Nihilism is defined as the “viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded, and that existence is senseless and useless.” Those are two very different things however. Traditional values and beliefs may be arbitrary and meaningless, but life is not pointless and hopeless.
It’s easy, at times like these, when “the center cannot hold,” and the norms, traditions and values of Western civilization are crumbling from their own internal contradictions, to fail to make this distinction.
However it’s precisely now that we must affirm the inherent beauty and goodness of life. We humans are very imperfect creatures. The goal is not to perfect ourselves, or “form a more perfect Union,” but to awaken and enlighten ourselves within the context of humanity as a whole.
Mouthpieces for the status quo ante from the left are still in denial as much those on the right, refusing any responsibility for the collapse of the old order and the growing authoritarianism in America and beyond.
It’s purblind to say things like: “There has been much hand-wringing and navel gazing since the election about how liberalism was blind to a rising and hidden populism, about how identity politics were liberals’ fatal flaw.”
To complete the denial, such mentality sets up a straw man: “Democrats don’t need to attract voters who were willing to ignore Trump’s racial, ethnic and religious bigotry, his misogyny, and his xenophobia.”
Sophistry like that promotes the nihilism that feeds Trumpism.
From below and not above, from outside and not inside the cosseted commentariat, it’s irrefutable that liberalism’s blindness, superiority and the contradictions of identity politics gave rise to Trump as much as reactionary conservative claptrap and bigotry.
That truth cannot be refuted by twaddle such as “the Enlightenment must never bow to the Inquisition.” What does that even mean?
Translation: We are the products of the Enlightenment, based on the veneration of reason rather than the awakening of insight. We will cling to our separate identity groups, because “recognizing and even celebrating individual identity groups doesn’t make America weaker; it makes America stronger.”
It isn’t just that such boilerplate is way past its due date; the notion that identity groups are the victims of a latter-day Inquisition is beyond obtuse.
Trump is not destroying the left’s great project in enlightenment and identity; it’s own contradictions and willful blindness did so long ago.
Identification with separate groups lies at the root of the evil that has erupted in America and around the world, whether the ethnic or gender based identifications on the left, or the nationalism and atavism on the right.
In short, a mindset that maintains, “the Enlightenment must never give way to the Inquisition” shares the same basic characteristics of victimhood and grievance that it violently opposes. Divisive identity groups are part of what gave rise to Trump. Defending them as immutable is to continue to be complicit in his execution of democracy and decency.
Both the right and the left desperately assume and aggressively assert an intactness of the people and nation that no longer exists and cannot be resurrected.
The foundation of American and European democracy is indeed in the French Enlightenment, but that secular religion is in its death throes. It’s no use clinging to it, and deriding as “navel staring” the call for genuine enlightenment.
The veneration of reason has ended in the nihilism of Trumpism. A complete reexamination of the so-called Enlightenment philosophy is urgently required.
Reason is necessary but not sufficient, especially in the face of evil. Evil trumps reason.
Is there negation without nihilism? Why is that of value, even the highest value?
Because negation is the choiceless attention to what is, which allows the mind to cease its divisiveness and chatter, and insight, clarity and the order in nature to be and grow within one.
Because the cessation of thought is the ending of psychological time; and the ending of psychological time is communion with death; and the communion with death is the perpetual renewal of life.
Only the inwardly dead call that navel staring.
For some seconds, a minute perhaps, I watch as a great cloudmass, white and gray, moves across the southern sky like a slow motion mountain. The moving cloud mountain collides with another stationary cloud, smashing the awestruck mind and heart into nothingness.
“God, whose love and joy
are present everywhere,
can’t come to visit you
unless you aren’t there.” (Angelus Silesius)