Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Enlightenment and Suicide

Is there such a thing as a pessimistic, nihilistic, or otherwise melancholy person who’s not also a hypocrite? This question is at the root of a conventional criticism of anyone who subscribes to some dark way of looking at things. The natural suspicion is that believing that life is wretched and hopeless should lead the person to suicide, so if the person chooses instead to keep living, the person's philosophical beliefs must be phony. In fact, the philosophy I’ve been exploring on this blog, which draws from existentialism and cosmicism, among other sources, is pretty grim and iconoclastic, so does it also imply that life isn’t worth living? To anticipate the conclusion, the answer is no.

The Dark Side of Existential Cosmicism

It’s important here to distinguish between having a cause and having a reason to kill yourself. Any cause of suicide must overcome the instincts that drive us to keep going even under dire circumstances. Some people’s instinctive will to live might be stronger or weaker than that of others, so different situations may prove unbearable to different people. In any case, this question of what might cause someone to take her life differs from the question I’ll try to answer here, which is whether a melancholy worldview, and in particular the one I’ve laid out, might provide a good, which is to say, a sufficient, reason for suicide. Notice that you can have such a reason but not the cause, because your will to live may be stronger than your rational side which recognizes the logic of the reason in question. This is the basis of the criticism of melancholy individuals: their reason tells them the proper course, but they lack the courage or the intelligence to follow through, that is, to overcome the pro-life forces both in them and in society.

Now I’ll summarize what seem like the pro-death parts of my philosophy, to see whether they imply a reason for suicide. To begin with, I assume naturalistic metaphysics, according to which science tells us what the fundamental facts are, and I interpret the social relevance of that naturalism in a way influenced by Nietzsche, Thomas Ligotti, Leo Strauss, and others. So of course I assume atheism. There’s no personal God. But with Nietzsche, I assume there’s a good reason the majority of people throughout history have been theists. There are many explanations of the prevalence of theism, but the one that’s most relevant to the existential question at issue, about whether life is worth living, is that we all have an irrational side that makes us want to trust in myths and believe in something sacred. That’s why we conceive of God (and of all manner of other supernatural entities) in the first place, even as children like to play with their invisible friends. The crisis of postmodernity is that we’ve killed the God we created, because of the Enlightenment, so that now we’re left with the threat of nihilism, that is, with the feelings that nothing’s sacred and that life is absurd. This is all just standard Nietzsche. I reject, however, Nietzsche’s solution to this crisis, which is to glorify the natural impulse to cherish life because of the opportunity it gives the strong to overpower the weak. I agree with Nietzsche’s aesthetic take on viable morality, but I don’t think power for itself is a worthy goal, nor do I feel that raw natural processes are sacred.

Granted, I do think naturalism implies a kind of pantheism, according to which natural processes are supremely divine in that they’re ultimately creative. But I don’t commit the naturalistic fallacy of inferring that because something is absolutely X (in this case, creative) as a matter of fact, therefore that thing is highly good because of that fact. That hasty evaluation would leave open the questions of whether creativity ought to be valued at all and whether it should have a positive or a negative value. Perhaps nature is absolutely repulsive because of its supreme creativity, since nature creates new things by destroying old ones. Even if naturalists should worship nature, the question would remain whether they should be tree-hugging hippies or wiccans, on the one hand, or doom-and-gloom Satanists or neo-Lovecraftian cultists, on the other. I’m inclined to think either that all valuations are subjective or that nature’s authentic, most fitting value is beyond our comprehension, so that we can only project onto the universe a value that satisfies us.

In any case, I apply this quasi-religious interpretation of naturalism to politics and to other social issues. Nature creates and sustains complex life through the imposition of dominance hierarchies which lock into place innate inequalities between alphas, betas, and omegas (among other social classes). Nature also perpetuates that creation through the instinct to procreate. Nature sustains its creation of highly intelligent species, such as us, by mitigating our tendency to suffer from angst as a result of our horrifying knowledge of how godless nature works. Nature does this by making us susceptible to various noble lies or myths. Thus, we conceal the horror of politics, which is that social systems tend to succumb to biological inertia so that they express the most primitive and stable pattern of the power hierarchy. We do so by focusing on the distractions of liberal versus conservative ideologies and on mass media infotainment. And we conceal the existential horror of sexual reproduction, which is that sex reveals our animal and mechanistic aspects, the truth of atheism, and the monstrous divinity of nature. We do so by distracting ourselves with romantic fairy tales of true love and by objectifying each other in mating rituals and in the sex act, thus ignoring our greater potential and making a mockery of our modern pretension that we’re a noble, indispensible species, capable of progress through our power of reason. Finally, we conceal the myriad effects of nature’s impersonality, including much of the suffering in the world, by distracting ourselves with myths of cheap morality and personhood. According to them, we ought to be happy, the good life is one that’s full of a variety of life-affirming experiences, we ought to follow social conventions and play along with the natural processes that benefit us, and there’s such a thing as a personal self, in the first place, one that’s free to alter the natural order that opposes us.

