The Beautiful Sadness of Optimistic Nihilism

When you aren’t led by purpose, you are freed by absurdity.
Source: 9Gag

I have, on multiple occasions, been a firm believer in the absurdist school of philosophical thought. But lately, as my news feeds get filled with more of the same political drama and I hear more from friends being dragged down by the weight of the world, I’ve been falling back on my absurdist thoughts. To that end, I feel I owe it to those that may be struggling to go into the very core of my philosophy. And if any of you know of someone that that is being brought down, I pray that you take this view to heart and share it with those that may need it.

To that end, let’s talk about nihilism.

Nihilism has a lot of different meanings depending on what field of study you use it in. For the purposes of philosophy though, we’re talking about existential nihilism – the belief life has no intrinsic meaning or purpose. If you’ve paid attention to my long-winded speechifying on the subject though, you will note that – despite being born of the existential school of philosophy – this concept of meaningless and valueless existence is the very definition of absurdism.

It seems that, to the average person, a nihilist is just a gloomy, misery obsessed downer who seeks to bring others down with them. And while those people do exist and should be avoided at all costs, they aren’t the what the average nihilistic absurdist strives to be.

To an absurdist, the knowledge that we are all so insignificant in the grand scale of the universe is not a spirit-crushing thought, but an uplifting one. The fact that human existence is an aimless task with a definitive and likely fast approaching endpoint means that the only things of any importance are the things and that YOU personally prescribe value to; Only the things that bring you joy matter.

As for all of the negativity in your life? All the mistakes you made? The people that hurt you? Yup, they’re just as pointless. All of those terrible things and people that have tormented you will evaporate into oblivion along with you and the rest of humanity when our time comes. So it only makes sense to ignore all of that infuriating nonsense that only serves to distract you from the things that enrich your limited time.

Now, I realize that this all sounds very egocentric and self-absorbed. But if you’re the kind of person that gets enjoyment from other’s happiness (and you are, AREN’T YOU?), this is also a huge motivator to want to improve the world and the equally brief lives of those in it. After all, there is a legitimate case to be made for altruism motivated by self-interest.

To put it in nerdier terms, imagine life as an RPG. You spawn on Earth with a randomly generated character and are given a sandbox environment so massive that neither you or any of the other players will likely ever be able to see it all. You can build and grow your stats through the various quests you can choose to take or leave at your leisure. You can choose whatever class you want to play or even discover a brand new class that others may want to play as. You can customize your character with all sorts of gear you can earn through any number of means. You can go on party quests with as many or as few people as you want. But most importantly, there is no end to the number of achievements you can earn and no one knows what kind of great loot you can find for earning them. There are no boss battles, but those would just distract you from the thrill of exploring the environment, interacting with other players, and watching the beautiful cutscenes of the most immersive story in gaming history. And should you start feeling sad because you failed a quest, don’t despair. That only means that something amazing happened during that quest to make you happy to begin with and that you’re still alive to find a new quest or maybe even try that quest again.

This is why I embrace nihilism. I’m not miserable, as I’m often lead to believe; I’m merely contemplating what quest I should take tomorrow. I’m planning my next big raiding party. I’m wondering what gear I need for the big PvP event next month and how much gold it will cost.

If you or someone you know is feeling trapped by the world – like prey to a carnivorous and uncaring universe, please take these words to heart: Focus on your past only long enough to avoid repeating it. Walk through the things and people that hurt you like the vapor they are. Only YOUR journey and how YOU choose to make it truly have any meaning in such a beautifully brief existence.

May the chaos of nihilism shatter the chains that bind your soul.

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The Philosophy of Fighting Depression (Or “How One Man Proved That Suicide Is NEVER The Answer”)

Sorry, no jokes this week. This is serious business.
Source: vistapsych.com

You may recall how I took a light break from writing last week due to stress. Well, part of the reason for that stress was that this topic was on my mind and I needed a break from outside interference to prepare for it.

You see, I’ve suffered with depression and social anxiety for some time. I often lose interest in the things I enjoy, I can’t stand noisy environments, and I panic when faced with even small crowds.

At my absolute lowest points – between 5th grade and junior high – I frequently had the uncomfortable talk with parents and teachers about suicidal thoughts; thoughts not helped by the fact that I had to deal with the news of one friend actually committing it at the time.

My thoughts have turned to this unpleasant topic because I’m currently seeing a new doctor in the hopes of dealing with these problems. In the past, I’ve been prescribed medications with little to no effect at best and even more negative effects appearing at worst.

Still, I think I may have found someone else to help me hold on to hope and happiness in the meantime and I want to share his teachings with you.

Albert Camus was a French-Algerian philosopher in the school of Absurdism who is celebrated as a Nobel Prize winning author. Despite his distaste for being labeled an Existentialist, his essay The Myth of Sisyphus tackles one of the most challenging existential problems in philosophy; the problem of suicide.

According to Camus’ philosophy, life is absurd and lacks much in the way of meaning. The problem with suicide (and depression by extension) occurs when a sudden event strikes a person during a moment of lucidity that makes them realize the absurdity of their situation and consider the idea that this is the fate they are resigned to.

But, Camus made it clear that suicide is a non-option. He didn’t consider it a solution because a solution is designed to solve a problem. Killing yourself doesn’t solve your problems; it merely negates them and possibly hands them off to others depending on the nature of the problem.

