“Civilization is a disease which is almost invariably fatal.” – Dean Inge
This article attempts the impossible. It seeks to explain, in small form, a belief system that is at its heart not very complex, but to which the path from our current belief systems is complex and fraught with confusions, whether linguistic, or conceptual, or even image-oriented. There is no way it can succeed. However, all things must start somewhere, and so, for the sake of doing something where otherwise doing nothing is a path to certain failure, we sally onward in an attempt to provide another starting point for those seeking nihilism.
What Nihilism Is Not
After all, why believe in anything? – nihilism, like any form of organized thought, is a belief. You could be like so many five-cent sages and proclaim identification with a mainstream political belief, or consider yourself “cynical” and say nothing can be done, so turn on the TV, pop a beer and be through with it. That way, at least you’re personally insulated – you’ve declared a lack of a will to fight – and you can feel OK about being whatever it was before. Wiser observers might say you’re in the grips of a very complex but at heart mundane form of cognitive dissonance; you’re pointing to a difference between ideal and reality as a justification for inaction.
You could even take on the junior form of nihilism, which is a lack of belief in anything, otherwise known as fatalism, but really, it’s a developed form of the above. And don’t you feel silly buying into any of the ready-made political identities that are out there, and swearing your ideas match those of Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh, who are basically two different versions of the same fat “just sign here and it’ll all be okay” product? Maybe you take refuge in religion, but it’s about the same; instead of picking a path, you’re following one. This isn’t to say that all paths are wrong, and you should be some kind of “individualist” who concocts a “unique” formula of unrelated fragments of belief, and then proclaims everything would be OK if that impossibly self-contradictory regimen were followed.
Yet none of these are satisfying, because at the end of the day, you’re no closer to a coherent vision of what would change that which ails you. It’s naive to say it doesn’t bother you, either, because it’s clear that this society is what we call in business a “deathmarch”: a fundamentally flawed approach that immediately isn’t visible, and therefore is demanded by higherups, so we the workers apply it as best we can with the knowledge that someday, the shit’s gonna hit the fan and we’ll all suffer, but we’re not to blame because someone else is in charge. Of course, no one is really “in charge” here, as we’re just following mass trends and opinions, media and political constructs passed along for so many generations that it’s impossible to find someone who is definitively to blame, for whom we can have a comforting execution, then dust off our hands and proclaim the problem solved because we yanked out the bad guy.
Nihilism is a different sort of belief because, unlike almost all beliefs, it’s a conduit and not an endpoint. Most belief systems lay out a series of static objectives and claim if these are achieved, everything will be as peachy as it can be; the most dangerous are the Utopian ones, which promise an absolute near perfection that has little to do with reality. “Some day we’ll eliminate all war” and “free markets make free souls” both fall into this category. Believing such homilies is akin to thinking that if you buy the right guitar, you’ll be able to automatically create the best music ever, et cetera ad nauseaum. Nihilism does not claim a Utopian solution, and is in fact contra-Utopian: by the nature of its being a philosophical viewpoint, and not a mass trend around which you’re expected to rally, it defines itself as a way of viewing the world including such political mass trends. There is no ultimate solution, no absolute Utopia, only a better mental tool for perceiving and analyzing whatever situations arise. Unlike political rallypoints, it is a highest level abstraction, and one under which all other ideas form a hierarchy assessing their degrees of logicality.
Trendwhores and savvy political manipulators will try to group issues under any belief, including nihilism, thinking that a bullet point list makes it easy for the proles to agree on a course of action (so far, history suggests this is either outright lying or wishful thinking). It’s unlikely that such a thing could occur. Nihilists embrace “extreme” viewpoints because they have seen past the cognitive dissonance, and thus have no problem looking at the world analytically. It’s not extremity for extremity’s sake, which is almost always a psychological device for creating an impossible goal and thus, by claiming to labor toward it, removing responsibility of actually doing something pragmatic. One reason to detest extreme rightist, leftist and green communities is that this is their modus operandi: suggest something insane, then accuse all who don’t agree of selling out, and continuing to labor on with the attitude “only I know the truth, and the rest of you are pretenders, therefore, I’m better than you.” Can we be honest and refer to this as defensive egomania?
Nihilism needs no justification. It follows the pattern of nature, which is evolution: successive replacement of previous forms of organization (“order”,”design”) with better ones. There is no moral imperative to do any given act, only a practical one, in that if a proposed design works better even in some small way, those design details can be incorporated into the status quo, thus forcing it to the next level of evolution. Of course, making any changes introduces new powers and new problems, so the process of evolution continues ad infinitum, unless (as in the case of French and Italians) an evolutionary “harbor” is reached, by which adaptation balances adequately enough to an unchanging environment. If one is, for example, the remnants of a fallen empire, there is not much to do except to live well and not worry too much about greatness receding slowly into memory so far removed it is mythic legend and not a part of current reality.
I was arguing once with a fellow who, when I proposed a high-level abstraction, said, “But isn’t abstraction a Judeo-Christian thing, and therefore, bad?” He fell into the same trap that many at our universities have, in which they assume that language misleads us, therefore we must deconstruct and “go beyond” language, essentially creating incoherence. Look at it this way: some sentences are true, and some are not. Some abstractions make sense, and others do not. How do we tell? How well does each stack up to reality, and by that we mean the process through which reality is created and not its persistent objects, should be our yardstick. An abstraction of some fanciful world where a benevolent unicorn in the sky will sort good from bad, right from wrong, and lead us to a place called Heaven is an abstraction that has little to do with the world in which we live. It is a solipsistic abstraction: it applies to the desires of the individual human, and does not take into account the world in which all humans live. (Nihilists are brave enough to recognize the obvious: individual humans have different strengths and intelligences, and thus, not everyone can perceive or understand such an abstraction, and those who cannot will invent abstractions of a solipsistic nature to compensate – see “cognitive dissonance” above.)
