Let's talk about Nihilism!

Submitted by nbdy in AskRaddle (edited )

Are you a Nihilist? How often do you look at things through a Nihilistic Lens? Why do Nihilism and extreme action go together so often? Is there anything in your world that would drive you to extreme measures? And lastly what is Nihilism to you?

Also, read Kaneko Fumiko

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[deleted] wrote (edited )

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nbdy OP wrote

Ooh I hope this turns into a book suggesting thread too! :) I think Desert and Blessed is the Flame are fantastic books for a modern(-ish) analysis. Do you know about any Nihilists in history? Someone who is incredibly important to me is the woman I named in the op. There’s an amazing audio essay here about her, that really put a lot of my feelings into words.

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SomeIconoclast wrote

Are you a Nihilist? How often do you look at things through a Nihilistic Lens?

I'm more of an absurdist. I've heard just about every idea and ideology for saving the world/civilization/society and they're all repeated so often and with so little variance that it just sounds like everyone is just desperately clinging to ideology. They're all either reactionary, reformist, or both. It's the absurd.

Why do Nihilism and extreme action go together so often?

Presumably because nihilists are the last people to believe in bringing about change through state reform or mass revolution; so they aren't wasting time with recruiting others or gathering political power.

Is there anything in your world that would drive you to extreme measures?

I'm kind of at the edge now, but an immediate tipping point would be the sudden mass disarmament of my country's militarized, lionized police force.

And lastly what is Nihilism to you?

Disbelief in abstracts like value, meaning, ect.

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ziq wrote (edited )

Everyone keeps telling me I'm not nihilist enough.

I think I'm nihilist in the sense that I do anarchy to do anarchy and not because I expect to receive some kind of mythological reward at the end of the rainbow (either Christ's paradise or Kropotkin's communism).

Everything around us is on in fire and I know there's no putting the flames out, but I'm still going to finish reading the page of this book I'n reading before the heat consumes me.

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nbdy OP wrote

Sounds pretty Nihilisticey to me! Love that last sentence also. Out of curiosity what is it that people say you aren’t pessimistic enough about?

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Dumai wrote

i'm less well read on anarchist nihilism than i should be - - the only book i've read along those lines is desert which was kinda garbage, but i'm very much into the kind of "anarchy begins now, with you, right here right now" stuff even if i think it ought to be qualified

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ziq wrote (edited )

What's garbage about it? It's not perfect, but it's still an important work.

Try this:

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/serafinski-blessed-is-the-flame

Also if you're not an anarchist any more like it says in your profile, write a long detailed explanation of your political views so I can point out all the flaws.

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Dumai wrote

it's bizarre and ahistorical, fetishises "third world" lifestyles and the population arguments are terrible

Also if you're not an anarchist any more like it says in your profile, write a long detailed explanation of your political views so I can point out all the flaws

all that really happened is i got more committed to anti-civ and swallowed the "all isms are wasms" pill :')

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Tequila_Wolf wrote (edited )

I'm interested to hear more about what's ahistorical about it and what even ahistorical means. Also I don't remember Desert saying much about population, so if anybody remembers I'd be interested. One thing I love about raddle is our slowly-going-beyond so much of what we started with. Desert is probably a core text around here.

I wrote up a tiny critique of Desert here a while ago, that also links to critiques of post-left stuff more broadly, if anybody is interested. Unfortunately some of the responses to my stuff are deleted.

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Dumai wrote (edited )

okay so by "ahistorical" i mean "lacking in attention to historical context or historical perspective", which isn't exactly the same thing as being historically inaccurate; if i were to say, for example, that vladimir lenin was born in 1871, that'd simply be factually incorrect. but if i were to say that the outcome of the russian revolution hinged entirely on lenin's ideas and leadership (which is a take that attracts both vulgar right-wing critics of the USSR and the most ignorant kind of stalinist), that'd be ahistorical, because i'd have to ignore the entire socio-historical setting of the revolution and reduce its history to an expression of lenin's will as a Great Historical Protagonist. or if i were to say that lenin was a marxist-leninist, that'd be similarly ahistorical, since "marxism-leninism" as a category doesn't start to be meaningful until years after lenin's death.

