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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Nihilism
Posted: September 22, 2021 at 3:10 am
While fewer students have gone off to college this fall, owing perhaps to increasing COVID-19 restrictions, those who have should probably factor in the following that it will take at least four years to get through; that it will cost more than $100,000 to do it; and that along the way everything they may have believed at the beginning will turn out not to have been true at the end.
In other words, nihilism is not cheap.
Unless, of course, they never believed much of anything to be begin with. For students already steeped in nihilism, four years in college will merely confirm the nothingness they learned in high school. Or from their parents.
Things used to be a bit less egregious, by the way. When the late Allan Bloom sat down to write The Closing of the American Mind, which made a huge splash when it first appeared back in 1987, the crisis of higher education was then seen in a slightly less dreadful way. Oh, it was serious enough, but not entirely bleak. The enemy then was not yet nihilism, only relativism. Here, for instance, is how Blooms book begins: There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.
So, yes, things have since gotten worse. Conditions have now metastasized. Which simply means, as a sheer practical matter, that to travel these days from relativism to nihilism neednt take very long.
There are, however, a few happy exceptions. One of them is where I teach. Here at Franciscan University of Steubenville, the movement is in the opposite direction. Rather than trashing the truths young people arrive with, here the aim is to shore them up with arguments both reasonable and faith-based. Or if, God help them, they actually do show up tainted with ideological infections, the aim is to disabuse them of the disease, then start pumping fresh blood into the system. Providing lots of antibodies is what we do best.
Of course, I cannot speak for all my colleagues, concerning whose teaching methods Im not qualified to judge, but in the one entry level class I do teach, i.e., Foundations of Catholicism, I always begin by showcasing the advantages of a Liberal Education. Paying special attention to Theology, of course, which is the very Queen of the Sciences.
And what, I will ask, do we mean by a liberal study? They really dont know, which is why theyre taking the class. So I tell them, quoting Mark van Doren, who once wrote a lovely little book on the subject.
A Liberal Education he defines as those courses we are not at liberty to omit. Which is neatly put, I think. And why is that? Because, at the deepest level, such courses determine what it means to be a complete human being. They set us free, in other words, which is what the word liber means; unlike, say, such servile subjects as befit the condition of a slave. The distinction traces at least as far back as Aristotle, who insisted that there are certain pursuits that lay claim to intrinsic importance, to be pursued for their own sake. Others, however, may be adjudged as merely useful, and are therefore of instrumental value only.
Typing, for instance. A wonderful tool, to be sure, but one whose mastery depends on having something to say. A poem, for example. Or a prayer to God. Or maybe just a letter to someone you love. My wife might well have spurned me long ago, if I hadnt typed all those wonderful letters I sent her. But that was hardly the reason she married me. Imagine someone saying, You know, Fred is really a bit of a pinhead. But, boy, can he type!
Here is how I put it to my students. Look at it this way, I tell them. What should be the animating question in putting together a perfectly sound curriculum? The answer is that it must speak to the most basic dimensions of the human person, of which there are three the need to know the truth of reality, which speaks to the intellect; the aspiration to seek the good, which is addressed to the will; and the capacity to take delight in the beautiful, which nourishes the sensibility.
To what extent, I then ask, is the education your parents are paying such big bucks for you to receive, at all likely to communicate truth, goodness, or beauty? What a wicked world it would be if you were fitted for such things and at the end of four years you learned that there was no truth or goodness or beauty to be found anywhere? That life, as poor Macbeth will tragically learn at the end of his own, is nothing more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. How might that make you feel? What an awful swindle, youd say, Ive been made the victim of!
And so an education built upon lies and deceit an education not in the least interested in the pursuit of truth or goodness or beauty is nothing short of an assault upon the dignity and integrity of the human person.
The whole law of human existence, declares Dostoyevsky in The Devils, consists merely in making it possible for every man to bow down before what is infinitely great. If man were to be deprived of the infinitely great, he would refuse to go on living, and die of despair.
It is precisely here, however, that we find ourselves face to face with an impossible sea of being, one which separates two very disparate worlds. None of us, of course, has the wit or the power to cross over. A sheer infinite abyss stands in the way. A sundering divide, as it were, between two orders of being: human reason on one side, divine Revelation on the other. It is, to put it another way, the utter incommensurability between nature and grace, history and heaven, which simply cannot be overcome. I may long to get to the other side, to look upon the face of God, but without grace I am no better than a pauper fallen down into a gutter. I see the stars above, but Ive no way of reaching out to touch even the nearest one.
Here, then, is the outer edge of reason, beyond which it cannot go. And, yet, like Kafka, we are moved to say, Even if salvation does not come, still I want to be worthy of it in every instant.
Posted: at 3:10 am
Last week, Gonzalez (Ohio), the 37-year-old former rising star, announced that he wouldnt stay and fight his Trump-backed primary challenger, walking away from what had once been a safe seat in Congress.
The decision was greeted with dismay among anti-Trumpers of both parties who saw Gonzalezs survival as a test of whether Trumps grip on the GOP could be shaken. It also came as a surprise. Gonzalez was an attractive candidate, with a strong resume and lots of cash, and he had out-performed Trump by nearly 7 points in November. Why would he hand his nemesis an easy win?
The answer is Gonzalez didnt quit because he feared he couldnt win, but because it just wasnt worth it anymore. Winning, it turns out, is not winning if the prize feels a lot more like a loss.
You could fight your butt off and win this thing, but are you really going to be happy? he asked. And the answer is, probably not.
This was the key to his decision to self-purge: He could spend a year fighting off merde-slinging deplorables, only to win another two years sitting in a caucus next to Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Paul Gosar (R- Ariz.) and the other avatars of Trumpism.
Defeat, even before a single vote is cast, might have been disappointing. It might even look to some like a conspicuous lack of competitive mettle. But that assumes the outcome is in doubt which it isnt. The Republican Party is already lost. And victory meant two more years trapped in a hellscape of crazified school board meetings, Trump rallies, My Pillow Guy insanity, Newsmax and Fox News hits, and a caucus run by Kevin McCarthy, a man without any principle beyond the acquisition of power.
So Gonzalez decided to become the latest Republican to walk away from it all.
Trump gloated, attributing Gonzalezs fall to his ill-informed and otherwise very stupid impeachment vote against the sitting President of the United States, me.
But the young congressmans decision also highlighted once again the transformation of the GOP. The party is okay with members who dabble in white nationalism, peddle conspiracy theories and foment acts of political violence. Neither bigotry nor nihilism is disqualifying.
The one unforgivable sin, however, is telling the truth about the 2020 election.
By and large, GOP officeholders have internalized that message; they know that defying or even questioning Trumps most bizarre claims is political suicide.
Trump has already made dozens of endorsements in down-ballot races against Republican officials who refused to back his claims of election fraud, not to mention the 10 members of Congress who actually voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The result is a Trump-led purge of dissidents, but the bigger story and the one with longer-term implications may be the self-deportation of the sane, the decent and the principled, who simply opt to leave on their own.
Their political emigration is profoundly changing the face of the GOP, and it is happening at every level of politics, from local school boards to the United States Senate. Whatever the result of next years elections, the GOP that remains will be meaner, dumber, crazier and more beholden than ever to the defeated, twice-impeached former president.
Until this year, Anthony Gonzalez was not a particularly likely candidate for political martyrdom. His record was solidly conservative he voted right 85 percent of the time, according to the conservative Heritage Action vote tracker. FiveThirtyEight found that he had voted with Trump nearly 89 percent of the time in the 116th Congress.
In 2020, Gonzalez had run unopposed in the GOP primary and won reelection in November with more than 63 percent of the vote. (Trump won the northeast Ohio district but by 6.7 percentage points less.) There was talk that the congressman, who has an MBA from Stanford and whose relatives fled Castros Cuba, could be a future governor or senator.
But that was before he became one of just 10 GOP representatives to vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection. The President of the United States helped organize and incite a mob, he said. At the time he explained that he was compelled to vote for impeachment because of Trumps lack of response as the United States Capitol was under attack.
Immediately, of course, he became a target of Trumps wrath, but there were still reasons to think the former college and NFL player might be a survivor. For a lot of politicians, being a congressman is the most exciting thing they will ever do; it is the be-all and the end-all of their self-identity. But as I told Sports Illustrated earlier this year, that wasnt the case with Gonzalez, who has done cooler things in his career, and so was less likely to blink than some of his other colleagues.
