That’s a lot of big bad scary words!
*this post was written quickly so excuse any typing errors/disjointedness until I get a chance to edit more thoroughly*
I’ve been studying existentialism, anarchism, and nihilism on and off since the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I would sometimes spend my lunches during my sophomore year of high school in the library reading Nietzsche, where one day a teacher found me and commented that perhaps I should wait until college to read such things. I’m not totally sure what her point was, but I think she was saying that I should be careful not to be influenced by crazy ideas so soon.
But they’re not crazy.
Over the past couple years, my spirituality took a slight turn to a more Cosmic and Universal focus (starting with pantheism and growing from there), and as a follow through from that, I’ve found myself arriving back at existential nihilism. (I think the state of current events has something to do with it as well.)
However I got here, I’m in a place now where I’m acutely aware of the inherent meaninglessness of everything. These days, it’s not uncommon for me to find myself looking out at the world, at nature, and feeling the scale of it all. The smallness of everything happening here on the planet we call Earth.
Existence itself, everything we think we know, could be a huge illusion. Not in a mystical sense – but that we actually don’t know what we even are. It seems like, the more scientists are able to tell us about the nature of the universe, the more we realize how much we’ll never be able to know.
There’s a chance that there’s multiple universes in existence all at the same time. Universes within universes. We can’t even comprehend or grasp the scale of the galaxy or universe we exist within … much less the idea that our universe is just a small one within another even bigger universe. It’s crazy.
It can drive you crazy. If you let it.
But what I’m finding, as someone who has had depression since I can remember, is that confronting the meaninglessness of existence is making me a happier person. Because I’m not looking for meaning anymore. I’m not feeling like I’m left out of something anymore, that anyone knows anything that I don’t know, that there are any secrets. None of that matters.
Albert Einstein once said, in a letter to a college student who wrote him asking why we are alive, the following: “The question ‘why’ in the human sphere is easy to answer: to create satisfaction for ourselves and for other people. In the extra human sphere the question has no meaning.”
I wholeheartedly agree. We’re alive and we’re intelligent, so we ponder our existence. Without us – there is no questioner. There is no one to imagine meaning – it doesn’t exist. And I find it wildly arrogant to believe that everything was created so that humans could exist, as some religions have a habit of professing.
He finishes by saying, “Also the belief in God is no way out for in this case you might ask ‘why God’.”
The key word that stands out to me in Einstein’s letter is the word “create”.
We are the creators of meaning. There is no inherent meaning.
I remember laying in bed in 5th grade, writing in my journal (which I still have) late at night, questions about why things are what they are. In my fifth grade pondering, I figured that a fan might as well be called blue. And blue might as well be called yellow. If everyone agreed a fan was called blue, then it would be blue. But it would still be what we currently call a fan. Regardless of what we call it, it is what it is. We construct how we understand it together – bound by our biology. Later in my life, I remember running the mile around the track in high school and ruminating on this fact again. All the bad things in the world – they’re bad, to us. Because we’re affected by them or because we agree that they’re bad. I was reading a lot about anarchism at the time, and I was spending a lot of time thinking about morality. Where does it come from? That question brought me to ponder meaning. Then, again, studying linguistic anthropology in college brought me to the same conclusion about meaning almost ten years later. Language doesn’t exist without people to create the sounds, agree on the meanings, produce the thoughts and share them and interact with it all. WE CREATE MEANING. WE ARE THE CREATORS.
So, what? What now?
It’s on me. And you.
I’m alive and that’s great. It’s amazing that I exist. I’m in awe of my own existence, that I’m able to experience consciousness and experience observing the universe as an intelligent being. It makes me want to grab hold of every little moment of experience and hold it so close that I become it, because I want to intimately know all of this while I’m alive. Because I’m going to die one day, and this experience, this amazing, awe inspiring, perplexing journey will be OVER. This ride is short. I want to make the most of it while I’m here.
And how I figure, right now, to do that, is to be a conscious creator. A conscious creator of satisfaction, to use Einstein’s word. So I have to ask then, what is satisfying? And, how do I take on this endeavor responsibly? Because I realize the massive preciousness of my being alive to experience everything, I don’t really want to hinder anyone else’s experience. I don’t think anyone should hinder anyone else’s experience. So enters my anarchist leanings.
As I’ve settled into my existential nihilism especially deeply over the past few weeks, I’ve become happier and more productive. I’ve become more deeply dissatisfied with the places in my life where I previously had given up control, or not fully owned the responsibility I have to my life. Because I realize that I’m on the same plane as anyone else, I’m not okay with settling with letting someone else exercise control over aspects of my life, unless I consciously enter into that kind of relationship with them. Because I’m responsible for me, I have to make sure I’m making the moves to make my life what I want it to be. Minute by minute.
Maybe it seems like this is too great a responsibility to bear. Like it would weigh you down, trying to figure out how to best spend each moment. But keep in mind – none of this matters. Life is meaningless. So, whatever. And… that moment, when I wrote that last sentence, is gone. Every moment is passing us by, instantly, constantly. There is hardly a present moment in existence. So each new moment is a chance to start again, in your own little way. That’s encouraging.
We can’t erase things. Life isn’t a game. There is no restart button. Things may be meaningless in the grand scheme, but we still have to deal with life as it is while it’s in front of us. So I act responsibly. I think ahead, to avoid future undesirable repercussions or experiences. That’s where my morality comes from. Jail, from the sounds of it, isn’t fun. So I avoid jail, either by not doing illegal things, or by doing them as carefully as possible. As I said before, I don’t feel I should hinder any other person’s experience of being alive, so I don’t abuse or kill or do stuff like that to people. Because I value human experience and human life, for its own sake. I do however think that people who ARE hindering other’s experience should be stopped.
I’m still growing with all of this, but this is where I find myself now. I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this position I’m in now, and I’m finally starting to feel comfortable in my perspective of the world, at age 28. Starting to. I’m just excited to keep living and see where this all takes me.
The main reason I wanted to write all of this, is because I feel like a lot of people see existentialists, nihilists, atheists, and anarchists, as dark, depressing people. These things have a bad connotation attached to them. I want to see that change. I want to see more people start to understand where these things really come from and what they really imply for a lot for a lot of people. What they could really imply for the future of humanity if more people understood these things and .. hell, maybe even believed themselves. I’m not on a mission to change the world. Hell no. I just want to create ab it more understanding. And I’m not denying there are people out there like that, depressing or whatever. Shit, life DOES get depressing. And what’s wrong with darkness?! I love darkness! It’s mysterious and exciting!
It’s upsetting to see so much bad stuff in the world – FOR NO REASON. But some people think we all take ourselves so seriously. But really… everything just starts to seem laughably absurd at times, and it’s kind of sad but also humorous that people take certain things so seriously that they let it control their lives until they’re absolutely miserable.
Everyone’s got their own perspectives and way of seeing things. This is mine. I feel it’s right, of course, or else I’d change it. I’m certain it has it’s flaws, and will change, but the base idea is pretty well set for me. Other people feel that they’re right. That’s fine. What is not fine is trying to control other people’s lives based on what you believe. If you can prove to me that God exists, or that morality is somehow built into the fabric of things, then I would consider those things.