What's the Point?
by Jules Travis
Nihilism, in the past few decades, seems to have experienced a resurgence of sorts in young people. Millennials, and Generation Z in their wake, are less connected to God and religion (both of which contradict the basis of nihilistic thought) than past generations, likely due to widespread ideas made possible via the internet and social media. People are generally more educated, and a college degree has become almost required to obtain any well-paying job to secure a decent future—where you’re able to feed your family, put a roof over your head and not a whole lot else. All of this translates not to the statement that religious beliefs or lifestyles are null or invalidated, simply that individuals are more aware of their options and are increasingly able to express their unique views. Young people often feel lost and go in search of meaning only to find emptiness in the void left unfilled by the more traditional route of religious belief.
Nihilism, put simply, is the understanding and belief that there’s no inherent meaning to the universe. It suggests that “a single human or even the entire human race is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence.” Accepting this belief, an embodiment of Absurdism, can be positive or deeply negative. Coming to terms with a lack of meaning can and does often result in sheer existential dread -- not knowing if there’s anything at all after human life on earth ceases, not expecting your single life to mean anything in the grand scheme (if there is one at all), Nihilists often go through life depressed, resigned to the cold emptiness of the silent universe and their own fundamental insignificance within it—ultimately failing to make anything of the lives they have for lack of motivation. What’s the point?
After embracing Absurd thought, the “universal truth”, there are essentially two options: suicide or recognition. For the sake of preserving human life, we choose recognition. There’s a positive way, however, to live a life characterized by Nihilistic thought because despite comprehending the lack of meaning in the universe, we have lives to live and time to kill. We might as well assign meaning.
While perhaps there’s not value to one person or to humanity in the bigger picture, we can embrace that while still assuming value to an individual life. Like a civilization built by ants (that we look down on for lack of value), the ants that gather crumbs, that defend the hill, that dig the tunnels have value within their society and within the ecosystem as a whole. Those ants affect other bugs, larger mammals and their environment, all of which ultimately affect the state of the earth. While the impact may not be lasting and the earth will survive without that single anthill, value carries through. Sure, in a few billion years, human life will be long gone and the sun will burn out or blow up and life on earth will be decimated, the crust will crumble, everywhere you’ve ever known will be gone and everyone you’ve ever known will no longer exist here or at all.
Thinking so far ahead, though, isn’t particularly productive... or uplifting. It’s a real bummer. You can, however, view human life with the same objectivity. Just because the universe might not change because you were part of it doesn’t mean you can’t create value for yourself. Your human life, like the ant’s, can affect the society you live in for better. Your role can mean something, even in the short run, even just to you. You should push yourself to do well in school, do well to foster a successful career that can change the world for now. Try to leave that lasting effect anyway, embrace that human condition. Look for love and companionship and change the lives of other human lives. Make use of the life you were given on this dying earth. Make it count for now. Take a risk. You’re going to die either way, so make it great.