Friday, 6 November 2015

Nihilism and annihilation

While theories about undeveloped amygdala, or the rabbit strategy of welcoming predators into an overpopulated meadow may have some merit, when you see a man who wishes to destroy himself and his homeland, look to the formation of his conscience for the answer to this dark and ugly riddle.

http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/11/postnihilism

[Postnihilism I would define as 'what happens after nihilism': i.e. the psychological consequences of nihilism.]


There are many blindspots in the sad, psychotic, death-seeking Western world - and one is the refusal to see that the mainstream public account of the basic nature of 'Life, the Universe, and Everything' leads to nihilism, alienation and despair - a life that is self-defined as meaningless, purposeless and utterly alone.

(And that a life bursting with Twitter, parties, holidays and sexual experiments makes not the slightest difference.)

Modernity not only teaches, but propagandizes for, celebrates futility.

Yet refuses to examine the premises which lead to this conclusion.

You might imagine that if your basic beliefs lead to inevitably despairing consequences, then the first thing to do is examine those beliefs: to check whether they really are entailed and unavoidable? Whether the basic beliefs are a consequence of honest enquiry - or, whether the basic beliefs are just as much a part of the shallow, spinning, soundbite culture as are the despairing conclusions?

Modern culture would have us believe that its fundamental basic beliefs in nothingness are simply the result of hard-nosed 'science'. (There is no God because science.) But the people asserting this... well, do they strike you as thoughtful people? Do they strike you as deep people - as people who have grappled with the nature of the human condition through the long watches of the night; pondering in solitude and in earnest conversation before reluctantly and with searing misery concluding that life is nothing?

It is the way that fundamental problems are death with that appals - by not dealing with them; by the most impatient and cursory repetition of platitudes, that is so appalling about modern postnihilism.

It is as if we have thrown-away not just life but even the possibility of life, and done it on a whim! - and the only tenacity and long term stubborness evident in our culture, and in its representative people, is the refusal to reconsider the validity of this arbitrary, passive, un-thinking opinion.

We are sure of nothing except that reality is nothingness. And this is not the kind of conclusion that we can ignore, because the meaning (or unmeaning) of life underpins every conversation, every news report, every human communication.

Nihilism batters us in explicit assertions, but it also permeates our being as the air we breathe and the water we drink: the whisper that it all means nothing, nothing nothing...

The world offers unprecedented distraction, pleasure, fun - yet we seem to want only death. And that is, alas, perfectly rational. If someone finds life worthless because it feels bad now, then how can we persuade that life is nonetheless worthwhile - except by suggesting it may not feel so bad in the future, so why not stick around and see? To which the obvious response is why bother?

Telling a despairing man about his enormous and expanding scope to forget about the ultimate questions, and instead immerse himself in fun and games is an answer (if it is any kind of answer) to a different problem - not the state of postnihilism that has driven The West to embrace its own cultural and personal annihilation.

(Nihilism... annihilation... The link, the causality, isn't exactly subtle!)  

6 comments:

  1. One thing I noticed while reading Traherne recently was how part of his methodology - imagining the interconnectedness of nature, how the sun is related to an acorn, say - is adopted by scientific humanists. Much of the wonder of science is the same practice, but they do it without reflecting on why this practice of the imagination should be important. If wonder at the natural world is just a naturally selected, randomly generated impulse, then why would one care about it? Similarly, yes, the night sky is beautiful, but what does that signify?

    Perhaps this is OT.

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  2. @ajb - No, I agree with you - I think it is squarely on topic!

    Dawkins makes exactly this half-argument in his book Unweaving the Rainbow. The fact that Dawkins personally finds a rainbow (and lots of other stuff) beautiful, is an answer to a different question - the important point is what significance this aesthetic appreciation actually has. If it is just an unintended by product of natural selection it doesn't *mean* any more than an optical illusion or that saccharine mimics the taste of sugar.

