There is an Answer, part 1 of 3: Nihilism (Lovecraft, Tool and “Yeah, Whatever”)

When one clearly sees the evil of this world, and faces it without hope, the inevitable conclusion is existential nihilism.

If you live without a clear picture of the evil, there are alternatives.  These alternatives all circle around denial, apathy and fantasy – but that is another topic entirely.  “The Call of Cuthulu” was a work of fiction; however it was at least an allegory of the author’s beliefs and as such is an entertaining starting point:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.  H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

Most people can’t cope with the knowledge of evil because they have no answer for it.  To acknowledge evil requires an admission of frailty and, eventually, it forces us to see our own culpability (though, the extent of the culpability is largely irrelevant).  Interestingly, Lovecraft concludes by asserting that pursuing this knowledge either drives you insane or requires that you bury your head in the sand.

What does nihilism look like?  Tool (“Maynard” James Keenan), H. P. Lovecraft, Ayn Rand and others.  Maynard suffered through watching his mother succumb to mental illness – a nightmare that would break anyone.  Lovecraft’s father was locked away after succumbing to syphilis.  Rand was a Russian Jew crushed by the weight of the Holocaust and “Mother Russia.”  For these, nihilism was a conclusion after insurmountable tragedy.

Some trapped in nihilism feel compelled to teach their perspective; they rise up from their wrecked lives to improvise answers from the shattered tool-set (pun intended) of this world.  The definition of their faith is that the world is utterly rotted, yet from these rotted remains they attempt to “grow roses.”  I understand why, and you should too, but we’ll get to that later.

Rand would setup the individual as significant, but that can’t be, because the individual created the system from which she is trying to define it as being set apart.  Maynard clings to humanism and individualism, but somewhere in there only he can be good and everyone else is beneath him (though I would not argue that he truly wants it this way…just that this is the conclusion of the philosophy).  Lovecraft says you are either evil or you go insane fighting against it.

NOTE:  I acknowledge that these are gross over-simplifications, but they are functional for this brief discussion.

Contemporary culture now provides a steady diet of nihilism, packaged inside reasonable argument, without a filter or caveat.  The problem is that the “student” then learns the ideology without the path that logically concludes there.   The net result is “ambivalent narcissism.”  We now hate everything and everyone.  Culturally, everything is stupid and worthless.  Nothing can be held up as sublime without our immediate need to destroy or, at the very least, impugn it.  At the same time, we need to be “empowered,” we are “special” and we spend ourselves trying to “save” everything.

This “cognitive dissonance” boils over into all of culture: we try to simultaneously believe that everything is beautiful and that it is all worthless.  As a result, we are lowering anxiety meds and excellent imported beers by the bucket full (In the interest of full-disclosure, some would argue I need anxiety meds…they might be right.  I’d add that I should also enjoy a margarita a little more often than I do.  Yet, I digress.).

The world is an utterly dark place with rare scattered bright lights.  Our propensity to persevere demonstrates our undeniable resistance of the singularity that is the pull of death and our desperate struggle towards the gravity of the light – that is, our longing, thirst, lust for the relief of the beautiful.


4 thoughts on “There is an Answer, part 1 of 3: Nihilism (Lovecraft, Tool and “Yeah, Whatever”)

  1. Pingback: Entrapment! | Joseph Kiser

  2. Pingback: Systematic Theology | Joseph Kiser

    1. Joseph Kiser Post author

      Good catch! This is the leading post in a three part series. If you have time, follow this thought into the second post and through the third installment to see the completed idea. The articles dovetail nicely together.


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