In addition, Gonzalez had more than $1.5 million in his campaign war chest and even though he faced a tough primary challenge next year, his Trump-backed opponent was a deeply flawed candidate. As POLITICO reported in July, his Trumpist challenger, Max Miller, had a reputation as a cocky bully with a quick-trigger temper.
Miller has a long record of speeding, underage drinking and disorderly conduct. According to sources, a romantic relationship with former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham ended when he pushed her against a wall and slapped her in the face in his Washington apartment after she accused him of cheating on her.
Gonzalez told reporters last week that he was confident he could have won his primary against Miller. But the father of two young children cited a rising tide of threats he and his family had to deal with after his impeachment vote. He recalled being greeted at the airport by two uniformed police officers, who were detailed to provide security. Thats one of those moments where you say, Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport? he told the New York Times.
In Georgia, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan went through the same gauntlet after he refused to support Trumps claims of election fraud. People wanted to rip my head off, Duncan writes in a new book. Friends disappeared or became rabid enemies overnight.
Like Gonzalez, Duncan also once a rising star in the GOP has announced that he is not running for reelection next year.
In the end, they werent willing to pay the price to remain in a toxified Republican party. They are far from alone.
In 2018, according to Ballotpedia, 23 House Republicans retired from political life altogether, followed by another 20 who stepped away from political office in 2020. Others also retired, but ran for other offices. Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) continue to hang on, but they are increasingly isolated and outnumbered. The House retirees have been joined by centrist GOP senators like Jeff Flake, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, who opted not to seek reelection. Pennsylvanias Pat Toomey and North Carolinas Richard Burr (who also voted to convict Trump) will also step down after next years election. They will be joined by Ohios Rob Portman, who voted to acquit Trump but was critical of his behavior.
All told, according to FiveThirtyEight, only 161 of the 293 Republican representatives and senators who were in office when Trump was inaugurated are still in office.
Of course, there were many different motives for the Republican departures, but all of them understood that survival in Trumps GOP required multiple acts of self-humiliation that would, in the end, only win them more years of self-abasement.
And even after all of that, they knew that their obsequiousness and silence might count for nothing if they ever balked at Trumps mendacity or his assaults on democracy.
Just ask Mike Pence.
So, it was a prize not worth fighting for.
From the outside, the apparent surrender of leaders like Gonzalez may look like a case of the best lacking all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.
For Anthony Gonzalez, though, a chance to sit alongside Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas) in a Trumpified GOP caucus for another two years simply was not worth putting the lives of his wife and children at risk.
Gonzalez insists that, despite his retirement, he is not abandoning his opposition to Trump nor his determination to prevent him from holding office again. Most of my political energy will be spent working on that exact goal, he told the Times. Georgias Geoff Duncan strikes a similarly defiant note, pledging to help create a post-Trumpian GOP 2.0.
But this seems like a triumph of optimism over political reality. By leaving office and ceding the field to the Trumpists, they are also ensuring that the identity of the GOP is now frozen in place and will be for a generation.
See the article here:
Posted: at 3:10 am
Even before the pandemic, the viewership for award shows, ranging from the Oscars to the MTV Video Music Awards, was already in free fall. In the past five years, the Golden Globes were down 63%, and the Billboard Music Awards show was down 72%. The coronavirus only accelerated the phenomenon, with hostless award shows of tone-deaf celebrities leading to record numbers with literally nothing better to do than watch television deciding to tune out anyway.
Yet, the Emmy Awards rebounded from last year's all-time low with a 16% gain in viewership, even as other award shows continue to post dreadful numbers. The explanation is simple. The Emmys celebrated shows people actually watched, and one show more than any other explains just how the silver screen and streaming have kept their fingers on the pulses of audiences, even as other mediums free-fall into irrelevance. That show is Apple TV+'s breakout comedy, Ted Lasso. (Only broad spoilers for season one follow, so those who are catching up on season two can feel free to read ahead.)
In no way does Ted Lasso reinvent the wheel. The conceit (one-part workplace comedy, one-part sports saga) is one as old as television itself. The eponymous protagonist is a naive, unsophisticated American dropped into the cobbled streets of Richmond, England, and the surrounding cast of characters includes stiff upper lips and the busty wives of soccer stars. Season one begins with Rebecca Welton bringing Lasso, previously an American football coach with zero experience in soccer, to coach AFC Richmond, which she recently acquired as a part of her divorce settlement. Welton, who is hurt by her ex-husband abandoning her for a younger woman, intends for Lasso to drive the team to ruin, but despite his lack of technical prowess, Lasso's folksy ways strengthen the team's resolve, even if not its record.
Again, there's nothing revolutionary or even terribly interesting about that. And yet, that's not how it was received.
Ted Lasso catapulted Apple TV+ to the top tier of streaming services and became a top 10 streaming show across all platforms this year. Although television suffers far less from the disconnect between critics and audiences that plagues film, Ted Lasso did stand out as the increasingly rare fan-and-pundit favorite that is fun, if you can get over the British penchant for more than the occasional F-bomb, for nearly the whole family. (Sex is obviously a part of the off-screen plot, but after Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad dominating the discourse for over a decade, Ted Lasso is probably more PG than PG-13 at this point.)
The Crown, Emmy-bait by design, was expected to sweep the Emmys thanks to its fictionalizations of Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher and Oscar-quality funding and production. But it was Ted Lasso that set the tone for the evening. With the most nominations of any freshman comedy, the hit won outstanding comedy series, outstanding lead actor for a comedy series, outstanding supporting actor for a comedy series, and outstanding supporting actress for a comedy series. Articles celebrating the comeback of the Emmys didn't lead with photos of The Crown cast they all boasted the Lasso gang, and with good reason, namely that Ted Lasso proved that nice guys can actually finish first.
The antihero archetype of Tony Soprano and Don Draper gave way to the Golden Age of Television, but with the side effect of corroding comedy in the process. The tired formula of hackneyed sitcoms such as the Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men had to die, but rather than draw from the complexity of new dramas to create smarter comedies, writers simply pulled the most superficial qualities of them. Soon, the small screen was flooded with the vulgarity and nudity of Game of Thrones and the nihilism and pessimism of House of Cards, but none of the insight or the stakes.
Whereas Sex and the City tethered its libertine laughs with the beating heart of strong female friendships, Lena Dunham's Girls tried to lean so hard into the honest loneliness of constant meaningless sex that, in the process, she transformed her characters into caricatures whose increasingly self-destructive decisions made absolutely no sense. Fleabag, which followed the similar formula of a woman who constantly has sex, seems to lack the sort of enjoyment for it that made Samantha of Sex and the City such a hoot, became a similar favorite of pundits and the Emmys. Other repeat nominees over recent years for outstanding comedy include Master of None, in which Aziz Ansari plays a millennial every bit as aimless and whiny as Dunham's protagonist, and Insecure, with Issa Rae playing the same shapeless archetype. Some shows, such as the repeat winner Veep and the always overlooked Curb Your Enthusiasm, stand out with uniquely brilliant writing and execution, but the trend seemed to favor comedy less intended to elicit laughs rather than self-congratulatory social commentary.
Ted Lasso, however, corrected the overcorrection. The premise and plot are simple, but all the tropes beloved by lazy sitcoms of the past are subverted. Rebecca, played by Hannah Waddingham, has an obvious foil in the much younger Keely Jones, played by Juno Temple. But instead of pitting Waddingham's elder ice queen against the bubbly blonde publicist for AFC Richmond, the two women become actual friends, much more akin to Carrie Bradshaw and her crew than any other fake female friendships dominating the comedies in recent years. Despite Lasso's indomitable exterior, both the acting and the writing continue to render him a character as three-dimensional as a Draper or a Soprano, albeit with less of a dramatic backstory. The show embraces loss and failure not with the zeal of nihilism, but with the measure of realism. Social commentary finds its place in the appropriate storylines, but it never tries to insert itself when unnecessary.
Hollywood turning over big-screen profit margins to China may have made its increasing domestic disconnect with audiences a permanent problem by design, and thanks to limitless platforms such as SoundCloud, the music industry can continue to reward shock effect over talent without crowding out performers favored by the public. But Ted Lasso proved that nice guys and nice comedies don't have to be boring and they might just save the Emmys from irrelevance.
