• AMMDI is an open-notebook hypertext writing experiment, authored by Mike Travers aka @mtraven. It's a work in progress and some parts are more polished than others. Comments welcome! More.
Twin Pages

Meaningness, Nihilism, and Me

26 Sep 2021 09:17 - 01 Jan 2022 07:48

    • I'm generally a big fan of Meaningness but on a few things I find myself disagreeing, or objecting for reasons that I can't quite articulate. Often this is when he touches on politics, I think we just have different orientations on that. Sometimes his stuff seems a bit oversimplified or schematic or reductive.
      • To put it in your own terminology, you read to me as overly patterned and insufficiently nebulous. But that is no doubt just be a reflection of my own biases.
    • His recent posts around the topic of nihilism (here) have caused this kind of mild irk, and I can't really say why. One problem may be the variety of different interpretations of this word; he has a rather specific one (in his terms, "denial of meaningness"), he approaches it too much as an individual thing than a cultural thing, something like that.
    • Sometimes he calls it "obviously wrong", and I know what he means – as a philosophy it is kind of obviously self-undermining and dumb. But it isn't interesting to me as a philosophy, but as a mode of being, a cultural attractor, a consequence of modernism and capitalism that is so pervasive we can't see it directly, even as it molds our thinking.
    • I tried to articulate some of this in a comment on his Sexy cynicism and nihilist elitism post
      • Two kinds of nihilism: the rebellious subcultural kind, and the despairing exhausted kind.
      • The first isn’t really nihilism but likes to play at it; it can appear nihilistic to the mainstream culture and will occasionally lean into that (eg, the original Russian nihilists, punk), adopting an exuberant stance seeking to overturn or escape the established cultural order, but also constructing a new one, overtly or otherwise. A subculture can’t sustain itself on actual nihilism and the participants kind of know that. “Sexy rebels” generally fall into this bucket, as you point out, real nihilism is not very sexy.
      • The second is more genuine and stems not so much from rebellion but from the failure of meaning-generation. It’s something that can happen after subcultural rebellion has played out; it’s nihilism for older people. Its hallmarks are alienation, anomie, despair, and exhaustion. You find the theme addressed in modern art and literature (Beckett, Cioran, Delillo’s White Noise …I’ve been compiling a list .
      • These seem pretty different to me; but they have in common that they are responses to an even greater nihilism: the absence of core values and structures of meaning in a modernist, capitalist world. This is the real Big Nada; all our posturings are small potatoes in the light of its darkness.
      • As an old, I’m not all that interested in the first form. Sometimes I wish today’s youth would figure out a more effective rebellious subculture, because we need one, but I’m not going to be part of it.
      • The other kinds are more relevant to me. Your work here addresses the the second kind, providing practical techniques for escaping nihilistic traps.
      • I’m not sure what the Meaningness stance on the third kind I mentioned, which is more of a collective than an individual (I know you’ve written about this but at this point your output is so vast I can’t recall it all). Here’s what I think you’d say: We killed god (eternalism) and are living with the consequences, which includes a frantic search for new eternalisms (Marxism, Rationalism, and other ideologies) that will also not work. Or we are feeling their absence as nihilism. We should instead accept and embrace the absence of grand collective narratives, and work with real, actual, local forms of meaning.
      • I’m like 98% on board with that, but not quite all the way, I find myself clinging to some faint hope of an underlying Something, partly because I’m not sure the world can survive without one. The world runs on shared narratives, and will make up bad ones if good ones aren’t available.
    • It was interesting finding myself writing that. I thought I was something of a hardnosed postmodernist, accepting the actual unmoored condition of the world, but looks like I long for a master narrative like a chump, at least 2% of the time.