Okay, I should have known that anybody aspiring/pretending to be the world’s greatest social thinker who titles his book after the beyond-pathetic George will would turn out to be a colossal dud, but Matthew Crawford’s first book, Shopcraft as Statecraft as the Professor and Maryanne, got him some points, an unelected position at the Institute for the Advancement of Something at the University of Virginia , and some money.
Now, in his second book, entitled The World Outside My Pedantic Head, the motorcycle mechanic – we get it, he likes motorcycles, he makes motorcycle parts, fantastic, good for you, could you make a motorcycle part that shuts them up? – defines nihilism as the denial of all meaning and value and discrimination.
This seems to be common modern depiction, as the embodiment of that other maligned term, “cultural relativism.” This hobgoblin is taken to mean that all is fair, nothing is bad or good, it’s all the same, who can judge? Only a complete and fantastical moron would believe this, s it is preposterous to assert that either nihilism or cultural relativism is held to be such a monster. We all make judgements, all the time, and we know the difference between getting our ass kicked and getting it on. Nihilism, if it is the negation of all, is manifestly stupid, but social nihilism, the realization that the entropy has set across all social institutions, now that’s where social criticism should be, where the fun is at.
Negativity must be given its place, enjoyed, promulgated, wrapped in finery and set out to help the rest of the western world, stumbling around with the outrageous propaganda of the corporate supersystem drummed into every available space. Crawford starts out with a version of this perfectly valid sociological insight, seeing an ad for L’Oreal at the bottom of a TSA carton for valuables, but then some fool told him that his work was redolent of Kant’s long-dead exegeses, and off goes the sinecured mechanic, running after Kant and DAvid Fos-W with all the ambient fun of an unjustly hired Etonian at a nudist camp.
The problem was that Crawford was entertaining, smart, and coherent in a podcast interview. The page, though, the page, becomes wanton tedium for this modern-day dirty-hands Gladwell.
There is no need, whatsoever, to read Kant or Nietzsche to be a social nihilist. If you want, if you have, congrats, there were so many better things to do, but they are of their time and place, all long and thankfully dead, and philosophy has become nearly as useless to our modern predicament as its abecedarian cousin, phrenolgy. Even Cioran disawvowed philosophy, and he was in it up to his insomniac eyeballs.