November 20, 2011

A Fierce and Burning Apathy: Making Nihilism Work for You!


I was coming home with a heavy armload of beer and smokes when two women stepped through the front gate of my house just before I did.

            “Oh,” one of them said. “Do you live here?”

            “Yeah.” I could smell it on them already, read it in their fresh-scrubbed, blank-eyed faces. They wanted something. I knew what it was, and I didn’t have it.

            “Well then you’re the man we came here to talk to.”

            “Yeah, I can pretty much guarantee that I’m not.”

            “You see,” she said, ignoring how much I meant what I said, “we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses—“

            “There’s a shocker.”

            “—And we’re asking some of our neighbors if, looking at the world as it is today, they can still believe in a Creator?”

            I could’ve gone a thousand different directions with an opening like that. Instead, taking some pathetic pity on these helpless creatures, I kept it simple. “Yeah, well, in technical terms let’s just say I’m a nihilist, and a very proud one.”

            “A nihilist.”

            “Yup, and if you don’t mind, I need to get these beers and smokes inside before they spoil. Hey—you should go talk to the guy at the bodega across the street. I’m sure he’d be interested.” (I didn’t mention that the guy at the bodega was an angry militant Muslim who listened to Al-Jazeera all day. I figured that would be my little joke.)

            Being a nihilist means never having to suffer poor, delusional fuckers gladly. Unless, of course, they’re potentially entertaining.

            In the early days of the Nihilist Workers Party, my pal Grinch and I (the founding and only members) were condemned by political science and Russian History grad students for not properly adhering to the doctrines set out by the Russian Nihilists of the Nineteenth Century. Where do you even begin with muttonheaded nonsense like that? A nihilist who paid any attention to century-old doctrines—or doctrines, period—wouldn’t be much of a nihilist, now would he? Instead of trying to engage these people in philosophical debate on the matter, we simply threw things at them, which seemed a more appropriate philosophical response from our standpoint. Other people called us counterrevolutionaries and accused us of being FBI plants out to discredit the Left, or some such. Political types seemed to have a difficult time accepting the very simple and clear fact that we just didn’t give a fuck about much of anything. Certainly not the Left, the Right, the FBI, or any mythical revolution. We just wanted to make the world an uglier place and confuse people while we were at it—all through the virtues of a militant, unshakable apathy.

            It’s a notion I’d held true before the NWP was formed, and one that continues to serve me well today. Living without hopes, goals, principles or doctrines is simply much easier and much more fun. Yes, it works for me, and I can make it work for you, too! In fact, you may already be a nihilist without even realizing it!

            Consider the following:

            If you cling to some doctrine—political, religious, economic, whatever—you are destined for disappointment. It’s inevitable. Jesus won’t show up at the appointed time, or the presidential candidate in whom you’d placed all your faith and trust will be photographed sucking off a moose (or worse, he’ll be revealed as just another cheap, self-serving political hack). When these things happen, where does it leave you? Royally fucked, that’s where!

            However, if all you expect is that people will be stupid and cruel, and that the world as a whole will become a more miserable cesspool year after year, you will never be disappointed. Everything that happens will merely confirm that you were right all along. And if you can derive a cheap guffaw or two every day out of disasters and shitty human behavior, all the better.

            (Child rapist and former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky entitled his autobiography Touched. Now that’s comedy!)

            Ask yourself a simple question (really just a variation on what those Jehovah people asked me): Does it seem to you that the world is spinning completely out of control into madness, chaos, crime, disease, pointless warfare, silly religious folderol, overpopulation, complete economic and environmental collapse, and other assorted miseries? I’ll answer for you—of course it does. And what’s more, it always has. Entropy’s an amazing thing.

            Now, way that I see it, you can respond to all the ugliness in one of two ways. You can either make some half-assed attempt to “do” something about it by praying to some invisible holy bugaboo, voting for one fool or another, or participating in some “Help, I’m Being Oppressed” march that won’t really bother anyone—or you can go beyond simply accepting it by cracking open another beer and reveling in it. Most of us do the latter as it is, but quietly, internally, without the beer and lord knows without admitting it to anyone.

            When I was young and suicidal and pretended to be idealistic, I liked to consider myself an anarchist. Even then I was always attracted to the bomb-throwers and the assassins. What killed it for me was realizing that even in those cases anarchism at heart works with the assumption that people are essentially good, noble creatures who will cooperate if given the chance and make this world a kindly paradise without greed or hatred.

            Well, they aren’t. They’re nasty, craven little cretins, always have been, always will be, so if you accept it it’ll make everything much easier.

            Fyodor Dostoevsky was in the habit of using his novels to trace philosophical concepts to their logical conclusions. He was no fan of the (official) Nihilists of his day, and argued in The Devils that if you don’t believe in anything (especially God), you will inevitably turn to murder. While it is a tempting thought, I don’t think that’s absolutely true. Historically, I think it’s people who believe in shit you gotta watch out for. And the more they believe, the more dangerous they are. Myself, I’m content to let others do the killing, while I enjoy it from home.

            It’s my contention that probably a full ninety percent of the population is nihilist in nature, but afraid to admit it. I’m talking about the TV-watching-iPhone-addicted-car-driving crowd. They do a lot of pretending, these folks. They pretend to be Republicans or Independents (love them) or Presbyterians or Zoroastrians. They pretend to be shocked when politicians or corporate chiefs do bad things. They pretend to care about important things. If you press them on it, though, they don’t really care about much of anything. They can’t admit it, though, because community standards insist that things matter. Laws, religion, dressing appropriately and such. For some reason, someone who admits he doesn’t believe in anything is considered “bad” and “weird.” On the bright side, once you stop caring about community standards along with everything else, you’re pretty much free to live however the hell you want. Amazing what you can get away with when people realize you don’t give a good goddamn what they have to say about it.

            I have a friend who sees the concise and easy wisdom of the nihilistic lifestyle, he knows it’s the only sane way to understand the world, but he keeps slipping back into “belief.” It’s sad to watch. Things will be fine for a day, then before you know it he’s talking anarcho-syndicalism again, or hanging out and marching with the Wall Street protesters. Poor fellow. He seems doomed to belief and so doomed to disappointment. I’ll give him this, though—he is one of the very few people I’ve met in a while who really does seem to believe in something (doomed as it is) even as he says otherwise.

            If my friend and all these jerkoffs were to finally come out and admit that nothing means anything, embrace their nihilism, they’d at last be able to relax and get those stupid bugs out of their asses. We’d all be much better off and much happier. We could spend our days playing in the ruins while the fires raged all around us.

            As painter Francis Bacon put it, “I am absolutely optimistic about Nothing.”

            There’s much more to say about all this, but I’m thinking of saving it for a best-selling self-help book. Perhaps the self-help book for the Twenty-first Century.

            Ah, screw it.


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