#12 Optimistic nihilism, it's a thing!
How good 💖!
You and I are just 2 of the 7.7 billion people on earth. Fathomless.
Imagine if everyone came out of their homes and stood close to each other or held hands. Unlatched their gates and descended from their fire escapes. It would be a sea, we would be grains of sand on a beach, a pair of snowflakes melting into endless flanks of ice. We would feel overwhelmed by the heaving multitudes. And we could get passed, from person to person, on a slow journey to Albania.
Sometimes I lie in bed and think of all the people; dying right now, filling their cars up with petrol right now, giving birth right now, falling in love right now, rushing to work right now. Like right this second. Millions of them, now and now and now. I wrote a poem about it, but I can’t find it.
On the weekend I was walking down Chapel street, and I was feeling a scintilla of the kind of overwhelm I might feel if I linked arms with 7 billion others. There were dozens of people walking and chatting and clouding shop doors with bags hanging off their arms.
I was running errands in the form of returning an erroneous purchase from Bardot of all places (a white denim jumpsuit that exposed my butt cheeks) and I was having a series of thoughts as Richard Fidler’s voice filled my ears.
What If I see someone I know? I’m carrying a Bardot bag, how embarrassing, only people who are 21 from 2011 shop at Bardot. I’d love to buy a sandwich, but where will I eat it (alone!)? Can I walk and eat or is that odd? I think I tried too hard to look like Princess Diana today.
I can acknowledge that I am more in my head than most and wracked with some of the most vapid, anxiety-pickled thoughts a soul can bear to contain. It’s exhausting. But I’ve recently worked out a way to quieten the din. I just say to myself, “no one cares about you that much”. And I say it with love. And it’s true.
I catch myself all the time, thinking about what people might think of me. Whether it’s my nose or my personality or my job. To appease a hazy mass of others on the periphery of my life I’ve spent money on painful beauty procedures, hated my inability to obtain a “real job” throughout my 20s, skipped down a street then felt intense reddening shame at having done so (a woman in her 30s, never).
I don’t want to harp on about social media, or media in general but it’s written us a fiction; that as humans we’re primed for, built for and satiated by the act of looking at people we don’t know with interest. The way we lie back in bed and flaccidly observe until our eyelids start to droop; it’s telling you the biggest lie of all time, of all of all of all. That you care about what you’re looking at. Or that you were ever meant to be looking at all.
Instead, we’re probably supposed to be doing things, not lying around consuming visual evidence of other people doing things. We're meant to be surviving on a plain or a cliff or a hillside, not luxuriating on a couch in a high-rise building as we max the aircon. The fluffy thoughts in our minds should be cut like soft butter by the hot knife of living in the world.
We’ve made our lives too easy and now we think that we care about strangers and that strangers care about us.
But actually, you don’t matter that much, and no one cares.
At its most cold and brutal, this refrain can gut you like a fish, like a taunt, a way of making you feel like your life is pointless. You should just shrink into the nosebleed section and give up entirely. Certainly, for me, the road to realising that no one cares was bumpy and circuitous, looping through towns of despair and a sense that I should just be quiet. Manifesting as a wool blanket silence over my writing and my desire to be seen.
And then I noticed this TikTok trend; “everyone’s gonna die, and no one’s gonna remember you, so… fuck it”. Video after video of Gen Z kids shaving their hair off, bungee jumping, going on impulsive overseas holidays etc.
Look past these achingly self conscious teen versions of throwing a middle finger up to the man and you get the sense that the kids have worked it out. The point of your existence is to just enjoy it for what it is: a lucky, meaningless fluke.
This week, sifting through my feelings of ‘no one cares, and nothing matters’ I messaged a particularly philosophical friend; “I’m worried I’m a nihilist”. He wasn’t entirely convinced, nihilists are a notoriously pessimistic lot, if they even exist at all. More akin to sociopaths. But I typed “no one cares about you and it’s liberating” into Google and there, I found it (!), optimistic nihilism. It’s a thing.
Writer Wendy Syfret has written a book called The Sunny Nihilist and as part of her research she spoke with author Jia Tolentino who has used nihilistic tenants as creative fuel; “if we’re here for just a blink of the eye, and in general if nothing matters, it feels like [it’s] carte blanche to wild the fuck out. To try a lot of things, try your best to do something because the odds are so good that none of it means anything that perversely it makes me feel free to try.”
I don’t want to install myself as an expert in philosophy, or a person with a belt of balms to fix anyone’s wounds but my own. I do though think, that if you hold the diamond of an inconsequential life up to the light, you can admire the facets as they roll between your finger and thumb. It’s simple really, no one cares about you that much (and that’s a bit bleak) and no one cares about you that much (and that’s freeing).
Or as the narrator in the video Don’t Worry, No One Cares, says; “we might die, and no one would even notice. It may be a stern truth, but we make it all the more so by focusing only on its darkest dimensions, we remain grief stricken by how invisible we are, yet we cease to put this bracing thought to its proper philosophical purpose; that of rescuing us from another problem which is gnawing at us all the while, an ongoing and highly corrosive sense of self consciousness. In another side of our minds, we haven’t accepted the indifference of others at all. In fact, we know and suffer intensely from just how much, as we feel sure, others are thinking of us.”
In other words, you’re just a barely visible speck of dust floating in the sunlit room of the universe? How lovely, enjoy.