Brett Stevens observes, most people see the world in binary categories. They believe that there is either an inherent moral good that we must all obey, or there are no rules and life is pointless anarchy. Nihilism argues for a middle path: we lack inherent order, but are defined by our choices, which means that we must start making smarter choices by understanding the reality in which we live more than the human social reality which we have used to replace it in our minds. Searching for a level of thought underneath the self-serving methods of politics and economics, the philosophy of nihilism approaches thought at its most basic level and highest degree of abstraction. It counters the self-deception of groupthink – individuals not considering all the alternatives, as they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.1
While many rail against nihilism as the death of culture and religion, the philosophy itself encourages a consequentialist, reality-based outlook that forms the basis for moral choice. Unlike the control-oriented systems of thought that form the basis of contemporary society, nihilism reverts the crux of moral thinking to the relationship between the individual and the effects of that individual’s actions in reality. As a direct consequence of nihilism, man is forced to see reality for what it is: a random, irrational, and chaotic existence in which our role is infinitesimal. Nihilistic despair occurs upon finding something that once had value or meaning being not as good as you believed. Not surprisingly this happened when Wall Street protesters called out the ruling class of elites by connecting the dots between corporate and political power. Now many realize the economic system is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind.
Political nihilism is a world-view that’s rational, logical, empirical, scientific and devoid of pointless, extraneous emotion. It’s the logical psyche that distills everything down into what is known, what can be known and what can’t be known. However, truth is simply the name given to the point of view of the people who have the power to enforce their point of view. Whatever man can make work in order to achieve his purposes becomes the truth in the system. There is no objective reality behind truth – different perspectives produce different truths. Nihilism is a consequence of the personal realization that values previously assumed inviolate are wholly false and unworkable. And while an acceptance of nihilism immediately returns a perspective of utter futility for life and universal existence, this perspective is not the final resolution. Actually existence has even more purpose now because a proper perspective has been attained and a reason is finally clear – the complete destruction of the debasing, ideologically derived moral order.2
The philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche claimed there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class, and facts cannot be separated from interpretations. Objectivity is beyond human capability because the mind cannot know ‘truth’ in an objective sense. Minds are useful, but according to Nietzsche invariably flawed because they cannot separate facts from human error and moral values, which inevitably are subjective. If all perspectives are subjective and hence flawed, what perspective is society to follow? Nietzsche’s perspective was that no source of knowledge was authoritative. Sources of knowledge won ascendancy based on which ones were backed by holders of power. Thus, perceived truth depended on power. Real truth, if it existed, was not ideology that cannot be challenged, but was relative and subjective. It depends on circumstances.
For Nietzsche, the values (culture and traditions) of the dominant society (with an ideology consistent with its interests) were oppressing the emergence of a new generation of stronger individuals and a more vigorous society and culture. Darwin effectively showed that searching for a true definition of species was not only futile but unnecessary since the definition of a species is something temporary, something which will change over time, without any permanent, lasting and stable reality. Nietzsche strived through his philosophical work to do the same for cultural values. He substituted Darwin’s adaptive fitness with creative power – and called for a ‘re-evaluation of all values.’ Ideas should change as soon as information and input changes. Recognition that moral values are subjective and that rights can only be interpreted in their social context frees the observer to break from the bondage of false views to see society more clearly, if still subjectively.
Nietzsche considered nihilism a transitional stage that accompanies human development. It arises from frustration and weariness. When people feel alienated from values, and have lost the foundation of their value system but have not replaced it with anything, then they become nihilists. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. He believed that there was no longer any real substance to traditional social, political, moral, and religious values, and science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science or society, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves as xenophobia. If there is a morality in the nihilist world, it is the unceasing awareness of consequences.
Political nihilism involves the destruction of illusions, the negation of mythology and the removal of the elite who profit from the existing propaganda of artificial confusion. Neoliberals created the illusion cutting taxes for the rich will actually create well paying jobs for the rest of society. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. In the 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. However, in this so-called evolutionary environment of the market the income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society continues to grow. These illusions must be destroyed with truth – tax cuts for the rich do not create well-paying jobs for the middle class and there is no justification for the presence of competition in all parts of social activities.
Donald Trump employed populist nihilism during the 2016 presidential campaign attracting voters disillusioned with the establishment choices. The opportunity was created as the ideology of the dominant society, fundamental neoliberal economics, alienated workers from values such as the American dream. Neither ideology nor facts inform Trump’s decision making, so he could easily adopt political nihilism. What do his choices for cabinet inform us? Steve Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner and hedge-fund manager, was appointed to Department of Treasury; Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, was appointed to Department of Commerce. These appointments will ensure the Wall Street-Washington corridor continues to function. These choices make certain the economic elite’s interests will be looked after. “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed,” observed Friedrich Nietzsche.
Political nihilism is a branch of nihilism that follows the characteristic nihilist’s rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions. As such, nihilism does not support equality, however neither does neoliberal capitalism. Nihilism is not about disregard for the law, rather consists in rejection of all value judgements. Nihilism views rights as irrelevant because it’s the underlying structures of morality and the roots of truth, myth and collective delusions that dictate significance. Morality and ethics, a product of the dominant class, laced with hypocrisy and abuse are warped into illusory forces. In this system, with no absolute truth, individuals must evaluate one moral position in relation to other moral positions. Winston Churchill observed, “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”
The present system is fundamentally broken; it is necessary to reject the dogma of the past. What will drive change is a doctrine of skepticism coupled with questioning that refutes the ideology, sacred values and principles that maintain neoliberal ideology along with the supporting social and economic institutions based on false beliefs. In this manner new values appear to replace the old. The new system will be configured for a biologically-based existence. This process would reject arbitrary values in favor of cause and effect, with a sustainable mental and physical environment that promotes independent thinking and critical expression. We must make smart choices – and choices have consequences – replacing the existing corrupt political, economic and social systems with a more sustainable environment in order to achieve the goal of making good decisions on how we use our world and the things in it, for all our benefit.
1 A Philosophy Based In Nothingness And Eternity – A Call to Action. (06 Sept 2016) http://www.nihil.org/nihilism/nihilist-book-nihilism-a-philosophy-based-in-nothingness-and-eternity-released
2 Nihilism Defined. http://www.counterorder.com/nihilism.html