Nihilism Made ComfortableNihilismo Hecho a la Medida

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    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”left” captiontext=”The idea that life is meaningless in itself is an existential and metaphysical position a nihilistic one at that, which contributes to despair. “]The collapse of Western values and traditions has led, as philosopher A.C. Grayling puts it, to the nihilistic view that “life has no point, the world has no value, there is no purpose worth pursuing, and there is nothing that I want to be.” Grayling’s remedy? “So it’s up to you.”

    In a single glib utterance Grayling unwittingly denies and dismisses the entire enterprise of philosophy. It’s the job of philosophers to discover and create meaning. Of course, if there is no meaning to discover, as Grayling maintains, then philosophy itself has no meaning. And if everyone must be a philosopher, then no one actually is.

    Never in the history of civilization has philosophy been more necessary to the human prospect. But at the same time never has the endeavor of philosophy been so misconstrued, including by ‘professional philosophers.’

    That doesn’t mean philosophy is an elitist activity, anymore than being an architect is. Few can be good architects, but good architects don’t belong to some special class of human beings.

    To extend the metaphor, while it’s certainly true that we are all architects of our own lives within our own homes, few have the capacity, drive, and talent to design houses, much less great buildings like Bilbao in Spain.

    Grayling goes on to say, “trying to think about waking up every day…adopting a posture of despair and negativity in this universalizing kind of way…but then to get up and pay your taxes and get in a bus and the rest of it seems to be a kind of lived paradox.”

    I don’t know whether that is an example of British understatement, or a misunderstanding of the difference between paradox and contradiction. But it certainly echoes a common sentiment of the day, which, as Grayling evocatively describes it, is deeply nihilistic. (Nihilism arising from the belief that there is no objective truth.)

    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”right” captiontext=”When Grayling says, watching birds has value because of the effect it has on us, he’s expressing the worn-out idea that man is the measure of all things.”]Part of the ‘job description’ of a philosopher is to resolve contradictions and reveal paradoxes. The former engenders conflict and suffering, while the latter elicits appreciation and wonder. Obviously that can’t be done if contradiction and paradox are made synonymous.

    That said, and substituting ‘contradiction’ for ‘paradox,’ Grayling rightly points out that to take such an existential attitude is “certainly not a viable life position.”

    But then he goes a bridge too far when he says, “OK, the world is absurd…there’s nothing there to discover, to give meaning, so it’s up to you.”

    He’s failing to make the simplest of distinctions–between the natural and the man-made worlds. Meaninglessness is inherent in the world as it has become, not in life as it is. The idea that life is meaningless in itself is an existential and metaphysical position–a nihilistic one at that, which contributes to despair.

    Throughout most of human history, cultures were integrated totalities, seamless contexts of meaning. People didn’t divide the spiritual from the political, much less the personal from the collective. The entire context of meaning which anthropologists used to speak of in their encounters with strange cultures may have seemed incomprehensible to us, but they were coherent, cohesive, and commonsensical to people living in integrated and intact cultures.

    Culture in the non-compartmental and anthropologically distinct sense is all but extinct in human experience, but that doesn’t mean that “the responsibility to create meaning” falls solely to the individual, much less that “there’s nothing to discover” where the meaning of life is concerned.

    Human beings are both creators of meaning, and autonomous agents of cosmic discovery. The two go together, since discovery without creating meaning is irrelevant; and creating meaning without discovery is hollow.

    Grayling’s prescription does not involve confronting nihilism, but making it more palatable, or “palliative,” as in “recognizing the profoundly palliative character of love, of the human affections and friendship.”

    But it’s erroneous in my view for a philosopher to say, as Grayling does, “freedom is an agony.” Philosophers may have to pass through the agony of truth-seeking in giving birth to new meanings for society, but to say that each person has to do so equally is to make philosophy irrelevant. Our job is to make the passage to maturity and intelligence less painful for young people of this and succeeding generations. It’s not to make meaninglessness more “palliative.”

    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”left” captiontext=”Questioning alone and together is the antidote to the collapse of culture, and the wellspring of creating a new way of living and a new civilization.”]In short, “the meaning of life is to make life meaningful” is less than half the equation, especially living in times such as these. When Grayling says, “watching birds has value because of the effect it has on us,” he’s expressing the worn-out idea that “man is the measure of all things.”

    To cavalierly declare, “This universe is what there is; there’s nothing outside there, there are no Olympian or Norse gods or spirits or demons or one God or 50 gods—none of that stuff…we’re free to think, free to see…since the clouds, the smoke is gone” is to delimit philosophy, and the human prospect.

    Such a view not only unwittingly upholds anthropocentrism and self-centeredness; it denies and dismisses the questions that truly belong to philosophy. Is awareness in the very nature of the universe? Without presupposing a separate creator, does the cosmos have an intrinsic intent to evolve brains capable of awareness of mind beyond thought?

    To grow into a human being, and not some simulacrum of a human being, one has to remain disturbed, uncomfortable, and full of restless doubt. That doesn’t mean one has to suffer any more than the average person suffers. (Suffering is the human condition, and liberation from suffering is a pretty good definition of being a human being.)

