nihilism

The “authorities” are wrong

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    Civilizations take thousands of years to fully die, or lapse into being a third-world ruin like the primitive people who clustered around Angkor Wat or Tenochtitlan with no understanding of the great civilization that went before them.

    On the path to collapse, however, dying civilizations first burn any truth they can get their hands on.

    Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    Here we have a painfully simplistic view. The very statement “I have no values” is itself a value; while it negates the idea of values, that doesn’t let it off the hook for being a value statement itself. Without some inherent part of the universe that denies value, like the hand of God (H.O.G.) or science discovering it writ into the stars, there is no proof of a lack of values. So it becomes a preference like anything else, a choice to have no values based on an assessment of the universe. That in turn makes it a value system about like any other.

    In this way, we see how nihilism rapidly reduces to a search for proof of nihilism. An extreme skeptic would say “well, there’s no reason to believe that any of these things” exist, to which a nihilist might point out that the human starting point, far from a blank slate, is already biased toward a number of different things and, by the nature of being biased, oblivious to much of what would be inherent. Further, that nihilist might point out that the search for inherent reasons is fundamentally doomed unless we can communicate with a Creator or Administrator who is a direct line to truth in the universe.

    The fact is that we’re here alone, trying to figure it out for ourselves. If the gods or God exist, they’re mute to us in ways we can materially/objectively verify, and so we are here without any line to inherent value in the universe. We can make scientific observations and say “this action x consistently gets result y,” but unless we stumble across a big block of source code for the universe, we don’t know the entire mechanism. For there to be inherent value, there would have to be some central point of absolute truth that reflected the inner workings of the universe in a way that is not observed, but known.

    So what do we have? The grandfather of the scientific method: the idea that we have no inherent (“full knowledge of God or from a God-like perspective”) knowledge of life, but we have empirical or observational knowledge, and we can communicate not “truths” but approximate representations of what we have observed (as good Schopenhauerians, we enjoy his statement that the self contains a representation of reality that is all we know of reality, and thus our “truths” are representations of representations and very far from “inherent”) — observe, hypothesize, test repeat. The closest modern philosophy gets toward this maturity is the correspondence theory of truth and/or language.

    Narrowly speaking, the correspondence theory of truth is the view that truth is correspondence to a fact—a view that was advocated by Russell and Moore early in the 20th century. But the label is usually applied much more broadly to any view explicitly embracing the idea that truth consists in a relation to reality, i.e., that truth is a relational property involving a characteristic relation (to be specified) to some portion of reality (to be specified).

    The correspondence theory of truth is often associated with metaphysical realism. Its traditional competitors, coherentist, pragmatist, and verificationist theories of truth, are often associated with idealism, anti-realism, or relativism. – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    Truths don’t exist, and divine insights into the universe are thus not “true” but representations from within ourselves. When we face this wisdom, we can return to life and treat it with maturity, instead of expecting some deus ex machina to hand us an absolute “truth” or “path” that we must then follow.

    Shared ways of thinking, so called memes, are what make a culture. These memes are manifold and they change over time. For example, the green movement and the idea of sustainability are quite new memes. But on the other hand we live with many old memes – and among them is one that I think makes many of us miserable. It is an idea, a mighty one, which has already tortured many people. This idea is one we hol, no matter if we are religious or not, to be holy. It is: The meaning of life. Or, meaning in general. It is the idea that there are goals to achieve and reasons to do so. It is the idea that we shouldn’t do things for no reason. It is the idea that we shouldn’t “waste time” and that we should use our time productively and usefully.

