My Philosophy: Existential Nihilism

existential nihilism
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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.

Existential Nihilism

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.

Read more of my thoughts on the meaning of life.

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12 Responses

  1. May says:

    Great post as ever DS. I am so with you on wanting to learn and think and just take it all in. I have read a bit of fiction where the characters are living an existential existence and they do make me smile x

    • Thank you! You know, it is kind of like if you accept it is all shit, then you are ready to actually the small things, instead of chasing unreachable dreams and trick yourself into thinking that the world is all peachy and doesn’t need any improvements.

  2. This post is SO damn interesting. You don’t want to know how many times I think about our existence here. I think about my work, about the work I do, about my blog, all the writing I do, about so many things I do, and when I die, that stops, and everything goes on. What if I didn’t do the work I do, or if I didn’t do my blog, would the world be a different place? For me it would, because I will miss it, but people around me won’t miss it if I don’t do it. Sometimes all feels so senseless.

    This: “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.”

    And then, when I have those thoughts, I just think: but this is something I like to do. I like to write. I like to read. I like to learn. I like to do something of meaning, even though I will not even be a blip on someone’s screen in a next century. I do the things because they are important to me, because they make me feel good.

    This post really made my mind go all ways 😉

    Rebel xox

    • Thank you so much for your long reply! I think the only thing that really matters is that we do something, and not just end up being passive because we realize that our existence in general doesn’t matter. There is no general meaning with life. But that doesn’t mean that we need to stop living and just passively way for time to fly by and to die. We can do the things we love doing, to take in everything, to enjoy and to learn. And the only kind of impact we can have on the world is when we touch other people in one way or other, and a memory of us continues to live (as long as humanity continues to exist). And you are just doing that, I am just doing that. We do what we love doing. We leave something of ourselves to the world every time we write and make someone else think. It might not mean much to the universe, but it is really the most we can do with the lives that we have!

  3. I suspect that your philosophy is closer to Optimistic Nihilism than to Existential Nihilism:

    > You only get one shot at life, which is scary, but it also sets you free. If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in your life will be forgotten. Every mistake you made will not matter in the end. Every bad thing you did will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on. If the universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what its purpose is. Humans will most certainly cease to exist at some point, but before we do, we get to explore ourselves and the world around us. We get to experience feelings. We get to experience food, books, sunrises, and being with each other …

    > If this is our one shot at life, there is no reason not to have fun and live as happy as possible. Bonus points if you made the life of other people better. More bonus points if you help build a galactic human empire. Do the things that make you feel good. You get to decide whatever this means for you.

    • I think existential nihilism is older than optimistic nihilism, and isn’t so much about the “let’s do something” attitude, but more about distraction yourself from the despair around existence. Existential nihilist suffer, they don’t see anything good with the circumstances. They are in pain. But they just continue to live anyway, because they find pleasure in art, in thinking, in actually continously pondering about existence. Optimistic nihilism is higher on the grade of yolo, I think.

  4. Julie says:

    This is such an interesting and profound post. I’ve had to read it twice to get my head around it all. I for one am glad you are here and writing words we can read. That has made my life feel better today. I also agree that you don’t have to believe in the things other person do but can respect their beliefs. Hopefully though they will respect yours.

    • Haha, I can get a little philosophical sometimes 😛 Thank you, Julie! And I agree with you, it is about all mutual respect, not pushing one’s own beliefs on others. To live and let live.

  5. This is such an interesting post. I think I’m on the same page as you in regards to Existential Nihilism. I think the way you’re going about it, not attaching the meaning of life or identity to things like your job and the sentences you finish on in this post make me smile

    • Yeah, just go with the flow, because you are existing anyway, so do the things you love doing and don’t try too hard to find any sort of deeper meaning to why we are actually here.

  6. jupitergrant says:

    Great post, Deevie, and I’m totally with you on the Existential Philosophy. I am a Schopenhauer fan, too!

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