Those who posit a goal are all too often willing to sacrifice any number of people to reach it because, however many must die, the future is infinite and so far more people will be saved. In Dostoevsky’s novel The Possessed, one revolutionary argues that even “a hundred million heads” is a cheap price to pay since “despotism in some hundred years [alone] will devour not a hundred but five hundred million heads.” Herzen, as well as Dostoevsky, was more than prescient in foreseeing the results of such reasoning.
Since those who argue this way typically claim the authority of science, Herzen insisted that nature has no goals. On the contrary, it values every present moment, pouring itself into the intoxicating smell of a luxuriant flower which passes away almost immediately. More important, life is lived only in the present, and each person “lives not for the fulfillment of an idea, not for progress, but solely because he was born; and he was born . . . for the present . . . we are . . . not dolls destined to suffer progress or embody some homeless idea.”
And what if progress is infinite, and so a goal is never reached? What if—as actually was to happen, of course—each generation should be sacrificed for a future that can never be reached; what if time and again the eggs are broken and the omelette is never made?
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