Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A Critique of Active Nihilism

What is nihilism? Nihilism suggests that everything is of no significance, value, or meaning. It therefore surprises me to see some self-proclaimed nihilists think that there is significance, value, and meaning in life. They call this sort of thing "active nihilism."

To me this active nihilism seems like selective nihilism. These active nihilists are using the philosophy of nihilism to destroy everything they don't like and then they put nihilism away to elevate those values they do like, yet these values they elevate seem immune from the nihilistic philosophy they applied to all other values.

The essay I will critique is called Nihilism - The Continuity of Life. Let's begin with the definition of active nihilism given by the author:
Active Nihilism: Nihilism seen as a continuous process, meaning one strips the outlook on life of all values, and then create new values out of the void, thus turning nihilism into a form of mental weapon, that one can use to examine different interpretations of reality.
What was described as passive nihilism is what I'm used to. I've never heard of active nihilism. When new values are created out of nothing, who is to say that the values you adopt won't suffer from the same flaws inherent in the values you just tore down? What do you do to ensure your new values are better or more true? The article says active nihilism can be used to examine "different interpretations of reality." But honest pursuit of truth cannot be productive if you are biased towards those perspectives that are different or novel. Something different isn't true or real because it is different.

The passive nihilist rejects all value and claims nothing is real. The logical fallacy here becomes obvious: if we claim to believe in no values, we've managed to create a new value; the belief in non-belief. Thus passive nihilism is a self-contradictory state that leads us to the realization
I've heard this being labelled the liar's paradox in Wikipedia.

"It may be a reasonable reply that the nihilist has not accessed truth directly, but has come to the conclusion, based on past experience, that truth is ultimately unattainable within the confines of human circumstance. Thus, since nihilists believe they have learned that truth cannot be attained in this life, they look upon the activities of those rigorously seeking truth as futile. Of course one may add that that nihilism is a self fulfilling prophecy, as without making any attempts to attain the truth one is surely far less inclined to find it."


I mentioned before I am searching for truth, but the search based on my person experience is indeed proving futile. Of course, I haven't given up yet, and that explains why I am here. Ultimately, the way I see it, if you search for truth for too long and success is nowhere to be seen, then it's likely in a probabilistic sense that it's just not there, that essentially nihilism is reality. This sort of process actually mirrors the scientific method.

This means that while all physical matter, like our body, is transient and eventually will become something else, ideas like cultural values, symphonies, paintings, and ideals, can remain intangible but eternal. We cannot "feel" or "touch" a symphony, but the composer can write down notes, reflecting certain tones played on an instrument, on a paper, and if read by a skilled musician, be remembered and passed on to future generations to come, that will be able to listen to the symphony, performed by an orchestra and a conductor. More or less all European philosophers have claimed that this is the only way to reach immortality: to create something lasting that will live on beyond our mortal lives. Ludwig van Beethoven's music is still alive, so are the paintings of Casper David Friedrich, and the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Their bodies are gone but their ideas - their art - is still alive and praised around the world. They've reached immortality through idealism.

The human individual is thus no longer a sacred absolute, which no one may kill or hurt, but a part of a larger life that is far more important. We call this the final realization of a mature active nihilist: integralism, the continuity of life, via philosophical nihilism.
I think what is being said here is that certain concepts that are higher than an individual's own self is more important and more valuable. Don't you think this is a value judgment totally counter to nihilism? In my opinion, Beethoven's music is just sequence of sound frequencies that achieved greatness through social consensus because of our bodies' biological response to certain sounds. The article claims to be skeptical of social norms yet uses social consensus as the basis for elevating Beethoven's work. The article then criticizes crowd mentality.

we can bypass our depression and passivity by creating new values and finding things in life we deem as important and beautiful, like nature, art, struggle, and love.
I find that things I thought were beautiful at first, e.g. beautiful people, love, etc now seem as if they are the product of biological evolution. My attraction to a certain female is a biochemical reaction. My impulses are hardwired. I am then just like a machine. I can sense some free will and conscious choice but they always seem to be at war with my impulses. There are some impulses I like, e.g. sexual attraction and perception of beauty in females (both are probably the same impulses acting) and there are impulses I hate, e.g. the impulse to conform to society as well as the impulse to engage in addictive activity like online chat. Yet these personal judgments about what is good and bad are just judgments. They are subjective and indulging in one impulse while thinking it is good while suppressing what I think are bad impulses would be delusional. I have no basis for arbitrarily labeling some impulses as good and others as bad.

