Neoliberal Despair and Nihilism

  • The topic of suicide is discussed in this article

There is a present sentiment that has been instilled in much of the people who have lived in our modern industrial technological neoliberal capitalist era that is both implicitly and explicitly adjacent to collapse-awareness. This sentiment I am discussing is a crushing nihilism. This is, of course, produced by material conditions. Not only is information about the sheer devastation that humans are bringing about ample and available, but this feeling can also be inferred from what we observe in our day to day life. Living in industrial civilization means that your life is essentially planned and you are but a cog in a gigantic social machine. You will sacrifice 80% of your waking hours just to be able to avoid starvation and have a place to sleep, wont you? That is the neoliberal condition we find ourselves in which every aspect of our lives is aggressively being encroached on and commodified to be used to make someone profit. It is similar to the ‘Enclosure Movement’ of the 18th and 19th century in which, following the birth and growth of capitalism in Europe, lands that were previously owned in common by a community and used for the benefit of the community in a fashion of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, were taken by violent and bloody force and made into privately owned land to be used in the capitalist system for profit. Instead of the land being commodified, it is now any aspect of our life that we can be culturally conditioned to relinquish to the economic machine, which may soon even include an industry around modifying the genetic features of our children for profit.

Nihilism is an, at least, understandable emotional response to confronting such a situation. Feelings of powerlessness are writhe in the citizen populations of much of the world. This is an initial response that can either fester, grow, and eventually neutralize an individual from taking action, or it can be confronted and faced by willing people. Of course, not everyone is a fighter, and they don’t have to be. Jungian psychology tells of a ‘collective unconscious’ of our species and many archetypes which have surfaced for tens of thousands of years within the members of humanity. Some people are fighters, some are supporters, some are dealers in information, and some are completely disinterested. There is also the question of ‘why’. Why fight for anything? Why should humans be allowed to continue to exist given what they have done to the planet and each other? This is a philosophical position and must be faced with a philosophical answer. This position is known as efilism (life spelled backwards) and is not unique only to human life, but all life. It holds that life is a net negative experience for every conscious creature involved and it would be better if it was just done away with entirely. Of course this is based on our direct human experience which is admittedly extremely limited as to the nature of consciousness (for example, read The Hard Problem of Consciousness by Chalmers). There is also our distorted viewpoint that history is always a progression, like a story that is always going to go in one direction such as advancing of technologies. I argue that history is not such an inevitably progressing story and that we have this perspective because of the current official archeological narrative for the ‘human story’. I will elaborate on and argue against this supposed counter-point of ‘but humans will just industrialize again’ to an anti-tech revolution in the next blog post. I would be remiss to not mention one of the central sentiments present in efilist thought, which is that it is immoral to birth a child into the world knowing the possibility that the child could be subjected to any number of horrible injustices. There are many of us who have experienced a great deal of seemingly needless traumas, but still do not wish that we had not been born. One may retort: ‘Ah yes, but you have not been subjected to one so needless and so horrible, or else you would judge life not worth living given the possibility that anyone could experience that’. It would seem to this writer that people have been asking whether life is or is not worth living for a long time. One of the pioneers of the philosophical pessimism that efilism falls under, Arthur Schopenhauer, famously reached his crucial position after seeing a field in which every year turtles returning to the sea would be pounced on by wild dogs to be eaten, and the dogs would thus be pounced on by lions to be eaten. This happens again and again every year. Obviously the turtles, dogs, and lions do not consciously decide that it is worth doing again and thusly return to the same spot to do it, and neither have humans always consciously weighed reproduction and if it is morally right to bring another child into the world from the void. However, humans do now have the concious ability to not only judge whether life is or is not worth living, but judge in what environment life would be worth living in and create it. This writer would not be keen on having a child if that child had to be born in the torturous squalor of a labor camp, or even our gigantic neoliberal labor camps of industrial society. I would only consider having one if they could be born into an intentional community that lives in self-sufficienct harmony with nature and free from the horrors of profit-motive. Even then, I was born into this neoliberal hellscape that I think I wouldn’t have a child in, but do I wish I was not born? No. Some do wish they were not, and I believe it is due to a perceived lack of means, whether philosophical or physical. Ultimately, this question of if to birth and where to do it is one that people will answer for themselves. I shall attempt a lengthy and ultimately satisfying analysis of this central point of unnecessary suffering and if it makes life itself immoral of taking place in part II to this post.

