Furthest Right


Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors wandered between Europe and Asia, living as nomads who hunted and practiced limited agriculture by cultivating patches of useful plants that could be harvested along with nuts, roots, and mushrooms for nutritious food.

These primal people were as smart as we are but had a different outlook on life. They were purely naturalistic: they acted as self-interested predators, formed families to reproduce, but other than loyalty to their hunting-tribe that supported them, were uninterested in civilization or communicating with others.

Although they had language and writing, they rarely used these since anything which could not be explained directly was a risk if it got into the wrong hands. As naturalistic predators, they recognized the risk of an enemy within the gates empowered by knowing more than he should.

However, time goes on, and much as entropy reduces options by distributing energy, nomads eventually left behind enough descendants who stayed in one place and worked the land to produce agricultural civilization. The space remaining for wandering dried up and so these original humans joined their cousins in permanent civilization.

In retrospect this may have been a mistake because humanity moved from the Age of Naturalism into the Age of Idolatry. Agricultural civilizations united their people through loyalty to an object, and whoever had the object ruled them, but this backfired as soon as someone self-interested got ahold of the sacred conch or scepter.

To counter that risk, civilizations moved into the Age of Symbolism after a few thousand years. This allowed them to transfer from idols to concepts, and use concepts like property rights and humanist morality to control people. Somewhere in there a secular version, Leftism, also emerged.

The point of using symbols to control people is that it does not allow for someone to seize the scepter and rule; however, it turned out to be even more precarious, because now ordinary people used these concepts to rationalize for what they wanted or desired.

Interestingly, this caused a death spiral. Ordinary people using the concepts of power did not lessen the strength of those concepts as a control device but in fact accelerated it. Societies built around symbolism shuttle between opposite extremes of anarchy and authority.

For us to escape this cycle, we need to escape symbolism and get to hard realism about human motivations; that is, we need to realize that what we “know” and “intend” are not so much plans as they are rationalizations after the fact, and morality as a proxy for socializing is used to backfill the reasoning and retcon the narrative.

Justifications, rationalizations, and excuses make up the bulk of human thought. Most of us act on impulse, then invent reasons why we “should” have done that later, not realizing that we did it because we could do it and it was lower impact than any other options.

This means that our symbols are not being used as goals but as methods of justifying non-goals which consist of the most predictable regressions of human behavior. Our symbols are our rationalizations; we use means-over-ends logic to rationalize in terms of symbols.

To clarify our thinking, we need to detach from the idea of magic symbols that create a shared understanding which is objective, universal, and absolute. We need to instead realize that humans act only in self-interest and they need to be managed this way, not through rules and social moralism.

Nihilism offers an entry to this new world:

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.

To understand the above, it makes sense to realize that in this context, “values and…[things] known or communicated” refers to values, truths, and communications in an absolute, objective, and universal context. In other words, the assumption that identical meanings are understood between all human beings.

We can go into the many reasons why that is false, but the big points are variations in (a) character (b) intellectual (c) experience and (d) motivations or aesthetics. Not everyone wants the same thing, can understand the same things, or is interested in pursuing the same things; instead, they pursue their self-interest as they can understand it.

That means that potentially most of humanity is chasing its self-interest in places where it will not be rewarded because the knowledge or ability of the individuals in question is insufficient for the task. Such is the nature of natural selection: those who can cognitively adapt and perceive their environment more accurately go farther.

Nihilism arrives in many varieties, each addressing an area of philosophy, which ignores nihilism as an epistemological method or theory of knowledge and how we can purify it of distractions, deflections, irrelevancies, and incompleteness. The many varieties of nihilism include:

  • Moral nihilism, for example, rejects any possibility of justifying or criticizing moral judgments, on grounds such as that morality is a cloak for egoistic self-seeking, and therefore a sham; that only descriptive claims can be rationally adjudicated and that moral (prescriptive) claims cannot be logically derived from descriptive ones; or that moral principles are nothing more than expressions of subjective choices, preferences or feelings of people who endorse them.
  • Political nihilism calls for the complete destruction of existing political institutions, along with their supporting outlooks and social structures, but has no positive message of what should be put in their place.
  • [E]pistemological nihilism denies the possibility of justifying or criticizing claims to knowledge, because it assumes that a foundation of infallible, universal truths would be required for such assessments, and no such thing is available.
  • Cosmic nihilism regards nature as either wholly unintelligible and starkly indifferent to basic human concerns, or as knowable only in the sense of being amenable to scientific description and explanation. In either case, the cosmos is seen as giving no support to distinctively human aims or values, and it may even be regarded as actively hostile to human beings.
  • Existential nihilism negates the meaning of human life, judging it to be irremediably pointless, futile and absurd.