what i mean to say by calling desert ahistorical is that it lacks consideration of history where it should be important to account for. so to move to the book's population argument, which doubles as a historical account of agro-industrial growth:

Integral to the growth of industrial capitalism has been a vast increase in human population. There are now around seven billion of us compared to around 600 million at the beginning of the 18th century. That jump has happened in 13 generations [35] and in large part it was no accident. Silvia Federici has clearly laid out that a key foundation of early capitalism was the destruction of women’s control over their own fertility: “...wombs became public territory, controlled by men and the state, and procreation was directly placed at the service of capitalist accumulation” (see box below).

...

Industrial civilisation has managed to push up food supply by both colonising ever more wild land for agriculture and developing fossil fuel reliant ‘green revolution’ [40] agro-technologies and transportation. Essentially, industrial agriculture relies on the harvesting of ghost acreage [41] (the fossilised photosynthetic production of ecosystems millions of years ago) to produce food at the present rate. This can be only temporary, for unless one is a believer in the cornucopian myth that resources are limitless, someday the fossil-fuel hunting will draw a blank. When this will happen no-one really knows, though many argue that we have already passed ‘peak oil’. Some may counter that hydrogen fuel cells, solar power, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and green goo will somehow avert a population crash. These apostles of progress more and more resemble cargo cults in their belief that technology marshalled by either the market (if capitalist) or state planning (if socialist) will provide all that is needed. In the unlikely event that they’re right, and the food supply does keep up with population growth, the highly managed nature of the provision will guarantee that the ‘freedom supply’ (for both humans and other animals) is increasingly scarce.

what the author is doing here is looking at the way industrial capitalism has (historically and contemporaneously) reproduced global poverty and opting to naturalise it, treating the issue as a matter of an absolute "human carrying capacity" rather than a particular dynamic originating in the systems that should be the objects of historical/social critique here. they talk about the enclosure of natural resources and its relationship with industrialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism as social systems, which are all good places to start, but their attitude to food production is at once too naive and too cynical -- they take it for granted that these systems are the most efficient method of producing and allocating food for a large global population and then seem to imply this is the only way our food needs could be met (or come close to being met), which makes me think they're working under the assumption agro-industrial extraction is a matter of an industrial society straightforwardly responding to the consumptive needs of an expanding population. to which even a witless ecomodernist will probably respond "consumption is unequally distributed, alternatives to fossil fuels are available" and pat themselves on the back for discovering The Solution™ to climate change and global hunger without resorting to a critique of civilisation.

which they wouldn't need to do because the author then immediately retreats from this argument, throws a few bones to marxists and concedes that, yes, capitalism has always produced a relative surplus population and then they just... drop this issue. so which is it? are we pushing ourselves beyond a hard population limit towards a malthusian catastrophe? or are these problems social in origin? in any case isn't this exactly what permaculture is supposed to be a solution for? the author rightly scorns the assumption that global hunger is solvable with "the technology marshalled by either the market or state planning" (although imo for the wrong reasons) but shouldn't a green anarchist at least be aware of permaculture and address it if their goal is to refute any alternative to agro-industrial extraction and therefore argue that a high rate of food production can only be temporary? i guess it'd completely contradict the central premise of the work if they accepted that degrowth was possible as a solution, but they should be able to critique it along with the others, or at least keep the basis of their critique consistent.

this kinda irritates me because, well, part of the reason i'm so enthusiastic about green anarchism is that i think it has the potential to accomplish what bookchin's social ecology manifestly failed to do, which is to understand the relationship between social domination and environmental destruction. you can begin from an anarchist critique of property, synthesise it with an ecological perspective and a rejection of industrialism, and end up with radical ecology with more critical power than any traditional left-wing approach to environmental issues! buuut unfortunately i think your average reasonably well-read traditional leftie could rip the arguments in desert to shreds. it really shouldn't be the case that believers in a centralised state system for whom the extent of an ecological critique of capitalism is "the profit motive disincentivises renewable energy sources" could tear apart an argument made by a green anarchist but... you know in this case i think it really did happen

now tbf all of this all just a critique of a tiny portion of the text but it really points to a consistent issue i've found in deep ecology which is the absence of a well-developed social critique. this is an issue that's all over desert, along with the racism (which i was going to criticise but i see you're already well aware of it anyway) and the somewhat fatalistic attitude which the author qualifies but can't really justify imo. i didn't have time to re-read much of desert but i can go over more of it later in the week and flesh out my response more if you like!