Camus also advised against the practice of Transcendence, the idea that our absurdity is a part of god’s will and that there is a greater world awaiting us should we succeed in outlasting it – the “this too shall pass” technique as I call it. He argued that it was a less than ideal answer because the vision of a different life threatens to distract us from the real world around us.

So, if transcendence is potentially dishonest and death is a non-option, how do people like us deal with the crap-sack world around us?

Camus came up with, in my mind, the most brilliant concept in philosophy; The Absurd Hero – one who, instead of being defeated by absurdity, embraced it and used it as a motivator to create art and work that expressed the nature of their condition.

Camus explains this in The Myth of Sisyphus by recreating the famous Greek myth of the man forced to roll a massive stone up a mountain for all eternity. In Camus’ interpretation, he asks us to imagine Sisyphus happy to perform this task. In doing so, he rebels against his punishment in the only way he can.

I try to define my life by my own absurdity every week with all of you by writing for this blog. All of you who read this are witnessing the end product of me taking all of the nagging thoughts and absurd challenges that assail me. I encourage you to do the same. Find some form of public expression be it, painting, photography, writing, music, construction, dance – LITERALLY any socially acceptable form. Share your view of the human condition that you may give your life meaning and help others find their own meaning.

In short, the guys from The Script had it right; the secret to fighting depression is, “[turning] the pain into power.”

Pessimistic or Realistic: Where’s the Line Drawn?

Now, isn’t this a better metaphor than the glass of water?
Source: Omnilexica

Once again, I find myself over burdened. This time, it’s the pressure of finding work that’s doing me in. On the plus side, I have a second interview with a local newspaper.

So, in order to take some stress off of me, I’m going to philosophize on a subject that I once discussed back when I was writing for my campus newspaper.

I have a long standing history among friends and family as being a pessimist. However, I often feel they are mistaking my view for Pessimism when I’m actually trying to be realistic. So let’s look at the two and see how a so-called pessimistic view can be a boon when tempered properly.

What is Pessimism?

Not quite my definition, but the closest that I could find on short notice.
Source: The Pessimist

I have found that many people transpose the words ‘pessimist’ and ‘cynic’.

I have found that when most people call someone cynical, they mean it to suggest that they refuse to believe that anything will ever be of any worth. However this is closer to the definition of pessimism; the, “tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view,” according to The Free Dictionary.

Cynical, on the other hand, describes a school of thought that states that all humans are inherently self-serving and untrustworthy. In the words of Merriam-Webster, it is defined as, “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest.”

It’s important to note the difference between the two. A cynic has a pessimistic view of people (you can’t trust anyone), but a pessimist is not necessarily a cynic.

In fact, pessimism can be highly focused to a specific area of thought; e.g. art, humanity, etc. For example, a person can hold the pessimistic belief that any movie that a specific film director makes will be garbage, but will optimistically sing the praises of another.

So, this begs the question of why one would chose to be pessimistic. I can’t answer for them, but I can tell you where I started.

The Father of Pessimism

All hail our Grand Poobah!
Source: Wikipedia

One of the people that helped form the basis of my world view was one Theodore Sturgeon. Sturgeon was a celebrated sci-fi author and critic responsible for helping to form the world of modern science fiction. In addition to writing several episodes of Star Trek, Land of the Lost, and The New Twilight Zone, he also wrote “Killdozer!”, a cult classic novella turned made-for-TV movie.

According to legend, Sturgeon was answering the attacks of critics of science fiction that bashed it for its low quality by stating that most examples of life in general can be seen as just as poor. To put it in Sturgeon’s own words, “Sure, ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That’s because ninety percent of EVERYTHING is crud.”

The notion that most things are worthless is known as “Sturgeon’s Revelation” (though it is better known by the less accurate “Sturgeon’s Law” and is often misquoted as, “Ninety percent of everything is CRAP”). And while is seems hyper-critical, doesn’t it feel true? How often have you complained about never finding anything good on television? How many business can you think of that you can say nice things about without any qualifying statements about less desirable actions they’ve taken? How many people do you bump into, work with, or hear about that you could do without?

The fact is that we have a quality control problem in this world and recognizing it is perfectly normal. In fact, it’s actually helpful.

The Advantage of (Controlled) Pessimism

I’m going to start telling myself this from now on.
Source: Youth Voices

Recognizing the flaws in the world around us is what pushes us to want to improve things. Imagine how drab and miserable the world would be if we were all complaisant and willing to accept the world as is without questioning it or trying to improve it.

Also, pessimism can be a powerful protective tool when used properly. By expecting the worse from some future plan or event, you can prepare for the worse possible outcome – a key to good crisis management. In this case, pessimism is only a problem when it convinces you to not pursue your task in the first place.

In short, the boundaries between true pessimism, blind optimism, and realistic thinking – as defined by me – are how much you let negative thoughts dictate your thinking. A realist will let those thoughts serve as a warning rather then let them defeat themselves before they start or blatantly ignore them.

Last Thoughts and Advise

In closing, yes, I’ve been known to take a negative view on most things initially. However, that just means that I’ll either know what’s wrong before hand that needs fixing or I’ll be pleasantly surprised when all goes better than expected.

 

So remember, don’t fear the doubts and negativity in the back of your mind. Don’t ignore them or let them crush your spirit. Instead, let them guide you towards the right path. And should you notice that less than ninety percent of something is crud, raise your standards and demand better from the world.