3.13.2009

Tinhorn Nihilism

I read this article in the NYTimes the other day and it got me to thinkin'.

The short version of the article is the author's skepticism about "mindfulness," the practice of elevating your consciousness in such a way that you try to be at peace with everything around you. She notes that it's boring and kind of annoying to deal with in other people, since they're "elevating" themselves right out of the social context in which we relate to one another. In other words, it's precisely because we're all stuck on this spinning rock together, dealing with life's essential pathos, that we can be friends. If one of us levitates away into a self-contained imaginary Eden, it's less inspiring than it is irritating.

I have two points about this:

1. It reminds me of (surprise!) what the existentialists had to say about Buddhism, that it represented a kind of peaceful life-denying nihilism. According to Sartre and co., it is precisely in "engagement" that we live and form values, and thus a whole religion/philosophy based on disengaging is antithetical to what it means to be alive.

2. Either way, it's through a kind of life-hating but not life-denying nihilism that I feel like I'm able to relate to people. I buy the article, in other words. It's because everyone else is tired and drunk and poor and bitter that I feel like I have a context and I feel like I'm not alone. When I encounter people who are trying too hard to use the power of positive thinking to turn things around I want to shock them with an exposed wire and scream "Look around you! Things are terrible! Now come join me for a cocktail!" It's not that we shouldn't try to improve things, it's that there's a kind of banal willed ignorance in going to your happy place instead of trying to confront things in their ugly reality.

Along these lines, I would totally start smoking at 30 if that wasn't the stupidest idea anyone has ever had (a) and B wouldn't save me some time by killing me if I did that (b), because I have come to admire the philosophical project implied in the practice of smoking. Also, people look cool when they smoke.

P.S. This sentence made it into the draft of my dissertation today and I laughed a LOT: "Without a political program, workers were beggars at capital's door, whereas with one, they were potential home invaders." Can I keep it? It followed me home!

1 comment:

becky said...

that is funny. this reminds me of an argument that i used to have with a certain ex-boyfriend about why his constant search for enlightenment was not only boring, but pointless and wasting perfectly good time he could be spending actually enjoying (rather then feeling guilty about) all the booze and sex and tv and cigarettes and friends.
life is both terrible, and worth commiserating about, and awesome, and worth appreciating rather then denying it's validity and claiming it is all an illusion.
i'm going to go open a bottle of wine now dammit.