So much for a summary of my metaphysical, religious, and social principles. Now given just that side of my worldview, let’s ask whether it implies that some people, at least, ought to kill themselves, namely those who subscribe to anything like the dark philosophy in question. This question needs to be subdivided, since in the world I’ve described there are roughly two groups of people, the conventional winners and the losers. Let’s consider the winners. You might think it’s obvious that those who are most successful, who climb to the top of the dominance hierarchy have little incentive to kill themselves because they have so much going for them. Indeed, but again I’m putting aside the matter of what causes suicide. Just because the wealthy are less likely to kill themselves, doesn’t mean they have less of a reason to do so. Of course, some winners do commit suicide such as those who rise to the top, due to their success in criminal ventures, so that when their schemes are found out they can’t live with the shame.

But more generally, we’re supposing there’s a winner in life who nevertheless subscribes to the subversive worldview I’ve summarized. In fact, that combination is plausible, since the power elites usually have abundant education, which weeds out those with naïve superstitions, and the mountains of money required for their luxurious lifestyle typically requires intimate knowledge of the real world’s squalidness, not to mention a mastery of the vices needed for advancing to higher and higher managerial positions. There’s a conflict here, then, since such a winner would have to look down on her lifestyle, from a philosophical or religious perspective, and yet she’d have to persist in living as a winner. Why not abandon her wealth and the luxuries she’d consider distractions? Or why not kill herself out of shame for the hypocrisy? Meanwhile, the losers have fewer worldly successes which the philosophy in question calls, for the most part, degrading distractions founded on delusion. Does the loser, then, have less reason for suicide?

The problem here is that there’s a clash between two evaluations of social status: there’s the conventional one and there’s the philosophical or religious one. In fact, the worldly designations, “winner” and “loser,” beg the question against the philosophy I’ve summarized. But it’s hard to be rigorously consistent in your worldview, so we can imagine that the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the successful and the unsuccessful have mixed perspectives. They have enlightened moments when they perceive the hollowness of mainstream culture, but they’re also forced to degrade themselves to fit in. And so a rich person, for example, might adopt the popular estimation of her riches, in which case she’d consider herself a winner indeed; she'd think her life is good and that it certainly shouldn’t come to an untimely end. Even a poor person who has similar flashes of insight might share the goal, at least, of becoming successful in worldly terms, and that will motivate her to endure her hardships.

Still, this speaks more to causes than to reasons. The question is whether my worldview or some similarly unconventional one implies that life isn’t worth living either for the so-called winners or the losers or both. How harsh, then, should we be on the distractions and delusions of exoteric religion, politics, sex, and personhood? Does every life tainted by these debasements and follies become good for nothing? And are there no spiritual or esoteric pleasures that make life worth living while satisfying austere existential standards? If we focus only on the summarized negative side of my worldview, we might leap to some sort of anti-life conclusion, but such a conclusion would misrepresent what I have to say. My worldview has a positive, constructive, pro-life side.

The Light Side

To wit, I advocate a secular and naturalistic version of classic asceticism, which is to speak of detachment from our base inclinations and of withdrawal from the crudest forms of dehumanization which make up the pastimes of popular, so-called advanced societies. I advocate existential revolt against aesthetically-assessed monstrosities, whether they're the wilderness of pristine nature or the clichés of animalistic behaviour. I propose that we construe morality as a branch of aesthetics and that we value creativity, gallows humour, and the ultimate goal of tragic resistance to the sources of depression for enlightened naturalists. I hold as sacred the artistic merit of originality—not just in traditional art forms, but in all areas of life. All of which implies what Nietzsche and Jesus alike call a dramatic revaluation. Jesus, the character in the Christian fiction, said the last will be first and the first will be last. This speaks to the Gnostic, mystical perception of the apparent world’s wrongness according to a secret criterion. The worldly winners are actually spiritual losers. Nietzsche turned that around and regarded Christians as resentful slaves who long to be worldly winners, so that the winners carry the day even in spiritual terms. For Nietzsche, those with enormous power can be at one with nature in something like a Daoist sense, as long as they affirm their lusts and prejudices rather than pretending they’re disembodied, supernatural beings.

I mean to synthesize classic religious asceticism with Nietzsche’s aesthetic naturalism. So I agree with Nietzsche that we shouldn’t resort to delusions; instead, I think we should suffer from knowing harsh truths about ourselves and about how the real world works. Certainly, if we long to be sadistic dominators we shouldn’t pretend we’re Ned Flanders. But power alone is vacuous, like having a car with no destination. Nietzsche, too, appreciated creativity and artistic vision, but I don’t think he was clear about their relevance to his project. As I see it, those who are truly one with mindlessly-creative nature will have artistic criteria running through the back of their mind at all times. Thus, they’ll condemn all forms of behaviour that settle too easily into unoriginal scrambles for supremacy in a dominance hierarchy, as pedestrian and unworthy of potential heroes. This philosophical artist will agree, rather, with Jesus and Schopenhauer that there’s a kind of withdrawal from natural life that’s “noble,” to use Nietzsche’s term, which is to say aesthetically elevated.

