Bargaining and recommitment

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When eternalism collides with reality—as it eventually must—and causes needless suffering, you are tempted to abandon it. But eternalism is so attractive, and the apparent alternative—nihilism—so appalling that this is unacceptable. So a common ploy is to cut a deal.

You make a bargain with eternalism that it will behave better, and in return you will recommit to your faith in it. This bargain may be the product of negotiation over a period ranging from seconds to years.

Of course, the argument is entirely in your head. And, of course, eternalism has no intention of keeping its side of the deal.

Eternalism will let you down over and over—because the world isn’t actually as it promises. This can produce an addictive cycle. When vagueness and meaningless are less obvious, eternalism delivers its emotional rewards. When they are more obvious, chaos, confusion, pain and doubt arise. Then you wonder what you did wrong. You may punish yourself on eternalism’s behalf. You try to figure out how to make the good feelings come back. If only, you think, I could really believe. If only my life weren’t such a mess. I know! I’ll promise to believe again, if life promises to go back to normal.

The antidote is to use periods of doubt as productive openings in which you can switch to the complete stance. This requires understanding that nihilism is not the only alternative to eternalism, and some skill in avoiding the slide into nihilism.

It’s only possible to combat eternalism’s ploys effectively if you can also combat nihilism’s ploys. Otherwise, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.