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Notes from the Underground

IX
Gentlemen, I am joking, and I know myself that my jokes are not brilliant, but you
know one can take everything as a joke. I am, perhaps, jesting against the grain.
Gentlemen, I am tormented by questions; answer them for me. You, for instance,
want to cure men of their old habits and reform their will in accordance with
science and good sense. But how do you know, not only that it is possible, but
also that it is desirable to reform man in that way? And what leads you to the
conclusion that man's inclinations need reforming? In short, how do you know
that such a reformation will be a benefit to man? And to go to the root of the
matter, why are you so positively convinced that not to act against his real normal
interests guaranteed by the conclusions of reason and arithmetic is certainly
always advantageous for man and must always be a law for mankind? So far,
you know, this is only your supposition. It may be the law of logic, but not the law
of humanity. You think, gentlemen, perhaps that I am mad? Allow me to defend
myself. I agree that man is pre-eminently a creative animal, predestined to strive
consciously for an object and to engage in engineering--that is, incessantly and
eternally to make new roads, wherever they may lead. But the reason why he
wants sometimes to go off at a tangent may just be that he is predestined to
make the road, and perhaps, too, that however stupid the "direct" practical man
may be, the thought sometimes will occur to him that the road almost always
does lead somewhere, and that the destination it leads to is less important than
the process of making it, and that the chief thing is to save the well-conducted
child from despising engineering, and so giving way to the fatal idleness, which,
as we all know, is the mother of all the vices. Man likes to make roads and to
create, that is a fact beyond dispute. But why has he such a passionate love for
destruction and chaos also? Tell me that! But on that point I want to say a couple
of words myself. May it not be that he loves chaos and destruction (there can be
no disputing that he does sometimes love it) because he is instinctively afraid of
attaining his object and completing the edifice he is constructing? Who knows,
perhaps he only loves that edifice from a distance, and is by no means in love
with it at close quarters; perhaps he only loves building it and does not want to
live in it, but will leave it, when completed, for the use of les animaux
domestiques--such as the ants, the sheep, and so on. Now the ants have quite a
different taste. They have a marvellous edifice of that pattern which endures for
ever--the ant-heap.
With the ant-heap the respectable race of ants began and with the ant- heap they
will probably end, which does the greatest credit to their perseverance and good
sense. But man is a frivolous and incongruous creature, and perhaps, like a
chess player, loves the process of the game, not the end of it. And who knows
(there is no saying with certainty), perhaps the only goal on earth to which
mankind is striving lies in this incessant process of attaining, in other words, in
life itself, and not in the thing to be attained, which must always be expressed as
a formula, as positive as twice two makes four, and such positiveness is not life,
gentlemen, but is the beginning of death. Anyway, man has always been afraid of
 
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