If you take a highly abstract view at the real-world problems of creating a conscious creature, you will see rapidly that the major threat to such a being would be the possibilities of its own mind. Our strengths are our weakness. Because such a creature can imagine, and can predict, and can create in its mind a partial replica of the world to use in guessing what the potential outcome of any action might be – “sun and rain always come in spring, and things don’t grow in winter, so I’ll plant in spring, assuming that this pattern is consistent” – it is also susceptible to conceiving an inaccurate notion of how the world works, and/or becoming emotionally unstable and thus creating a solipsistic version. “When I bless the gods, winter ends and the spring comes” is such an example; a more insidious one is “If I do not harm others, no harm will come to me” (tell that to a band of raiding looters or pillaging Vandals). Still more developed is the root of cognitive dissonance: I will think on how things should be and content myself with that, since I cannot or do not believe I can effect change in reality. Each of these errors is formed from the fundamental mistake of assuming that what exists in the individual human mind is higher than reality as a whole, or can be used to compensate for tendencies in the whole. We die; it sucks; let’s invent “heaven” and perpetual life. Would not it be more ethical, more honest and above all else, more realistic, to simply admit we have no idea what follows death – if anything? (Add to this the complexity of a world we know through the progression of time, yet which might encompass additional or fewer dimensions in some other view, and you have a formula for endless unprovable conjecture taken as fact because well, we’d all like to believe we don’t die; to this I rejoin that if we’re all immortal, this means that the morons who afflict us daily are as well, which might make us reconsider the wisdom of “life eternal.”)
Humans, being highly abstract creatures, are prone to creating abstractions which make sense only in their mind. These are “dead end” or “ultra-discrete” abstractions, in that their only error is a failure of realization that the individual human is part of a larger world, which goes on with or without them. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to witness it, does it make a sound? Of course, but the forest won’t call it a “sound,” and no one will note it or talk about it. We can play definition games all day, and claim that either a sound only exists in the human mind, or that it’s external, but this is a case of redefining the word, not the phenomenon it describes. We might as well call a leaping predatory animal a tiger, and then be shocked and surprised (awed?) when groups of people fail to respond to our urgent warning, “Butterfly!” Similarly, we can call death “life eternal” if it makes us feel better, but that causes zero change to the phenomenon itself, which remains unknown to us. Thinking creatures have a great strength, which is their imaginative and analytical facility, but it is their greatest weakness: they can create “artificial” thoughts which do not relate to the world around them, and thus mislead themselves based on what they’d like to believe, not what they can know from an inspection of their world. There’s much talk about the scientific method – experiment based on conjecture, observe, conjecture, repeat – but isn’t it the same process we use in less formal incarnation to discover our world, from our time as babies nibbling on different objects to test their solidity, to our last moments on earth? In this sense, debugging a computer program or exploring a new continent or taking LSD is the same task as a scientific experiment. We observe the world, make theories about how it works, and then test those theories. Of course, the ones about death cannot be tested, and this opens a giant loophole for us to make a foundational theory about God or “life eternal,” and in order to support it, to invent many other illusions so that it seems like a realistic, complete system of thought.
This human problem – distinguishing the internal world from the external – is not unique to humans, but as they’re the only creatures with “higher” logical functions on earth, they are our only example. It is magnified as a problem when the question of civilization arises, because for the first time, groups must be instructed in organizing principles they cannot directly experience, e.g. “you grow grain, he’ll make bread, and that other guy will distribute it to the people at large.” Where individuals err in assuming their internal worlds are more real than external reality, civilizations err by finding popular assumptions that become law because people act according to them; whole civilizations have perished by upholding the rules that, in theory, will lead them to external life, but by denying reality allow crops to wither, invaders to intrude, decay of internal discipline to make people ineffective. Not everyone must be deluded, but when enough are, the future of the civilization becomes a deathmarch. If you want a working definition of nihilism from a political-philosophical perspective, it is an affirmation of the structure and process of reality, in dramatic contrast to the appearances of objects and the seemingly-real perceptions that turn out to be phantasma of our internal minds, and have nothing to do with external reality. Nihilism is facing facts: whether or not we get eternal life, we have to keep the crops going and invaders outside and internal discipline high, or we will collapse as a functional entity. “Structure” in this context would be understand of our world as it operates, including that people need grain to eat and need to act on realistic principles, or invaders, disease, and internal listlessness will condemn us all.
Currently, our society is a linear construction of opposites that do not exist in nature – they are purely perceptual within human minds: good/evil, profit/loss, popular/unpopular. The best product is not always a necessary product (iPod), nor the best product (SUVs), nor even a good idea (cigarettes), but, well, it’s popular and all that money goes back to its creator, so it is Good according to our lexicon. Similarly, we pick our leaders according to those favored by most people, and therefore, our leaders become those who make the biggest promises and find a way to duck the followthrough; since most people relying on such delusions are not rocket scientists, they quickly forget and go about their lives merrily assuming that because promises were made and the election was won, they’ll come true and everything will be A+ from now on. Some might argue that in nature there is profit and loss, but a quick study reveals that be false: in nature there is success or failure, and it has nothing to do with popularity, or all animals would be immortal. Similarly, some will argue that there’s good (heterosexual intercourse) and evil (anal intercourse) in nature, but when one sees the function of anal intercourse in nature (among apes, appeasing intruders) it is clear that no such judgment “exists,” except in our minds. In our minds… well, that’s not a logical test, according to any methods scientific or otherwise. It’s wishful thinking, in the common parlance.
What is most disturbing about this view, which invariably becomes popular in the later stages of civilization, is that it imposes a singular standard and form-factor upon each person and his or her desires, ambitions, needs – as well as what that person requires to stay alive and live well, a quantity often quite separate from what they think they desire (people, like lab rats, will often pick pleasurable sensations over long-term benefits, thus drink instead of investing their cash in future returns, u.s.w.). In such a mode of thought, we are all form-stamped by a bureaucratic, mechanical or social machine, according to what is popular, and therein we see the origin of this thought process: it selects what most people want to believe, over what is real. Through this mechanism, civilizations move into a senility formed of acting according to internal assumptions, and thus eventually coming into conflict with cold hard reality, whether it’s invading Vandals, crop failure, or internal discohesion. While that end in itself may be far off, the intermediate problem is that living in such societies is, at the lowest and highest levels of our perception, disturbing. Not only is there illusion taken as reality, but it is an illusion created out of what ideas are popular and therefore (because most people are not wise) contra-wisdom and contra-realistic. In later civilization, we all serve the whims of popularity and the illusions of the crowd, awaiting that future day when the shit finally hits the fan and we are forced to acknowledge our reliance on illusion.
