We must be thankful to the civilizations which have not taken an overdose of seriousness, which have played with values and taken their pleasure in begetting and destroying them. Who knows, outside of the Greek and French civilizations, a more lucidly facetious proof of the elegant nothingness of things?
Emile Cioran A Short History of Decay
For thousands of years humans have gathered the wisdom of the tribes and inscribed this into scrolls and books that have been carefully codified, commentated, and guarded by priests and layman alike. At the heart of these ancient traditions was a deep yearning toward the beyond. For humans looked upon their lives here and now in this world as full of pain and hopelessness. These high priests of the ancient world offered only the comfort of release from this earthly realm in a myriad of forms. I want bore you with the details of all these major systems of belief and hygiene. Why should I? I have little to add to these worlds of words that have come down to us out of ages past. I have little comfort for those who seek in those traditions and books some salvic knowledge that would hint of something beyond this life. No I’ll not belabor the so called “transcendental perspective” of those who know. I only offer you the solace of nothingness and extinction.
Arthur Schopenhauer, a philosopher of the Nineteenth century, arch-pessimist and curmudgeon, once told us that life is no more than a “constant dying,” a perpetual misery machine, entirely lacking in any meaning or purpose—that is, apart from its own blind, stupid self-consumption. H.P. Lovecraft plunged into the heart of darkness and came back with a perspective on our cosmic predicament that offered little solace beyond the knowledge of human fear of the unknown and unexplained. For him the namelessness of our darkest fears cannot be allayed. For better or worse humans live in an inexplicable and horrific universe that is absolutely indifferent to our existence. These men lived in realms devoid of gods of God, atheists who would not condone the cherished wisdom of the tribes, but offered us rather a stark and cold intelligent view of the universe and ourselves. What we did with it was none of their concern, and furthermore they were indifferent to our acceptance or rejection of their hard won truths.
As one author on such views recently states it ”
for all that doom and gloom, stylistically, such typical histrionics border on the laughably repellent, providing those who find pessimism otherwise irksome a convenient excuse to write it off as the self-indulgent ramblings of middle-aged, bourgeois cranks. Pessimists would be so lucky, however, if popular objections to pessimism were primarily driven by aesthetic preferences. But one suspects that resistance to pessimistic sentiment runs deeper than concerns for style and expression, that it stems principally from a disagreement over fundamental beliefs, values, and attitudes. For as a philosophical orientation, pessimism runs counter to majority dispositions that regard life and living as, in some way, meaningful and purposive, as justifying—even if against all odds—hope in a brighter future, in a better, or at the very least livable, tomorrow.1
One could dismiss those of us who accept such dark consolations to our cosmic predicament as the vanity of old age and sickness, a culture too long grown tired of its traditions and religious beliefs. Having thrown off the yoke of the tribes and gone their own solitary way the pessimists among us know there is little comfort to be had. They offer none. If you seek hope and comfort they would, as I, return you to your worlds of deception with a smile and a shake of the curmudgeon’s hand. Then they would return to their own indifferent world of solitude. Pessimists are solitaires, they seek neither disciples nor to impart some profound wisdom to the ages. Rather they would strip us of the last vestiges of our illusions and deceptions, allow the dark truth of this indifferent cosmos to unveil its meaninglessness. Pessimists know that most people will never accept their pronouncements nor their perspective on life and the cosmos. So be it.
A latter day writer and author of horror fiction Thomas Ligotti in his short work on pessimism suggests:
Longevity is without question of paramount value in our lives, and finding a corrective for mortality is our compulsive project. Anything goes insofar as lengthening our earthly tenure. And how we have cashed in on our efforts. No need to cram our lives into two or three decades now that we can cram them into seven, eight, nine, or more. The life-span of non-domesticated mammals has never changed, while ours has grown by leaps and bounds. What a coup for the human race. Unaware how long they will live, other warm-blooded life forms are sluggards by comparison. Time will run out for us as it does for all creatures, true, but at least we can dream of a day when we might elect our own deadline. Then perhaps we can all die of the same thing: a killing satiation with our durability in a world that is MALIGNANTLY USELESS.
For Ligotti the dream of finality, of human extinction is the only solace left for those of us caught in the trap of life. Knowing as we know that our existence is of no value to the universe at large is the only solace to be found. This is the solace of nothingness.
The human being delivered to himself, without any partiality for elegance, is a monster; he finds only dark regions there, where terror and negation, imminent, prowl To know, by all one’s vitality, that one will die, and to be unable to conceal it, is an act of barbarism.
Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay
- Packer, Joseph. A Feeling of Wrongness . Penn State University Press. (November 1, 2018)
- Ligotti, Thomas. A Conspiracy Against The Human Race. Hippocampus Press (April 30, 2011)