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Immune to nihilism
Posted: 02 June 2008 11:23 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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A friend and I were discussing how a confrontation with nihilism can lead people (men) to killing their wives and children in fits of madness.  But eventually we came to agree that certain persons are immune from the effects of nihilism (I am referring to nihilism in the metaphysical sense: that the universe is meaningless and without purpose; that human life and its activities are of no value or significance; that nothing is worth existing for.)

We sort of concluded that people who believe in the existence of absolute truth (like religious persons) or people who are extremely self-centered (like christians who believe that “the creator of the universe” is personally interested in them and “loves” them) are most likely more susceptible to the madness of nihilism.  These are the sorts of people who seem to “crack up” under the stress of facing a nihilistic revelation. 

It seems reasonable to suggest that a person who already understands that meaning and purpose (and likewise morality) are created by people in engagement with other people will be hardly affected by an encounter with nihilism. I might even suggest that for such socially aware individuals the Nietzschean concept of being “beyond good and evil” (taking good and evil traditionally as existing independently of carnal human existence, that is)  as the antidote for the nihilistic fever.

Ultimately, for those who are socially cognizant, the threat of a nihilistic fit of madness is like water off a duck’s back.  (I was thrust into this discussion by recalling the conversation between homunculus and Andy about nihilism in the Panpsychism thread under New Age topics.)

Bob

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Posted: 03 June 2008 09:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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It seems safe to say that “nihilism” is in need of some rehabilitation. For instance, I don’t automatically associate negative intent with nihilism because it’s mostly just honest evaluation of social ways. But not everyone sees things this way.

Also, I agree that people don’t react to nihilism with any sort of fit of passion unless they are socially unaware on some level. It may be that Nazi troops are referred to as nihilistic, but they could also be described in many other ways. Should I also react with passion toward someone who collects German motorcycles from the 1930’s? Of course not, as people consist of more than their labels might tend to portray.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 03 June 2008 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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CanZen - 03 June 2008 03:23 AM

A friend and I were discussing how a confrontation with nihilism can lead people (men) to killing their wives and children in fits of madness.  But eventually we came to agree that certain persons are immune from the effects of nihilism (I am referring to nihilism in the metaphysical sense: that the universe is meaningless and without purpose; that human life and its activities are of no value or significance; that nothing is worth existing for.)

We sort of concluded that people who believe in the existence of absolute truth (like religious persons) or people who are extremely self-centered (like christians who believe that “the creator of the universe” is personally interested in them and “loves” them) are most likely more susceptible to the madness of nihilism.  These are the sorts of people who seem to “crack up” under the stress of facing a nihilistic revelation. 

It seems reasonable to suggest that a person who already understands that meaning and purpose (and likewise morality) are created by people in engagement with other people will be hardly affected by an encounter with nihilism. I might even suggest that for such socially aware individuals the Nietzschean concept of being “beyond good and evil” (taking good and evil traditionally as existing independently of carnal human existence, that is)  as the antidote for the nihilistic fever.

Ultimately, for those who are socially cognizant, the threat of a nihilistic fit of madness is like water off a duck’s back.  (I was thrust into this discussion by recalling the conversation between homunculus and Andy about nihilism in the Panpsychism thread under New Age topics.)

Bob

If nihilism is seen as a negative plunge into reactionary madness (in the case of a husband killing his family) then it is indeed in need of a face lift.

I see nihilism as a peeling away of an onion. Many layers of “reality” being extrapolated slowly and methodically.  A de-construction of “reality.”

No god.
No meaning.
No purpose.
No significance
No value.

At the core, you are left with nothing but what you are left with—-your life.

You also reach a point of awareness that the universe lacks superficiality (and supernatural) and that what is left is pure life and living. Nothing left to smudge the purity (in all its beauty and ugliness.)

It doesn’t get any better (or worse) than what it actually is (vs. what you want it to be or what you believe it to be.)

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Posted: 03 June 2008 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I completely agree with your thoughts homunculus and lindajean.  My negative casting of nihilism was for the sake of argument about certain actions that are prompted by a deep fear of the nihilistic view (from absolutists and theists).  Your positive explanation of the nihilistic philosophy was indeed very touching lindajean and deeply human.  It seems to me that living with a real understanding of nihilism makes life so much more profound and rewarding than living with beliefs that perpetuate a fear of nihilism, as I tried to describe above.

“Nothing left to smudge the purity” - beautiful!

Bob

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Posted: 03 June 2008 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I simply cannot derive the conclusion that redefining nihilism is worth the trouble. Or that taking any action prompted by principles of nihilism could be justified within the bounds of nihilism.

homunculus - 03 June 2008 01:35 PM

It seems safe to say that “nihilism” is in need of some rehabilitation.

It also seems safe to say that rehabilitation of nihilism will not come from within the ranks of nihilists. It could be that the concept of rehabilitation is in need of rehabilitation.

cool mad

But to live outside the law, you must be honest; I know you always say that you agree. But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?