What Nihilism Might Be
Solvents separate matter into its component parts. Nihilism could be viewed as a mental solvent which divides illusion from a realistic perception of individual and world as a continuous, joined, inter-reliant process. When one sees the world only in terms of appearance, and has no knowledge of structure, illusions and good idea look similar: death and “life eternal” are simply opposite extremes, not logical results of radically different processes. To someone dwelling in illusion, a fern is a green thing that appears in forests and sometimes, lawn gardens; to someone concerned with design and structure, a fern is a plant of a certain shape, genetic background, and place in an ecosystem whereby it appears when the right conditions – sunlight, soil, water, surrounding plants and animals – exist, and serves a certain role in its processing of sunlight to water and oxygen, strengthening the ground with root mass, and providing homes and food to other plants and animals. While to someone dwelling in illusion human societies may be measured in terms of how little they harm the retarded and infirm and insane, to someone grounded in reality, the only measure of a society is its long-term survival – whether they murder the retarded, or keep them in gilded cages, is completely irrelevant to that final determination (although resources expended on the non-productive is part of what determines success or failure). We can live in our own mental worlds, perhaps, but the world outside of us keeps going, and our interaction with it is the only determination of success or failure; the rest is entirely cognitive dissonance.
(A great and practical example for young people especially is the difference between music quality and hype/presentation. Many artists will be presented to you as “new”,”unique” or even “brutal,” but this has no bearing on the underlying quality of the music. Similarly, neither does production; if the music is well-composed, using harmony and melody and rhythm and structure well, it should be excellent music if played on a single acoustic guitar, a Casio keyboard, or as presented by the band on their label-financed heavy-production debut. Stuff that “sounds good” often is insubstantial, but has excellent production and an enigmatic image, but over time it fails to reward in the way that art does, by creating a poetry of life that enlightens and compels. It may not even hold up to musical scrutiny, when it is pointed out that behind the flutes and sirens and wailing guitars and screaming divas, the song is essentially a variation on a well-known and tedious ballad form or blues form. Hype and production are excellent ways to get people to buy a zero-value product, that is, a repetition of past successes, while getting them to convince themselves that they have found something new and enlightening. If you are a nihilist, you look past whether it “sounds good” or feels right or you like the image or it makes you feel like you’re part of some kind of revolution in behavior, and analyze the music: if it does not stand out from the usual patterns enough to be expressing something not new or unique but particular to its ideas, and demonstrative of those ideas, it’s hype and not reality. It’s “art” and not art. We can play word games here, too, but if you value your time and are not brick-stupid, you’ll see why it’s important to find the real art.)
Another way to view nihilism is transcendence of what we call, in the modern West, the “ego.” Egomania occurs through cognitive dissonance when, reality not being to our liking, we invent our own; at this point, we can either invent it and recognize it as unreal but symbolically evocative, something we call fantasy, or we can invent it and claim it as either a higher reality than the real world, or a reality that supplants existence. Egomania is assertion that our internal worlds are more real than the external world, which is paradoxical as the latter includes the former (we are necessarily accurately represented in the external world, but there is no assurance that it is accurately represented in our internal world). When we think egomaniacally, as most people in the West do, we see the world as limited to our own perceptions and desires, and ignore the continuity between self and external world; we also think according to the form of ourselves, meaning that we see all decisions, ethical and otherwise, as limited to individuals. This cuts us off from a holistic morality by which we might for example see our environment as an extension of ourselves, both as a parent and a process upon which we are dependent; it cuts us off from considering unpopular decisions that nonetheless are right, when we consider the direction of our civilization. Our modern conception of morality is one that regulates the rights, survival and treatment of individuals, but it has no capacity for a holistic morality which sees individuals, environment and civilization as interdependent entities and thus makes decisions at the level of what is best for that convergent nexus.
This brings us to the crux of a philosophical dilemma in the West. The separation of mind and body creates a duality in which we see thoughts and external reality as discrete, isolated entities. One is either an idealism, or a realist, in this view, and never the twain shall meet. From a nihilist perspective, idealism explains realism, in that reality is not simply physical appearance but a structure and process; a “design,” even if we decide there is no Designer (and for our daily lives: does it matter?). This conversion is accomplished by taking idealism, or “the philosophical doctrine that reality somehow mind-correlative or mind-coordinated-that the real objects constituting the ‘external world’ are not independent of cognizing minds, but exist only as in some correlative to mental operations” (Cambridge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Second Edition), to its extreme, which is to assume that the external world and thoughts operate by a single mechanism; in that context, the world operates as an idea, and what is important in the world is not physicality or appearance but idea – design, concept, structure and process. Matching that supposition is an extension of realism, or a belief in the preeminence of external reality, which hyperextends to a study of how reality operates, and from that, a focus on its abstract properties. To analyze reality is to see that it operates like thought; to analyze thought is to see that the world operates much as thoughts do, and therefore, that putting thoughts into flesh is the supreme form of thinking.
Nihilism is a joining of these two extremes through a focus on the practical study of reality and a rejection of preconceptions brought on by anthrocentric viewing of the world, which is necessarily confined to the physicality of individuals and objects as they appear to humans. It is not an attempt to create an obligation, or an ideal, in and of itself, but a reduction of things to their simplest, most real elements so that higher ideals can be created, much as the creation of new civilizations produces a collective focus on the forging of something better than previous civilizations. F.W. Nietzsche wrote of the necessity of “going under” in modernity, and one interpretation of this is that one cannot create “higher” ideals when our concept of higher/lower is linear and predefined; one must remove all value and undergo a “reevaluation of all values,” focusing only on those which survive the test of a his “philosophical hammer,” much like knocking on a wall to find hollow areas. Nihilism is a going under in the form of removal of all value, and construction of values based on reality instead of potentially internalized abstraction. In a nihilist worldview, nothingness is as important as somethingness, as only nothingness can like a midnight predator carry away the somethingness that has outlived its usefulness, is illusory, irrelevant or fanatical. Nihilism is a mental discipline which clarifies outlook by disciplining the mind to understand the structure of reality, and exclude anything which regardless of appearance is not true to that understanding.
