The Beauty of Caprice


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For this stupidest of all, this caprice of ours, gentlemen, may in fact be the most profitable of anything on earth for our sort, especially in certain cases. And in particular, it may be more profitable than all other profits even in the case when it is obviously harmful and contradicts the most sensible conclusions of our reason concerning profits – because in any event, it preserves for us the chiefest and dearest thing, that is, our personality and our individuality.
Notes From Underground, Dostoevsky

By the time Nietzsche and Dostoevsky came on the scene, it was becoming clear that the rationalists in the form of Spinoza, Leibniz, Descartes, and the like, had exaggerated man’s ability to reason and the dominance that reason plays in our lives. Dostoevsky reckoned that reason may be accounted for twenty percent of what we are. It was a finger in the air, but Dostoevsky was just making the point that reason is quite a feeble thing and doesn’t account for most of our activity which, in the main, is quite irrational.

In Notes From Underground Dostoevsky launched the existentialist philosophy movement, and this small work is recognized for the pivotal role it played in how philosophers came to think about life. Nietzsche objected to domesticated European man, and Dostoevsky took this further by saying that one day it might be that all a man’s actions can be determined via a table of sorts. Give a man’s current status and the table will tell us what he will do next. This nightmare is not all that far away with people running to schedules and plans, and life becoming increasingly constrained by expected modes of behavior. Well, to hell with all of that says Dostoevsky. Let’s celebrate the most precious part of our personality; our caprice – the decision to do something without any rhyme or reason whatsoever.

Obviously, it is often argued that caprice can lead to bad outcomes, and it seems that Dostoevsky is well aware of this, but still continues to argue for it. Thoroughly reasoned actions also lead to bad outcomes, but caprice is a rebellion against a life run by spreadsheets and schedules. In any case, the person that tries too hard to order their life will sooner or later explode, since life will not obey schedules and spreadsheets, and more importantly, the eighty percent of us that is not reasonable will become extremely frustrated.

In an age where man has become a machine among machines the folly of caprice is even more important. It is a recognition that we are more than reasoning machines and that life thrives on illusion, spontaneity, hunches, and risk. There is no room in a spreadsheet for illusion and hunches, but then again spreadsheets aren’t human, although they do try to seduce a man into thinking he is a machine, a creature of reason.

In this world of grey people, you can expect nothing but derision if you do happen to indulge your caprice now and then. People locked away in their schedules and spreadsheets will hate you for your wanton lust. After all, why should you be happy when the grey people of reason are not?



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