worked my entire life.

I will continue to speak out against police brutality and stand up for civil rights. There is no more pressing issue facing our country.