Correlates of nihilism: In the past, I've posted a number of times on the question of happiness, but I've neglected the arguably more important topic of nihilism. I can safely say that my biggest challenge in life has not been laziness, passivity, or lack of organization--it's been my battle with nihilism. It wasn't a problem in the least when I was a pious boy, but as soon as I became convinced that there was no God, black nihilism started its creep, and it's been like bone cancer ever since.
It doesn't help that I'm inclined to take a distant views of things: "From the vantage point of Alpha Centauri or 100 years from now, I am absolutely nothing." I meet every hassle in life (and they are as omnipresent as advertising) with a "What is the point?" My attempt to develop faith in God--probably the only meaningful thing that could be 100% relied on--has helped, but not as much as I'd like.
Anyway, what are the correlates of nihilism? I did some quick searching in the General Social Survey, and found several items. Respondents were asked if they agree that life serves no purpose. Answers ranged from "strongly agree" (1) to "strongly disagree" (5). Fortunately, only 3.4% agreed, either strongly or moderately. I calculated the means for various groups and subtracted if from 5 to give the most nihilistic people the highest scores. The analysis was limited to whites. Here are the most and least nihilistic groups on several different variables:
Low (10-30) .68
High (61-90) .41
Less than HS education .80
Graduate degree .34
Belief in God
Know God exists .43
More than once a week .39
Number of children
Not too happy .77
Very happy .43
So let's create a profile: the average nihilist is old; unemployed or has a low-status job; poor and uneducated; agnostic with no religion who never goes to church; is separated with 8 or more children; and is unhappy and in fair health.
The picture that emerges here is of a person whose life is not going well, and who has no religious beliefs to draw on. The nihilist interprets his life as unpleasant, unsuccessful--maybe he feels impotent. The rich guy with the powerful job is more much likely to think life is meaningful. According to these data, few high-income people are nihilists. Money must give a sense of power, success, reward (not that I would know).
Children are clearly not thought of as assets: the "child-rich" person is the most nihilistic. Having a very large family is associated with many other challenges, like poverty, which overwhelm people. A spouse and 2 kids don't overwhelm, and they make a guy feel like he's part of something larger than himself--part of a family.
I excluded all the intermediate categories because I'm short on time, but I will look at this more closely later. I've been inclined to think that these life characteristics lead to nihilism, but that actually contradicts my own experience, where nihilism came first and caused me difficulties. For example, if life is pointless, why kill yourself in order to make a lot of money? My nihilism always pulls me toward hedonism--I just want to be a happy California cow, with his belly full of hay.
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