Over the past couple of months, I’ve received feedback from some readers who have accused me of being nihilistic, and purveying “existentialist dribble.” (Did they mean to say “drivel?” Why is it that haters always seem to struggle with the English language?) Another reader told me that the journal was “weird stuff…existential, angst laden, hormonally tormented, dark….stuff.”
What do you think?
In my statement of purpose, What is Black Sun? I espouse elements of existentialism and nihilism. And I don’t shy away from criticism or debate, and so responded directly to these readers. But it made me think about what I was writing and why. So first of all, I wanted to clarify what those words meant, to see if they fit how I believe: Looking at this definition, I’d say I identify with about half of it. But the other half I find highly objectionable, and would not want to be so identified.
NIHILISM – from Merriam-Webster.com
Main Entry: ni•hil•ism
Pronunciation: ‘nI-(h)&-“li-z&m, ‘nE-
Etymology: German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil nothing — more at NIL
Date: circa 1817
1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths
Commentary on 1a: Many traditional values and beliefs are certainly unfounded, as they have gotten the world into the sorry state it’s in today. One definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. Those who espouse traditional values could by that standard be considered insane. But existence is certainly not senseless and useless. To the extent we attempt to learn from the mistakes of the past, learn about ourselves, change ourselves and thereby change the world, existence can be an exciting adventure.
Commentary on 1b: Attempts to establish absolute moral “truths” (usually from human-authored scriptures) are at the root of religions and their destructive fanitacism. So yes, I support the decimation of so-called “morality” and scripture-based moral concepts. I once read on a MENSA discussion forum a working definition of good and evil. Good is the creation of assets, evil is the destruction of assets. While this seems like a materialistic definition, 75% of the world lives and dies based on having or not having adequate food and shelter–basic assets of life. And life is the most precious asset of all: if someone takes that from you, you have nothing. Conversely, all assets require the expenditure of a certain amount of life energy to create. Therefore, an entire moral code can be derived from the respect of human life and human productivity. This morality can be quantified and supported by the facts of human needs and human development indices (HDI), unlike arbitrary moralities based on tradition and scripture.
The second part of 1b, the denial of any grounds for objective truth, establishes fallow ground for relativism. Relativism is one of the most pernicious and self-defeating philosophies in existence. So in the context in which it describes relativism, I completely reject nihilism.
2 a (1) : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility (2) capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination b : TERRORISM
Commentary on 2: Definition 2 seems to advocate violence and terrorism. Terrorism I reject categorically. Violence is a part of nature but in civilization should be used only against an existing order when that order is systematically destroying assets and lives. Only civilization, freedom of thought, freedom of action, and more widespread implementation of objective and democratic values hold hope for positive change.
– ni•hil•ist /-list/ noun or adjective
– ni•hil•is•tic /”nI-(h)&-‘lis-tik, “nE-/ adjective
EXISTENTIALISM – from Merriam-Webster.com
Main Entry: ex•is•ten•tial•ism
: a chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for his acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad
Commentary: This speaks to the need for free thinkers to come up with their own moral code. Absent doctrinaire explanations of life, it does go back to the individual. Existentialism, therefore, is the natural state of free thinkers. But it is by no means dark, depressing or devoid of hope. It just rejects the kind of false hope and pretenses of those who derive their security from unexamined principles. This false security of so-called “believers” or “faithful” will likely result in eventual disillusionment.
I realized that in these cases, readers were coming from strong religious backgrounds, and their objections to my writing could not be resolved without a complete overhaul of their beliefs. Either you have resolved to be a free thinker and go it alone, or you just need the reinforcement of a community of believers and you might as well not even try to wrap your head around this stuff. There is no winning the argument, no right or wrong when it comes to unprovable beliefs. If there’s an afterlife, there is speculation by some that you go to a place that is like whatever you believe the afterlife to be. So we could all be “right” in our own way, and we may even get to feel like we’ve been vindicated once we die. (This is almost certainly wishful thinking.)
In the meantime, I’ll keep sharing my insights, and hopefully, you’ll keep telling me what you think. Black Sun Journal is about a non-faith community and promotion of positive and life-affirming values. Sometimes moving forward in our evolution involves deep descents into the muck and mire of things we’d rather not see or admit to ourselves. This is true of people, nations, and organizations. To those who haven’t chosen this path, it can sometimes seem like those who have are hopelessly depressed. But life is not all sunshine. The valleys and depths of feeling are just as real and valuable as the heights. One does not exist without the other, and that is what this site is about. If you are so inclined and want to participate in a respectful dialog, you’ve come to the right place.