Yesterday in the blog, Cindy Roller rolled out recipes and videos about Nothing in a fanciful way, but she alluded to a deeper study of Nothing that has existed throughout the better part of the last two centuries. This is Nihilism: a term popularized by Ivan Turgenev in his 1862 novel, Fathers and Sons and later made famous by philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nihilism is a philosophical study suggesting the negation of one or more meaningful aspects of life. It's most commonly presented as existential nihilism, which posits that life is without intrinsic meaning, value or purpose.
It is possible that Nihilistic thought has begun to strip away the meaning of our own language and, in turn, our lives.
I have been thinking about Nihilism a lot the last few months, especially because I see the following poster every time I come into town on highway 11 from Winnsboro:
I am positive that the church this poster is in front of is not a church of Nihilists, but it makes me sad that our churches do not take into account what their advertisements can mean. If meaning of language is one of the most important proponents of the Baptist faith, why is it not being practiced?
It is not something that is wrong with the churches, however, it is something seeded into Western culture since the enlightenment.
Nihilism is, in the way I see it, made possible by the doubting nature of Rene Descartes' philosophy of rationalism, notably the famous quotation from his 1637 Discourse on the Method, "Je pense, donc je suis" ("I think, therefore I am.") In this train of thought, we can prove our own existence and the possible existence of other things, but how can we begin to question the meaning of something if we can't be sure if it exists? Significance and meaning are null in an equation of beings that merely exist to doubt everything. Thus, in so much good it has done to scientific theory, Descartes' philosophy has also opened the possibility of existential Nihilistic thought that extinguishes meaning from everything life.
Since then language has fallen into a perversion of meaning that is only promulgated by the prominence of self-publication like that of Facebook and, as ironic as this may be, blogs. In the newsroom we edit and re-edit our articles, we take into account our audience and whittle down our stories to the bare-boned facts and flesh it out afterward. So much of this is lost in instant publication - even in this blog entry you will find errors and branches of thought that might not make a good newspaper column. We focus so much on getting our point across quickly in the self-publicized world of the internet that we have lost the use of good language. That may be a reason why nobody thought that saying "nothing's too hard for God" could be problematic.
Nothing may be too hard for us. In a society where turnover must be quick and time to roll ideas around one's head is short, we must be conscious of what we mean before we fall deeper into absurdity.
In short: Seinfeld's not worth it.
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