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Dancing Towards Nihilism: Second Sketch

  • Everything we believe is fictional.  This does not mean that (some of it) is not also “true” but it means that any belief or system of meaning is true in the same way that The Brothers Karamazov, or the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, or the Bible are true.  All truths are fictions — which is not the same thing as saying all truths are insignificant (to me), or all truths of equal value (to me).
  • By saying that all truths are fictions, I mean that we all actively participate in the construction of anything we take to be true.  We choose what we will believe as true and what we will believe is false.  We choose what we will value and what we will disparage.  We choose what is good and what is evil.  We choose how we will construct our understanding of our own selves and of others (“nobody knows who I really am…” more on that in a moment).  We participate not only in the embodiment of our truths (which is what makes them significant), but also in their creation.  Each one of us, recreates the world anew every morning.  For there is no “world” apart from the one we choose to create when we awaken.
  • However, because all of us do this, and because all of us do this in different ways, some will say one thing is true, others will say the opposite is true, and some will propose mediating positions or speak entirely different languages.
  • Because this has been going on since we first created the world, we inherit many of the truth-full fictions of others.  Some are more susceptible to accepting these than others.  Some will take these truth-full fictions to be “absolute truths” and others will take them to be “objective descriptions” of the “real world”.  So it goes.  Many seem to find it scary to think that “reality” (one of the oldest truth-full fictions ever created and pass on) may be nothing more (nor less!) than a fiction, or an ideological construct… I’m not sure why… so people prefer to hold on to what they receive and find ways to assert that their truth-full fictions are the Truth.
  • Perhaps an illustration of this would be useful.  Let us take myself — who I am — as our object of study.  You could ask many people who I am (who I really am) and you would receive a host of different answers.  Some would blatantly contradict each other.  In the story each person is telling him- or herself about the world, I would be interpreted as very different characters, and in the story I am telling myself about the world, I play another kind of character than many of those other descriptions of me and my role.  Of course, it is at this point that many people give priority to the story that they tell themselves about themselves, but why should we think that our story about our selves is any better or more accurate than the story others tell about us?  Maybe you know yourself better than others because you know a lot of what you think and do that others don’t know… but maybe you’re far too close to yourself, and far too personally involved with yourself, to have any more of an accurate read of yourself than any other person.  Or maybe, and this is what makes the most sense to me these days, I am all of the people I am taken to be by myself and others.  Of course, because those people are often the polar opposite of each other, I cannot simply be some compilation of all those people — there is no core, single true, single real, me.  I am a multitude.  I am Legion.
  • Of course, this conclusion is no more and no less fictional and truth-full than any other conclusion.  It is simply the one that is the most compelling (to me).

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  1. Hi Dan,
    Been a long time since I’ve commented . . .
    Thanks for these. I find myself largely nodding my head. I’m most interested these days in what happens in the space between #2 and #4. That is, the limits and possibilities of the agency that we have in receiving, interpreting, and repeating the narratives (fictions) that we live in and through. I was initially put off by all your talk of “choice” in #2 because it doesn’t seem to me that we actually have that much control over the architecture of our universe (which doesn’t make it less of a fiction), so I was glad to see it balanced.
    Do you think we have a lot of control over how we “opt in” and “opt out” of the deepest structuring fictions of our worlds?

    • Well, yes and no on the matter of choice. At the end of the day, the option of suicide exhibits just has much control we have over the architecture of our universe. We could change everything in an instant… if we wanted to… but then, of course, that prompts the whole discussion of desire and what disciplines our desires (something I was expecting to get in response to my first sketch — but maybe that topic isn’t as hot as it was five years ago)…
      That said, in terms of other matters of control in terms of opting in or out of “the deepest structuring fictions of our world,” well, I’m not sure how to answer that question. On the one hand, life is lived as a process of discovering how much one can opt out and create anew (at least that’s part of what keeps me going). On the other hand, that we use language itself to communicate, and that language itself is so deeply implicated in all of this, means that we can never opt out all together (apart from the option of suicide… maybe….).
      Good to hear from you. Hope all is well.