Moving on from that, efilism operates under the assumption that suffering is bad and to be avoided, and pleasure is good and to be sought. Whilst there are unnecessary forms of suffering that are certainly bad, any student of Nietzsche will know the folly of this viewpoint (in particular, read Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche) as pleasure is born from suffering and one cannot be had without the other. If one only pursues hedonistic pleasure and feverishly attempts to practically avoid any suffering, one will be brought a great deal of suffering and psychological distress eventually in the long, dark hedonistic rabbit hole. If one faces suffering they will be brought to pleasure. The four noble truths of Buddhism are valuable for understanding the nature of wider suffering and are similar, in my opinion, to many principles of stoic philosophy, the first 3 of which are essentially 1: ‘suffering is an innate characteristic in the world’, 2: ‘the cause of suffering is attachment or desire’, 3: ‘the end of suffering can be attained by renouncing this attachment’. The suffering discussed here is the broader ‘set’ of our life, how we feel about us and where we are going, not the specific psychological or physical suffering such as the pain involved in exercise or the pain of a physical injury. In talking to someone who is deeply entrenched in nihilism, it is extraordinarily difficult if not impossible for their minds to be changed by argumentation alone, as I would know. I once was an efilist, and it took my own personal experience to feel that life is worth living. One of the first of this new wave of nihilism and efilism, that was made a significant philosophical phenomenon in the first place by the horrors of our modern industrial capital, was a German philosopher named Philipp Mainländer. He actually went to the logical conclusion of his deep philosophical pessimism, which was initially informed by a fellow German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer, and ended his own life after the shipments of his book arrived at his home. It is not a coincidence that industrial capitalism and its material conditions were the incubator that produced both philosophical pessimism as well as Marxism.

Suicide has exploded in frequency in developed industrial-technological nations whilst tribes of hunter-gatherers don’t even have a word for the idea of ‘suicide’. This is not to say that suicide did not exist in antiquity, as Marc Antony and Cleopatra ended their own lives when it became clear that their political situation and likely life itself was coming to a miserable end. But, this was generally the cause of suicide in antiquity, the lack of desire to face an unfortunate situation ahead of oneself or to preserve honor by killing yourself instead of being killed by an adversary. This is the same of the modern era in which people look at the conditions around them and do not have the logical, emotional, or physical means to change themselves or their situation. The most famous cynic of the past, Diogenes, did not kill himself as opposed to living a life participating in the civilization of his time, he chose to live out his life as he pleased without regard to the social norms of the time or how people might think of him for doing so. Alexander the Great once visited Diogenes to test his commitment to his philosophical beliefs and asked him ‘Tell me anything in the world that you want and I will give it to you’. Diogenes, laying in the grass, responded with ‘All I want is for you to step out of the way of my sunshine’.

For anyone who has serious efilist, antinatilist, or particularly suicidal thoughts or positions, I can point you in no better philosophical direction than to read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus and answer the question, as he states in his opening sentence to the book, ‘There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest— whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards.’ I know despair and suicidal ideation very closely as I was once in the lowest depths of my soul for a long period of time. It is a wonder that I did make it out and am now very much so living with a motivated plan to keep living. Of course the drive to keep living and reproduce is deeply programed into us by our genetic composition, but this does not effect the worth of this drive when judged philosophically for its rationality or righteousness. People will inevitably come to their own conclusions and make their own choices about their lives, but perhaps the information I have typed and referenced her can inform some of the conclusions that people make. We cannot underestimate the importance of planting a seed. There will be many people who do not want to continue life based on our present material conditions, but there are also many people who are already working to live to change the conditions we find ourselves in and live a life in harmony with the natural world. Man sewed his own destruction when he sought to conquer nature instead of being part of the processes of nature. We can personally return to this harmony in our lifetimes, and there is even a chance that we can salvage the Earth from its destructive global-supersystem of industrial capitalism and prevent total ecological extinction. Whether you want to or not is up to you to think about, and up to me to perhaps convince you of.

Stay tuned as I will have many more posts coming soon and will keep this newsletter regularly updated from now on.

Best wishes – Normandie

Works referenced:

Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How by Theodore Kaczysnki

The Hard Problem of Consciousness by David Chalmers

Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

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