Everywhere I look lately, someone is advocating for something. Maybe it’s my reemergence into the liberal education sphere, the American elections, or the pandemic, but my social media and conversations are littered with activism. It’s wonderful to see my community fighting against injustice, but the lack of progress is frustrating. I find myself wondering, what’s the point of all of this wonderful discourse if so little is actually changing? Do our actions, political or otherwise, really matter? It’s basically fodder for a nihilistic crisis.
I am a nihilist, in most senses of the word. I don’t believe in a universal truth or a supreme logos; I don’t think there’s a point to human existence (or any existence for that matter) and I interpret ethics and morals as human constructs driven by biological imperatives. But I also like to think of myself as a positive nihilist because, while I don’t believe I have a grand destiny, I can still apply my own meaning to my actions.
So, I operate within the established social norms; I obey the laws (minus a few speeding tickets), use my manners (minus a few cuss words), and don’t mutilate or murder people (minus a few…never mind, I’ve said too much). It’s my choice to follow the rules because I won’t like the consequences if I don’t. While it’s limited, I still have agency in how I choose to act and behave. Granted, this interpretation may just be another ideological mask to cover up my utter lack of agency, but I choose to pretend I can make my own decisions (…see what I did there?). Choices matter, and while there may not always be many options, we can still choose what we do and how we react.
That doesn’t mean our actions and voices will be heard or that we’ll have any real impact; it’s likely the opposite, actually. If my social media is any indication, there are plenty of voices advocating for change, but it doesn’t seem like the people in power are listening. So, we’re back to the first question: what’s the point if it isn’t going to make any difference? Why keep trying?
Because the alternative is worst; the consequence of doing nothing is worst than doing something and failing. The failure matters because what we were trying to do matters, even if it only matters to us. We’ve assigned our own meaning or point to our actions to make our own lives, and hopefully the lives of other people, better.
And that’s where a true nihilist would argue, “What even is better if not another social construct meant to restrain us within societal norms?” and I would argue that nihilists are jerks and make for really poor dinner guests. But really, what would be the point of that?