Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crime, Punishment and the "Occupy Movement"

 Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true . . .
 John Cabot - Cape Bonavista
 I must go down to the sea today . . .
During the 1860s, Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky worked on and published material that would later be collected into the novel called Crime and Punishment.  By today’s standards, it’s a flawed novel that would have to be heavily edited to become publishable; speeches that go on for page after page, for instance, along with the tendency to wander off into plot tangents and to give near-irrelevancies as much weight as the crucial.
               Rereading it this week, however, I was impressed by the parallels in its dominant motifs to events of the present. Simplified, Crime and Punishment revolves around the central theme of the nature and boundaries of human morality.  Its central characters fall into three categories: evil reprobates (Luzhin), the morally upright (Razumikhin) and, thirdly, the key characters who by choice or necessity, are caught between the two poles (Raskalnikov, Sonya, Dounia).
Central to this latter group, of course, is Raskalnikov, who as a student contemplated the nature of crime, and tentatively concluded that laws relating to moral actions are applied only to “ordinary” people, while a layer of “extraordinary” people are exempt. In conjunction with this “theory,” he postulated in an essay he wrote that morality is relative, i.e. that to murder can be justified by the good it achieves.
There existed a number of protest movements in Russia in the mid to late 1800s, including a Utopian Socialist movement (that undoubtedly became the germ of Soviet socialism),  anarchist gangs and nihilist groups to name a few. All were expressions of discontent with the state of affairs in the country, a country of extreme wealth alongside abject poverty, of the “poor man’s nihilism”—drunkenness.
The “Occupy” movement as we are witnessing it is a protest against the state of affairs in North America today. Unfocussed and ad hoc as it may be, politicians and corporations may well ignore or dismiss it at their peril. The rage felt by many as a result of economic collapse and the resulting loss of jobs, foreclosures, etc. hasn’t found clear goals yet, but the anger is not gone just because the tents are.
Although they may not have discovered it yet, participants in the Occupy movement are protesting a morality that condones crimes in the “extraordinary” while punishing the “ordinary,” and perpetrates the notion that the end justifies the means, even when the means requires that thousands will die in phony wars, that millions will be reduced to poverty because the “extraordinary” have been greedy beyond what countries’ economies will bear.  They’re protesting the fact that the “ordinary” must pay for the immoral acts of the “extraordinary.” They’re protesting that a petty thief can be thrown in jail while Bush and Cheney and the oil barons are excused.
Canada is preparing itself for the onslaught by building more jails to house the rebelling “ordinary.” 
We are led by an extraordinary prime minister; his foresight is amazing.
It’s, in part, what Crime and Punishment is about.
There really is nothing new under the sun.

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