Monday, April 25, 2022

On Medium: Should Dostoevsky’s Underground Man Embarrass Atheists?

Here's an article about the genetic fallacy, the antisocial counterculture, and whether Dostoevsky's diagnosis of the oversensitive person's resentments and hypocrisy refutes secular philosophy.


  1. Your essay prompted me to pick up this book again after about twenty years. While I agree that being underground can happen to a theist as easily as it could to an atheist, I think the theist might find it easier to bear.

    That perverse will to irrationality, to a disinterest in one's own best interests, that the protagonist makes so much of, seems to be far easier for the religious. This is because religion can offer a context, albeit a wholly fictitious one, in which the irrational seems reasonable, even prudent. If God is scrutinizing our every word and act, if, either in this life or in the next, the first will be last and the last will be first, then who's to say who has been foolish, who has wasted their life? A man's best interest might be found in poverty and obscurity if wealth and power are likely corrupt him and send him to Hell. All these incels might want to ask themselves if trading their virginity for promiscuity isn't the worst transaction they could make, like exchanging a gold coin for a wooden nickle. On an unconscious level I think a lot of them sense this (or else they'd just get laid by crook or hook), but they don't want to admit it because they are afraid that if they did, they would have no excuse for their virginity and no religious hang ups to justify holding onto it.

    I will end by saying that, as I interpret him, Dostoyevsky's underground man is a theist in denial. He is rightfully ashamed of his theism and so he hides it even from himself; but like all repressed traits, it finds expression in his irrational, self-destructive behavior.

    1. I think the consensus is that Dostoevsky was voicing his doubts in that novella, and Dostoevsky was a Christian with some doubts. But God or religion doesn't come up much in that narrative. I think the book's more about the clash between introverts and extroverts, and between reason and willpower.

      Would a theist find a condition of antisociality easier to bear? God can be used to rationalize anything, but religions typically make excuses for social conventions or else the religions would be more like underground cults that wouldn't endure. The more popular religions, at any rate, are going to be friendly to society, even if they'll have some harsher offshoots.

      The question is whether thoughtful atheists can justify social engagements since they'd lack the unfalsifiable myths that can justify anything. Atheists would have an irrational will, though, according to Dostoevsky, so they wouldn't be perfectly rational. Ultimately, they too would tend to do whatever they most want to do.

  2. It could be that religions are just afterthoughts to make our social conventions seem reasonable within some context, and that ultimately we just end up doing whatever it is we are driven to do in spite of our professed beliefs or even our apparent self interest. There are Christians who act with the prudence of Machiavelli and atheists who live like ascetic monks. The Machiavellian Christian might simply be pretending, but what would the atheist have to gain from his charade? Perhaps our beliefs are as baseless as our actions; chosen for us by unconscious forces we can neither control nor even understand.