A Place for Nihilism

I asked a pretty provocative question fairly recently that’s actually a two-parter, and it deals with something that I personally hate but I think is worth talking about: nihilism.

The question was: Does nihilism have a place in culture? And if so, what?

I’ll give you my take on this, and it’s as lawyerly as you’d expect: YES AND NO.

NO. Nihilism doesn’t create. Nihilism is, to boil it down to is essence, the belief that life is meaningless. Therefore, any culture that is based on nihilism will eventually collapse and be subsumed by a culture that actually does believe in something, because you can’t create something out of nothing unless you’re God, and nihilists aren’t God. They think they speak with similar authority about “the way things really are” because they can totally see the true nature of life and existence, and it’s ugly and bleak and so on. 

YES. Nihilism has a place in a culture’s art, but as a cautionary tale and not its defining feature. In the realm of fiction, it can be a fantastic motivating factor for a villain. Think of all the stories you’ve read or seen that involve an antagonist who believes that life is so awful it deserves to be destroyed. I know you can. I’ll tell you one right now that leaps off the top of my head: Kefka in Final Fantasy VI. Or how about the Joker in everything he appears in? 

Nihilism is a good foil to use when contrasting evil against good, ugliness against beauty, and lies against truth. It can make the good, the beautiful, and the true shine all the brighter, for when juxtaposed against nihilism, they are shining beacons in an endless dark.

Nihilism seems to be trendy because we’re in a post-scarcity, post-meaning, post-sanity age with nothing left to do but eat ourselves. This is why nobody cares about our fine arts like painting and sculpture, poetry, and orchestral music: They and their practitioners are so deep into their theories, and their own buttholes, that they’re utterly incomprehensible and meaningless to regular folk, not to mention ugly. Pop culture is little better, but it’s the last bastion of anything resembling a culture that America has. This is kind of sad, and it’s actively under the same assault fine arts are, but there’s at least more resistance and alternative culture creation going on in the pop culture sphere. 

But endless moping about the meaninglessness of everything isn’t a harmless amusement. It’s a dangerous idea that spreads despair and brutalizes people into looking into the sewer, metaphorical or otherwise, for meaning when they should be looking to something higher, whatever that may be. Instead of aspiring to lofty heights, those at the top would rather wallow in filth, and they want to drag you down with them.

Nihilism is a part of this plan. Just kill yourself, and so on. But I wonder if those who make money peddling such bleakness actually want to die themselves, or just want you to die live a miserable gray existence as you wait to die . . . while paying money for the privilege of consuming their product which reinforces the fact that life is meaningless, and pretty ugly to boot?

It’s a scam, in other words. Nearly everything in modern life pushed by official channels is a scam of some sort. That’s actually a fundamental feature of our age, at least here in America: The pathological inability of any institution to (a) perform its stated objective, and (b) tell the truth about anything. This goes for the arts as well. 

Fight despair. Use nihilism as a cautionary tale or as the motivation for your villains. This will make your story ring true and connect with your audience, because deep down in their soul they know that they were meant for more than misery and gray despair. 


No misery or gray despair in my books. Just fun and adventure. Check them out here.

20 comments

      • I’m not sure how it’s parasitical or a lie, but it might be ugly. If you read ‘Man’s search for meaning’ I think you could see how it can be helpful to some. It depends on how you look at things…just like the images at the top of the article, it can cast you down into despair or set you free. I think almost everyone who realizes nihilism gets stuck in the valley of despair, and some don’t get out.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Nihilism is only correct if there’s no God. If there is no God then why are atheists always screaming about “rights” and “justice” that they know doesn’t exist, by their own logic? Whether you’re dust in five seconds or fifty years makes no difference. Just because they want to make play pretend rules for everyone else doesn’t make it right, or even sensical. Yet they can’t stop.

      The art problem with modern culture are all the humanists who deny this obvious outcome to their own belief system, leading them to make incomplete, or even backwards, art. It’s ultimately hollow and meaningless, despite whatever alternate message they wish to get across. There’s nothing there. It leads to nothing.

      “Yes, life is meaningless, but we should pretend it’s not” is not a philosophy that can build anything sustaining. Hence, the current meltdown in the west.

      There is only Everything, or nothing. We are very quickly coming to the point where everyone is going to have to make a choice between the two, because there is no other option.

      It says something that those who say they believe in nothing never actually seem to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alex

        It’s helpful to some is a cop out. Show me how nihilism has benefitted people and contribute to the common good. JD has effectively refuted nihilism.
        It simply doesn’t sustain anything and eventually cops out because it’s false. Existence has meaning.

        xavier

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Isn’t it amazing how many edgy books, movies, and albums from the last half of the 20th century hold up surprisingly well when you step back and interpret them as cautionary tales?

    Rocky Horror: all this sex and glam rock ruins lives in the end
    Phantom of the Paradise: stardom blackens your soul and ruins you
    Five Easy Pieces: the “geographic cure” is a myth

    Etc

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah! That’s what I realized some years ago—you can take these nihilistic stories and artworks a different way than how they’re probably intended. I keep coming back to the comic book Watchmen, but it’s such a good example—Rorschach wasn’t intended to be the hero, but he resonated with more readers as the hero than Ozymandias did. Truly amazing.

      Like

  2. Yep, that place is called Mordor. A real ****hole from what I’ve seen.

    “Fight despair.”

    To that, I’ll say: “Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath! Now for ruin! And the red dawn! FORTH EORLINGAS!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nietzsche recognized two conclusions of nihilism, passive despair and the amoral will to power. The will to power is very prevalent in our culture, especially as we have become less trusting as a society and less Christian. Nihilism produces the conditions that Hobbes incorrectly identified as the state of nature without an overbearing government: men’s lives will be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Dog eats dog in the violent competition for resources. Those types of people who passively despair are typically those who can afford to, or will starve.

    There is a strong will to power in identity politics and socialism today. The adherents will take what they want because they can, because they have strength in numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alex, not our host said: “Nihilism may be a bad thing for many, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” But I think it is wrong, despite the suffering across the world, I do believe there is meaning to life and purpose. Not only is it a terrible thing for many to adapt, it’s also wrong. I hope you don’t find life meaningless, I don’t want to presume. take care.

    —Alexander (our host),
    Nihilism can be interesting for a hero as well, or main character, to continue on despite perceiving things as meaningless. While sometimes played for laughs, most of the time the sincerity of Captain America was respected; so mabye there’s a shift in pop culture (don’t know about the more “refined” arts) regarding nihilism, anti-heroes and such. Seems like these things go in waves. But who needs to wait for it, if people want to create new heroes who reject nihilism, I’m all for it.

    —-I think one of the hardest things in this world is to have faith in the face of suffering.

    cheers

    Liked by 1 person

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