09-01-2003, 06:46 PM #1
Science has shown that early mankind has lived in packs, roaming together throughout the wild, raw land, in search of food and shelter. These early packs were the basis of society, and as such, one can argue, they represent the proof that mankind is indeed a natural societal creature. However, science has also shown that mankind is a remarkable “temporarily adaptable” animal, and this would pose the question: was man always a societal creature? Could it be possible that man was originally an independent being and simply adapted into societies because it suddenly became much easier to obtain food and shelter from the harsh surrounding environment? If this were the case, it would clearly explain the truth one feels when reading about the real and false self in Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illyich. More importantly, it would show why we as humans feel different when we act in our false selves, to protect ourselves from the fear of society, the fear of rejection, and the fear of reality.
Whenever one stops pretending to be something else in society in a social setting, the people surrounding the real person stop what they were doing and gasp, either on the outside or the inside. It may be a person yelling at someone of “higher rank”, or a grown man crying like a baby, because he misses his old life. Tolstoy makes an incredible argument as to why everyone enjoys remembering their childhood so much: because for most of us, it is the only time when we are truly allowed to be ourselves, with no influence of society and no fear of exile in it. The false social self is present when we act professional for our job, since it is the “right thing to do”, no one questions it. Well, why should one care what others in society think? The answer, which always seems to recur in human discussion, is fear. That sense of fear, mixed with one’s pride, is essentially what makes societies work. People are looked down upon in society if they do not try their hardest to obtain as much money as possible. The question, why are you are bum? Why don’t you get a job and make something out of your life, is the response that society has taught its members to use when faced with a rebel of society, such as a “bum”. The answer for the bum is, “I do not want to!”, and ironically enough, the bum is the one who is the most real out of all of us. He is the one who does not give into societies rules and expectations, and has realized the stupidity of this. This is essentially what killed Ivan Illyich, the fact that he was living a lie for society. He constantly wanted more and more; he would listen to those higher than him and do everything he could to get on their good side, and this meant frequent lying about subjects in discussion. He wanted to make the best house he possibly could, so in a societal sense, this would prove that his life was worth something, and that he had accomplished something. However, all he was accomplishing was adding onto his list of lies that he could tell himself. Tolstoy chose the “ladder fall incident” as the means for his death purposely, to show that Ivan’s attention to detail about things that had absolutely no meaning was what killed him.
When taken to an individual level, one could also see that the fear of rejection plays a vital role in the false self. The fear of not being accepted, by the immediate family, for instance, is a driving force in the will to succeed in society. One of the first lessons that one learns as a child is to “fit in” with the group. One is not taught to be independent. These initial societal lessons do in fact have a large impact even on adults. For example, would someone brought up in today’s society kill someone who was his competition if there was no way that anyone could find out? Or, even if this person was their “enemy”, would he or she kill then? Of course not. Such ideas would be ludicrous, because societies morality has determined they would be. After all, if they would be acceptable, would society be able to exist? Again, the fear of rejection, of not fitting into the group, is a very strong driving force behind hiding the true feelings and acting the way that we are supposed to act. Ivan’s wife puts on a show whenever there are other people in the room(and while they are alone), because that is “the right thing to do”, and is what she has been taught to do, even though something deep down inside is telling her to stop pretending and just say to Ivan “I hope you die soon”. If she were to say that, everyone around her would not consider her not to be “civilized”, and thus she would be rejected from the group. The same feeling is present with the doctors, and it is the same scenario when Ivan tries to gain up the ranks in the judicial system.
Without question, the fear of reality plays the most crucial role in the false self. Society would crumble if its people accepted the fact that in the end, they would all die, and there would be no way to escape. The thoughts of death do not cross the minds of everyday citizens, because then the thoughts of, “will my life be worth nothing” suddenly become questioned. And virtually no one, wants to think about that question. For non-depressed people who commit suicide, they have already examined this question to its ultimate conclusion. Ivan Illyich examines this question, he searches for meaning in his life, he searches for the answer to what he was supposed to do with his life. He finds it in the form of simply listening to himself and delivering himself from his suffering, and living the way that he always truly wanted to live. As Tolstoy put it, “It occurred to him that those scarcely perceptible impulses of his to protest what people of high rank considered good, vague impulses which he had always suppressed, might have been precisely what mattered, and all the rest not been the real thing”. The term “impulses” is an integral part of the novel. Their were impulses of light between Ivan’s wife and him, there were impulses of temporary pain relief, and there were impulses of truth coming from Ivan’s real self, until the very end, where the lies were finally destroyed.
There is no easy answer to the problem of the real and false self. Once one is exposed to society, those three principle fears, the fear of society, rejection, and reality, are forever entwined into the framework of the mind. Tolstoy’s message in The Death of Ivan Illyich was that our suffering will be destroyed when we rid ourselves of these false pretenses. Even I, while writing this paper, am being false. My real, or true self, does not want to be writing this paper, nor does it care if I ever become a “Biomedical Engineer” or not. It is interested in four things: food, sleep, sex, and happiness. However, I will experience happiness if I continue to do whatever I want to, and if that means being a Biomedical Engineer, than that is what I will strive to do. As long as I stay true to myself, I will experience life to its absolute utmost, and like Ivan Illyich, find ultimate bliss. And that, even in the best of all possible worlds, is the best one can hope for.
(Members of AR: Sorry for this post. I needed it to show a group of people my philosophy paper. Again I am sorry and I hope that this was not too great an inconvience
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