Posted: at 3:10 am
Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie and Tupac9pm, BBC Two
Nick Broomfield and his unruly boom mic first ventured into the murky world of US hip-hop back in 2002. His doc Biggie & Tupac asked serious questions of both Death Row Records boss Suge Knight and the LAPD. Nothing was ever quite resolved, however, and this year he returned to the subject. This update is less a factual conclusion and more a philosophical look at what the marketing of violence and nihilism actually meant to the culture into which it emerged. Phil Harrison
What a damn-near perfect thing this is: in common with Detectorists, a wry (but hilarious) meditation on nostalgia, ageing and our relationship with the natural world. Tonight, Bob and Paul take a boat in the Norfolk Broads hoping to catch themselves some East Anglian rudd. Ali Catterall
Another elegantly realised investigation for Shaun Evanss melancholy young Morse. A taxi driver is found dead in his cab, having owed money all over southern England. Morse is led to a nudist colony and a blue-movie cinema in search of answers. Needless to say, none of these outings improve his bleak, self-destructive mood. PH
Internal and external trauma dovetail in this penultimate episode of the claustrophobic, conspiratorial, self-consciously portentous drama. For Amy (Suranne Jones), the sub feels more and more like a prison as hostile boats force a lockdown. Back on land but only marginally less rattled, Rose Leslies Kirsten searches for clues. PH
And then there were six: the gruelling celebrity purge continues. Tonight, hand-to-hand combat as the celebrities get to do what theyve wanted to do since arrival and kick lumps out of their SAS tormentors. Dont be surprised to see Foxy, Ant and pals get their own back at some point, though. PH
With a devastating terrorist attack as its fulcrum, this new series from DR (The Killing, Borgen) tells a thoughtful story about our interconnected lives. Nine days before the tragic events in Copenhagen, a wedding anniversary celebration is cut short and a young girl discovers a mysterious bag. Ellen E Jones
Boyz N the Hood (John Singleton, 1991), 10.45pm, BBC TwoJohn Singletons powerful and compassionate debut earned him an Oscar nomination at 22. This landmark drama about a young African Americans struggle on the streets of LA, where crack, bad cops and gang warfare are rife, stars Cuba Gooding Jr as Tre Styles and Ice Cube as his friend Doughboy. Paul Howlett
Premiership Rugby Union: Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins 2pm, BT Sport 1, From Kingston Park Stadium.
Cycling: Road World Championships 2pm, Eurosport 1, The mens individual time-trial.
Premier League Football: West Ham v Manchester United 2pm, Sky Sports Main Event, With Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea to follow at 4.30pm.
Posted: at 3:10 am
My first job in journalism was editing a free magazine called Rasp. In 1995, we ran a competition for a years supply of Two Dogs lemon brew, the Australian alcopop. Two Dogs tried to send us 365 bottles, and I negotiated them up to 1,000, indignant that a bottle a day could constitute a supply. It is the only time Ive ever played hard ball. Nobody entered the competition because we didnt have any readers, and nor did we have any staff. The two of us, me and the designer, drank the whole lot in the space of two months. A constant drip feed of 4.5% ABV, all day. If anybody asked there was a much larger team upstairs running TNT, a freesheet for expat Australians wed say it was a British tradition, going back to medieval times, when workers would sip ale because of the contaminated water supply. But medieval ale would have been more like 0.5%, they might have protested, except they were also constantly drunk, and at lunchtime wed all go to the pub, 60 people in crocodile formation marching down the street, like a misbegotten nursery outing.
So the cliche of the drunken journalist happens to be true, but in the early 90s it was also true of teachers. Dave Lawrence, 56, co-author of Scarred for Life, of which more shortly, remembers his teacher training: There was a pub across the road and at lunchtime, all the teachers would head over there, and all afternoon they would reek of booze. It wasnt really sectoral this was just generation X. Colin Angus, a senior research fellow in the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, is 39. Hes not generation X, which is usually defined as those born between 1965 and 1980. But in his pre-academic career in electrical wholesaling, Everyone was always talking about the good old days of long, boozy lunches.
I packed that magazine with drinking antics: the music reviews, the vox pops, the features. It was all basically about booze, except once I did something on what was the most reliable contraception for people who were rarely sober (spoiler: not the mini-pill). On the back page, I gave my dad a column called The Old Imbiber, and even though we pulled in no readers that we were looking for, some expat Australians did read Rasp, and any time he went into a pub with Aussie bar staff, he would be recognised, and they would invite him behind the bar to pose with his mouth under an optic. It tickled him like a trout.
That was just some anecdata for you: in generation X, we never felt as though we were drinking more than our parents, because they drank a hell of a lot, and were relatively free of ancillary taboos, such as drink-driving. As for hard facts, theres a chart that shows the proportion of each generation that drinks five or more nights a week, says Bobby Duffy, the professor of public policy and director of the Policy Institute at Kings College London, as well as the author of The Perils of Perception: Why Were Wrong About Nearly Everything. One-third of the prewar generation drank five nights a week. Its 0.2% of generation Z [those born between about 1995 and 2012]. Its one of the strongest cohort effects he can name: Its almost religious. But within that very steady downward trajectory, there are complications. Drinking five times a week doesnt necessarily constitute harmful drinking. In terms of risky drinking, theres a really strong Office for National Statistics chart, a bulge going through the age range that more or less tracks generation X.
For his part, Angus, is careful to preface his own research with its limits: HMRC knows exactly how much alcohol is being sold, so you can easily get a per capita amount of litres of pure alcohol a year. We know that peaked in 2004, but if you want to know who was doing the drinking, thats trickier, because HMRC doesnt care. Researchers rely on self-reported figures, which tend to exclude the very heavy drinkers, who arent interested in your surveys, but also downplay everyones drinking, since they ask about a typical week, and most people dont look back on their binges and think, Yes, thats absolutely classic me. If we add up how much everyone says they drink, you get to 60% of the amount of alcohol we know is sold, Angus concludes, And thats quite good there are other countries where its more like 30%.
So the steady climb up to that 2004 peak poses the question: was every generation drinking more, or were we looking at a cohort of very heavy drinkers? One overlooked feature is that it was mainly driven by wine-drinkers, who in 1950 were so rare they were basically weirdos, and 50 years later were, unit for unit, matching beer drinkers. Over a shorter period, 30 years, the pub-to-home ratio flipped; at the start of the 70s, 70% of drinking was done in pubs, by the early 00s, 70% was done at home. Its not untrue, Angus says cautiously, to say men tend to drink beer in pubs and women tend to drink wine at home. So the rise in drinking seems to centre on gen X women, or, to give us our proper title, ladettes. But ignoring gender for the time being, why that gen X bulge in the first place?
Many of us will remember the 90s for the liberalisation regulatory and commercially of alcohol. Supermarkets embarked on aggressive price reductions wine-makers to this day regard UK grocery behemoths with a combination of contempt and fear as the market for home drinking grew, while later in the decade, the brakes were lifted on pub opening hours. There was a lot of doom and gloom in alcohol policy circles, Angus recalls, when Tony Blair said, Im going to relax licensing laws and were magically going to get a European cafe culture of drinking. We were never going to acquire another countrys drinking culture.
In the event, hardly anywhere took up the 24-hour drinking capability that New Labour allowed. However, everything felt very easy getting served whatever your age, getting a drink whatever the time, everything as cheap as chips. Most of this is also true now (in England, at least; Scotland in 2018 and Wales in 2020 embarked on minimum pricing), however, and millennial drinking patterns are very different.
To understand the culture, you need to go back to the 70s and 80s, formative years for generation X. Dave Lawrence and Stephen Brotherstone are authors of Scarred for Life (volume three is out soon). On paper, you might expect this compendium of the TV and media themes of the time to be very nostalgic and affectionate. But thats because you dont remember the time. The crushing sense of economic decline was a constant on TV Brotherstone flags up the documentary Tees Street Isnt Working, made in 1985, about a street in Birkenhead on which not one person had a job, except the guy who worked in the Jobcentre.
Lawrence remembers his own experience of job-seeking in the mid-80s laughingly: I got a letter back saying, We had so many applications for this job that we had to do a lucky dip to send the forms. Unfortunately, you were not lucky. The popular memory of the 80s is neon and Bucks Fizz, but the reality was the feeling that nothing and nobody would work again, waiting for the world to end. And lets not forget the nuclear threat, which permeated not just popular culture as a storyline in everything from Judge Dredd to Only Fools and Horses but mainstream education. We had a geography lesson where we learned what the damage would be if a bomb dropped on Liverpool city centre, says Lawrence. We all knew which concentric circle wed be in. Brotherstone remembers having his first panic attack about nuclear war at 13.