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Tequila_Wolf wrote (edited )

Yeah I'd love for you to flesh this out more and I appreciate what you've done so far. I've got some lines of thought in response.

shouldn't a green anarchist at least be aware of permaculture and address it if their goal is to refute any alternative to agro-industrial extraction and therefore argue that a high rate of food production can only be temporary? i guess it'd completely contradict the central premise of the work if they accepted that degrowth was possible as a solution, but they should be able to critique it along with the others, or at least keep the basis of their critique consistent

I assume that, as a green anarchist, they are happy with some kind of permaculture/horticulture arrangement. (other people reading this might be interested to look into a debate between permaculture and horticulture in Backwoods 2). I assume that they think it could work, but not with the current state of the world. That though it would work, the world just is not going to move to permaculture/horticulture because capitalism/civilisation is too deeply entrenched in us. So I think the critique, insofar as it exists, is in the first two paragraphs of Desert - all the things that we can do are good and beautiful but in all likelihood won't be done. I think that this relation to hope is one of the core elements of nihilism - and it seems you aren't nihilist in that way :) Personally I find this line of reason compelling, (and less of a fatalism than a determinism) so I'm very curious about why we seem to disagree.
I've long thought of a movement towards anarchy as something fundamentally multi-generational. And that we just don't have that kind of time.

I agree that a strength of green anarchism is to understand more fully the relationship between social domination and environmental destruction. I think it'd help if you expanded on the second last paragraph because something there isn't clear to me. How would a red anarchist tear apart the argument here?

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Dumai wrote

How would a red anarchist tear apart the argument here?

ii think a traditional lefty could point out that consumption is much higher in the imperial core than the global periphery and that resource distribution is structured along class lines pretty much everywhere, therefore the structures of industrialism are nbd and their model of class struggle can cure all ills... which is really the response we're inviting when we choose to frame the issue as a problem of consumption above all else. we actually vastly overproduce food and land use is colossally higher than it needs to be -- desert doesn't really engage with that and so i think it can easily be cut down by critiques that would otherwise be very superficial.

I think that this relation to hope is one of the core elements of nihilism - and it seems you aren't nihilist in that way :) Personally I find this line of reason compelling, (and less of a fatalism than a determinism) so I'm very curious about why we seem to disagree.

i guess any rigidly deterministic interpretation of historical change will always sit poorly with me! i think what's happened is that many have noticed the issues with traditional left-wing conceptions of "global revolution", recognised the complexity of ecological crisis, and come to understand large-scale change as either unfeasible or practically insignificant. i'm not entirely unsympathetic to that view and i have my own share of climate despair (like most people who are paying attention) but i think there are things we can and should do to prepare for the crisis and mitigate the effects of collapse. you're right that it's too late to "prevent" it, especially since, as you've pointed out before, it's basically already started, but for me it's more about maximising the chances of survival and recovery than it is "solving" climate change (i've noticed only liberals and hopeless MLs talk about climate change that way)

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Tequila_Wolf wrote

i think a traditional lefty could point out that consumption is much higher in the imperial core than the global periphery and that resource distribution is structured along class lines pretty much everywhere

I think that this is true, but often with the opposite consequences you are imagining. Because socialism tends to propose a middle-class-level lifestyle as what might be the sort of thing everybody gets 'after the revolution'.

