After Nihilism

“Behind” and “beneath” all the seemingly happy glitz and glitter of Late Modernity lies something quite sinister that will bring all the vain triumphalism of the “end of history” to naught. In fact, I would say that the “end of history” was even a piece of collective self-deception in that regard – a diversion, and perhaps even a cowardly one — and of a piece with the more general Zeitgeist of delusion and denialism. There is, in Fukuyama’s celebrated End of History and the Last Man, even the occasional slip-up that suggests Fukuyama knew at some level that his thesis of the final triumph of the Modern Era and of liberal democracy was counter-factual, little more than a “noble lie” to serve the ideological and power agenda of his confrères in the neo-conservative movement, who later congealed in The Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

The “end of history” nonetheless fed the idea and justification for “the new normal” and they mutually reinforced each other to obscure the blindingly obvious — that we were in the very midst of Nietzsche’s forecast of “two centuries of nihilism”. “End of history” and “the new normal” were nothing but this nihilism of a civilisation grown weary and now in the process of devouring itself from the inside out.

The “end of history” and “the new normal” colluded to provide a kind of political legitimacy and justification for the new political formations and their claims to power — neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, neo-socialism. The new “consensus” was called “the end of ideology”, but that, too, was a piece of obfuscation designed to hide the fact that the political formations of “the new normal” had jettisoned the very core principles and rationales that defined them historically as “conservative”, “liberal” or “socialist”. Those who continued to cling to the old values and ideals were dismissed and denounced as “paleos”.

What is the “new normal” then? A devaluation of values. A self-negation. A self-contradiction. An abandonment of standards. In short, nihilism that comes wearing a mask, masquerading as the opposite of what it is. Behind the mask of civility lurks the spirit of malice: “the gloves come off” was simply this spirit of malice — this nihilism — asserting itself, the clutching, grasping hand, the iron fist that had previously worn the velvet glove.

And it came espousing a new doctrine of justification and a rationale as self-contradictory and as nihilistic as itself — “creative destruction”. “Creative destruction” is, indeed, the law and essence of “the new normal” — a devaluation of values, but which comes also justifying itself as “progress”.

However, we should understand this for what it is, in effect — a nihilism through and through, a symptom of decadence, the signs of a consciousness structure — a civilisation — now disintegrating into incoherence.

Hitherto, conservatism and liberalism gave form and direction to the Modern Era. They represented, as it were, the boundaries of the Age and its mode of consciousness. Conservatism gave form or structure to the Age, while liberalism provided its direction. This is the simplest way to understand the political question — conservatism conserves the form, liberalism supplies the direction, for society. Together, conservatism and liberalism gave structure and direction to the Modern Age, the one through the principle of conservation, the other through the principle of universality.

These values — conservation and universality — are precisely the core values that the “neos” have jettisoned, but they were the values that gave structure with direction — coherence — to the civilisation of the Modern Era. But because they have denied their own core principles (the “vital centre”), society of Late Modernity (or post-modernity) has neither coherent structure nor direction. The proof of that is the environmental crisis combined with the increasing inequality that goes by the term “democratic deficit” — the crisis of democracy.

This “liquifaction” of the Age is, in effect, the dis-integration of its consciousness structure. And the disintegration of its consciousness structure manifests as double-standard, double-talk, double-think, and ultimately double-bind. These are symptoms of a civilisation in the process of negating itself in self-contradiction. As per Nietzsche’s succinct formula for nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”, the “new normal” is therefore in effect this same devaluation of values, ergo nihilism.  This nihilism is what Eric Kahler calls “the breakdown of the human form” in his book The Tower and the Abyss. “Dehumanisation” is another name for that nihilism.

This nihilism is, in effect, Nietzsche’s “abyss” over which the tight-rope walker must pass in his Zarathustra, the thin rope being the passage from “man” to “overman”, or from the “all-too-human” to the transhuman — the type that survives his “two centuries of nihilism” and succeeds in carving a new world out of the abyss through a “revaluation of values” — a new consciousness, in effect.


Hence, the “double movement” of our times — alongside this devaluation of values is a corresponding revaluation of values. That is the meaning of “the integral consciousness”, even as it manifests itself in terms of “the overview effect” discussed previously.

