Nihilism: An Introduction
by Brett Stevens
Among the possibilities that scare humans the most, the potentiality of no meaning — no inherent values, no innate truths, and no possibility of accurate communication — unnerves us the most. It means that we are truly alone with nothing to rely on but ourselves for understanding this vast world and what we should do in it. This belief is called nihilism.
“Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence.” – Alan Pratt, “Nihilism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/
“In the 20th century, nihilism encompassed a variety of philosophical and aesthetic stances that, in one sense or another, denied the existence of genuine moral truths or values, rejected the possibility of knowledge or communication, and asserted the ultimate meaninglessness or purposelessness of life or of the universe.” – “Nihilism,” Encyclopedia Britannica, retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/nihilism
Nihilism rejects the ideas of universalism, rationalism and empiricism which have ruled the West for centuries. These ideas arise from our social impulses, or the desire to include others as a group and motivate them with what is perceived as objective truth.
Universalism holds that all people are essentially the same, and therefore that values are a matter of respecting the choices of each person, truth is what can be verified in a way a group can understand, and communication relies on words which have immutable meaning. Rationalism supposes that the workings our minds can tell us what is true in the world without testing, and implies universalism, or that the workings of our minds are all the same. Empiricism, now linked to its cousin logical positivism, states that truth is only found in observable and testable, replicable observations.
The essence of nihilism can be found in biology. In the tendency of human minds, many identical pieces work together to form agreement, and then act as one. In biology, abundant unequal pieces serve different roles without knowledge of a centralized plan but work together because they are united by very basic principles which cannot be deconstructed further, such as the need to feed, defend oneself, find shelter, and reproduce. Nihilism follows the organic model of different pieces of a larger puzzle working together because they share principles, but not form or the translation of those principles into specific methods. It adds a layer of abstraction to our understanding of how systems — groups of parts producing an output together — function.
This biological framework reveals a “pattern language,” or index of patterns that match functions, to both human thought and human individuals. We are not all alike, nor do we think alike, and many humans have unique roles they can serve where their proficiency makes them ideal candidates. Within the mind, we can identify patterns at a level below language or even consciousness that reveal our thought and how comparable it is to the reality in the external world. This allows us to use self-discipline to become better able to understand reality.
Without universal truth, we bypass the proxy of socially-defined goals and standards, and instead must judge our potential actions by their likely results in reality. This escapes us from the ghetto of human intent, where we judge our actions as if they were communications to others designed to show our value, instead of actions toward a purpose. We lose self-consciousness, which is really an awareness of ourselves as we appear to the social group, and replace it with world-consciousness.
The most difficult part (for modern people) involved with leaving behind universalism is that we now navigate between two poles: first, the wrong idea that there should be one rule and motivation for every person, and second, the wrong idea that avoiding the first pole means that everyone should do whatever they want. Nihilism is the death of “should.” Instead, there is merely “is,” as in each person is what he is and has the wants inherent to being that person. This means that people have different roles, of both vertical (proficiency) and horizontal (specialization) measurements, like animals and plants in an ecosystem. There is no universal role, only a shared mission, and the knowledge of what actions have produced which results in the past, from which we can derive general principles that fit our roles in the civilization ecosystem.
With this, we return to the Traditionalist idea of cause and effect with the cause being informational instead of physical. Pattern and idea dictate outcome more than the particular material elements or particularities of a time period. Consider the knowledge of man trying to start a fire:
1. Rub sticks Weak fire, takes a lot of strength.
2. Await lightning Starve (usually).
3. Strike flint Stronger fire, but flying sparks can cause forest fires.
4. Pray to Xu’ul Nothing so far.
5. Bark rope friction Good, but hard to find the right bark.
Society would insert a third column between those for moral judgments, social feelings, personal desires and other chatter from the incessantly rationalizing mind, which seeks to find a justification for its feelings in the world and remove from itself the need to make hard decisions which remind it of existential questions like death, purpose and meaning.
When Bra’agh the caveman thinks about how he should proceed, he inverts the order of the two natural columns. He knows what he wants, or quickly will have to find out, and so he chooses the outcome that will fit his circumstances, and based on that, chooses the method he will use.
