Whenever there’s a tragedy like the movie theater shooting in Colorado, reasonable people make the mistake of trying to comprehend the irrational. ‘How could this happen?’ they ask. Or: ‘Why did this happen?’
The premise of the question is wrong. People who do things like mass murder are acting on the premises of philosophical nihilism—whether they know it or not.
Nihilism refers to the philosophical view that because all reality and morality are subjective, life is meaningless. Many people who feel this way simply become depressed or apathetic, and would still never hurt a fly. But some take it a step further, seeking to impose their view on innocent and random others.
If you wonder how a young man with his whole future ahead of him could open fire on an innocent crowd about to watch a movie, then study the outlook of nihilism. Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is referred to in some sources as the meta-ethical view that morality does not exist as something inherent to objective reality; therefore no action is necessarily preferable to any other.
For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong. Other nihilists may argue not that there is no morality at all, but that if it does exist, it is a human and thus artificial construction, wherein any and all meaning is relative for different possible outcomes.
It’s important to understand that philosophy is not just some abstract subject for the tiny few who choose to pursue it as a discipline. We all have subconscious minds, and we all have emotions created by that subconscious. The emotions in the subconscious, in turn, are informed by our philosophical premises.
The shooter quite possibly never studied philosophy, and possibly never thought about the subject of ethics consciously. It’s very possible he did, but more likely that he didn’t. It doesn’t change the fact that nihilism is the philosophical viewpoint he was acting on when he planned and executed his monstrous scheme.
People with their own agendas love to ‘cash in’ on the tragedy by using it as an opportunity to advance their viewpoints. I think it took Barack Obama all of five minutes to utilize the shooting as an excuse to lecture Americans on how they are ‘all one family’ which when translated means, ‘You’re going to pay for each other’s health care, and much else, whether you like it or not.’ Excuse me, Barack, but I am not part of YOUR family and never intend to be. If I participate in any of your collectivist or income redistribution programs, it’s due to the threat of force and force alone.
Others, outside of politics, will use the tragedy for their own reasons. For example, religious moralists love to use incidents like this as an excuse to say, ‘People must turn to God and Church for these kinds of things not to happen.’ Actually, the vast majority of people not involved in God or Church will never open fire in a crowded movie theatre. And, by the same token, monstrous people come from both religious and non-religious backgrounds.
Still others use this as an excuse to blame guns. We’ve heard it all before. If fewer nonviolent people owned guns, then there would be less violence. That makes about as much sense as most things paraded as conventional wisdom today, but—let’s face it—we’re not exactly living in an intellectual or philosophical Renaissance. If we did, we probably wouldn’t have so many grotesque, high-profile tragedies such as this one.
I won’t even mention this killer by name, and I won’t be studying his life. I’m not interested. His actions tell us all we’ll ever need to know about him. The injustice to his victims and loved ones is inexpressible. Any of us can imagine what it would be like if that had happened to one of our own loved ones. There’s really nobody to blame, and nothing to blame, other than the ideology of nihilism which this young man adopted and allowed to take him over. I frankly wish that the religious fundamentalists and the politicians–if you ask me, the least wise amongst us–would simply shut up and leave the victims alone.
Ideas matter, and what you do with those ideas matters even more. If there’s anything to say about this awful event, that pretty much sums it up.
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