Nietzsche rejects classic asceticism because he thinks it has dubious mental causes. But psychology provides little basis for any normative evaluation, especially since all natural causes are ultimately dubious due to their undeadness, the latter being a type of monstrosity. So there’s the genetic fallacy to worry about here. Indeed, even if many worldly losers are resentful, I see the potential there for sublimation. I agree with Nietzsche that outright delusion, which is to say the lack of self-knowledge is repellant, so losers or slaves in Nietzsche’s sense, who are unaware of their true nature, are unlikely to improve on it. But if worldly losersoutsiders, introverts, melancholy artists, depressed or mentally disturbed and ostracized driftersare fully aware of their status in the natural struggle, they can recognize their weaknesses and failings and creatively overcome them. The goal isn’t conventional success, but resistance to the monstrous flow, the re-enchantment of the world through great art, and even (in a mythical sense) the vivification of the undead.

According to this naturalistic asceticism, the outsiders tend to occupy a superior spiritual position to those with abundant worldly success, because that success tends to corrupt and distract us from existential matters. If anything, then, it’s the conventional worldview, which divides people into winners and losers, depending on their evolutionary success and material wealth, that threatens people with a reason for suicide. After all, the losers in that case have little to look forward to, aside from an unrealistic chance of their material advancement. On the contrary, the resistance I speak of provides a reason to live in spite of knowing precisely the dark side of philosophical naturalism and thus the futility of most people’s hopes for worldly success. Anyone can take up some degree of classic asceticism, including the aesthetic form I maintain is consistent with naturalism, but those who suffer the most and thus who have the least in material terms are the ones most in need of some such salvation from hopelessness. Christian salvation is merely fictional since it’s supernatural, whereas human creativity is palpably real.

Moreover, I don’t imply that the deluded winners ought to commit suicide, despite the grotesqueness of the decadent lifestyle that’s celebrated by the slumbering masses. Instead, I admire the wealthy for providing the tragic heroes with a sophisticated form of clowning which lends itself to being the butt of existential comedy. (I'm only being a little facetious here.) Those who renounce many of the conventional goals need some entertainment between their bouts of subversive creativity, and one such entertainment is comedy. Wise people laugh at the follies of those who are existentially blind, that is, of those who are preoccupied with trivial, passing, and ultimately pointless matters which are nevertheless worshiped in popular culture. While the most successful among us can be well-informed, they can also be narrow-minded and deluded, especially with regard to their materialism. So were the worldly winners to suddenly do away with themselves, they would deprive the enlightened of the material for nourishing comedy, making the enlightened life that much harder to bear. And so my philosophy provides a reason for the continuation of human life, no matter what the social class.

Perhaps, though, despite my best efforts, the dark side of this worldview conflicts with the light side. For example, I speak above about the delusion of personhood, including the myth that we’re “free to alter the natural order that opposes us.” If we lack that freedom, though, how is existential, ascetic revolt possible? This conflict is resolved, I believe, because I maintain that we have limited freedom, contrary to determinists like Jerry Coyne or Scott Bakker, and I also qualify the heroic struggle by constantly reminding us that it’s tragic, which is to say that it’s doomed to fail since undead nature will have the last alien chuckle. Despite our self-control, our independence from natural processes isn’t absolute. We still need to eat and sleep, and so forth, and we all still die; that is, even enlightened people are also embodied animals. Nevertheless, our limited knowledge and autonomy allow for limited, ultimately futile defiance of nature’s decay. This resistance began unconsciously with the Neolithic Revolutions and with our species' mastery of technology, which allowed us to simulate the mythopoeic vision of an enchanted, meaningful world, by replacing the wilderness with the cityscape.

Enlightenment is a matter of becoming clear on the monstrosity of the underlying processes, of suffering from alienation because of that knowledge, and of creatively making the best of that predicament. All of our creations will presumably come to naught in the end. Our cities, our traditional artworks, our writings and ideas will be replaced and forgotten until our species too is extinguished. This blog’s philosophical rants over which I’ve labored will presumably be entirely forgotten in just a number of decades at most, once its relatively small readership passes away. Eventually, no life forms will remain in the universe even to forget the lot of us. I affirm the likelihood of this tragic end of life. Understanding that bitter truth may cause some people to commit suicide, but I think there’s a reason to keep going even under the circumstances. Struggling while we can against the undead processes that will destroy us, by mentally or physically withdrawing from dominance hierarchies and stoically shutting down the instincts that enslave us puts our mark on the world. While we're obviously undone in death, our having made the mark can’t be undone. True, eventually no one will know that some animals awoke, became disgusted by the natural world, and strove to wipe out the wilderness both in the undead landscape and in their primitive impulses. But the undead god will have felt our wrath. We won’t have been mere puppets that went down without even putting up a fight. We will have done the best we could, and participating in that epic resistance gives meaning to life even in the worst-case scenario.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that,"If anything, then, it’s the conventional worldview, which divides people into winners and losers, depending on their evolutionary success and material wealth, that threatens people with a reason for suicide." Your particular worldview is depressing only when compared to the delusional religious or new-age worldviews that guarantee some form of ultimate victory within the mundane realm through transcendent channels (i.e. they are the conventional worldview with a fake winning lottery ticket taped to it). As someone who struggles with mental illness, and often wonders if his worldview directly contributes to it, I really appreciate you writing this article. I used to think that I also had an existentialist/cosmicist worldview but reading your article helped me to realize that my particular worldview has simply been the conventional worldview (sans fake winning lottery ticket) for many years now and is why I consider myself a complete loser and find life to be devoid of all meaning (for what meaning can my life have if I have very little earning potential and will likely die poor and then become nothing?). It is clear to me now that I need to further explore what implications for meaning revolt against the Undead God can offer me in my struggles against depression and agoraphobia. Thank you.

