Life Series: If Nothing Matters — The Act of Abandoning Meaning
In this article, I explore those brief moments, when I am filled with a sudden calming sense of emptiness. Is it the act of abandoning the meaning/value of life or is it the opposite — the process of seeking the true meaning/value of life?
There are days when I wake up, and I feel:
- What if I achieved all my goals, and become the best person I can possibly be — what meaning does it have?
- And what if I don’t…What if I am failing or suffering? What then?
I feel a sense of numbing detachment when I think about the first question. It feels like I can just switch the “life is meaningful” button, and all will mean nothing. In moments, I do switch this button off, and my room’s ceiling suddenly feels shorter, and my mind flatter.
As for the second question, I feel a sense of alert and repulsion, like I am not okay with this path — like it matters after all.
So does that mean I still give value to certain things in life? Then, why can I feel it’s meaningless when I try to imagine all the supposedly-good-meaningful things coming true?
This is the mind-clogging juxtaposition of my life when I have too much time to think.
Every time that this thought comes to me, I try to justify it by filling my life with productivity, socializing and activeness. For a short time, the thoughts, and questions leave my mind but it always comes back. It revisits like unfinished business.
So I decided to face it, identify it and make meaning out of it. Whatever it is.
What is Nihilism?
When I decided to go on this adventure, I googled “When I feel like nothing matters…” and the term nihilism came up. In short,
Nihilism is the view that nothing matters. (Source:philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com)
If you prefer a detailed explanation:
Nihilism is the philosophical position which argues that being, especially past and current human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. It asserts that there is no reasonable proof of the existence of a higher ruler or creator, that a “true morality” does not exist, and that objective secular ethics are impossible. Therefore life has, in a sense, no truth and no action is objectively preferable to any other. (Source:www.philosophybasics.com)
However, it doesn’t sit right with me, because remember what I said?
Nothing matters about achievements and life goals, but if I were to be suffering/failing or putting myself/others at risk, it still matters.
So what I feel can’t be truly nihilistic right? Not really, it turns out nihilism has a few different branches and Guy Kahane raised the two branches:
- Evaluative nihilism: Nothing is really good or bad — all evaluative propositions are false.
It took me a while to understand the two branches, and I’d strongly disagree with this evaluative nihilism because I believe that anything that inflicts pain to myself or others are wrong — especially physical pain.
2. Practical nihilism: We have no reasons to do, want or feel anything.
To a certain extent, I do relate to this one, because at these moments when I switch the “life is meaningful” button off, I have little to no motivation nor do I find value in doing something, wanting something or even feeling something.
Does Nihilism Make My Life Meaningless?
I guess I was feeling unsettled because if I feel nothing matters, does that mean my life is worse off? I was overwhelmed with the feeling of emptiness in living, possibly driven to despair. But hear this:
This is to misunderstand nihilism. If nothing matters, then, it doesn’t matter that nothing matters.
There is no reason to despair if you truly believe in nihilism, that belief shouldn’t waver you from what you are currently doing because simply, it doesn’t matter, does it? If you give meaning to this belief, react from it and allow it to affect your discourse, then, you’re not nihilistic, are you? Think about it.
Nihilism and Cultural Disintegration
Also, just another thing to think about:
He [Nietzche] was… one of the first philosophers to study nihilism extensively. Nietzsche’s criticism of nihilism was mainly on that grounds that it can become a false belief, and lead individuals to discard any hope of meaning in the world and thus to invent some compensatory alternative measure of significance. (Source:www.philosophybasics.com)
- In another sense, is Nietzsche saying people who misinterpret nihilism choose to turn to religion as their way to find meaning in their life?
Misinterpret nihilism → rise of religion. Does religion and/or the likes of such exist as a coping mechanism of nihilism for people?
He also asserts that Nihilism is a result of valuing “higher”, “divine” or “meta-physical” things (such as God), that do not in turn value “base”, “human” or “earthly” things, and that any form of Idealism, after being rejected by the idealist, leads to Nihilism. According to Nietzsche, it is only once nihilism is overcome that a culture can have a true foundation upon which to thrive.
2. Here, does Nietzsche mean that when the belief in the divine or meta-physical is stripped from human beings who worship so — they will turn to nihilism, misinterprets it and begin the process of cultural disintegration?
Furthermore, he argues that only once nihilism is overcome, would a culture be stable and can grow with stability.
This is true to a certain extent: Only when we can truly accept the raw value of nihilism and not let this belief affect the discourse of our daily actions, could we continue to enrich our own culture, and our own lives.
Conclusion, So What?
If you accept nihilism — if nothing matters, there is nothing to fear and no reasons to stop doing what you are doing.
It is better to acknowledge it, accept it and do not let it waver us or the growth in our society.
So if you ever find yourself feeling detached, demotivated or simply switched off, a way to overcome it is to understand what you are feeling and accept it, but do not let it get a grip on you — watch it pass by you.
Everything is temporary, nothing lasts forever, even the belief that nothing matters.