Killing me softly

Killing me softly – by P.K.Odendaal _ June 2015.
The only thing a man ever needs to fear is himself - from Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
No, this is not about the song by that name but a siren song of humans. It is about killing ourselves in a subtle way and is a continuation of my previous article on self-destruction.
When I ponder the statement above by Dostoevsky, although it seems ironic at first, on reflection I think it is one of the more accurate truths that I have ever read.
If I called it suicide, I would be criticized for being brash, but the effect is the same, so I will call it subtle suicide or killing us softly. It is the process by which we sell our freedom cheaply and buy our bondage dearly. In a certain sense it can be called sin, because it works towards the same end – degrading our humanity and quality of life, taking away our freedom and delivering us into bondage until it kills us in the end – sooner than later.
‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’ – Jean Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract. This is the natural inclination of us all to sell our birth right for a pot of lentil soup – or down the river.
So why do we choose bondage before freedom and why do we choose self-inflicted torture before happiness and life? One of the answers I can think of is the phrase I quoted in my last article taken from the libretto of The Elixir of Love by Donizetti:
Ask the stream why trickling from the cliff where it had life,
it runs to the sea, which invites it to come,
and in the sea it goes to die:
it will tell you that it is drawn
by a power which it can't explain.
The other reason is our misplaced desire of self-redemption.
Somehow we search for life and settle for death due to a power we cannot explain. This power which pulls us down to the sea is the power of evil which seems at most times to be more in line with our natural inclination towards evil than towards the good.
Let us look at what those delectable things are which are killing us softly – we all know them too well:
Lies, hatred, gossip, debauchery, substance abuse, power abuse, anger, hypocrisy, pride, haughtiness, unkindness, delusions, impatience, imbibing, adultery, theft, jealousy, murder and ….
We have this adage: See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil - and we can add ‘do no evil’, but if we look at that image where the hands are covering the offending parts, we must presume that the assumption is that while our hands are covering our eyes, we will not be able to do evil. But killing ourselves softly is such a global pastime, and whilst, technically speaking, we are all on our way to death, we may think that it probably does not matter at what speed we do that and we probably do not mind adding some more speed by our own volition.
The point is however that those things are not only killing us softly - they are killing other people softly and some of those things may be killing other people brutally. And if we are killing other people softly or brutally we forget that in that self-same process we are also killing ourselves softly or brutally. The adage says that if we want to kill someone then we first need to kill ourself, as the act of killing someone takes our own life away, albeit in a different way.
I find this concept so well illustrated by Dostoevsky in his novel ‘Crime and Punishment’ and I wish to give a short resume of the story:
A brilliant law student graduates and needs money to start his career. He pawns his watch and is angered by the woman who short changes him and others like him in similar dire financial straits. He decides to kill her and take all the thousands that she has stashed away in her apartment, but in the act her sister returns from town and he has to kill her as well to stay undetected. The student, Raskolnikov, despite his knowledge of normal after crime symptoms, starts to act abnormally because of his guilt and the Inspector starts to suspect him of murder, but cannot prove it. The detective then started several conversations with him to lead him onto confession.
The first was a ploy. The Inspector got someone from the office to stage himself as the murderer and to enter into his office while he was busy talking to Raskolnikov (the murderer) and confess to this murder. His confession is aimed at seeing what Raskolnikov’s reaction is. The implication is that if Raskolnikov sees that another man is going to be prosecuted in his place, it might persuade him on moral grounds to confess that he has committed the murder.
The second was that the Inspector explained to Raskolnikov that he would one day confess, as his guilt and conscience will drive him to do that. That is a given. It is better to confess now and get a shorter prison sentence than in prison when he has already been given a long term. He also explains to Raskolnikov that the torture he will suffer from his own guilt and conscience will be much more devastating and torturous to himself than any prison term can do and that by confessing he can rid himself of that terrible burden and come clean as we say.
The novel focuses on a few serious aspects.
  • The first is that, if we wish to kill someone, we must first kill ourselves, so to speak. The sister, who came back from town, and was killed concomitantly, is figuratively speaking showing the death he inflicted on himself.
  • The second one is: no matter how evil people are, it is never worth killing or for that matter worth despising or worth injuring them.
  • Thirdly, the man who was asked to stage himself as confessing to be the murderer, is figuratively speaking the act of seeking redemption for our guilty self through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to escape the wrath of God.
  • Last and most importantly: the suffering and torture which our own guilt and conscience brings upon us is a bondage of the most vicious kind and cannot nearly be compared to any punishment we can suffer from others.

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