Nihilism means never having to say you're sorry. Once a fairly precise philosophical term,1 it very quickly became a pejorative useful against practically anyone disagreeing with the speaker. It has obtained a creeping popularity through its false association with rock-star philosophers like Lou Reed and Friedrich Nietzsche.2 Grabbed and stuffed into the cultural backpacks of countless 20th-century beats, freaks, and hipsters, the abandonment of all moral values as baseless3 proved to be a handy tool for making it with chicks. Poems, films, and the like created or sponsored by members of Team Zero4 tend to provoke equal sympathy for artist and victim, yet, by their nature, are positioned beyond criticism. The appearance of rejecting, well, everything is thus an unqualified formula for success.
But increasing numbers of young people are saying no to nihilism. This would seem heartening to those who crave a firmer footing for meaning or don't look good in black.5 Unfortunately, most of these young believers manage to infuse so much deadly earnestness into their everyday lives that they end up making existence6 itself look bad. This lovely matching thesis and antithesis is expected to create a fine, healthy synthesis that will rescue us from the twin terrors of sincerity and ennui. It could be that, after all the fuss of the God-is-dead-no-He's-not debate,7 we'll end up with something for nothing.
1. The distress caused to the academically sensitive by this cascade of contradictions is not lost on the contributor. Pedantic e-mails may be sent to email@example.com. See also "It, Get Over."
2. About whom, like God and sausages, the less said the better.
3. Is such a stance possible? If you have to ask, you're never gonna know; and, in any case, it's more important to look empty than to feel empty.
4. A loose-knit coalition at best: The more you come to understand the futility and meaningless of the world, the less you want to chat about it with like-minded humans. See "Alcohol."
5. Not at all impossible, contra conventional fashion wisdom. Look around at any gathering of urban humans for copious examples, from the matron stuffed into satanic stirrup pants to the desperate kid whose jet hair is locked in eternal battle with his freckles. And as cultural critic Matt Groening says, "What are people who wear black nail polish thinking?"
6. By which we mean the various, possibly illusory, rocks and hard places we always seem to find ourselves caught between, not any problematic notions like "the evidence of our senses" or "the real world."
7. Given His notable silence on the topic, it seems just as likely that God is Deaf, Drunk, Uncaring, or just Really, Really Busy.
Rob Lightner, Contrib.