Sunday, September 09, 2007

"The Nihilists are Right"

By the Grace of Guile:
The Role of Deception in Natural History and Human Affairs
Loyal Rue


"The nihilists are right, admits philosopher Loyal Rue. The universe is blind and aimless, indifferent to us and void of meaning. There are no absolute truths and no objective values. There is no right or wrong way to live, only alternative ways. There is no correct reading of a text or a picture or a dance. God is dead, nihilism reigns. But, Rue adds, nihilism is a truth inconsistent with personal happiness and social coherence. What we need instead is a new myth, a noble lie. Only a noble lie can save us from the psychological and social chaos now threatened by the spread of skepticism about the meaning of life and the universe."

I agree. Which is why I describe myself as a nihilist pretending to be a secular humanist. The nihilists are right. And there is a good many people who know this but would never call themselves nihilists. Of course, saying that nihilists are right does not imply that one acts based on their nihilism. Humans are compassionate and empathic by their very nature. We are given pleasure by our biology and are impelled to care about others and to create beneficial things for the community merely by having 46 chromosomes. There is no choice in the matter on our part, unless we have a rare genetic dysfunction where we lose our conscience. A normal healthy person is not going to live as if their life is meaningless, even if they realize that it is. This is part of the duplicity of the human mind. We have a rational mind that can come to observe the absurdity of our own biological impulses and yet still derive pleasure from those impulses and seek them out concurrently. I agree with Loyal Rue, we need to make a pleasant lie. I have my own, primarily based on Zen Buddhism and high doses of caffeine. When the catastrophic weight of reality comes crashing down in my consciousness I have an escape hatch. In ways I credit my religious past, and my amazing propensity for dissociation to formulate this escape hatch which has certainly been useful at preventing an anxiety disorder. Others are not so lucky.

Of course, I don't actually believe in the escape hatch (for Christ sake!). But if I didn't pretend to at times, I'd surely go insane.

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