Monday, October 28, 2013

Hostility Towards Nihilists

Initially upon realising and admitting that I do not believe in ultimate value I only experienced a small amount of blow-back, and it was mostly from people that seemed to misunderstand the position. Strangely enough, the most support I received at the time was from theists. Perhaps they saw it as somewhat of a validation of their own beliefs, that without a god nihilism is the only honest conclusion a person could arrive at. However in a fairly short period of time I've encountered several instances of people expressing utter contempt for nihilism. "Nihilists don't deserve to live", or insinuating that the only honest nihilists are those that commit suicide, and other such similar statements.

What is the reason behind for such apparent hatred for nihilistic beliefs? Perhaps it stems from a sense that widespread nihilism would be threatening the stability of society? Such a sense is understandable. When I first left my religious beliefs behind years ago, I received many questions from believers asking why I don't just go around killing people without God. I never really understood such questions. I was raised in the same culture as they were, and the same (or similar) values were inculcated into me as a young child. The idea of murdering someone is incomprehensible to me. I have a strong sense of empathy, and you could say a rational fear of death, at least insofar as I enjoy living and would like to continue doing so. I still hold the core of those 'Christian values' that I was raised to believe in. Some of the details have changed considerably, and for the sake of brevity I will not go into them here, but things like the golden rule have been engrained on my conscience. All that has changed is that I now believe that those values do not have any meaningful grounding. They are to me simply pragmatic ideas that inevitably seek only to perpetuate the existence of the societies that teach them.

Perhaps however, the hostility towards nihilism is not out of a fear of what nihilistic beliefs could do to society as a whole, but instead is drawn from a fear of the ramifications for the values that the critics hold? Without armchair psycho-analysing my friends and acquaintances too much, I think this may at least contribute a bit to the level of hostility I've seen. Perhaps they fear that if there are no ultimate values, that there is no intrinsic meaning or overarching teleology their own cherished values would be without foundation. Those fears are once again completely understandable, as they would be correct in my opinion. There is no solid foundation to any value as far as I'm concerned and I'm okay with that.

To return to the idea that without ultimate values society would not be able to peacefully exist, I think I might agree at least a little bit. So while I have no intention at this stage in my life of having children, my advice to anyone who does is to indoctrinate them, euphemistically known as teaching them. If the continued existence of humankind is something that you personally value, inculcate in your children values that teach respect for others, the golden rule and other such ideals that contribute to the reproduction and continuation of society. Don't tell them that these values are without a foundation, let them figure that out for themselves later, if they ever do.

So there you have it, I hold a belief that I would not pass on to any children I might ever have. Call it self-defeating if you like. Call it elitist even, that I wouldn't trust humanity to free-float in valueless space, but am content to live peacefully in it myself. In that sense you could also call it anti-humanistic and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you. I have very little faith in humanity to hold to the values that many believe are 'written on our hearts' by a deity, or are 'natural law', or self-evident, to quote Tim Minchin: "We're just fucking monkeys in shoes." As a product of evolution, it would be disingenuous and childish to believe that there is some kind of goodness in the collective human spirit unless you hold a teleological worldview that is, in which case it would be justifiable. Existential nihilism is the logical conclusion of any non-teleological world-view, though I'm open to critique on that. For me, this conclusion is still just a starting point. Where we go from there and how we create meaning and purpose out of meaningless and purposelessness, are the interesting questions that deserve continued open-minded consideration.

No comments:

Post a Comment