  2. Hey,
    I was following along nicely until you pulled the “I am Legion” stunt. Now it reminds me of what I see in my work – when people are being told by others that they are at fault for something and they are living in denial, rationalizing or minimizing it. People don’t often want to face their demons and so will tell some other story of themselves or others. Philosophically, we might be saying the same thing. Practically, I don’t think we are.
    Fascinating posts!

    • Hey Jude,
      Actually, the Legion/multitude thing is (in my opinion) precisely the opposite response to one that seeks to deny, rationalize, or minimize who one is or has been to others. I am not offering some master narrative about myself (“this is who I really am”) over against those who see me as an asshole or some such thing. I’m actually recognizing that it is completely valid for others to think completely different things about me based on their experiences of me. That is — I am trying to fully accept who I am as each person sees me and trying not to deny the validity of any one person’s perspective on me. I am my demons, and my angels, and everything else in between. I am a plurality.
      That said, I’m not sure if I understood your comment, and I’m not sure where we agree or disagree, so feel free to say more!

      • That makes more sense to me now. I didn’t follow the thought train; I thought you might be making a leap into some kind of justification for irresponsibility or even mental health issues. But, I understand better now. I’m really enjoying this series and I’m curious to see where you end up! Keep on writin!

  3. I guess I follow you here in general. A few thoughts, though. I agree with Eric about the scepticism of “choice” above. My main critique, though, would be that this seems to be a bit antropocentric. The main problem with the world as I see it might be human hubris, the belief that we are masters of the world and the focus on subjectivity.
    This also connects with the topic of death in my last comment. I think it would be good if we came to a point were we didn´t view the end of our personal conciousness as the end of the world. I don´t think you and I are the center of the world.

    • Quick reply:
      (1) When talking about perspectives on meaning, anthropocentricism seems a bit inevitable to the extent that we cannot be divorced from our subjectivity and we are what we have taken to calling “human”. We have no way of knowing how other things construct meaning (or not). In fact, to then try to incorporate (what we take to be) the perspective of a different sort of thing risks being an act of hubris.
      (2) I’m not saying we are “masters” of “the world,” I’m saying we are creators of our worlds.
      (3) I have no idea how we can know if death is or is not the end of “our personal consciousness.” Death does seem to be the end of our participation in the places where the worlds we create for ourselves overlap with the worlds others create for themselves. Beyond that, who knows? Perhaps it is a movement into a different space of overlap, or perhaps it is something different altogether. Perhaps consciousness ends, perhaps it doesn’t, perhaps it shifts into something else. Who knows?

  4. The world consist of other entities than ourselves (as you ofcourse agree with). To say that we “create our world” is not very helpful, in my view. The emphasis needs to be more on our interdependency and connectedness with our environment, and on humanity as animal. I was into post-structuralism a lot a few years ago, and I still sometimes think along the lines of how the world is structured through language in (instable, oppressive, misleading) binary opposites etc. But the empasis for me isn´t there anymore, since I find that it tends to easier lend itself to intellectual sophistication and elitism than action for and with the oppressed. So I am not sure I understand where you are heading with this or what you want to accomplish. I worry that this line of reasoning will put too much emphasis on (perceived) critical distance, rather than action (as you began with). After all, we are quite limited in what we can give our energy too, and thinking about “reality” and stuff like that is a really demanding (and stimulating) excercise…

    • I do plan on getting more into some of that environment and “other entities” thing in my next post.
      Also, I agree with you about much of post-structuralism (and philosophy… or any system of thought… or any writing or speaking). Much of it does not lead to the sort of action I consider significant. For me, this series is more about me trying to articulate to myself what I think these days. That’s all. Not really trying to accomplish much… except for maybe trying to push back at those who think words and thought are significant apart from life-giving action.
      So, yeah, thinking about “reality” is demanding and, truth be told, I will mostly avoid studies of that subject like the plague (although I am reading Being and Time right now… and it’s driving me nuts, reminding me why I had reading studies on the subject of being… even though it has influenced me in some ways..). At this point, it’s not so much about the time-investment, I just felt like I needed to step back and try and sort some things out for myself.