Inquire, Inquire – part 8, 5779
the hidden potential of nihilism
I previously wrote about the potential for nihilism to exist, below the awareness of the person. It would be necessary for this quality to move from the pre-conscious self to the conscious self, before the problem could be thoroughly explored. If from the beginning, any aspect of nihilism found within one’s thinking, as well as one’s actions, is not viewed as a problem, then, indeed, it is clear that the individual’s attitude is already in agreement with living a nihilistic lifestyle, and not interested in change. Although viewed as a judgment call, I think that in and of itself would be a serious problem.
Please, excuse what might appear to be mental gymnastics on my part. I am stating my concern about nihilism, based on the following presupposition: that nihilism, if left unchecked will erode any attempt, not only to find meaning in an individual’s life, rather, also any nihilistic attitude could only serve to undermine an individual’s effort to enact what is meaningful on a constant basis as a modus operandi. It could, conceivably become a battle between what Freud called thanotos, represented by a nihilistic attitude vs. the life giving qualities of Eros. In terms provided by Judaism, the battle between the yetzer hara (evil inclination), and the yetzer tov (good inclination).
This is the larger problem that is stated in various terms from different sources, for example, Jewish, Essene, Christian or Freudian, yet, has at its root an actual dimension in the lives of those who become actually aware of this battle on an experiential level. Therefore, the problem is not so much conceptual, as it is situational, inasmuch as the battle is ocurring on a daily basis in the life of every human being, whether or not a person may be aware of this battle.
The tension between these two inclinations is what makes us human; for, it is G-d who created us with these two inclinations, in order that we may exercise free will, for the sake of choosing what is good. “I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore, choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS 1917 Tanach). G-d encourages us to choose life; He only wants what is best for us, yet, it is up to us, to put our best foot forward.