In this, it is possible that nihilists witness civilization as it actually is: an eternal process of birth, growth, and an aging brought about by self-obsession, leading rapidly to a distancing from reality, thus irrelevance and death. To remove all preconceptions of value is to have to re-invent value that is relevant to things as they are both right now and eternally, in that throughout history the basic rules of civilization have never changed; either there is a system of organization that makes sense, or there is illusion and ruin. Civilizations start out young and healthy, unified by whatever ideals made their members come together in the first place with the intent of building something new; when succeeding generations take this for granted, they drift into illusory ideals, at which point no “higher ideals” can overcome the illusion, because one cannot get “higher” than the notion of individual self-interest. One must instead go lower, to the state before civilization reformed, to re-design its ideals.
What Nihilism Does For You
If you live in a time when illusion is seen as reality, and reality is an unknown continent, nihilism can on a personal level save you time by removing illusion and leaving only what is honestly relevant to your life and existential happiness. A simple version of this is undergone by many in corporate America who, finding it relatively easy to succeed, then find themselves wanting less time in the office and more spent on those things that are eternally human to desire: family, friends, local community and increase of wisdom and balance in the self. The illusion is that money is more important than anything else; the actuality is that if you have enough, and you have the ability to do the things in life which are more important in the long term (imagine seeing your life from your deathbed) than money, it is not only sufficient but superior to a hollow existence where life is secondary to jobs and payment.
Further, nihilism drives away fears through illusion. If one believes public rhetoric, it will seem necessary to cower under the bed as if hiding from a host of fears: public ridicule, global warming, nuclear war, the Wrath of God, fascism, sodomy, drug users, hackers, Satanists. These vast apocalyptic fears operate for the most part as distraction, keeping our minds off the emptiness of modern life and the inevitability of our society facing consequences of its reckless action. What is important are not fears, but real threats and most importantly, how to fix them. Much like people who hide behind cynicism, most moderns fixate on “raising awareness” of problems, and rarely do anything to address them practically. This creates a culture of fear where in the name of amorphous fears, or balkanized infighting between political and ethnic groups, we miss the point: we can fix our civilization, but we’ll have to do it at a more basic level than politics, economics and social popularity afford.
Nihilism helps many lead better lives. When they cut out the meaningless garbage that infiltrates from television and other neurotic people, they can see their actual needs are simple and easily satisfied. From this, they can see how the larger unaddressed problems – the tedium of modern society, the pollution of nurturing environment, the degeneration of culture and heritage, our loss of wisdom as a civilization – can be important not only for the fragile individual but for future generations; nihilism leads people to holistic moral thinking.
(If you want it in boring, everyday terms, nihilism is a bullshit eliminator. If someone tells you something, look at it with eyes abstracted from everyday life and what people think and what is profitable; look toward what is real, and then find what ideals maintain that status. You like being alive, right? – If not, consider suicide. If you like living, you believe in life, and you’ll do what furthers life. Garbage is not life. Illusion in religious form, political form and social form is one part of this; another is overhyped garage bands, or oversold commercial rock, or trendy books that tell you nothing of importance. It is better to sit in silence and contemplate the universe than to fill your head with garbage. Do you need to watch the mundane movies and pointless TV shows, and entertaining commercial messages? Do you need a sports car? Will owning one more DVD, video game, or CD of not-that-great-after-all rock music help you? When you pull aside the curtains, the truth is there, naked like the contents of your lunch on the end of a fork – apologies to William S. Burroughs.)
The Doctrine of Parallelism
We’re going to make a sizable leap here. As said before, this is an introductory document, a toehold into a philosophical system, and not a complete explanation. When you accept that there is a structure behind reality that acts in the method of thoughts, and when you observe natural surroundings and see how consistent this is, you then are ready to think in parallel. Put simply, parallel thinking is the ultimate refutation of the linearity and binary morality of modern society. If we are to construct right and wrong, they are specific to the situation at hand. Some will condemn this as “situational morality,” but holistic morality is a form of thought that is best applied in specifics; after all, a different rule applies to the wolf than the dove, and different standards apply to the behavior of plumbers, computer programmers, and political leaders. Some will see this as relativism, but under analysis, it’s clear that relativism is one standard of morality applied with forgiveness for disadvantages to certain situations or experiences of individuals; the morality of thinking in parallel says that there is no one standard except reality itself, and that many different types of things acting in parallel create this.
One area where this can be seen is homosexuality. For most heterosexuals, having homosexual behavior occur in neighborhoods or other areas where children are present is not positive; they would rather raise their children according to heterosexual role models and behavioral examples. However, homosexuality occurs, and the best data available suggests that in most cases it is inborn; obviously, some are induced into homosexuality much as many heterosexuals are brought into forms of deviant sexual behavior, through sexual abuse or conditioning in youth (hence the desire for normal, heterosexual role models; most heterosexuals also do not want promiscuity, coprophagia, BDSM, etc. occurring around their children even if solely in a heterosexual context). So what to do with homosexuals, for whom being raised in a heterosexual society can be oppressive, and heterosexuals, for whom having homosexual behavior around can be equally oppressive and deleterious? We think in parallel: some communities will choose to be heterosexual, and others homosexual, and when they meet on neutral ground, it is likely that neither will assert its morality as a dominant, inviolate rigid code. Morality after all is not something we can prove exists, but something we derive from natural structure in order to establish a civilization of the type we desire. Some civilizations will endorse promiscuity and coprophagia, but in doing so, they miss out on some opportunities granted to civilizations with a more disciplined moral code. The converse is also true. There is no one law for the ox and the raven; to do so is to commit tyranny.
Another area where this can be applied is that of recreational chemicals, which is our modern shorthand for perception-altering drugs. Some communities will deny alcohol and cigarettes; some will embrace LSD and marijuana and mushrooms and perhaps even go further. It is likely that the two will never find common ground except where the question of drug use does not arise (Wal-Mart?). When we see experiments in drug legalization, like British Columbia or Amsterdam or Christiania in Denmark, we see an artificial gold rush toward hedonism caused by the fact that, worldwide, there are few relatively safe places to go take drugs. Were it such that in every continent there were some area where the rules on such things were relaxed, it is likely that those who seek drugs could go there and pursue them at a fraction the cost of illicit use. This would not only curb crime, but keep drug use out of normal (heterosexual and homosexual) neighborhoods where such things are not desired as unintentional role models for children, and the cost of drug use – including, let’s be honest, increased laziness and pizza consumption – is considered funds misspent that could otherwise be directed toward bettering other aspects of the community. There is no one rule. We cannot “prove” that drugs are good, or bad, but we can see how in some places they would be helpful and in others, destructive. Do the Hindu communities where marijuana is a sacrament have greater crime and pizza consumption? Would Amsterdam have as many problems if it wasn’t the world nexus of marijuana tourism?
