Thursday, September 17, 2015

Coping with Crises

It has taken me several years to get to this point, perhaps the process was slowed down by not writing, reading or thinking about any of this much, but I have finally reached the point where I understand why thinkers like Nietzsche and Camus viewed Nihilism as a problem to overcome, as a disease of the mind. Up until this year I had only experienced two existential crises, the first was when I lost my faith in religion, the second when I lost my faith in meaning and purpose. Both of these were fairly short lived and gave me a renewed sense of self-determining power over my life's course. This year however I have experienced more than a few crises, not triggered by anything in my own introspection, but rather from external influences out of my control. Some have been by the actions of others affecting me, and some by events in society at large, but having a somewhat nihilistic worldview seems to predispose me to these crises, despite not having any tendencies towards depression that I am aware of.

It may not be possible to avoid a crisis when the causes are external, but there are many ways to deal with the immediate effects. First and foremost for me is to realise that it is not a unique experience, that it is actually quite common.  Secondly, I just distract myself with media, and spend time with friends.

I recently rediscovered an album (Woods 5 - by Woods of Ypres) that I had listened to quite a bit after I was attacked in a motel in the middle of the night away on a work trip (motel room door pictured). At the time it simply calmed my understandably shaken nerves. However, recently I started paying closer attention to the lyrics. Many of the tracks on the album touch on existentialist themes.

The chorus lines of the song 'Keeper of the Ledger' read as follows:
Return to the earth, pay the price for your existence
Into the hand of earth's domain
For there is balance to be maintained
 Combined with lines like this from the same song:
We create our myths of purpose,
To fill our lives with hope and wonder
But to the keeper of the ledger for the cult of nature
Your body is just... a number
To me, these lyrics lay out the existentialist (or nihilistic, if you wish) framework for understanding another song 'Travelling Alone' on the album that is about travelling to another country where the local people believe in a God. David Gold wrote:
Would I try to take away their hope?
Replace it with reality
Exchange their joy with my bleak view
And leave them miserable like me?
This cuts right to the core of what has driven me to crisis this year. In some sense I yearn for purpose, or even a hope for the future that I could realistically put my faith in, but there is nothing there. As I wrote about earlier this year about how 'God is Simply Incomprehensible to Me', I also cannot trick myself into believing in any kind of purpose or ultimate hope for the future. I'd like to think that  could be changed by evidence or argument, but until then, pessimism prevails. I wouldn't consider myself miserable like the lyric says, but I realise that my outlook is very bleak.


  1. Why so pessimistic about the future?

    1. Seems to me that if you have such a bleak view of the future you're not as much of a nihilist as you think you are - does the future fall short of some ideal state you think it 'ought' to be?

      I think religion has a lot to add to this. Buddhism tells us everything is impermanent and nothing will last, but it's all an illusion (or at least, the meaningfulness is an illusion)...but you'll notice the Buddha always has a big grin on his face regardless :-D at least in China it seems he's decided to eat and enjoy life in the face of its meaninglessness. Ecclesiastes says something similar:

      "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom."

    2. It's more that I realise my view would be seen as bleak to others, than being bleak in my view, although I do think it is bleak.
      I'm probably more of an existentialist than a strict nihilist, but it's not that I think ought to be an ideal world, but just that I'd prefer things were different, and the way I predict things will turn out in the future do not align well with my preferences.

      That passage from Ecclesiastes is quite something indeed.