    1. You're very welcome. I'm not an expert on suicide, so none of this should count as professional advice. But I think suicide is for those who give up because they can't get what they most want. So whether someone commits suicide depends on what the person wants. If someone longs for material wealth or at least financial independence or security, but she's one of the millions who will struggle with these signs of worldly success, maybe she should change her perspective to find some other part of life to appreciate, as opposed to merely inheriting conventional values. I'm not saying we should stop trying to make money. Different people may find different ways to detach from the more degrading aspects of natural life. But we can at least change our perspective so we don't hold as sacred something that's likely to be far removed from us, such as celebrity or wealth. (Next Monday’s article will look at stoic and Buddhist detachment, which are relevant here.)

      There have always been social outsiders, many of whom have had mental issues. Some of them are just introverted or unlucky or cursed with certain personal weaknesses. And some of them kill themselves because they see no value in their life. My view is that there's value in all human life as long as we look at it with the right philosophical assumptions in mind. I try to be very realistic, but then on top of the naturalism and the atheism, and so on, there's a consistent sort of religious or at least aesthetic take on things which I think can comfort outsiders and "losers."

      Of course, if death is the issue, death makes all life absurd, since no matter how much you've earned or how many possessions you have or friends you've made, death will wipe all of that away. Most people cope with that reality by turning to unrealistic theism, as you say. I'm exploring a more realistic way of coping with it, by looking at a naturalistic religion, which I’ve called an unembarrassing postmodern one.

      As for mental illnesses, I have experience with them too. I wouldn't worry so much about whether a worldview is influenced by mental illness, unless the worldview is utterly divorced from reality. Normal worldviews are influenced by normal mental conditions, so does that bit of causality undermine them? It's all just causality, so the question is what utility is offered by the effect of some mental state. Some mental states are debilitating, such as extreme forms of mental illness. But some so-called normal mental states are also self-destructive, such as Western individualism, which is destroying the planet’s ecosystem.

      Again, I’m not a medical professional, so none of what I say here should count as professional advice. But I think some mental illnesses may be gifts in that they force a person to stand apart from society and see it for what it really is. You gain an esoteric perspective on things. I’ve written about this in a few other articles which you might be interested in:




    2. Your comment parallels a view on depression that has gained a lot more attention in recent years...

      Here is an article by a medical professional on the subject: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201206/depressive-realism

      I think my own fears about the future come not from an inability to acquire vast amounts of wealth but from not being able to make ends meet. Here in the U.S. you are always one paycheck or medical emergency away from homelessness unless you are sufficiently financially stable. So it is more a fear of being destitute that seems to drive suicide than a denial of the wish to acquire the things we hold sacred as a culture like celebrity or wealth. Also, without a decent financial support structure it is easy to get caught in the cycle of poverty and mental illness which only exacerbates the fear: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/11/02/the-vicious-cycle-of-poverty-and-mental-health/

      Of course, as you say, this fear, and the mental illnesses that buttress it, comes with distinct benefits as it makes one much more empathetic to the plight of others and also more acutely aware of the precariousness of achievement in society. Even if I had once held a top position at a law firm, I would now be in exactly the same place given that depression and agoraphobia/panic attacks do not discriminate between rich and poor. In fact, I might be in a worse position because I would have massive college debt on top of not being able to leave the house. This knowledge makes me realize that the idea that everyone has the power to achieve anything they want is an illusion because individuals are an ongoing biological process instead of a solid entity which they themselves author.

      As Sam Harris lucidly states in his latest book on free will:

      Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn't choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime - by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?

    3. Great comments, Mikhail. Those articles are really on point. I'm sure you're right that poverty and the fear of homelessness can lead to suicide. Would an uplifting worldview sustain a homeless person or counter the shame or the mental illness to keep the person going? There's an East-West divide here. In Eastern cultures there's a more positive role for homeless people in that they can become monks or gurus. At least traditionally, their societies supported monasteries and honoured the decision to renounce material wealth. Of course, this doesn't account for involuntarily poor people. But in the West, prisons replace monasteries. Homeless people and the mentally ill are left to rot because Western societies worship material things, not anything transcendent or supernatural, the hollow theistic rhetoric notwithstanding. (I'm planning a satirical news report on a mentally ill person who goes on a shooting spree in the US to punish Americans for this state of affairs.)

