Progressive Nihilism

Jesus! Who’s gonna read a thing with a title like that? If you made it past the fifth syllable (there are six), then you’re a real glutton for punishment.

WTF even is ‘progressive nihilism?’ Well, it’s a thing I made up, right in my head, while trying to understand my proper place in the world, how to square the inevitability of death with the need to impose some kind of meaning on the time I have left. These are the things I think about while I’m walking the dog.

Let’s start with the premise that nothing matters. We’re all gonna die. Our personal impact on the world is beyond negligible. We’re not even rounding errors. History’s great philosophers have devoted centuries to rationalizing free will (over determinism) and even the idea of a collective reality (over solipsism). If I’ve lost you (possibly the second time), don’t worry. I’m gonna bring all that jargon-y bullshit back down to Earth now.

When it suits me, I embrace the idea that things don’t matter. The stuff that bugs me, the moments I dwell on, anxiety, depression, all based on inaccurate abstractions. The past exists exactly nowhere. The future is unknowable. Even the present is a cobbled together mess of sensory input, passed through the bullshit filter of the stories you tell yourself about the not-present (also known as “your baggage”).

Not Quite Magritte, But Same Idea

In this burn-it-all-down manner, I dismiss insecurities about whether I’m fit enough, fast enough, nice enough, smart enough, whether I’m doing enough, doing the right things, eating right, etc. None of that shit matters. It’s just a web I spin and then trap myself in.

There’s a whole digression here where I ramble about punk rock, avant garde art, the doctrine of radical acceptance, and a bunch of other stuff you’re not interested in. But I’ll spare you.

So that’s the nihilism piece. And actually, that is also the jumping off (see what I did there?) point for progress. When nothing matters, conditionally, about what I’m doing. I’m pretty free to do the things the mean something to me. There’s a micro/macro pivot here that makes the paradox of imbuing things with meaning against a canvas of meaninglessness work. Nothing I do makes a difference on the macro level, but the stuff I do can make a difference on the micro level. To get to that micro-level stuff, I have to shrug off the heavy burden of macro-bullshit.

Not everything I do needs to be rationalized. Sometimes I will burn things down (including myself), to see what that looks/feels like. Then I’ll do something else, because one event doesn’t need to flow from the one preceding it in a sensical way. I can discard the ideas and feelings that don’t serve me in the moment. I can forgo adding more shit to my personal baggage.

This goes back to that thing I wrote about Time Machines. Actually, I did it twice.

I love to have a good, complicated think, and I love to posit a bunch of novel (to me anyway) ideas, but what I love even more is finding the practical application of those ideas, the ways in which my natural tendencies (self criticism, self destruction) can be turned to positive and creative ends, and that’s what progressive nihilism is, the burning-down to grow something better, something that will mean a lot, maybe even just to me.