Quora answer: What next after nihilism?

Jul 21 2011



Nihilism is a very important concept. Both Heidegger and Nietzsche spend quite a bit of time on the question of nihilism because they see it as central to our worldview. It is particularly important given the disasters of the twentieth century like World War I, II and the Cold War. It was an extremely ideological century with nihilistic opposites fighting it out on a global scale. All of this just to show that Nietzsche was on to something when he focused on nihilism as the core phenomena within our worldview.

Given all this emphasis on the Question of the nature of nihilism and its integral relation to our worldview, then to ask what is next after nihilism assumes that there is something, after nihilism, which is probably not the case within the dominant western worldview. There are many reasons why nihilism is not going away, and one of them is that nihilism and emergence are duals of each other, and what seems to happen in our worldview is the intensification of emergence and the intensification of Nihilism. These go hand in hand. So one answer to this question is that what is next after nihilism is an emergent event and then a deeper form of nihilism. Nihilism is the lost of meaning, anomie, and so it is the opposite of the production of meaning. The best account of nihilism is that of Stanley Rosen. He explains that Nihilism is when you are caught up in a struggle between two sides (democrats and republicans) and then you realize they are both the same (i.e. it is really incumbents that rule, regardless of party). It is the realization that what we were involved in and cared about so much was really worthless and meaningless. To misquote Bateson nihilism is when there is a difference that makes no difference. If you cannot draw a non-nihilistic distinction then there is no way to produce meaning because all meaning would merely evaporate if there were no well grounded distinctions to base them on. Nihilism ends when there is an Emergent Event, that clears the nihilistic background that is necessary to recognize an emergent event. But after that clearing in Being, then nihilistic noise starts to accrete again and strangely even though we thought things couldn’t get any worse the nihilism intensifies and things get even worse the next time around as we wait for an emergent novum to save us from the darkness of meaninglessness.

The first book on Nihilism was the 1862 novel Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (pictured above; seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fathers_and_Sons) in which there is a young man who is interested in science and thus has given up the traditional ways. He is called a nihilist, but in that book he was really a modernist. But the focus here was the erasure of traditional distinctions by modernity. And since the Middle Ages lasted until 1850 or so in some parts of Europe and especially in Russia, the genesis of Nihilism as a concept has to do with the Enlightenment and the destruction of Feudalism by the Modern State. But a similar thing already happened in Greece in the much greater transition from the Mythopoietic to the Metaphysical eras (See L. J. Hatab Myth and Philosophy).

We are still in the Metaphysical Era and various philosophers want to call it over, but it lingers on as does modernity in the Post-Modern. Heidegger thought he put an end to it by assigning the title of the last metaphysical philosopher to Nietzsche and developing his distinction between Being and Beyng, and the difference between the First Beginning and the Other Beginning and the discovery of Ereignis (happening, appropriation) as a fundamental relation of Dasein to Seyn (Beyng). So another answer to the question as to what comes after Nihilism (and Emergence) is the Emergence of a new Era after the Metaphysical which may have already started. It is hard to tell. I am sure that the Greeks did not know that the Metaphysical Era started with Thales it was something we found out only later when we compared the Greek immersion in a world of mythos and then the arising of natural philosophy and the questioning of the Gods. Heidegger calls the Metaphysical the era of the fleeing of the gods, and he says it will be over then the last god has fled.

This is quite interesting, because in all probability the last god will also be the first god and that first God prior to Uranus was lost in Oblivion until some Hittite documents were found and translated which speak of a god prior to Uranus, who is Alalu. Thus there is a primordial Indo-european God among the Hittites that was lost in oblivion prior to Uranus, Kronos, Zeus who we have recently rediscovered. Putting this with the fact that from a genetic point of view Hittite is the oldest Indo-European language, then it becomes clear that the last god to pass away is probably the first god who was lost in oblivion prior to the Greeks. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alalu and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hittite_mythology). Poseidon is the only Indo-European god that the Greeks retained. Most of their gods were formed on a Mesopotamian pattern. Some Hittite gods were also like Mesopotamian gods but they retained more of their Indo-European character, which revolves around a primal battle with a Snake-like monster as with Zeus/Apollo vs. Typhoon/Python. This conflict with between the storm god (like Baal) and the monster snake is the primal scene of the triumph of Being over Existence that we see in St. George and the Dragon.

The primal Hittite God is Alalu whose cup bearer who was also his son, Anu, served him for nine years and betrayed him, and this happened over and over in the Hittite creation lineage of the Gods.