    But valuing disturbance and doubt does mean that one questions everything, and doesn’t stop questioning, or limit one’s view of life and the universe to deadening mechanism.

    Philosophers don’t have the answers, and stop questioning; they continually question because they are no answers, only insights.

    Questioning alone and together is the antidote to the collapse of culture, and the wellspring of creating a new way of living and a new civilization.

    by Martin LeFevre for[captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”left” captiontext=”Parte de la descripción de trabajo de un filósofo es resolver contradicciones y revelar paradojas.”]El colapso de los valores occidentales y las tradiciones, han llevado, como lo dice el filósofo A.C. Grayling, a un punto de vista nihilista que dice que “la vida no tiene sentido, el mundo no tiene importancia, no hay ningún objetivo que valga la pena seguir y no hay nada que yo quiera ser.” ¿El remedio de Grayling? “Esa es su decisión.”

    En una simple frase, Grayling niega y deja de lado todo el objetivo de la filosofía. Es el trabajo de un filósofo, descubrir y crear significado. Claro, si no hay significado que descubrir, como lo sostiene Grayling, entonces la filosofía misma no tiene significado. Y si todos fuéramos filósofos, entonces nadie lo sería en realidad.

    Nunca en la historia de la civilización, la filosofía ha sido tan necesaria para el prospecto humano. Pero al mismo tiempo, nunca, la tarea de la filosofía ha sido tan malentendida, incluso por “filósofos profesionales”.

    Eso no quiere decir que la filosofía sea una actividad elitista, es como ser un arquitecto. Pocos pueden ser buenos arquitectos pero los buenos arquitectos no pertenecen a algún tipo especial de seres humanos.

    Para ampliar más la metáfora, mientras que es verdad que todos somos arquitectos de nuestra propia existencia en nuestras casas, algunos pocos tienen la capacidad, el entusiasmo y el talento para diseñar casas, mucho menos lo tienen para diseñar grandes edificios como Bilbao en España.

    Grayling sigue diciendo, “tratar de pensar en despertar cada día… adoptando una postura de desesperanza y negatividad en este estilo de vida globalizante… pero luego levantarse y pagar los impuestos y montarse en el bus y el resto parece ser una paradoja vivida.”

    No sé si es una muestra de una subestimación británica o un malentendido de la diferencia de paradoja y contradicción. Pero, ciertamente, hace eco a un sentimiento común del día, el cual, a como lo describe Grayling, es profundamente nihilista. (Nihilismo desde el punto de vista de que no hay verdad objetiva.)

    Parte de la descripción de trabajo de un filósofo es resolver contradicciones y revelar paradojas. Lo primero engendra conflicto y sufrimiento, mientras que lo otro, implica apreciación y maravilla. Obviamente, eso no puede hacerse si la contradicción es lo mismo que la paradoja.

    Con eso claro, y substituyendo contradicción por paradoja, Grayling señala correctamente que tomar una actitud tan existencial no es una “postura de vida viable”.

    Pero luego continúa un poco lejos cuando dice “OK, el mundo es absurdo… no hay nada ahí para descubrir, para darle significado, entonces queda a su decisión.”

    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”right” captiontext=”Grayling señala correctamente que tomar una actitud tan existencial no es una postura de vida viable.”]Está fallando en hacer la más simple de las distinciones – entre el mundo natural y el mundo del hombre. La falta de significado, es inherente al mundo a como está ahora, no en la vida tal y como es. La idea de que la vida no tiene sentido por sí misma es una postura existencial y metafísica – una postura nihilista que contribuye a la desesperanza.

    A través de la mayor parte de la historia humana, las culturas integraron totalidades, tiras largas de significado. La gente no dividía lo espiritual de lo político, mucho menos lo personal de lo colectivo. El contexto entero de significado, que los antropólogos solía mentar en sus encuentros con culturas extrañas, puede ser incomprensible para nosotros, pero eran coherentes, cohesivo y con sentido común para la gente viviendo en culturas integradas e intactas.

    El punto de vista nihilista, no solo propone el antropocentrismo y fijación en sí mismo, niega y descarta las preguntas que pertenecen realmente a la filosofía. ¿El conocimiento está en la propia naturaleza del universo? Sin presuponer un creador aparte, hace el cosmos un intento por crear mentes capaces de estar atentas a la mente más allá del pensamiento?

    Nacer como un ser humano y no como simulacro de ser humano, uno tiene que permanecer molesto, incómodo y lleno de dudas. Eso no implica que uno tenga que sufrir más de lo que la gente común sufre. (El sufrimiento es la condición humana, y la liberación del sufrimiento es una buena definición de ser humano.)

    Pero valorando la distracción y la duda significa que uno cuestiona todo y no para de cuestionarse, o limita su punto de vista y el del universo como un mecanismo mortífero.

    Los filósofos no tienen las respuestas, y no paran de cuestionarse; continuamente preguntan porque no tienen respuestas, solo intuiciones.

    El preguntarse, es el antídoto al colapso de la cultura y el bienestar de crear una nueva forma de vida y una nueva civilización.

    by Martin LeFevre for

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