The New Nihilists

Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and others like them win whether they win or lose. As much as they continue to win, they still seem to have nothing to lose. This has a riddle-like quality. I would blame the media, but that’s a bit like blaming the air for the pollution it carries.

I’m not sure if I have a specific point. Maybe I’m just pointing this out. Maybe some genius out there knows of a cure for cancer.

Nihilism is mankind’s worst enemy.

Perhaps they’d be nihilists if they were as intelligent as you think they are.

What do you mean?

What is wrong with nihilism?

In the sense in which I mean it? These people don’t seem to care how they get power and/or wealth. They don’t seem to value others, except as means to their own shallow and greedy ends. I may be wrong about that assessment of these particular people, but surely what I’ve just described is not what we want in a leader.

There are so many different ways of defining Nihilism that it might be better just to avoid using the term at all, for the sake of avoiding empty platitudes.

There are a few unexpected places where I feel like nihilism might be spoken about.

Lately it has seemed to me that what really should be called “nihilistic” is perhaps the opposite of what we usually mean by: “I believe in nothing.” Bear with me, and call me out as a bullshitter if necessary, but I think that the worst manifestations of nihilism show up where people actually have very distinct beliefs.

Example 1: Free Market zealotry
Total faith in the free market system. This is something you hear a lot from some brands of libertarian. “The free market system is just the way humans organize resources. It’s the natural state of things” Normally you would say, “That Libertarian is not a nihilist, they clearly believe in a thing, namely, the Free Market System.” However, what if this is a way of refusing to think about values besides those determined by brute supply/demand outcomes? If things only have value because of supply and demand, and supply and demand really is a totally cold rational system, then isn’t a failure to attribute any further value a form of nihilism? Marxists for example suggest that there might be an implicit value in a worker’s labors. There might further be an implicit value in the utility of a given good.

Example 2: Faith-based values
Total faith in the declarations of your God. Moral dogmatism of the absolute kind. Usually you would say, “That Christian is not a nihilist, they clearly believe in a thing, namely God and our obligation to her will.” However, what if this is a way of refusing to think about values besides those determined by brute commandments passed down in textual or oral tradition. By believing that only what God says to do is a legitimate moral value, a dogmatic Christian expunges herself of the responsibility to “think ethically.” There are understandable motivations to avoid actually thinking ethically. When we are forced to think about something, we experience anxiety. Belief in dogma at the expense of actual thought, i contend, is nihilistic in the same way that dogmatic faith in hyper-rationalistic free market forces is nihilistic.

Thus, I suggest we redefine nihilism as refusal to think, covered up by belief in some piece of absolute dogma. The problem here is not the “absolutism” of belief, the problem is there is nothing thought about. Dogmatism is not a positive state, it is a negation of thought.

A nihilation of thought, thus nihilism.

I stand by my use of the word in this thread. Nihilism casts a wide net, it’s fallout can be witnessed everywhere. There are many definitions and uses for the word, with many connotations possible. I don’t see that as a problem.

To me, all that is is apathy, sociopathy and perhaps also hedonism, but not nihilism.


You disagree?

To me nihilism is an essential fire that purifies mind and soul. A test by fire, so to speak. If one cannot survive this test, one has no business in philosophy as such.

TTG, you sound disturbingly Cartesian here. What are you up to? Surely you do not think that Philosophical projects must always begin with “global doubt.” Must we sit and meditate until we forget everything we know?

Well if they were nihilists wouldn’t it be some methodical plotting on their end to portray their image in the manner they do?

I’m not inclined to call either of these two a ‘nihilist’, but I’d characterize Palin as a cynic. Although I think that probably requires more intelligence than she has, maybe she’s at best an opportunist. In his own way, so is Trump (although he’s much smarter). I suppose it’s about how you define ‘win’. They’ve both gotten rich by being good players at different games: Trump as a business person and Palin at exploiting a rather narrow window of opportunity at the right time. If bank account balance at a particular point in time determines the win, then I guess you could call them winners. But having the ability to exploit isn’t really about nihilism per se.

