Flirting with Nihilism

Now for the exciting part.

I finished reading Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut and like most of his books there is a twist at the end, and not one I’d expected. The twist caused me to have anepiphany, though not necessarily a good one.

I’ll explain the book so you can understand my epiphany. In the book the world is run by machines. People are hired and fired by machines. Machines decide nearly everything, people are simply the middle men between the machines. This world of efficiency is extremely oppressive and results in an uprising of the people.

In the uprising the people smash many machines, some necessary, some unnecessary. For months they live in this Utopian world, where humans once again rule. But not long after this Utopian world is established do people begin reassembling the machines. They yearn for the luxuries they once had and begin to rebuild the oppressive regime they fought so hard to destroy.

People can’t and won’t willingly leave the amenities they have, despite the pain and suffering it causes them. For me this book trashed any hope of our society “going back” or trying to become a sustainable society, one based upon small towns and local products. It doesn’t seem like this is possible by choice, only by force, and that change will be fought against to keep what we have worked so hard to have, we must keep all that we have worked for, no mater what the cost.

This left me with no idyllic society to dream of, but only the world we currently live in. One where people shit on other people, but don’t even know they are because they are so removed from others. In this disconnected world a button can kill a million people a million miles away. Without person to person contact, these people are so far away that they are not people, they are nothing.

This world necessitates nihilism, to make any sense of it. If human life had any intrinsic meaning, then the world we lived in wouldn’t and couldn’t look anything like it does now. Human life is simply viewed as a statistic, it is balanced against cost and people are frequently viewed as tools and machines, not people.

While I still have faith in people, I don’t have faith in our current society allowing them to make just and humane choices. Our society frequently forces people in power to choose between two wrongs without acknowledging there are other options. It shields all of us from our impact on others, allowing us to continue making decisions that hurt people.

I don’t know if I’m a nihilist, but our society certainly is. And it is so large and disconnected it makes it so very hard to make humane decisions. One cannot live in the “developed world” without having unknowingly supported great wrongs. I have no idea what to do about our world, but I know that something must be done. Maybe it is still possible to move slowly away from the craziness we have created, but it seems like we’re walking down a dead end and we will only be forced to turn around.

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