If Bra’agh is strong, he may choose to rub sticks. If he has not eaten and is tired, he may take a little more time to look for bark or flint. As a practical person, he may pray to Xu’ul because it makes him feel better, but he will nonetheless seek his own method of making fire (Xu’ul helps those who help themselves). Having bad past experiences getting very hungry waiting for lightning, he will discard that.
When his circumstances change, Bra’agh makes different decisions. If a thunderstorm has just passed over, he might take an hour to wander around looking for burning trees. If he is in a valley where there is abundant flint, he might go right to that method, almost bypassing choice entirely, which can be risky as he will then be oblivious to the downside of possible forest fires. If he is standing next to a tree with the right bark, the decision also seems to complete itself.
All of us have these columns in our mind, and varying degrees of the third column comprised of social and emotional thoughts. The strongest among us can balance the third column so that it fits in with the advantages and disadvantages of methods, like the possibility of forest fires. The weakest among us will think first of the third column, and then use that to choose the method, and will then rationalize from there that their choice is the best, a process called cognitive dissonance.
Nihilism rejects the third column by recognizing the emptiness of shared experience. Some experiences unify us, like love or comradeship in war, but for the most part, we are alone. What we know cannot be communicated unless the other person is willing to analyze it and us enough to know what we are nattering on about. As far as truth, there are accurate perceptions, but these are not shared among people, not in the least because most people do not care about accuracy.
Suppose that Bra’agh becomes a member of a troupe of cavepeople. They wander the fields and forests, foraging for food and hunting what bush meat they can conquer. Then they retreat to their cave where they feel safe. Bra’agh wants to make a fire, but the others either do not or are apathetic. He cannot argue with them, objectively or subjectively, that fire is needed. After all, they have fruits, berries, roots and bush meat which they can dry in the sun and eat, and they will be just fine.
But Bra’agh, he has a dream. In this dream, there are big hunts once a week and then the food is cooked and preserved, so that they will have more free time and do not have to go foraging every day. Perhaps Bra’agh wants to write the great cave novel, or dream of gods in the sky, or otherwise discover the world. For him, time is more important than convenience. This is not so for the others, and nothing he can say will logically compel them to share his vision.
If he demonstrates his idea by slaughtering a caribou, making a fire and roasting the meat and handing it out to others, they may partake. They might not, however, see the utility in this approach, because it is harder and riskier than gathering roots and killing squirrels with rocks. There is no universal standard for all of them.
Suppose that Bra’agh is a burly caveman who instead of arguing for his idea, simply forces others to do it by beating senseless the dissenters. Soon the troupe of cavepeople are hunting and following his path, and he heaves rocks into the skulls of those who thwart the activity. Over time, the survivors are those who share his vision, and the genes for those who are otherwise inclined have passed into history.
In ten thousand years, a civilization may arise in the place where Bra’agh bashed skulls. It will be based on the idea that some risk and effort that achieves a better result (second column) is worth enduring the harder activity (first column). Applying that principle, the cavepeople will start domesticating caribou and planting crops, giving them even more free time. They will invent language, writing and early technology.
After another ten thousand years, the civilization will encounter its first troubles. The people will take for granted that they will always have civilization and stop bashing in the heads of those who cannot direct themselves toward that purpose. Those, who by nature are less focused, will devote their time to the pleasures of the flesh, and become fruitful and multiplicative. Over time, they will outnumber the others.
The civilization will now take a dark turn. It will abandon the original nihilistic principle, which is that some are of the caliber of Bra’agh and must lead by bashing skulls, and instead turn to the principle of universalism. Everyone is welcome and all are celebrated; in fact, they like to say that they are all one. Quantity replaces quality. Realistic vision is lost. The civilization begins to die.
A strange thing will have happened to the people in this civilization. They will live almost exclusively in the third column, thinking about what others think of them, with the world beyond the ego and the human social circle unknown to them. If someone explains nihilism to them, using the language which sprung up as if out of the ground once it was needed, they will retreat in fear, like monkeys flinging faeces at a feared totem. To them, there can only be one rule for everyone — the rule of the third column — or life has become bad and evil.
