A case for Nihilism

Recently, I learned that my friends consider me very nihilistic. I don’t blame them. After all, I often say “I’m very nihilistic” or “life is inherently meaningless” in the first 5 minutes of a conversation.

Most people (or perhaps just in America or my social circles) tend to view nihilism as inherently negative. I sense that people often associate nihilism with being depressed, lacking energy, lacking ambition, and lacking morals and the ability to differentiate right and wrong.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s why nihilism leads to the opposite of all these assumptions -

Why nihilism does not lead to depression #

“We’re all going to die anyway” is one of the best ways to kill the mood at a party (trust me, I know from experience). Nobody can fault you for thinking I’m depressed if I say this. However, I find this statement to be a rather pleasant thought.

My mortality and lack of meaning free me from responsibility. It encourages me to make the most of the time I have and to enjoy every moment of it.

I don’t take myself too seriously and I think this makes me better and happier. As Joe Rogan likes to say, “If you ever start taking things too seriously, just remember that we are talking monkeys on an organic spaceship flying through the universe.”

Isn’t that amazing?! I can do what I want during my short time here. I can live hedonistically and enjoy experiences that some (institutions) would look down upon (yes, I’m also an atheist, but can one even be a nihilistic theist?). There is no higher power, greater good, or universal doctrine that I must follow.

I am my own person. I do what I enjoy and it makes me happy.

Some may consider this immoral and toxic, which I will cover later.

Why nihilism does not result in low energy #

Refer to the previous section.

Why nihilism does not make me unambitious #

If you’ve read my previous post about learning things quickly, it may convince you that I’ve always pushed myself to achieve a lot.

I grew up in a household where ambition and achievement were highly valued. Both my parents went above and beyond to achieve far more than they or their families ever imagined. They are a big source of inspiration for me.

However, even if this isn’t the case for you, here’s why I believe one can be both ambitious and nihilistic.

A nihilist’s ambitions and motivations are intrinsic. While others might derive their motivations from culture, society, and their individually created purposes, we do what we want to do. Some of us are simply intrinsically motivated to achieve great things.

When I tell people this, they often respond with, “Aha, so that’s your purpose. Checkmate, nihilist!” Confusing purpose with ambition is a very common mistake. The fact is, I am simply intrinsically motivated to achieve difficult things in my life. I do it for my own satisfaction, the feeling I get when I achieve things (see “hedonic treadmill”), and because it aligns with my belief system.

Why nihilism does not lead to amorality #

This is the one that confuses people the most. “Pranay, if there’s no god, no purpose to life, no meaning in what you do, no reason for the universe to exist, then how do you distinguish right from wrong?”

I get frustrated with this question, but I also understand where it comes from. Here’s the thing - you don’t need a purpose to have values.

Just because I don’t have a purpose, doesn’t make me okay with murder, theft, or harming others. Like most people, I have a conscience - and like most people, that conscience has little to do with purpose. It’s something more fundamental to being human.

In any case, here’s my entire value system:

  1. Life is short. I want to enjoy it as much as I can, and experience as much of it as I can
  2. I believe the same is true for every person around me, and I want them to be able to experience the same happiness that I do. When possible, I want to enable them to be able to do so
  3. Our ancestors gave us the incredible quality of life you and I now enjoy - I want to do the same for the next generation

The analogy I always go back to is this

Leave the campsite better than you found it

It matches my value system perfectly:

  1. The “campsite” implies a hedonistic experience. We usually camp with friends, purely for the sake of enjoyment. Camping isn’t inherently “meaningful”
  2. Camping with a bunch of friends is more enjoyable for every participant than if everyone camped individually. By simply being there, you’re enhancing the experience for everyone around you
  3. Leaving it in a better place than you found it allows the next “generation” to have an even more enjoyable time, and hopefully do the same going forward

No part of this value system relies on a greater purpose or a god - it’s all just intrinsic. I actually want to be a good person. I love life, and I want others to be able to enjoy it the way I do.

tl;dr #

Don’t take yourself seriously. Enjoy your life. Help others do the same.


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