My Philosophy: Existential Nihilism
Beliefs are very personal perceptions of the world. A belief is a choice, not necessarily something that is solely based on logic, but also often linked to emotional responses and a need for reassurance. A belief is not the same as faith. Faith is solely emotional and not something that can be questioned. Beliefs can be changed because of new evidence and information, while faith is often so emotionally intertwined with a person’s perspective of life and the world, that questioning that faith can feel like a personal attack. Whatever it is you think you have, belief or faith, every human being has a few things that they hold onto, and that they use to make sense of the world. It could be believing in yourself and your own capabilities. A strong belief that everything is going to be okay. A faith in a deity or any sort of metaphysical beings. It can also be a belief in science. My view of the world is one that comes from philosophy, and has little to do with metaphysics. I am an existential nihilist.
Existentialism and nihilism are two schools of philosophy that have a lot of connections, and many of the artists and philosophers of the world have for the last 150 years decided to combine the two into one view of the world. Opposite to common belief, philosophy doesn’t really give you any answers. Philosophers are thinkers who want to understand the world and are just very good at asking the right questions and then discussing the possible answers. They don’t believe that they have created the best and truest view of the world. Instead, they are in a constant discourse and conversations with past thoughts, contemporary thinkers and possible future opponents. That is what has made philosophy interesting for me. It never offers answers, it offers options that seem plausible and that are open for discussions. But it is not as limited as science is. Philosophy offers more creative freedom. It is not about truths, but about trying to make sense not only on a logical level but also on an emotional level.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I am a huge believer of science. I am an atheist, an outspoken one even. That means that I respect that people believe, but I don’t accept what they believe in. And I think science is wonderful, spectacular and exciting. The amount of knowledge in the world about how things function, is amazing! But I also find that science leaves out something that I like to call the “human factor”. You know, this little tiny bit of feeling and self-awareness that makes humans stand out. And makes them suffer because they understand that life should be more than just instincts, electrical and chemical responses, and procreation.
Right. So. Existential nihilism. It basically stands for that the world is shit and there is no meaning in anything. Boom. It is definitely not a happy view of the world. But let me explain! I believe that there is no intrinsic meaning in existing or in the existence of the universe. It just happens to be there. So my life has no meaning, no one’s life has meaning. We are born because of physical, chemical and biological factors playing out right. And here we are, constantly wondering why we are here, what our life means and what do with it. But the thing is: there is no real answer to it, at all.
So I am walking around and I see all the suffering in the world. I see the children starving, the wars, the animals being slaughtered, the environment being destroyed. And there is no reason for it. There is no better life coming. There is no reason for us to suffer, for the world to suffer, other than that is the way it is. I have no control over it. And there is no one there to save us from it. Arthur Schopenhauer said it very well: “Life is the constant process of suffering.”
And the worst of it is the cruel reality of death. Darn it, we are all so scared of death. I mean, we get born, not by choice. We live, and a lot of that living is suffering. And then we die. And then what? Well, a lot of people are so scared of facing that that is all that we can really know, that they cling to faith and the idea that something better is coming. The fear of death is something that Jean-Paul Satre has discussed at length.
Everything is bleak, and many of us are clinging to something to make it less bleak. To give our suffering meaning. Only, there is no meaning. There was the big bang, there was evolution, and now here we are. Stuck with being aware of being human, of our feelings, and with the constant need for meaning. It is really shit. And man, if you are a nihilist, you might just end up sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth, and eventually just waiting for death, to escape this meaningless cruel world.
I believe in this. I believe in that there is no intrinsic meaning in our existence, and that all our suffering, all the world’s suffering, doesn’t matter at all: not to the universe, not to evolution. Who would it matter to? Why would it matter? We are a bleep on the timeline of existence anyway. It is shit. Cruel darn universe.
Existential Angst and the Pressure to really live
And this leads us to what can we do with this view, really? Well, we can kind of get our shit together. Because what I didn’t mention is that there are ways to actually tackle this. But to do that, you’d need to first and foremost realize that this is all you have. I believe that this life is all that there is. Yes yes, yolo. I don’t believe in God, or an afterlife. I believe that this is all I have. It is a shit existence, but it is all that I have. And taking care of it, and making the best of it, is what I can do. So I take my fear of death, and I turn it more into a motivation: fuck, I am going to die one day. Everyone is going to die one day. So what do I do with this life? Aaaaah.
That leads me (and all my favourite existentialists, Schopenhauer represent!) to the existential angst. Here I am, knowing that I only have this one life. Death is the only thing that really limits me. And I see all that suffering. And I need to live, I need to suffer, because this is all I have! So you are stuck with a pressure to live life, while also kind of eyeballing the possibility of death, because the suffering could just get too much. It is a really hopeless place.
Or is it? Well, yeah, a lot of times it is. But as much as I believe that our lives are limited not only by death, but also by a plethora of circumstances, there is a sort of freedom. All the freedom of the will, or freedom of choice, that some existentialists often poke about, I don’t believe exists. I like Schopenhauer’s narrower description of that we are all pushed by evolutionary needs and there is nothing we can do about it. Our brain wants to survive, as individuals, and as a species. But not all is lost. Because we have a tiny bit of freedom left.
Some say that you could distract yourself by looking at the beauty of the world: art, nature, music. Others suggested thinking and expressing yourself in ways that leave a mark on the world, so you continue to live even after your death, in people’s minds. Yet others take the nihilistic fuck it all road and become anarchists who enjoy hedonism.
I personally take the approach of making the world just a little bit better while I exist. And I don’t want to connect the meaning of my life, or my identity, to something that I am, as in profession or role in life. I want it to be linked to my general attitude towards others. And for myself, I want to acquire as much knowledge as possible, I want to learn, and I want to think. I want to make others think. Because I believe that this world and its existence, however meaningless, are still worth pondering about.