What is it to be a nihilist? The belief in nothing is a belief in itself. One thus does not uphold nothingness as a value, but as a method, and uses it to test all knowledge, since if we are not fatalists – people who believe that nothing can be known, nothing has meaning, that nothing can be done to change that state – we desire to remain alive. When one is alive, knowledge is important, much as learning to build fire was important to early cave-dwellers. In this realization, nihilism reduces from a belief in nothing to a belief in knowledge derived from awareness of nothingness.
Nothingness is eternal; when one is dead, for example, there is no longer an existence to even reflect on the nothingness. One is simply not there. Nothingness reminds us that all of what we know in life goes away, and upon reflection, that nothingness will triumph, thus our lives should have somethingness, which we generally define as meaning. And what is meaning? Satisfaction that one’s time is well spent, for that time ends and nothingness takes over. Essentially this is applying nihilism to itself, and at that moment, nihilism passes from a self-pitying impotence into a state of power.
When we are aware of nothingness, we no longer can believe in Absolutes: a pure God who does what is right for us, moral “good” and “evil,” heaven and a Utopic society. These are all pure ideals which do not exist in nature, because they do not admit that nothingness exists, nor do they recognize its necessity. In moral terms, a life lost is a horrible thing, but what if that was a well-lived life tapering down into Alzheimer’s disease, incontinence and hoping for a high score at canasta? What if it is murderer, or someone who is so diseased their life is misery? Nothingness can be a savior. When we forget nothingness, we lapse into well-meaning Absolutes designed to make us feel better about life, but is not that a presumption that life itself is bad?
A nihilist is one who accepts nothingness as necessary for the whole to exist; above “good” and “bad” there is “meta-good,” which requires both good and bad. This goes beyond a belief in nothingness; it is a belief in the necessity of nothingness, both in the operations of nature and in our ability to perceive nature. A fatalist, or one who believes nothing can be known or done, is not outside this view of “good” and “evil,” but a nihilist is. Having accepted that Absolutes do not exist, a nihilist is then tasked with the goal of finding meaning and order in the universe, since anyone except a fatalist will attempt this task as part of the process of being alive.
There are many forms of meaning in life, suggested both by the individual and society; however, few of them pass the nothingness test as outlined above. Instead of accepting nothingness, these beliefs attempt to push some Absolute into position of importance above it, and thus they submit to nothingness without recognize it and cause their adherents to become feeble sheep for the slaughter: fearing nothingness, they deny it, and thus cannot act to find meaning outside of denying it. They have become slaves to death. One can find these in a church, or active in social functions with a moral absolute nature to them.
So does a nihilist believe in anything? Yes: in nothingness, and in the system of which nothingness is part, probably what we could call meta-somethingness. Nothingness and somethingness together create it. A nihilist believes this, and thus affirms a reality outside of those created by social pressures, economics, religion and television. Nihilism is a gateway to rebirth; the passage is one of accepting death, and then determining to find value anyway without having to create some crutch to circumnavigate the inevitability of our mortal ends.
A nihilist at the shopping mall sees bright lighted signs, products for sale, churches pushing books on people, Hare Krishnas talking about love, and a stream of people with some urgency to their need to consume and be active. A nihilist wants none of this in his soul, so he steps closer to the fountain, where a few plants grow, their leaves limp from repeated brushes with passerby. Unlike the Buddhist, the nihilist does not aim to negate the world and retreat into the self under the guise of escaping self-domination. Unlike the Christian, he does not live for another, better world. He quiets his soul and accepts life for what it is, and determines to live it well, much like a plant which despite being in a mall full of chaos grows forever toward the light.
Much as the plant did not have a choice about where its seed landed, and found environment that it could grow, the nihilist finds himself in a world that is baffling in its desire to cram any activity that it can invent into the maw of death. He is faced with a basic choice: follow reason, or follow the herd, and he chooses to follow reason. Yet he does not give up nature, which includes his nature, in striving for greater understanding of reality, greater art and learning, and deeds that by their nature are meaningful, even if they involve sacrifice; in a previous age, maybe a healthier one, they called this heroism.
So the nihilist in the mall contemplates the flowers and waits for a young lady who is currently selecting an item in a nearby store, while thinking of how in a forest dark spaces wait next to fertile clearings, talons descend on the least wary of the mice, and an order extends beyond time to cycle through eternity in somethingness, then nothingness, so that a somethingness may always be, and may always have fulfilling activity. As people rush screaming about him in an ecstasy of purchase, want and need and fear, pushing back death with plastic objects, he smiles over these contemplations and touches the leaf of a small plant, thinking of infinity. These were the thoughts of a nihilist at the shopping mall this evening.
Vijay Prozak, 01/16/05