The Perils of Nihilism
Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence.
I was at onboarding at a new job for most of this last week. New job, same as the old job, only a different title, more money, and bennies. Yay! Life is good! Writing… definitely on the back burner for the time being. I’m trying, but more or less my brain is being eaten by work and I’m unwilling to push back on that while I’m getting settled into the new role. I’m like a kid in a candy shop… I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I was about six. I am now, according to my title, a Scientist. I have purpose, I’m in my sweet spot, and I’m happy. It’s been a roller coaster ride to this point, and I’m looking forward to a smoother ride for the next little while.
What got me thinking about the nihilistic aspect of so much modern genre fiction was a conversation with a colleague who, when I mentioned in the icebreaker during training that I wrote, got quite excited about meeting a fellow SFF fan. As I have done so many times before, we compared notes as to what authors we enjoyed, who we avoided reading, and why. It never fails that the other person mentions that it used to be fun (and I will note here that the colleague is at least a decade my junior) but now they have to work hard to find stuff worth reading and they actually have developed a bit of a complex, being unwilling to try anything new because it’s going to suck. Gloom and doom awaits them inside the covers of that new book, and that’s not what this young father wanted. In fact, he and his brother, also a new Dad, had co-written a children’s book.
I was describing my work to him as being ‘small stories.’ No one is saving the universe, they are just trying to live their lives, and dealing with what comes at them – whether that is space pirates, aliens, or young incontinent dogs. He laughed, and said that sounds like it’s much more his speed than stories that go on and on about nothing at all. We shared a mutual dislike of the epic fantasies that fill tome after pointless tome, and then it was time to get back to work. The encounter left me thinking about why I write what I write. And what I hope to accomplish with it. I’m not writing for the money – I’m an Indie. Money is nice, but it’s never going to be the largesse most people assume when I admit I have seven novels in print. I’m definitely not writing for public accolades. I’m the Nice One, but I’m nonetheless not the politically correct one. I have Ideas about the place of men in society – and women, and children, and that makes me Not Acceptable to the current mores. So why do I write, other than to amuse myself?
I write because I think humanity is pretty darn nifty. I don’t think that this world is careening to Hell in a handbasket and that it’s coming apart at the seams. I think people are cool, individually, and as a group they can be brutally evil. Some individuals are evil, sure, but the mob is scary. For all the evil in the heart of humans, there is also joy, compassion, laughter, and the still small thing we call hope. If I preach liberty, and life, and justice, it’s not just because I’m a true-blue American. It’s because I have lived without those things and understand that they are vital to the survival of the soul.
So it’s not that I’m preaching when I write. I’m not a preacher. Not cut out for that (and no, it’s not because I’m a gurl). It’s that I feel very strongly that nihilism is wrong. Human existence does have meaning. Every child that is conceived is precious, and lovable, and a wonderful addition, not a weight on the Earth that is dragging our species to annihilation. And speaking of species, the role of Homo sapiens is not to despoil this planet, nor to migrate out into the stars destroying all the planets we can lay our grubby hands on. We’re just trying to live, and to leave a better world for our children to take up after us. I write heroes to give hope, to remind my reader that everyman can be a hero, too. That the ordinary every day life can contain a kernel that is fantastic, beyond our imaginings, but that humans are after all, human. Humans are amazing. I marvel every day as I work with some great specimens of humankind that my safe space is filled with men in white coats… and strong acids. I joked when I was learning one test and stirring together nitric and sulfuric, with a later dollop of ammonium hydroxide and possibly a soupçon of hydrogen peroxide that this felt more like alchemy than organic chemistry. My trainer pointed out this test was developed over a hundred years ago. Someone, somewhere, realized that if you combined some very improbable solutions into a devil’s brew we handle with the greatest respect (and regularly lose borosilicate flasks when they can’t take the heat and stress) you could do a very delicate test for an impossibly small amount of something. Humans, man. Never underestimate humans. Want to hear something cool? When we realize we’re breaking something, we put it back together even better than we found it. The Earth? Sky’s the limit, and somewhere out there a little roadster is breaking the trail we’re going to follow that will take us somewhere utterly amazing.
If I write about it, maybe someone will be inspired to do it. To have the faith that humanity has great purpose, and they can fulfill that. There’s a method to my madness.
Header image is “Complex Space” by Cedar Sanderson