Where I live, for example, the average income is about 75US$ a month. People with access to this little money do of course have a tiny ecological footprint. But what socialist class analysis does is effectively offer not just to cut away the footprint of the 10% at the top of the class pyramid, but to dramatically increase the footprint of the 30-50% of people at the bottom, by giving basics like food, shelter, schooling, and healthcare. Usually the "consumption is super high for the people at the top" argument comes from places where the people at the bottom by-and-large still live in houses, and still eke by a living in what looks like a middle-class life (and so you don't imagine their footprints becoming vastly larger when their basic needs are met). But something like a billion of us live in slums, shantytowns, so on.

I don't really know what the world looks like when you even out access to resources while keeping that in mind.

guess any rigidly deterministic interpretation of historical change will always sit poorly with me!

Me too. I'm not being rigidly deterministic, I'm just making my best calculation, and my own politics is the sort that tries to take a sober look at our grim reality while also seeking out tiny, uncompromising ways that we might escape it (mostly a Saidiya Hartman-style approach). I also think that there are things we can and should do to mitigate, and I think that's exactly what desert proposes we do. Think bioregionally, create as liberated spaces as possible, and fight like hell. I like that basic approach, and I think that even though it assumes failure, it's the most likely to be one that does not fail.

The quiet examples from Blessed Is The Flame point out how people who resisted despite having no sense that they would survive the absolutely overwhelming and disempowering nazi death machine were actually more likely to survive. So I think there's a lot to be said for a nihilist resistance for its own sake, for jouissance.

I don't think that survival is valuable on its own. I'm not sure what I think about the value of recovery, except insofar as it's useful to recover things presently.

I am enjoying thinking about this with you.

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Dumai wrote

i think you're misstating the nature of the problem with the lefty argument... let's grant, for the sake of argument, that we're going to eat the rich tomorrow and every human being on the earth will be reduced to an apparently sustainable level of consumption. that still wouldn't fix anything as long we're maintaining the expansion of throughput, which is an absolute necessity for the type of societies imagined as The Solution by those on the left, whether its a centrally planned state economy (as with MLs) or decentrally organised society with industrialism as the basis (as with ancoms). this is why degrowth ought to be a serious demand and focusing too much on consumption (though it shouldn't be ignored) gets to you to the wrong conclusions.

I'm not being rigidly deterministic, I'm just making my best calculation, and my own politics is the sort that tries to take a sober look at our grim reality while also seeking out tiny, uncompromising ways that we might escape it

"rigidly deterministic" was a bit too harsh i think!

The quiet examples from Blessed Is The Flame point out how people who resisted despite having no sense that they would survive the absolutely overwhelming and disempowering nazi death machine were actually more likely to survive. So I think there's a lot to be said for a nihilist resistance for its own sake, for jouissance.

this is lovely! i'm being serious! and exactly the sort of thing i admire in nihilism, even if i'm not quite on board with it as yet. at the end of the day i think i'm still attracted to larger scale politics than this would allow (call it the last remnants of my past leftism if you like) but there's something about this that's legitimately beautiful.

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ziq wrote

I wonder if people would be less likely to delete their account if there were also a 'retire account' option that just replaces the username with [deleted]? It's gotten to the point where any thread older than a couple months is impossible to read through.

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Dumai wrote (edited )

remind me to respond to this later today and i'll explain in some more detail!

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Tequila_Wolf wrote (edited )

Cool, hopefully I will :) Excited!

What else is really interesting about what might come of these critiques is how much then they will also be able to be applied to Bellamy's An Invitation To Desertion.

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F_x wrote

Rejecting the label of anarchism seems common amongst the green/anticiv side. I see it in a "kill your idols" way. It's not that they aren't anarchists but a rejection of a label that could hurt us by focusing on it as gospel.

It surely hurt me as for a while I thought that I missed the socialism part of anarchy because I've never read much literature on the subject. Which lead to Chomsky and justified authority kind of crap.

