Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Trap of Nihilism

Scott is dead, by his own hand, and I've been struggling to make sense of it (against the impulse of my intellect, which knows there's no sense to be made...we have a natural, irrevocable tendency to search for meaning, even in an absurd universe.  Now, why?).  Scott once said to me (complaining), "But Steiny, you always see the good in every person."  I guess that's true- I'm of a much sunnier disposition than he, don't know why, even though I've felt depression as black and absolute as his...I think I know something about the roots of his despair.  Most of it was from unwarranted self-loathing, but there was a portion that happened like this: when you are a teenager, you are in a fight to establish your identity.  This is existentially important, and if you grow up in a politically charged atmosphere your options will be limited.  Por ejemplo- most develop a political consciousness based on the position of their parents.  If you were in high school in the 1980s, you would find that nearly every rational position had been co-opted by some group or other with major negatives attached (once upon a time, the "left" was the exclusive domain of the Hippies, so if you didn't smoke pot or believe in new-age personal growth bullshit, or buy the whole raft of groupthink that went with it, you were suspect, your politics invalid).  "Third Way", "independent" parties aren't much help here, since politics depends on groupthink; even the most hardcore libertarian can find like-"minded" individuals to commiserate with.  That being the case, nihilism becomes very attractive to the teen aged mind; after all, if all the positions are bullshit, then the whole system must be bullshit as well.  I don't think Scott thought of himself as a nihilist (that would have required major insight)- but he did commit suicide, after all.  There was a tendency in him to be malevolent, which bothered me and for which I criticized him, and which I think was the result of an unconscious alignment with nihilism.  But it wasn't his nature, it was a pose he struck as a defense against the dearth of viable positions.  This is obvious to me because of the things he never abandoned- such as a commitment to human rights, and justice (his knee never failed to jerk violently against obviously evil people).

I mention this now because I want to warn anyone considering this position.  Sarte warned against bad faith; and nihilism is bad faith incarnate.  If you find yourself fed up, and everyone in the world is saying things that make you sick, then it is your obligation to create a position and articulate it.  Walter Sobchek: "Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, but at least it's an ethos."  Art (which to me includes all the human creative endeavors, language, music, politics, law) is our best defense against the abyss, our birthright as Homo Sapiens, but most importantly a requirement of continued membership in life.  Nihilism adds no comfort, makes no statements, shines no light and offers no solutions.  There's a difference between that and art with the flavor of nihilism, which can be downright exhilarating: the Sex Pistols pump you up, and it's fun to give the finger to The Man, but all these "movements" that have annihilation as their core value (teabaggismobjectivism, end-times-ism) appeal mainly to those who are losing it all and want everyone else to lose it all too.  Stay away from that shit!  It's mind poison!  Be creative!  "Go not gentle into that good night" means not just to hang on to life, but also to battle death, the abyss that stares into us.

Which is a somewhat pollyannaish position, I know.  I react, because I've lost someone that I love.  I would do almost anything to have him back, alive.  But my options are limited, even philosophically, because my emotions are a more accurate indicator of truth.  I hate the thing that depressed him, whatever it is, so I can't have sympathy for a position that killed my best friend.  We had a thing- what he called our "twins language"- which was a cipher that grew out of our mutual status as outcasts.  But in later years, he started to pervert it so that communication was minimized; he wanted simply to parrot the phrases, to repeat the memes without referent.  We got mad at each other over this- he because I wouldn't "run my lines", I because he sucked all the joy and meaning out of it.  Tellingly, we would argue about this very issue in our twins language (meta-meta-meta-meta).  And now it is a dead twins language ha ha ha.  Fucking bleak, eh?  The point is, I understand the attraction of giving in to death.  When your strength is gone nothing is more sweet than going limp and letting Lethe carry you, drifting, towards Hades.  And by the way fuck you world.  Sadly, I'm still alive and I can't abandon hope (not an option for me, father of two, husband of one, son of many).  The only way for me is to give myself over to the small consolations of creation, like the things that gave Scott joy (music and words and food).  And to find a target- in this case the immorality of giving up.  It's odd for me to align myself with Aquinas, considering my recent feelings about religion, but perhaps not: the Saint represents a time before the bad faith of the postmodern era.  His argument is pure, and made from first principles.  I only wish it would have worked on Scott.  


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