Eternalist ploys and their antidotes

Chess move

Eternalist ploys are ways of thinking, feeling, talking, and acting that stabilize the eternalist stance.

Eternalism is inherently unstable because it is obviously wrong and harmful. Yet it feels so good that one wants to find ways to maintain the stance. Ploys are ways to blind oneself to nebulosity and to trick oneself into finding meaning where there is none.

For example:

  • Imposing fixed meanings is a way of thinking using artificial, prescribed categories
  • Hope is a way of feeling that shifts imaginary meaning to the future, when the present is obviously meaningless
  • Wistful certainty is a way of talking that asserts the presence of meaning where none can be found
  • Purification is a way of acting that forces reality to conform to meaningful concepts

Each page in this section describes one eternalist ploy: how it works, and an example of the ploy in action. I explain how each causes harm, and an antidote to apply when you find yourself using the ploy and would rather not.

It is not so easy to see the casual, random occurrences of everyday life as meaningful; so individual eternalist ploys are usually not highly effective, or not for long. Typically we switch rapidly from one to the next, as the inadequacy of each becomes obvious. Or, we deploy several at once, hoping to overwhelm our intelligence with multiple spurious arguments.

Some ploys you are unlikely to use if you are not committed to eternalism. Others, everyone falls into sometimes, even when committed to nihilism or the complete stance (both of which reject eternalism).

You will find all of them familiar, either from personal use or from overhearing them used. Still, it may be useful to read the explicit analyses, because the concept of “eternalist ploys” may provide new insight into their operation.

The ploys are particularly easy to observe in religious fundamentalism and political extremism. Such systems use them in heavy-handed, clumsy ways, making them obvious. In this section, I mainly describe the ploys as methods for fooling yourself; but priests and politicians use them rhetorically to fool others too. Later in the book, I discuss eternalism as a route to social power.

Four groups of eternalist ploys

I have categorized the ploys into four groups.

  • By definition, eternalism means seeing everything as meaningful—although most things aren’t. The first group of ploys hallucinate meanings where there are none.
  • Many things are obviously meaningless, or have obviously nebulous meanings. The second groups of ploys blind you to meaninglessness and nebulosity.
  • Sometimes it’s impossible not to perceive meaninglessness, and so all those ploys fail. The third group explains away meaninglessness.
  • Finally, if meaninglessness cannot be explained away, you have to react in some way. The fourth group tries to cope with meaninglessness when it’s unavoidable.

Alternatively, the ploys could be grouped based on whether they are typically used in monist eternalism or dualist eternalism—or both. Most are used in both. However, smearing meaning around, magical thinking, and bafflement are particularly useful for monist eternalism. Similarly, fixed meanings, hiding from nebulosity, arming, and purification are particularly useful in dualist eternalism.

[I am unsure about my current list of ploys. They seem to overlap and run into each other somewhat, and I also expect I may find more of them. I may need to "refactor" the categories. Feedback about this would be welcome!

For now, I have provided unfinished versions of the pages describing the ploys. They are preliminary, incomplete drafts; I’ll come back and finish them when I’m more confident that overall scheme is correct. However, there should be enough explanation for each that you will understand how they work, and so can recognize them in operation.]


This page introduces a section containing the following pages:

  • ⚒︎ 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.

This page is in the section Eternalism: the fixation of meaning,
      which is in Meaning and meaninglessness,
      which is in Doing meaning better.

The previous page is Eternalism is harmful.

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