Donald Crosby, in his 1988 book The Specter of the Absurd: Sources and Criticisms of Modern Nihilism, tried quite hard to appreciate the enormity of the nihilist rebuke to the social power of the emerging neoliberal order of that time, but he became jut another positivist Pollyanna at times. He wrote his solid scholarly attack on nihilism in the style of the dunderhead Roman Catholic priest who knew that the audience would accept brevity in the sermon only if it was done bullet-point style – first, second, third to everything.
In Crosby’s final chapter, he sums up his critique of nihilism, which must be rejected if FSN is to have a future under its current electric, pulsating name.
First, Crosby places Pollyannish faith in the capacity of humans to obtain “freedom.” Here’s a bogus, Randian sentence towards the beginning of the chapter:
With freedom comes responsibility, a responsibility that be either shouldered or ignored.
Eat your peas! Sit up straight! Right, grandad? Of course there is some element of personal freedom in our supersysemic world, but that “freedom” is largely illusory, and constrained by concrete, enforced structures.
We can try to fashion and maintain institutions that procure greater protection and justice for the innocent against the guilty and that offer firm but constructive treatment for those who succumb – and not always through personal malice – to evil desires.
This is the Pollyanna view encapsulated, utterly mendacious and spurious. Go ahead and name one institution in the supersystem that is not shot through with endemic, humanity-endangering corruption. What happened to the great bulwarks against “evil desires” that Crosby prophesies will offer that “firm but constructive treatment”? Is he referencing the US military? The US court system, currently giving the mildest of fines to international criminal conspiracies like Deutsche Bank while meting out decades of hard time to whistleblowers? Is Crosby referencing, of all horrors, the US political system, now giving us a President-elect most likely to be assassinated by his own military? Was Crosby trying to elevate his own field, that of corporate-funded and governed academia? Humans act within social structures of control, which can provide a good paycheck for some select few, while denying any real form of “freedom” with the other for all.
No, there are bounteous blue skies ahead in Crosby’s vision, though he couches his cheer-leading for utopia with that evasive term “strive”:
We can strive to ameliorate these evil impulses in ourselves and other and to find ways to put more positive incentives in their place – through education, law, moral and religious influence, the transformative power of the arts, persistent psychological and social research, and institutional reforms.
Sure, anyone can “strive” to do this or that, or say that they will “strive” to do this or that, but they can also fail, entirely and utterly, to get beyond one or two half-hearted, bogus “strides” while the other side laps the field and then comes up behind the loser and slams the opponent into the ground. These progressive nostrum-dispensers (Corporate U, Judge Fascist, Church of the Unrepentant Fascist, Hopey-Changey Obama-Endorsing Springsteen, Martin Seligman and the Ivory Tower -US Military alliance, to cite an emblematic counter-example for each of Crosby’s pet institutional conduits for social change) and the have been fully-captured and actively marauding agents of the American raj. Who but Pollyanna thinks that 25 years later, any one of these “institutions” will change their cancer-infected spots to become ameliorative?
In his second, third, and fourth opening salvos against nihilism, Crosby rejects nihilism for encouraging spoiled demands on this world. Like Mother Teresa, who encouraged the exaltation of suffering among her poor charges in India, Crosby loves him some suffering.
Suffering can often contribute positively to the quality of existence by teaching courage, compassion, sensitivity to the deeper issues of life, and ability to cope with life’s contingencies.
Sounds great – go suffering! Let’s all suffer, suffer, and learn great life lessons along the way! Social nihilism, in opposition to this Pollyannish view, does not esteem suffering. It’s not fun, it can’t be fun, and it will not be fun. Yes, suffering has always been a feature of human life, but it’s by definition a bad feature. Humans should “strive” to lessen it, for themselves and for others, right, guys? No one should have sex with the intent of getting HIV. No one should find a life partner that will make his or life hell. No supersystem that guarantees heightened and immutable suffering should be embraced.
*Stay tuned : Next Thrilling Episode – Crosby’s Brief for “Meaning” Against Nihilism
*Votes for and against (Social) Nihilism as a result of this first rebuttal, conducted by the small fine-paying firm of Price, Waterhouse, and Cooper – on-line voting starts now.