    I know this from many years of experience - experience of trying to extract significance from phenomena which my metaphysical assumptions told me were merely epiphenomena.

    How can 'love' (or any other thing) be important if it is an evolved adaptation, an instinct, to enhance reproductive success - by such an argument then we would be equally justified in following any other instinct.

    Dawkins is (or rather was) an honest (albeit superficial and partial) scientist; but why be an honest scientist when (as nowadays) that gets in the way of a successful career? Honesty is just another (rather rare) instinct.

    Why not get rid of these troublesome instincts like appreciation of beauty, love, honesty - by training, drugs, genetic engineering - reshape our instincts by whatever works? No reason - if they are merely historical, contingent products of a blind, directionless, pointless selection process?

    (For that matter, natural selection stops us from being lastingly happy - it wants us to chase happiness in a way that enhances reproductive success - not actually to be happy. Why not bypass all that love, beauty, decency nonsense and take crack cocaine - stumulate the pleasure centres directly. Okay it will kill you - but what's wrong with that, if we are just contingent products of natural selection?)

    And this is very urgent nowadays. People assume that discussions of how actions affect peoples' feelings are moral arguments - ("don't do X becuase it will make Y and Z miserable") - but the idea that we have a moral duty to consider other people's feelings cannot be made without a set of assumptions that this is so.

    The problem is not merely that we are irreligious, but that our modern metaphysical assumptions *actively* make it impossible to justify anything, or find meaning or purpose in anything, or take anything seriously at all!

    And we cannot even take this existing reality seriously enough to ackowledge it is true!

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  3. Man worships his own brain. While his endemic insecurity labors to reconstruct the universe in a way he agrees with.
    One is either healthy and sane, or one is hubris on legs.

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  4. The primary argument "there is no evidence" means disregarding personal experience and most people's beliefs through most of history as delusional.

    The paradox being that without God everyone is delusional and everything is meaningless, even natural selection... *what would* be the highest goal of that anyway? A cancer-like growth that converts all known matter to its likeness and then lies dormant for eternity?

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  5. @Nat - An excellent point - I wish I had thought of it!

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  6. Why not get rid of these troublesome instincts like appreciation of beauty, love, honesty - by training, drugs, genetic engineering - reshape our instincts by whatever works? No reason - if they are merely historical, contingent products of a blind, directionless, pointless selection process?

    How? The instincts are old and not terribly tractable. The problem of trying to change human behaviour is always bound to the fact we are human - with all the evolutionary history that has shaped our physiology and the epiphenomena that arise on top of it. How do I get out of handcuffs when the handcuffs are a part of what and who I am?

    (For that matter, natural selection stops us from being lastingly happy - it wants us to chase happiness in a way that enhances reproductive success - not actually to be happy. Why not bypass all that love, beauty, decency nonsense and take crack cocaine - stumulate the pleasure centres directly. Okay it will kill you - but what's wrong with that, if we are just contingent products of natural selection?)

    Happiness as a goal is foolish. Happiness is merely a byproduct of engagement with life. It is temporary, and if I become confused and substitute instant pleasure stimulation for the process of engagement in life that brings happiness, then I am just a drug addict looking for a permanent high. It should not be surprising that such people crash and burn, and that is a good thing because such people should not reproduce. The big problem is: What happens if the majority in a society come to think and behave this way?

    ... The problem is not merely that we are irreligious, but that our modern metaphysical assumptions *actively* make it impossible to justify anything, or find meaning or purpose in anything, or take anything seriously at all!

    And we cannot even take this existing reality seriously enough to ackowledge it is true!


    The ability to create meaning and purpose does not *require* a theistic metaphysic. Love of friends and family, and of the beauty that I encounter and cherish in nature, art, literature and music exist even though my metaphysical assumptions have changed significantly over time. That said: I will admit that shallow thinkers can latch onto a metaphysics that in their practice supports behaviours and beliefs that are nihilistic in effect.

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