Some wisdom from Storm of Sedition:

My anarchy is a trajectory towards chaos and destruction
The crumbling of society
The total negation of all phantasms
The rejection of all civilizing forces
The breaking free of all constraints
In defiance of all systems and moral codes
Anarchism should be left to die

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ziq wrote

Oh. Then it's not that you're not an anarchist, it's that all the other people playing out their weird CNT fantasies aren't people you want to tie yourself to.

bizarre and ahistorical

I'm fine with both these things. Every historical account is ahistorical really. It's just that certain ones are accepted and legitimized by authorities and certain ones aren't. It's all mythology in the end. Even if it was written by people who were there, they'll make most of it up. I think I'll write a history of the world that's 100% made up. It'll be just as insightful as any other history book.

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rational_ancap wrote

as an anarcho-capitalist (to the uneducated that means I am a bastion of facts, logic and reason), history is whatever best increases my profit margins and demonstrates how repulsive the poors are.

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Dumai wrote

Oh. Then it's not that you're not an anarchist, it's that all the other people playing out their weird CNT fantasies aren't people you want to tie yourself to.

partly that, but also i'm just not interested in wedding myself to a political identity for the time being (historically that's led me to more problems than solutions, which, arguably, is more a Dumai Problem than an Anarchism Problem but whatever)

i'm still broadly rooted in anarchism so i'm not sure it makes much of a difference but this was kind of a step towards making myself a little less dogmatic

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submerged wrote

Nihilism is an important tool for sure. The negation of ideological superstructures helps with executing any desire you have.

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Tequila_Wolf wrote

Nihilism, as a relation to positive projects (that they inevitably are coopted by civilisation/capitalism and so negative projects are better), and in its relation to futurity (the No Future approach), both appeal to me a lot, and I use them as one of many lenses that inform my approach.

That said, I'm more focused on Deleuzean stuff, which is obviously close to nihilism in its rootedness in Nietzschean critique, but I think is more developed. There's a lot that can be said here and many directions it could go, so I'll leave it at this for now. Happy to talk more about it if people wanna engage!

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yaaqov wrote

Would you be willing to go a little more into what Deleuzean stuff entails? And where YOU go with it? I’ve never read any Deleuze (/and Guattari), and I can’t say I really know anything about their work besides “rhizomes” haha

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Tequila_Wolf wrote

Would you be willing to go a little more into what Deleuzean stuff entails?

Probably the best thing I can do is to link to the following reading, Children of the new Earth – Deleuze, Guattari and anarchism, written by the other green anarchist Aragorn. Because it's not simple and there are so many ways to start talking about this. Aragorn also recently published a book with his partner on Deleuze and Anarchism, sadly I don't think it's been made accessible free online.

And where YOU go with it?

My anarchism has grown through many stages. I started with post-left anarchy, went very green, and moved through critique after critique to arrive at a Deleuzean decolonial anti-civ queer anarchism (which I say now just to be descriptive, [I think that all of these words should imply all the others], usually I just call myself anarchist or anti-authoritarian). Deleuze's metaphysics is inherently anti-fascist, anti-policing (in the sense that specific kinds of norms are policing) and literally anti-conservative. It gives us a complete basis from which we can have an anti-authoritarian ethics, politics, and even cosmology to live as anarchists, and I find that invaluable.

can’t say I really know anything about their work besides “rhizomes”

There are whole worlds more. It takes quite a lot to get into it, but Deleuze has been picked up by almost every good theorist coming out now and is showing itself in wonderful new places (I'm thinking Saidiya Hartman's work, Achille Mbembe's work, and Kathryn Yusoff's). Basically it's at the foundations of all the cutting edge theory I'm interested in. Which is to say, I'd completely recommend it, if you have the privilege of time and energy to go on that journey. You will literally walk away with a completely different way of perceiving being, that will reverberate through everything you value.

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asbestosstar wrote

I consider myself a nihilist. I gothrough life thinking that what I do will not matter after I die , and tht everything may not even exist , it maybe An illusion for all we know, I just do what benefits me best (egoism) and don’t value my life and look at suicide as a way to solve problems. I don’t know exactly what actions you mean but the reason nihilists probobly do them because they realise it does not matter. To me nihilism is the denial that anything anything matters or even exists , you can have any form of knowledge especially moral knowlage , but we can try our best with the unreliable senses we have.

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