No. 23 Aphorisms, Notes and Reflections #2


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Vol III – No. 23

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Nihilism and Eastern Wisdom. If one isn’t taken in solely by its localized, that is to say, its sordid political forms – its Russian socialist form, for instance – it becomes possible to revisit nihilism as a western counterpart to eastern wisdom. The ‘way’ designated by ‘Tao’ in Lao Tzu’s words does a bit better at pointing toward that elusive quality which escapes all definition and, in the end, cannot be referred to as any one thing. While it would be incomplete to refer to it as ‘nothing,’ Lao Tzu starts at the very beginning by telling us that what he is speaking about cannot be spoken about, necessarily. Likewise the path which active nihilism took in its Nietzschean form – to leave aside the other end of his polarity in passive nihilism – which develops through many other thinkers throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, is one that lends it a cosmic significance which is, not the negation of truth, but on the contrary, a philosophical mechanism for mitigating cognitive error; in other words, it becomes a tool to understand what is real in the face of falsehood. To entertain falsehood is to capture a symbol and render every other meaning and value in terms of it. Nihil on the other hand, similar to Tao, can be put to the service of ideas rather than ideas serving it as the final truth. It becomes a tool of investigation in terms of particular truth claims. If one were to translate this into spiritual language, it would ultimately amount to cultivating fearlessness in the face of truth, rather than a negation of it.

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Nihilism and Fatalism. Nietzsche’s dichotomy between passive nihilism and active nihilism could just as soon be illustrated by a dichotomy between nihilism and fatalism. In nihilism, it is asserted that value and meaning are not inherent to anything one can name or describe. Fatalism is simply one response to this, but it would be impossible to consider it an inevitable result. Fatalism is an attitude toward the negation of inherent value and meaning. The fatalist is frozen in the face of a lack. However, this ‘lack’ is simply a misunderstanding of what value is, and thus, could be understood as a cognitive error. Nihilism, rather, considers this ‘lack’ illusory, as it lies on the assertion that a necessary component of existence, namely meaning and value, has yet to arrive or has even been seized by a cruel reality. The fatalist sees absolute value and meaning as missing prerequisites for action and chooses the path of resentment toward life itself. A consistent, non-sentimental, anti-fatalistic nihilism closes the vicious circle of negation and instead asks, on the one hand, what is real and on the other, what is possible. Meaning and value are of secondary importance and are seen ultimately as strictly human concerns.

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Inverted Progress. All empires and kingdoms are purchased with blood. Not only is it no different in an egalitarian empire, but the violence has a more convenient place to hide. One should view the various amenities of modernity – access to cozy technologies, codified hedonism, post-scapegoating cultural advancement – as spoils of war rather than features or byproducts of an ‘advanced society’ on an upward ascension. Enjoy your amenities, by all means. But savor them as things which could be taken away tomorrow, or things which your children’s children may have to cut necks for. Don’t ever be fooled that such amenities represent the inevitable direction one is pointed toward by possessing the correct values – that is, values which, as a direct consequence of their being the correct ones, must win out someday. Nothing suggests they are permanent, that they are true, that they are somehow synonymous with your ‘rights,’ or that blood will not need to be shed in the future for you to hold onto this world.

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Two Groups Battling For the West. One believes in an intensity of historical precedent. The other believes in the ability to achieve the historically unprecedented. Both see the other as a threat. Both fear that the other is in power. However, the historical precedent is, in actuality, a sort of historical fiction. On the other hand, the desire to escape historical precedent is as old as time itself, but it is never achieved and this story is ultimately absorbed into the history of historical precedent.

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Never attribute stupidity to what can be explained by one’s desire to seize or maintain power.