Every once in a while I encounter someone who feels like an ambitious prison inmate. They just do what they gotta do, it’s dog eat dog.
I’m not the first to point this out but dogs don’t actually eat other dogs.
Except in like, the apocalypse.
This type of person treats the world like it’s a closed system and a zero-sum game, everything they have is something that someone else doesn’t, and everything someone higher up the chain has is something they feel has been taken from them. This is why they’re desperate to get rich while vehemently hating rich people.
Sometimes this makes people despair but it can mostly give them an excuse for greed, coercion and suspicion to the point of paranoia. They really believe that everyone who got anywhere must be a villain so we all have to be a villain too.
These are the people who imply you’re stupid for trying to be good. But they don’t really believe it, they’re just forcing themselves to put this map over reality because it removes uncertainty, i.e, fear.
There’s a class discussion from high school I still think about where I voiced the opinion that no one should lie and the class and the teacher all took the everybody lies a little, you have to to get by approach. And I couldn’t articulate it at the time (hence why I can’t help reliving it) but if they really believed that they would have lied about it. They would have falsely agreed with me and taken the moral high ground if lying were actually totally okay with them. Instead they were actually being honest about lying because they intrinsically know lying is bad.
And it’s much the same with our zero-sum dog-warriors, they know the world isn’t really tough and out to screw them 90% of the time and they’re not usually out to screw people – otherwise they wouldn’t be having a conversation about how they believe everyone screws everyone and they’d be actively screwing you on something – they just want to justify it all the time to excuse doing it some of the time.
But zero-sum battles don’t change objective reality. In a microcosm let’s say there’s two people and a bottle of water in an elevator. One person picks it up. What’s the objective truth? One person has the bottle of water. Then the other person takes it. What’s the objective truth now? One person has the bottle of water.
If your world is as small as an elevator and your goals as small as a bottle of water you say but they took my bottle of water, it was a fight for survival, better to be the one with the water than without by any means necessary. Which is ignoring the symmetry that they feel the exact same way. You’re both acting like your highest priority is dying second.
And I think this is where good nihilism comes in. Instead of battling over exhaustible resources because they, by definition, will be exhausted and thinking that dying second is better because then you’re sitting in a elevator with a corpse – the nihilist looks for not what prolongs life but what improves it.
A nihilist thinks the outcome is meaningless and I have no power over that but I do have power to change here and now before that outcome. So they feel satisfied and responsible for the power they have and the actions they take. The zero-sum thinker believes I have to change the outcome and for that I need power and power means resources.
The metaphor round of this would be that we’re all warring dogs on elevators with corpses but my whole point is that we’re not. The world is an extremely big system with infinite options in essence and you do have enough power to say I’ll make things better or leave them alone. It’s people who think I have to take what I can get who wind up with nothing, and they wind up with it over and over.
And it’s the people willing to say I’ll take nothing that slowly accumulate the things worth having.