In this blog I’ve sought to carve up some sacred cows, including happiness and sex, theism and new atheism, liberalism and conservatism. In their place I recommend a pretty dark worldview, although not a wholly dark one. This worldview is informed by Nietzschean existentialism and by cosmicism as well as philosophical naturalism. The gist of existentialism is that we choose how we confront harsh truths about ourselves and our place in the universe, and that the mainstream choice is to retreat to self-serving delusions. “Cosmicism” is H.P. Lovecraft’s name for the science-inspired suspicion that our values, hopes, and dreams are all pathetic in the grand scheme, that our knowledge of the ultimate truth of how the universe works would deprive us of our sanity.
Probably the most common objection to my sort of hostility to Western culture takes the form of a stream of personal attacks: existential cosmicists are romantic idealists, often stuck in a juvenile stage of personal development, substituting a suitably dark fantasy for the tauntingly pleasant reality; moreover, the criticism goes, these idealists merely devise an elaborate philosophical rationalization for their personal failures in life, which is to say that existential cosmicists tend to be either losers (poor, unattractive sufferers) or else spoiled whiners, complaining about their anomie instead of seizing their opportunities, participating in society, and not over-thinking everything.
There are several criticisms here of existential cosmicism (EC), which can be conflated, so I’ll tease them apart and explain them more fully before responding to them.
Opposing Existential Cosmicism
Romanticism: Romanticism was the aesthetic movement that began as a recoiling from such cultural impacts of the Scientific Revolution as utilitarianism, pragmatism, and secular humanism. Instead of thinking of nature purely as quantifiable bits of matter that can be exploited, romantics deified the cosmos, portraying natural forces as worthy of awe, horror, and thus respect. Indeed, the pragmatist who deifies humans--especially for our scientific and engineering capabilities--borrows a theistic conceit which modern science itself has embarrassed, namely the notion that we’re similar to the First Cause, to the Creator of the universe. For the pragmatist whose ultimate value is usefulness, nature is a machine that can be reengineered to suit our purposes, and the more we control natural forces, the more godlike we become. Ironically, the romantic takes more seriously the upshot of modern science, holding up as more sacred the sea of natural forces than the hapless creatures who come and go as waves in that sea.