Demons: Nechayev, Lelouch, and me
Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Russian author, has four major novels that are recognized (even until today) to be among the greatest in literature. To date, the most popular novel among these four is Crime and Punishment. One of his other novels, although lesser-known than C&P, is Demons.
Demons was partially inspired by Sergei Nechayev, one of the leaders of the Nihilist movement, who was so single-minded in his goal of revolution that he disregarded morality: he did not mind political violence and murder. He was so single-minded that he alienated even his friends and family.
I cannot ascertain whether Lelouch was partially inspired by Nechayev, but they have striking similarities in their actions and personalities. Lelouch, among other things, is also charismatic and highly intelligent. Both are also ruthless and inexorably single-minded in their pursuance of their goals. While R2 has not ended yet, we all know what happened to Nechayev.
I’m not ruthless to the extent exemplified by Nechayev; I’m also not as tactical or as cold as Lelouch. But just as any human, I also have principles, muddled and sometimes hypocritical (as they are), that I fight for even if what I have been doing has been wrong.
I have no need reiterating my regard for books. I cannot deny having enjoyed the inventory sale of our large bookstore. I was happy, not because I was able to procure books I have wanted for the longest time, but because that local bookstore chain of ours suffered an immense loss of profit. Call it a type of schadenfreude.
I am not a violent man (most of the time), or a man who wishes only evil for others. But that local bookstore chain of ours is a monopoly. They have been jacking up prices extortionately with regard to their stock. Had they begun with fair and just prices there would not have been need for an inventory sale.
So, no, my aim has not been anarchy or a total destruction and subsequent rebirth of the world. It is much simpler (perhaps to others, infinitely more banal): I want fairer prices. Since I’m not a person who loves dwelling in the realm of potentialities, I try to put into action some of my ideas: I have talked to my professor as regards this only to be disappointed by the impossibility of action. It’s difficult to penetrate the heads of the monopoly because they possess both the money and the monopoly, despite my efforts. Why would they abrogate their reign? My inability to do something about this predicament has frustrated me. I could not do anything about it, much as I have tried.
This led me to do something devious which I do not regret. I did it yesterday.
It was an action akin to raising a middle finger despite being invisible in a crowd of perpetual flux. What was more important is the fact that I had been able to perform the action, not whether it was seen or not. Despite it not really changing anything, it reduced my frustrations.
What did I do?
There is a sale in our local bookstore chain. I got a book that wasn’t on sale and superimposed a sale sticker on it obtained from a book legitimately on sale. I paid for that book as a sale book. While before I had been just exchanging sale tags (among books on sale), I had now created a sale out of nowhere. It was a grave deed, and I’m desperately trying to stop myself from doing it again. There is a thrill in deviance: there is a thrill, an exhilaration in fear. I did it not because I could not afford the book: I did it because I wanted to dupe the bookstore of one sale: it was my soundless, voiceless ‘fuck you’ after all that I’ve done. To some extent I have been influenced by people like Nechayev: I had a choice between acting and omission, and I acted.
I know moral people would tell me that it’s wrong. I myself recognize that I was mistaken. But there are some things that one feels that one must do despite it truly being wrong. The world cannot follow Kant‘s categorical imperative: there are some immoral things people feel compelled at times to do. If someone close to them is threatened, most people will unhesitatingly lie to protect the ones they love. If their ideals are repudiated or offended, some people will go to the extent of being willing to murder.
That was a rare moment of internal strength that I found inside me. I don’t propose that you do what I have had done, and I don’t offer any excuses. All I can say is that as I have grown older, the world has become more and more gray to me. Absolutists like Kant cannot live in this present world: if I had not done that ‘immoral’ act, I would have branded myself a coward. I will never do the act again (and I’m really hoping that I won’t, despite the excitement), but at least I have not proven myself a coward at that instance.
It’s weird, isn’t it? But I guess this is one of the things that attracts us to Lelouch and to people like Nechayev. They have the guts most of us don’t even have all our lives.