I don’t think the media has treated them the same, though. While “The Donald” may be annoying, in possession of a massive ego, and known to never turn down an opportunity for publicity, it’s also true that he’s been around for a long time and has worked hard for what he’s earned. In other words, he’s obnoxious, but not a fluke. OTOH, Palin’s situation really started with a fluke…some old white conservative male (surprise, surprise) talking heads on a cruise to Alaska met her and got the hots, then passed on the word about her to the places that matter in the Lower 48. One place the word landed was at the front door of McCain’s desperate campaign. That was the fluke part. Since then, Palin’s gotten her attention because there’s a greater-than-usual schism in the political realm and voids can get filled in unexpected and strange ways. And it’s weirdly mixed with celebrity these days. Also, she’s considered attractive in her MILF-ish way (which is of course sexist, but I’m talking about marketing here, not morality) and is controversial in terms of her association with the teabagger movement, which has extended the national status she attained because of the idiotic McCain. Although I do think she’s the sort for whom the over-exposure can weaken the appeal on both realms, despite how much plastic surgery she gets down the road to maintain her physical appeal. And if you rely too much on hotness without any substance, then chances are good that someone better looking and smarter will come along. But, for now, she gets the bucks. And so do the media decision-makers who know that hyping coverage of her will continue to ‘sell papers’, to use a somewhat antiquated term. In polling, her negatives exceed her positives, but of course that doesn’t mean you ‘lose’ when it comes to getting attention, lol. And she (or those who think for her) knows how to exploit the media at least as well as they know how to exploit her. You could say it’s a form of mutual mast…oh, never mind.

I’m using the word casually here. Wiki says, “A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” Now, I don’t think any such “true nihilist” can exist. So a real nihilist - i.e. an actual living person upon whom we might confer the label - is more like someone who values nothing other than his or her own will to power, at the expense of any and all others, in the moment. Given such a characterization of a nihilist, such people obviously fall along a spectrum. Nihilism, given this definition, is a kind of aggressive version of solipsism (again, I’m using casual rather than technical definitions).

Definitions are merely conventions, though. If you don’t think the word works here, I’m ok with that.

You don’t think they do?

Ingenium, do you happen to know how Trump got started in his career? What kind of fortunate circumstances he might have been able to build on? I don’t personally, but maybe you do.

I’m just wondering if you’re being unfair to Palin about the hard work.

Trump wouldn’t be rich as he is if he didn’t have the drive to value all the material things.

Palin is genuine and her ideologies are not uncommon at all.

Is not the impulse to destroy nonetheless a positive, active impulse? A desire?

To me, nihilism is essentially striving to expose the negative within all positives; negative meaning open and unlimited, positive meaning closed and limited. To me, nihilism has been a will to truth, a will to being genuine, to self-honesty – essentially a will to not lie to myself, and all that is implied by such a notion.

To me, that is the opposite of a nihilist - nihilism involves the will to reject all that is contrived, artificial and false in its nature. If one is possessed with an active desire to manifest his will to power, particularly at the expense of others, this indicates to me that such a person is operating on set beliefs and paradigms, specific desires and goals and primary valuations. That would indicate the lack of a nihilistic (negative) perspective, to me.

Yes, I have found that nihilism and solipsism go hand in hand, solipsism involves the moving of the nihilistic core from the objective to the subjective, from an outer to an inner sphere. Solipsism, in its true meaning as I understand it, is the becoming-honest, the coming-to-itself of nihilism. In a way this process is conceptualized crudely by these labels, in ascending order: narcissism → nihilism → solipsism → …? I do not know of a word, even a crude one such as these, to label this fourth state with. Perhaps “enlightenment” or “universalization of subjectivity, i.e. compassion/love” would sort of capture it. Sort of a being-detached and a being-attached at the same time, each to a maximum degree possible… very hard to put into words.

Yes; we limit ourselves by sinking into our words too much. Remembering that words are merely approximations for more genuine, deeper and imminent experiences helps a lot, I have found.

You’re confusing me, WWIII. This statement has nothing to do with your original question, which I responded to with my own question.

A genuine nihilist? Perhaps, though I give her at least a little more credit than that. I’m sure she does care for others to some extent, and I’m sure she considers the future needs of herself and others to some extent. As I said before, there is a spectrum involved. Of course, this characterization of nihilism is casual rather than technical, and the specific wording is my own.