Nietzsche's Dead, so we should live

Rich Robinson | Staff Columnist

“We live in the most narrow present, without a past or a future, in the midst of a flat calm.” That statement sounds like it could have been spoken by a number of figures in today’s culture. With all the negativity and bad news flying about, it’s hard to focus on the long term. But in fact, Peter Chaadaev said those words in 1837. Chaadaev was a Russian intellectual who was blacklisted by Tsar Nicholas I because of his connections to the Decembrist revolt, a political insurrection that marked a high point for 19th century idealism. Operating in a society without true press freedoms, Chaadaev was labeled as “insane” and had to endure constant checkups from state doctors and officers. I see him as a man who believed in a form of political “nihilism,” the idea that life has no meaning. While often seen as a long passed philosophical tradition, nihilism has been making a comeback lately.

In 2011, writer Eugene Thacker released a book titled “In the Dust of this Planet,” which explained the prevalence of disaster themed movies and extinction motifs in modern culture. About three years later, Jay Z was spotted wearing a jacket with the nihilist title of Thacker’s book in the video for the “On the Run” tour. Other celebs have also worn articles of clothing with the same phrase. This caught the attention of public broadcasting outlets, which have devoted entire episodes of Radiolab and On the Media to the resurgence of nihilism in our times.

Even the 2014 elections are turning into an uninspiring ordeal, an expensive bother that will resolve little and probably create more gridlock in D.C. Globally, Western nations have been forced to engage in war in the Middle East again, but there is no clear path in ending the rise of Islamic extremism and no real consensus about what to do next. China is facing an existential crisis in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom is slowly separating into a loose coalition of nations with talk of a separate English parliament and Russia faces internal strife as economic sanctions drive the country toward recession. And then there is America. The most important country in the history of the world has no idea where it’s going. With a crumbling infrastructure, too big to fail financial sector and a shaky educational system, America has failed to articulate its position moving forward.

The same goes for Alabama, which has a stalling economy and an unemployment rate a full percentage point higher than the national average. What does the future of the Yellowhammer State look like? It’s hard to know because both leading candidates for governor refuse to debate each other. More locally, where is The University of Alabama really going? Beats me. The only time we hear from President Judy Bonner is in the periodic Vimeo video after a crisis. The same goes for the SGA and other outlets of campus leadership. Who are we, and where are we going? It’s time for each of us to answer that question, or we may drift further still. Wow. Maybe nihilism isn’t as bad as I thought.

Rich Robinson is a senior majoring in telecommunication and film. His column runs weekly.

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