Skip to main content

#001 Introduction to Modern Nihilism

I am a modern nihilist, striving to learn from the world and from others how to better live through honesty and effort.

The Modern Nihilist

Listen to an audio of this article.

Listen to an audio of this article.

What is nihilism?

When I first learned that there was something called nihilism, it was presented to me as some kind of incomplete philosophical stance that denied the intrinsic value of anything. I did not rail against it in anger or desperation, as it seemed to me that most people did. Even when I was an agnostic, having gone through a tumultuous period of revolt against religion, it always seemed to me as if nihilism was the most sensible of all positions. It didn't seem, to me, outlandish to think that it was through a personal discovery of the world and our relation to it, to other people, and even to whatever we might call God, that one discovered what value each of these things held for us.

How nihilism was presented to me

When I first learned about nihilism, it was portrayed to me as something that only terrible people ascribe to. And it included the worst kinds of people. That is to say, the worst kinds of people as defined by anyone who wanted to use nihilism as a pejorative term. Those who did so were either religious people or those who adhered to a particular system of ethics, usually an idealistic one. But the description of what nihilism was did not, for me, entail something that I thought was necessarily bad. And so I was disconcerted by these negative portrayals of it that kept cropping up all around the place.

What I learned from Nietzsche

I think that the breaking point for me, the point where it all made more sense in a detailed way was after having read Nietzsche. Now, the interesting thing is that I did not start by reading the material that is considered introductory. Rather, on the suggestion of a mentor, I went directly for the work, the book, titled Thus spake Zarathustra. In this work, there was portrayed a man who had gone away from humanity for the sake of internalizing his experience, in order to find illumination. At the beginning of the story, this man was coming back to the people, to the world, with a new message. And that message was that life, and its meaning was to be found individually by living among others, by living in the world instead of being cut away from it, and by being true to yourself.

What you can learn from nihilism

So what may you take from nihilism? What may you learn and apply to your life so that it may be better than it already was? First, the basis of what we call nihilism, that is to say, its foundation , is that your opinion should be more relevant in your life than any other person's. At least in the last analysis of things. Furthermore, your experience of the facts should be the prime material from which you should form those opinions. That is not to say that reason will be discarded, thrown out of the window. In fact, in nihilism, reason comes first, it is the most precious gift and the engine that moves this way of thinking. It puts in the driver's seat the person who is thinking.

How nihilism can make your life better

So how may nihilism make your life easier? The answer is pretty simple because nihilism takes only into account the thought process and considerations of the person doing the thinking. And the person doing the thinking, from your perspective is you and only you. What you hear from others are merely proposals for your process. It means that, instead of bowing down to ideologies or philosophies, to religions or anti-religions, you take life as it comes to you, and you consider experiences as you live through them. Nihilism also does not fret about the reported experiences of other people. If you follow the thought style of nihilism, then you do not reject or support experiences that you have not lived yourself. You do not worry about them. You, instead, just let the world go on as you continue to enrich your own experience by living it directly, in the flesh.


Being a nihilist

So you may consider yourself to be a nihilist when you engage with the world in the terms of the input that comes to you. And that doesn't mean that you cannot interpret it, that you cannot consider it. That's perhaps misleading. But you do have to take the world in terms of what it presents to you and not of something that you imagine in opposition to what you experience. And certainly not in the terms of what someone else claims to be true, but for which you have no supporting evidence. Here we may be in danger of falling into a kind of empiricism, but it is more than that. If in your experience, you can trust the person telling you something, and you judge that to be compelling and reliable, then you may choose to value that opinion as being close to truth. As a nihilist, you reserve the power to assign value as you see fit instead of having someone else tell you how through their own ideology, philosophy, or religion.

A framework for subjective experience

It may be said that nihilism is a framework that supports subjective experience. Nihilism simply takes into account everything that is perceived, everything that is experienced, which includes all levels of reality, as anyone would define them who does not strictly limit them to the materialist realm. In this view, feelings are important, and so are our thoughts, and the memories that we carry around with us, based as they are on a wide arrange of sources.

The great caveat

Nihilism becomes dangerous to the status quo because it is so dependent upon the talents and particular experiences of each individual. Someone with poor reasoning power or a distorted sense of perception would be, through their adoption of nihilism, rendered a wild force that contradicts the experiences of many other people and their wishes. But in the hands of a reasonable person who is always trying to learn from the world and from others, who strives to be careful of their own judgment and actions, nihilism becomes the most liberating way of thinking that exists both for that individual and for those around him, or her, as the case may be.

Take from nihilism what works for you

Hopefully, this explanation will be extremely useful to you, so that you may take from it not only an understanding of the word nihilism and the nature of the thinkers associated with it but also something that you may personally use in your life. And you may not want to call it nihilism necessarily. But if what we call nihilism has anything in its assortment of tools that becomes instrumental to your freedom, peace of mind, or effectiveness in the real world, then this first transmission will have achieved its goal.


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 David Rosales

Related Articles