I’ve often mentioned a popular neoreactionary metaphor, the “red pill” (in fact I did so just two posts ago). Now, with a hat-tip to the latest edition of Nick Steves’ weekly roundup, we offer you an essay by Brett Stevens about another existential medicament: the black pill.
What is the black pill? In a word, it’s nihilism.
Nihilism is a topic I’ve also mentioned often in here. It lies in wait everywhere alongside the naturalistic path, and a panoramic view of its yawning abyss awaits every traveler who follows that path all the way to its end. I’ve stared into that chasm for a very long time now. I have formed some conclusions about it.
One of those conclusions is that the abyss is where the naturalistic path goes. There is no bridge at the end: the abyss is so deep that there is no place you could put the pilings, and anyway, there’s nothing on the other side. (Think of the “Troll’s Tongue”, below, but without the scenery.)
Nevertheless, I’ve always rejected nihilism in the form it’s usually presented — which is as an excuse, if not an outright mandate, for presentism, hedonism, relativism, anomie, and the other mortal afflictions of the modern secular West. It’s hard to stare at the Void for long without feeling the chill of meaninglessness, and despair, seeping up out of its bottomless darkness. You need warm socks.
I don’t like meaninglessness, and I see no upside in despair. But here I am, standing on the Troll’s Tongue, cantilevered way out over, well, nothing. I have a feeling many of you are too.
Well, buck up. The happy fact is that we have a world to live in, and a pretty nice one, too. We find ourselves in useful bodies, with clever brains. We are exquisitely adapted and configured to model the world around us in ways that enable us to flourish and prosper — and what’s more, we’re bright enough to understand, if we make the effort, just what makes us flourish, and why. There is beauty in the world, and wisdom, and good food and drink, and children and families and communities, and there are stories to tell and songs to sing. In times of doubt and confusion, we have the guidance of conscience and tradition to help us build organic societies that are harmonious with the varieties of our nature. Above all, there is Love, in all its forms.
If naturalism is right — if the abyss is real — then we get to choose what to do with that enormous fact. Yes, we can choose to despair, if we like — but we can just as well choose not to. Despair is crippling, it is painful, and above all, it is pointless.
For those with the capacity to understand it correctly, what seeps out of the abyss is not despair, but liberty. With liberty comes responsibility, because what we do is entirely up to us. And with responsibility come meaning, and purpose, and duty, and all the things we thought we had lost.
Read Mr. Stevens’ article here.