A Purposeless Descent into Infamy
by Adam J. Wehrley
For over a century, a philosophy of nothingness has filtered down through western society.
From the final insane ramblings of Friedrich Nietzsche and like-minded disciples of nihilism, it has dribbled down through universities and the arts, seeping into popular culture, into our living rooms, smart phones, computers and game consoles.
It has not only attacked traditional morality, it has attacked the very concept of right and wrong to the point that truth and moral absolutes are laughable concepts among those who consider themselves the elite, simply because they laugh at absolutes and traditions.
Watching the 1988 movie “Heathers,” which glorifies a bomb plot to blow up a high school as a statement against society, was the first time I remember recognizing this line of thought. It eerily foreshadowed and I believe encouraged, the school violence which has followed.
Although I disagree with his atheistic foundational premises, his cynicism and his ultimate denials of morality, I agree with Nietzsche that in a world devoid of a loving God, devoid of absolutes, devoid of patriotism, charity, social responsibility, pity, concern for your neighbors, community and family; in a world devoid of love, the pride within us, which seeks to dominate others, finds pleasure in cruelty. Nietzsche called this desire to affirm one’s strength and vitality by overpowering others “the will to power.”
I wholeheartedly affirm love, charity and responsibility – qualities which nihilism denies. But that philosophy’s insight into the workings of a mind with no moral foundation describes the inhuman cruelty we see flashed across the evening news. Even when the nihilists’ direct influence is lacking, the desire for power drives some people to purposeful cruelty. Duty, responsibility and charity call us to reject what they embrace.
Nihilism denies all the basis on which civil society is founded, yet people are shocked and horrified that those under its teachings act out their will to power through attacks on society’s most vulnerable innocents.
The teachings of nihilism are to some the unavoidable conclusion of attempting to conceive of a world without God. The mechanized torture and genocide by the German Nazi party was the practical application of the philosophy of nothingness. Nazis were nihilism’s most ardent and successful group of disciples.
Among the already mentally ill, the philosophy of nothingness may breed a species of sociopathic cruelty. Unrestrained by shame, guilt, love and mercy, some learn to find pleasure in the pain of others.
Desensitized by violence in movies, games, music and television, and infatuated with stories of previous attacks, they are driven by a twisted pride that tells them they could do “better” – they could inflict more terror, pain, death and destruction.
In their final stage of decay, the purposeless individual bent on asserting their power over others will seek out the exposed, the innocent, the helpless in a suicidal plunge towards what they see as a comet-like dive toward a horrible, but memorable infamy.
Nihilism Plus Mental Illness – A Dangerous Mix
Violence in America has declined sharply in recent decades, we truly are safer than we’ve been before. Mass murderers are rare and far from a foregone conclusion for everyone who embraces the purposeless self-indulgence of nihilism. However, it is plain to see how philosophies that preach a “will to power” and a lack of any moral restraint provide the slope over which a very few sick individuals slip.
There is so much debate about the causes of mass shooting, because there are so many contributing factors which have to line up in order to tip an individual to commit such heinous crimes. Even in the absence of mental illness, nihilistic philosophy in both its scholarly and Hollywood-filtered guises dares the individual to abandon morality and self-restraint.
We will refrain from playing armchair psychiatrist, by suggesting specific changes to the mental health system, to the way diagnosis and treatment is performed. However, we do echo calls from across the political spectrum that mental health should be addressed in the effort to put a stop to violence.
We urge doctors, family members, patients, school counselors and those involved in policy-making and administration of the mental health system to take a look at ways in which public safety and the sanctity of human life can be promoted through these programs.
Between 1988 and 2011, at least 66 cases of school violence in America, Europe, Asia and elsewhere have been connected to the use of prescription psychoactive drugs. The cases listed involve plots, threats, stabbings and infamous mass shootings. Most of the cases involved antidepressants such as Prozac, Pavil, Zoloft, Anafranil, Celexa and Luvox. Withdrawal or overdose of these drugs was often a factor in these incidents.
Although not irrefutable, the link is compelling and is one of several factors mental health experts should look into.
Patients and their families should be aware of the possible side effects of some of these drugs, which include homicidal and suicidal ideation, aggression, hostility, agitation, and unusual thoughts and dreams.
We would emphasize that withdrawal from these medications is a possible trigger for incidents of this kind, and any changes to dosage should only be made under medical supervision. We are not asking people to stop using them, simply for them, and those close to them, to be vigilant of the side-effects.
The connection between these drugs and violence should be a warning for families, educators and medical professionals to increase their monitoring of individuals using these medications, especially adolescents.
Violence in movies, video games, music and other media contributes to a culture of violence, and psychoactive medications further dull some individuals’ sensitivity to their conscience, and heighten their aggression and paranoia.
When these factors are coupled with a system of belief which devalues human life, unprovoked violence is justified in the mind of the perpetrator. The elaborate planning and premeditation of these crimes indicates the presence of some twisted logic, some underlying justification for them. The illness must be coupled with a motive towards inhumanity in order to result in these kinds of crimes.
There are obtainable solutions through educating and monitoring of patients on psychoactive medications, solutions which neither expose law-abiding citizens to infringements of their rights nor incite distrust of the government among those who seek to maintain liberty.
There are also solutions to be found in teaching the value of human life, in promoting charity, virtue and duty. Solutions which do not simply pacify the aggression of the directionless, but which compel each of us towards compassion and love of humanity.
Our area is served by an active chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), whose programs and services are frequently the topic of articles in this newspaper, including this issue. NAMI’s statewide toll-free helpline is 800-343-6264. We would also encourage those dealing with their own or a family member’s mental illness to call Columbia Community Mental Health at 503 397-5211 or (after hours) 1 866 866-1426.