One of the saddest conversations I had in campus ministry took place at the Starbucks Reserve that overlooks Harvard Square. I had met a student earlier in the week who identified himself as a nihilist. So I suggested we sit down for coffee to get to know each other and talk more.
Over coffee, he told me that nothing mattered. I asked him if that mattered. He said no.
I asked him if it bothered him that his own ideas so easily contradicted themselves. He said no.
I asked him if he thought it might be more reasonable to start with the assumption that his life did matter. I suggested he could intuitively know it was true that his life was significant. He said no.
Whatever route we explored, he always had a veto: nothing matters.
Towards the end of our meeting, I asked if he would give me his study notes. He slid them across the table. I said, “these are mine now.” He got very agitated. He said, “I need those. Finals are next week.” I tried his veto: “But nothing matters.” He got angry and demanded I give him the notes before he called the police. I pressed him to explain himself. But the conversation was over: the notes were too important to him. (Of course I gave him his notes back).
Whenever I think about this student — it’s likely that he’s now a successful professional somewhere – I’ve felt sad.
I invite you to consider how one nihilist recently shared their perspective:
I tell you, the thing we call “us”, the consciousness, has hardly any actual control over the body. One simply can’t defy his inherent biological structure. “I” tried to swim against the current of the river of life, but it only leaded to self-destruction. I can’t float on the river anymore, either. A human will never be content without having a purpose, I’m sure of that at this point. But that’s unachievable when you know that both contentment and purpose are worthless.
Humans continue to reproduce. Is that the prime example of “our” powerlessness, or are people just ignorant? It’s sweet to be brainwashed by religion. Sincerely, I would prefer being born a literal slave, because I would have a clear purpose then. Just read a book from the age of feudalism. I argue that peasants used to be more content than aristocrats. As long as they knew their place and didn’t yearn for more, they were fine (sadly, it’s human nature to want more than one has).
I wonder if life can get any more absurd than this. The universe is devoid of meaning, yet humans are drived by the meaning they derive from it. What’s more, they are capable of realizing all this, which essentially kills the illusion. On some days, I can embrace absurdism and reenter the illusion. On other days, I write these posts. This is not under my control. It’s not “me”, who is writing this post. It’s the body.
If you had the opportunity, how might you engage with this person?