The area most controversial where this could be applied is the taking of human life, and the enslavement of others. Some communities, such as a community formed by those who live according to the doctrines of black metal music, would not have any prohibition on honor killings, death in combat, or even brutal removal of ingrates. In their worldview, honest combat produces a survivor (“winner”) and one judged less able, the dead (“loser”). Most societies find this concept reprehensible, and would never permit it, so it makes sense to have communities where combat to the death, duels and other honor violence, are seen as a way of selecting the more capable citizens. Further, in many communities, it would be seen fit to work by the old Texas standard, “Judge, he needed killing,” whereby bullies, cattle thieves, morons and other undesirables could be removed with tacit consent of community. While many communities would prefer intricate and expensive legal systems, in some areas, if a person was known as a child molestor or cheat or thief, it would be cheaper and easier to look the other way while a local hotblood challenged that person to a fight and attempted to murder him. Cormac McCarthy describes such places in his book “Blood Meridian,” as they are also described in Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”: lands where there is no law except strength, and as a result, where all citizens are ready for combat and by process of evolution, over generations become more apt at it. Are all peoples warrior peoples? Clearly not. Would all communities tolerate this? No. But much as we need plumbers and computer scientists, we need warriors, and if some greater threat manifests itself, it is probable that the people of these warlike communities would be esteemed as valuable combatants.
Another controversial area where localization – the best thought from the leftist side of things has emphasized this theory under that term – becomes preeminent is that of race. Even mentioning race, or that there are physical differences between races, is currently taboo in the West and will get you fired, removed from office, drummed out of volunteer capacities, blacklisted in industry and crucified in the media. History tells us that human races evolved under different climates and different pressures, and therefore have different abilities. We cannot “prove,” objectively, that any one collection of abilities is superior to another. Communities are united by common belief, and some communities will opt for this to be a unification of culture, language and heritage. Some communities will opt to be cosmopolitan, mixed-race communities like New York City. Others will choose to be ethnocentric and to defend their ethnic-cultural heritage as necessary to their future; this preserves their uniqueness, and is the only realistic basis for true diversity. Without this bond, you have Disneyland-style fake communities which give nods to heritage but are basically products of modern time. Let there always be Finns, Zulus, Germans, Basques, Cherokee, Aztec, Norwegian, and even Irish – this is diversity; this is multiculture; this is all of the good things that exposure to different cultures can provide. This is the only mature attitude toward race, instead of trying to produce, as the Bush administration has, one global standard of liberal mixed-ethnic democracy that essentially destroys culture and replaces it with malls and television. The race taboo is propelled by those without a clear cultural heritage who want to revenge themselves upon those who do, much as in high school those with low self-esteem tried to antagonize both nerds and class leaders.
Still another area where localization saves us from our current civilization’s misery is that of intelligence. A nihilist has no use for social pretense that says we are all equal; some are fit to be leaders by virtue of their natural intelligence, and no amount of education or government programs can make someone else be able for that position. Some prefer to correlate this with race, but a nihilist has no use for this, either: even within what George Santayana calls the “favored races” there are many completely stupid people, especially those with the worst kind of stupidity, which is a combination of cowardice and bad leadership skills. Few people mind a dumb person who is humble and follows orders well, but dumb people who agitate for change that benefits dumb people quickly destroy any civilization. Some localities may opt to admit anyone without regard to intelligence or character, but others will wish to only accept those of a commensurate mental level to the best of their populations, and will therefore exclude morons, blockheads, fools and ingrates. This conflicts with the idea of universal rights, and shows us why the concept is illusory: if morons have the “universal right” to move anywhere, what about people who want the right and freedom to live apart from morons? Modern society tells us that the way to do this is to earn enough money to live in an exclusive neighborhood, but even then, one must interact with morons daily for goods and services, in addition to dealing with those morons who inherited money or earned it through stupid means. Social Darwinism, or the idea that those who are the best and smartest earn the most money, has two holes: first, not all intelligent people opt to chase the money wagon and second, most morons are greedy, and many of them succeed through luck or persistence. A nihilist naturally laughs at the idea of correlating money to intelligence, and would prefer to live in a community where morons are excluded.
There are numerous issues that divide communities which can be resolved through this model. Anti-abortion devotees might need their own community, as there’s no way to make a law that both pro- and anti-abortion people will find fair. The constant combat between different groups, whether divided by sex or race or preference of values, exhausts our current civilization because so much of its time and energy is spent on internal conflict. The major reason that we choose this insane method is that it enables us to believe we are united by the form factor of being human, and therefore, that there is no need for belief beyond that. It enables us to ignore nature. However, as Carl Jung observed, by nature humans are of several different personality combinations, and those serve a role in the larger social construct (for example, a Meyers-Briggs “INTJ” personality will be a philosopher). There is no single archetype of human, but different types which match different roles in nature, much as there are different ecosystems for which there are specific combinations of host species. Our environment creates a pattern, and we evolve in a form that matches its unique contours; in the same way, humans have adapted to a self-created environment, civilization.
Paul Woodruff, in his book “Reverence,” pointed out that in modern times we have lost the ability to revere nature and our world. Part of our loss of reverence is this insistence on one-size-fits-all rules for civilization; we are so unstable as individuals that we want a solid, clear-cut, and absolute rule, but nature does not fit this pattern and so we override. One step to regaining reverence is to stop judging objects, actions and people by a linear binary (yes/no) rule and to start thinking in parallel. In some places, there should always be debauchery, and in others, there should always be quiet conservative living. Communities will shed people from newer generations who do not find that type of locality valuable, and those will in turn have to find their own living elsewhere, and define their own path. In this, we escape the illusion that a perfect social construct can be engineered for us all, and that by forcing us through it, something Utopian will emerge. Such illusions convince us to be passive, and to think solely in terms of governmental solutions applied by rote force, which limits our perspective on the manifold options available in almost every situation.
