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Author Topic: 'nihilism' as antithesis
Wayward Son
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After doing a quick internet search, it appear that both Tom and Pete are right. [Smile]

Answers.com provides the following definition for Nihilism:
quote:

1. Philosophy.
a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.

Pete’s use of the word seems to agree with the third definition.
Of course, this is one used less often than the other two, which appear to be closer to Tom’s use.
It’s also of note that Wikipedia does not include Pete’s definition in its discussion of Nihilism. In fact, under Nietzche, it states:

quote:
On a personal level nihilism is the acceptance that there is no meaning or purpose in life. Basically life is meaningless. Friedrich Nietzsche states nihilism can be overcome by ones own creation of meaning in their life. The creation of purpose transfers the will to power away from the will to nothingness and towards a more worldly ideal.
Other sites don’t even list Pete’s usage:

quote:
Nihilism: The view that moral value (goodness or rightness) and disvalue (badness or wrongness) do not exist.
So although Pete’s usage of “nihilism” is accepted, it is also not the preferred usage.
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Haggis
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Is it me, or did a post just get deleted?
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Pete at Home
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Thank you for the research, WS! Agreed that in the general population that my term isn't the favored usage, but in my own field of research, political science and law, this is the *only* usage. Since I'm talking about matters that relate to political science and law, it seems reasonable for me to use the correct and accurate terminology.

I might gripe that the word "evolution" is misleading because I think that it implies no designer, when in fact we have several species that we have designed ourselves, and more whose development we have controlled and influenced. But you don't see me stalking biologists from thread to thread demanding that they use a term that I consider more on point. Biologists use the term evolution to describe the process of genetic change within a population, and legal and political scholars use the term nihilism to describe, roughly, the exercise of power for its own sake.

Hitler may had this version of Nietzche's nihilism in mind when he picked the symbol of the Swastika for his ideology. The swaztika was the Hindu symbol for the eternal cycle of death, and it looks like a whirlwind, or matter cycling into a black hole. Cyclical, nihilism perpetuates itself, can't be satiated. Sure, most nihilists plan to build something once they've mowed down all the obstacles.


quote:
Originally posted by Pelegius:
Pete, the definition of cultural destruction is inherently relativistic, and thus "cultural nihilism," is meaningless as a term of communication, which is what words are, although I can now, finaly, understand it as an idea.

I'm delighted that you understand the idea, and I agree that cultural destruction is inherently relative, since culture and meaning itself are relative. But relative does not mean meaningless. Without an absolute frame of reference, we can still find meaning in relationships between objects and people. Words are relative, have no inherent meaning. Like Fallstaff said, a word is just "air." They mean what people think mean. But that is still meaning!!

Love is relative. Family is relative. But that doesn't mean that love and family are unimportant. They may not be inherently important, but they are important to me.

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Pete at Home
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Haggis, I moved my post because I wanted to stick WS' post at the top of the page. Sorry for the confusion.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
It's all nihilism, because it feeds on the destroyer, who will always find another pretext to destroy.
That's part of the problem I have with your use of the term "cultural nihilism," Pete, because it imparts to your targets the implication that they are motivated by service to "the destroyer." After all, it's not enough for you that the Taliban wants to stamp out Buddhist influence to secure their hold on a region; they have to be doing it because they serve destruction. It's not enough for supporters of same-sex marriage to simply want to secure what they feel is a basic human right; they have to serve destruction. And the same goes for Hollywood, the media, political extremists, and anyone else who'd threaten some part of your culture; they're not just opposed to your culture, but are actively in the service of the Destroyer.

That's exactly the sort of inflammatory hyperbole that I think makes constructive discussion difficult to achieve, and that's why I object to your use of "cultural nihlism" whenever it's applied to groups which are clearly not in fact nihilist; there's no reason to cheapen the conversation that way, or to permit you to paint those groups as being motivated by some weird desire to destroy everything when the simple truth -- that they're motivated by self-interest, like most people -- is more likely.

quote:

Hitler may had this version of Nietzche's nihilism in mind when he picked the symbol of the Swastika for his ideology.

Except that he didn't. Basically, the swastika was the symbol of the Thule Society, a racist organization that theorized a genetic link between the German people and the Indo-Aryans; the swastika was at that time becoming an increasingly popular symbol of Aryan culture. When the Nazis were formed from the leadership of Thule, they took the swastika with them as a "reminder" of that hypothetical racial connection.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
It's all nihilism, because it feeds on the destroyer, who will always find another pretext to destroy.
That's part of the problem I have with your use of the term "cultural nihilism," Pete, because it imparts to your targets the implication that they are motivated by service to "the destroyer." After all, it's not enough for you that the Taliban wants to stamp out Buddhist influence to secure their hold on a region; they have to be doing it because they serve destruction. It's not enough for supporters of same-sex marriage to simply want to secure what they feel is a basic human right; they have to serve destruction. And the same goes for Hollywood, the media, political extremists, and anyone else who'd threaten some part of your culture; they're not just opposed to your culture, but are actively in the service of the Destroyer.
[Eek!]
Thanks for putting effort into a post, Tom; I love your poetic touch. Sadly, my pedestrian use of the term "destroyer" merely meant "person who destroys." You gave my pedestrian statement too much poetic credit. Do you have any other mormon stereotypes, some that come in my size? That one does not fit. [Smile]

Interesting info on the Thule. The NPR radio show indicated that Hitler actually had personal knowledge of the Vedic meaning, and chose the symbol for that meaning. I guess that doesn't contradict your Thule story; it just suggests that Hitler didn't do his own research.

