The Return of Nihilism Rahul Kanwar December 18, 2015 3943 “The artist’s task is to save the soul of mankind; and anything less is a dithering while Rome burns.” – Terence Mckenna Niccolò Machiavelli Machiavellian television shows like “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones” are becoming wildly popular in the west. War and political corruption are on the rise, leading to a migrant crisis that has left thousands dying at sea and forced to choose between living as illegal humans or living under ISIS. Donald Trump is rising in the polls with the message “Make America great” which implies two things: that Americans have accepted unconsciously that their country isn’t great and that Americans aren’t interested mutual benefit with other nations or people– America must save itself now. Overall, we can notice a few patterns in the increasingly severe problems within the global community. Most people can feel the signs are all around us of a timeless and nameless encroaching evil, everyday bringing humanity closer to apocalypse. Machiavellian politicians leading to corruption in leadership Corrupt leadership leading to corrupt policy Corrupt policy leading to a criminal population Increased crime leading to poor psychological health Poor psychological health leading to reduced authenticity Reduced authenticity leading to the numbing of the senses The numbing of the senses leading to the discarding of reason The discarding of reason leading to a stupid population A stupid population leading to no checks on the government No checks on the government leading to Machiavellian politicians These are the basic patters in the thought loops that are commonly blamed for the corruption in civilization. If we were to distill these patterns further, what do we see? Win-lose relationships between groups of people that are theoretically supposed to be winning together. This means one party must win and the other party must feel as if it has lost from the interaction. The problems between leadership and the common people are prime examples of this. The seeking of emotional avoidance. This refers to conditions becoming worse and worse for people, and the people resorting to entertainment, addictions, and irrationality to meet short term needs at the expense of long term happiness. Reason becoming unpopular. This trend has been happening for some time now, but has become obvious thanks to Donald Trump’s campaign. People no longer believe it’s their place to have checks on what the leadership is doing, or to sound alarms. Whistle-blowers are persecuted and forced to flee the country, and as things get worse the people are turning to “strong men” like Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders to save them. “They will handle the reasoning and thinking for us. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone.“ If any of these three planks of destruction are undone within an individual or population, the other two are not far from being undone either. It’s difficult to know where to begin with a person who still doesn’t feel a need to begin questioning these planks though, which is unfortunately a great percentage of our population. To make matters worse, these planks aren’t an exhaustive explanation of all negative behaviors humans are committing today. There are also more scattered problems which exist in society that are still acting as a ball and chain on human progress, diverting attention and energy from positive directions. The very idea that American soldiers can go to the Middle East and rape boys in front of their mothers is horrifying to realize, police still shoot dogs and completely innocent people for no reason, Islamic State fighters capture and sell sex slaves, animal cruelty still exists (whether or not you choose to be vegetarian, we can agree the sadistic harming of animals is deplorable). “I’m just ahead of the curve” – The Joker from “The Dark Knight” (2008) These issues, along with the planks of destruction mentioned above have a common essence, and that is nihilism. Nihilism is the doctrine that denies any objective ground of truths and especially of moral truths. Each of the planks of destruction above have some root within nihilism. Nihilism asserts that values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless. In short, nihilism is “the belief that nothing is worth believing in”. Nihilism is also summarized very well by the Joker from the movie “The Dark Knight”. Batman: You’re garbage who kills for money. The Joker: Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve. Nihilism affects everyone at certain points in life, but it affects some people more than others. Most of the time, true nihilists never admit they have stopped valuing ideas and feel nothing about anyone or anything (doing so often alarms friends and family). Many nihilists know they feel this way, but have accepted it as normal or don’t know that this is a unusual for people. This makes helping a nihilist very difficult, as oftentimes they’re defensive about viewing the world this way and defend nihilism by pointing to the Carl Sagan’s “Pale blue dot” description of earth (which exists to show how small planet Earth is in the vastness of the cosmos– this illustrates how absurd fighting a war on Earth is when the thing being fought over is a speck of dust in comparison to how big the knowable universe is, but this is the opposite perspective of the nihilist because it encourages love and