Nihilism and Confusion in Modernity

We live in an uncanny nihilistic age.

As science and rationality became increasingly powerful in the 19th century, the legitimacy of an external god as a source of answers or truth was no longer tenable. The industrial revolution as a method of thinking presented the initial societal shift in ideology away from faith in favor of total functionality and pragmatism. This was followed in the late 20th century with the computer age and then the information age, wherein machines programmed to follow logical methodologies became both the tools for uncovering answers and the definitive reference for truths. In the span of less than 200 years, belief in an invisible God who answered prayers had declined considerably as the visible results of pragmatism and function slowly gained converts through its method of tangible demonstration. But with this loss of faith in God also came a loss of faith in general.

It should then be no surprise that the typical person today really believes in nothing at all. An honest observation of how they behave makes it difficult to take them seriously if they assert they have any aspirations. Despite the great potential many people possess, you will see them repeatedly wasting their time, acting against their best interests, compromising and demonstrating disbelief in possibilities, choosing ready-made answers, taking short-cuts that always backfire in the long run, acting out of habit rather than free will, and behaving predictably as if they were little more than simple machines programmed to follow instructions. They might claim to have dreams they are pursuing, but those are likely to be externalized, subject to the desires and expectations of others, rather than something that is part of a coherent identity and thought process.

The reasons for the lack of faith can be traced to the mode of production in society. The triumph of pragmatism means that the human accepts a reduction to function and the implied duty of serving that function. Because post-industrial society is organized around economic function, the individual is connected to nothing and exists only to serve a role in the machine's operation. Psychologically, the lack of connection means that one has no foundation to believe in anything, and instead learns to accept function and subservience as a method of dealing with society. As a result of believing in nothing, the person will be endlessly confused by anything difficult in life because they have established no basis for understanding or accepting the world around them, i.e. they have effectively cut themselves off from life by living a machine existence. In fitting with the pragmatic model, they have forsaken their spirit so they can act as machine, and so they must also accept the consequences.

Of course God will forgive me; that's his business.
-Heinrich Heine, last words

This loss of faith today haunts even Judeo-Christianity. For many people Judeo-Christianity has become merely aesthetic garb, a cover of "goodness" that parents strive to hang over a child with their introduction of religion to an impressionable mind that believes anything it is told. As the child grows into an adult, they alter and reinterpret the religion they were handed to fit their own desires while retaining little more than the socially acceptable title of Judeo-Christian to show others their piety - as well as to justify to themselves everything they do, whether good, bad, or confused. When difficult situations confront them, they can blow off the possibility of a comprehensible understanding by telling themselves that God works in mysterious ways and that whatever happens is God's will, thus suggesting determinism and a lack of free will while evading any need for the individual to make sense of the world around them or take responsibility for their direction and personal growth.

The societal values of pragmatism continually erode the once firm foundation of Judeo-Christian values, robbing them of a solid anchor. While pre-marital sex, drinking alcohol, drug use, and other behaviors were considered "bad" by Judeo-Christians a generation or two ago, they are now justified within certain limits, or even undertaken consciously with the justification that all sins will be forgiven one later. It seems that the Judeo-Christian God has become so good and understanding that he allows even thoughtless and habitual indulgence in an age where so few people still believe in the possibility of uncovering meaning and living with purpose.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
-Henry David Thoreau

Life offers us far more than what results from adherence to blind dogma or economic function. There is much that exists, even outside of societal structure, which is of value and remains worthy of faith, allowing one to have a perspective for belief in life and consequently a view from which they can make sense of it.

May you stand firm against the tides of nihilism, dogma, and servitude with faith enough to seek out what could be. Our dreams can be made real and the rewards for creating a meaningful life are endless.

June 2, 2000