Eagle Nebula, Pillars of Creation

Optimism: Nihilism’s Best Friend


New Years can be a dsepressing time. There is pressure to change and there is the weight of all that needs to be changed. I read that the world will be without chocolate in thirty years, that the oceans are filling up with plastic, that glitter is killing fish. I see in my children all that they do not know, and feel complicit. When they are my age, will the lack of chocolate in the world be the least of their concerns? It’s no wonder that billions are spent to make movies about superheroes – we devour those movies, because we feel so helpless ourselves.

When I feel a spiral of ecoanxiety looming, there is one thread I reach for, which might be called optimistic nihilism. I’m no physicist and I’m no philosopher, but here is what makes sense to me.

We are far less than a millisecond on the universe’s timescale. We are a grain of sand on a beach vaster than we can imagine. We are one inhale in the life of an eternal beast.

We can take this knowledge and be depressed. If nothing means anything, then self-destruction, global destruction … they’re all the same thing. We could decide to live our lives eating Big Macs and launching nuclear warheads.

Or, we could see the potential for meaninglessness as a deep well of comfort. If we truly are just an inhale, then it’s up to us to create a world that has meaning. Optimistic nihilism is freedom and opportunity. It’s up to us to find and create as much kindness, compassion, joy, love, and meaning as we can wring out of this life.

The “things” that make up “Everything” are always changing, but there has always been an Everything, and Everything will go on whether we are here to bear witness or not.

Anyways, these guys can explain it much better than me: