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Nihilism And The Unknown Future

Politics / US Politics Sep 29, 2014 - 11:00 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Reject Everything
Nihilism, as US president Obama said in August 2014 following the decapitation of journalist Jim Foley is most certainly ISIS in Syria and Iraq  - but he called it an ideology, when in fact it is a non-ideology. Nihilism denies all “conventional knowledge” and “conventional reality”. The only possible future, the nihilists say, will be “exalted” or “ecstatic”. Otherwise, there is no future.

Nihilism is the path to nowhere for the punk killers of ISIS who meander from town to town and cut off human heads in town squares, to thrill the crowd here and there, but nothing more than that. Until the “ecstatic moment”, life will be a shadow play, for ISIS of a threatening and macabre type.

Nihilism demands that “what is” must be made to disappear like you turn off a TV set and suddenly there is nothing. You acted to stop “what is”, but you did not necessarily have something to put in its place. For almost certain if you turn off the TV set its not to evade the truth. Nor is it because you deny the future or you fear reality – called “conventional reality” by the nihilists, and so harmful it is toxic. Nihilism says you must deconstruct false reality to get at the truth. Insofar as there is any future, the nihilists said, it will only come after the destruction of society.

Nihilism gives a small lower case “t” to the word truth. Truth as defined by several Milesian school Greek philosophers, about 400BC, for example by Parmenides saying truth is necessary, timeless, and constant, among its other attributes.

In other words, lies are not necessary and are often time-dated. For example the lie that the world's average temperatures “are rising year by year” was rammed through the mainstream media for years after it stopped being true – for 15 years after it ceased to be true. You may call that a 'statistical blip”, to comfort your existential fear of the Heat Death of the planet and extinction of the human race, but the truth is that world average temperatures have not been rising for 15 years. To be sure you could hope they start rising again, for your Doom scenario, but at present you are only lying.

Unstable and Changing Truth
For ISIS and its youth revolt mercenaries from about 25 different countries, a copy of “Islam for Dummies” in the backpack will do.  The nihilists claim that truth is unstable and changing and that reality itself must first be deconstructed, to get the truth hidden inside it.  For society, several nihilist thinkers said that after a necessary and inevitable period of chaos, mayhem and mob rule, the Supreme Leader will emerge, with his supreme and ecstatic truth who will instruct “the masses” and restore perfect order and harmony. If you are still alive, that is! First there has to be mob rule.

Usually and too rapidly associated with just a few philosophers, for example Saren Kierkegaard and especially Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, “Hitler's favorite thinkers”, nihilism however and in fact was initially a Russian youth rebellion of the 1860s and 1870s. From the 1960s and for a brief interlude there was a “renaissance” of nihilist philosophy, which coincided with the Hippy movement. We can note the Russian youth revolt of the 19th century was very comparable with the 1950s and 1960s US Beat Generation and Hippy movement. All these youth uprisings featured a large scale rejection of “conventional values” and social taboos, sometimes edging into street protest. The writer Ivan Turgeniev in his best-seller book of the 1860s translated as “Fathers and Sons” portrayed this youth revolt which in the late 19th century rejected everything, even Anarchy (as “too organized”).

Nietzsche, sometimes dubbed “the Punk Philosopher”, and certainly the guru of the waning Gothic New Age sub-movement was undoubtedly impressed by what was happening in Russia at the time he was developing his theory of nihilism. Like this youth movement proclaimed, he also proclaimed the need to deny existing society and all its values – because Man has killed God – in fact he said Man has assassinated God.

To the slender extent that ISIS could be called extreme-sunnite Salafist, and not a bunch of punk killers with an Arab racist flavor, the threat of “assassinating Allah” by over-philosophizing the literal meanings of the Coran could be used to try justifying its action. The problem for ISIS intellectuals, if they exist, is that they are obliged to be Nihilist. Nietzsche is often heavily criticized by other philosophers but to the extent that nihilism can be called a philosophy and saying it is a philosophy is not an oxymoron, its basic claim is that “conventional knowledge” is useless.  Secondly, all existing social institutions must be entirely rejected and destroyed. Society must be destroyed.

Total Rejection
The total rejection of “conventional logic” as well as “conventional society” by nihilism and why it can (or should) be called a non-ideology, is its basic claim that “what is” is an illusion. Nihilism does not explain how human groups, political movements and associations, or the “non-state and non-nation” of ISIS became insane, but does say that the defeat and destruction of normal logic and existing society will play a major role in restoring humanity to sanity or to a sane condition.

Nietzsche's precept was that individuals are unlikely to be insane but groups, political parties, societies and nations are very often insane. He said their insanity “is the rule”. 