—Bob Dylan

[ Edited: 03 June 2008 11:22 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 03 June 2008 01:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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CanZen - 03 June 2008 03:23 AM

(I am referring to nihilism in the metaphysical sense: that the universe is meaningless and without purpose; that human life and its activities are of no value or significance; that nothing is worth existing for.)

It seems reasonable to suggest that a person who already understands that meaning and purpose (and likewise morality) are created by people in engagement with other people will be hardly affected by an encounter with nihilism.

Except, of course, for the fact that the view that meaning and purpose are created is incompatible with nihilism (as you’ve defined it above). If meaning is created, well, then there’s meaning.  And that is not compatible with the nihilistic claim that the universe is without meaning.

Is this what you had in mind?

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 03 June 2008 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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CanZen - 03 June 2008 02:43 PM

I completely agree with your thoughts homunculus and lindajean.  My negative casting of nihilism was for the sake of argument about certain actions that are prompted by a deep fear of the nihilistic view (from absolutists and theists).  Your positive explanation of the nihilistic philosophy was indeed very touching lindajean and deeply human.  It seems to me that living with a real understanding of nihilism makes life so much more profound and rewarding than living with beliefs that perpetuate a fear of nihilism, as I tried to describe above.

“Nothing left to smudge the purity” - beautiful!

Bob

I understand completely your “negative casting” (for the sake of argument) as a commonality in the faith-driven world. This perspective is certainly a tragedy when it leads people to see life in grossly superficial ways.

For a man to kill because of a simple realization that life is “meaningless” indicates to me that a person has disillusioned himself so greatly (through religion or materialism) that he has lost complete hope in anything. I don’t see nihilism as a form of hopelessness at all but as a realization or awakening to the impermanence of Life and a focused attention to living it as “well” as one intentionally can.

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Posted: 03 June 2008 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Hey Bob,

Is that your ass in the avatar ?  cool smile


I have always considered Stalin to be the nihilist par excellence. Even though he was schooled to be a seminarian he said that he believed in nothing but the human will.

When reading one of the biographies about him I was struck by his statement to a friend, after his wife killed herself (who can blame her ?), that he felt that the last bit of kindness had left him.

Perhaps that is all there is to it.

Hemingway wrote wonderfully about this phenomenon in ‘Men without women’. (pardon the heterosexual bias)

What did Joseph have in common with that other mustached dictator ?
They lacked a loving relationship and that is where the soil grows sour IMO.

Perhaps this is too anecdotal (or autobiographical) but me thinks that the absence of regular sex with someone you love goes a long way in explaining the murderous rampage of some people labeled as nihilists.

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Posted: 03 June 2008 11:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Waltercat, the points you make about the incompatibility of holding that the 3 tenets of nihilism are true AND that we create meaning (and purpose) appears to indicate that I am not a nihilist.  Yes, I do believe that the universe is meaningless and without purpose, and I also feel that there is no significance or value to human life (from a cosmic or universal sense - whatever that “means”), but I do not agree that life is not worth living. So obviously I am not a nihilist, even though I can appreciate the full extent of being nihilistic - yet I choose to continue to live and through that choice I participate in creating meaning and purpose thereby avoiding the void.

Sander.  That is definitely not my ass but a much more glorified one - my signature explains the avatar. In regard to Stalin being a nihilist, well that’s the sort of character type Dostoyevsky created in “Crime and Punishment” - a person who has no feeling for other human beings and therefore no sense of right and wrong (no conscience).  Now whether a nihilist must be without moral sensitivities is a question, but it appears that Stalin (like the Dostoyevsky character - Semyenovich?) certainly held that there was cosmic meaning and the his life was important to this universal sense of purpose. So they were not really nihilistic ultimately. Wouldn’t a real nihilist actually kill himself . . . if he didn’t then he wouldn’t really be a nihilist.

My candidate for a nihilist is Vincent van Gogh.  He obviously became a true nihilist when he shot himself in that wheatfield in France and died a day later.  Van Gogh’s last years were a struggle to maintain all those beliefs that are the opposite of nihilism, but the struggle ended with his suicide.

Also interesting is the fact that in a space of 9 days in 1888 van Gogh cut off his ear and sent it to Gauguin, while in Torino, Italy, Nietzsche saw a horse being beaten to death in the street and he rushed through the cheering crowd, burst into tears and embraced the dying animal as it took its last breaths. He was institutionalized a few weeks later. In the 1866 novel “Crime and Punishment” Dostoyevsky writes about the main character Raskolnikov as a young boy watching the cruel inhumanity of a horse being beaten to death in the streets and he rushed in to hug the horse - Nietzsche had read the novel twenty years before the event in Torino.