[skip the parts that complain essentially about my usage of nihilism not fitting your definition, since WS has explained that nicely.]

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TomDavidson
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quote:
Do you have any other mormon stereotypes, some that come in my size?
As far as I know, this isn't a Mormon stereotype, Pete. I think it's very unique to the way you personally perceive the world; the theory that the individuals who oppose you must not care about ANYTHING is something that I wouldn't imagine is typical of other Mormons.

It's a shame you skipped the part that complained about your usage of nihilism, though, because I frankly considered that central to my point. Perhaps the fact that you found it "skippable" is why it's so hard for you to understand why no one else here uses the term, or endorses your use of it.

[ March 21, 2006, 09:20 PM: Message edited by: TomDavidson ]

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Pete at Home
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quote:
It's a shame you skipped the part that complained about your usage of nihilism, though, because I frankly considered that central to my point.
I didn't skip it. I read it, and I [in square brackets] that WS had answered you, and he did. You say that I call people nihilists when they are not "in fact" nihilists. WS explained that there were different accepted definitions of nihilism. Are you arguing that Taliban don't fit my definition of nihilism?

[skip the personal slur, which I assume was not central to your "point?"]

[ March 21, 2006, 09:47 PM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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TomDavidson
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quote:
WS explained that there were different accepted definitions of nihilism. Are you arguing that Taliban don't fit my definition of nihilism?
Specifically, WS explained that your definition of nihilism is an inferior alternate form, and your defense was that "legal" and "political" experts use the term in that way, despite the fact that there's very little anecdotal evidence that a) the term is in fact in widespread use among these experts; and b) legal and political experts can be trusted to use the lexicon correctly, especially when the debate hinges on whether the use of the word "nihilism" is deliberately leading and inflammatory, something that one might expect legal and political experts to demand of their otherwise poor word choices.

Note, too, that the third definition as given is the only one which comes close to matching your own, and is so vague as to be useless. By the third definition, someone who believed that slavery -- an existing political and social institution -- needed to be eliminated in order for America to progress would be a "nihilist." As this is clearly not the case, that third definition is obviously lacking.

By the third definition as written, pretty much any activist group desiring social change is "nihilist" in philosophy.

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Pete at Home
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WS: :Of course, this is one used less often than the other two"
Tom: "Inferior"
Pete: [Roll Eyes]

quote:
your defense was that "legal" and "political" experts use the term in that way, despite the fact that there's very little anecdotal evidence that a) the term is in fact in widespread use among these experts;
So what?

Tom, I don't need your approval to use the only term that I know of that describes my ideas to my satisfaction. I'm not going to write an elaborate "defense" to persuade you. You seem to concede that my "anectodal evidence" disproves your earlier claim that I'd just made this definition up myself. That's about as much agreement as we're going to come to.

[ March 21, 2006, 10:20 PM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I have to present the thought police with a heavily-sourced dissertation in order to have your sacred permission to use the only term that describes my ideas?
No.
But you may want to give some serious thought to why you feel that the term "cultural nihilism" is the ONLY term which, in your own words, describes your ideas. Consider what it actually means, in other words, and then examine your use of the term. Try to understand why being in empty service to destruction might not be an accurate description of everyone to whom you've attempted to pin this label, and try to understand why you feel the need to level that accusation at those groups by which you feel threatened.

I think you'll stop using the term once you understand this, because I don't think you mean to be intellectually dishonest.

[ March 21, 2006, 10:14 PM: Message edited by: TomDavidson ]

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
I have to present the thought police with a heavily-sourced dissertation in order to have your sacred permission to use the only term that describes my ideas?
No.
But you may want to give some serious thought to why you feel that the term "cultural nihilism" is the ONLY term which, in your own words, describes your ideas.

That occured to me immediately after posting, so I went back and edited to "I don't need your approval to use the only term that I know of that describes my ideas to my satisfaction."
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
Consider what it actually means, in other words, and then examine your use of the term. Try to understand why being in empty service to destruction might not be an accurate description of everyone to whom you've attempted to pin this label, and try to understand why you feel the need to level that accusation at those groups by which you feel threatened.

Nicely said, Tom, and I pledge to keep it in mind. You may notice that I have been using it a lot more carefully than I used to.

quote:
I think you'll stop using the term once you understand this, because I don't think you mean to be intellectually dishonest.
We'll see. Perhaps I will after I consider what you just said.

But I don't think that rash = intellectually dishonest. I honestly believe that the the facts show that the Taliban were in "empty service to destruction" when they destroyed the Buddhist monuments, and in other actions. I'm open to other evidence and argument, but that's what I sincerely believe.