In each of these we see a single statement: innate values, truths, and communications are human projections. These are not shared between humans, so the idea of there being some “one truth” or “we are all one” goes out the window immediately, as does any notion of the Tower of Babel Utopia that people prefer to believe in.

If we took these to their logical extension, they would state naturalism: moral nihilism is to do what is in your advantage, political nihilism is to act in self-interest, epistemological nihilism says you believe whatever is in your genes and interest, and cosmic nihilism means the world will always be at least partially incomprehensible to humans.

At the core of nihilism is a distrust of human perception not merely for being unequal in distribution, but for its inherent bias toward justification, rationalization, and excuses after the fact of making a choice:

The most common rationales for nihilism these days do not appeal to supernaturalism, or at least not explicitly. One cluster of ideas appeals to what meta-ethicists call “error theory,” the view that evaluative claims (in this case about meaning in life, or about morality qua necessary for meaning) characteristically posit objectively real or universally justified values, but that such values do not exist.

Humans build their thinking on the idea that there are immutable truths that “everybody knows” like that all people are equal, every child is important, diversity is our strength, economic growth is necessary, masturbation makes you go blind, and carrots reverse the effect.

Your average person visualizes a space hovering above us like Heaven, shared between all humans, where ideas have the same meaning in every human mind, sort of like being plugged into the Borg or Matrix. This lets them believe that laws and goals are objectively understood by all people (universal) and binding (absolute).

In reality, a word, fact, or moral value conceptualized in one mind stays there; at best, the mind can gesture to other minds with tokens, symbols, and images, and hope that those minds can comprehend most of what is being passed on and will interpret it charitably.

Nihilism can be considered heretical in that it rejects the basis of civilization, namely the notion that we can agree on certain ideas and have them exist in the floating space of absolute, universal, and objective truths. It rejects the idea of the shared space and any motivation except self-interest which sometimes overlaps.

Naturally, there are exceptions. Certain simple notions, like “2+2=4,” can be shared among a group, assuming that all are numerate. We can agree the sky is blue, the law forbids murder, and how much a kilogram weighs. But these concepts refer to others, and those over time get worn down.

Are we sure the sky is blue, or cerulean? What is blue, anyway… perhaps it is indigo. Even a term like “murder” depends on a house of cards of assumptions. Some killings are justified, so those are Officially not murder in “the cloud” of ideas we share. Maybe the killer was insane, and then we cannot punish, and so on.

The heretical doctrine of nihilism rejects the idea of shared truths, values, and communications, but this obliterates the social nature of meaning:

In the 20th century, nihilism encompassed a variety of philosophical and aesthetic stances that, in one sense or another, denied the existence of genuine moral truths or values, rejected the possibility of knowledge or communication, and asserted the ultimate meaninglessness or purposelessness of life or of the universe.

The term is an old one, applied to certain heretics in the Middle Ages.

If one finds meaning in what others believe, then nihilism creates the “ultimate meaningless or purposelessness” of existence, but savvier minds find that we cannot have a shared purpose in life. We each have our individual destinies. Therefore, life is still what it is, and the meaning of life is to live well, but that is not shared by all.

Some are destined after all to self-destruction. What is the meaning of life for a murderer driving drunk while firing a shotgun at the police? Probably the remaining time he has left will not include much contemplation. His destiny at that point is to be a warning to others.

In this way, by destroying the notion of shared meaning, nihilism liberates people to seek higher degrees of meaning than can be even plausibly shared. This is not an individualist argument, but a statement of the differences among people in the context of natural selection, with some being more perceptive than others.

The current social standards out there fear this because it creates an inherent hierarchy. Some are more sensitive, therefore better adapted to their environment, and therefore not just better leaders but perhaps people who should have more wealth and more offspring. This provokes much clashing of teeth and wailing from the herd!