I used to think this was just me and other people whose mothers were quite Greenham-y. But it was all of us, and then our sexual awakenings bisected the Aids crisis, which was portrayed as a black death that the sexually active pretty much deserved. We came of drinking age, then, with an understandable degree of nihilism which tipped into the carefree 90s. A generation which had abandoned hope had its cares lifted apparently at random; the quest for oblivion met an age in which everything was fine and nothing mattered (remember post-irony?), and a fair amount of chaos ensued.
Enter third-wave feminism: I felt really strongly about this, and still do. A critical point of emancipation was that we werent the wimmins libbers of caricature, fighting the fight for other, oppressed women we were fighting for ourselves, for the right to be delinquent, to be ungovernable. Chrissie Giles, the global health editor at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the presenter of the podcast Smoke Screen, compares the environment in which we grew up shes 41, Im 48 to the temperance movement in the US. The good woman was a non-drinker who was a counterpoint to the man, who drank. A woman who drank to excess was mad, bad, sad. What was wrong with her?
Sloughing that off was really fundamental to asserting a destiny, one in which you werent the designated driver to your legitimately pissed man, just as you werent the gatekeeper to sex, you had your own sexual desires, which were also sometimes unmanageable; one in which you didnt just exist to manage mens excesses or fall prey to them. It was a flashpoint in the fissure between libertine and rule-bound feminism, occurring in tandem not by accident, I dont think with the exuberant ladette culture embodied by Sara Cox and Zo Ball.
Ladette, says Giles, is not a shortening of lady. Its a lengthening of lad. If the choice was between male agency and female restraint, many of us chose agency. There was a moral panic around female drunkenness at the time there was a famous shot of a girl passed out on a bench, Angus recalls. Shes known affectionately among alcohol research circles as Bench Girl. She was used to illustrate stories about alcohol use for about 15 years, he says. From an alcohol harm perspective, that was never the problem. The problem was middle-aged people quietly drinking too much at home.
Simultaneously, this emancipation became a marketing opportunity: pubs which used to be hallowed, male spaces, steamed-up windows and fag-burnt carpets, where women were stared at became tailored to women, with sofas and big windows. It was win-win; the All Bar Ones and Fox and Firkins didnt put men off, since they liked to be places where women were. Who knew? A syncopated change happened in advertising; Carol Emslie, the substance-use lead at Glasgow Caledonian University, describes it as a move from sexualising women to sell alcohol to men, to associating alcohol with sophistication, empowerment, female friendship (Emslie runs a social media campaign #dontpinkmydrink. After she mentions it, I notice this everywhere: pink gin, pink prosecco, even drinks that arent pink are packaged in pink). If emancipation through alcohol is a real thing, so is female solidarity: Giles makes a subtle, sweet point. Weve all been in the toilets of a club, and someone will be like are you alright? Have you got someone with you? That feeling of being looked after. Im not sure how that is for men.
Theres one other factor: the odiousness of comparison. Or, to put that more simply, generation X was never that extreme, its just the millennials, or generation sensible, are making us look bad. They drink less overall, and are more likely to renounce drinking altogether. Generation Z drink less still, though arguably, give them a chance: the oldest of them are in their early 20s and the youngest only 13. Internationally, the differences are less stark because the peaks were earlier in France and Italy, drinking peaked in the 60s, in Spain, the 70s, various countries hit a high in the 80s. It was quite unusual to hit a peak in the early 00s.
Why subsequent generations have quit drinking is a question for another day, although Melissa Oldham, 30, a research fellow at UCL working in alcohol and tobacco research, will kick us off: One explanation is that theres been a change in attitudes, which might in part be a reaction to previous heavy-drinking generations. There are hypotheses around economics and habituation the student years are not as carefree when youre heavy with debt, so people may not build the habits of binge drinking, which they then wont take into adulthood. One other thing Oldham notes: People are so cynical: they say millennials are just taking drugs or smoking weed instead. But thats not the case: weve seen declines in all drug use.
Whether we were scarred by Thatcherism, powered by emancipation, hardened by our habits, or all of these things and more, theres no question that the heavy drinkers of generation X are now deeply out of fashion and getting further from vogue all the time. But will this actually change our behaviour? The impact of social media TikTok and Instagram in particular are havens of clean living, stacked with temperate role models and slogans proselytising sobriety is more complicated than monkey see, monkey do. Even if it werent for echo chambers (my feeds, for instance, dont feature much physical purity, since Im mainly on Twitter, with the rest of my generation), Oldham counsels, the findings of social media are so mixed that you cant tell a lot from them. Emslie, who notes that putting up the price of alcohol in Scotland reduced the number of deaths, is confident that reducing marketing also has an effect, and a three-pronged approach would work. Action from government, from organisations like the Scottish womens football association, which wont accept ads from alcohol companies, and from grass roots campaigns like the Soberistas might shunt us to a place where were questioning whether we really want to associate alcohol with every single aspect of our lives.
But although the case is made strongly and often against risky drinking, Im not sure, at our great age, it would be possible for nudge impacts to denormalise regular, enthusiastic social drinking.
Fashions change. But can we?
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Posted: at 3:10 am
This week's episode of What We Do in the Shadows, "The Casino", takes our vampires on a little road trip to experience the debauchery and bacchanalia of the famous "Sin City" itself Atlantic City. Yeah. Well. It's a start. With the twists and turns, it seems it might be harder to make it back than imagined. It was another great episode to add to the season's quality run supported by excellent performances and some truly great writing. I love the layers that it has added to the characters and how it has fleshed out new sides of them we had not seen before.
In this week's episode of What We Do in the Shadows, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Colin (Mark Proksch) get invited by their neighbors on a road trip to Atlantic City to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Quick side note: I liked the use of the starting credits to show the travel portion. My favorite thing this season so far has been Nandor's concern to make Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) feel like part of the team. He even stood up to Laszlo and Nadja to make sure they understand he is no longer a familiar. Their awkwardness at trying to seem like they care was hysterical. I loved their faces and their poor tries. In particular, Laszlo did an excellent job looking to connect with Gizmo and I think Guillermo was pretty close to coming out to them if they had not been interrupted.
However, things take a turn when they are unable to slumber and realize their ancestral soil has disappeared all because Colin got distracted and the cleaning lady vacuumed it all up. Now Guillermo has to go on a journey to find the ancestral soil from each of their birthplaces. Seeking money to get Guillermo the plane tickets he needs, Laszlo ends up concerned about ruining the greatest friendship of his life in the process and it is actually pretty adorable to see him care. Also, their descent into madness and nihilism was pretty funny- like when Nandor's world gets turned upside-down after learning about "The Big Bang Theory" after playing a The Big Bang Theory-themed slot machine. Colin explains to him the concept of the creation of the universe and he learns that what he believed for 750 years was all a lie, having him believe there is no point to anything anymore. Bonus points for dropping a Sir Terry Pratchett/"Discworld" reference during Colin and Nandor's exchanges.
I have to say that the weakest storyline in this episode of What We Do in the Shadows was Nadja and the Rat Pack. We know Laszlo is the one who is bad with faces. However, it seemed weird to me that she would not take into account the aging process. Clearly, she is aware of it considering the older lady she encountered in the previous season. Right as they were giving up on life, Guillermo arrives with the soil and puts together a plan to save the financial situation Laszlo's friend found himself in due to gambling. They managed to pull an Ocean's 11 and gather money to pay off the friend's debt. I think that is the nicest thing they have collectively done for someone else since the show started (even if their Ocean's 11 scam turned into a scene from Rocky crossed with Halloween).
Before it ends, our vampires present Guillermo with a wrinkled doily saying he is a good bodyguard. Once again, Laszlo is the one that always gets me with his little gestures. Berry is just amazing, and he presents Laszlo in ways that make him more than just a one-note horndog. I do think it is a great step to help Guillermo start feeling like a part of the gang, especially after seeing how much they really need him on these past few episodes. I am looking forward to seeing where this new interest in Guillermo's life and family goes and what happens when he starts opening up to them for real.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 Episode 4 "The Casino"
Review by Alejandra Bodden
This week's episode of What We Do in the Shadows, "The Casino", takes our vampires on a little road trip to experience the debauchery and bacchanalia of the famous "Sin City" itself... Atlantic City. Yeah. Well. It's a start. With the twists and turns, it seems it might be harder to make it back than imagined. It was another great episode to add to the season's quality run supported by excellent performances and some truly great writing. I love the layers that it has added to the characters and how it has fleshed out new sides of them we had not seen before.