Nihilism in Politics
We define politics as the process of convincing large numbers of people to do something. No belief system can escape politics, unless it deals with the individual outside of civilization, at which point writing it down is hypocrisy. For this reason, although nihilism is a mental discipline and not a political platform, there are some areas in which nihilism will influence modern politics. The first and most obvious is that, unlike most who are either bought off or blind to the inadequacies of the status quo, nihilists will recognize that it is a deathmarch: an illogical path that will ultimately lead to failure, but because saying so is taboo and unprofitable, we all go along with it even though we march to our doom. Look into the future. Our earth will be more, and not less, polluted, because no matter what we do there will be more people than ever using technology and producing waste. A consequence of our population growth will be a lack of natural spaces to enjoy, because every single continent on earth will be divided up into salable land and covered in fences and concrete to the degree that unbroken wilderness will not exist. Nations will no longer convey a cultural identity or heritage, so we will all be citizens of the world and have what is offered in default of culture, namely Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and re-runs of “Friends.” Bred for jobs and obedience, we will lose the best of our people because they are no longer relevant in a world that prizes money and docility over leadership, wisdom, and independent thinking. Endless commercial messages will adorn our cities and, because there is no culture, most will spend time watching television or engaging in equally debasing virtual entertainment. Since leadership will be useless, most people will have such flexible spines that they will be utter whores, and conversation will be worthless and friendship a meaningless term. Won’t be much to live for, so instead, we’ll survive, and hope “someday” it will get better.
The cause of all of this disaster will have been a fundamental inability to deal with reality. Our society, wealthy and powered by cheap fossil fuels, grew at an exponential rate with an inverse relationship to the quality of intelligence, leadership ability and holistic moral outlook of its population. We’ve bred a horde of fools and bred out the quality intelligences, replacing them with “geniuses” like Jay Gould and Bill Clinton. Since consumption is the only logic we understand, we have consumed much of our planet, and focus on symbolic factors like global warming in order to avoid looking at the enormity of the problem. Our governments get better with their computers, cameras and social security numbers in order to ensure that dissidents are more quickly quashed, and they’ve found better methods than locking them up; instead, they proclaim them as taboo-breakers, and let the rest of the citizens boycott them as dangerous to future business. All of this comes too much attention paid to the popularity of ideas, and a denial that what is popular rarely corresponds to an intelligent response to reality. We’ve had leftist governments, and rightist governments, and neither have dealt with this underlying problem.
Nihilism is not a bullet-pointed list, but there are some clearly definable ideas that nihilists will embrace while others do not. Extreme ecology makes sense if you wish to preserve your planet’s life, which directly contributes to maintenance of its climate and land. Localization makes sense if you wish to spare us all from having to find one rule for diametrically opposed ideologues. Preservation of national identity, and granting local communities the right to exclude or murder morons and perverts and other unwanted detritus of the human gene pool, also makes sense. Giving the individual greater existential autonomy than a society of products to buy and jobs at which to serve is more realistic than assuming we can all be crammed into the same mould and out will come perfect, uniform citizens. Realizing that commerce as a motivator does not address the subtle and long-term issues of our society liberates us from having to constantly manipulate each other through money. Finally, recognition that popularity of an idea has no bearing on its fitness for our collective survival frees us from the tyranny of the crowd, and lets us have leaders again, who instead of finding out what is popular and espousing it, find out what is practical and pursue it. Nihilism ends the society of illusions by shattering the power of the Crowd. Societies age and die when popularity becomes more important than pragmatism, and nihilism offers us a way to “go under” this process by removing value and discovering it anew. In this sense, nihilism is immediately political, although it is unlikely that an organized nihilist political presence will be seen.
How to Apply Nihilism
The underlying control level which supports politics is public attitude. If the public is “educated” to expect a concept as positive, and another as negative, it is a trivial matter to associate political issues with one of the two and thus to manipulate them. This creates a metapolitical battleground where ideas and their valuation determines the future means of gaining intellectual currency for ideas; this translates into political power. While nihilism applies to political viewpoints, as shown above, it is primarily efficacious as a change in attitudes and values to those within society, and can be used from that level to later alter political fortunes.
More importantly for those who see to what degree our civilization has become stagnant, nihilism is a guiding force for analyzing the task of creating a future civilization, whether a breakaway colony or a restarting of life in the ruins. Such an outlook is not favorable to a need for instant gratification; unlike conventional politics, which prescribes highly polarized immediate actions which do not change the underlying structure, nihilist thinking proposes enduring changes made slowly through individual rejection of garbage values.
To apply nihilism, start by viewing the world as a nihilist: reject that which has no value in the context of the whole, or the structure of reality, and replace it with things of solid demonstrable value, as found in biology, physics and philosophy. Do what is necessary to have a quality life, but go no further down the path of luxury and materialism, because it is meaningless. Use nihilist principles wherever you are given a choice; if even a tenth of our population refused to buy junk food, its longevity would be limited. Contrast nihilist principles to the “normal” illusory view that most of the population prefers, using short and friendly but insightful statements to point out where null value can be replaced by something of meaning. When people bring up “problems,” give a few words that show where nihilism reduces the illusion to garbage, and suggest a better course of action. Abstain from all of the idiotic things people do, and apply yourself toward constructive tasks. Those who cannot both reject garbage and create better are unworthy of any accolades; they are passive and deserve whatever slavery this world will throw at them.
What is Nihilism?
Having discussed the modes of thought through which an individual passes in being a nihilist, it is now appropriate to use the dreaded “to be” construction to describe nihilism: nihilism is an affirmation of reality so that ideals based on the structure of reality can be applied to thought and action. Like Zen Buddhism, it is a form of mental clearing and sharpening of focus more than a set of beliefs in and of itself; this is why nihilism is a belief in nothing, being both a belief in nothing (no inherent belief outside of reality) and a belief in nothingness (applying nothingness to useless thoughts, in an eternal cycle that like our own thinking, balances a consumptive emptiness against a progressive growth and proliferation of idea). It is a freedom, in a way that “freedom” cannot be applied in a modern society, from the views that others (specifically, the Crowd) apply out of fear, and a desire to use this freedom to create a new and more honest human who can view life as it is and still produce from it heroic ideals. When Nietzsche spoke of the “super-human,” this was his concept: that those who could accept the literality of life and fate and yet still do what is required to create a braver, more intelligent, more visionary human, would rise above the rabble and become a new standard of humanity. While our current definition of “humanity” applies more to pity and blind compassion for individuals, the super-human would think on the level of the structure of reality as a whole, both thinking in parallel and holistically, doing what is right not to preserve individual life but to nurture overall design.
