ni·hil·ism, n. 'nI-(h)&-"li-z&m, 'nE- (1817)
1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths
2 a (1) : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility (2) capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination b : TERRORISM [source]
A Bit of Metaphor
Lightning cracks across the night sky and reveals a mottled rock face towering above you, surrounding you on three sides over the space of several hundred acres. Rain lashes against you, wetting your eyes and drenching your clothing, as the wind flings you against the rock mottled with dirt, overgrowth and the strange distortions of time. You know there is a cave which takes you through this rock, to a space where the storm will be less baffling and perhaps you can weather it, but you cannot find the door. Using your eyes, you search time and time again until finally, in desperation, you run your fingers along the rock, trying to find a grip of any kind. After you struggle for some time, your brain becomes numb at the prospect of your imminent death, and thus you relax, and walk the path at the base of the mountain at random. On a whim, you think, you catch a hand on a seemingly flat surface and realize it curves inward. You've found your entrace.
Nihilism remains one of the most controversial topics of the modern era, for a good reason: science has supported a form of nihilism by steadily revealing more of the underpinning behind natural processes, making things that once seemed to be unique objects appear as a collaboration of different effects. Slowly the post-animist ideas of the things we refer to with nouns being unique and of a consistent content are being exposed as structures of granular objects intersecting according to natural laws and constraints. This process threatens many of the social and emotional constructs used commonly in human society with a destabilization based not in the threat to the concept in question, but to the concept archetype from which those concepts emerge.
Despite this recent condition, nihilism is an eternal question in the human experience. As the definition above illustrates, there is a split in the meaning of the word. The most common meaning in our current society is a conflation of the lack of inherent value with a fatalism and aimlessness in intellectual choice-making; the second meaning is one in which an epistemological sandblaster is applied to all new input to remove social, mental, moral, emotional and political conditioning from the meaning, perception and differentiation of objects. It is the second meaning in which the word is used here, since fatalism and passivity are so well known as separate phenomena there is no need to confuse them with what can be revealed as a separate phenomena.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we are products of our time and the inherent preconceptions its culture and social requirements place upon objects and events, through mechanisms as diverse as language, symbolism in art, and nostalgic associations of feelings and configurations. The simplest example of this is the good/pleasurable - bad/hurtful axis with which we communicate the nature of events to children from their earliest days; it arises from a pragmatism of identifying behavioral constraints, but leaves impressions lasting in the mind of the individual. Another common example is sexual conditioning, by which early objects of reproductive stimulus can be used to condition an individual throughout his or her life. Since much of the human intellectual faculty is designed to classify objects and quickly respond to them, meta-classification ("good"/"evil" and the like) afflicts perception at the level of pre-processing of stimulus, before information is tokenized into language and conclusions, usually in a visual or verbal form representing a sentential structure in which causality or coincidence are expressed.
As research probes further into the complexities of the human mind, it becomes clear that the mind is far from being a composite thing which is an actor upon its world through thoughts; rather, thoughts compose the mind, in the form of connections and associations wired into the tissue of the brain, creating circuitry for future associations of like stimulus. The schematic of this intellectual machine builds separate routing for situations it is likely to encounter, based on grouped similarities in events or objects. In this view of our computing resources, it is foolish to allow pre-processing to intervene, as it creates vast amounts of wiring which serve extremely similar purposes, thus restricting the range of passive association (broad-mindedness) or active association (creativity) possible within the switching mechanism of the brain as a whole. As here we are devout materialists, the brain and mind are seen as equatable terms.
The "positive" effects of nihilism on the mind of a human being are many. Like the quieting of distraction and distortion within the mind brought about by meditative focus, nihilism pushes aside preconception and brings the mind to focus within the time of the present. Influences which could radically skew our perceptions - emotions, nervousness, paranoia, or upset, to name a few - fade into the background and the mind becomes more open to the task at hand without becoming spread across contemplations of potential actions occurring at different levels of scale regarding the current task. Many human errors originate in perceiving an event to be either more important than it is, or to be "symbolically" indicative of relevance on a greater scale than the localized context which it affects, usually because of a conditioned preference for the scale of eventiture existing before the symbolic event.
Nihilism as a philosophical doctrine must not be confused with a political doctrine such as anarchism; political doctrines (as religions are) remain fundamentally teleological in their natures and thus deal with conclusions derived from evidence, where nihilism as a deontological process functions at the level of the start of perception, causing less of a focus on abstracting a token ruleset defining the implications of events than a rigorous concentration on the significance of the events as they are immediately effecting the situation surrounding them. For example, a nihilistic fighter does not bother to assess whether his opponent is a better fighter or not that the perceiving agency, but fights to his best ability (something evolution would reward, as the best fighter does not win every fight, only most of them). As a result of this conditioning, nihilism separates the incidence of events/perceptions from causal understanding by removing expectations of causal origins and implications to ongoing eventiture.
This may seem like a minor detail; it is. However, it remains a detail overlooked by the Judeo-Christian "Western" nations, and as a result, our cognitive systems are bound up in conditioned preconception and moral preprocessing, separating us all too often from a pragmatic recognition of the course of change brought about by events, and thus hamstringing our ability to give these events context in processing. Consequently, forms of social and political manipulation remain unchecked because to people conditioned in this form of perceptual preprocessing, the error of this poor mental hygiene is not only invisible but essential for cognitive process. From this error, many more flow, including the heads of the hydra that we are mostly likely to desire fighting when we consider our views as a linear set of political decisions, a.k.a. a "platform."
Understanding nihilism requires one drop the pretense of nihilistic philosophy being an endpoint, and acceptance of it being a doorway. Nihilism self-reduces; the instant one proclaims "There is no value!" a value has been created. Nihilism strips away conditiong at the unconscious and anticipatory levels of structure in the mind, allowing for a greater range of possiblity and quicker action. Further, it creates a powerful tool to use against depression or anxiety, neurosis and social stigma. Since it is a concept necessarily in flux, as it provides a starting point for analysis in any situation but no preconditioned conclusions, it is post-deconstructive in that it both removes the unnecessary and creates new space for intellectual development at the same time.
While thinkers like F.W. Nietzsche railed against the "nihilism" of older times, this nihilism existed before social thinking made humans as neurotic as they are now, and thus was used to refer to feelings of futility, fatalism and meaninglessness found in people who had rejected the static objectivist framework of "God" but who retained the imprint of that expectation from life, namely the desire to find some absolutist view upon which all else hinges. Nihilism does not refute objectivism but it does refute certain forms of symbolic categorization, including "God," which provide a static organizational system upon which people are supposed to base their lives and value systems. While for many the idea of "God" is comforting, it is an insidious virus in that its users presuppose a common causality to any existential events, thus by finding any eventiture they attribute it to "God" and from it prove the existence of God. These closed-circuit mental processes contribute to confusion and sentimental attitudes toward mortality, programming people for intellectual failure before they're even aware of their mental potential.