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Optimistic Nihilism is an Oxymoron: Ewan Morrison

"Optimistic nihilism is an oxymoron"

This phrase struck me as making good sense in an essay by Ewan Morrison entitled, "The Optimistic Nihilists."

Ewan writes, "The trend known as optimistic nihilism is a twenty-first-century spin on the doctrine that existence and values are meaningless."

It came across my radar screen a few days ago when I saw references to "Everything Everywhere All at Once" Perfects Optimistic Nihilism" describing the film "Everything Everywhere All at Once." 

Is it popular?. Is it Trending?

Ewan explains, "It’s trendy among the under-thirties. The YouTube video “Rick and Morty—Finding the Meaning of Life” extrapolates optimistic nihilism for teenagers, claiming that although life is meaningless we should focus on “the stuff we actually enjoy.” A video by YouTuber Kurzgesagt—In a Nutshell (who has nearly 17 million subscribers), which advocates optimistic nihilism has 15 million views. It tells us, “If the universe has no purpose then we get to dictate what its purpose is … We are truly free in a universe-sized playground, so we might as well aim to be happy.... Celebrities like Ricky Gervais expound the basic tenets:  “Why are we here? Well, we just are … There’s loads of reasons why you can say we’re here … it’s to eat and drink and make friends and have fun.”

Ewan goes on to say, "Prior to its infection of Gen Z, nihilism took hold in the postmodern arts scene of the 1990s. I myself was a self-proclaimed nihilist for a good fifteen years. Like many of my peers, I took a sadistic pride in destroying other people’s belief systems; it was clear to us that nihilism meant being counter-cultural, tearing down the establishment, hierarchies, capitalism, binary thinking, morality and so on. We hadn’t read enough Nietzsche to understand the dangers.  Nihilism caused us a lot of psychological harm. Once the thrill of thinking you’re a rebel without a cause wears off, there are casualties. Our icons were Kurt Cobain, David Foster Wallace, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chester Bennington and Alexander McQueen—and all these nihilistic artists had serious addiction issues and ended up killing themselves. The psychological despair nihilism engenders has also cost more than a few lives in my peer group.  When everything is meaningless, nothing matters, including your own life. Optimistic nihilism is an oxymoron and betrays a shallow understanding of what nihilism actually does to people."

Ewan concludes: " It is alarming to see so many of Generation Z expound optimistic nihilism as their belief system, and this may be one of the reasons why Gen Z are exhibiting record-breaking levels of depression, with 42% diagnosed with mental health conditions and 57% currently taking medication for such conditions. Optimistic nihilism is not just incoherent; it’s a dangerous form of social contagion. Take it from an ex-nihilist and survivor—a meaningless life is nothing to be optimistic about, and those who expound such a belief system are simply doing even more damage to a culture that is already sick from lack of purpose."

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