Nihilism remains controversial for this reason. It connects us to the nothingness in life, and the necessity of sacrifice in order to achieve quality-enhancing results, which naturally brings up the question of mortality that almost all people (except pasty Goths in black) would rather not discuss. People would rather decrease quality and increase quantity, meaning that all actions would be seen as equal, because this is more emotionally convenient for them. Nihilism erases any importance granted to this emotional state.
The modern West finds itself at a crossroads. The path we are on leads to eventual death and a form of entropy that returns us to the state of the cavepeople before Bra’agh and his vision of fire. A new path beckons which will take us higher than the greatness of the past, continuing the idea that seized Bra’agh as he was wandering the veldt. For us to accept the possibility of the new path, we must first strip away the human-only mental prison in which we exist because of social influences and “peer pressure.”
Nihilism leads to idealism for this reason. When we remove the over-dominance of the methods we use to interact with the world, we see the importance of pattern and arranging ourselves and material according to the idea we seek. This connects to a primal idea, which is that existence itself is biological, and that life extends past the physical into the metaphysical. In short, idea is all; material — including the third column — is a false goal that causes us to rationalize and become confused.
In this sense, nihilism shows us the value of transcendental thought. By facing the darkness of life directly and allowing the cold wind of the abyss to lick our faces, nihilism creates acceptance of the world as it is, and then embarks on a search for meaning that is not “social meaning” because it is interpreted according to the individual based on the capacity of that individual. Nihilism is esoteric in that it rejects the idea of a truth that can be communicated to everyone, but by freeing us from the idea that whatever truths we encounter must include everyone, allows for lone explorers to delve deeper and climb higher, if they have the biological requirements for the mental ability involved.
For this reason, nihilism is transformative. We go into it as equal members of the modern zombie automaton cult, convinced that there is objective truth and we have subjective preferences. We come out realizing that our preferences are entirely a function of our abilities and biology, and that “objective” truth is as much an idol as the Golden Calf of Moses’ time: a fiction and consensual reality created to keep a troupe of slightly smarter than average monkeys working together. Nihilism transforms us from human into beast, and from that, to something which can reach for the stars.
In Nihilism: A Philosophy Based In Nothingness and Eternity, your author explores the possibilities of leaving behind the path to death and choosing the new path instead. This cannot be approached directly, because the path is an effect of a cause, which is our willingness to abandon the solipsistic tendencies of our minds and strive for something greater. It appeals to the Bra’aghs of the world, and not those whose skulls were smitten by his rocks.
Through the course of essays composed in the wilderness over the course of two decades, Nihilism unearths the first steps toward the wisdom of the past. It shows a path to clearing the mental confusion of this time from the mind, and seeing the value of nihilism as a gateway to re-understanding the world in a new light. While it is not for all, if humanity has a future, it is through a thought process like the journey on which it takes its readers.
In contrast to accepted doctrine, this book shows that the lack of meaning in modern society came not from the fall of gods and heroes, but from the insatiable human ego and its collectivized counterpart, “peer pressure” or social control. What remains of the old religion is only the idea of universal truth, and that has been reconfigured into an assumption that all that is human is good, and that nature and metaphysics are irrelevant.
Nihilism remains a terrifying topic because it removes the illusions on which our current worldview is based, but that outlook is rapidly failing. In this alternate view, the tripartite illusion — universal truth among humans, equality-based values, and exoteric communication based on universal tokens — has broken and died, and those who wish to rebuild civilization can use nihilism to detach from it and form the groundwork of a new era.
Touching on ideas from both the occult and mainstream religion as well as philosophies ranging from Germanic idealism to perennialism, Nihilism: A Philosophy Based In Nothingness and Eternity explores nihilism as a fully-developed philosophy instead of the melange of anarchy and self-centeredness by which it is portrayed in most literature. In doing so, it discovers a way out of our landlocked modern thought, uniting both wisdom of the past and possibilities for the future into a single vision.