I never finished reading ‘Crime and Punishment’. I bought it on audible, and right around the time I grew weary of listening, I twitched in discovering I’d barely made a dent in it. This is what I gathered: poverty-stricken man kills two women for jewels, evades detection while craving comeuppance. I gave up on the book because it’s a big book; the end was out of sight, and I could not relate to the main character. He and I both have a very living conscience, and in reality, neither of us would’ve killed the women. As for the average person, desperation may have rooted them in their convictions. Nobody yearns to be punished when they deserve to be. We want justice to happen to other people. Watching somebody else suffer the consequences of their actions is like a painkiller exploding into the bloodstream, while assisting the process tends to feel a bit above the legal dosage. But neither are all that prevalent in the world. Justice feels quite a rare thing in and around our own lives.
People rarely get what’s coming to them, or rather, it’s never the public hanging that we’re counting on, and if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Their victims– the first-hand sufferers, and the secondhand casualties– are forced to settle for less. Generalities glisten in the absence of precision, so all-around devastation is better than nothing, when the damage can’t find its target. It feels better in the moment to destroy things. I was 13 during the 2011 London riots after the murder of Mark Duggan. There’s still a crater in the middle of Reeves corner where the House of Reeves furniture store went down in flames– a desolate space with garden pebbles and white cylinders for seasonal plants. Permanent loss was answered with permanent loss, and the person who set it alight finished their sentence last year. Croydon may or may not have burned with Mark Duggan in mind, but something was released in watching it go up in flames, indignation perhaps. The person responsible must’ve felt the most relief, but then he had to turn around and count the cost– more prison time than those responsible for the murder.
I remember having the strong urge to trash my room two years ago. The impulse wanted it to be the sort of trashing that littered the floor with plaster and shards of mirror. It would’ve been inspired by a sort of helplessness and inaccessibility, if I had gone through with it. In the end, I threw the clothes rack to the ground, and bent down to restore it within seconds. I cleaned alone, needless to say, without the help of whoever had made me want to purge. I sat on the edge of my bed, then I went out, and returned hours later, having half accepted my situation, for it had not changed. There’s relief in ruination, yes, like a flame reaches high before becoming nothing, leaving behind the darkened, weakened match. Only some types of self-destruction are so obviously futile, others are better at hiding their nature. Somebody has to go down for the sorts of things we suffer at the hands of others. If it is ourselves, so be it, says desperation.
Nobody delights in stitching together what’s been broken, least of all the blameless. The riddle of the tree that falls in the forest was written by Dr George Berkley in the 17th century, “If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, it does make a sound,” says George, “even if only God heard.” At the end of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is sentenced to eight years in a labour camp in Serbia. There are 12 days before he hands himself in as half a man, willing to suffer. There are not many public executions these days, but people do still hang for their sins. People have the tendency to cave in on themselves; you can have faith in that– what is unseen, yet perfectly ordered. And you can have faith in what will come of your stewarding of injustices, of staying upright under the weight of them. It’s the sort of strength and endurance that introduces a person to riches that are hard to gain, and difficult to keep