In the world of game, we talk a lot about “confidence.” Confidence is probably the most important trait to have when trying to attract women (except for, perhaps, six pack abs). It is this confidence which magnifies itself into an air of charisma which then infects those around us. Such a trait is a characteristic of the “alpha male.”
For every positive, however, there must be a negative. The opposite of confidence is doubtfulness. While the confident man attracts people through his charisma, the doubtful man often alienates them with his trepidation. This concept is explained no better than in Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
For those who haven’t read this excellent novella, it was one of Dostoyevsky’s first works, and an introduction to his philosophy which would be further expounded in his later full length novels (The Brothers Karamazov being a prime example).
The main character is an unnamed person, who considers himself part of something called “The Underground.”Notes from the Underground is told in the first person, and reads much like a memoir or journal. The narrator, aptly dubbed “The Underground Man” by critics, is a retired civil servant who lives a miserable existence of poverty, doubt, and self-loathing.
In this article, I wish to explore the second half of this book, entitled “Apropos of the Wet Snow.” Although the first section offers an excellent refutation of rationalism, the second succinctly showcases the psychology of self-doubt taken to its extreme and its devastating effect upon life.
The Underground Man
The Underground Man is an individual intensely aware of the sickness of society and the sickness within himself. These two realizations act as equal and opposite forces which compel him into inaction. He wants to be like normal people, because he is reprehensible, but yet does not want to, because the normal people are equally disgusting.
Though I have said that I envy the normal man to the point of exasperation, yet I would not care to be in his place as he is now (though I will not stop envying him. No, no; anyway the underground life is more advantageous!) There, at any rate, one can—bah! But after all, even now I am lying! I am lying because I know myself as surely as two times two makes four, that it is not at all underground that is better, but something different, quite different, for which I long but which I cannot find! Damn underground!
This leads to his intense self-consciousness which prevents him from doing anything but worrying and fantasizing. Perhaps there is no better an example of the Underground Man’s psychology than his own words:
I hated my face, for example, found it odious, and even suspected that there was some mean expression in it, and therefore every time I came to work I made a painful effort to carry myself as independently as possible, and to express as much nobility as possible with my face. ‘Let it not be a beautiful face,’ I thought, ‘but, to make up for that, let it be a noble, an expressive, and, above all, an extremely intelligent one.’ Yet I knew, with certainty and suffering, that I would never be able to express all those perfections with the face I had. The most terrible thing was that I found it positively stupid. And I would have been quite satisfied with intelligence. Let’s even say I would even have agreed to a mean expression, provided only that at the same time my face be found terribly intelligent.
The Underground Man spends pages describing his insecurities. If you have read Notes from the Underground, you will probably remember it as being a very “exhausting” book. It takes a toll on the reader, who is put in the narrator’s shoes and forced to sit through hours of second-guessing and self-doubt. After a while, however, you began to realize something—WE are the Underground Man.
As Dostoyevsky masterfully voices the incessant self-doubt of the narrator, you are reminded of your own fears and insecurities. Those times you didn’t talk to that girl, because you were afraid of humiliation; when you let girlfriend control you for fear of losing her; when you broke eye contact with that dazzling 9 on the subway, because she might think you are a “creep.”
The Underground Man is a reflection of unhealthy beta male psychology, taken to the extreme. Instead of plucking up the courage to talk to a girl, however, the Underground Man spends two years building his bravery enough to bump into someone who committed a very minor insult against him in his past. Reading this book is an eerie experience, and as close to a psychological mirror as a pile of paper can get.
Notes from the Underground reveals something else, to us, however. It shows us the driving factor behind this irrational self-doubt—narcissism. This may come as a surprise. After all, aren’t the cocky, arrogant people the ones who are full of themselves? Joe Cool the high school quarterback seems like a lot more of a self-worshiping narcissist than Ned the nervous, insecure nerd. Oh, how wrong you are, my friend.
There is one underlying theme that holds this book together: the Underground Man’s arrogance. In the first part, he is arrogant enough to regard himself as an enlightened man of supreme intelligence. Although much of the language he uses is self-defacing, he has the gall to take pride in his deficiencies. Instead of attempting to solve his problems, he is so worried about his own ego, that he won’t risk the shame which might come with self-improvement. Sound like someone we know?
The Whore and the Narcissist
In the final part of the book, the Underground Man has sex with a whore named Liza. After the encounter, he lies on the bed and begins to talk with her. He manages to convince her that her life as a prostitute will end badly for her, and makes himself out to be a wise, life-saving hero. She breaks down and weeps at the end, asking to meet with the Underground Man again so he can help her reform her ways. He gives her his address and waits. As is usual with insecure betas, most of the Underground Man’s thoughts are focused on fantasizing about the life he and the Liza would share, noting every little detail in his mind.
After a little while, Liza finally comes. Liza and the Underground Man sit down together and begin to talk. This is when the monster behind his self-doubt starts to set in. He begins to scream like a maniac at Liza, announcing that he only talked to her before in order to mock her. He works himself up into a bipolar frenzy, alternating between screams of anger at Liza and tears of self-pity. His bitter, consuming narcissism becomes apparent in full force. He ends the encounter by sending Liza away and pressing a note for five rubles into her hand as she leaves, perhaps the ultimate insult to the girl.
It was under the surface the whole book, this lurking sense of something incredibly dark behind Underground Man’s pitiable self-consciousness. It is finally revealed in this climax. The Underground Man is not looking for love and acceptance. The Underground Man is looking for something to feed his preexisting conceptions of himself.
His constant worry, doubt, and trepidation are his defense mechanism for his ego. For years, he refused to do anything. He read books, fantasized about his ideal life, and idled his life away. He sulked in the Underground for years. Finally, when he had an opportunity to turn his life around and was put to the test, he snapped in a vicious rage—a last resort to defend his ego.
Gentlemen, the Underground Man is more arrogant than Nebuchadnezzar, more narcissistic than Stalin, and more entitled than the most depraved degenerate on Tumblr. Don’t take my word for it, though. Just ask this man’s victims.