“Dehumanisation” is, in fact, a very ambiguous term. It can point towards the inhuman or it can point towards the transhuman, and that is, in essence, the character of the “double-movement” of our time. Kahler’s “breakdown of the human form” can lead to either outcome: brutalisation or transcendence. That’s the nature of the crossroads we have reached today for all crisis is a crossroads.

The “keys to the kingdom” is code for those values and virtues that lead from the “all-too-human” to the transhuman. These keys are not the famous “10 commandments”, by the way. Your life’s quest is these keys. That’s a pretty exciting quest, in fact.



11 responses to “After Nihilism”

  1. alex jay says :

    “There is, in Fukuyama’s celebrated End of History and the Last Man, even the occasional slip-up that suggests Fukuyama knew at some level that his thesis of the final triumph of the Modern Era and of liberal democracy was counter-factual, little more than a “noble lie” to serve the ideological and power agenda of his confrères in the neo-conservative movement, who later congealed in The Project for the New American Century (PNAC).”

    Purposely ignoring PNAC (don’t get me going on that!), the “End of History” or Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” are most certainly the last death rattles of a corrupted – nihilistic – consciousness. I’ve recently been glossing over some more current signals that might point towards the paradigm shift you write about from other directions. Needless to say, I don’t agree with some of the details (“Doubting Thomas” is my name, scepticism is my game). However, the general concepts of “flexible citizenship” and “cultural citizenship” resound favourably in my gut and mind. To that exent, as imperfect as they are, I’ll share the work of two leading anthropoligists with a planetary perspective (I hate the term “globalist” as it has become a term of derision connected to corporatism). I was also going to provide a counter from a paleo-conservative, Dr. Darrell Y. Hamamoto’s perspective just to balance things, but that would be too long winded, as the two links will take up enough time.

    Aihwa Ong — “Flexible Citizenhip”:

    Renato Roslado — Cultural Ciizenship

    Both these point to a space-time inter-culturalism, rather than a fragmented multi-culturalism … with reservations in terms of their applicability in this present time of insanity.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks. I’ll have a look at these in more detail.

      Rosenstock-Huessy’s definition of “citizen” is pertinent here. A citizen, he wrote, is someone capable of founding a new city. That’s a pretty curious definition from someone who self-identified as (small-c) “conservative”. It’s actually the option of the revolutionary to found “new cities”. But Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy is rooted in what we have been referring to as “coincidentia oppositorum” — his very method of “synchronising antagonistic distemporaries” is this same process. He admits the paradox into his thinking. “Life is paradoxical because life is in process” is very Heraclitean thinking, and allows for enantiodromia (Jung’s interpretation of “coincidentia oppositorum”).

      A real citizen is a paradox, therefore, as noted in this post — one who succeeds in embodying form (or structure) with direction.

      The dubious status of “the citizen” in our time is confusion — we have gone from Nietzsche’s “good European” (as opposed to the nationalist) to notions of a planetary civilisation and the issue of “global citizenship” in such a civilisation. This is Pico Iyer’s “Global Soul” and these various attempts (as your links represent) to sort out the meaning of “citizen” in this new context is really an attempt to determine where one’s loyalties and duties really lie or should lie. They often aren’t so much attempts to define “citizen” as to define “loyalty” — race? nation? Earth? Life? God? etc. And, of course, with that also, the penalties of disloyalty.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    “Loyality” and “royalty” and “legality” are all connected terms, and they do reveal something quite significant about the structure of consciousness. I should really post something about nihilism as the dissolution of old loyalties — a loosening of the bonds or ties that bind. This might make the meaning of nihilism clearer — consciousness breaking with old loyalties (and laws) while cleaving to new loyalties. Nietzsche’s term for the dissolution of all old loyalties was “death of God”, and his new loyalty “Be true to the Earth!”, although Nietzsche’s “Earth” was very Euro-centric. If Nietzsche were asked to draw a map of the Earth, probably Sils Maria would have been at the very centre of it, like those old maps that showed Jerusalem as the centre of the earth.

    So, this is the issue with this “Blue Dot Tour” I’m talking about. It’s a face-off between different loyalties — one to life/planet, the other conceived as being exclusively to the nation. But, in broader terms, this clash of values is a conflict of different consciousness structures, because “values” as such are the components of this structure — the frame. As such, a devaluation of values is a de-structuring of the consciousness structure, you see. And the “revaluation of values” is the restructuration. This is the true meaning of “creative destruction” as self-overcoming. That’s the gist of Nietzsche’s statement: “it’s not the courage of one’s convictions that counts, but the courage to attack one’s convictions that counts”. The testing of one’s “convictions” is the testing of values for their adequacy in terms of life, and therefore, of the adequacy of one’s “perspective” or structure of consciousness, and whether such values were worthy of one’s loyalty at all in terms of enhancing life and health.