positive effort) in some way or another and proclaim nothing matters in the grand scheme of things. The nihilist position isn’t a structured philosophical framework or an argument though; it is a perspective. The nihilist position takes no universal positions whatsoever, aside from the position that no positions are true. Nihilism therefore isn’t an argument which can be refuted logically, regardless of how self evident certain philosophical positions can be. Any moral truth, regardless of how sound and self evident can be dismissed and crushed if the flawed premises of nihilism are accepted that the nihilist’s perspective is the correct one— which regards every enterprise of humans and every life as unnecessary or meaningless. The nihilist rebuttal to all efforts is that they have no real value. Even the entire concept of logic is simply an arbitrary preference. We prefer to use these principles as guidelines when it’s convenient and there is nothing binding to others of morals or thought. The epistemological culprit behind nihilism. The philosopher can give a logical case for why a moral principle exists, but instead of refuting the moral principle the nihilist evades it entirely with the following thought process. If confronted by a thug or corrupt police officer, morals or being correct mean nothing. Moral systems as a whole do not exist in any concrete sense, they are artificially created cultural artifacts with as much objectivity to them as stone-age pottery designs from remote Pacific Islands. All that truly exists are blind emotional whims within a whirlwind of swirling atoms. Lies and brute force are acceptable ways to meet the desires of these emotional whims regardless of how irrational, impractical, or painful for others. A vicious cycle begins of the nihilist forgetting that the meaning of life is to support life and happiness, and the true nihilist finds actions that don’t conform to this as permissible (but not desirable, as desire would give meaning and purpose to an action). As the nihilist plunges into a world without true happiness or peace of mind, happiness becomes a more and more distant fairy-tale, thereby making nihilism seem more correct. One does not undertake an action when the reward seems impossible. Temporary intense pleasures are typically taken by nihilists and seen as desirable and purposeful, but the contradiction involved with nihilism often goes unnoticed. This is how we can see that nihilism is really just a withdrawal from thinking in general and that the philosophical rationalizations nihilists give are ex-post facto justifications for their withdrawal from thinking and feeling. Bursts of motivation to chase after temporary pleasures can be seen as gasps of consciousness, logic and purpose for a drowning mind. The idea that “no moral truths exist” is refuted within the minds of most unconsciously. If no moral truths exist, then this truth about moral truths is itself a moral truth that shouldn’t exist. Nihilism is a withdrawal from awareness, feeling and thinking because the underlying premise is that people are directionless and emotionally chaotic (like the nihilist often is), and therefore happiness isn’t worth trying for. Nihilists can therefore be helped immensely by activities and substances that increase awareness and neurological activity, and by refraining from activities or time spent in places that cause withdrawal. Exercise, yoga, socialization, intellectual pursuits and self exploration through therapy and stable, intimate relationships can assist a nihilist in coming out of their shell. Thankfully, most people don’t subscribe to nihilism and feel no need to dismiss logical systems that underpin civilization anymore than dismissing healthy eating principles in a diet. In medicine, right and wrong come from what supports health. In ethics, right and wrong comes from what supports life and happiness. Most people give certain moral principles the title of “objective” where it is deemed that humans can only profit from following them (the first and most objective moral principle of all is to willingly reject nihilism) where we find that everyone should adopt these moral principles. An example would be property rights. If a thief decides to violate the property rights of another person, the thief has accepted contradictory values within his or her mind. Thieves prefer property rights be upheld (for themselves, after they have stolen) and prefer not to uphold property rights of others. The thief knows that society can’t function if stealing was considered good or acceptable, for that would result in everyone stealing from everyone all the time with people spending their time hiding their property and stealing from others rather than working and creating to meet their needs. The only way to justify stealing is to create a “special class” of morality reserved exclusively for the thief alone. This is an ethical rule which has no philosophical basis (the basis is nihilism), meaning, or purpose. It is contradictory and harms both the thief (by contributing to the thief’s addiction of withdrawal from reality-based wealth creation) and true owner of the stolen property and therefore irrational. The rule of stealing is therefore not a life supporting value for anyone and therefore also immoral. If a theft really did support life and happiness, someone else that also holds life and happiness as goals could be voluntarily convinced to be benevolent for the would-be