Learning to Fly
In ancient literature, a common motif was that in order to find the truth of a complex situation, one had to visit the land of the dead and ask a spirit. The spirit - someone who is not living, and does not have human desires and emotions - then reveals the truth of the situation. It is as if life itself is an addition to the structure of events, and that the dead can see structure, because it takes a mind dead of emotions and fears to reveal structure, which roughly corresponds to an enlightened Platonism, or a view that there are ideal forms upon which reality is roughly patterned.
What is structure? The function and underlying shapes of transaction of energy in a situation. The structure of a forest involves trees trapping sunlight and converting it into products that feed other life forms; then still other forms harvest varying parts of plant and animal life, creating a complex ecosystem. We can diagram said ecosystem, draw it in language, or film its parts and associated numbers (28% of all squirrels are eaten by homosexual bears). These representations of structure do not diminish the fact that, whether or not it "exists," structure is the only accurate way of mapping events and objects.
Some people, and some religions, take Platonism too far. They assume that structure is somehow a pure, dualistic world, and that we live in an inferior world of rendering (structure is the blueprint, rendering is what is created from it in physical reality). This is not what Plato was suggesting, in the view of this author. He was saying that our consciousnesses become ensnared on the details of physical and tangible objects and events, while forgetting the relationship between them, the flow of energy, the actual transaction of significance; the structure. He was saying that we get caught up in our senses and lose sight of the way things interact to form our world, and thus we become materialistic, or confined to the physical world and unaware of the world of structure.
Where this gets tricky is that structure does not, for all practical purposes, "exist." The closest we get are encoded blueprints like DNA; show me the structure of a chair, for example, as it exists. You can point out the design of the chair, outline its structural points, and summarize in abstract language or mathematical formulae what a chair is. But the structure of chair, something which would have to be inherent to all chairs, doesn't "exist" - it is an abstraction of our minds. This does not change the fact that it is a vital part of chairness, and that without some idea of that structure, one cannot create a chair. In this we see that the only dualism in Plato is a division between mind (structure) and body (physical reality). Even in those, there is overlap; Plato is clearly not suggesting a dualistic system in the Judeo-Christian sense, where Heaven "exists" somewhere in a purer world than this half-evil, half-good one.
(Side note: every intelligent Christian I've ever met has overcome dualism as a concept by recognizing that God is the world, and the world is God, and that when we speak of God, we're speaking of something like structure that is inherent but does not "exist" discretely in the same way a blueprint or shotgun might. All religions, if meditated on enough, become something like the Hindu or Greco-Roman religions, where gods represent parts of our psychology and the psychology of nature as a joined force of a similar nature, and nothing is promised, and heaven is a state of mind and not a place. Encouraging those Christians who have the brains to understand it toward this state is a more sensible goal than "fighting" Christianity. Christians have the ability to change unlike those poor souls stranded in Judaism, a materialism-monistic religion which attempts to disguise its morality as practicality, thus falling back on the only genre of thought where such things are true: business, and materialist ethics arising from its rules. It is no surprise every civilized nation has at some point persecuted the Jews; their religion is disgusting, inherently anti-heroic, and will drag any nation into the toilet if given a chance to be assimilated.)
For the ancients, the dichotomy between design (structure) and manifestation (form, physicality) was profoundly drawn, because they were idealists in the philosophical sense: to them, nature behaved in the same way that governs the creation and nurturing of thoughts, so they saw the world as a system that worked like a mind. To them, this meant that thoughts (creatures, individuals) were created on an ad hoc basis for the purpose of testing hypotheses, and what matters at the end of the day is that those creatures bearing important hypotheses survive and the insane hypotheses do not. Each of us is a test design, in the view of the ancients, and may the best prevail! What matters is not our suffering, not our deaths, not our wealth, not our social importance, but the prevalence of better ideas and designs through heroism. For them, the universe was empty of manifest gods, but it was far from empty, in that it was a living thing in which we like thoughts attempt to rejoin its infinite wisdom by fighting it out. When one warrior stands over the bloodied corpse of another, the ancients surmised, a better design or concept has won. It is for this reason that they had, like most of us have bred into us, a rigid concept of fairness. With fairness, heroism was possible. When cheating became the norm, heroism took a back seat toward self-preservation - who wants to die for a rigged contest, which decides nothing? - and thus society drifted toward Judean materialism. Sad day, that was.
This form of idealistic belief was more realistic than any of the "moral" belief systems that countered it, because it fit in with the organic systems that operated around it. It did not try to impose square, rigid, materialistic moral concepts onto an unruly nature, but sought to understand nature's design (and came closer than anyone else has, to this day). It did not pretend it could make things better with "right" and "wrong," but developed a flexible morality based not on survival (murder = wrong) but fairness (a just fight is the will of the gods). Its core concept was explaining how nature and human thought were alike, and thus, how a higher state of mind could be found that showed why this world, with all of its goods and evils, ultimately makes sense and leads toward a positive goal. This is idealism, but it cannot occur without a counterpart, which is what is symbolized by a visit to the land of the dead: a stilling of the mind that removes the drama and trauma of living, and looks only at structure, not at tangibility. It is no longer a hamburger you can taste, but nutrition that empowers you to do certain things; it is no longer a sensual experience as much as it is a step toward a goal; it is no longer a material value of fixed nature ($8.95) but a flexible value placed on being able to get to the next stage of the process, and if it requires a hamburger? -- it is possible no cost is too high, or too low.