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Posted: September 10, 2021 at 5:49 am
Nihilism has many definitions, and thus can describe multiple arguably independent philosophical positions.
Metaphysical nihilism is thephilosophicaltheory that posits that concrete objects and physical constructs might not exist in thepossible world, or that even if there exist possible worlds that contain some concrete objects, there is at least one that contains onlyabstract objects.
Extreme metaphysical nihilism is commonly defined as the belief that nothing exists as a correspondent component of the self-efficient world.The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines one form of nihilism as an extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.A similar skepticism concerning the concrete world can be found insolipsism. However, despite the fact that both deny the certainty of objects true existence, the nihilist would deny the existence ofselfwhereas the solipsist would affirm it.Both these positions are considered forms ofanti-realism.
Epistemological nihilism is a form ofskepticismin which all knowledge is accepted as being possibly untrue or as being impossible to confirm as true.
Mereological nihilism (also called compositional nihilism) is the position that objects with proper parts do not exist (not only objects in space, but also objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts), and only basic building blocks without parts exist, and thus the world we see and experience full of objects with parts is a product of human misperception (i.e., if we could see clearly, we would not perceive compositive objects).
This interpretation of existence must be based on resolution. The resolution with which humans see and perceive the improper parts of the world is not an objective fact of reality, but is rather an implicit trait that can only be qualitatively explored and expressed. Therefore, there is no arguable way to surmise or measure the validity of mereological nihilism. Example: An ant can get lost on a large cylindrical object because the circumference of the object is so large with respect to the ant that the ant effectively feels as though the object has no curvature. Thus, the resolution with which the ant views the world it exists within is a very important determining factor in how the ant experiences this within the world feeling.
Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. The meaninglessness or meaning of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism.
Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is themeta-ethicalview that morality does not exist as something inherent to objective reality; therefore no action is necessarily preferable to any other. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong.
Other nihilists may argue not that there is no morality at all, but that if it does exist, it is a human construction and thus artificial, wherein any and all meaning is relative for different possible outcomes. As an example, if someone kills someone else, such a nihilist might argue that killing is not inherently a bad thing, or bad independently from our moral beliefs, because of the way morality is constructed as some rudimentary dichotomy. What is said to be a bad thing is given a higher negative weighting than what is called good: as a result, killing the individual was bad because it did not let the individual live, which was arbitrarily given a positive weighting. In this way a moral nihilist believes that all moral claims are void of any truth value. An alternative scholarly perspective is that moral nihilism is a morality in itself. Cooper writes, In the widest sense of the word morality, moral nihilism is a morality.
Political nihilism follows the characteristic nihilists rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions; in this case the necessity of the most fundamental social and political structures, such asgovernment,family, andlaw. An influential analysis of political nihilism is presented byLeo Strauss.
The Russian Nihilist movement was a Russian trend in the 1860s that rejected all authority.After the assassination of TsarAlexander IIin 1881, the Nihilists gained a reputation throughout Europe as proponents of the use of violence for political change.The Nihilists expressed anger at what they described as the abusive nature of theEastern Orthodox Churchand of the tsarist monarchy, and at the domination of the Russian economy by the aristocracy. Although the termNihilismwas coined by the German theologianFriedrich Heinrich Jacobi(17431818), its widespread usage began with the 1862 novelFathers and Sons by the Russian author Ivan Turgenev. The main character of the novel, Yevgeny Bazarov, who describes himself as a Nihilist, wants to educate the people. The go to the people be the people campaign reached its height in the 1870s, during which underground groups such as the Circle of Tchaikovsky, the Peoples Will, and Land and Liberty formed. It became known as the Narodnik movement, whose members believed that the newly freed serfs were merely being sold into wage slavery in the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and that the middle and upper classes had effectively replaced landowners. The Russian state attempted to suppress the nihilist movement. In actions described by the Nihilists as propaganda of the deed many government officials were assassinated. In 1881 Alexander II was killed on the very day he had approved a proposal to call a representative assembly to consider new reforms.
Medical nihilism is the view that we should have little confidence in the effectiveness of medical interventions.Jacob Stegenga proposed the term in the bookMedical Nihilism. It is a work inphilosophy of sciencethat deals with contextualizeddemarcationof medical research. Stegenga appliesBayes Theoremto medical research then argues for the premise that even when presented with evidence for a hypothesis regarding the effectiveness of a medical intervention , we ought to have low confidence in that hypothesis.
The concept of nihilism was discussed by the Buddha (563 B.C. to 483 B.C.), as recorded in the Theravada and MahayanaTripiaka.The Tripiaka, originally written in Pali, refers to nihilism as natthikavda and the nihilist view as micchdihi.Various sutras within it describe a multiplicity of views held by different sects of ascetics while the Buddha was alive, some of which were viewed by him to be morally nihilistic. In the Doctrine of Nihilism in the Apannaka Sutta, the Buddha describes moral nihilists as holding the following views:
The Buddha then states that those who hold these views will not see the danger in misconduct and the blessings in good conduct and will, therefore, avoid good bodily, verbal and mental conduct; practicing misconduct instead.
The culmination of the path that the Buddha taught was Nirvana, a place of nothingness nonpossession and non-attachment [which is] the total end of death and decay.In an article Ajahn Amaro, a practicing Buddhist monk of more than 30 years, observes that in English nothingness can sound like nihilism. However the word could be emphasised in a different way, so that it becomes no-thingness, indicating that Nirvana is not a thing you can find, but rather a state where you experience the reality of non-grasping.
In the Alagaddupama Sutta, the Buddha describes how some individuals feared his teaching because they believe that their self would be destroyed if they followed it. He describes this as an anxiety caused by the false belief in an unchanging, everlasting self. All things are subject to change and taking any impermanent phenomena to be a self causes suffering. Nonetheless, his critics called him a nihilist who teaches the annihilation and extermination of an existing being. The Buddhas response was that he only teaches the cessation of suffering. When an individual has given up craving and the conceit of I am their mind is liberated, they no longer come into any state of being and are no longer born again.
The Aggivacchagotta Sutta records a conversation between the Buddha and an individual named Vaccha that further elaborates on this. In it Vaccha asks the Buddha to confirm one of the following, with respect to the existence of the Buddha after death:
To all four questions, the Buddha answers that the terms appear, not appear, does and does not reappear and neither does nor does not reappear do not apply. When Vaccha expresses puzzlement, the Buddha asks Vaccha a counter question to the effect of: if a fire were to go out and someone were to ask you whether the fire went north, south east or west how would you reply? Vaccha replies that the question does not apply and that a fire gone out can only be classified as out.
Thanissaro Bikkhu elaborates on the classification problem around the words reappear etc. with respect to the Buddha and Nirvana by stating that a person who has attained the goal [Nirvana] is thus indescribable because [they have] abandoned all things by which [they] could be described.The Suttas themselves describe the liberated mind as untraceable or as consciousness without feature, making no distinction between the mind of a liberated being that is alive and the mind of one that is no longer alive.
Despite the Buddhas explanations to the contrary, Buddhist practitioners may, at times, still approach Buddhism in a nihilistic manner. Ajahn Amaro illustrates this by retelling the story of a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho, who in his early years took a nihilistic approach to Nirvana. A distinct feature of Nirvana in Buddhism is that an individual attaining it is no longer subject to rebirth. Ajahn Sumedho, during a conversation with his teacher Ajahn Chah comments that he is determined above all things to fully realize Nirvna in this lifetime deeply weary of the human condition and [is] determined not to be born again. To this Ajahn Chah replies what about the rest of us, Sumedho? Dont you care about those wholl be left behind?. Ajahn Amaro comments that Ajahn Chah could detect that his student had a nihilistic aversion to life rather than true detachment. With his response, Ajahn Chah chided Ajahn Sumedho about the latters narrowness and opened his eyes to this attitude of self centred nihilism.
The novelist Ivan S. Turgenev made the term nihilism popular.
