At the Stand-up Philosophers, we advocate that Nihilists should be happy because many are not. Indeed there’s a long literary tradition of miserable nihilists depressing everyone by telling them that their lives have no meaning because there’s simply none to be found in the universe.
Some Nihilists go further and also state that because there’s no evidence of any meaning in life, there’s also no fixed basis for morality, hence absolutes such as ‘good,’ and ‘evil,’ do not exist. In such a cosmos the death of one person is just as meaningless as the deaths of millions. The universe doesn’t care whether you die of old age in your bed surrounded by a loving family or whether you die of overwork and starvation in a concentration camp. To such people, there’s nothing personal about it, the universe has no will and is simply incapable of caring about you. It’s a cold and impersonal place that tends towards disorder. Entropy is the trump card in modern nihilism. Living things are easy to disorder compared to inanimate things, which is why they are easy to kill, making life fragile.
To such people, belief in God is an infantile fantasy and the long march of human civilisation whilst a matter of historical record is ultimately pointless. One day the Sun will swell in size and devour us all, making all life on earth ultimately meaningless along with any human achievements, even if we do manage to colonise other solar systems, the same dangers will present themselves there too. Should we be lucky enough to last to the final days of the universe then it’s heat death will end us just as finally as any other extinction event. As you can imagine these pessimistic nihilists are not the best people to go out for a drink with (they really are pessimistic, they are overwhelmed by the laws of physics and feel condemned by the impersonal void of the cosmos. The universe really is out to get you!)
So let’s set the record straight. Firstly there’s nothing wrong with being a nihilist, you can be happy and a nihilist, the two things are not mutually exclusive as some would have you believe.
Secondly, Nihilism is what results when you take the logical processes of physics and material sciences to their rational ends. The universe began, it’s undergoing deterministic processes and one day will end, without any provable meaning to be found anywhere in it. This might make some people sad and depressed, but there really isn’t any need to be, because the past is unchangeable and the future not yet formed, all anybody has is the present moment. If you were to die right now all you would lose is the present moment which is the same as everybody else.
“The longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose.”
Marcus Aurelius – Meditations. (2.14)
Finally, this should you make you realise that we’re not built to last a million years and we shouldn’t be sad that the effects of our actions may be forgotten or lost to time, making all of our activities meaningless when measured against eternity.
Eternity is happening now, all you have is the present moment, so live well and use it wisely.
If you act then you will feel happy and that’s all that there is to it. If you do something that you personally feel to be worthwhile then you will feel happy. Whatever it is that you do matters now, it matters to the people around you, your nearest and dearest, your best friends and the people that you might interact with daily. These relationships are fleeting when measured against eternity and that’s what makes them worthwhile.
Finally, the universe is a wonderful place, it’s given you a beautiful planet to live on and lots of things to experience, in the past it was someone else’s turn to enjoy the fruits of life, now it’s your turn. In the future, you will have to give way to someone else. The dying man does something honourable because he’s making room for his replacement. You might be fragile, but that’s a good thing because without weakness you cannot experience adversity. It should be noted that existence without challenge is not a worthwhile life.