The Miracles of Nihilism

I was driving my car yesterday and I started thinking about all of the forces in effect that allow me to drive my car down the road.  The mass of the earth, combined with the rotation around the sun and the rotation of the earth and the rotation of the earth’s axis, all combine to create a force that holds us onto the planet with enough force from keeping us from floating off into the infinite void but not too much force so that we are able to move about freely.  Truly amazing.

And then there are the generations of research involved in creating the automobile, from the invention of the wheel, the combustible engine, and so on.  And then there’s just the miracle of natural selection.  That we evolved over the generations from primate ape-like hominids into the less primitive ape-like hominids we are today.

Then I thought about how this is Easter and such.  And then how many religious people question how someone can have any reason to even continue to live when they have no “spiritual” or “higher” meaning to their lives.  I was told, not long ago, that Nietzsche’s nihilism was directly responsible for the Holocaust.  This was because, without belief in a spiritual power in control of everything, people have no meaning and therefore are able to commit terrible atrocities.  I guess that was the crux of the argument.  I really didn’t care enough to memorize it.  (And ignoring the idea that Nazi philosophy was really based on anything to do with Nihilism… because that’s a whole other discussion.)

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, Nihilism is basically the idea that life has “no meaning.”

Alan Pratt defines existential nihilism as “the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, and it is, no doubt, the most commonly used and understood sense of the word today.”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

edgeMy point here is really simple.  Without the belief in a higher power, how can we not be in awe of the simple fact that we exist?  Isn’t it much less of a miracle to believe that something consciously decided that this moment would exist?  Or to use an example:  Would it be more miraculous to place a penny on it’s side so that it stands upright, or if you threw a penny from another room, where it bounced off the wall and then landed on it’s edge standing upright?  The truth is that in a nihilist interpretation life is analogous to the penny being thrown and landing on it’s edge.  Just existing is a miracle.

It is true that this doesn’t imply a divine meaning.  It leaves the individual to apply meaning to their life.  But how do you not do that when your sheer existence is a miracle?  This idea that those of us who believe in nothing supernatural or spiritual live in this empty void of negativity is a pure misinterpretation of the truth.  The truth is that we are even more awestruck that we even exist.

On top of that, we have no belief in anything as a continuation of our life after death.  This necessitates the idea that we have to give our lives meaning ourselves.  The only part of us that lives after we have stopped breathing is our legacy.  The actions that we take in life are our immortality.

I tend to avoid discussions of personal religious ideas and criticisms of personal ideas until they are part of the society.  I do speak up against the ideas of theocracy or forcing others to live by religious tenets.  And I do try to point out when religious ideology becomes a part of the hegemony and when religious arguments are used to contradict scientific inquiry.  But this piece was not meant to chastise “believers.”  It’s more an attempt to explain that those of us who are not believers are not “empty.”  I think the simple fact remains that what terrifies the religious entices the irreligious.

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

~ Frederich Nietzsche

The above quotation is often cited by the religious as rationale for the nihilist becoming a meaningless monster.  (The teenager often uses it to explain why no one understands them.)  But I believe this is a selective interpretation.  The true miracle is in the reality.  This statement is hard to define, even by those who agree and support it.  Not because we don’t understand but because the meaning is so intricate.   The first part, fighting with monsters, is cautionary as to examine why the ends do not justify the means.  It’s fairly clear.  “Don’t become what you hate just to fight what you hate.”

ööö51The second part has been interpreted in various ways with various meanings.  “And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”  I tend to look at it in a few ways.  First, there is the idea that when you look at the meaningless of life, you realize that the meaningless is the meaning.  You give yourself meaning.  There is also the idea that when you learn something, it becomes a part of you.  If you examine something long enough that you understand it, you alter your perception to accept this new reality.  Where the religious look at it as “an immoral void of meaninglessness,” the irreligious look at it as “the miracle of simply existing and learning and self-attainment of personal growth.”

So, for this Easter, I present this as my Easter egg… a little explanation on how those of us who “believe in nothing” are able to function.  And a defense… that WE are the ones that truly appreciate the miracle of life.  That we take every single moment of existence as a true miracle.

Ernesto Laclau

Ernesto Laclau, 1935-2014

Ernesto Laclau, 1935-2014

Ernesto Laclau passed away on April 13, 2014.  This marks the passing of a great thinker and fighter for equality in our time.

I want to just use this moment to encourage any and everyone to check out Hegemony and Socialist Strategy and On Populist Reason, which have been highly influential in my own body of work.

Adios, Professor Laclau.

Here is a link to the news story in the Buenos Aires Herald:  http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/156933/ernesto-laclau-passes-away-at-78

Second Amendment Again And Again

I have like four entries that I am working on right now and this topic came up and I decided to address it now (again).  It came up when I was reading the comments on a story that 94% of female homicide victims were murdered by men they knew (and the subsequent proposal to make it illegal for men to own a gun if they were convicted of domestic violence).

