Nihilism’s Power

Nihilism’s Power
March 3, 2018

Nihilism as the fallen child of thought’s double capacity to entertain all possibilities and to doubt everything.

Given a ‘root statement’ or ‘root sentiment’ given any belief, value system, perspective, axiom or rule for life, etc. it seems always possible to discover or imagine a ‘world’ which corresponds to it; which satisfies these conditions. If I begin with a certain idea of what I can see/find, seeing/finding it is possible, if only in the imagination, if only by the power of belief and wanting-to-see.

But thought proceeds to check this world of its imagination — the world it sees to the extent that it sees what it wishes to see — with the world ‘as it is’, the world that often refutes, ‘objects to’, the world that we’ve devised.

Under the natural conception at least, the ‘real’ world — nature’s indifference to human wishes and meanings, to the progress of civilization, to the dialectic of history, etc. — contains no inherent value or purpose. Thus any world that we imagine as corresponding to our ‘root’ set of beliefs (about how things are, how things should be, what is worthwhile, etc.) is projected over an abyss. Thought can always find room to doubt, because the world ‘as it is’ always invites the invalidation of the world we imagine.

Any story, any account of things can always be challenged and shown to be more ‘fictional’ than ‘real’. Nihilism names a kind of ‘belief’ in this obliterating quality, the inherent destructibility of stories and beliefs. In practice it can itself become a belief in the quasi-‘natural’ view that everything is ultimately pointless; or at least that there is nothing whatsoever to lean on, outside of our own acts of fabrication and belief (thus its tie to ‘existentialism’).

Any manner of belief — any believer — can raise an objection to the nihilist’s objection. But it will require a suspension of disbelief in the gap that separates the story that gives meaning, the world we devise and believe in, and the obdurate resistance of ‘reality as it is’.

The result is not that there is no truth per se, only a revelation into the difficulty of maintaining any truth as true; the work it takes and the tests it must undergo, if it is to be believed as true because it is true, and not just because one wishes it were so. This is perhaps tied to the ‘work’ of the human — the human who, despite everything, seems teleologically oriented toward finding, creating, and seeing a meaningful world. Where the consequences of nihilism meet this task, it is inevitably up against the abyss of imminent non-meaning that humans undertake such work.

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