    But in the process of our social evolution something else happened: Freedom. Freedom from the social boundaries that were laid upon us. Suddenly we have the freedom to become who we want to be, live where we want to live and do what we think is right for us. Suddenly we have the freedom to decide, and, as Sartre said, with it, we are forced to decide what to do with our lives. Officially we have “freedom” at least since the French revolution, but just in the last fifty or so years our world – and our socialisation – really took a form that allows and forces us to choose.KDAS

    Being thrown out there without any backup, and told to choose the meaning of life, is a formula for failure. It crushes people daily because they assume “meaning of life” means either (a) “inherent meaning of life” or (b) some personal meaning of life that’s entirely arbitrary, except for the part about our corporeal selves enjoying material comfort, which induces an “ethic of convenience” where we do what is comfortable and evade the rest. The resulting inability to form attachment to ideologies, peoples, families, etc. creates what Michel Houellebecq calls “atomized” individuals: entirely solipsistic, entirely isolated, and 100% free — but miserable, and spreading discontent and dysfunction through society, making it moribund.

    Nihilism is the solution. The meaning of life — doesn’t exist. The personal meaning of life — doesn’t exist. Your goal is to be a good organism and adapt to your environment. In that process, you will find some things you enjoy. If you have half of a brain or more, you will also find some superior methods of adaptation, some of which suspiciously resemble a values system. If you want to avoid the false god of self along with other false gods, you will adopt this value systems, and pull yourself out of fatalism into a form of “active nihilism” where you no longer require inherent belief — you simply do what is logical.

    5 Responses to “The “authorities” are wrong”

    1. NihilCredo says:

      It is amusing that you’ve renovated the site on the very same day that I decided to give it a check after months, if not years. I approve of the new format, as the old one lacked any decent feeback process and was as such severely handicapped in the web 2.0. Also, it was very wise to avoid any explicit link to that one site with the most PR-unfriendly name in the universe.

      One quibble: I would phrase the fourth sentence in the last paragraph a lot more carefully. “Your goal is…”, combined with the casual use of “good” – that most deceiving and dangerous of all words – sounds a lot like you’re just handing yet another Grand Purpose from above. Assuming I have correctly interpreted what you’re trying to convey, you should definitely make an effort to at least suggest how, in the lack of any metaphysical guideline, a particular approach to decision-making is the only one that is consistent with our available data and with our built-in bias and needs.

    2. Dave says:

      “Without some inherent part of the universe that denies value, like the hand of God (H.O.G.) or science discovering it writ into the stars, there is no proof of a lack of values. So it becomes a preference like anything else, a choice to have no values based on an assessment of the universe. That in turn makes it a value system about like any other.”

      This clarifies your position a bit, but confuses epistemology with statement-type. It may be true that there is an epistemological difficulty with *knowing* the truth of a statement like “I have no values”, but that has nothing to do with the *status* of the statement as a factual, not a value-based, statement.

      You may also be right that the statement “I have no values” expresses a preference. But that also does not make it a value statement. It is simply true or false that the person has the preference in question.

    3. Dave says:

      “Truths don’t exist, and divine insights into the universe are thus not “true” but representations from within ourselves.”

      Classic paradox. In what sense is that sentence “true”, if there are no truths. (And if there is none, then why should we care that you wrote it?)

    4. Dave says:

      “Your goal is to be a good organism and adapt to your environment.”

      So “goal” is different from “meaning”? There’s not a meaning but there is a goal?

      My understanding of “meaning” in the sense of “meaning of life” is basically purpose. Purpose and goal are basically synonymous, so it seems to me that “goal” and “meaning” are basically synonymous too.

      In other words, your “solution” is not different from the “arbitrary personal meaning of life” idea after all. Just dressed up with slightly different language and a vague reference to evolutionary biology, as if that were some sort of support for the viability of certain goals over others.

    5. Dave says:

      “ome personal meaning of life that’s entirely arbitrary, except for the part about our corporeal selves enjoying material comfort, which induces an “ethic of convenience” where we do what is comfortable and evade the rest. The resulting inability to form attachment to ideologies, peoples, families, etc. creates what Michel Houellebecq calls “atomized” individuals: entirely solipsistic, entirely isolated, and 100% free — but miserable, and spreading discontent and dysfunction through society, making it moribund.”

      This is an empirical claim. Got any evidence for it?