Nihilism is a tricky mode of existence. How does one continue existing, in an existence one finds thoroughly meaningless, when one’s very being demands love and relationship with others to survive?
Dostoevsky has a scene in the Brother’s Karamazov where a man, an elder of an Orthodox monastery, explains how the more he “loves humanity in general, the less [he] love man in particular.” This is a typical mode of being for many today whom favor the crowd to the individual. Think of those social justice warriors, those businessmen, those entertainers, artists, and others who set their life agendas on specific outcomes where the crowd takes precedence over the individual. Yet the crowd is an illusion, the public a phantom (Kierkegaard). Can one exist in a love relationship with an illusion? Is there any relationship – any personal love given with reciprocal personal love received – possible with a crowd? It is manifestly impossible.
But this line from Dostoevsky, oh this line! I have lived inside this psychology many periods of my life. I have found it much easier at times to love the crowd, the group with a special need or shortcoming, over the individual. The individual requires much more from me than the crowd. The individual requires me – the genuine me. And any love I hope to enter into with this other is stillborn without offering my true self. My “true self,” what terror! But how can one give one’s real self to an illusion?
There is no such thing as a crowd, just numerous individuals with similar demographics, each of whom is approached one-by-one. There is no relationship of personal love with the crowd. Individual love only exacerbates the lostness one feels when given to nihilism. Individual love requires too much risk, too much self, which is either not present or not strong enough to give. Love of the crowd is disinterested love: one loves the positive statistical outcome of whatever effort was given to lighten the plight of the crowd, but there is no personal, interested love at stake. Disinterested love keeps the nihilist going. Disinterested love gives the nihilist the illusion of connection and meaning.
Disinterested love is a Novocaine for nihilism.