The repetition of the cup bearer who is son overturning the Father and god for successive generations has a profound meaning for our worldview, that is lost in the stories of Uranus being displaced by Kronos, or Kronos by Zeus. It is a primordial example of the Master/Slave dialectic discussed by Hegel. By Master and Slave Hegel means the Roman’s enslavement of the clever Greeks. For Hegel Greek Philosophy starts with the enslaved Greek philosophers and the reflection in philosophy of their slavery which leads to self-consciousness, whereas Hegel says that the Masters can have no self-consciousness because they are lost in Hedonism or their drunken-ness with the assertion of their Power. Nietzsche tries to develop a self-consciousness of the Noble in contrast reversing Hegel. When we know about the way that the Greeks within their slavery conquered their masters though their wit then we see how the Master/Slave dialectic as we see it in Pozo and Lucky in Waiting for Godot plays out in the real world.

The repetition in the dethroning of each successive father by their cup bearer son is like the oscillation between the role of Master and Slave we see in Waiting for Godot.

In Waiting for Godot there is negation of hierarchy and negation of equal relations which is reduced to merely waiting together for one knows not what, i.e. Godot.

For Hegel the history of self-consciousness starts with the enslavement of the Greeks and their interaction with their Masters in which the Greek culture becomes dominant even among the Romans, and that is why so much of Greek culture has survived down to the present, a full 4% of the original corpus. For most of us we think of Greek Philosophy starting with Thales and reaching a pinnacle with Plato and Aristotle and then going back down hill until Modern times starting after Descartes in the modern era. And we can see in Waiting for Godot the quintessential post-modern paradox, which is that we are just waiting for we know not what to come, the next emergent event, the end of the Metaphysical Era, Whatever . . .

Unfortunately what comes after Nihilism . . . is just more Nihilism broken up by an Emergent Event now and again. When the next Era comes for the Western worldview it will in fact be just more of the same, just a bit worse this time. In other words there is Eternal Recurrence of the Same as Nietzsche pointed out. Or repetition that as Zizek says the understanding of which was the contribution of both Kierkegaard and Freud. And ultimately that leads to Difference of Derrida, and the Difference and Repetition of Deleuze. Tomorrow we will still be waiting for Godot and we will encounter the same phenomena as we did yesterday . . .

Amar Ali: It raises a few interesting questions….

  • What kind of emergent event are you referring to? Would this be an intellectual event or a political event of some kind?

I mean emergent event as defined by G.H. Mead in Philosophy of the Present, they are discontinuities in history which can either come from finding a new way of approaching and external phenomena or by the arising of new phenomena that we have to come to terms with. Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics that arose early last century are the classic examples of each kind of emergent event. Emergent Events can occur at different scopes like Facticities, Theories, Paradigms (Kuhn), Epistemes (Foucault), Ontos (Heidegger), Existences, or Absolutes. Our tradition is shot through with them. They cause us to rewrite history, reveal new unthought of possibilities, give us new affordances in the present, and demand a new mythos. Also as Dreyfus says that normally something marginal becomes central and something central becomes marginal in these changes so there is not a complete break with the past, but only a quasi-break. It could be in any realm of experience or realm of thought, but I am particularly focused on philosophical or scientific or technological revolutions in my own research.

– If we assume we’re locked into a downward spiral of nihilism (and anomie) in the West – what are the implications for social cohesion?

There is intensification of nihilism and intensification of emergence at a particular  scope until a wider scope emergent event occurs to wipe the slate clean at a given level or scope. See also H. Lawson’s Closure (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilary_Lawson).

  • Could some form of secular, psychologized Buddhism offer any way out of this oscillation between nihilism and the occasional emergent event

Good Catch, Buddhism because it is nondual and offers a way to make non-nihilistic distinctions is an answer. In fact, any nondual path which is also not monistic offers an escape from this samsara of intensification of nihilism and emergence. See my other posts on Buddhism and existence. Basically Buddhist Emptiness is the dual of Taoist Void and prior to that distinction is a deeper nondual called Manifestation which is a standing beyond existence. See M. Henry The Essence of Manifestation who relies on Meister Eckhart to distinguish manifestation from the Essence of Manifestation, i.e. Sifat from Dhat seen in Sufism. When ever Meister Eckhart wants to ground a point he appeals to X and the heathans by which he means the Sufis in Islam. There are indications of such deeper nonduals also in DzogChen, Huan Yen, and Tien Tai Buddhism


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