"Don't tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief's wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul." - Toni Morrison
In The Big Lebowski, Walter Sobchak, a convert to Judaism, says the following to The Dude when they are confronted outside a bowling ally by a group of armed Germans describing themselves as nihilists: ''Nihilists! ..Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos." Walter is a lovable but reliably unwise character. Nevertheless, I think he might've been on to something here. Sobchak is saying that believing in something, even a bad thing, is superior to not believing in anything. Maybe it's like, we see an abusive parent, and imagine that the child's life would be infinitely improved by this person's absence. But are we right? Part of our assumption might be that another figure of care and authority would step into place, not that the child would be released to the wild, where feral, he/she would lose language and a number of other capacities that we think of as essential to our humanity.
And it's nihilism that makes me hate our current president and resent his religious supporters. To be more charitable, maybe these voters preferred a transparent nihilist to the shady world of Clintons and Bushes, where leaders claimed to embrace traditional versions of honor and decency, but privately partied with Jeffrey Epstein (I know the Bushes are not accused of this, but they have their own weird friends). This new conclusion, that the elite is necessarily vile and rapacious as a result of the incentive structure of our meritocracy, is now explicitly stated by the left and the right.
Even if this is the bargain though, to say that they all are surely nihilists, and one we understand as such is safer than a wolf in sheep's clothing, I think this proposition is deeply un-Christian. I don't remember the chapter and verse about sin in the name of making a point. I don't remember Jesus, when confronted about spreading lies, saying, "have you seen what the Roman media says???" Christianity only has value if it is a bulwark, hopefully THE bulwark in the West, against nihilism. If we repeat theology while embracing the zero-sum calculations of the material world and it's rationally justified politics, I'm sorry, but we are not meaningfully Christian.
To this point, I have not mentioned this week's shootings. To be honest, they paralyze my desire to write or express myself about anything. Communication is aspirational, relying on the hope that dialogue might make things better. Most of the time I feel like expressing myself can have a salutary impact, but in the wake of the shootings life does not feel that way.
In some ways, I regret the Beto post. Even though I thought it was funny and I enjoyed writing it, it channeled the hateful tone of the internet that also defines our President's rhetoric. I decided to do a sort of solo-blog as opposed to continuing my podcast or tweeting, because I thought I could remain more measured in this format. I'll again channel Marianne Williamson, I want to put some good vibes on to the internet, and fight the dark energies that have intruded.
I can't add anything sensible to the broader conversation about the President's tone and gun violence. He will never see a connection between his own words and violence because he doesn't see connections between anything. That is what nihilism is and that is his connection to the shooters. This nihilism, and the white identity violence that acts as its political cover, is on the march. A conclusion that the transcendent is gone or inaccessible, and that our ugly, earthly desires, often at the cost of others, are all we should aspire to is an increasingly common belief. I can't calculate the cost of the spread of this worldview, or parse the difference between "encouraging" and "inciting" an attack. I will only say that nihilism has a cost, and it's measured in human lives.