Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ignorance is Bliss

One of the things that sets humans apart from animals is emotion. Love, jealousy, anger, disgust, people are always investing and intertwining emotion with what they do. Sometimes, this can backfire. People are let down, hearts are broken, rash decisions are made.

Maybe it would be better if somehow we could cut out emotion. Choices would always be carefully made and based on fact. We could never be hurt by the death of a loved one or the infidelity of a significant other because we would have no attachment. Without something invested, there is nothing to lose. Unfortunately, this is largely impossible within the confines of human nature.

Unless your name is Meursault and you are the main character of Albert Camus's The Stranger. Meursault derives all of his pleasure from the physical things around him - sex, swimming, eating, and sunsets. Emotion is really not involved. Although this makes him somewhat of a zombie shell of a man, he completely avoids being hurt. He is unphased by the death of his mother and unabashed at the affections of his girlfriend, Marie. The only time emotion breaches the stronghold that is Meursault's heart, he proceeds to make the worst decision of his life in shooting the Arab for revenge. It would seem that The Stranger offers up a strong case against emotion.

And yet, what would life be without it? Sure, material pleasures are great, but they are ephemeral. What happens when the girls become old and ugly, the food becomes stale, an the sunset becomes dull? Emotion can cause problems, but a life completely devoid of it wouldn't really be living at all. Besides, if one shuns all emotion, how can that person feel happiness?

A Blessing and a Curse

There is a fine line between genius and crazy. Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment definitely toes it. The book is filled cover to cover with his inner struggle, his thoughts, anxieties and paranoia, bred from the fact that he is different, whether genius or insane.

Forget happiness for Raskolnikov. He's more worried about climbing out of depression than reaching any type of happy peak. In his mind, his incredible mind sets him apart from the society he lives in, alienating him and branding him as an outcast. It is this separation that spurs the sadness, the shame, and the blaring lonesomeness. He feels nothing, sees nothing and hears nothing when it comes to those around him, because he is on a separate level. Lost in his own introverted world, one more advanced than the world of his neighbors. Or at least that's what he tells himself.

Perhaps Raskolnikov's theory should be disregarded as schizophrenic nonsense. But it still brings up an interesting question. Can gifted people be mistaken for outcasts in our world? Does being too set apart from the norm through the magnitude of a certain ability incur a life of loneliness and misunderstandings? Is being normal a key ingredient to happiness? I hope not. Abnormalities, the good ones, are what keep the world spinning. They invent the atomic bomb, they start revolutions, they lead, innovate and dream. There can be misunderstandings. But I think genius, in any form, should be embraced.