Humans live on hope, at all times. In this supersystem of greed and cunning, the conditions promoting illusory hopeismo are even more pronounced: 39% of Americans believe that they are either of the 1% richest Americans, or will be of the richest 1% of Americans, according to a recent poll noticed by Wolfgand Streeck in his breezy How Will Capitalism End? Lottos, casinos, God-bothering, sky-ascending tuition leading to lifetime debt, electing fascists, missions to Mars, social media fixations – all current exemplars of reality-avoidant hopesimo.
Donald Crosby dared to give nihilism a righteous consideration in his The Specter of the Absurd: Sources & Criticisms of Modern Nihilism, and for that bravery he is to be commended. In part 1 of this rebuttal to his concluding chapter “The Case Against nihilism,” the editors of FSN noticed Pollyanna at work. Crosby extends his brief to suggest that nihilists are death obsessed, morbidly haunted by the constant sense of impending extinction. This may be true of some nihilists, but it need not be. Social nihilists can possess the knowledge alluded to by Crosby that “the will to live is a wondrous gift.” Yet is a stretch to then agree with Crosby’s next incantation:
This ability in human beings to affirm life against all odds testifies, as the Christians say, to the workings of grace for which no one can claim credit and which no one is competent to explain.
Another social critic/prof, Victor Tan Chen, attempted to lift this religious conceit of “grace” to explain away the irritating presence of social suffering, but the word is nebulous and unusable. We all want to live, except the pre-suicidial, but that is not some spiritual supernaturalism, but inherent in the survival mechanisms of life. Social nihilists do not have to apply their knowledge of the threatening results of the supersystemic experiment of courting annihilation with their own personal positions. If the social experiment results are looking negative, we have every right to orient our interpretations to that provisional conclusion.
Crosby’s next section of his concluding chapter “The Case Against nihilism” consists of his approval of various insights of nihilism, and while his celebrations are on target, they can be accepted and then put aside for the final fight of his denouement. In this final part, Crosby introduces his dismissal of nihilism with the thundering accusation:
Nihilistic thinkers can therefore be faulted for not probing deeply enough and even for being guilty of a kind of intellectual laziness.
But I thought you loved us! “Intellectual laziness”? “Lazy” is to the go-to epithet of unqualified disdain, here and in all walks and relaxations of life. Social nihilism requires enormous quantities of reading and thinking – it is unreflective hopey-changey optimism that is the easy route.
Crosby then objects that nihilism is all doom-and-gloom, one-sided and essentially stupid. Crosby issues the fatwa against nihilism:
There is as little faithfulness to the complexities and ambiguities of experience in their squinting cynicism, on the one side, as there is in the wide-eyed assurances of utopian dreamers, on the other.
This is blatantly false, extending the false equivalencies that Crosby rightly derides in other contexts. If conditions augur defeat, say in a business that is hemorrhaging money with only desperate plans for rescue down the line, it would be preposterous to assessing equal values to “cynicism” and “wide-eyed assurances of utopian dreamers” alike. The cynics would have the weight of social reality on their side, while the other side, the one in power and running the enterprise into the polluted ground, would be the guilty party.
In his third charge, Crosby accuses nihilists of being secret utopians who are reacting in childish petulance that the world is no their oyster.
To resolve all of the problems about which nihilists endlessly complain – fallible knowledge, susceptibility to pain, situatedness in time, etc. – would require the complete annulment of the conditions of our life in the world.
To complain about large-scale imperilment to human flourishing is not to “endlessly complain.” Depressives and various family members may “endlessly complain,” but nihilists can have great and good times, happy and productive personal engagements on this spinning orb, but they need not be badgered into accepting de facto happy-talk about the prevailing and aborning social conditions. Social nihilists do not ask for utopia to spring forth, nor for complete resolution of all social problems. Instead, they ask for some genuine social betterment to be on the table, and see none in the offing. Unlike the American pundit-commenter class on the alleged “left,” they are not using the Trump putsch as red meat for the “Revival of the American Left” fantasy that accompanies every successive social horror of this epoch. The American left has been dead a long, long time, and unless it can convert trillions of dollars of armaments into peace candy, it will stay hopelessly dead.
Crosby issues his final denunciation. Nihilism
is an outlook informed by uncritical beliefs about what would constitute an ideal human situation.
Really? We are simply too negative, or too starry-eyed about utopia being necessary, or too damned “uncritical”? Which one is it? There is never going to be “an ideal human situation.” Built into our inherited lives are massive blocks to happiness and self-satisfaction that can never be overcome: the shortness of time for us, the limitations of being one blob of protoplasm surrounded by billions of desire-saturated others, the pointlessness of thought in a world governed by corrupt power, and a few dozen more, if you are interested. What is wrong about pointing out the now inescapable result of our hypothesis testing? What is wrong about seeing our business as on the road to bankruptcy?
Crosby genuflects, in his epigram, to our worldly fate:
The world, as it is, “rough edges” and all, is a suitable home for the human spirit.
It’s the only home we’ve got, the only home there will ever be, but suitable or not, we are trashing the place, in ways institutional and historical, and now irrevocable. Social nihilism wins the reality test, not reverence for Nature or hopeismo or progressivism or tech fantasism or poetry slams or lab testing or dark stories of mythological heroism. Sadly for us, social nihilism wins, hands down.
*Remember, if you unlove this rebuttal, or ignore it in the interests of a better psychic road for yourself, or object to its fevered self-award of profundity, or want to smash nihilists, hard, in the face after this, you are confirming its message, and for that, the entire global staff of FSN, on this last waning off-days of the year of some mythic guy in desert Palestine eons ago, would sincerely like to thank you, and good rockin’ night.