The Stairwell to Nihilism

About time I wrote something in here that is not so full of cynicism and sarcasm. I am afraid I might be leading some to thinking that I am such a nihilist. Those who do think so: very perceptive of you. I have to admit that this is an entirely correct observation.

See, it is a gradual process -this road to nihilism. Well, actually it is more like a series of downwards steps rather than a road. Like a stairwell (downwards) to nihilism.

It starts with possessing lofty ideals. This is the essential pre-requisite. You must believe. In something. Anything. To become a successful nihilist, you have to start with deeply-held beliefs. For many people, like myself, this means -by default- religious beliefs. For others -and this is not exclusive with the first group, the religious believers- these ideals are of a humanist bent. For some they are superficial -mere ideologies rather than ideals. These types do not have the right timber for becoming successful nihilists. They are not authentic enough. Ideologues seldom believe in things. They pretend to. And along the way, they feed themselves as well as others a lot of bull-crap. These types better not even try to become nihilists. It just won’t work. Believing in ideals is different. It requires honesty and devotion and passion. And whatever these ideals -whether religious or humanist, wether conservative or progressive- they always share certain characteristics: they are by necessity lofty and impossible to achieve; they all have a teleological view of all phenomenon; they are always universalist; and they always have total and all around goodness of everybody and everything at their heart.

First is the phase of innocence. That time when you wake up one morning and are sincerely surprised at the carnage that you see on your TV screen. It just does not fit your schema of your beliefs and ideals. And when you later recount what you saw to your friends -and you still believe that you have these- still with surprise and shock, you are once again surprised at their matter-of-factness and coldness. But of course they laugh at you. And at what they call your naivite.

This carries on to your freshman year of college, and if you are really slow, maybe sophomore year. (If you are not lucky enough to experience college, well then you are already ahead in your game.) Needless to say, those in the philosophy and the social sciences have a greater aptitude for nihilism. Word to the wise: opt for existentialism. Some in the humanities and fine arts do fine as well, but as a whole they have the downside of being exposed to fiction, poetry, and the corrupting possibilities that the artists’ imaginations offer -these are artificial means that only elongate the innocence phase. Their adverse impact on some never wash away and they go all their lives without having a hope of becoming good nihilists. It is not unheard of to see those in the humanities and fine arts who never make the transition from the innocence stage to lower rungs of the ladder of cynicism (needless to mention that lower here means farther ahead.) Which is why it cannot be emphasized enough to keep away from the destructive effects of this material -literature, fiction, poetry, arts. (Generally speaking of course. There are the useful type of literature for our purposes, Camus for instance. Nietzsche is a must too (yes he was a poet.) But whatever you do, steer clear of the Horatio Alger category. In contemporaries, Mitch Albom is particularly subversive. And if you have even heard of Nicholas Sparks, you must stop reading right here.)

Sentimental education as a whole corrupts the nihilist spirit, at best delaying, and at worst making it impossible to become a wholesome nihilist. The escapism of the artist and the poet, their destructive indulgence of their imaginations are all harmful for an aspirant nihilist. This is the time to see the facts for what they are -so shut your imagination and open your eyes and ears. Less heart, more mind. The goal to strive for at this stage is loss of innocence. Study of history is particuarly recommended. Also a good habit of reading the news, and generally keeping an open eye on the state of the world. Have the courage to keep your eyes and ears open, and you will go far in your quest for nihilism.

This next stage in particular requires vigilance and focus. This is the stage of bitterness and immediately follows innocence. Many who are not careful, focused, and persistent enough often succomb to the ill effects of arts and literature and other reactionary material during this stage. Remember, it is a sign of cowardice to seek refuge in the imagination. In this stage in particular the ill effects of such material must be systematically combatted. For instance, if you let down your guard and go to watch a movie that wollows in sentimentalism -or worse, you are forced to do so by, say, a girlfriend- then it is highly recommended that you take steps to immediately cleanse the ill effects of what you have just experienced by reading critics reviews of the movie that denounce it for what it is, that is sheer sentimentalism and loaded in sophomorish emotions. If you enjoy the company of those who refer to these as “chick-flicks,” all the better. During this stage you may still struggle with lingering effects of idealism, of beliefs that you once held deeply, but of course you know that they are remnants of your naive past and you must suppress them. Also in this stage you will be regularly disappointed. That is good. Do not deprive yourself of those situations. Disappointment is a key component of your nihilist education.

Cynicism is the next phase, and if you are lucky you will experience the onset of this stage during your last year of undergraduate. Remember, your goal here is not what is called ‘healthy skepticism.’ As an aspirant nihilist you must leave that behind early. Unlike previous phases which were largely passive and negative, this is a positive phase: actively seek darkness and negativity behind everything you come across. “Ulterior motives” is the phrase here -however possible try to make the links. Be proactive and build up solid foundations for a cynical mind. A word of caution: it is easy to fall for the temptation of conspiracy theories. Keep away from these. An aspiring nihilist should be more self-respecting than that. Nihilism requires a serious intellectual attitude. Conspiracy theories are for illiterates, pseudo-intellectuals, and the easily fooled. They are low on fact and high on theory. Remember that as an aspiring nihilist your first committment is to truth -bare truth. And if your belief is strong enough and you look hard enough, you will find the connections without having to take the easy route of conspiracy theory.

A common misunderstanding about us nihilists is that we don’t believe in anything. This cannot be farther from the truth. Just like the misunderstanding that atheists do not believe in a god. On the contrary, both these types are strong believers. What is different about them is what they believe in.

Nihilists do believe -strongly, as a matter of fact. We believe in darkness and nothingness. And like all believers, we are comforted by it.


One Response to The Stairwell to Nihilism

  1. R says:


    well, I should have dictionary on in order to understand the post. :-)

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