What is Nihilism?
Nihilism is a complex philosophy. It might normally belong in one of the more esoteric philosophy blogs. My question here refers more towards “Existential Nihilism” which could be simply defined as saying that life has no meaning or value. It’s an idea that is definitely bound to bring up some emotional responses. I want to state for the record that I am not proposing a belief in a philosophy that includes Nihilism, I’m simply putting it out there as something to reflect on. As you’ll see, I believe doing so can add value to your life.
Those with a philosophy of living that includes religion, will certainly be inclined to respond against it, citing the afterlife as reason enough to give life meaning. My purpose here is not to discredit any religious belief.
Some people interpret Nihilism to mean that if life has no meaning, then anything goes. Criminal or immoral acts can be condoned since, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Personally I think that this is absolutely not the case.
An Alternative View on Nihilism
Perhaps Nihilism offers us a blank canvas. If life has no external meaning then we are free to give it meaning. We are free to make of life what we want without fear of stepping outside of some preordained structure. We can stop thinking about what we are “supposed to do”, and instead choose what we want to do, to make our lives rich and meaningful.
In our world, a typical path is to be raised by our family, go to school, meet a partner, get a job, all the while with the accumulation of money as our primary goal, then on to retirement to live out what remains of our lives.
We live in a world in which, from the moment of birth we are exposed to cultural conditioning. The influences of our parents and teachers, our religious and political leaders, celebrities, and, of course, the media combine to form our worldview. They determine how we interpret the world. Based on our cultural conditioning, we develop a belief as to what is “normal”.
But in the course of life, if we keep our minds open, we are bound to see some of our beliefs shattered. There have been periods in my life where I discarded beliefs that, a short time earlier, I would have defended to the death (ok, maybe not literally), simply because my life experiences exposed me to alternative views and ideas.
One simple thing I try to do from time to time is explore ideas that are contrary to my current beliefs. I might read a book or watch a documentary on a view that opposes my own. The idea here is to minimize confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is one of the greatest obstacles to improving our lives and the lives of those around us.
At the top of the list of breakout methods, is travel to places with very different cultures. While travel might not be practical for many of us, we find ourselves living in a more multicultural world every day. Take advantage of this and get to know people who have come here from other parts of the world.
So although the debate as to whether life has meaning will last as long as the human race, reflecting on the idea can help us grow. If we embrace the idea that we should not simply accept our cultural conditioning, but instead expand our worldview, we can live vastly richer and more interesting lives.
What do you think?