The Optimistic Nihilist

”The process can kiss my ass. Throw processes under the bus if they aren’t getting the desired result.” – Matt Krause

“I just do what I like every day, and good things seem to happen as a result.”-Nate Damm

Ever stop to think about the big picture?

I’m not talking about the gamble that is the religious afterlife; I’m not going to impugn anyone’s hopes and beliefs about what comes after death, because like one of my favorite authors said, there’s no proof for, there’s no proof against, and sooner or later we’ll all know, so why fret about it?

No, I’m talking about our place in the universe cosmologically. The whole “insignificant life form on a small planet on a so-so sun in a mediocre galaxy merrily spinning it’s way towards the inevitable heat-death of the universe” kind of understanding. When you take that perspective, some people react in a Nothing matters then. Why bother? kind of nihilism, either resulting in inactivity or sometimes bursts of destructive hedonism.

There’s another way to look at it, though. If nothing you do is going to matter on a cosmological sense, that means whatever you do only has the meaning that you give to it.

You Be the Judge

It’s a different kind of freedom. It’s realizing that when someone looks at you with their judgey eye, you get to first laugh at them – you really think that your opinion matters, when you less than a blink in the entire history of life on this planet? – and then you get to decide if you want to give their opinion weight. Maybe they have useful opinions! Maybe they have fun or educational opinions (you can learn a lot from someone who is wrong, after all, and they’re often very entertaining).

If you can keep from moving into a “why bother” mentality, the realization that things are only as important as you decide to let them be can also be a defense against your own judgey voice. When the you’re not good enough monster whispers in your ear, you can scornfully laugh at it. Good enough for what? I’m just a ripple in the pond of life.

Changing the Focus

This simple realization can be a way to shift the motivation for your actions from external (I have to make a difference!) to internal (This is the kind of person I want to be). Suddenly instead of having pressure on the outside telling you how you should be, with arbitrary goals and levels, you can decide which ones are valuable to you, or even make up entirely new ones.

There are some who would argue that without external motivations, people will simply aimlessly wander through their lives, never accomplishing anything. Aside from the problematic assumption of laziness inherent in that, there’s also that cosmological view: so what? Those people should think more about their own lives, and less about judging others.

Meanwhile, you can enjoy the freedom of the big picture and do the things you want to, rather than the things you have to. It doesn’t give you freedom from consequences, of course, or cause and effect – if what you want to be is a blogger, you have to actually write. If you want to be a good parent, you have to actually feed your kids. Much of the time that might not feel like it’s fair (ravenous beasts, those kids) but like another author said: who says life is fair? Where is that written?

Insignificant ball of dirt spinning around a mediocre sun, etc. You can decide to be fair, and good, and happy; the universe will not do it for you.

Then again, the universe won’t stop you, either, and it’s a pretty interesting place to be.

Have fun making up the rules as you go along!

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