      Naturally, I hope things turn around for you. I'm only writing a blog here to help social outsiders and skeptics feel better about their role in the world. Obviously this doesn't take care of the body's basic needs (food, shelter, and so on). I've speculated elsewhere about how cool it would be if pessimists, skeptics, and esoteric cosmicists came together and formed an NGO to help look after poor people who are on the verge of enlightenment. Hindus and Buddhists have this infrastructure, but there's no naturalistic version apart from the secular homeless shelters with their liberal humanistic philosophy that has no spiritual depth in our postmodern era.

      As for freewill, I wouldn't trust Sam Harris too much. I like his ability to explain things and he's good in a debate on atheism, but I reject his science of morality and his determinism. Determinism made more sense in the old mechanistic, clockwork theory of nature. It all comes down to whether causality is airtight. Science deals now in probabilities, not necessities--and not even at the most fundamental level of matter. So the background here is more indeterministic than deterministic. Instead of laws of nature we have scientific models.

      In any case, our brain and our use of language evidently give us limited control over our inner processes and our bodies. There's a feedback loop in the brain, resulting from the super-fast and complex neural activity, that cuts the causal chains that would otherwise bind us to our past. When we think hard and abstractly about what to do, we can sometimes go either way, regardless of our desires. This freedom is limited, though, and perhaps even rare, because our bodies are indeed biological machines.

      I see your point that we're not a "solid entity" in the sense of an absolutely autonomous and supernatural spirit. But I think abstract thought simulates that sort of entity in the brain. It's like a virtual machine or an emulator program. I've written more about this here:


      See also the first section of this article:


  2. interesting post, as a cleaner of suicides I find reading about post like yours informative to my work.

    1. Well, I'm not a social worker or a professional in the field. I'm just opposed to suicide even though in some ways I'm also opposed to life, or at least to Western norms for how to live.

      If I understand your job correctly, I'd think it must be a pretty sad one. If you have to deal with the aftermath of suicides, I wonder how you keep yourself together.

  3. I appreciate this more balanced look at Nietzsche, some of your posts make it seem as if you are a Nietzsche worshiper. I enjoy his philosophy aside from his nature/life embracing. To embrace any aspect of nature is to embrace blind/dumb forces, the same forces that led to brilliant creatures like the Elephant, an animal with a long snotty nose that it uses to breath, and put food it it's mouth! I'm always amazed that so few philosophers see the flaw in Nietzsche's worldview. I've been interested in philosophy for years, and the older I get the more I think Lovecraft was closer to the truth than most want to admit. As for suicide, the main reason for the rational person to avoid it, is how it affects loved ones.

    1. I think I've criticized Nietzsche a little in other articles, but usually I've just referred to his name now and again, because the spirit of his philosophy is so relevant to what I'm doing. He wasn't a systematic thinker, he wrote in aphorisms, he took up multiple perspectives, and he sometimes wrote just to challenge his reader, so it would be foolish to follow everything he says. I agree more with his diagnosis of the essential problem of modernity, not so much with his solution to it nor with his genealogical method of explanation (it amounts to the telling of just-so stories).

      Nietzsche saw the need for a revolutionary postmodern period, since he saw people had become disenchanted with the modern myths--not just for romantic reasons but for naturalistic, Darwinian ones. He saw that we're fundamentally animals, regardless of our pretensions to the contrary. But we're animals with the potential for greatness through uplifting art, especially through myths like that of the will to power. That particular myth doesn't do it for me. But Nietzsche's reflections on the meaning of atheism are far superior to the blase approach of the New Atheists ("There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life"). If Nietzsche was the atheist's prophet, the New Atheists are the politicians. The medium of Nietzsche's message was more important to me than its content.

  4. One may wonder why pessimistic thinkers like Schopenhahuer and Cioran didn't kill themselves.

    Cioran said "It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late." And "Only optimists commit suicide, optimists who no longer succeed at being optimists. The others, having no reason to live, why would they have any to die?"

    Pessimism does not entail suicide. We keep on living because we want to. There is no need for reasons for living, no need for hero role play. In an absurd world there is no escape from the absurd. Suicide is no escape, it may erase your problems but it erases you.

    We are just killing time before time kills us. How hard can it be?

    "The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised." George Will

    As Schopenhauer, I find comfort in looking at the world as a penitentiary, a sort of a penal colony [Greek: ergastaerion].

    If you accustom yourself to this view of life you will regulate your expectations accordingly, you will find that everything is as it should be, in a world where each of us pays the penalty of existence in his own peculiar way. And amongst the evils of a penal colony is the society of those who form it, as any pessimist can attest. [Schopenhauer: Studies in Pessimism]

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ardegas. Cioran makes a good point but I think the sort of pessimist he's talking about is the clinically depressed person who isn't interested in reasons for anything. This sort of person just sleepwalks through everything, without caring. That's why Cioran says the pessimist has a reason neither for life nor for death. But my discussion of suicide here is premised not on mental illness, but on philosophical naturalism.