thief and thus theft would be unnecessary. There are many other moral principles which are objective and have similar proofs but that discussion is outside the scope of this article. Further evidence that nihilism is a psychological phenomena is that nihilism is also often accompanied by lethargy, depression and addictive behaviors. This means that a nihilist can almost never restore strong feelings of value for life or the pursuit of happiness simply by an intellectual proof. Everyone has a limit. In psychology it’s generally accepted that when a person gets a signal from their senses that’s too strong or repetitive to be of any value, the person begins to “tune it out” or numb themselves to it. For example, if someone walks into a restaurant cooking Indian food, one senses the strong odor of the spices and ingredients being used. However, the workers may not notice it anymore. Children who are neglected also slowly begin to tune out the pain of living with parents that make them feel abandoned. Ordinarily, the minds of children give off strong warning signals when they feel abandoned or at risk in any way. If the signal isn’t serving its purpose and puts the child in unnecessary discomfort which only further hinders their odds of survival, the child’s mind begins to tune out this pain. It also goes without saying that the absence of pain the child feels is not the joy that comes from being in a healthy family. Nihilism is very similar only far more serious. For nihilists, the thing being numbed out is value itself, often because valuing things has been shown to cause more harm than good. This means the will to live is not far from also being left behind because life is a choice we must make at every moment we are alive. A drug addict often attempts to get high to “return to normal” at the exact moments the drug addict needs to be using his reasoning faculties to make reality-based decisions to achieve happiness most (because these moments often tend to trigger anxiety), and similarly the nihilist abandons reason in an effort to avoid being hurt again at the exact moment he or she needs to most. This often results in a downward spiral towards suicide as each choice made with the premise of “it doesn’t matter anyway” leads the nihilist to need to numb signals from reality and the natural life-supporting desire to have achieve great understanding even more. Without happiness, pride or things to cherish (even if it’s just ourselves), there is no reason to live. For this reason, preference of life over death is both a moral choice and an imperative that is objectively necessary to continue living. The nihilist runs from this imperative’s implications, and the motivated person clings to it along with others that that cling to this basic reality. As is often the case, psychological issues tend to be very personal and tangled, and it is up to the individual experiencing the issue to look deeper into themselves and seek help about it. Oftentimes people get nihilistic feelings after moments of great sadness. Examples include the loss of someone important to them, a great setback or when they realize that they’ve been very wrong about how they’ve conducted their life. People are mirrors of their outside world, and it’s easy to see that if someone has been around people that don’t care for giving the nihilist justice, acknowledgement or love, the nihilist will believe these moral concepts are arbitrary whims like choosing an ice cream flavor, even though they’re as subjective to moral truth as drinking water is to health. Credit for this image goes to Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim Philosophers such as Nietzsche have pointed out that periods of great levels of nihilism in societies are often the omens of incoming horrid wars. Nietzsche prophetically pointed out this was happening in Europe before the world wars happened. If this premise is accepted that people are more likely to go to war or commit atrocity following feelings of nihilism, these great wars are thankfully followed by a deep reverence for life and peacetime. Near-death experiences are known to cause similar feelings of “awakening” in people. Although we can’t give someone a near-death experience, we can help them by showing that the community around them cares about life. Babies, pets, and acts of charity can help with creating an “osmosis effect” for the nihilist’s internal culture. The nihilist can’t be made to force themselves into loving life, a nihilist has have their older experiences that destroyed the value of life refuted, and the experiences required to do this are very personal and often requires the nihilist remove themselves from the environment that caused these feelings. The earlier these negative experiences began in life though, the more difficult it is to refute them as misleading to the nihilist. Once life becomes something deserving of value though, everything follows. The ex-nihilist sees that certain objectives support life and happiness; and for this he or she needs logic and has a purpose. Overtime virtues develop which assist us in our life supporting values. The highest reward is self actualization, or becoming our true self which shapes the world according to the visions we received as children. We can know that our desires as children were positive because we must have received care and affection at some point. Babies die without proper affection, and a nihilistic baby wouldn’t last long alive.