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By Robert A. Vella

Many years ago in a far-away land, a young man and his youthful comrades would laze around on a pleasant Saturday afternoon pondering the meaning of life and other metaphysical topics while sharing a seemingly endless supply of very smoke-able joints.  We covered it all like renowned philosophers in an open-debate forum.  Is the universe open (expanding) or closed (contracting), or is it infinitely constant (i.e. the Steady State model)?  Is time travel possible?  What exists outside our universe, if anything?  How did our universe originate, if it even had a beginning?  Did God create Man, or did men create gods?  Is human nature essentially good or evil?  Do the concepts of good and evil exist anywhere beyond the human mind?  Why is miscommunication so prevalent between cultures, between the sexes, and even between similar individuals?  What are the best social systems?  Why is war so common?  Etc., etc., etc.

Those young, idealistic pot-heads were intensely curious about their world because it was new to them.  Their passion to learn was guided by genuine altruism as was their passion to change a very real world which appeared totally incongruent.  Today, we see such youthful vigor and optimism as admirable, yet obviously naive.  As we get older, the world begins to look quite different to us.  Our pessimism grows.  Our acceptance of imperfection strengthens, albeit reluctantly.  We tend to take ourselves less seriously.  More and more, we realize that which we do not know.  In its final stages, life itself becomes an existential absurdity (i.e. nihilistic).

What a contrast of perspectives we typically experience!  At some point in life, reality crashes down on our dreams.  Nihilism takes root.  Neither is right, and neither is wrong.  It is all so subjective.  We constantly struggle for some objectivity, for some semblance of external frames of reference.  We hopelessly search for these things.  We desperately hope for these things.  But, alas, we are forever lost.

Into this psychological void, steps the dogmas of religion.  However, institutionalized spirituality has a problem, and it’s a big one.  Even the most intricately organized religion is based solely on myth and contrivance.  In order to attract followers, belief in its precepts must be secured through steadfast adherence to faith (i.e. loyalty).  This can be simple to achieve in strict, authoritarian societies;  but, it’s not so easy in cultures which promote intellectual freedom.  Nevertheless, religion offers an attractive alternative to nihilistic thinking because it is its polar opposite – safe, secure, and well-ordered.

In what I – and many others – refer to as this “dystopian” 21st century, the rise of nihilism appears to be occurring in people of increasingly younger ages.  This is inherently dangerous.  Civil society is dependent upon the altruism, optimism, and vigor of young people.  Widespread disillusionment would act like a social cancer.  Wary, we must all be.

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16 thoughts on “Metaphysical Musings for a Saturday afternoon

  1. The rise of the “dystopian” 21 century is due more to religion (in the US, witness the money cult of Christianity) than any “nihilism.” While there are many different kinds of nihilism, the refusal to be hoodwinked and believe in the nostrums of progress and hopey-changey surely is a great corrective, not a “social cancer.”
    Look at the effects of religion-based capitalism as it conquers air, water, land, and animal life, and there you will see what can be termed “social cancer.” “Widespread disillusionment” would be the best, secular rejection of the monotheistic anti-rationalist death cults we’ve got ruling industry and government across the world

    • I think you misunderstood. I’m not saying that the rise of nihilism is causing our social decay, but rather is a symptom of it. I agree that laissez-faire capitalism is the biggest culprit.

      • Fair enough – though if social decay is all around us, and nihilism is a symptom of it, then we should learn to live with the disease, rather than think it does not exist within us.
        Thanks for your great posts, by the way – always well-chosen and challenging.

  2. In American Experience (PBS) James Arthur Baldwin said:

    “I cannot be a pessimist because I am alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”

    It’s an astonishing statement, from an astonishing man. The truth of it is ghastly. The truth of it is just that, the truth. It explains why men have always fallen inexorably into religious fantasy. It’s the easiest (culturally acceptable) sedative to existential despair. Regardless, however, of whether religion is there or not, absolute nhilism is always thwarted by the promise of a better tomorrow. This is the underpinning of Adrien Bejan’s Constructal Law of design. Marrty that to Integrated Information Theory, and we have the workings of an actually beneficial, non-retarding, belief system.

  3. Vanity vanity, all is vanity says the psalmist and I think I incline to the psalmist more than the altruist but I hope there remains enough hope to go around

    • From Psalms 94:11, King James Version (KJV):

      “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.”

      That’s quite a revelation (/sarc), that God is aware we think about ourselves. Does He mean that we shouldn’t think at all, that whenever we have questions we should refer to the Bible? Apparently so, and presumably that includes atheists; otherwise, atheists wouldn’t be so preoccupied with the Bible.

      • Hahah Bob
        I had this in mind

        “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
            says the Teacher.
        “Utterly meaningless!
            Everything is meaningless.”

        3 What do people gain from all their labors
            at which they toil under the sun?
        4 Generations come and generations go,
            but the earth remains forever.
        5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
            and hurries back to where it rises.
        6 The wind blows to the south
            and turns to the north;
        round and round it goes,
            ever returning on its course.
        7 All streams flow into the sea,
            yet the sea is never full.
        To the place the streams come from,
            there they return again.
        8 All things are wearisome,
            more than one can say.
        The eye never has enough of seeing,
            nor the ear its fill of hearing.
        9 What has been will be again,
            what has been done will be done again;
            there is nothing new under the sun.
        10 Is there anything of which one can say,
            “Look! This is something new”?
        It was here already, long ago;
            it was here before our time.
        11 No one remembers the former generations,
            and even those yet to come
        will not be remembered
            by those who follow them.

        Or better still the dialogue between a man and his soul makes for interesting reading.

      • Well, mental masturbation can be as satisfying as the sexual. That’s why I do it regularly – lol!

        “Everything is meaningless.”

        Okay, then maybe I should just isolate myself in my room and wait for death to come; because, nothing I do or say could possibly have any value in a world without meaning.

      • Good one Bob.
        Everything is meaningless viewed globally but from our perspective, we can’t live unless we find something meaningful to do

      • That, my friend, I have no objections to.
        I read somewhere it is good for the prostrate, keeps cancer away.
        Good evening and good week mate

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