Realizing this moral flexibility, and land-of-the-dead style mental state, is essential to moving beyond the human condition to accept the place of humans in the entirety of things, and thus to derive an idealism which sees possible higher states. One cannot live until one has died, so to speak, because one has not yet recognized the value of living. And what might a modern call this state of mind, this pessimistic Zen, this clarity of deathlike thought? Some time ago, a modern thinker of note but no fame called it "nihilism." His point was that when one strips aside all but physical, immediate reality, it is possible to derive the structure of things and thus their actual value. In this view, nihilism is not the lack of belief, faith and caring about all things; we refer to that, more accurately, as "fatalism," or in the vernacular, having given up and running home crying to Mommy with your testicles in a lunch sack. Nihilism is a clarity of mind that removes illusion and specifically, human illusion, including emotions and desires and anthrocentricisms and self-interest.
(It is of note that most people coming through this site are so cynical they assume what we've written about it is boilerplate, and go elsewhere for definitions of nihilism, coming up with "belief in no value" or variants thereof, and immediately begin considering themselves superior for finding the truth of no truth, and start hassling others for believing in anything. They have, of course, forgotten that believe in no value is belief in something ("no value") and thus that their criticisms are, of course, impotent and pointless. Such people do not care about philosophical truth; they care about finding some mental system to use as a shield and form of self-identification, a way of saying "I figured it out this way" in the same way that others use Christ, drugs, money, sex, belongings, the Army, etc. Our goal is not to assault these people, but we aren't fooled either, and we see them for the aphilosophical future middle managers that they truly are.)
So nihilism...is not a total lack of belief? It's a total lack of inherent belief, yes; one clears the mind of all preconceptions, then analyzes the situation, then makes a choice of action. Nihilism is a Zen state, a warrior state, of having cleared aside all but structure so that when one acts, it is in concert with the way things naturally turn out, and thus will have success of the longest-lasting and most profound variety. Those who have too much of the illusion of life in their minds act according to the interests of creatures, and thus often miss the point, the structure, the ideal of a situation... to be a nihilist is to clear your mind so that you can always see past the form of a scenario to its organizing principles, and thus to effectively change is however you see fit. Nihilism is not a belief system for those who want to believe in nothing, because of all things, it assaults such emotional reactions ("I'm taking my toys and going home, if you don't make metaphysical value obvious to me now, Life!") first and demolishes them utterly. Nihilism is not an end state, but an initial state, and a discipline that grows as one explores thought. Nihilism is learning to fly.
When one wants to learn to fly, one must first negate all one has learned about living on the ground. Gravity is not absolute, and it can be bent. The wind isn't weak, but strong, and you don't resist it like a stolid building, but find the right way to cut it, and it's like getting energy from the gods. The sky isn't blue, but degrees of blue and black depending on how far you go. Clouds aren't solid, or soft, but are like ghosts in the air, and they're always moving. So is everything, but you can tell more when you're flying. Learning to fly requires that you forget and destroy everything you knew about being a two-footed, meaty land creature. Your bones too can be hollow, and your fingers grow wings, if you see the path before you is not a path at all, but a compass of a very advanced sort. Flying, one moves in three dimensions; on earth, one generally moves in two, mapped to the surface, with rare exceptions for tree climbing and astronomical flatulence. But when one flies? Up and down join forward and back and left and right, and each must suddenly have not only degrees, but some point of reference. Everything is relative, including relativity itself, which is relative to all things, much as nihilism reduces "nihilism" itself. Learning to fly requires the discipline of a clear mind.
(Interestingly, those who resist this doctrine the most are those who complain the most about Christians, liberals, other races, etc. yet fail to realize that while they're not supporting the same groups, they're supporting the same conditions that got us to the state where these groups are in conflict. Individualism is a dead-end street, because it places the individual before all else, and is basically a radicalized form of materialism. Follow this path and you out-Christian the Christians, and are well on the way to heading back down the evolutionary ladder and becoming Jewish. Most kiddie "nihilists" fall into this category. They want to come up with one good reason why they shouldn't do anything but complain, and keep goofing off with video games and drugs and garbagoid heavy metal music. They think "nihilism" will do it; if you don't believe in anything, you just keep goofing off. Little do they know that true nihilism of that sort wouldn't allow them to even enjoy their GTA III and bong hits, and that nihilism for a thinking person - a non-trivialized, non-anthrocentric one - is something else entirely.)
My advice to any who wish to pursue the truths in the world, or to change the world: for you to alter the state of existence, you must first know exactly - and not in vague college-esque we can bullshit whatever paper you want ma'am terms - the changes you would make to its structure. You might not be able to do this, inherently; if the gods did not grant you with the brains, or the moral will, or the judgment, you will fail. No one can educate you into a higher state of mind. Even if you are of the ability, there is no guarantee you can pull this off. You must first discipline your mind, or it will be like standing on a boat in a storm trying to shoot an arrow at a floating target. You now know the basics of the esoteric discipline of nihilism, which will lead you first to realism and next to idealism and finally, to transcendence. Are you ready for this path? If so, my best faith and wishes for you. And one more thing - to fly, you must lighten the load you carry, and infuse joy into your soul so that it rises joyfully, without care for its own dead, toward the sun spinning above in an infinite cycle of energy exchange.
October 28, 2005