Saturday, August 11, 2012


I did not write this. See the end for the credit. I did, however, adapt to put it into context, or rather out of context so it could be understood properly outside of where I found it.

"There seem to be two camps of general Nihilism - one closer to absurdism, one closer to existentialism. There's also the idea that everything is futile and nothing matters. That is not philosophy. That is pop caricature fatalism, and fortunately it describes itself (it is goddamn useless). Such a conception of nihilism is also used synonymously with "people being goddamn depressed and witless, and having lost their motivating ideas;" when Nietzsche uses 'nihilism' to mean a bad thing (this particular author uses the word very inconsistently), he means the latter. If you ever think something that is pointless, stop that. If your version of nihilism is useless, go on to something else.

I think every 'nihilist' should at least know what existentialism is, because many of the great interpretations of nihilism resemble it. Existentialism is the idea that "existence precedes essence," ie, that one is born without a purpose. Under this kind of thinking, if you're going to get a purpose, you're definitely going to acquire it. And your purpose need not be permanent. But psychologically, people do badly without a sense of purpose, so you should go ahead and get one. There are lots of things to give one to you - authority figures, belief systems, responsibilities - but with existentialism you can realize that you're not bound up in a commitment to one particular purpose, and if you don't like it you can change.

So if you take your nihilism to mean something close to this, your nihilism becomes very empowering. It is in your interest to avoid any ideology that is overly arresting or disempowering. My personal take on nihilism, as a self-described nihilist, starts off as an observation. I'm not a 'general' nihilist, in that I don't actively apply nihilism to everything; instead, the focus of my nihilism is moral nihilism. I do not see morality as something I need to cling to. Thus I am freed from many restrictions. Having made that observation, I have a decision to make about my behavior. I decide to be nice, and diplomatic. This is behavior that appears moral in many cases, but is always focused on empowering the individual. So what has happened here is that a restricting way of thinking has been replaced with an empowering way of thinking.

So yes, you've observed that you need not cling to certain things. This does not mean that nothing matters. Things just don't matter absolutely, say, to the universe. But you are not a universe. You are a sentient (presumably), a human. And you can make and decide meaning for yourself, or adopt existing conventions as convenient. Please do not see nihilism as meaning-destroying; you are wasting an idea with great potential. See it as meaning-liberating.

 -- Former editor of an undergraduate philosophy journal aka Scithionon Reddit.


Dementor said...

May the Gods decimate all of you unbelievers.

Dr Kimble said...

Hey, unbelievers! I hope there's enough room in your stomach, because I'm gonna ram my fist in there and break your spine!