The best thinkers in all doctrines have reached this state of mind. While they may not call it nihilism, and many rail against the form of “nihilism” that is essentially fatalism, or a decision to declare all thoughts and actions impossible and thus to relapse into mental entropy, all have accomplished this clarity of mind and transcendent state of seeing structure and not appearance. Plato, in his metaphor of the cave, describes humanity as imprisioned in a cave of its own perceptual dependence on visible form, and portrays philosophers-kings – his “super-humans” – as those who leave the cave and, while blinded by the light of real day for the first time, find a way to ascertain the true nature of reality and then to return to the cave, to explain it to those who have seen theretofore only shadows. This state of mind is heroic in that one sees what is important to an overall process, and is willing to assert that higher degree of organization whatever the cost, thus combining a realism (perception of physical world “as is”) with an idealism (measuring the world in contrasts between degrees of organization in thought) into a heroic vision, in which life itself is a means to an end, and that end is a greater organization or order to existence as a whole. Nihilism is a gateway to this worldview.
The Crowd serve death because through their great fear of it, they create rules which do little more than restrict the best among us, who they fear because they cannot understand them. What defines a crowd is its lack of direction, and its need to be led, and if it is to be led, a preference for one among it who will throw out a popular idea and thus congeal its unformed will into some lowest common denominator which is actionable. Reality does not play by this game, because to adopt a constant lowest common denominator is to descend in both ideals and evolution, because that which applies evolutionary pressure is a striving for larger goals. The humans who were content without fire remained little more than apes; those who needed fire were driven into the northern climates, away from the easily nourishing jungle, and eventually thrust themselves forward toward other goals which supported the need for fire: organized civilization, language, learning, and the concept of ideals versus materialism, or a simple assurance of comfort. Evolution forced them to consider “reasons why” and therefore, the develop themselves in such a way that those who could understand reasons why could compel themselves to do what was otherwise inconvenient and uncomfortable. From this is the root of all heroism that produces the best of what society offers: philosophy, art, architecture and morality.
The Crowd creates a reality to serve its fears, and by imposing it, crushes realism, because to point out that the emperor wears no clothes is to offend and disturb the crowd. Why might a nihilist insist on accuracy in taboo matters such as eugenics, race and environmental needs to reduce population? — because the Crowd will go to its death before it will ever do such a thing. To notice reality is to point out that Crowd reality is a complete lie, an illusion, and a sick farce designed to supplant the flagging egos of those with low self-esteem and relatively low intelligence (attributes necessary to be a member of a crowd, and not an independent thinker or leader). Those who create civilizations are succeeded by those who could not do the same, and by virtue of this opulence, societies soon breed crowds that through their greater numbers demand to control reality. One either illustrates the lie of their artificial reality, and points society in another direction, or drowns in the weight of lowest common denominator demands; all societies perish this way. Before the invader at the gates can conquer, or the disease can enfilade the population, or internal strife can tear apart a nation, there must be a failure of organization and even more a failure of will toward something higher than that which is convenient and materially comfortable, commercially viable, popular, etc. Dying societies inevitably create a Satan or Osama bin Laden to which they assign blame for their failing, but it is within; this is why while a nihilist may recognize the truth about race or eugenics, it is impossible to logically blame Negroes or the retarded for the downfall of a society. Blame is not useful, but diagnosis is, and an accurate diagnosis suggests that ordinary capable people become misinformed and accept mediocre ideas, at the behest of the Crowd, and thus condemn themselves to doom. The Crowd will always exist, but in healthy societies, it is kept in check by the wisdom of others.
Much as there is a “super-man” possible in our future, in our past and present there are Undermen, who are those with no higher goals than philosophical materialism: a denial of all value outside the physical world and its comforts. Those who take this lazy attitude to the form of a political agenda are Crowdists, and they can be found in Left and Right alike, supported by those who are emboldened by pity, or the feeling of superiority one gets for helping someone of lesser ability or fortune. Nihilism addresses such illusions and negates them, using nothingness as a weapon to clear the earth so that somethingness can again take root. A nihilist has no use for pity or the kind of low self-esteem that needs the response of others in order to feel good about itself. Like Zen monks, or European knights, a nihilist acts according to what is right by the order of the universe, and does so independently of consequences, including personal morality. To be thus independent from social conditioning, which is not as much a process of evil governments/corporations (“Satan”) as by the neurotic concerns of peers (“the enemy within”), is to crush the worthless and destructive opinions of the crowd, so expect retribution wherever one of them has power. Yet to have this state of mind is not to blame them, or those who wield pity, as they are misinformed rather than malevolent, and with better leadership – achieved, in part by acting independently and thus putting the lie to their false “reality” – they will act in a better state of mind. It goes without saying that such people are incapable of becoming super-humans but, while thus obsolete for our optimal future, will be the parents and grandparents of those who, if bred according to rigorous evolutionary standards, will become superhuman.
To distill this to a simple equation: one can either accept negativity (death, defecation, loss, sorrow) in life, or one can use cognitive dissonance to create a pleasant-sounding reality which denies it while asserting only the positive comforts of life, but to do so is to miss out on the challenge of life. To accept good and bad together as a means toward the continuation of life, and as a necessary part of the evolution that shaped us from mice into apes into humans, is a fully mature attitude and one that only a small portion of the population can understand. Most of you reading this will not understand nihilism and physically cannot; breed well and hope your children are smarter.
In popular lore, there is frequent mention of “mind over matter,” but this is usually interpreted to mean using the mind to convince the flesh to do things it would not ordinarily do, like run marathons and lift cars from runover children. The concept of transcendence is an evolution of this which harmonizes with the nihilist emphasis on structure over appearance as well as the idealist concept that thoughts define reality more than physicality. Transcendence occurs when, acknowledging all that is destructive and uncomfortable in the world, we take a greater delight in the idea of what we are accomplishing, not as much what it means in the anthrocentric valuation, but an appreciation of its design in the greater working of our universe. While we are a small part of that whole, transcendence has us find a place in it and to appreciate its design and significance in that context, even to the degree of “forgiving” the world for our suffering and eventual death, and thus lightening our burden by recognizing that physicality and demise are secondary in importance to achievement of idea, whether that is a moral concept, a symphony, a painting, or even a life lived normally according to moral principles in which there were intangible rewards like learning, time spent with family, and personal betterment achieved by facing fears and surmounting them, gaining new abilities.
