Optimistic Nihilism - The Beauty of a Purposeless Existence
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You’ve probably found the title a bit ironic. But it’s true. Life is, in all likelihood, purposeless. We are merely pieces of meat, living on a rock, floating in the Milky Way galaxy, part of an infinitesimal universe. The universe has existed for billions of years before you and I were born and will continue to exist after we are long gone…. Hence, the title.
In ancient times, humans believed themselves to be at the Centre of a Universe, created by an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God, only for them. This view was further posited by religion. However, with the advent of Science, as environmental awareness increased, so did our curiosity as to whether earthly beings were the sole manifestations of consciousness in the Universe.
What was next, fueled by space research, our knowledge of the Universe skyrocketed, pun intended. The infinite expanse of the Universe had us gaping in surprise, mouths wide open. Suddenly, we, the humans, were no longer at the Core of the Universe and, much to our disbelief, we never had been. It dawned upon us that nature does not exist to serve humanity, it just exists. This revelation evoked the appalling realisation that life has no inherent purpose; to the extent that if you died right now, it would not make an iota of difference in the bigger picture.
This is reminiscent of Existential Nihilism, the most popular form of Nihilism. The philosophy of Nihilism was famously propounded by Friedrich Nietzsche. Generally, a Nihilist is of the view that nothing in the world has a real existence. Existential Nihilism in particular, is the belief that life has no innate meaning or purpose.
During the Pandemic, this is precisely the realisation that people are being hit by.
In December, 2019, with the first case of Covid-19 reported in Wuhan; suddenly, the world came to a standstill. Millennials and Gen-Zs who have their entire life ahead of them were stuck at home, no longer able to go out into the world and substantiate their dreams. Many pondered whether all the plans they had made had any point at all. This further instigated a sinking feeling of existential dread. The term ‘Existential Crisis’ originates from the philosophy of Existentialism, the theory that man is a responsible agent, equipped with free will to shape his life through his everyday choices. While everyone suffers such a crisis at some point of time in their life for reasons of their own; here, the catalyst is common and the effects, pervasive.
People are struggling to come to terms with the fact that there is nothing they can be certain of; except of course, uncertainty itself. Many, though unaware of the term, have succumbed to a Delusion of Nihilism wherein everything feels unreal, as if it were a nightmare they could someday wake up from. A ‘Delusion of Nihilism’ describes an individual’s denial of his reality, contrary to substantial evidence that suggests otherwise.
Gen Z vs Millennials
Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2015, the generation that was born in the digital age with the internet to welcome them. Ones who currently have an electronic device in their hands, as we speak.
Known as the future visionaries, leaders, artists and entrepreneurs; this generation is a lot different than the one before that and the one before that; you get the point.
Millennials on the other hand, are those born between the 1980s and 1995; currently found in the age range of 25-40 years. With a majority of the Millennials being born before the digital age, they are comparatively less likely to be distracted by the incessant plethora of information thrown their way. Numerous personality traits and life choices characterise the Millennial vs. Gen Z differentiation, right from attitudes towards technology to the way they choose to handle money. While Millennials call themselves Nihilists when they get accustomed to the hollowness of life, Gen Zs thrive on this very belief.
Does Gen Z seem to have found the remedy to an existential crisis?
Yet another aspect that sets Gen Zs apart is that an overwhelmingly large number of them are either atheists or agnostics.They believe neither in an omniscient, omnipotent supreme being, nor in the proposition that the said supreme being endows any special meaning to their lives.
Is Gen Z, then, just a bunch of depressed teens? Not really.
If you tell someone who is currently either a teenager or in their early twenties that life has no underlying meaning; instead of letting out a sigh in despair, they would rejoice. When faced with existential dread, Gen Zs are more likely than their Millennial and Gen X counterparts, to gravitate towards Optimistic Nihilism; Existential Nihilism’s not so popular but bright and positive twin.
Optimistic Nihilism shares the same roots as Existential Nihilism in that it starts with the proposition that life has no intrinsic purpose. You are nothing but a speck living on a pale blue dot, surrounded by innumerable other rocks; part of a gigantic Universe.
Up till this point, Optimistic Nihilism agrees with its Existential twin. However, this is where the positive twist in the tale comes in. Given the lack of substantial meaning, we are no longer obliged to follow a predestined path, seldom deviating from it. While accepting the absence of an objective purpose, what Optimistic Nihilism brings to the table is a subjective purpose, assigned by each individual to their own life. It has been compared to Jean Paul Sartre’s Existentialism which declares that life has no meaning, except the one that we choose to give to it, every hour.
Thus, while Existential Nihilists paint a rather grim picture of the future, often evoking feelings of hopelessness, the Optimistic Nihilist looks to turn it on its head.
Though viewed as a beacon of hope by its proponents; critics have dubbed it as overly selfish and individualistic. This could be true if one were to think of it as a license to do as one pleases, setting fire to all rules and restrictions. However, those who have adopted Optimistic Nihilism as their core philosophy often report feelings of control over their lives; a higher purpose that they have the liberty to determine, themselves. Siddharth Gupta, a senior at Kodaikanal International School confesses in his Ted Talk on Existential Nihilism - “I still believe there is no inherent meaning in life, but I now believe that because of this, there is no reason not to give everything I have and try to create my own meaning in this most likely hollow existence.”
Optimistic Nihilism has immense potential to provide those questioning the main objective of their life, with the assurance that they can change things for the better.
The absence of a central purpose translates into the freedom to live your life on your own terms; to devote your life to a pursuit of your choice, be it Politics, Art, Entrepreneurship, Philosophy, Music, you name it. The rule is that there are no rules and since there are no rules, feel free to create your own.
The World Is Your Oyster....