Capitalism, Nihilism, and Inherent Value (featuring SMBC)

I love the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Even when they seem to poke holes in my agnostic answer to nihilism.

It’s this part of the comic that is the biggest critique [1]:

That’s just a different set of destinations. if you started out saying "My destination is a reassuring feeling of competence’ then I could say you’re only thinking about the destination and not the journey. You just took the general plan of "arrive at a destination", set the destination closer to the starting point, and called it a win.

I’d already thought of the "Infinite Watchmaker" (aka "If God made the world, who made God?") feel of my answer already, and this critique puts it pretty plainly. This kind of critique points out that I pretty much push the idea of "meaning" back a metaphysical layer and call it a win.

But that’s not quite what I’m doing either.

Because instead of shifting the goalposts, I’m saying that the concept of goalposts may be irrelevant. I use the metaphor of "story" – largely because that’s how I think anyway – but that is a metaphor, and our understanding of that metaphor is colored by the society we live in. Particularly when we talk about things having "value" and "meaning".

This tweet – which makes an excellent point on its own – is the sort of thing I mean.

Unlearning ableism requires a fundamentally anti-capitalist change in perspective. Specifically, it necessitates that you believe in the inherent worth of human beings, regardless of someone’s social position or productive potential

It’s that term inherent worth that’s important, and where it ties directly into my answer to nihilism. The fundamental argument I was responding to [2] basically boils down to "We know everything will end and be destroyed, so we know there is no meaning to anything we do". It is an argument that has a deeply embedded capitalist view about "value" and "meaning".

It is an argument with no sense of inherent worth. Of inherent value. Of inherent meaning.

Perhaps there is some "meaning" in the way that we typically mean it, and we just don’t know it yet. Maybe there’s a "meaning" beyond what we’re able to comprehend due to our limited senses. But maybe our idea of "meaning" is actually warped by both our limited senses… and our goal-oriented way of living.

And it’s that last bit where this nihilistic argument falls short. Not just from "moving" the goalposts, not by redefining what the goalposts are. But by realizing our ideas about meaning and worth are literally tied to our limited perceptions and our capitalist and goal-oriented societal ways of thinking.

The tweet above points out a different type of value.

That "inherent" quality just… is.

It’s not about the goalposts. It’s not about moving them. It doesn’t have to be anything that looks like "value" or "meaning" to us, especially when we know that our perceptions are limited.

It’s very possible that, at least as far as we can understand, that the meaning to life, the universe, and everything is… just that it is.

And that tweet does something even more important. It gives us a better way to live and value our lives and the people in it.

It allows us to see the value of a person… as a person. Not for what they can do for us. Not for what they can do for society.

It reminds us that the value of a person – including ourselves – is not in our "utility".

But that value is in being.

Featured Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

[1] Critique of this kind of argument, I mean, not of mine personally.
[2] Which is, itself, a response to Camus

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