It might be said that the ultimate process of idealism, in which reality is “mind-correlative” or composed of thoughts or thoughtlike phenomena, is transcendence, or the achievement of valuation of idea over all physical comfort or discomfort. It is not asceticism, per se, in that it is not gained through denial of physical existence, but on the contrary, asserts the importance of organizing physical existence according to idealized design. It converges with heroism in that the idealist in this context acts regardless of personal consequences, because if the world is idea, the only way to truly express that idea is by putting it into action in the world. This form of belief unifies the previously divided mind and body, and raises the human from the level of a reactionary animal to a planner and a creator who is also undivided from his or her natural role. Historically, two of the most important philosophers in European canon, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, are united in this belief: Nietzsche sought a “pragmatic idealism” while Schopenhauer was a “cosmic idealist,” yet both appreciated the role of heroism in creating higher degrees of order. While Nietzsche derived his greatest inspiration from the ancient Greeks, Schopenhauer found great meaning in an ancient Indian text known as the Bhagavad-Gita, which introduces its view of philosophy through the viewpoint of a warrior concerned over the death and destruction he is about to unleash on his fellow humans. Through that question, the text explores the idea of placing idea over physical consequences by explaining that all reality is continuous will originating in a mystical source, and thus that while lives come and go the eternal order of reality remains, and creating a more organized harmony with that force is the goal of any heroic individual. As if proving parallelism through history, the ancient Greeks lauded similar concepts in their worship of heroic death and tragedy, in which triumph is found through assertion of higher ideal even when death and ruin inevitably follow. Praising what is right in a holistic sense over what is advantageous to the individual is the primary trait of all heroic, idealistic and nihilist philosophies.
In such modes of thought, the human being unifies imaginative and analytical facilities, using a method not dissimilar to science to interpret the world, and a method not far from art in projecting a next evolutionary stage, driven by such non-linear thought processes as informed emotion and calculated creativity. In the great transcendental thinkers of the West, most notably Ralph Waldo Emerson and Johannes Eckhart, the desire to merge these two seemingly disparate mental operations was the foundation of a spirituality based, as is Buddhism and ancient Christianity, on a quietude of the soul and a mystical state of mind in which one was “in” Nirvana or Heaven, a state of clarity both regarding life as suffering and a purpose and vision of what can give life meaning. All Romantic philosophies and art have this basis as well, and are equally mystical, as such states of mind cannot be achieved through linear description. Nihilism can be seen as a spiritual device for achieving this quietude of soul by abrading the meaningless and insignificant facts of physicality in order to clearly see the Idea, much as a philosopher leaving Plato’s cave would stand in reverent silence at the first glimpse of the sun. It is thus despite its primal origins as a “going under” through removal of meaning, a reevaulation of meaning and value, and a dramatic opposition to philosophical materialism, or the doctrine that the physical world and individual comfort are of overriding importance and thus outrank thought and idea.
Materialism is the essence of every destructive action taken by humanity, even though most who practice it would have no knowledge of it by that name. Most people, being well-meaning but misinformed and physically unable to undergo the cognitive process of holistic vision, drift toward materialistic ideas and strive toward what gives them personal physical comfort and wealth. In the modern time, materialism manifests itself in three primary fronts:
Commerce is the picking of the most popular product; oversocialization the organization of society according to who is most popular (usually he who promises alcohol, sex, and money); democracy is leadership not by what is right but what is popular. Materialism encourages the individual to think only of their own preference, and to limit thought at that which directly impacts individual comfort, and thus is blind to thinking for the whole of humankind and environment. When one thinks on that level, self-interest replaces finding the right answer according to the structure of the external world, and humans become solipsistic. Further, because materialism is an opposite to idealism, it causes the Crowd to gather and tear down whatever idealists dare rise among them. Only such a misinformed and dysfunctional thought process explains humanity’s ongoing attempted genocide of its environment, its contentment to labor in horrifically boring jobs, its seeming satisfaction with petty interpersonal strife and a lack of reverence toward humans and other life forms alike, and its reliance on a world of illusion whose empty values render individual souls empty, causing neurosis and anomie at all levels of existence.
(Many humans are so divided between mind and body that they prefer ideas of a solipsistic nature to physicality, much like some drug addicts prefer intoxication to reality. Nihilism allows us to see reality as the one and only expression of both life and thought, and therefore, to see the true stakes in our dilemma, especially regarding our environment, whose destruction – a process not of complete obliteration but of disrupting its complex internal mechanations, which require more land and sea and air than humanity – will not only be the greatest tragedy of our species, but an unforgivable offense.)
Nihilism is the soft earth at the start of a wooded path toward seeing life in a more developed way. Before this path, life seems to be suffering and boredom punctuated by horror (paraphrased from H.P. Lovecraft), without meaning or direction, even when one creates an absolute God and corresponding Heaven where things are otherwise. This state of depressed mind must be like that of the inhabitants of Plato’s cave, who find themselves bored at an endless procession of shadows yet unaware of another way. A nihilist is annointed with knowledge, and must return to the world at large to speak of the sun which filters through the woods toward the end of the path. There is hope; there is meaning; there is reason and purpose to life. Whether one is a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Muslim, this truth can spoken in a familiar language, as it has been discovered by the best thinkers of all religions and cultures. It is universal not only to humanity, but to all thinking beings. From nothingness comes everything, and when the two are seen as continuous, we are finally aware of the infinity of life and the great continuous gift that consciousness must be.
I am a writer. Therefore, I compile ideas, and write about them. This is my contribution in the great world in parallel. Yours may be different. We do not need a society solely composed of writers. You can understand these ideas, if you’re brave enough, and put them to work for you in whatever it is that you do: teaching, roadwork, computer programming, plumbing, soldiering, journalism, drug dealing, politics. It is important that you understand them, as nothing is worse than appearance without structure, as it has us chasing the ideals of our memories in a context in which they no longer apply. I am a writer, and so I write. Find your own path. If you follow any path of thought to its full logical conclusions, you will discover what is enumerated in introductory form in this article, and you will be ready, if you have inner integrity and a love for being alive, to take a stand for what you now believe: Bring your sword, bring your censure, bring your Cross – I have found it; I am ready.
(Inspired by conversations with Todd Spivak, lowtec and g0sp-hell. Dedicated to Anton Bruckner.)