“People with new ideas, people with the faintest capacity for saying something new, are extremely few in number, extraordinarily so in fact. One thing only is clear, that the appearance of all these grades and sub-divisions of men must follow with unfailing regularity some law of nature. That law, of course, is unknown at present, but I am convinced that it exists, and one day may become known. The vast mass of mankind is mere material and only exists in order by some great effort, by some mysterious process, by means of some crossing of races and stocks, to bring into the world at last perhaps one man out of a thousand with a spark of independence. One in ten thousand perhaps—I speak roughly, approximately—is born with some independence, and with still greater independence one in a hundred thousand. The man of genius is one of the millions, and the great geniuses, the crown of humanity, appear on earth perhaps one in many thousand million. In fact, I have not peeped into the retort in which all this takes place. But there certainly is and must be a definite law, it cannot be a matter of chance. ”
Frequently I find myself prompted to recall this passage.
These are the thoughts of Radion Raskolnikov, possibly the views of Fyodor Dostoevski himself. I do not intend to dissect what Dostoevski might have meant. “Crime and Punishment” is out there for years for everyone to read and interpret.
In fact, many excellent books and remarkable insights of great thinkers are out there for centuries, accessible for free. Apparently, there also are individuals, and some of them quite vocal, who believe they should interpret great thinkers’ words for us. As if Aristotle or Nietzsche or Dostoevski were unable to express themselves clearly. Or as if we are incapable of comprehending their ideas without an intermediary.
It is a truism that humankind has made progress in technology, and our material life advanced in many ways. Yet, in the spiritual world, we keep chewing the same chewing gum for centuries. For centuries, the current humankind’s collective wisdom has been out there – in the religion books, to start with, and later in the works of ancient philosophers and the classics. Barely anything new has been said since then—just too many self-proclaimed prophets who are trying to cash the old wisdom.
I am sorry, I do not want to be mean or unfair; I am just asking myself: why would one read someone’s interpretations versus the original? For instance, why I should read someone’s on stoicism versus reading the sources- Epictetus, Mark Aurelius and Seneca’s works are available, short and clear enough if this would be the concern.
I know – none of us would like to think of ourselves as of the material; we all prefer to perceive ourselves as the man with the spark of independence. But are we? We’d better first ask ourselves: Do you have to say something new? And let’s be honest.