      I agree that, metaphysically speaking, the world is absurd. There's no objective meaning at the bottom of the universe. Still, subjective meanings don't amount to just role plays. To me, the decisive proof of the reality of this illusion, as Scott Bakker calls it, is the spread of technology and of the cityscape. Technology is full of subjective meanings (functions, intentions, etc), and those meanings are real. This millennia-old attempt to replace the natural world with an artificial one represents an uncanny anomaly, not just a Newtonian (mechanistic) reaction to an action, but a revolt against natural forces by a stubborn product of those very forces. We're witnessing here a sort of insolence.

      So I agree there's no ultimate escape from the prison house, but our prisons have windows and we can look through them and imagine alternatives. Moreover, we can reach out of those windows and build things that fulfill our ideals. Our worldviews and cityscapes and social systems and other artworks challenge nature-as-wilderness. Our subjective meanings are metaphysically natural, like everything else, but the artificiality is a mysterious emergence, an anomalous growth that eats into the wilderness and transforms it into a world that better reflects the contents of our mind. Our mentalization of the outer world isn't merely apparent; technology and all our other insolent creations are real and I think they make for an epic adventure and thus for a reason to live.

  5. What's so bad about being an animal?

    1. The Garden of Eden myth addresses this question and tells us pretty much everything we need to know about it. Animals are blessed with ignorance but they're slaves. Language and knowledge free us with limited independence, but curse us with higher dimensions of suffering, such as the existential kind. So there are advantages and disadvantages either way. Many people flee from our responsibilities as godlike persons who have transcended much of our animalistic nature. Those people are called existentially inauthentic.

  6. I would think that Benjamin means something like ' son of faith' in the original Hebrew, which I think is wasted on you (except for the irony that can be won and profited from the jaws of absurdity). Anyway I don't know how you manage to be so cogent, so recondite, without being condescending, pedantic, sanctimonious or dogmatic. It's like you're as nihilist as most christians are christlike. Heck, youre a better christian than most, for seeing the OVERRIDING mythical aspect as the gnostics intended! Sometimes I skip the articles and read the comments.I have pdfs 1 n 2 for the other times.... been digestin 1 for a year, just thought it's bout time someone told you how your mind shines like a beacon in the internet, and indeed the outerverse.

    1. Thank you very much, Anon. Unfortunately, I don't take compliments well. But I'm glad you get something out of my writings. Soon, I plan to make videos on YouTube, so we'll see how that goes...

  7. What are your thoughts on Absurdism?

    1. I think naturalism implies some kind of absurdism, since meaning must then be subjective and therefore limited to the artificial worlds we produce. The rest of the universe is meaningless. I've toyed with the idea that aesthetic patterns are objective so that if the universe ends badly, there's always been a tragedy baked into natural changes. But the value component still seems subjective.

      Also, cosmicism or mysterianism is close to absurdism, since both maintain that the world extends beyond the limits of our cognitive powers. Thus, however hard we try to understand everything, our theories will be imperfect and the unknown will seem meaningless or magical to us.

      Kierkegaard was an absurdist, which is why he argued that faith is more important than technical philosophical arguments when it comes to deciding upon a worldview. I think there's something to that, and this informs my critique of new atheism.

  8. Translated into Greek here. Admittedly, my own readership had started to wonder whether the darker aspects of Cosmicism might be cause for suicide. Perhaps this article was a couple of years overdue? :-)

    1. Thanks very much for translating it. Yeah, I had to think for a while how I wanted to answer this question, because it's obviously a serious one. This article also ends up summarizing much of my blog.

  9. I don't really see any heroic worth or otherwise in what seems to be a pointless struggle against the infinitely more powerful forces of the cosmos. I understand and respect your position for the creative potential of the individuals, but I don't personally see that as reason enough to sway against suicide in the case of what you deem the enlightened person. I find the universe overwhelmingly more horrifying and honestly can't blame anyone for succumbing to suicide in the light of the harsh reality. I think what you call omegas are no better than alphas or betas, aesthetically speaking, because aesthetics really don't mean anything in the end. We're all doomed and fated to die, swayed by forces outside of our control, even if those forces come from our supposedly higher selves. It's all just novelty and distraction until we die. High and low art are just words in the end. Any artifice is just that, another artifice. Maybe more pleasing to a select group, but still an artifice. I do appreciate the fact that these artifices can help us cope with these depressing facts, but it just doesn't seem like enough to justify it as some sort of tragic heroism and not just another insignificant artifice.

    1. I understand that the cosmos will very likely beat us all in the end, unless the most extravagant accounts of transhumanism prove to be correct, which is doubtful but not impossible. That's why it's only tragic heroism that's at issue, meaning heroism that's doomed.

      I doubt these philosophical matters have much to do with those who actually kill themselves. Instead, those who commit suicide are usually entangled in concrete personal problems such as money or family troubles, and they're too embarrassed or see no way out. Alternatively, they may suffer from mental illness. So abstract melancholic musings have little to do with actual suicidal thoughts.

      That's why I wouldn't blame those who commit suicide for failing to have a better personal philosophy, because philosophy or even religion has little to do with it. Instead, I'd feel sad for the person. I'd pity the person for losing out in life, and I'd be further alienated from the natural world that runs itself in this fashion.