I also don't think that intellectual honesty requires me to go back and analyze everything that I've ever said in the light of new informaton. As I get older I find that I'm saying "I don't know" to more and more questions that regard other peoples' ethics and morality. I have made certain assertions that I'm no longer certain about -- but I can't honestly retract them, because I still believe them; I'm just not sure of them. I asserted other things that I no longer believe, but don't actually disbelieve them. I don't have time, and Ornery doesn't have patience, for me to walk back through all my post and say, this one I still believe but wouldn't say, this one I don't know but won't reject as a possibility, this one I was just wrong about, this one I'm even more sure of now then when I made it ...

Anyway, thanks for saying something useful on this subject.

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Everard
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" I honestly believe that the the facts show that the Taliban were in "empty service to destruction" when they destroyed the Buddhist monuments, and in other actions. I'm open to other evidence and argument, but that's what I sincerely believe."

You don't think that, for example, they honestly feel that expressions of other religious viewpoints is dangerous, and that in order to elevate Islam to its proper place, other religions must be stamped out?

While you and I might both agree that stamping out religious thought that is contrary to one's own views is deeply deeply immoral, and downright destructive in the long run, doing so in order to promote another religious viewpoint, to me, can't be seen as empty service to destruction.

You and I both think what the Taliban was trying to build was wrong on many levels. But just because you think something that is being built is wrong, doesn't mean the builder isn't trying to construct something he sees as positive.

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Pete at Home
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Like I said in the Yale taliban thread that started this argument, the strongest evidence that the Talibandits destroyed the statues for pleasure power, is the widespread publicity that they provided for the destruction. Read the article I was responding to directly, the taliban rep's smug enjoyment.

Even if there were other motivations, evidence shows the Taliban were destroying, at least partly, for pleasure of exercising power.

quote:
Originally posted by Everard:
You don't think that, for example, they honestly feel that expressions of other religious viewpoints is dangerous, and that in order to elevate Islam to its proper place, other religions must be stamped out?

Sure, but I don't think that was a significant factor here. The statues didn't express a religious viewpoint that the Afghans could understand, and the Taliban didn't say that any Afghans had worshipped at those statues. This had to do with destroying great works produced by a nonIslamic culture. Same reason for their AQ buddies to destroy great architectural power centers in the US. Among other motivations, there seems to be an architectural equivalent to penis envy. They found it threatening that the most fascinating and attractive wonders in their country were produced by a foreign culture. Forcefully stamping out alternative meanings in order to elevate one's preferred meaning to its "proper" place, starts the addictive cycle of destruction.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Everard:
" You and I both think what the Taliban was trying to build was wrong on many levels. But just because you think something that is being built is wrong, doesn't mean the builder isn't trying to construct something he sees as positive.

I agree. But just because the builder is trying to build something that he sees as positive, doesn't mean that all of his motives are pure. If vanity or hatred motivates him to destroy culture or meaning, then he's a cultural nihilist.

Some, like Igniatieff, opine that some acts like torture are almost intrinsicly nihilist. You might have positive motivations, but the act would plant the motivations in your mind. There were serb soldiers whose officers shot them for refusing to rape captives. Others obeyed, and later cried their eyes out to their priests, and denounced themselves and their superiors to authorities. I don't think you can do such a thing without being damaged, perhaps worse even than the victim. I can't imagine the guilt. Because while a victim might not experience pleasure, the rapist, even under gunpoint, has to be into the act, maintain sexual excitement. He might climax. To get past the mindshattering guilt, most folks would focus on the pleasure. For the same reason that many rape victims deny their mind-shattering helplesness by blaming themselves. Other rapists shut out the humanity of the victim. The recidivism for crimes like rape and pleasure-murders is very high. I'm not sure why other forms of torture would be that different. As I understand, organizations that have started using torture have almost always expanded its scope and use, to the point where they were looking for any excuse to use it.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Everard:
"While you and I might both agree that stamping out religious thought that is contrary to one's own views is deeply deeply immoral, and downright destructive in the long run, doing so in order to promote another religious viewpoint, to me, can't be seen as empty service to destruction.

I respect that you don't see it that way. There are many such issues where you and I agree in general applications, but disagree on the underlying principle. Good thing we're not the Taliban, and don't need to use coercion to suppress each others' ideas.
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Pete at Home
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I found the original Igniatieff article, and I think he answers some of Tom and Ev's concerns:
http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/news/opeds/2004/ignatieff_torture_ft_051504.htm
quote:
Those who defend torture would insist that their choice is not nihilistic - denying the ultimate value of human beings - but rather motivated by a value-filled concern to save innocent human life.
Sound familliar?

quote:
Those, on the other hand, who insist that torture is an ultimate form of nihilism believe that a majoritarian justification for torture amounts to a failure to understand what is special, inviolable, and worthy of ultimate respect in a human being.
...
We should remember that liberal democracy has been crafted over centuries precisely in order to combat the temptations of nihilism, to prevent violence from becoming an end in itself. Thus, terrorism does not present us with a distinctively new temptation. This is what our institutions were designed for, back in the 17th century: to regulate evil means and control evil people.


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