Why I'm Not a Nihilist
Updated: Feb 7
(Directory on Nihilism: https://www.philosocom.com/post/the-irony-of-nihilism)
Recently, in response to my article "Philosophy and Knives," a reader asked me if I favor nihilism. Here is my reply, which has been expanded for the sake of length and to further explain my position:
I actually oppose the embrace of nihilism because it would entail the waste of our potential as human beings. It would also mean opposing morality, the law, basic etiquette, and so on, regardless of whether or not these values are subjective or objective.
Because of that, nihilism is not only wasteful but also dangerous if people take it too far. The truth is, if we want to get along as a society, we need to have basic norms that are implemented and accepted. If nihilism were to be favored by most, it could lead to anarchy, which is harmful to our lives. Therefore, we can say that nihilism is a harmful ideology, at least on the societal level.
Instead, I am in favor of existentialism, which is the idea that we create our own meaning in a potentially empty universe. If there is no inherent meaning to the universe (assuming there isn't), then it is our duty, if we so desire, to designate our own meaning to our lives. Thus, meaning is imperative to most for a life that can be considered well lived, and a life of nihilism, on the other hand, is not something everyone is capable of just accepting as it is.
I heard there is a concept called "optimistic nihilism" and I think I can understand why it would be optimistic. The absence of meaning is also the absence of a specific plan of life to succumb to. Perhaps some are "privileged," so to speak, to accept it, but as long as you want to be productive with your life and do something that goes beyond the day-to-day pleasures, nihilism is pretty much an obstacle more than it is an asset. This is why I am an existentialist, rather than a nihilist.
If you want to be safe in the streets, the people around you need to attribute meaning to the concepts of law and reputation, because otherwise, people will kill one another left and right if they so desire. If someone as a business owner wants to attract customers, they ought to attribute meaning to self-respect, reputation, and credibility. Otherwise, a business owner that overlooks these values would have a harder time attracting clients, and might even find themselves in poverty. A professional with no regard to professionalism will suffer financially and unnecessarily.
The so-called "sad truth" about nihilism is that it's a very impractical ideology when it comes to surviving in this world with other people, and for some—with yourself. Some people might find it completely okay if they were given the chance to spend their lives in hedonistic waste, but those who feel more entitled to their merits and to what they can give to the world, nihilism is pretty much counter-productive to your efforts in becoming a more fulfilled individual who may or may not use that fulfilment to contribute to others as well.
Those who feel responsible for something, like an organization or family, shouldn't fall into nihilism, because that would mean that their responsibility is worthless. Would a nihilistic parent abandon their kid because they don't see parenting as meaningful (for they see nothing as meaningful)? Perhaps most if not all of us need to admit the following: a "pure" nihilist is one that is willing to sacrifice everything and everyone and stay apathetic, for said sacrifice will truly be meaningless to them.
Would you be willing to sacrifice your family, friends, reputation, property, and so on? A true nihilist would, because they may find them all as equally meaningless. Therefore, a true nihilist truly has nothing to lose, even if they have everything they want. Even their own willpower is meaningless. This is how far a true nihilist would go, and this is why I am not a nihilist, but an existentialist, for I have given myself a purpose I refuse to give up on.
In the end, most if not all of us have something to lose, because we humans are usually emotionally-dependent animals. We love, we are passionate, we are proud, and so on—our emotions attribute meaning to the things and beings who are a part of our lives, and if said things and beings would go away, like the death of a beloved pet, then the loss of their lives would truly be unfortunate to us, for our emotions bind us to this "earthly" world.
A true nihilist will not care, for they have no emotional dependencies that will tear them apart when the object of their affection perishes. They will be able to see the death of someone they love, and they will not care too much about it, for nothing is worthy of them, not even themselves. I don't know if this can be seen as an ascension or a descension. It could be the former, due to the emotional freedom that it could entail, and it could be the latter, because of how internally broken someone may be as a result of sheer apathy that can only be attributed to a true nihilist.
We are thus presented with two options, if we are to discard nihilism: either this universe has an inherent meaning, or it does not. If it does not, then it is our responsibility to find or create such meaning, if we wish to avoid things such as emptiness, depression, and the potential of suicide.