As I explained in my “About” post, I used to be a nihilist. To recap, nihilists believe that a person’s consciousness ceases to exist in their death. It all comes down to nothing. To me, this seemed like the only logical conclusion an atheist could come to; in the absence of a supernatural world, death is the absolute conclusion of human life and it is reduced to nothing. Hence, the word nihilism is derived from the Latin, ‘nihil’ meaning ‘nothing’ or ‘zero’.
I think you’d be surprised how many people are nihilists without knowing it. In my experience it is incredibly common to come across an atheist that believes that it is absolutely ‘the end’ when you die. These people tend to be the most emphatic in their arguments against religion and often profess to know a lot about science. Very few nihilists, however, wholeheartedly live by the principles of their faith.
You may be taken aback, or perhaps amused, by my use of the word ‘faith’ to describe a belief in nothing. But nihilism holds a faith equal to that of Christianity or Islam. There is no evidence to support the idea that death is the end, and how could there be? It’s not possible to ask the dead of their experience. It is therefore a completely faith-based belief.
Anyway, the principles of nihilism can be derived in such a way (I should mention that the post from hereafter is not intended to offend but to rationalise an argument to expose its faults. Whilst everything I note from herein is truly logical, I am in no way attempting to generalise):
- Pain and suffering mean nothing – it makes little sense to donate anything to charity or to help people unless there is some personal gain. After all, when we die, nothing is remembered by anyone so it doesn’t matter how much pain they lived through in their lives.
- Pleasure should be sought wherever possible – if you can get away with doing something and it pleases you to do so, you should do it regardless of its social acceptability or legality. After all, when we die, nothing is remembered by anyone so consequences for other humans needn’t be of any concern.
- If something doesn’t benefit you, don’t do it – why would you bother? Other people’s appreciation dies along with their bodies.
As you may be able to see, this is not a very nice way to live one’s life. But in extreme cases it can actually pose a danger to society. I will attempt to illustrate this with an example…
We can agree, I hope, that most (if not all) people have the occasional desire to do something immoral or illegal like punch someone in the face or just simply drive over the speed limit. Very occasionally, people get the desire to do something really awful like seriously injure someone or push a sexual partner to do something that they don’t want to which, by the way, can sometimes be legally considered rape.
A true nihilist has no moral reason to suppress these urges and will decide to act on them purely on the basis of whether they will attain a ‘pleasure profit’, that is, whether they think the pleasure of doing so will outweigh the consequences. I believe that not everyone that has the urge to rape someone will do so, even if they think they can get away with it. Most of us have a social acceptability filter on acts such as this. But if a nihilist thinks they can get away with doing it without regret, then they will do so. Trust me on this one, I have spoken to nihilists with this view.
If, like me, you are hold no understanding or sympathy for such a lack of morality and believe that morals have a place in the world then you are not a nihilist, or at least you have some thinking to do. Think about it, it’s a crazy thought, I know, but it makes sense. And, I can tell you, I am so glad I realised this before I was too far into this belief because it is a horrible place to be in. Many nihilists fall into depression and eventual suicide because of their lack of hope and inability to see anything positive in life. Nothing matters if you won’t ever be able to remember it, if no-one will ever remember it.