F.D Signifier's videos about the manosphere1 introduced me to the idea of "active nihilism", which is helping me change the way I think about nihilism. He quotes from the Harvard Crimson:2
[N]ihilists can be broken into two specific groups. The first are the passive nihilists. These are the individuals who, when faced with the realization that existence has no inherent meaning, can fall into a deep depression as a result. This is an act of resignation; the passive nihilist no longer sees any purpose in life, and his mental and physical condition suffer as a result. And, this is the kind of nihilism we should avoid.
However, there exists another group of nihilists: the active nihilists. An active nihilist is someone who, when confronted with the exact same realization, rejoices at the freedom that it gives her. If there were a specific meaning to human life, then each of us would be bound to follow it. But if there is not, then we all have the freedom to decide the purpose of our own lives — in fact, we are required to do so, if we wish to avoid the pit of passive nihilism. So, one active nihilist might conclude that the purpose of her life is to combat poverty across the globe. Another might commit himself to protecting the environment. Active nihilists have tremendous freedom in determining the best way to live their own lives.
On the info page I describe myself as "trying hard not to be a nihilist", but I guess that's not true; in many ways, I've been a nihilist for a long time, I just didn't associate the word with myself because the passive nihilists have sort of co-opted it. If you had asked me to define the distinction between the two before watching this video, I'd've said an active nihilist is someone who actually does the mass shooting instead of just talking about it on the internet.
But I've been deciding the purpose of my own life for awhile now, and it's been pretty successful in making me a happier person. I touch on some of this in when i ended my relationship with stuff: ideas of meaning in a secular neoliberal society are inexorably linked with accumulationism: work hard, get more stuff, get better stuff, save money, upgrade, accumulate wealth, have a lot to give to your kids so they can repeat the process. Well, classism has excluded me from even trying to make my life materially better, I've come to understand that the end result of all this is ecological armageddon, and I've gotten a surgical procedure that guarantees I won't have any kids I need to worry about. So traditional secular meaning is out.
The other popular choice for finding meaning in life is religion, which I talked about a bit in sucks to your aspar: I was raised without theological religion, so I tried scienceism for awhile, and that didn't work out. It turns out scientific dogma (i.e., the death cult of economics) has played and will play a vastly more destructive role in the downfall of civilization than god, which I sure wouldn't have predicted 20 years ago. Boy, is my face red.
So, I've rejected all the secular and religious avenues for giving my life meaning, so what does that leave me with? Well, nothing. I can decide for myself. I'm free.
Still, it feels weird to call myself an active nihilist when I'm not actually getting out in the world and trying to make it better. I'd like to, but I still haven't figured out how I can best make a difference. I have to play the hand I've been dealt, which unfortunately is like, a pair of 2s, Jack high. I've been tremendously privileged in that I was born with white skin and given a male identity, without which my life certainly would've been much harder, but I'm also limited by being born into poverty in one of the poorest parts of my country, raised by an abuser who caused lifelong PTSD that I still haven't quite figured out how to cope with, and being neurodiverse and gender non-performing in a way that makes it extremely hard to feel accepted and find my place in the world. All I know for sure is that I want to write, I want to create, I want to bring my unique viewpoint to the world such that it might make life just a tiny bit richer for those who come across it. My greatest hope is that I can, as Kurt Vonnegut put it, poison minds with humanity. Let's call it positive nihilism.
Many people need desperately to receive this message: "I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone."
The risk of putting everything out in public like this is that all my failures are on display, but if I fail often enough and with enough regularity, I will occasionally succeed. And as long as I don't stop, I might get better at it, and the successes might come more often. That's the hope, anyway.
Even failing still beats the alternative, which is not trying. Falling deeper into the pit. Passive nihilism.
I feel passively nihilistic a lot. Heck, we all do. How can we not? But for me, the worst outcome would be falling into that pit and pulling others down with me. That's the one thing I want desperately to avoid—no matter how hopeless I feel, the worst thing I could do is spread that hopelessness to others.
Sandra of idiomdrottning wrote about this beautifully in her essay about climate doomerism, Let's keep trying together:
With climate defeatism, it’s OK to believe we’re not gonna make it. It’s OK to feel worn down and frustrated and unheard.
What I nix is when that defeatism makes you obstruct, or get in the way of, or hinder, us trying for a chance no matter how slim. When we’re trying to think of solutions and trying to come up with things we can do, and you come in with a hat mismatch and start flooding the conversation with your “it’s no use”. (As in, repeatedly.)
That’s not cool. For my own health and for the health of everyone with me.
And, I feel guilty about saying that. We all know that everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about, and I, you don’t have to believe me but I do know how it feels.
And maybe you and yours are exactly the kind of people we need to reach the most. Maybe the most. And if the way you feel is anything near what I’ve felt when I’m been at my most pessimistic, if that’s the case, then you’re the kind of person who needs our support, our comfort, our companionship here on the brink.
If you're hopeless about the way things are going and want to tune out and focus on your own little thing, that's okay. You have to take care of your mental health however you can. I do it too.
If you're in a pit of despair and can't think of anything but our collective downward spiral, I've been there too. It sucks. Sometimes you need to vent, let those feelings out. That's okay. There are healthy ways to do that without hurting others. Therapy's a great option. So is crying with friends and loved ones. I highly recommend finding someone to cry with, it's the best kind of catharsis.
What I'm not okay with is stochastically spreading that hopelessness to others. If you have a soapbox, don't just stand on it and talk about how we're doomed and nothing matters and people shouldn't even try. Even if all that is true, and god knows there are times that I think it is, how does it help? What good does it do to convince others to also do nothing?
That's why I write stuff like the power of juries. There's a part of me that's extremely ashamed of it, like everyone is gathered in town square to watch the giant unstoppable meteor that's going to kill us all, and they see me looking up at it and holding a cricket bat. Everyone's snickering and rolling their eyes at me. What a dope. What a poor, naive rube. There's no way to stop the meteor, it's going to kill us all, we might as well just face the music.
But maybe some people will see me with my cricket bat and feel a stirring of pathos. Maybe some of them will think "if that poor little critter is willing to look silly, maybe I can try something silly too." Maybe instead of staring at their impending doom, they start looking around. They see a round metal thing they didn't notice before in the grass. They start digging. It's a hatch. It leads to a long-forgotten underground bunker. The town is destroyed but the people are saved.
Is this likely? Nah. But doing something silly makes me feel better than doing nothing, so I'm gonna hold the bat 🦝🏏☄️
Dissecting the Manosphere (youtube.com,
Finding Purpose Through Nihilism (thecrimson.com,