The term nihilism was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (17431819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism and in particular Immanuel Kants critical philosophy to carry out a reductio ad absurdum according to which all rationalism (philosophy as criticism) reduces to nihilismand thus it should be avoided and replaced with a return to some type of faith and revelation. Bret W. Davis writes, for example, The first philosophical development of the idea of nihilism is generally ascribed to Friedrich Jacobi, who in a famous letter criticized Fichtes idealism as falling into nihilism. According to Jacobi, Fichtes absolutization of the ego (the absolute I that posits the not-I) is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God.A related but oppositional concept isfideism, which sees reason as hostile and inferior to faith.
With the popularizing of the wordnihilismbyIvan Turgenev, a new Russian political movement called theNihilist movementadopted the term. They supposedly called themselves nihilists because nothing that then existed found favor in their eyes.This movement was significant enough that, even in the English speaking world, at the turn of the 20th century the word nihilism without qualification was almost exclusively associated with this Russian revolutionary sociopolitical movement.
unfinished sketchc.1840 ofSren Kierkegaardby his cousinNiels Christian Kierkegaard
Levelling at its maximum is like the stillness of death, where one can hear ones own heartbeat, a stillness like death, into which nothing can penetrate, in which everything sinks, powerless. One person can head a rebellion, but one person cannot head this levelling process, for that would make him a leader and he would avoid being levelled. Each individual can in his little circle participate in this levelling, but it is an abstract process, and levelling is abstraction conquering individuality.
Kierkegaard, an advocate of aphilosophy of life, generally argued against levelling and its nihilistic consequences, although he believed it would be genuinely educative to live in the age of levelling [because] people will be forced to face the judgement of [levelling] alone.George Cotkin asserts Kierkegaard was against the standardization and levelling of belief, both spiritual and political, in the nineteenth century, and that Kierkegaard opposed tendencies inmass cultureto reduce the individual to a cipher of conformity and deference to the dominant opinion.In his day,tabloids(like the Danish magazineCorsaren) and apostate Christianity were instruments of levelling and contributed to the reflective apathetic age of 19th century Europe.Kierkegaard argues that individuals who can overcome the levelling process are stronger for it, and that it represents a step in the right direction towards becoming a true self.As we must overcome levelling,Hubert Dreyfusand Jane Rubin argue that Kierkegaards interest, in an increasingly nihilistic age, is inhowwe can recover the sense that our lives are meaningful.
Note, however, that Kierkegaards meaning of nihilism differs from the modern definition, in the sense that, for Kierkegaard, levelling led to a life lacking meaning, purpose or value,whereas the modern interpretation of nihilism posits that there was never any meaning, purpose or value to begin with.
Nihilism is often associated with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who provided a detailed diagnosis of nihilism as a widespread phenomenon of Western culture. Though the notion appears frequently throughout Nietzsches work, he uses the term in a variety of ways, with different meanings and connotations. Karen L. Carr describes Nietzsches characterization of nihilism as a condition of tension, as a disproportion between what we want to value (or need) and how the world appears to operate.When we find out that the world does not possess the objective value or meaning that we want it to have or have long since believed it to have, we find ourselves in a crisis.Nietzsche asserts that with the decline of Christianity and the rise of physiological decadence,nihilism is in fact characteristic of the modern age,though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome.Though the problem of nihilism becomes especially explicit in Nietzschesnotebooks(published posthumously), it is mentioned repeatedly in his published works and is closely connected to many of the problems mentioned there.
Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. This observation stems in part from Nietzschesperspectivism, or his notion that knowledge is always by someone of some thing: it is always bound by perspective, and it is never mere fact.Rather, there are interpretations through which we understand the world and give it meaning. Interpreting is something we can not go without; in fact, it is something weneed. One way of interpreting the world is through morality, as one of the fundamental ways that people make sense of the world, especially in regard to their own thoughts and actions. Nietzsche distinguishes a morality that is strong or healthy, meaning that the person in question is aware that he constructs it himself, from weak morality, where the interpretation is projected on to something external.
Nietzsche discusses Christianity, one of the major topics in his work, at length in the context of the problem of nihilism in his notebooks, in a chapter entitled European Nihilism.Here he states that the Christian moral doctrine provides people withintrinsic value, belief in God (whichjustifiesthe evil in the world) and a basis forobjective knowledge. In this sense, in constructing a world where objective knowledge is possible, Christianity is an antidote against a primal form of nihilism, against the despair of meaninglessness. However, it is exactly the element of truthfulness in Christian doctrine that is its undoing: in its drive towards truth, Christianity eventually finds itself to be a construct, which leads to its own dissolution. It is therefore that Nietzsche states that we have outgrown Christianity not because we lived too far from it, rather because we lived too close. As such, the self-dissolution of Christianity constitutes yet another form of nihilism. Because Christianity was an interpretation that posited itself as the interpretation, Nietzsche states that this dissolution leads beyond skepticism to a distrust ofallmeaning.
Stanley Rosenidentifies Nietzsches concept of nihilism with a situation of meaninglessness, in which everything is permitted. According to him, the loss of higher metaphysical values that exist in contrast to the base reality of the world, or merely human ideas, gives rise to the idea that all human ideas are therefore valueless. Rejecting idealism thus results in nihilism, because only similarly transcendent ideals live up to the previous standards that the nihilist still implicitly holds. The inability for Christianity to serve as a source of valuating the world is reflected in Nietzsches famous aphorism of the madman inThe Gay Science.The death of God, in particular the statement that we killed him, is similar to theself-dissolution of Christian doctrine: due to the advances of the sciences, which for Nietzsche show that man is the product ofevolution, that Earth has nospecial placeamong the stars and thathistoryis notprogressive, the Christian notion of God can no longer serve as a basis for a morality.
One such reaction to the loss of meaning is what Nietzsche callspassive nihilism, which he recognises in thepessimisticphilosophy ofSchopenhauer. Schopenhauers doctrine, which Nietzsche also refers to asWestern Buddhism, advocates separating oneself from will and desires in order to reduce suffering. Nietzsche characterises thisasceticattitude as a will tonothingness, whereby life turns away from itself, as there is nothing of value to be found in the world. This mowing away of all value in the world is characteristic of the nihilist, although in this, the nihilist appears inconsistent:
A nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it oughtnotto be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist. According to this view, our existence (action, suffering, willing, feeling) has no meaning: the pathos of in vain is the nihilists pathos at the same time, as pathos, an inconsistency on the part of the nihilists.
Friedrich Nietzsche, KSA 12:9 , taken fromThe Will to Power,section 585, translated byWalter Kaufmann
Nietzsches relation to the problem of nihilism is a complex one. He approaches the problem of nihilism as deeply personal, stating that this predicament of the modern world is a problem that has become conscious in him.According to Nietzsche, it is only when nihilism isovercomethat a culture can have a true foundation upon which to thrive. He wished to hasten its coming only so that he could also hasten its ultimate departure.
He states that there is at least the possibility of another type of nihilist in the wake of Christianitys self-dissolution, one that doesnotstop after the destruction of all value and meaning and succumb to the following nothingness. This alternate, active nihilism on the other hand destroys to level the field for constructing something new. This form of nihilism is characterized by Nietzsche as a sign of strength,a willful destruction of the old values to wipe the slate clean and lay down ones own beliefs and interpretations, contrary to the passive nihilism that resigns itself with the decomposition of the old values. This willful destruction of values and the overcoming of the condition of nihilism by the constructing of new meaning, this active nihilism, could be related to what Nietzsche elsewhere calls a free spiritor thebermenschfromThus Spoke ZarathustraandThe Antichrist, the model of the strong individual who posits his own values and lives his life as if it were his own work of art. It may be questioned, though, whether active nihilism is indeed the correct term for this stance, and some question whether Nietzsche takes the problems nihilism poses seriously enough.
Martin Heideggers interpretation of Nietzsche influenced many postmodern thinkers who investigated the problem of nihilism as put forward by Nietzsche. Only recently has Heideggers influence on Nietzschean nihilism research faded.As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsches thought.Given the importance of Nietzsches contribution to the topic of nihilism, Heideggers influential interpretation of Nietzsche is important for the historical development of the termnihilism.