The man my friend and I were discussing, lindajean, was indeed a christian (went to a christian high school) and also a materialist (a high paid architect in Calgary). He killed a woman who lived in a basement suite in his house, then stabbed his wife and two girls to death before stabbing himself in the baby’s room (the baby was not harmed).  We don’t know if “nihilism” even played a role in this horrific incident, but this is how we assumed his “cracking up” had occurred from other accounts of similar tragedies.

Bob

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Posted: 04 June 2008 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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CanZen - 04 June 2008 03:39 AM

. . .

The man my friend and I were discussing, lindajean, was indeed a christian (went to a christian high school) and also a materialist (a high paid architect in Calgary). He killed a woman who lived in a basement suite in his house, then stabbed his wife and two girls to death before stabbing himself in the baby’s room (the baby was not harmed).  We don’t know if “nihilism” even played a role in this horrific incident, but this is how we assumed his “cracking up” had occurred from other accounts of similar tragedies.

Bob, did this person actually encounter some philosophical idea before going ballistic? Do you know any details about what may have led up to the killing?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 04 June 2008 07:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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waltercat - 03 June 2008 05:00 PM

. . . If meaning is created, well, then there’s meaning.  And that is not compatible with the nihilistic claim that the universe is without meaning.

Waltercat, in your experience and/or reading, is a nihilist by definition also a depressive, or somehow charged with negative energy, so to speak? I ask for your feedback because I’m wondering how lindajean and you could come up with such disparate statements on what it is to be a nihilist. Is one of you correct and one mistaken, according to standards within the philosophy community? I can read all the various definitions of nihilism, by the way, and not have any satisfactory (to me) answer to my question. So I’m asking for help from you and CanZen, as well.

A few other questions for you or anyone reading this:

- I realize that one’s personality can certainly tend to nudge someone toward or away from a philosophical stance, but when we speak of nihilism, are we talking about a philosophical take, or a personality type? A combination perhaps?

- What if anything are differences between clinical depression and nihilism as referenced at least in part by waltercat above?

- Can nihilism be confidently defined in terms as apparently cut-and-dried as waltercat’s/CanZen’s words? I doubt that it can, but I really don’t know. It seems to me that a person who lives life without any meaning at all would be performing a heroic (to stretch that term just a bit) feat. How long could such a person last?

- How literal a definition can be formulated about a world view or philosophy? How precise are even the most carefully chosen words that set out to describe a person’s many private mental realms including insights and preferences as they evolve over time?

- Rather than “nihilism,” is lindajean actually inadvertently referring to what Nhoj recently coined: “benignilism”? (Great term by the way, Nhoj, if you’re watching this thread.)

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Posted: 05 June 2008 08:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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homunculus - 04 June 2008 11:27 PM

It seems to me that a person who lives life without any meaning at all would be performing a heroic (to stretch that term just a bit) feat. How long could such a person last?

Good point.

Common-sense nihilism is just the practice of fending off the efforts of other people to foist a particular meaning of life upon you, and of declining to foist a meaning of life on other people.

I arrived at nihilism by doing a logical OR among all the other -isms and then bitwise negating the result. What I got was a random sequence of bits, and did not ever expect that the result would be a string of zero bytes.

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Posted: 05 June 2008 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Although it is unlikely IMHO that there is any predetermined “meaning” in the universe, I see no reason why each individual cannot find their own personal “meaning” or “dharma.” To me, each moment is meaningful simply because it exists. The fact that I have no reason to believe that there is an underlying “spiritual” meaning does nothing to take away from the joy of being conscious at this moment and enjoying life to the fullest.

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Posted: 05 June 2008 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Salt Creek - 05 June 2008 12:01 PM

Common-sense nihilism is just the practice of fending off the efforts of other people to foist a particular meaning of life upon you, and of declining to foist a meaning of life on other people.

That’s more or less what I’d assumed until waltercat spoke up.

Salt Creek - 05 June 2008 12:01 PM

I arrived at nihilism by doing a logical OR among all the other -isms and then bitwise negating the result. What I got was a random sequence of bits, and did not ever expect that the result would be a string of zero bytes.

Were you ever infected with an -ism?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 05 June 2008 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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homunculus - 05 June 2008 05:57 PM

Were you ever infected with an -ism?

I had a bad case of botulism once, but I am fine now.

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But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever.”

From the autobiography of A.A.Mills, ‘The passage of time, according to an estranged, casual tyrant.’

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Posted: 05 June 2008 05:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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I’ve been infected with “tourism” for years. Thankfully, with Peak Oil in sight, the scourge of tourism is ended.

All this is merely said in praise of silliness. I’m sure that if Gus Grissom, Shirley Chisholm and Wilde’s Miss Prism could be here, they would agree. If you can’t beat ‘em, diss ‘em.

homunculus - 05 June 2008 05:57 PM

Were you ever infected with an -ism?

I was a unitarian universalist one summer, for about six weeks. Her name was Molly, and she was the minister’s daughter.

[ Edited: 05 June 2008 05:39 PM by Traces Elk]
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