Guns are a big deal in the United States.  A huge deal.  And every time the topic comes up, we are inundated with opinions.  The problem is that most of them are based upon little substance.  This is probably one of the most prevalent topics of our time and for good reason.  In 2012 we had a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 28 people.  Earlier that same year, we had 12 people killed and 58 injured in a movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  There was also a shooting at a Sikh Temple in 2012 that killed 7 people.  In 2010, 11,078 people were murdered by firearms.  That is 3.6 people per 100,000.  (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/homicide.htm)  A recent article from ABC News cites a study that says:

The United States has more guns and gun deaths than any other developed country in the world, researchers found.

A study by two New York City cardiologists found that the U.S. has 88 guns per 100 people and 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people — more than any of the other 27 developed countries they studied.

Japan, on the other hand, had only .6 guns per 100 people and .06 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, making it the country with both the fewest guns per capita and the fewest gun-related deaths.  (source)

gunnutmakedIt makes sense that many people want something done about this issue.  On both sides of the debate, as the researchers in the aforementioned study pointed out, are baseless claims.  As per my profession, I tend to look at the issue from a theoretical perspective.  In this theoretical examination, we have to look at the Second Amendment and what it means, as well as the nature of our democracy.

As pointed out ad nauseum (nearly ad infinitum), the Second Amendment (as ratified by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State) states:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

People constantly refer to “shall not be infringed” as an argument that there should be no restriction on gun ownership at all.  So we are going to look at what the Second Amendment really means, and the theory behind it.  Continue reading Second Amendment Again And Again

Wealth As Freedom

(This is part of the “Government Is Not The Problem, You Are” series.)

The other day I had mentioned to someone that I believed people want wealth because they want the freedom they believe accompanies the wealth.  If one is wealthy, they can travel wherever they wish, whenever they wish.  They can spend their days doing whatever they wish.  The less wealth one has, the less freedom they have to pursue their own interests.  The response I got what an “of course.”  It does seem intuitive.  But I don’t think it’s such an obvious statement.

The Bondage Of Poverty

The Bondage Of Poverty

Capitalism tells us that people accumulate wealth because it’s our nature to accumulate wealth.  That we want “stuff.”  The issue here is really even broader than just the freedom that accompanies wealth, but the lack of freedom that accompanies a lack of wealth.  If wealth is freedom, than capitalism is bondage.  It is true that there’s nothing radical or revolutionary here in this topic.  Though, I do think it’s not a commonly explored or examined topic today.  In the investigation of this, we go from Erich Fromm to Herbert Marcuse and beyond.  But what interests me is that the way so many claim to adhere to political ideology, but these discussions remain in the realm of pedagogy.

A quick web search for the topic of wealth as freedom leads to numerous articles on financial planning for the future, strategies for increasing financial wealth, and a chapter from a text by Professor R. J. Rummel (who recently passed away, on March 2) about how democracy promotes the growth of wealth.  None of this really addresses the epistemology of wealth as freedom.  It all operates under the general assumption that the freedom associated with wealth is anything but illusory.

In any discussion on such a topic we need to really define what all of these words mean.  Even in an academic sense, “freedom” is not a concrete word like “neuron” or “tungsten.”  When I use “freedom,” I use it to mean negative liberty.  In this context, that is exactly what I mean.  It is the freedom from external constraints, freedom from coercion and external force.  When I speak of “liberty,” I tend to mean positive liberty.  Positive liberty is a bit more complicated and nuanced.  It’s technically considered to be the freedom from internal restraints (such as addiction), but also is freedom from some internally, external restraints.  Racism, sexism, classism, and other such concepts conflict with positive liberty.  It could be said that positive liberty is the protection of the individual against that which would infringe upon their negative liberty, or the protection of one individual’s freedom from another person’s freedom when they conflict.  Basically, I’m referring back to Erich Fromm, in his “Escape From Freedom” (or “The Fear of Freedom” outside North America).  In this text, Fromm describes negative liberty as “freedom from” and positive liberty as “freedom to.”  The importance of this will arise later. Continue reading Wealth As Freedom

Official Positions

It comes up, from time to time, that there are reasons why there is a lack of support for movements and/or issues.  I thought I’d take a moment from espousing theoretical positions and explain problems found within some movements today.  Quite often, this is not condemnation of these movements or issues.  More often than not, I’d be more than happy to be wrong.  Primarily, the lack of support for Occupy is not a denouncement of the movement or a desire to see it fail.  It’s just a view of the theoretical failings that seem to be rationale on why I believe it’s a waste of energy.  Similarly, I’d love to be wrong about Anonymous or even Edward Snowden.  As time progresses, I don’t feel as though I am wrong.

HHMBut the question comes up:  What is this website about?  I see people are reading it, though few comment or contribute.  I think, for the most part, people aren’t quite clear what this is all about, because it does radically depart from much of the rest of the internet.  I really hate hyperbole.  I try really hard not to use it.  I also really hate demagogy.  Without hyperbole and demagogy, there’s much less appeal to internet readership.  Which brings up another issue… there will be no baseless assertions or claims of authority that have no substance.

A colleague of mine recently brought up my recent railing against “the democratization of expertise” that I have been on lately.  He stated, “The amount of confidence most people have in their own thoughts has grown to a level of ridiculousness.”  I completely agree.  Whilst any opinions are accepted on this site, not all opinions are equal.  Continue reading Official Positions