Nihilism is a complex system of belief and as a Nihilist I believe it’s my duty to discuss what it actually means to be a Nihilist. During this article I will provide a definition for Nihilism and what it means to Nihilists in a post-modern context. I don’t intend this article to be expansive or esoteric; this is for the average Joe Blogs, not a philosophy major. Before I begin I also want to make clear that Nihilism was not created by me but rather by historical figures my academic superior, notably Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.
Nihilism is ambiguous and it can be difficult to reach an objective definition. Here are some definitions; all of them are relevant to some extent:
- The complete rejection of human self-importance
- The belief that the universe operates as a logical complex where ‘meaning’ isn’t applied to anything
- There is no absolute truth and claimed truths are merely projections of the human ego
- There is only meaningless reality
During debates of philosophy and religion the issue of meaning often comes up. I’m often led to believe that meaning is somehow necessary for human existence. As Nihilists we reject meaning completely. You may then ask what the point of existence is if there is no meaning in the world. As Nihilists we replace meaning with the reality of order and the complete solace and inner peace that accompanies this realisation. Knowing that the universe is a consistent behemoth, something that doesn’t pander to or is defined by the sum of its parts is a peaceful thought and something I can be fully accepting of. On a subjective note I’ve always seen creating meaning as the easy way out, throughout human history we’ve applied meaning to everything to satisfy our own ego. It’s inherent in the human condition that we have to ‘mean’ something, that’s why Nihilism can be so frightening for many.
I want to talk about how Nihilism interacts with our lives. I must firmly establish that Nihilism is non-confrontational. A Nihilist does not feel the need to convince others to covert to the Nihilist belief system because he/she is at peace with themselves; they have reconciled their being on this earth. Because of this Nihilism very rarely comes into conflict with organised religious belief systems, I fear that in the future though it will due to the fact Nihilism advocates non-belief which is the complete opposite of belief. Nihilist critics often make the mistake of connecting Nihilism with political anarchism, the rejection of morality, and the idea that Nihilists can do whatever the hell they want with a clear conscious, this is an erroneous assumption. Nihilists believe that morality is not set in stone, right and wrong is relative and it changes and responds to the needs of people but it is important for Nihilists to live within the system, that’s because the ‘system’ is logical, it is a causal reality. Furthermore I don’t think anyone would want to live a life ostracized and outcast from society. As animals we have psychological and physiological needs and the best way to fulfil these needs is to live within society surrounded by other human beings, this fulfills our potentialities. Even though we reject value systems (what is important when living), primarily because they are based around the importance of human existence (religious systems are a great example) we do not take action against them because we have nothing to replace those value systems.
On a lighter note I want to talk about human issues. The beauty about Nihilism is that we can look at every issue that arises from the top down and not feel crushed by an unwanted conclusion that may arise out of any issue because it really doesn’t matter in the end. I will use the example of religious issues once again. For thousands of years people have debated the nature of Jesus, of God, and other deities. As Nihilists it’s so comforting knowing that we don’t even have to engage in those issues, philosophically we cannot because we believe that there is no meaningful conclusion to anything. I often feel quite smug when sitting down and listening to or watching someone argue over the existence of God, the place of faith in the world, of morality or any number of different things. I think to myself “that used to be me”. Now religious issues are not even there, they are so insignificant for a Nihilist. We do not even engage with the issue of God because we do not need to. It is a beautiful unburdening feeling.
The final point I want to cover is the metaphysical aspect to Nihilistic belief. Even though we believe in meaninglessness, there is no certainty that meaninglessness is the philosophical endpoint. There is always that ever-present excitement of what lies beyond physical death. For me Nihilism is a pathway to something else, it’s as far as human intelligence and philosophy can proceed now. Whether scientific advancement will change anything in the future is uncertain. There could be a ‘eureka’ moment in human science that will change everything.
In conclusion Nihilism does not bring radical change to human society due to its almost apathetic nature but it does give adherents some measure of peace. The belief in the reality of order is a beautiful feeling; the Nihilist belief system requires nothing of you, you don’t have to apply meaning to anything. For me I find this reality very liberating and having now discovered Nihilism I would never trade it for the rigours of theistic belief and the demands placed upon the lives of theistic adherents. So go and live life on your terms. The reality of savouring the taste of a fine wine, the thrill of zooming around a racetrack, the pleasures human embrace, these things are all more important than what might or might not be waiting for us after death.
Problems with Nihilism and Rebuttal
- Issue: Dealing with the nature of universal order. Nihilist’s Answer: Order can be proven through scientific principles such as natural selection. Science is excellent proof of order, the realisation that we’re nothing but a product of scientific order and not grand design.
- Issue: There is no right and wrong, just cause and effect. Nihilist’s Answer: What we perceive as morality and ethics are inevitable consequences of human interaction. Nihilists don’t necessarily reject morality; they simply rebrand it into something more logical. Nihilists don’t think it’s ok to go around killing people because that behaviour isn’t the ‘logical’ cause and effect conclusion of human interaction. Nihilists live by a moral code as logical consequence not divine authority or anything else.
- Issue: Saying nothing of value is a paradox because it is in itself a value statement. Nihilist’s Answer: The best argument against that is that it is not a value statement but rather a factual statement therefore negating the notion of a paradox.
- Issue: What is the point of anything? Nihilist’s Answer: “The universe may be pointless when measured using human values but this is because the universe didn’t come into existence for human enjoyment. Rather, human life adapted to fit pre-existing conditions that the universe already contained. The universe exists independently of human life – the natural order is not anthropocentric. Many times we get the ‘wrong’ answer because we ask the ‘wrong’ question. We shouldn’t ask “why is everything pointless” but instead “why do we believe it’s pointless?”
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche – German philosopher of the 19th Century critical of religion, morality, culture and philosophy
Esoteric – Meant for a specific academic audience
Anarchism – Abolition of order e.g. Government
Philosophy – Study of the nature of knowledge, reality and existence
Apathetic – Showing no interest or concern for anything
Theistic – Believing in God or Gods, higher powers
Paradox – Self-contradictory or false proposition
I have bolded certain phrases that are important and also included a glossary for a few words and names that are academic. This article is not expansive and could be a lot more complicated but I wouldn’t achieve much more by saying the same thing again in a more complicated way. I have drawn on the ideas of others to compliment and amalgamate with my own ideas; I have referenced my influences at the bottom. Nihilism is extremely difficult to reconcile and define so I will be continuously in the pursuit of new ways of explaining Nihilism. This article will not be set in stone; as arguments, issues and criticisms about Nihilism arise I will try my best to rebuttal and discuss these.
Centre for Nihilism and Nihilist studies, updated 2011, <http:www.nihil.org> [accessed 12 April 2012]
Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885)
Welcome to More about Nihilism, updated 2011, <http:www.nihilists.net> [accessed 12 April 2012]
Freydis, The Guide to Nihilism, updated 2012, < http://www.counterorder.com> [accessed 13 April 2012]