The other day, there was an interesting looking video in my Recommended feed on YouTube. It was about something called optimistic nihilism, and although I’d heard about being nihilistic, I was curious to see how optimism could be incorporated into it.
Of course, my first reaction proved I had missed the point of the video. I felt hopeless, felt like my tiny speck of an existence didn’t matter and that everything I’ve ever done, said, or thought would mean nothing in the future. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt this small, though. The first time was in a Big History class when I first starting college; we studied history from the origins of the universe to the present day, and one thing that I took from that class was the knowledge that everything that is and ever was comprises far more than you ever will in your entire lifetime. It’s why I’ve felt pressure in classes to “reinvent the wheel,” to be innovative and memorable so that I won’t fade into oblivion as quickly. In this respect, I fear death–in the sense that I’ll live a life unfulfilled without any remaining chances to actually live.
However, the more I got to thinking about the concept of optimistic nihilism, I felt less hopeless and more hopeful. This feeling was familiar, as well, since I’d first felt it once I renounced religion. See, up until that point my hopes of an afterlife had been all but assured. I was told to not be of the world so that I could enjoy a wonderful afterlife, which might sound good on paper but can be really messy in practice. After I settled on atheism, I realized I had just one life, no expectation of a second chance to speak of. In other words, if I have just this one life, I have no time to waste. I want to be as active, happy, and friendly as I can right now–not so I don’t get sent to a hellish afterlife instead of a heavenly one, but because it’s just the decent thing to do, and it feels right. That’s something that I think has confused at least one person in my life–the fact that I feel more inclined to be a better person off religion than on it. When it’s all said and done, I feel more satisfied with life.
As it should happen, though, I just had to think more about it. The more I thought about optimistic nihilism and how it applied to my way of thinking, I started to get frustrated. There are so many groups of people who are discriminated against, many for aspects of themselves that cannot be changed. We still have to endure the poison of racism and the violence that results. Human rights have somehow transformed into privileges that the powerful seem to wield full control over distributing to the populace. Just when the nation and world seem to learn from their mistakes, new and potentially more damaging actions are taken. Tolerance and learning are laughed at, and progressive views towards possible change are ridiculed. However, families have also been torn up over who they elected to lead the country–as in, family members don’t talk to each as often as they used to before, if they still communicate at all. I’m frustrated because all we have is this one life to live, and we spend it starting wars, disenfranchising already impoverished people, and perpetuating harmful stereotypes that do nothing but divide us as human beings.
I think it’s important to point out that something has gone terribly wrong. I think the thing we need to realize that, until it can be proven otherwise, everyone has just one life to live. Why not spend this life raising each other up? Why not live in peace, however you identify, without having to fear the retaliation that could likely result? Why are we so reliant on structure that we become blind to the fact of our own mortality? We may seem immortal and infallible in the moment, but we never know we’ll die–not really. That’s why I do my best not to stick up my nose when someone says they identify or live a certain way. Life is too short to deny the happiness of others. My only boundary is that desire should be curbed when there is a risk of harming other(s). Defining pain has become such a subjective debate that I think the emotional impact of pain has been forgotten–we have forgotten our humanity in the pursuit of immortality through memory, not pausing to think of the consequences.
I’ve become pretty laissez-faire as a result, which may sound like I don’t care at all. On the contrary, I care very much. I just don’t care so much about caring to the point where I’d make myself more important than I actually am. I’m not going to put myself on a pedestal and claim superiority on any grounds–I just want to live the happiest life I can, and if I can do that by making other people happy, I’ll be damned if I refuse.
Isn’t that what we all deserve?