Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky had a way with explaining human emotions and dissecting the human psyche. He treaded deep into the lures of sensation and the attraction of unchecked passions. But above all he was a master of laying open the personal ulterior motives couched in high flying language of goodness for humanity and arguments worn in terms of vicious but empirically supported class assumptions. Crime and Punishment is arguably one of the masterpieces of literature. It is a discourse about a radically different concept of justice – different from the average understanding.

Raskolnikov, the main character the story revolves around, is a drop-out from law school and is finding it difficult to make ends meet. He is devastated by the guilt that his sister and old mother are passing through humiliating ordeals to make his life better. He has exposure to the radical and sometimes revolting and abominable intellectual discussions and ideas that were the norm at the time when Russian society was opening up and talk of reform was the fashion of the day.  Lo and behold he came up with his own idea of justice.

For him laws and statute books were for ordinary humans; a class of humans who have no intellectual driving of their own, who were short on motivation and shallow at purposes. He believed he belonged to a class above the ordinary human beings, the select few who cannot be judged by laws that are meant for the class below them. The innumerable stocks and divisions, he understands, worked according to some unknown mysterious law of nature to bring forth the men of genius, the crown of humanity.

This crown of humanity challenges the established moral values and it is futile to judge them by the codes of morality that they are charged by fate to revoke and redefine. Like for instance he consents to bloodshed in the name of conscience, the vague notion that such men of genius can kill if they find it justifiable in their own conscience.

To escape his poverty and break the shackles of ignominy that his sister and mother are in, he murders an old, useless and filthy pawnbroker and her sister. He robs her to make the foundation for his glorious tomorrow. After all, his conscious deems it to be in all righteousness to rid the world of that selfish, profiteering woman who was just amassing wealth. If this apparently horrific and immoral – by the standards of the commoners – act laid the foundation for his public career, what’s wrong with it? After all tomorrow he will rebuild the society by blessing it with a new morality. It is no different from the massacre Napoleon carried out as the savior for the dormant humanity.

Our lives are controlled by the Raskolnikovs of today and our policies are guided by the savior complexes of these men of genius. Their intellectual hubris have cast delusions of self-grandeur on them just the way as Raskolnikov mistook himself for a savior. In their strategic games, the tens of thousands killed are nothing more than the ordinary human beings of the innumerable stocks and divisions, to borrow Raskolnikov’s words. Extending the argument of Raskolnikov, these people are bound to suffer.

The ordinary human beings who suffer because of their strategic calculations have no right to hold them to the common law that they are held accountable to. These men of genius are extraordinary; they are allowed bloodshed in the name of their conscious. Nothing will deter them and no morality of the mere ordinary class can be an obstacle for their quest to uplift the ordinary by blessing them with a new sense of security and restoring them to the past glory. The only sacrifice required is of blood.

Scores of children were massacred in Peshawar, yet the horrific sight was nothing more than an ordinary bloodshed. I imagine a scenario where some of these cigarette-puffing and tea-sipping men of genius would have gathered around a table and one of them would have said: “It is the price they are bound to pay and we can’t let guilt in our way in making their lives more blissful and secure”. Others with hung faces would have dejectedly seconded him.

Raskolnikov was torn out by guilt, he was in the illusion that superfluous and heartless intellectual arguments would quell his conscience and he would rise in the world as Napoleon had risen despite his countless massacres. But no, there was some spark of humanity – some would say weakness – that betrayed him and sent him to the gallows.

Is there any guilt felt by the Raskolnikovs of today?

Will it be enough to reveal to them the puerility of their intellectual arguments and futility of their strategic designs?

Will the innumerable stocks and divisions of ordinary people be able to force their law and morality on these select few; the crown of humanity?