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A Response to Flower Bomb’s “Why Nihilism?”

Why Nihilism feels like an essay borne out of a confusion of language that appears to make people at odds with one another even though they are on the same page. The first contended word is “hope”, which author Flower Bomb previously detailed in their essay “No Hope, No Future: Let the Adventures Begin!”; Flower Bomb finds criticism of a certain brand of hope, one that “activist leaders and liberalism utilize in order to mobilize mass movements.” Per Flower Bomb:

Similar to how religion offers a heaven at the end of a life of misery, I have seen how leftism offers the same “heaven” in the form of “coming” insurrections or the traditional “Proletarian Revolution.”

Flower Bomb suggests that one should drop such hope for promises of mass movements, and to rely on individual action to achieve one’s sense of anarchy in the world. The primary issue with this essay is that Flower Bomb thinks this runs counter to Zerzan’s version of hope. Repeatedly in his books, Zerzan pointed out that certain brands of progress and revolution have more capability to pacify participants rather than engage and make them active in any kind of action. Flower Bomb shares this criticism, yet they are stuck on the fact that Zerzan said “Yes Hope” rather than “No Hope”. They go on to summarize an argument for anarcho-nihilism:

I’m pointing out that some discover freedom in the total abandonment of positive politics – including the “utopian future” tied to it like a carrot. For some, nihilism is the pursuit of creating moments of bliss here and now with the rubble of burned down slaughterhouses, the cartloads of retail theft, the spontaneous attacks against fascism and so on.

This confuses me because Zerzan’s anthology “Against Civilization” includes Feral Faun’s “Feral Revolution”, which is just a more flowery version of Flower Bomb’s words:

There can be no programs or organizations for feral revolution, because wildness cannot spring from a program or organization. Wildness springs from the freeing of our instincts and desires, from the spontaneous expression of our passions. Each of us has experienced the processes of domestication, and this experience can give us the knowledge we need to undermine civilization and transform our lives. (Feral Faun, “Feral Revolution”)

After reading several of Zerzan’s books, I found that, like Flower Bomb, he relies much more on “negative politics” than positive. Zerzan cut his teeth over the years on protracted criticisms and reactions against technology, agriculture and civilization, and is more likely to quote someone else for descriptions of “what happens next”; typically, those descriptions are more poetic and aesthetic descriptions of the future than step-by-step programs that both Flower Bomb and Zerzan fear in the construction of a post-civilization world. Flower Bomb believes that Zerzan’s hope has a carrot built in, yet I have yet to see any evidence of this in his writings.

Nihilism is the second word in contention: For Flower Bomb, nihilism is a freedom to enact individualized anarchy, without the need for promises of collective action. Yet Zerzan approached this idea very similarly:

For postmodernism, the self is just a product, an outcome, nothing more than a surface effect. Nietzsche actually originated this stance (now also known as “the death of the subject”), which can be found in many of his writings. Kaczynski expressed a determinate autonomy and showed that the individual has not been extinguished. One can lament the end of the sovereign individual and lapse into postmodern passivity and cynicism, or diagnose the individual's condition in society and challenge this condition, as Kaczynski did. (John Zerzan, Twilight of the Machines)

I’m not too happy that Kaczynski has to be referred to as the spiritual evolution of Nietzsche, but this excerpt goes to show that individual sovereignty is still a priority for Zerzan, and nihilism tends to reduce the individual into a cynical “surface effect” for others (a hair-do, a quirky lifestyle, a diet) rather than the individual human being as its own end. Let’s try to be clear so we don’t talk past each other: I offer lackadaisical and unfinished definitions to the words “hope” and “nihilism”:

If you approach “*Why Hope” * and the rest of Zerzan’s writings using these two definitions, I think people like Flower Bomb would be much more agreeable to his reactions against nihilism and his resultant rallying cry for the belief that something can be done. Whether by individuals or groups, something can be done—egoism and individualism has nothing to do with hope and nihilism.

Flower Bomb starts their definition of nihilism as “the pursuit…” and what is more hopeful than a pursuit? There are so many cultural entities that seek to end your pursuit for more—your job, your friends, your family, your finances, you religion, your politics, your hobbies—that it’s unfair to say that the self-defeating nihilist is only a stereotype or myth. They are real—anarchists or not, I can’t stop hearing the nihilistic tendencies of our culture in almost everyone I know. In fact, I feel alienated and alone in my belief that something can be done. My friends, my family, my peers, my co-workers, my siblings all need to be reinvigorated to ask more from this society. And we all must muster the courage to throw it out when it doesn’t work for us. They need to be reminded that something can be done.

Whereas Zerzan called for the belief that something can be done, Flower Bomb heard a call for “obsessive positivity”. Where Zerzan criticized solipsism brought on by forms of egoism, Flower Bomb heard criticisms of self-worth. Yet they arrive at the same doorstep, critical of civilization and ready for individuals and groups to make their moves for a better future. Damn the semantics, we are closer to each other than you think!

Lastly, Flower Bomb introduces a very important idea which I believe defines the current state of relativism and the general trend to move from the questioning of authority to the questioning of all shared knowledge:

Is it unreasonable to be desperate for freedom – for the reclaiming of one’s life from the civilizing institutions that steals individual livelihood? Even if one feels it is hopeless?

I cannot speak to the reasonableness of the desperation of freedom, but I can describe an effect I’ve seen when the hopeless express their desperation without movements toward actual freedom. Between people involved in QAnon, flat earthers, Joe Rogen-amplified theories, 9/11 conspiracies, I’ve observed a core of desperation for individuality that appears unlocked by habitual contrarianism. This core of desperation heightens the validity of any “alternative fact” that may exist in this world, and paired with a disdain for traditional media and popular shared knowledge, these people construct their individual identities on the contrariness of their belief systems. These people hold on to their beliefs in flat earth and QAnon and UFO sightings and 9/11 conspiracies, not because it gives them hope, but because it helps to channel their nihilism in unique ways.

Their hopelessness is also self-defeating—even if they truly believe these potential earth-shattering revelations, they do nothing but espouse these beliefs during parties and car trips, because these contrary beliefs do not serve anything but an aesthetic identity. Listen to their excuses about why the aliens would not want to interact with us but would still like to study us; listen to the QAnon followers who would rather stay behind their computer rather than take to the streets; listen to the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, who appear to be reading a script rather than constructing the event themselves. These hopeless people have been rendered inert in their desperation of freedom at all costs of intellectual dignity for the passing individualisms that occur when it triggers the ill-fated “normie”.

Hope—the belief that something can be done—is a more powerful antidote to today’s nihilisms than one may think. The nihilism of progress has repeatedly tells us that some government program or scientist is already working on fixing the problems of the world, yet by the end of each year we appear with new and growing issues. This is not where are hope lies—our hope lies in the fact that it was not always like this, and doesn’t have to continue as such. I see little difference in positions between Flower Bomb and Zerzan—except that I can never let the hopeless off the hook, as they are the most detrimental to any individual or group cause, stuck on spirals of cultish behavior for charismatic digital storytellers.