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Is That All There Is? The Question Of Nihilism

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IS THAT ALL THERE IS
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Is that all there is?

Recently I found myself in New York at The Huffington Post office, talking to Arianna herself about the questions my generation is asking of a world that seems increasingly meaningless despite our outward progress and technological development. Inspired, Arianna invited me to start this online dialogue as a continuation of that conversation, providing a forum to articulate and share insight from various points of view. She even came up with the title: Is That All There Is?

Apart from echoing a sentiment of disillusion, the question reminds me of a scene in a movie about mistaken identity ("The Big Lebowski"). The protagonist responds to a particularly sexual advance by questioning whether the encounter would be appropriate under the circumstances.

He apprehensively asks, "Are you sure he won't mind?" -- referring to how the interested woman appears to be already taken by someone lounging in the pool right beside them. She retorts that the other man, passed-out with an empty bottle of whiskey, "doesn't care about anything -- he's a nihilist." The protagonist observes, "Oh, that must be exhausting."

Of all traditions I can care to apprehend and elect to carry on through life, nihilism strikes me as being terribly comical. The irony is delicious: the unconscious nihilist ventures to make a point out of purported meaninglessness. Just because I have been disillusioned and disappointed by particular value-systems, it does not follow that I need to deny the real existence of absolute or objective meaning, value and purpose to all experience and life. Acting as though I do not care does not prove that there is nothing to care about. On the contrary, I think every act is intentionally directed to progressively discover our fundamental understanding of the world as built upon the structure of care itself. Care is how the world makes a difference to us by enabling our free involvement and interest with things, including alleged concerns with meaninglessness.

If the question "Is that all there is?" does not necessarily evoke strict nihilism and misguided moral nihilism, then it can actually be quite liberating. Instead of ironically reading disappointment with some things not meeting expectations as evidence in support of nihilism, I choose to direct my attention to how important I feel it is to anticipate making a difference through correspondence with the world. I find it liberating to understand how everything is permissible not because the absence of God or Truth practically provides moral license for any and all action; instead, because everything expresses itself first as the potential for experience, there exists a "nothing" before actual things. Nothing is true and everything is permissible, therefore I am free before everything.

Nothing is the positive yet indeterminate impression on the horizon, just before becoming something definite. It is nothing and it is not-nothing. Together with the present, it is the future and it is the past. It is the pure potential and freedom to experience -- the initial "I can" of intentional consciousness that provides for my participation and correspondence with wonder.

I think the world is interesting because I actually care about the possibility of nothing.
Singing, "Is that all?" the chorus calls for us to recognize the continually conspicuous presence of an absence. Disappointment is not so much the problem now if we believe in nothing; because nothing, by definition, actually exceeds all possible expectation: "wherefore it is right that What Is be not unfulfilled; for it is not lacking: if it were, it would lack everything." (Parmenides, fr. 8.33) I think that sometimes we mistake things for their absence and for this, in the end I trust, there will always be more to say about nothing.

Around the Web

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Nihilism