Our suburban cities are placed far away from green forests and blue lakes, thus many people today cannot relate to nor understand the beauty and wisdom of nature, as they've disconnected from it and spend their lives in front of computers, televisions, and office desks.
Oh dear. Nihilism philosophy as I'm used to it rejects any objective beauty, significance, or value. To say that computers, televisions, and office desks are inherently valueless or ugly is, to put it politely, arbitrary and unsubstantiated.

"money and material pleasures do not satisfy us in the long run," claims the nihilist, "we need to return to nature and live lives that are more fulfilling and meaningful. We must re-reconnect our lives to nature, not only to understand our own life better, but also to learn how to appreciate beauty in things that also may seem violent or dangerous. A bird eating another bird, is it "evil", or just another inseparable mechanism of the process of life?"
The bird eating another bird is described as "another inseparable mechanism of the process of life." Most people with a scientific or more specifically a biological or perhaps zoological background would know this is just how nature is. Many people find the mechanisms of nature to be cruel and scary, which explains the popularity of religion since religions tend to teach that indeed there is behind this apparently cruelty some design and significance. However, if we accept the idea that a bird killing another bird is just a natural process, the same can be applied to "money and material pleasures." Many animals like apes hoard things. They understand, like early humans, the concept of resources. When the concept of resources clashes with the concept of conflict, then business is formed. Scientific studies have shown that women tend to look for wealth and dominance in men when selecting partners. Men look for signs of reproductive fitness in women, e.g. large hips, youthful features, etc. The crass materialism evidence in modern society then is a primitive expression of natural impulses, just as the bird eating the bird is.

"It seems to me that there indeed are differences between cultures and races, and that these differences make life interesting. But if you force two or more cultures to adhere to the same norms in society, you destroy these differences, which creates a grey mass without identity, other than McDonald's and corporate jobs. What if each culture and each race had its own space? Then they would be able to develop themselves freely without the intervention of other cultures and people."
Let's be precise her. What is culture? I define culture as the characteristics or a group of people. Race is different. Race is concerned with biology, so I hope this article didn't just think race and culture are equivalent. The mathematical reality is that if we accept the definition above, there are infinite cultures in the world. Many define culture accord to variables of nationality, e.g. French culture or Spanish culture. But culture may be defined accord to any variable perceivable. Thus there can be working class culture, boy culture, youth culture, among many others. Any perceived difference can create a culture, e.g. if we divide people by height and categorize people according to tall culture and short culture. All these cultures exist but most humans may focus on only a few because of salience, emotion, or just habit. However, as the article agrees, crowd mentality is no path to truth, so indeed the culture of German people is treated equally as a concept as the culture of all people who wear green t-shirts.

Suppose you pick one variable, e.g. language. (There is difficulty even among linguists about the boundaries of language, when one language ends and another begins, but let's ignore that.) If you segregate people based on language, e.g. have all English-speaking people in one geographical location, all French-speaking people in another geographical location, etc, then you will still have cultural conflict because within the French country you will still have the working class versus the elites, the feminists versus the housewives, the old versus the young, etc. The only way to eliminate all differences through segregation is to divide every single person until he lives in his own country. Each country would have population=1. If there are two people in a country, unless the two are perfect clones, you would have differences and potential conflict. This is reductio ad absurdum.

To me this active nihilism seems like selective nihilism. Use the philosophy of nihilism to destroy everything you don't like and then put nihilism away to elevate those values you like, yet these values you elevate seem immune from the nihilistic philosophy you applied to all other values.

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