Heideggers method of researching and teaching Nietzsche is explicitly his own. He does not specifically try to present NietzscheasNietzsche. He rather tries to incorporate Nietzsches thoughts into his own philosophical system ofBeing, Time andDasein.In hisNihilism as Determined by the History of Being(194446),Heidegger tries to understand Nietzsches nihilism as trying to achieve a victory through the devaluation of the, until then, highest values. The principle of this devaluation is, according to Heidegger, theWill to Power. The Will to Power is also the principle of every earliervaluationof values.How does this devaluation occur and why is this nihilistic? One of Heideggers main critiques on philosophy is that philosophy, and more specifically metaphysics, has forgotten to discriminate between investigating the notion ofabeing (Seiende) andBeing(Sein). According to Heidegger, the history of Western thought can be seen as the history of metaphysics. And because metaphysics has forgotten to ask about the notion of Being (what Heidegger callsSeinsvergessenheit), it is a history about the destruction of Being. That is why Heidegger calls metaphysics nihilistic.This makes Nietzsches metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.
Heidegger, in his interpretation of Nietzsche, has been inspired byErnst Jnger. Many references to Jnger can be found in Heideggers lectures on Nietzsche. For example, in a letter to the rector of Freiburg University of November 4, 1945, Heidegger, inspired by Jnger, tries to explain the notion of God is dead as the reality of the Will to Power. Heidegger also praises Jnger for defending Nietzsche against a too biological or anthropological reading during theNazi era.
Heideggers interpretation of Nietzsche influenced a number of important postmodernist thinkers.Gianni Vattimopoints at a back-and-forth movement in European thought, between Nietzsche and Heidegger. During the 1960s, a Nietzschean renaissance began, culminating in the work ofMazzino MontinariandGiorgio Colli. They began work on a new and complete edition of Nietzsches collected works, making Nietzsche more accessible for scholarly research. Vattimo explains that with this new edition of Colli and Montinari, a critical reception of Heideggers interpretation of Nietzsche began to take shape. Like other contemporary French and Italian philosophers, Vattimo does not want, or only partially wants, to rely on Heidegger for understanding Nietzsche. On the other hand, Vattimo judges Heideggers intentions authentic enough to keep pursuing them.Philosophers who Vattimo exemplifies as a part of this back and forth movement are French philosophersDeleuze,FoucaultandDerrida. Italian philosophers of this same movement areCacciari,Severinoand himself.Jrgen Habermas,Jean-Franois LyotardandRichard Rortyare also philosophers who are influenced by Heideggers interpretation of Nietzsche.
Gilles Deleuzes interpretation of Nietzsches concept of nihilism is different in some sense diametrically opposed to the usual definition (as outlined in the rest of this article). Nihilism is one of the main topics of Deleuzes early bookNietzsche and Philosophy(1962).There, Deleuze repeatedly interprets Nietzsches nihilism as the enterprise of denying life and depreciating existence.Nihilism thus defined is therefore not the denial of higher values, or the denial of meaning, but rather the depreciation of life in the name of such higher values or meaning. Deleuze therefore (with, he claims, Nietzsche) says that Christianity and Platonism, and with them the whole of metaphysics, are intrinsically nihilist.
Postmodernandpoststructuralistthought has questioned the very grounds on whichWestern cultureshave based their truths: absolute knowledge and meaning, a decentralization of authorship, the accumulation of positive knowledge, historical progress, and certain ideals and practices ofhumanismandthe Enlightenment.
Jacques Derrida, whosedeconstructionis perhaps most commonly labeled nihilistic, did not himself make the nihilistic move that others have claimed. Derridean deconstructionists argue that this approach rather frees texts, individuals or organizations from a restrictive truth, and that deconstruction opens up the possibility of other ways of being.Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, for example, uses deconstruction to create an ethics of opening up Western scholarship to the voice of thesubalternand to philosophies outside of the canon of western texts.Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a responsibility to the other.Deconstruction can thus be seen not as a denial of truth, but as a denial of our ability to know truth. That is to say, it makes anepistemologicalclaim, compared to nihilismsontologicalclaim.
Lyotardargues that, rather than relying on anobjectivetruth or method to prove their claims, philosophers legitimize their truths by reference to a story about the world that cant be separated from the age and system the stories belong toreferred to by Lyotard asmeta-narratives.He then goes on to define thepostmodern conditionas characterized by a rejection both of these meta-narratives and of the process oflegitimationby meta-narratives.
In lieu of meta-narratives we have created newlanguage-gamesin order to legitimize our claims which rely on changing relationships and mutable truths, none of which is privileged over the other to speak to ultimate truth.
This concept of the instability of truth and meaning leads in the direction of nihilism, though Lyotard stops short of embracing the latter.
Postmodern theoristJean Baudrillardwrote briefly of nihilism from the postmodern viewpoint inSimulacra and Simulation. He stuck mainly to topics of interpretations of the real world over the simulations of which the real world is composed. The uses of meaning were an important subject in Baudrillards discussion of nihilism:
Theapocalypseis finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifferenceall that remains, is the fascination for desertlike and indifferent forms, for the very operation of the system that annihilates us. Now, fascination (in contrast to seduction, which was attached to appearances, and to dialectical reason, which was attached to meaning) is a nihilistic passion par excellence, it is the passion proper to the mode of disappearance. We are fascinated by all forms of disappearance, of our disappearance. Melancholic and fascinated, such is our general situation in an era of involuntary transparency.
Jean Baudrillard,Simulacra and Simulation, On Nihilism, trans. 1995
InNihil Unbound: Extinction and Enlightenment,Ray Brassiermaintains that philosophy has avoided the traumatic idea ofextinction, instead attempting to find meaning in a world conditioned by the very idea of its own annihilation. Thus Brassier critiques both the phenomenological and hermeneutic strands of Continental philosophy as well as the vitality of thinkers likeGilles Deleuze, who work to ingrain meaning in the world and stave off the threat of nihilism. Instead, drawing on thinkers such asAlain Badiou,Franois Laruelle,Paul Churchland, andThomas Metzinger, Brassier defends a view of the world as inherently devoid of meaning. That is, rather than avoiding nihilism, Brassier embraces it as the truth of reality. Brassier concludes from his readings of Badiou and Laruelle that the universe is founded on the nothing,but also that philosophy is the organon of extinction, that it is only because life is conditioned by its own extinction that there is thought at all. Brassier then defends a radically anti-correlationist philosophy proposing that Thought is conjoined not with Being, but with Non-Being.
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Posted: at 5:49 am
An exclusive excerpt on the wonders of a meaningless life from Wendy Syfrets book,The Sunny Nihilist.
The search for meaning, in theory, is a noble pursuit. One that asks us to interrogate our choices, the treatment of others, what we value and prize, what we condemn and dismiss. Many people seek meaning through the service of others, the creation of art, the protection of nature. Most religions preach humility, poverty, taking responsibility for your fellow human. But glancing around, how often do we truly see those values in practice?
If were truly honest, more commonly the pursuit of meaning is selfish. Its an opportunity to obsess over ourselves, to reroute the whole world directly to us and become the absolute centre of the universe.
A belief in our own specialness allows us to welcome a reality where our needs and feelings are the supreme priority. Where agonising over your appearance, purpose, moods, sleep patterns and diet isnt obnoxious or self-obsessed. Instead, all this anointing and fawning over our minds, bodies, lives and habits is elevated to a near-religious act.
Youd hope that all this self-obsession would at least result in a level of pleasure. But the kicker is that the search for meaning through the endless examination and worship of ourselves is only making us feel worse.
As Richard Layard observes in Can We Be Happier?, the result of all this interminable self-care isnt self- satisfaction. He notes, We have told our young people that their chief duty is to themselves to get on. What a terrible responsibility. No wonder that anxiety and depression are rising among the young. Instead, people need to get out of themselves to escape the misery of self-absorption.
Which brings us to one of the central challenges to any sunny nihilist. To ask: what if Im not special? To gaze at a world carefully engineered by advertising, technology, religion, love, jobs and our parents to make us feel central and unique, and admit we are, just like everything else, meaningless.
After a lifetime spent in a strange diorama of self-obsession, youd think that facing your own pointlessness would be an existentially traumatising process. But it doesnt have to be. Ironically, in a reality constructed to make us feel significant, but which more often leaves us anxious and miserable, this reminder of our own insignificance offers a strange sense of peace.
Admitting that in the reach of all time our presence is meaningless eases fixations on legacy, ego and purpose. Allowing us to shift focus from one day to the immediate moment, and take pleasure in the random existence we were wildly lucky to be gifted at all. But beyond offering a mindful break, or a check-in with our chronic self-obsession, this reduction of self leads to other deliberations. Namely, what do you do with the part of your brain that was formerly so singularly occupied with yourself?
