I’m a Nihilist! Get Me Out of Here

Social Commentary

I’m a Nihilist! Get Me Out of Here

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Tucked into my bed with the Netflix browser open on my laptop, it seemed like a usual Saturday night until I got a call from my harrowed sister. She sounded panicked. She had only recently seen my series of what she believed to be “alarming” Facebook posts, all shared from Nihilist pages, that ranged from a “I am so done with life” memes to a GIF of Mr Peanutbutter’s wise words about the universe being a cruel, uncaring void.

That day, at 2 am, while I assured my sister that I was not suicidal and had merely developed a taste for dark comedy, I thought to myself, “Huh, but how did I get here?” I used to be the kid who loved Donald Duck. When did I begin liking Rick and Morty, a show that swears by lines such as, Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everyone’s gonna die. Come watch TV?” Was nihilism just another millennial habit I had gotten sucked into thanks to my friends? And where does the millennial fascination with death come from, anyway?

The surreal, absurdist humour that promotes the idea of everything being irrelevant has become an escape mechanism for so many of us. We revel in the thought of the world ending. The many self-deprecating comments on each of these posts are indicative of our multiple existential crises.

I remember googling “nihilist” for the first time while watching The Big Lebowski. A nihilist is someone who believes in nothing – no religion, no morality, no purpose, like the bunch of German baddies who pee on The Dude’s rug. The Dude himself always has a Zen-like attitude toward every crisis; nothing seems to bother him. Everything about him and the film is nihilistic. The movie acquired cult status among the American youth (much after its release) in the 2000s, around the time of the two Iraq wars and the great American recession. Many believed that the “fuck it” sentiment of the film resonated with millions of those who felt helpless and let down by their governments.

Was nihilism just another millennial habit I had gotten sucked into thanks to my friends? And where does the millennial fascination with death come from, anyway?

The world today is not much different, even though it appears so, and even though we lead such comfortable lives. But a palpable sense of frustration among the youth is now more apparent and widespread than before. There’s Trump, Brexit, rise of hyper-nationalist forces all around, terrorism, racism, sexual harassment, sixth mass extinction, and above all, the 24-hour news channels and social media to keep reminding us of every terrible thing that is happening in the world. There is a huge gap in the beliefs of the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, with little attempts to meet at a common ground.

It might appear like we’re just a plaintive lot, and we probably are compared to the millions who are in far worse positions than us, but this isn’t just another passing millennial fixation. This isn’t merely a cloak we wrap our insecurities in, hoping that by focusing on the world outside, we will be able to deflect thinking about ourselves. And neither is this a result of looking inward all the time. Or maybe it is. But the world seems like a meaningless place to live in every passing day.

If this, then, is our world view and we have come to believe that attempts at changing it are futile, is it not natural to embrace a “whatever” mindset as a way of dealing with it? It is not ideal and it may sound convenient even, but this is what the mental fatigue of existing on Earth has caused so many of us to do. Leaving the planet seems like a much better option.   

After the initial spike in interest, nihilism reappeared on my Facebook timeline many years later through a friend’s post. He was depressed, his personal and professional life was DOA, and he had chosen to shut himself out to the pointless ways of the world. It gradually began from there, I kept seeing more and more friends share dark nihilist memes about our futile attempts at life. As someone going through major setbacks myself, reading these posts would temporarily abate my loss of faith. What began as a joke, became an escape. The memes echoed my emotion that “nobody cared”. I started believing that it did not matter if I stopped existing because I was not good enough to exist in the first place.

In the constantly improving, excelling, and shining world that we live in, we have grown used to setting high and rigid standards for ourselves. We desperately want our lives to be as beautiful and successful like those of our friends. We have a specific idea of what we should look like, whom we should love, and where we should hang out. We crave validation from others and that sets the bar for our satisfaction. Happiness is relative and dependent on what those around us think of us. Acceptance by peers is our passkey. Strangely enough, joking about these insecurities through a meme that yells “my generation is going to be known for wanting to die” provides much-needed comic relief. It normalises the pain.

The beauty of these nihilist pages is that they unify those who feel the same way, like we were all on the same old Titanic that will sink any day. Until my sister called up to check on me, I didn’t realise that this way of thinking might be problematic. Why hadn’t I, for example, reached out to the friend who expressed a desire to die? What had made me go so cold and indifferent?

After my sister hung up, I began to feel really crappy about who we’d become as a generation? The world out there might be harsh, but what sort of a world are we perpetuating by thinking like this? And then another Rick and Morty episode popped up on my laptop and I thought to myself. Fuck it. We’re gonna die anyway. Let’s continue watching.