Further developed by Martin Heidegger as “The Fuhrer Principle” and snapped up by Hitler's advisors, this opened the way for the cult of the Supreme Leader - the only alternative to The Mob. The major problem is that as Nietzsche and Heidegger admitted - or welcomed -  there must first be mob rule, before the salvation brought by the supreme leader. The interval may be long or it may be short but if the supreme leader does not emerge, this will be the fault of Humanity, according to Nietzsche, because Humanity shirked its Godhood - and he was very pessimistic as to whether humanity could achieve Godhood. Very pessimistic.

Western society's elected political leaderships of today, as we know, on a daily basis, deliberately shirk the responsibilities of leadership – for example anything to do with the economy is controlled by “the markets”, a disembodied entity only able to be understood by experts. They are unable to do anything to alleviate the mass suffering of unemployment and poverty. The national debt, very regrettably, must go on rising. There will always be a massive trade deficit – and so on. Their so-called struggle against Islamic extremism is another tragic example of their refusal to apply rational analysis to the real world of today and act - spawning the “ISIS phenomenon” by a refusal to lead and to govern, as journalist Patrick Cockburn ably recounts in his book “The Jihadis Return” .

The Sub Paradigm
For many thinkers, nihilism has created a “sub-paradigm” in western society which in Mircea Eliade's analysis has “provincialized itself” and proudly (or arrogantly) set itself apart from the rest of the world since the 1750s. When this concerns the rational bases of society, the acceptance of nihilism means the rejection of all “conventional knowledge”, which nihilism never, ever defines. Nihilism is a clear and permanent invitation to firstly double-think, and then non-think, ideally suited to violent and fact-free youth movements and instant uprisings - and a major feature of the 1960s Hippy movement which was powerful in many western countries.

Today's western society and its political, business and media directors and deciders are in some way descendants of the Hippy nihilist outburst of more than 40 years ago.

As any press conference from US president Obama will tend to prove, the relic of the “leadership cult” in western society is above all a relic, and certainly has nihilist trappings. The cult features a constant search to do nothing. Inaction is the goal. Due to the cult's massive dumbing down, western leaderships are committed only to stumbling and fumbling forward – described as Muddling Through – to no discernible end. Nihilist denial of the future is replaced by an eternal present, which for nihilist philosophers was a sign of society's deep confusion, caused by an overdose of “conventional knowledge”.

Like the Hippies of the 1960s and 1970s, the west's downsized leaders of today are perpetual innocents always shocked by the “surprise decline” of the economy, the destruction of social cohesion and the decline of  western civilization! They allowed it, or they caused it. You have two choices.

One thing is certain – few if any ISIS intellectuals, if such persons exist, will explain that Nihilism defines all religions as inferior and treacherous. They are invented by inferior human beings with the objective of exploiting the stupidity and gullibility of “ordinary Humanity”. As for society, Nihilism says, all religions must be destroyed.

Communication Breakdown
Nihilism is the belief that “conventional values” are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated using those values. To be sure and certain, nihilism is associated with extreme pessimism and radical scepticism which condemns “conventional existence”. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and have no purpose other than being driven at all times by the impulse to destroy.

Before singling out ISIS as a particularly flagrant case of nihilism, the refusal to govern in today's western societies can be compared with an impulse to destroy, of course with the pretense used by these non-leaders that they have a “democratic mandate to do nothing”.

Nietzsche, to some extent Heidegger, and certainly the later French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that western society has reached terminal epistemological failure, the destruction of all social values, and has plunged itself into “cosmic purposelessness”. One likely result, they said, would be near-total indifference in society about any cause, political project, event or subject of daily news and views.

There would be blanket rejection. In Sartre's case this would be followed by mass apathy.

This is easy to compare with what passes for “public opinion” in western society of today! When the leaders of society are inhabited and infected by the same virus of nihilism, we can only expect society and the political process to be a shadow play or a “theatre des ombres”, like Indonesian Wayang theatre. Talking plenty but saying nothing. Dedicated to doing nothing. Stumbling forward.

We could also see that creeping nihilism makes the attempt or the claimed attempt at “reversing the decline” and reconstructing society's values (and of course the economy) a Sisyphus project, forever condemned to failure, at least until the Flash Mob takes to the streets and destroys all. The Mob.

For our “muppet elites', infected by nihilism, the saying of US founding father Tom Paine has been exactly inverted. He said: “An army of principles can penetrate where no army of soldiers can go”. If there are no principles, the army will go nowhere. Like the ragtag army of ISIS psychopaths or Punk Killers in the Middle East of today, it can  Nihilism is the punk philosophy.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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