Comments on “Eternalism: the fixation of meaning”

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In Terms of Popular Philosophy...

James Hansen's picture

The concept of nihilism and eternalism, in the domain of meaning, seem very intuitive. Yet, the term ‘nihilism’ is almost universally recognized, while ‘eternalism’ is not. It’s not just that the term ‘eternalism’ is not in common parlance, but the general idea is not at all widely recognized as being an ‘idea’. Why do you think this is? Isn’t it a bit strange?

Not that this is any steadfast metric, but when I enter the query, “Everything is meaningful” into Google, the first result is a link to one of your articles. Whereas when I search, “Nothing means anything” I find a vast area of philosophy-related resources instead.

I’m probably driving this into the ground, as you’re aware of the idea. Anyway, I wonder why this all is so.

A bit strange

Yes, I agree, it’s quite odd! And I don’t have any good theory.

My only guess would be that, in the Western tradition, “religion” is the category that wound up taking up the space where “eternalism” ought to have been.

That left blind spots where the two concepts fail to coincide. So (1) non-eternalist religions are misunderstood, and (2) non-eternalist religions are misunderstood.

As an example of (2), many Christians say that “atheism is just another religion,” and atheists push back with “no, it’s just the absence of a religion.” And in some sense they are both right. The atheists are right literally, but their critics are right that, as an organized movement, atheism can become highly eternalistic, and so displays many of the same characteristics as eternalistic religions. (Which is a problem, in my view.) The lack of a word for eternalism is part of the problem: atheists can’t see their own dysfunction, and critics don’t have good a way of pointing it out.

If Only

James Hansen's picture

Very interesting; now there’s a whole area of exploration in and of itself. If only there was a popular philosopher of the 20th century who could’ve enunciated this issue in the right way.

It seems that this may not have occurred, in part, because there are some major cultural factors which have led people to think about meaning in ‘prescribed’ ways. I think this is something you’ve written about here and there.

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This page introduces a section containing the following pages:

  • I get duped by eternalism in a casino

    Gambling, religion, and addiction: a personal story.

  • ⚒︎ No cosmic plan

    Great confusions about meaningness stem from the mistaken assumption that there must be some sort of eternal ordering principle.

  • The appeal of eternalism

    Eternalism promises everything you could want from meaning: safety, support, certainty, reassurance, and control. Solid ground!

    • The promise of certainty

      What we want most from meaning is guarantees. Religions, political ideologies, and other eternalist systems promise certainty; but they cannot deliver.

    • The illusion of understanding

      It’s deluded to think we mostly understand issues of meaning (ethics, purpose, value, politics). Ideologies deliberately create and sustain that illusion.

    • The fantasy of control

      Eternalism promises complete control over life—but that is an impossible fantasy. Influence through collaboration and improvisation are possible, however.

    • The wheel of fortune

      Eternalism promises answers about good and bad—the meanings we care about most—but cannot deliver.

    • Eternalism as the only salvation from nihilism

      Eternalism's final promise is to keep nihilism at bay. There is a better alternative to both!

  • Eternalism is harmful

    Eternalism—belief in fixed meanings—makes promises it can't keep. It makes us do stupid, crazy, evil things. And we still love it and keep going back for more.

  • Eternalist ploys and their antidotes

    Ploys—ways of thinking, feeling, talking, and acting—which stabilize eternalism; and antidotes to use against them.

    • ⚒︎ Imposing fixed meanings

      Forcing fixed meanings on experience always eventually results in unpleasant shocks when reality refuses to conform to your pre-determined categories.

    • ⚒︎ Smearing meaning all over everything

      Monist eternalism—the New Age and SBNR, for example—say everything is meaningful, but leaves vague what the meanings are.

    • ⚒︎ Magical thinking

      Magical thinking—hallucinating causal connections—is powerfully synergistic with eternalism (the stance that everything has a fixed meaning).

    • ⚒︎ Hope

      Hope is harmful in devaluing the present and shifting attention to imaginary futures that may never exist.

    • ⚒︎ Pretending

      Eternalist religions and political systems are always partly make-believe, like children playing at being pirates.

    • ⚒︎ Colluding for eternalism

      Because eternalist delusion is so desirable, we collude to maintain it. To save each other from nihilism, we support each other in not-seeing nebulosity.

    • ⚒︎ Hiding from nebulosity

      Hiding from nebulosity is a ploy to preserve eternalism by physically avoiding ambiguous situations and information.

    • ⚒︎ Kitsch and naïveté

      Eternalist kitsch is the denial of the possibility of meaninglessness. This leads to willfully idiotic sentimentality.

    • ⚒︎ Armed & armored eternalism

      When nebulosity becomes obvious, eternalism fails to fit reality. You can armor yourself against evidence, and arm yourself to destroy it.

    • ⚒︎ Faith

      Privileging faith over experience is an eternalist ploy for blinding yourself to signs of nebulosity.

    • ⚒︎ Thought suppression

      Thought suppression is a ploy for maintaining faith in non-existent meanings. It leads to deliberate stupidity, inability to express oneself, and inaction.

    • ⚒︎ Bargaining and recommitment

      When eternalism lets you down, you are tempted to make a bargain with it. Eternalism will behave itself better, and in return you renew your faith in it.

    • ⚒︎ Wistful certainty

      Wistful certainty is a ploy for reinforcing eternalism based on the thought that there must exist whatever it takes to make eternalism seem to work.

    • ⚒︎ Faithful bafflement

      Faithful bafflement is a ploy for maintaining the eternalist stance that remains committed but begins to doubt.

    • ⚒︎ Mystification

      Mystification uses thoughts as a weapon against authentic thinking. It creates glib, bogus metaphysical explanations that sweep meaninglessness under the rug.

    • ⚒︎ Rehearsing the horrors of nihilism

      Reminding yourself and others of how bad nihilism is can help maintain the eternalist stance. This is the hellfire and brimstone of eternalist preaching.

    • ⚒︎ Purification

      Purity is an obsessive focus for dualist eternalism. It mobilizes emotions of disgust, guilt, shame, and self-righteous anger.

    • ⚒︎ Fortress eternalism

      In the face of undeserved suffering, is difficult not to fall into the stance that most things are God’s will, but not the horrible bits.

  • Accomplishing eternalism

    Accomplishing eternalism would would mean knowing the meaning of everything, and acting accordingly. This is impossible, because there are no fixed meanings.

  • Exiting eternalism

    Learning skills for escaping the grip of eternalism—the delusion that everything is meaningful.

  • Non-theistic eternalism

    Freeing ourselves from theism is only a first step toward freeing ourselves from a host of ubiquitous, harmful, mistaken ideas about meaningness.

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