Neo-Pessimism

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The Burning Block Vol. II - No. 9

Pessimism is now optimism.

We believe everything is falling apart because we want it to. Destruction will save us. Violence will cleanse our society of toxic people. The collapse of institutions will allow us to create new infrastructure. The total failure of representative democracy will lead to direct democracy. The obsolescence of the state will lead to anarchy. The absence of parliamentary politics will lead to monarchy. Ebola will reduce the population to ecologically sustainable levels. War will wipe out all of the empires that were vying for power, leaving behind only the simple people in between the margins who just wanted to be left alone.

Better yet, a cosmic event will wipe out all of mankind. We won’t miss ourselves if we’re all gone.

These are no longer dreads, but sources of great hope, whether unconsciously for humble folk or consciously for dissidents of all kinds.

Accepting the death of God, the secular world has far from parted with the notion of an impending End of Days. Having lost our belief in redemption, we believe only in the reset button, the revolution, the asteroid, the curse of the pale horse.

Perhaps, we think, Australia just isn’t the best place to be when the shit hits the fan and that Mad Max wouldn’t have been so bad had it taken place somewhere else. Or perhaps, some of us would see in this kind of world an occasion for adventure and would rather prefer the Might is Right struggle concentrating itself to the honesty of brute, vitalist force, blood and war of all against all.

But what if I were to tell you that there is still the potential to cultivate within our breasts an even deeper dread, and one that may not be satisfied?

What if the ultimate truth of our condition was not met with a bang nor with a whimper, but rather, a great sigh of reprieve?

What if Fukayama was right and we are destined to live at the end of history - certainly in no heaven but the closest thing to heaven on earth: This is our ultimate hell… No cleansing act of destruction is coming.

Capitalism will not run itself into the ground like a hot and over-worked engine. Empires will engage in endless proxy wars whilst threatening nuclear war from time to time in order to sustain mutually assured anxiety.

People will continue to vote and, every couple generations, cultural revolutions will oscillate back and forth between opposing value sets, giving every generation of young people a new piety to subvert, each one waiting its turn to finish its pipe on the porch and die with dignity or indignation.

This is neo-pessimism: the absolute resolve that, perhaps, things will not change.

We have stopped holding our breath for a sweet apocalyptic event which will subsequently result in a world that lines up perfectly with the preferred values which approximate to our preferred ideology.

That, or it is unlikely that the Big Event will not prove detrimental to us, which simply reasserts our dependency on the current system.

Neo-pessimism recognizes that both the utopian as well as the dystopian alternatives to religion offered by secular humanism are, perhaps, even more seductive and pernicious on account of the fact that they are so embedded into modern consciousness - the essence of their mythos so immanent within the confines of materialism, to which all laws of ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ reduce any defiance.

The advent of modern nihilism posited, quite simply, that our current value systems have no inherent relationship with reality. It follows from this that, if one merely gets rid of the institutions and language signatures which codify these values, one can experiment and play around with different meta-values as one chooses.

Neo-pessimism sees nihilism as a sort of naive optimism for this very reason. The very act of playing with values, on a societal level, often causes bedrock values to reassert themselves more strongly, thus inspiring resentment in those who try to overthrow them in the name of some new values, thus leading to the very type of violence they believed rested as a foundation for bedrock values. The new nihilistic boss is the same as the old boss; he just thinks his values emerge whole and pure from reality, which is little different than the non-nihilist who believes in God or Human Nature.

Surely, everything is in flux. Everything is changing. It is, realistically, unlikely that things could continue on the way they are. However, they don’t all change at once before your eyes.

I put this challenge forward merely as a thought experiment, so as to starve all eschatological hopes: Imagine that things, as they are now, are just as they’ll always be.

If you’re quite comfortable in your current situation, this may sound like the closest thing to heaven that you can get. If things are less than comfortable, this would probably sound like the worst hell.

In either event, you’re free to do as you like.

If things can’t get better, you will no longer squander your energy on hope.

If things can’t get worse, then really, there isn’t much to lose.

Neo-pessimism, then being the only form of dread which is really left for us, can be seen as a tool. It’s a place to start dealing with the world in the miniature, as any catch-all solution for the Big Event or Coming Collapse can be categorically rejected as an utter fantasy.

We are not Gnostic, in this sense. We do not think things will flip toward ubiquitous heterogeneity. Rather, we are resolved to be the heterogeneous material ever adrift in the utter violence of this perfectly normal world.