Saturday, April 16, 2011

On nihilism

I once wanted to be a nihilist, but then I realized I don't believe in it.

The above is an unintentional (and unknowing, until I realized I probably wouldn't be the first to think of this and thus googled it) paraphrased quote, from a movie I had neither seen nor heard about until five minutes ago. I have, however, heard about Charlie Chaplin. It's his birthday today, which would have made him 122 years old. This in turn - had he still been alive - would have made him the world's oldest man. I know that, because I recently read that the world's oldest man died at 114. It's rubbish, of course. The world's oldest man is still alive, somewhere, at some age. You cease to be oldest when you die. But the man who until he died a few days ago was the world's oldest is now dead. The world's oldest person remains the same - a lady also at 114, and 26 days older than the aforementioned man (not Charlie Chaplin).

These people (both the elderly and Charlie Chaplin) have lived in a world where religion and belief systems have changed a lot. Entire religions have been born and died. Wars, or at least warlike fighting, have been fought with (helpless? Careless? Nonexistent?) gods on each side. "God is dead", said Nietzsche.* "Nietzsche is dead," said God.** Charlie Chaplin is said to have been an agnostic. I don't know if the world's oldest man, or the world's oldest lady/person, believed or believes in anything or anyone. The man formerly known as the world's oldest man might be finding out whether he was right in his beliefs (or non-beliefs) as we speak.

Personally, I do believe in things. Ironically (or perfectly logically?), this is what makes me not believe in nihilism. I cannot see how it is possible, to not believe in anything at all. One of the things I don't believe in - deities - probably makes a lot of people wonder how I get by. I can imagine that if you do believe in a god (or several), knowing others that don't might make you as skeptic as I am towards nihilism. For instance, how do I process all the things humans cannot explain if I don't believe in God? The answer is twofold. First of all, lack of attention. I don't pay overly lot of attention to questions I cannot answer. I remember my teacher once said that people had gone mad over pondering what lies outside the universe. I empathize. I have thought about this. I have touched the border to madness, trying to understand what I cannot understand. By avoiding thinking about it, I solve a lot of problems.

The other part of the answer, however, is that I accept that there are things I cannot explain or understand. This is similar to religion, actually, only that within most religions the believers assume the god(s) know the answer to the questions humans fail to understand. I simply assume there are things no one knows. Or I keep an open mind to the possibility that someone do understand it, or someone one day will, but it isn't necessarily a deity.

I avoid and I accept, but I don't not believe. In anything. Such as my own existence. I am pretty sure there is someone sitting here at my desk, in front of my laptop, typing with my fingers. I am pretty sure that someone is me. I am pretty sure that I, the desk, the laptop, the words, the ideas, the blog, the readers - these are not figments of my imagination (well, the readers might be). And even if they were, someone - me - would be having that imagination. I imagine, therefore I am - another paraphrase. Descartes was no nihilist, that's for sure.


*Yes, yes. Nietzsche said this in 1882. The older-than-everyone-else 114-year olds were born in 1897; Mr. Chaplin in 1889. Semantics. Or numerology.

**



16 comments:

mooderino said...

I believe Nietzsche had a fantastic moustache. I wish I had a tash like that. I've tried praying for one but it hasn't worked. Just patchy stubble, which i think proves there is no god.
regards
mood
Moody Writing

damyantiwrites said...

"I write, therefore I am" is my motto, personally :)

M is for Mannequin: Flash Fiction

welcome to my world of poetry said...

My motto is "I Am What I Am"

Yvonne,

sue said...

I'm real, honest, I pinched myself and it hurt. Years ago I thought I was religious, I was expected to be, that's how it was. I woke up one night-completely wide awake and calm in the certainty that the beliefs I was bought up with are a sham. Life has looked up ever since. I'm happy for others to believe, but not to try to convert me. Have a relaxing, happy weekend.

Ella said...

I'm open, but have my own view. It comes from reading and life experiences. When you study foreign language and see what is lost in translation; it gives you points to ponder. How many times has the bible been translated?!

Stephanie V said...

Since I'm here, I guess I don't believe in nihilism. It was much more attractive when I was younger and could carry the thought that I might not exist.
And thanks for the comment on mine - you made me laugh out loud.

Will Burke said...

I'm pretty content with my innability to find "Truth." It's made the search fun instead if urgent and critical. However, having all of these people agree with you may lend credence to the theory that you're imagining us. Just saying...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If you don't believe, then how can you be?

Cruella Collett said...

mooderino - I also discovered whilst researching (otherwise known as googling) for this post that Nietzsche (the man with the IMPOSSIBLE name) looks oddly like Charlie Chaplin. Coincidence? I think not!

damyanti - and a good motto it is! I can't use it personally, as I'd stand at constant risk of extinction...

Yvonne - another good motto! Incidentally, I am what I am too ;)

Sue - my sentiments exactly. I can't stand missionarism (isn't that a word? Shouldn't it be?). I have the right to believe I don't exist if I want to!

Ella - very good point. And even if it hadn't been - interpretation matters. Give two clergymen a Bible, and I'm fairly sure they'll come up with (at least) three explanations.

Stephanie - why, though, are we more inclined to believe in our non-existence when young? Is it because the young are gullible, is it because they are open-minded, or could it possibly be that the young don't exist..?

Will - actually, I do believe that the fact that they agree with me lend credence to the opposite theory, since I tend to argue quite a lot with myself. Now, however, I disagreed with you... Does this mean that YOU are a figment of my imagination?

Cruella Collett said...

Alex - I believe in you, since you manifested in between my typing and posting the above comment...

And I guess it's difficult to be without believing. Then again, be(lieve) is not possible without be.

Wow. I am now so deep that I almost drowned..

Hart Johnson said...

I think, on the young thing, it is because when we are young we WANT a satisfying explanation. As for me... you know I'm real... you've been to my house.

I LOVE how you put things though--that accepting there are just things we won't know solves a lot of problems. I figure there are just things we haven't figured out, and there are a LOT of things we will NEVER figure out... and that is sort of what makes it all fabulous. I love learning new stuff, but on the 'explaining the world' thing, I don't go looking for it. I just delight when it comes to me.

Cruella Collett said...

Yes. I stopped being a nihilist when I was 13...

And YES - you're real! At least you was - but I have no guarantee that the world since then has ceased to exist and that my current state of being is my memories weaved into my imagination of how I'd assume the world would continue if it had continued.

Huh.

Kelly said...

Well, I do believe in God (Christian) and although those beliefs have fluctuated over my lifetime, they've grown stronger in recent years. That said, I've never felt threatened by what others believe. So...I thought this was an interesting post!

The Google page was pretty neat today, too! (in honor of Chaplin's birthday)

The Words Crafter said...

I do believe, and like Kelly, I feel very comfortable in accepting others' beliefs. I try to be respectful and ask the same of my friends.

That said, I loved this exploration! Very thoughtful.....

Jemi Fraser said...

I think the diversity in the world and in people is one of the things where I find the most beauty. I love the different approaches, beliefs and truisms people have. It's really fascinating.

Bruce Coltin said...

I am pretty sure that I exist, but I wouldn't mind some confirmation of that fact. If, by now, you are feeling less certain of your own existence, then you won't be much help.

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