I have been experiencing and writing a lot about nihilism recently. I’ve struggled with it for the last 3 years, yet I could never pinpoint why I was so attached to it. It makes me feel happy, sad, frustrated, hopeless and angry, and I have yet to be able to escape it or let it go. Nihilism to me is that fly that refuses to leave your house, as soon as you think it’s gone you suddenly hear it buzzing over your head. That is until recently.
I was listening to a radiolab podcast about nihilism, In the Dust of the Planet, that validated and explained my experience with nihilism perfectly. In a world where people are inundated with news about global climate change, beheadings, never ending wars and disease outbreaks the world is a bleak place. The response to that bleakness is callous indifference because that is bad-ass, that is strong, that is nihilism. From now, to the cold war, to post WWI and beyond. Nihilism has been attractive because it frees the individual from worry and responsibility for the horror and chaos around them, instead they simply don’t care.
Radiolab delves into the subject of nihilism both historically and in current pop culture revealing our current infatuation with nihilism. Our current obsession with nihilism is seen and shown to exist by how an obscure nihilist book called, In the Dust of the Planet, is suddenly found plastered on the back of Jay Z’s jackets in one of his <a href="http://m, In the Dust of the Planet.”>videos.
This Radiolab podcast is done in partnership with On The Media’s Brooke Gladstone. She take a different angle for the story, but one that is quite interesting to listen to. Hers is called Starring into the Abyss and I would recommend it as well. A quote from her story sums up why nihilism haunts us now:
…we have just grown vaguely uncomfortable in this world that seems so chaotic, but in our lives barely touches us. Essentially, we’re taking in the world through the media. So it may feel more deadening, but it’s less intense.
And she is spot on. I have lived one comfortable life and have been rarely touched by this chaos, but I have stared at it. I stared into this abyss and it stared back. And I proceeded to look all over my world to find this abyss, to see darkness and nihilism everywhere I could. A personal joy of mine was based around sarcastic, nihilistic joy of finding things similar to buddhist koans, things that can’t be understood by the logical mind (i.e. what is the sound of one hand clapping). These things shouldn’t exist together, but they do, they are real life oxymorons.
In this world you cannot escape these things, and I knew that. So I and many other nihilist stare at them. We stare into the abyss and it stares back. And staring at something so empty so negative and lacking is freeing at first, but it is also deadening. You are free but you almost give up your spirit in the process.
Existential nihilism is the idea life doesn’t have any intrinsic meaning or value, but I pushed beyond that. I stared into things that disgusted me to make them go away, and as my disgust left part of my spirit did too. I didn’t realize how hurtful this was until recently. I was mindfully eating food with a friend and roomie and I started to feel my burden leave, my guard fell down, I was letting go. What rushed over me was tears. Tears from all the times that I tortured myself, the times I knowingly put myself through dark times almost as punishment. I was punishing myself for not experiencing the horror. I put myself through mental anguish to make up for the physical anguish others had to experience. Instead of solving anything I simply hurt myself. I became a martyr, a martyr for the world.
This world is abominable, there are not words enough to describe how disgustingly people treat one another, but this is not my burden. I am not responsible for other people. I am responsible for me and I need to actually carry that burden. This world is enough to fight if you are fighting just for yourself. You can fight it’s morality, aspirituality, capitalist economy, but the goal should be to serve you and to better yourself. The goal should be to do what I wrote in my last post, “come alive.”
I feel my grip on nihilism fading. A few weeks ago would consider myself a nihilist but by today I would disagree. I have stopped identifying and just started being. I have started feeling and experiencing what there is. I feel much better, my burden of society is gone and my burden of me is here and I’m tackling it a day at a time.