Friday, 1 September 2017

Taking modern nihilism seriously

The pervasive nihilism of modernity serves to block any move away from the prevalent insanity and despair; because our problems are at the level of basic (metaphysical) assumptions, yet any attempt to discover, examine and revise these assumptions is shipwrecked instantly by nihilism.

Nihilism therefore functions as the conservatism of radical inversion - it serves to conserve the metaphysical assumptions that underpin secular leftism.

Nihilism, by this meaning, is disbelief in reality; it is the feeling (rather than the conviction) that nothing is really-real, that everything is uncertain - that anything may be wrong.

The modern world view is based on the objectivity of perceptions (eg. in science) - yet we also know that perceptions are often wrong (seeing is not believing). Modern morality is based on the primacy of feelings - modern ethics are all versions of utilitarianism, that is of good being happiness and evil being suffering - yet we know that feelings are temporary, reversible, influenced by psychology, illness, drugs and propaganda.

In sum, in a world built on perceptions and feelings - we know that neither are reliable, nor solid, nor even known for sure. Hence the nihilism.

Modern nihilism is indeed a feeling, rather than a thought - because (pretty obviously) one cannot have a conviction that 'nihilism is true', because that is self-refuting; rather the strength and intractability of nihilism comes from its being a feeling we can't shake-off, rather than a proposition that we are logically-compelled to acknowledge.

Consequently, modern people are stuck in a situation in which their nihilism ruins their lives, but in which they do not take their nihilism seriously - because if they did they would behave very differently. They would not argue-in-favour of nihilism, they would not use nihilism as any kind of argument - they would not even attempt to communicate, they would not plan, they would not do anything which interfered with their current selfish gratification... and so on.

What happens is that people have a feeling of nihilism, which is unpleasant and usually takes the form of fear. So they address the situation at the level of feelings by some combination of displacing nihilism with other feelings and obliterating the feeling of nihilism.

For example by distracting with the mass media, by distracting with the pursuit of sex or status; or obliteration by intoxication with drugs or sleep or immersive media - and all the other characteristically modern evasions.

That modern nihilism is a matter of feeling rather than thinking is in fact a potential solution to the problem. If we take nihilism seriously, and seriously think about it - and keep thinking about it, we will be forced to make a decision between:

1. Accepting the truth of nihilism, and behaving accordingly.

2. Discovering that nihilism is not the bottom line of our conviction.

Of course, this is a dangerous tactic, since accepting the truth of nihilism may lead to suicide or a short-fast-track to death by short-term-self-indulgence (including harming or killing others, when doing so happens to gratify an individual).

But - given the rarity of consistent nihilism, it is likely that most people would recognise that their deepest and most pervasive feeling is not nihilism, but something opposed to nihilism.

In sum, individuals may discover their own bedrock convictions - their personal certainties, stronger than nihilism, upon which they can begin to build meaning purpose and genuine relationships.

Dangerous though it is; taking nihilism seriously, and rigorously thinking-it-though for ourselves, is probably the only way out from its trap.

It was for me.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.

The problem is that "taking nihilism seriously" is a bit self-contradictory, nihilism being the attitude that nothing should be taken seriously.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JW. You are arguing from a classical theological metaphysics which I do not share. My Mormon metaphysics does not have this problem, and 'universalism' would be a negative thing, since it would be a denial of free agency (indeed, universal compulsory salvation was Lucifer's proposal in Mormon scripture).

@William - And that is why we are in such deep trouble, the worst in history - presumably the end times.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jane - It seems rather an over-complex and tortuous scheme. My understanding is that hell is self-chosen and self-imposed - and we can see many examples of people putting themselves into hell during mortal life, and refusing to leave despite every opportunity and encouragement.

I see it as analogous to the way that so many modern people reject and exile themselves from a loving and happy family to pursue a delusional and despairing lifestyle of degradation; and over years dig themselves deeper and deeper into hope-less nihilism.

Gregory DeVore said...

Among the ancient Church Fathers the difference between those who believed in eternal punishment and those who believed in ultimate universal salvation hinged on rather the will becomes somehow fixed at death. Those who believe that the will is fixed, the majority, believed Hell was eternal. Those who believe that free will persists post mortem tended to be universalists. I am curious Bruce how final participation looks if most people are excluded from it? The whole Anthroposophy thing seems very optimistic shall we say? I wonder if they are universalists.

Crosbie said...

Is this the Everlasting No and the Everlasting Yea?

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - I don't know.

@ GDV - "I am curious Bruce how final participation looks if most people are excluded from it?"

'Excluded' is the wrong concept - at present almost nobody wants FP and even fewer are trying to achieve it. Final Participation is also quantitative - somebody might live in this state for varying amounts or proportions of their lives.

I think of FP as the adult-divine form of consciousness - those who accept and work on spiritual progression (in mortal and post-mortal life) will achieve it sooner or later.

At present, people (implicitly) feel compelled to choose between the Original Participation of childhood, or the alienated state of the Consciousness Soul which they suppose to be grown-up, but which is actually an adolescent transitional phase.

Stephens said...

I can imagine, in the not too distant future, people wont have to distract from their nihilistic feelings "with the pursuit of sex or status; or obliteration by intoxication with drugs or sleep or immersive media - and all the other characteristically modern evasions."

Leftist ideology will lead to some kind of mass "soma" treatment, as envisioned in Huxleys "Brave new world."

It sounds a ridiculous thing to say, but if you look at current science and its political direction you can see an omen of what is likely to come. "Oxytocin and social norms reduce xenophobia" at the University of Bonn is a good example :-

I fear a future where some will have trouble arguing against treatment whilst, as things worsen, the masses will take it willingly!

Man without God. The show must go on!

Lucinda said...

Hi Bruce,

I wrote a post a couple years ago over at Millennial Star, an adaptation of a talk I gave at church. I thought of it when I caught on to your thoughts on the progression of consciousness. In short, my state of illusion lines up with your consciousness childhood, disillusionment with your consciousness adolescence, and revelation with your consciousness adulthood, but not Final Participation since my approach is more of a bit by bit idea.

I think you are right that taking on nihilism by its own rules is very helpful. In trying to share the knowledge with others, promoting self-reflection to see inconsistencies in their existing framework seems the only way forward, because they will not believe in the goods of Final Participation since they perceive it as a regression into illusion/childhood. That seems to me to be the main purpose of mortal life, to get us to reflect on how our choices/beliefs affect our experience, and gain an understanding of what choices/beliefs really lead to what we really want.

I agree that "excluded" is the wrong concept. There are those whose most cherished desires are an impossibility, but it doesn't follow that they will eventually cherish what is possible and easily available through Christ. I do think there is a non-Hell place for people who say, "Oh fine!" to reality, but I don't think it's what most people would call Heaven (though it's a perfectly nice place.)