Unfortunately the belief that nothing matters doesnt free you from the need to participate in the exchanges of time, money and energy that make a society a society and not just a scramble of philosophers walking around wondering who is going to make lunch.
So when pondering how to spend said time, money and energy, sunny nihilism leads you to ask: if I dont matter, and am therefore not the centre of everything and the priority, then what is? If I will be forgotten and lost to time, what will be remembered, at least for a little while?
The American poet Walt Whitman asked something similar in his 1882 collection Specimen Days & Collect, written during, and in the aftermath of, the Civil War. He posed the question: After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear what remains?
For Whitman, the answer was nature. He recognised it as something so much larger than himself that deserved the love and attention he might otherwise pour into more insular pursuits.
For each person, the answer is different. Personally, Im with Whitman. Like many people of my generation, accepting the futility of my small life led me to deepen my commitment to environmentalism. Understanding that the only constant (at least until its absorbed by the sun in a few billion years) is the Earth itself, its protection becomes more important than any singular interests of mine.
Id encourage you to try the exercise for yourself. If you accept that you dont matter, your name, ego, reputation, family, friends and loves will soon be gone, how does the way you understand your own time, money and energy change? Maybe the process reframes your attention to things you hope will last for a little longer than yourself: nature, art, culture, institutions and causes you believe will benefit generations whove long forgotten your name. Or perhaps the question draws you back to that present moment: the small pleasures you can access today, the people you love, their right to feel safe, respected, well, heard.
This is an edited extract from The Sunny Nihilist by Wendy Syfret (Profile Books) RRP $34.99
You can buy your copy of The Sunny Nihilist here and learn more about Wendy here.
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Posted: at 5:49 am
The idea that meaning and values are without foundation is a form of nihilism, and the existential response to that idea is noting that meaning is not 'a matter of contemplative theory,' but instead, 'a consequence of engagement and commitment.'
In his essay Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote "What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself." Here it is made clear what is meant by Existentialists when they say meaning is "a consequence of engagement and commitment".
The theory purports to describe the human situation to create a life outlook and create meaning, which has been summarized as, "Strut, fret, and delude ourselves as we may, our lives are of no significance, and it is futile to seek or to affirm meaning where none can be found." Existential nihilists claim that, to be honest, one must face the absurdity of existence, that they will eventually die, and that both religion and metaphysics are simply results of the fear of death.
According to Donald A. Crosby, "There is no justification for life, but also no reason not to live. Those who claim to find meaning in their lives are either dishonest or deluded. In either case, they fail to face up to the harsh reality of the human situations".
Existential nihilism has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition since the Cyrenaics, such as Hegesias of Cyrene. During the Renaissance, William Shakespeare eloquently summarised the existential nihilist's perspective through Macbeth's mindset in the end of the eponymous play. Arthur Schopenhauer, Sren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche further expanded on these ideas, and Nietzsche, particularly, has become a major figure in existential nihilism.
The atheistic existentialist movement spread in 1940s France. Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness and Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus discussed the topic. Camus wrote further works, such as The Stranger, Caligula, The Plague, The Fall and The Rebel. Other figures include Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida. In addition, Ernest Becker's Pulitzer Prize-winning life's work The Denial of Death is a collection of thoughts on existential nihilism.
The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified "Yes," advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism.
Posted: at 5:48 am
This is Part II in our series The Longest War.
The U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is officially over.
But for the more than 800,000 men and women who served there not a day goes by that they dont think about it.
Some feel a measure of success:
"The genie is out of the bottle in Afghanistan, the Taliban may try to turn back the clock, but they can't," Bajun Mavalwallasays. "We have moved that country forward and it's irreversible. I'm actually slightly optimistic for the long haul."
Others feel no optimism at all:
"It felt awful to be involved in a conflict that was pointless because every every bad thing that happens didn't have to," Laura Jedeed says. "The feeling that it was for nothing ... there's a nihilism to it. ... It rots the soul."
In the second installment of our series 'The Longest War,' veterans talk about how U.S. soldiers may have left Afghanistan, but the war has not left them.
Bajun Mavalwalla, retired intelligence officer with the California National Guard. He served with the Armys 19th Special Forces Group from 2002-2003. He now runs a small defense training and security company with his son, but theyve put their business on hold and are working to help Afghans leave their country. (@BajunMavalwalla)
Baji Mavalwalla, former sergeant with the California National Guard as an electronic warfare voice intercept operator. He deployed to Afghanistan from March 2012 until December 2012.
Laura Jedeed, former sergeant with the Armys 82nd Airborne, she served as an intelligence analyst. She deployed to Afghanistan twice for three months in 2008 and a year in 2010. (@LauraJedeed)
Tim Kudo, former marine captain with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2009 and 2011. (@KudoTim)
There's the me before war and the me after war, and they exist simultaneously. And yet they have very little to do with each other. And so part of me tries to live in one version of myself most of the time, the current version, the person that has gone on to graduate school, and used the GI Bill and has a relatively kind of normal life. And the part of me that existed at war and before war.
I return to those moments before the war when I was a different person, and I kind of mourned whoever that was.
We lost five Marines when we were over there with my company. And there were missions that I sent them on often, and I think about could we have done things differently? You know, did we need to go into the wadi in the middle of the valley to set up an outpost that was only later to be taken over by the Taliban? Did we need to go on a patrol a particular day where we ended up getting in a firefight, where we ended up killing two Afghan civilians by accident?
We got in a firefight and there were these two men who came up over a hill on the high ground on a motorcycle. And as we were getting shot at and trying to figure out who was shooting at us and, you know, shooting back. And they just kind of stopped there right above us. Great position if they wanted to start shooting at us. And so we wave at them to go away, yell at them. And they just come closer. And so even then, the Marines didn't fire. They still were very disciplined about it. And they were just disciplined to the end.
But ultimately, one of them saw what looked like a muzzle flash. And so the Marines opened up fire. The people on the motorcycle immediately fell over dead. We rushed to the two men on the motorcycle, and they are dead. They were trying to get home. The home was a building that we were kind of crouched in front of.
And at that moment, the family of these two men who had seen all this happen in front of them comes rushing out of the building.
The women are screaming, the men are screaming, crying. And they surround us to get the bodies, to just take the bodies, to be buried. They were just two kids, basically. Maybe one was about 16 years old, the other a little bit older. And they're just trying to get home. And you kind of realize in that momentthose two dead young men ultimately lost that battle for us. Not just the battle of the firefight, but the battle for that village.
Because how can you kill two people that are everyone's cousins, uncles and nephews and expect them to support you in any way?
I made a decision. People are dead because of that. I could have made a different decision, and I'm responsible for that. And I have no right to forgive myself, because I'm not the person who was wronged. They were. The family could forgive me all they want, but the only people who can truly forgive me are dead. And so that can never happen. And that will always be something that I have to live with.
It's very difficult to recognize that the most important thing that I've done in my life, those seven months that I spent there, was ultimately a failure.
And so I go back to that regularly to wonder, is there something I could have done differently? Should I have done something differently? I think that for many veterans, there is a desire for either understanding, or acceptance or validation from civilians who simply are unable to give it. Because they don't understand that experience that you've been through.
And the paradox of it ultimately is that the reason that you went over there to fight and undergo those experiences is so the people back home could retain that innocence. And so part of the challenge is coming to grips with that. That that is inherently what the sacrifice is. ... That you will never be understood by these people who live innocent lives because of the things that you've done at war.
I'm not hopeful, I think at this point, that we will be able to prevent the next war. But I think about what we can tell ... the next generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, the Marines who are thinking about joining right now, to help them come to understand what it means to go to war.
And what it means to join as one person, serve and come back as a completely different person.
And I think a lot of those kids, they hope that when they come back, they're just going to restart their lives just like they left them. And the reality is that when you join the military, if there is a war and you go and fight in it, that will kill that person that joined.
Laura Jedeed's Medium: "Afghanistan Meant Nothing" "By the time you read this, the Taliban may already be in Kabul. If not now, then soon. Nixon wanted and got his decent interval between the United States pullout of Vietnam and the inevitable North Vietnamese takeover."
Washington Post: "I killed people in Afghanistan. Was I right or wrong?" "When I joined the Marine Corps, I knew I would kill people. I was trained to do it in a number of ways, from pulling a trigger to ordering a bomb strike to beating someone to death with a rock. As I got closer to deploying to war in 2009, my lethal abilities were refined, but my ethical understanding of killing was not."