Nihiling

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It is hard to say just how much nihilism is actually being deployed in culture today, precisely in those vectors of radical politics which most claim to deploy it. Anarchists, nihilists, individualists and other self proclaimed extremists insist that they believe in nothing, only to immediately let fall from their mouths words which less resemble those of notable monsters of negation like De Sade, Stirner, Burroughs and Rimbaud and more resemble quaint words on bumper stickers and in the windows of Portland coffee shops. Not believing in God, not believing in any human institution is to them tantamount to following the LGBTQ and feminist gospels as though they were the Five Pillars of Islam.

Nihilism is not a tool for them. It is not a position. It is an intellectual fashion. One would do better to call them nihilers. What they are doing is not nihilism. They are, rather, nihiling, in the same way some people go slumming. They don't have to sleep in the street. They have an intellectual home to return to, so to speak.

Perhaps they grew up devout Christians. Perhaps they grew up with varying degrees of what they would later consider privilege. Later, however, something changes. They go through a transformation and suddenly, they are not only not what they were before, but rather, everything they were before has now become their enemy.

The emotive forces driving their old beliefs remain; they simply change direction. That, or if this doesn't take place literally on the scale of one person's life, what I describe serves as a metaphor for the way that the most self-destructive of western values get smuggled into radical politics and nihilist philosophy, often disguised as something intellectually dark and war-like, but which ultimately masks the fact that the things that most concern them in life are, not only their personal comforts, but the securing of constant adulation from everyone around them for these same comforts. 

One could call their monomaniacal hatred of bourgeois-Christian values passé; another way of looking at it would be to say that they've perfected the measures of self-martyrdom and victimhood which the church originally harbored and employed them to the service of blind nature and agency-less ecology. 

They read as though they've read half of half of Nietzsche's work. They sound as though they thought Max Stirner was talking specifically about their respective lives when he spoke of 'The Unique.' They act as though the value of De Sade's work is to illustrate the dangers of sexual repression. They're the reason the Right is confused as to what postmodernism actually is because, though these self-proclaimed nihilists don't believe in essential nature or reified abstract objects, they don't shut up about capitalism (and are thus mistaken for the staunch Marxists they are only accidentally related to ideologically).

Nihiling is when you are not really a nihilist in your mind but you play one in real life. One is vulnerable to this kind of charlatanry when one treats nihilism the philosophical issue as though it were an ideology. Nihilism is, ultimately, a problem to be grappled with, tested, exploited, questioned and positioned alongside everything else, rather than swallowed whole heartedly like a new inverted gospel. An ideology provides one with a means by which one can interpret everything in the world, but this has the net effect of serving the ideology itself, usually only giving the one who believes it a sense of tribal belonging which has been earned quite cheaply but which is, when all is said and done, not strong enough to withstand whatever more popular ideology may come along to knock it down afterward.

Most people who call themselves nihilists are just liberals or conservatives who have attached themselves to the essence of their liberal or conservative values without all the institutional and cultural and ethical simulacra. If one wants to get to the heart of what is wrong with western values today, one shouldn't blame these people, but one would certainly be wise to take note of them alongside those they most unwittingly resemble.