As Fred Nietzsche points out, the herd are deceived by their own rationalization of their self-interest (and desires, usually a runaway misinterpretation of self-interest) through the intellect:

As a means for the preserving of the individual, the intellect unfolds its principle powers in dissimulation, which is the means by which weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves — since they have been denied the chance to wage the battle for existence with horns or with the sharp teeth of beasts of prey. This art of dissimulation reaches its peak in man. Deception, flattering, lying, deluding, talking behind the back, putting up a false front, living in borrowed splendor, wearing a mask, hiding behind convention, playing a role for others and for oneself — in short, a continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity — is so much the rule and the law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among them. They are deeply immersed in illusions and in dream images; their eyes merely glide over the surface of things and see “forms.” Their senses nowhere lead to truth; on the contrary, they are content to receive stimuli and, as it were, to engage in a groping game on the backs of things.

Most people rely on the idea of the thought-cloud as the basis for all that they know as true, instead of believing in realism, or the idea that what we observe and measure in the world tells us what is real, and from that we can see what is true in the sense of “actual” outside the human mind.

These people have fallen into the Age of Symbol and worship of the symbol; they worship the truth, not the thing it refers to in reality itself. Which actual believer is harmed by blasphemy? None: they hear the rants against the symbol we call “God,” but the thing to which it refers remains untouched.

People in the Age of Symbolism tend to believe in magic symbols, words, and images. To them, speaking the name of something — albeit in a human tongue — gives them power over it. Cynics say this allows them to worship the symbol like Pharisees or Sophists while ignoring the need to sustain that to which it refers.

For these modern people, losing the name of God would be worse than losing faith in God. They can see nihilism only from the thought-cloud perspective, which is that loss of symbols means a total lack of meaning, when in fact nihilism simply claims that humans are not gods and therefore symbols are not gods either:

If one thinks that the existence of God is required to underwrite morality, then it would be more sensible to claim that if God does not exist then nothing is permissible (as Jacques Lacan once observed [1991: 139]).

Almost all of the “nihilism” identified out there is merely fatalism, or a lack of belief in anything because of a lack of belief that life will ever get better for the individualism. While a despairing form of individualism, this is still individualism, and like the rest misses the bigger picture.

Much of the anarcho-kiddie nihilism restates Christianity: without the symbol God, there can be no meaning in anything, so just give up and distract yourself with something amusing or desired while you wait for death to take you like a leaf in the wind.

However, actual nihilism simply rejects the thought-cloud and points out that human perception is unequal which gives us an incentive to find the most perceptive humans possible.

If you want axiological nihilism or simply a scientific approach to the interaction between human cognition and the world, it begins with a translation of the first quoted definition to one that takes into account a denial of the pretend universality, absoluteness, and objectivity of values, truths, and communications:

A nihilist refuses to accept the assertion that there are absolute, universal, and objective forms of truth, communications, and values.

Nihilism is skepticism of the stories humans tell themselves and the notion that these can be shared. It essentially portrays humanity as technically solipsists, since we are each locked in worlds of our big brains and what we can see we try to communicate with mixed results.

While nihilism is a form of extreme realism and skepticism toward human notions, it also serves to liberate humanity from rationalism by rejecting the idea that we can actually know much of anything, requiring us to make irrationalist estimates instead:

There were irrationalists before the 19th century. In ancient Greek culture — which is usually assessed as rationalistic — a Dionysian (i.e., instinctive) strain can be discerned in the works of the poet Pindar, in the dramatists, and even in such philosophers as Pythagoras and Empedocles and in Plato. In early modern philosophy — even during the ascendancy of Cartesian rationalism — Blaise Pascal turned from reason to an Augustinian faith, convinced that “the heart has its reasons” unknown to reason as such.

The main tide of irrationalism, like that of literary romanticism—itself a form of irrationalism — followed the Age of Reason and was a reaction to it. Irrationalism found much in the life of the spirit and in human history that could not be dealt with by the rational methods of science. Under the influence of Charles Darwin and later Sigmund Freud, irrationalism began to explore the biological and subconscious roots of experience.

This connects to literary Romanticism through the notion of aesthetics. We choose what seems to point toward the transcendentals — the good, the beautiful, the actual, and the excellent (arete) — because this is where we desire to go.

That gets us arguing forward, in terms of affirmative positive acts we can take to create the conditions for more of the manifested ideals of the transcendentals, even if massively imperfectly, instead of arguing backward from assumed truth toward our actions being justified under it.

In short, nihilism both attacks our sense of belief and also liberates us to believe what is good without having to translate it into symbols for others and then use those symbols in place of the goal, a process called inversion. Nihilism restores human thinking to a naturalistic dimension by this method.

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