      As for omegas being like alphas and betas, remember that these are just short-form labels. But my point about those divisions is that they reflect different potentials, not actualities. So I'm not saying omegas are all enlightened, whereas all betas are fools. I'm saying omega status represents an opportunity for enlightenment which betas typically lack.

      Is it all just novelty and distraction until we die? From the cosmic perspective, nothing we do matters in the end. But from a human perspective, there are indeed better and worse lives. The question is which human perspective is best. My aesthetic take on pantheism is meant to be consistent with philosophical naturalism, so I argue it's stronger than many other worldviews. According to that pantheism, some kinds of creativity are noble and heroic, while the average beta life is spiritually subhuman.

      Many heroic acts go unreported so no one knows about them, but that doesn't mean they don't happen or have no value. They may have no positive consequence, but that's crucial only if you're a consequentialist about morality (as in a utilitarian). My take on morality doesn't assume that framework.

    2. I suppose I just don't see why in light of these facts, we should just put on our metaphysical capes and pretend we're philosophical superheroes for rebelling against nothing in the first place. I think one form of escapism is just as good as the next. And yes, I think even you're idea of an embarrassing postmodern religion and ideas of becoming something above human through means of creation is just another form of escapism, which while seeming to accept what we've observed so far about the universe, still is caught up in its own sort of escapist fiction. I understand that you believe human beings thrive on these fictions, and I agree in many ways, but I think propping yours up as something nobler and not just another form of escapism is dishonest. It may be a form of escapism that's closer to the perceived facts, but I don't think it quite takes the cake. I find it very interesting nonetheless that someone with a worldview as dreary as yours can still try as hard as you do to find some sort of justification for the continuation of sentient life. I suppose that's just what we're wired to do though and that along with concerns about how it would affect the people around me and the obvious instinctual aversion to death are why I haven't committed suicide quite yet, but we'll see.

  10. Not that you have any obligation, but if you can't sway the most pessimistic of us, who've decided that life is not worth living for whatever reason and have accepted all of the scientific facts that you have, I don't think your philosophy holds up any more weight than any other postmodern philosophy that justifies life.

    1. Not to say that the pessimist are absolutely correct either, but I certainly think they're much more realistic, eschewing the notion of any sort of heroism or higher purpose altogether.

    2. And I feel as if you're going to counter my point by saying the pessimist's view is clouded by depression, mental illness, bad life experiences, etc. But I could just as easily counter that your view is clouded by your appreciation of existential authenticity or art, which by my measurement, are just forms of escapism from the truth that it's all meaningless in the end no matter how brave we feel we're being for defying those forces because we, including our "higher selves," are just mere puppets to these forces. The pessimist feels no need to prop themselves up with some sort of personal transcendent value. We're all in the muck, as far as their concerned. I know my posts come off as aggressive or condescending, but I'm merely just trying to see if you can convince me otherwise because I find your view insanely fascinating, but it still doesn't currently amount to much when it comes down the bones of it.

    3. Well, I haven't been trying to sway you from pessimism or even from suicidal thoughts. I've only been answering your questions in a mere comment section on my blog. Also, I wouldn't think of trying to talk a stranger out of suicide, because I'm not a therapist and as I said, I think suicidal thoughts are caused much more by specific life problems than by abstract philosophical ones. So I'd have to know all about your personal situation to even begin talking about that, and my blog isn't the appropriate venue for that kind of discussion in any case.

      Since you feel strongly about the important philosophical issues, though, I invite you to an email discussion with me. You can argue on behalf of the pessimist against the meaning or value of continuing human life, and you can criticize my blog's viewpoint, perhaps focusing on whether there is indeed a difference between noble, heroic lifestyles and mere escapist ones. I'd argue against your position. Then I'd share the discussion by posting it on my blog.

      You can email me through the contact section of this blog (if you're looking at it in the non-mobile version). Of use this email address: rantswithintheundeadgodATgmailDOTcom (replace the "AT" and "DOT" with the appropriate symbols), and we can arrange the details.

    4. I've sent you an email. I want to apologize to you and the viewers of your blog for posting my own personal reasons for not committing suicide in the comments. It was not relevant to the discussion and inappropriate. It was rather foolish of me to try and stage some sort of long debate through the comment section here, but I hope if we do end up debating that it is of some use to you or your viewers. Cheers!

  11. Hi Benjamin and Anonynous

    Appologyse for coming so late but only today I read this blog and the follow up comments so,
    Is this old conversation with Anonymous followed up somewhere else? I was interesting about any arguments put forward against nihilism from that last post onwards please, if any

    1. It was followed up by email but it didn't go far. I invited him to a written debate that I could post on my blog. But from my records, although he appeared eager at first, he didn't take me up on the offer. If we'd have had the debate, I'd have posted it on my blog. I'll post below the emails as far as they went.

      I've written about nihilism in a number of contexts. It depends how nihilism's defined. Does it mean there are no values at all or just no objective ones? And if there are subjective values, can they make life worth living? Another part of my response to nihilism is my account of pantheism and aesthetic values. I have an article on this coming out within a couple of weeks. It's called "The Inherent Value of a Godless Universe: How aesthetics trumps morality in the search for objective values."