    • abdulmonem says :

      All loyalties, other than to god, the source of compassion and mercy(empathy) are misplaced loyalties. During Ramadan I went into retreat in all of its different expressions, concentration,contemplation,meditation, fasting and praying in order to activate the inspiration process, that is tasting the divine nearness in its epistemic form and retrieving oneself from this mess. I come to realize that there is a translinguistic language between the different human alphabetical language and the divine vibrational language that encompasses all human languages, namely the alphabetical mantras, such as the one we read at the beginning of chapter 42 of the Quran, which states that, ha meem ani seen ghaf, is the way the process of inspiration is carried to you and those prior to you from the formidable and the wise. The experiential self contact to the divine carries in itself its validation. Those who have not been privileged to taste such experience are inclined to brush aside such epistemological experience as irrational or unfounded. It is high time to realize in what sea we are navigating and who is the source of our knowledge and to whom we must give our loyalty.It is the oneness that unify everything without getting lost in all of the fabrications of the misled minds.

      • Scott Preston says :

        and retrieving oneself from this mess.

        That’s a good way to put it.

        I come to realize that there is a translinguistic language between the different human alphabetical language and the divine vibrational language that encompasses all human languages,

        Sounds like you have come to the same conclusion as Rosenstock-Huessy: “God is the power that makes men speak, that enthuseth man so that he speaketh” (as he put it). This is the Heraclitean Logos, too.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    My concern is Scott divine revelation, that is not to say that the Heraclitean or the Huessian revelations are not significant but to emphasis that there significance can only be meaningful when they help me to realize my revelation. My real joy is when I see the whole group join the ceremony, the cosmic crew. Time, space, culture and race are stages on its platform, the human actions are performed. In this frame I like to quote Saadi the sufi persian
    Of one essence is the human race
    thusly has creation puts the base
    one limb impacted is sufficient
    for all others to feel the mace
    the unconcerned with others plight
    are but brutes with human face.
    Of course you can not taste the kernel without breaking the shell.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I hadn’t heard of Saadi before. He’s an interesting character. I was quite surprised to read that Obama had even quoted him

      This snippet of poetry recalls John Donne, too — his “No Man is an Island”

      That’s also William Blake’s symbol of his “Albion”. We are all members of the primordial body of Albion, the “Universal Adam”. Swedenborg calls this “the Grand Man of the Heavens”, and we are all members of this body — the “human essence”. This seems to correspond to what Buddha calls “the infinite body of merit” in the Diamond Sutra. In Castaneda, this appears as “the mold of man” or the human archetype.

      This belongs to the strange paradox: our “I am” which appears to us so unique and individual, is unique and individual but at the same time is not. It is the “I am” of this “Universal Adam”. It is our sense of having a separate “I am” that we call “egoism”, and yet this “I am” is, at the same time, inviolable in its individuality, and this we call “the Self” or True Man.

      This is reflected in some descriptions of Buddhist enlightenment or “satori”. The “I am” knows itself as both part of the cosmos (interdependency) and yet at the same time as the cosmos itself (identity or oneness). The real hurdle is to overcome the sense of a consciousness become separated from this vaster consciousness — the “sea of awareness”. As Nietzsche put it, this “self” which does not just say “I am” but which does “I am”. At root, all consciousness is one consciousness — the “ever-present origin” in Gebser’s terms, its own identity refracted, as it were, infinitely — the paradox of one “I” assuming infinite identities which seem separate, but are not, and yet are.

      This was the insight of Hallaj, of course, when he ran through the streets shouting “I am Truth!”. Likewise, it was the great moment of hesitation when the Buddha almost forewent any thought of teaching it — how to explain this seemingly impossible paradox that the Infinite Self is No-Self — anatman, or what he called the “I Am conceit” yet without being misunderstood. It is not “ego annihilation” that Buddhism teaches (or what Nietzsche called “unselfing”) but the delusion that the “I am” is separate from this universal “I am”, yet without leaving the impression that your unique individuality is swallowed up by this vaster “I” or what Seth calls “All That Is”. Hence the ultimate conviction of Buddhism: “nirvana and samsara are the same”, yet they are not the same until they are known to be the same. The real issue is ignorance of that identity and the delusion of apartness.

