Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Incitoism" - The Positive Nihilist is Given a Title

Occasionally Born Again Nihilist addresses stuff to do with its name, so here's the first philosophical piece for quite some time. My personal philosophy put to (cyber) paper.

Incitoism: Brand new term to describe the sense of liberation and excitement that accompanies an acceptance of nihilism. From the Latin, ‘Incito’, meaning: to hasten, spur on, excite, inspire, ignite.

Anomie: the feeling of despair that accompanies the loss of a sense of social norms is, more often than not, the first emotional response to an acceptance of nihilism. This is the opposite of the new term I wish to coin and deliver unto the philosophical world in this little article.

For the sake of clarity, let’s get our definitions straight right now. Nihilism, as I am using the term, is the philosophical idea that there is no intrinsic or objective meaning; all meaning is subjective, temporary and transitory. This does not mean absolute doubt or absolute scepticism, there is still ‘truth’ (although some thinkers will disagree even with this), it is simply a recognition that meaning and, by extension, value is not what it is commonly believed to be. Sum it up with this quote from Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’, “[Existence] has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long.” Or from Wikipedia:

Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived.

It is easy to imagine how this apparently bleak outlook can often lead directly to anomie. No one would enjoy having almost all their certainties crumble all at once. Yet many (well, ‘many’ isn’t always very big in number) of us come to this conclusion out of cold, hard intellectual honesty.

Nihilism is rather young in the philosophical arena, it has existed in some form since the hey day of ancient Chinese philosophy but only gaining any Western recognition in the 19th century and much of that was negative publicity. Nietzsche, who is still the one that introduces most of us to the concept, was determined to keep people from resorting to it and gave us his famous ‘Overman’ (more often called ‘Superman’) to give us, what he thought was a more genuine reason to hope. It’s difficult to push positivity against such a wall of historical negativity, yet this is just what I wish to do.

Everyone understands the simple idea that man fears what he doesn’t understand and will never accept something that he fears; anything bathed in so much apparent negativity will rarely be understood and will consistently be feared. This is what I wish to tackle. I don’t want to offer a remedy for nihilism, like Nietzsche; nor do I want to water down the concept to make it more palatable; I simply want to help breakdown this poor image.

Now, I don’t think I need go into the reasons why nihilism has a traditionally bad rep, one of those reasons I have already mentioned. You can imagine a host of other not so appealing reasons for yourself: loss of philosophical or religious certainties; no more need for asking ‘what is the purpose of life’; no more comfort in the sense of mystery or the imagined security that maybe there is a plan to all this universe stuff. And the worst of it is usually that feeling of, ‘why do anything if none of it matters?’ On the face of it, it doesn’t look very good and despite the fact that, if pressed, many of us would admit that this is indeed the way the universe is, we don’t like to confront the fact. Holding a meditated belief in the concept demands that the issue is faced and this is where anomie tends to begin. The apparent bleakness of it all gets to you and an intellectual depression sets in which is a hump that many do not get over, they either remain depressed about the matter or they retreat into accepting some level of meaning that is just beyond subjectivity enough to be comforting. You may notice that I’ve been using the word ‘apparent’ quite a lot so far, and that is no accident. I stress the word because the bleakness that invokes anomie is just that, an appearance, nothing more. Why no one takes the time to draw attention to the potential positives of a world without meaning I do not know but it is certainly frustrating!

So lets examine the other side of the coin. On one side we have the despair due to the loss of certainties and the lesser sense of security as a result. Now, just before I take the other side of the coin (which I have so far only spoken of in the introductory paragraph), let me point out one thing: the ‘bad’ side of the coin is all too human, isn’t it? Resorting to irrational beliefs to bring out a greater sense of security for ourselves is typical. Well let me make it clear, the same is going to be true when I examine the ‘good’ side of the coin, it is just as subjective as the bad side, but rather than dismissing the idea, consider it in the knowledge that it is equally as valid because of this fact. The scales are level but, in my opinion, the balance is tipped by the presence of the positivity itself, this will always have an appeal to us humans.

What about the excitement of knowing there are no real rules? What about knowing that tradition need never be observed? What about knowing that all meaning is transient and therefore you are free to invent your own? Rather than asking for your purpose in life to be offered to you by something greater than yourself, recognise that there is nothing you can call ‘greater’ than yourself and decide your own purpose! Be free of the myth of universal ethics, of the stagnant faith that things, and indeed people, have preordained meaning and purpose. I don’t like using the word ‘free’ because I think it is a poorly defined word but there is a certain freedom in the light of nihilism. Does this state of affairs not look exciting? Does it not look liberating? Yes, it is a situation that involves asking more questions than you have ever asked before but by the same token is also the situation in which you learn more than ever before. It is one of those utterly rare occasions when revelation can be made without faith or suspension of logic. Excited, yes? Good, then I am getting the point across!

For these reasons and more, I wish to advocate it. I only wish I could somehow convey my own thought process on the page but I must limit myself to the flawed medium of the written English word. Finally, why the word ‘Incito‘? I think it captures the excitement and fiery nature of this concept. A word interchangeable with Inspiration and Ignition has a quality fitting of the situation. Nihilism’s newly named aspect, Incitoism: it is not something to be feared, instead try to embrace this absolutely liberating philosophy.

A little further reading,

  1. To experience a somewhat extreme and exciting introduction to nihilism, watch, or better yet, read Chuck Paliniuk’s Fight Club.
  2. For a wholly spiritual approach to the subject, considering reading into Taoism and its ancient philosophy of the universe’s indifference to us.
  3. Any good analysis of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work (he is a much misrepresented thinker) will lay out his opposition to nihilism but sets the scene in which it has happened and continues to happen in the post-modern world.
  4. For a thrilling and unforgettable exploration of nihilism and its impact on individuals and society see Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1986 comic book series Watchmen.
  5. For a difficult but potentially life changing read on what it means to be human, see John Gray’s book Straw Dogs, Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals.

By Edward Gerard Brophy
For Born Again Nihilist 2011


  1. Excellent.

    I especially appreciate the mention of John Gray. I highly recommend all of his books.

  2. Cheers Daniel, this post hasn't got much attention since it was first posted so I'm glad to see people are still reading.

    Edward, B.A.N.