    2. ANON: I'm just following up to your latest response to my various comments on your blog. In hindsight, it seems rather silly of me to try and stage some sort of debate there, but I'd be happy if you'd like to have a more formal debate through whatever medium is convenient for you. I also want to apologize for injecting my own personal reasons for avoiding suicide in the comments on your blog. It was not relevant to the discussion and inappropriate. Either way, I'd be very excited to debate with you whenever you have the time. Hope this reaches you well!

      BEN: Sure, I enjoy philosophical dialogs/debates. Please write to this email address, though, which I check more often:___

      I don't know if you read my recent debate with the philosophical theist, but that's the sort of exchange I'd like to go for in terms of the structure. We could each write an opening statement and then respond back and forth to those statements and to the following replies until we start repeating ourselves or the debate seems to be winding down. Shall we say around two pages (single spaced) maximum per entry? If you like, we can impose at the outset a maximum number of replies plus a concluding comment.

      As for the proposition we'll be considering, how about this one: Human life is absurd in that all human ways of life are equally degrading, pitiful, or deluded, and so if anything, suicide is the logical and even the most noble and heroic course of action.

      So you'd be affirming and I'd be denying. Feel free to suggest a different proposition or some other stipulations. I'd like to stipulate that we should focus on the philosophical issues and not wander into any personal attack. We can talk about hypotheticals or thought experiments, to make concrete points, but let's not engage in any ad hominem. Also, I might need to refer to you in my replies, so is there a name or a pseudonym I can use for you?

      By the way, though, if you do sometimes feel suicidal I hope you get some help. I suppose I'll do my best when it comes to this philosophical discussion, but as I said, I don't claim to be a therapist and I don't intend to write about you personally.

    3. ANON: As far as pseudonyms go, Zach should suffice. I'm not sure I can argue for that proposition, as I don't think of personal suicide as the most logical or even noble course of action in every single case, but I do think that every individual has a right to decide that for themselves. Personally, I'd encourage an extreme amount of thought and consideration before you perform what for all intents and purposes is an irreversible action that may have several consequences affecting the invidual and the others around them and I think they are justified in at least making that decision, but I don't think it's 100% the case every time. I think it should be treated on a case by case basis. I know this somewhat conflicts with my antinatalist stance, but I have no illusions that my personal philosophy will ever take route, at least in my lifetime, so I prefer to think of suicide on the small scale, rather than the larger scale of what you probably view the position as humanity's suicide. Obviously, I take great issue with the creation of new life, sentient or otherwise, and I think in the event of a large scale acceptance of antinatalism we would see a lot of suicide, but even in the adoption of myself, people may choose to live or die for other reasons that may or may not be rational depending on how you view things. One counterpoint that I have thought about myself is that since humanity seems to be the most capable form of life we've observed so far, that we may have a duty to be stewards and carry on the species despite the suffering, but I take issue with using any individual as a means to an end that none of us can seem to agree on. I don't think we should be morally obligated to create new beings, who will most likely suffer one way or another, to make a brighter future for other lifeforms because we never asked to be the top of the food chain in the first place. I'd have no problem with individuals continuing to live or die at their choosing in the event that antinatalism was widespread, I'd just take issue with creating new life for what ultimately amounts to nothing in the end. There are a myriad of reasons why an individual would or would not commit suicide, a lot that they may not even be concious of in the first place, but that's why I think it should be given a lot of thought and consideration before that decision is made.

      Also, apologies for any spelling or grammatical errors on my part. I really should double check after write, as apparent throughout all of my comments on your blog haha.

    4. BEN: Alright, then let's leave suicide out of this discussion, because I'd agree that people have the right to commit suicide and even that under certain extreme conditions suicide may be the best course of action. But it depends on the individual's circumstances, so it's complicated.
      I think we still disagree on the first half of the proposition, meaning that it would make for a good dialogue/debate: "Human life is absurd in that all human ways of life are equally degrading, pitiful, or deluded." If you want, we can add antinatalism rather than suicide as an issue that develops from that first point, so the proposition might be: "Human life is absurd in that all human ways of life are equally degrading, pitiful, or deluded, and so it's immoral to keep creating new generations of people who will suffer like the rest of us for no good reason."

      Alternatively, we can leave out antinatalism and just focus on the first part of the proposition.

      As to spelling and grammar, I did some light editing in my exchange with the philosophical theist before posting it to my blog, because English isn't his first language. If there are typos or grammatical mistakes in any of our posts, I'll try to fix them before putting the debate up on the blog. But if you could give your posts a once-over, that might save me some work.

      Again, though, I'd like to transfer this thread over to my other email address, which I check more frequently. So if you wouldn't mind, please email your response to this email to:____

      BEN: If you'd still like to have the email exchange, you can just reply to this email, which includes the most recent proposal of the proposition to debate, and which is sent from my preferred email address. I'd need some confirmation that the proposition works for you, before I'd write up my opening statement.

      [And that’s where the email trail goes cold, as far as I can tell. For whatever reason, he never responded to that email.]