      The Buddha’s “Middle Way” is the tricky job of navigating between total narcissism and true self-realisation — to simultaneously know that the entire cosmos is an extension or mirror of oneself (“thou art that” or Nietzsche’s “fundamentally we experience only ourselves”) and yet one is only a small part of it, too — one is both the macrocosm and the microcosm, as it were. This is the Heraclitean Logos, in effect. The “human essence” isn’t human, and yet it is. The difficulty is, that human narcissism and true self-realisation are not that far apart, or as Khayyam put it “only a hair separates the false from the true”– the thin curtain of Maya. And yet, they couldn’t be more contrary states.

      And this one must know about Nietzsche’s “stare into the abyss”. “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you” is this infinity in self-reflection — the abyss knowing itself as this abyss. Yet non-Being (or abyss, the Big Empty) is not what it seems. The Eternal Silence or Void is not what it seems. There is still the consciousness that knows itself as also being this Eternal Silence or Infinity, and so without beginning nor end as such. There’s the paradox of Rumi’s “emptiness” — it is simultaneously nothing and everything, infinity and perfection.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    The self which does not say I am but it does I am . I love that. Hallaj in one of his departure was asked what are you doing, he said I am doing a Quran.

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    “Kahler’s “breakdown of the human form” can lead to either outcome: brutalisation or transcendence. That’s the nature of the crossroads we have reached today for all crisis is a crossroads.”

    Yes. This is where the essence of Seth’s “energy personality essence” becomes the determining factor. Brutes are those who, as Robert Monroe observed in his OOBE episodes, will end up in that dark scary inescapable place in the afterlife that is the hangout for “disturbed personalities.” On the other hand, with transcendence comes freedom.

    I am living and working smack dead in the middle of nihilism right now. Let me enumerate some of its qualities: 1) rife with NO Integrity! 2) rife with those who are the bearers of double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and double-bind, 3) rife with the practical manifestations of “every man for himself”, 4) rife with veiled threats, 5) rife with egoism and egos that are as big as the mountains and as wide as the sky, 6) rife with myopia, 7) rife with duplicity and disingenuity, 7) rife with confusion and systems that are hanging by a thin thread before disintegrating.

    How do I survive living in the midst of nihilistic environment?

    1) Diluted ego. Having read Seth has been key to this. Without the wisdom in that book I would’ve never made it. 2) Death is always an option and ever present, and I find it absolutely necessary that I should die to myself everyday. Yesterday was yesterday. Today is a new day. This attitude has been very important and essential from the very beginning in holding on to a moral compass 3) taking it one day – sometimes an hour – at a time. 4) don’t let anyone know your next move, but always make the ethical and moral (not the self-serving) decision when the moment of truth comes even if the big boss has dished out a veiled threat.

    What’s next if it all fails? What will be after this nihilism?

    Freedom 🙂

    • Scott Preston says :

      What’s next if it all fails? What will be after this nihilism?

      There’s a certain truth in that song by Christopherson, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” — not even having a life to lose. Remember that don Juan taught Castaneda how to die, and “the worst has already happened”, and Seth teaches us to regard ourselves as we are presently, in some ways, deader now than we are ever going to get. Very similar message. Yes, the Christian message of “dying to oneself daily” is the teaching of liberation — an essential component of “the truth that sets free”. I also picked up a book recently that I’ve yet to read, but looking forward to. It’s a Buddhist book entitled “Making Friends with Death”.

      What’s the essential message in all that? Mortality is emancipation.

      That’s a very controversial belief, although not without empirical evidence of its validity, even in nature. Older forms must die in order for new forms to flourish. Any resurrection is preceded by death — the Phoenix myth as well as the Christian myth. The teachers of death are, paradoxically, the teachers of life.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “Mortality is emancipation.”

        Not only is that true in the sense of a transition from a physical to a non-physical world but also sometimes even in a professional sense. I never wanted a career. I always wanted a livelihood. But what I have now is a career. A death of this career would mean a monumental transition from a career to a livelihood. That would be freedom – finally 🙂

        “The teachers of death are, paradoxically, the teachers of life.”

        Beautiful and insightful.

        Thank you for a mention of the book “Making Friends with Death.” I have added it to my list whilst I have just begun to read Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” 🙂

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