Column: Nihilism is worth considering
Columnist Hunter Bassler on the belief in the lack of morals.
Feb. 10, 2016
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
We all experience certain feelings in our lives. Love, happiness, sadness and terror are universal human emotions.
But there is one universal feeling that is talked about less. A feeling of deep anxiety or dread. A feeling that usually appears during 2 a.m. residence hall discussions about the universe, ethics, God, the state of the world, or the human condition. The feeling I am describing is called angst. While most everyone knows this emotion, few know of the philosopher who made it “cool,” and even fewer know of his uneasy school of thought.
Friedrich Nietzsche (pronounced knee-cha) was a German philosopher who developed nihilism (pronounced nile-ism), a philosophical doctrine which states that all values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is meaningless. Where existentialism states that we must create our own meaning in the universe, nihilism takes the idea a step further by stating there is no meaning, and any meaning we assign to the universe is equally meaningless. To demonstrate this, Nietzsche once stated, “Every belief, every considering something true, is necessarily false because there is simply no true world.” Basically, Nietzsche is saying that since truth is different from every perspective, there is no point in even trying to make your own moral code.
Nietzsche was also a big advocate of self empowerment. He believed the epitome of human struggle was when a person becomes the Übermensch (literally superman) by rising above the world’s circumstances and embracing whatever life throws at them. Nietzsche believed that people shouldn’t rely on preached morals or cosmic deities as guides to live their lives. His most famous and controversial quote — “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” — demonstrates his view perfectly. The death of God, Nietzsche believes, means human beings can in no way believe in such a deity since they can no longer recognize it; there can be no God if there is no moral order.
Real-world followers of nihilism can be found as people who want to destroy the establishment and basically watch the world burn — people like anarchists, delinquents and Donald Trump voters. Nietzsche himself was the original emo/anarchist kid. If he were alive today, he would be the one kid in grade school who drew skull and crossbones everywhere, set things on fire for fun, and flipped his black dyed hair over his left eye saying something like “nothing matters.”
However, the biggest and most famous proponent of nihilism is the Joker. He, in his own twisted way, has become the Übermensch. The Joker decides the course of his own life and is in no way influenced by anything other than himself. Nihilism may not be popular, but the Joker sure is. The reason he remains one of the most famous and recognizable comic book characters of all time is his nihilistic values and ideas in such an entertaining way.
The scary thing some people don’t want to admit to the public, or to themselves, is that deep down, they believe in what he says — at least partly. While the Joker also demonstrates psychopathic tendencies, the part of him that wants to abandon all rules due to their relativism is something most people find some validity in. This part of them wishes that they could fully agree with him and actually start rooting for him, exploding hospitals and cut jugulars included.
Nihilistic thought is only one of the reactions a person can have when faced with existential thought. When one believes that nothing means anything, nihilism is often the first, and easiest, school of thought to turn to. Stating you’re a nihilist and nothing matters is a common defense mechanism for people who just want to do whatever they want. Though I am not myself a nihilist, I believe the notion to reject all other moral beliefs and live based only on animal instinct is both horrifying and fascinating and deserves to be studied. All I can ask of you is that when you stare into the void of existentialism and feel that inevitable angst rising up, you do not reject it and become sad, gothic Nietzsche. Rather, I urge you to accept it and live your life to the fullest, but that’s a conversation for next week.