Existentialism, Egoism, and Zen

StirnerWhile in the western world faith in God has long since been sent to the graveyard, faith in God’s concept of ethics and morality still haunt the human mind. Despite the victory of existentialism and the words of philosophers like Nietzsche and Stirner finally shattering the fragile glass of moral realism, in actual political thought these philosophical advancements have remained in their infancy. Commoners still bray like donkeys about “Natural Rights” and “Social Justice” as if these concepts have the slightest shred of validity. Even with the advancement of moral non-cognitivism and the gradual shift of non-theist philosophers from any sort interest in discovering the “One True Moral Order Hanging There Out In Space,” there is still earnest discussion, even among ATHEISTS about the question of ethics.

The history of egoism is of course tied to Max Stirner, who in turn provided the basis for existentialism. Nietzsche’s contributions further advanced existentialism into the mainstream where it eventually coalesced into a more popular philosophy in the hands of writers like Jean Paul Sartre. Existentialism is essentially the Western acceptance of the Zen Buddhist position that “The Great Truth is that There is No Great Truth.” Western thought has merely just now caught up to something eastern thinkers and monks have known for quite some time, which is that ethics, morality and conscious constructs have no sort of intrinsic meaning or weight, and are merely the vain imaginings of the human mind. However, Western thinkers, unlike their Asian cousins, did not have a tradition of meditation and intense personal focus to enable them to peacefully absorb this knowledge. While a Zen Buddhist can smile at the nihilism of the universe and calm the vigorous horse of his mind with Zazen, the Western philosopher often found this final knowledge to be an endless torment, and had no refuge from what he saw as the terrifying implications of this reality. (Given this perspective, the insanity of Nietzsche and Sarte’s “Existential Angst” should now make perfect sense.)

Curiously Max Stirner seemed to find this not troubling in the least, and practically like a Zen Monk, simply said that “All things are nothing to me,” and pointed out that the egoist, unhaunted by spooks of the mind, would just go about satisfying his personal desires in a perfectly natural fashion. To the egoist, there are his personal desires, his will to acquire them, his might to preserve them and precious few other variables in the equation. I would add that “egoist version” of “Existential Angst” is merely the question of whether sating his desires or removing the desires themselves is the most efficient mode of action. It should be carefully noted that the egoist is not synonymous with “egotistical.” The egoist recognizes that all of his desires, actions, and interaction with the world spring from his individual person and that his mind resides inside his individual head. He proceeds through life considering things from a personal point of view because that is simply and unarguably how humans perceive reality. There is no ethical, moral, or philosophical reason for him to do otherwise, because these concepts are simply imaginary. Nor is he part of a hive mind consciousness capable of taking control of his body, although human social interaction may constitute an external influence on him. The egoist is simply doing what everyone else does without admitting it; calculating his actions based on how they will pleasure or pain him. These calculations may cause him to act in a manner others would describe as selflessly, if this pleases him, or selfishly, if that pleases him. He is certainly capable of viewing selfless acts as being “noble” in a purely subjective fashion and may engage in them for a great many reasons, but ultimately, he does these acts because he himself finds them worthy, not because any God, man, or philosopher told him it was the “proper” way to behave.

In many ways, the egoist or existentialist takes the old atheist statement that “You can be good without God.” and says “You can live just fine without morality.” Lack of belief in moral realism does not cause a man to suddenly turn into a selfish monster. The individual is still constrained by consequences, by his own natural desires which simply may not include raping and murdering, and by any number of myriad random factors, exactly like every other human being on this planet. The only difference is, the egoist does not spend time with post-hoc justifications for his behavior, nor does he bend ethics around his actions. That sort of behavior is for religious men and vulgar atheists. You do not require a belief in morality to conclude that certain actions will work to your long term detriment, and that others will work to your long term benefit.

Egoists in particular tend to be very hostile towards established governments and societal arrangements because they see absolutely no basis for the laws of these structures and view their commandments as being chains and fetters on the individual. Egoists are very keenly aware that the men in power are really just serving their own ends, and that every single socialist pronouncement of the “common good” is laughable hypocrisy, utterly unquantifiable in practice and a form of religious thinking which has simply raised a nebulous concept of “mankind” as a new God to worship. It is not likely an egoist will find permanent alliances and rules to be favorable to him, as the rules are always flawed and he may find his changeable interests bring his desires into conflict with laws and allies. As Stirner observed, even if you can make your every whim into ironclad law, you may find yourself constrained by your own creation. This stance is why egoists are naturally very compatible with anarchism, although it is certainly possible that an egoist might desire to become a dictator if it truly pleased him.

I would venture to say that all modern egoists and existentialists formally held faith in moral realism. Being a fringe minority, it is unlikely anyone was raised in the “tradition” of egoism or existentialism. Quite obviously this parallels atheism, which also contains a large number of “converts” and “former Christians,” and it should come as no surprise that egoists are quite adept at shredding any sort of argument for moral realism made by their opponents. Egoists came to their perception of reality precisely because they found all the moralistic arguments flawed and incomplete. They know exactly where the all the weaknesses are in stupid, petulant little beliefs in the NAP, “Human Flourishing,” or any other simplistic human constructs long since abandoned by real philosophers. Every egoist is armed with refutations of philosophical fallacies, and is more than eager to swing his well-used battle-ax at the legs of charlatans spewing moral realism as scientific fact. (“Naturalistic Fallacy” has slain many a would be savior.)

Currently the existentialists and egoists occupy a place once held by atheists in generations long since past: They’re ahead of the curve, they’ve completely abandoned religious modes of thinking altogether, and their position allows them to think in new directions denied to people still clinging to ancient moral imperatives. While an egoist might pity a theist, they absolutely loathe atheists, who despite a lack of faith in God still vomit up God’s worn out moralistic platitudes on an endless basis. The modern socialist/atheist is a revolting halfbreed to an egoist, a disgusting abortion that deserves only the title “Godless Christian,” a wannabe intellectual that knows only resentment, not enlightenment. The avenues open to actual existentialists are quite endless, with truly world-changing ideas of self-evolution present in the ramblings of Nietzsche and understood today by a tiny minority of transhumanists. The Western existentialist can very well ponder the idea of making himself superhuman, or of creating a superior order of men, or of conquering and scattering those superfluous ones, re-ordering society in ways not constrained by the silliness of liberal notions of equality.

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, the only way, it does not exist.” –Friedrich Nietzsche