Saving the West by radical skepticism
(Below, John Press argues
that I have misrepresented him. Note that this discussion is now going on in two entries simultaneously. Here
is the other one.)
When John Press, author of Culturism, denied the objectivity of moral truth, I asked him, “Is it objectively wrong to steal?” In a new comment, he forthrightly replies: “It is not wrong to steal, it is wrong to get caught.” He then goes on to state that as an American, he is “interested in recovering our traditional ways of thought.” Evidently Mr. Press is not aware that Americans have traditionally believed that it is wrong to steal. Evidently he is under the impression that the traditional American belief system is not Protestant Christianity but sophism, that is, the belief system of the sophists of ancient Athens who famously told Socrates that it is not bad to steal, it is only bad to get caught. And on this basis Mr. Press thinks he can defend our culture from the forces that are destroying it.
- end of initial entry -
Charles T. writes:
When John Press, author of Culturism, denied the objectivity of moral truth, I asked him, “Is it objectively wrong to steal?” In a new comment, he forthrightly replies: “It is not wrong to steal, it is wrong to get caught.” He then goes on to state that as an American, he is “interested in recovering our traditional ways of thought.”
If this is so, then those who want to destroy our nation are not in the wrong for what they are doing and Mr. Press is not in the right for wanting to defend it. It is a conflict between two groups of people and nothing more.
Yes. To amend slightly, it is a conflict between two groups of people with conflicting wishes, and nothing more. There is no such thing as right and wrong. There is no reason for a person to want to preserve his country. His desire to preserve his country adds up to an assertion of will, with no moral reason behind it. John Press has invented a new political type: the nihilist patriot.
Lydia McGrew writes:
In a new comment, he forthrightly replies: “It is not wrong to steal, it is wrong to get caught.”
About the only positive thing I can think of to say is that at least he’s giving direct answers to direct questions. In some circles in the blogosphere that is rare.
I agree, and I thank Mr. Press for his astonishing frankness. And again I wonder: since, as he has repeatedly said, his concern is not with metaphysics and epistomology but with practical steps that can save our country and culture, to whom does he think his outspoken denial of morality will appeal? Which faction of American conservatives does he think will be drawn to his “culturist” platform which pooh-poohs the self-evident truths on which our country and culture are based? Who does he think will form the culturist movement?
Lydia McGrew replies:
It’s a good question. But obviously this piece of poor philosophy that he has picked up somewhere or invented himself (something like “moral objectivism implies a politics of never-ending conquest and open borders”) is something he’s so fond of that he can’t understand why others don’t embrace it on sight.
His position reminds me a bit of a version of Mormonism I have heard of to the effect that Mormonism is really a monotheistic religion because Mormons hold that there is only one god for planet Earth. In the same way, Press doesn’t understand why people think he’s a relativist, because he holds that there is only one morality for a given culture.
“… is something he’s so fond of that he can’t understand why others don’t embrace it on sight.”
And notice how Mr. Press keeps asking and expecting everyone to embrace it. More than once in this discussion he has told readers, “Start using the word culturist,” as though he thought that they were already convinced by him and just needed his encouragment to start spreading the word.
John Press writes:
I have to say that at this point you are either completely not understanding me or purposely misrepresenting my position via half truths. When you say, “Evidently Mr. Press is not aware that Americans have traditionally wrong to steal,” it is very silly. Mr. Auster, do you really believe I don’t know that? Really? Really? [LA replies: Let me say first that you seem, in all innocence, to be unaware of the plain meaning of your own statements and of the impact that they must have on other people, and therefore you feel wronged when I repeat the plain meaning of your statements back to you. In reality, I was only following the logic of what you said. You said that stealing is not wrong. Then you said that as an American, you are “interested in recovering our traditional ways of thought.” All I did was put those two statements together. If you believe that stealing is not wrong, and if your aim is to recover our traditional ways of thought, then evidently you believe that our traditional ways of thought include the belief that stealing is not wrong. I admit that that’s a shocking thing to say. But, my dear Mr. Press, you said it. I was only responding to and repeating what you said.]
Have you not gotten my basic point that I believe we have very strong morals within our tradition that we need to apply domestically? Have you, sir, not gotten that? I have given Plato, Jesus, and George Washington as exemplars of western morality to be emulated. Did you miss that? To say that I advocate an “outspoken denial of morality” is completely and infuriatingly false. At least I don’t bear false witness!! [LA replies: Again, Mr. Press, I had no intention to misrepresent you in any way. I was only repeating your statements. You said that there is no such thing as objective right and wrong, and you said that stealing is not wrong. How else can that be understood than as an outspoken denial of morality? Specifically, you said, “according to culturism, within our particular Western culture stealing is absolutely wrong. The Ten Commandments, Plato, Jesus, Kant, and George Washington condemned stealing so it is wrong in the West.” And I replied that the authorities you cite did not say, “I (Plato, Jesus, Kant, Washington) condemn stealing, therefore stealing is wrong in the West.” What they said was that stealing is wrong because it is wrong, not that it is wrong because they said it is wrong. So you turned those authorities on their head and recast them as advocates (a) of relativism and (b) of the fallacious argument by appeal to authority, i.e., “stealing is wrong (but only in the West) because I say it is wrong.”]
To paraphrase Ben Franklin, “It is a value system, madame, if you can keep it.” That statement did not imply certainty. But to say it is therefore a nihilist advocacy of stealing or moral anarchy is quite a leap. You disappoint me. And this is sad because as Shakespeare said against metaphysics and summarizing me, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves.” [LA replies: Nihilism means the denial that there is an inherent right and wrong. To say that stealing is not wrong is a nihilistic statement. Nihilism is an idea I’ve discussed many times. I was not inventing some new definition of nihilism out of thin air in order to catch you out or treat you unfairly. (See my further discussion of nihilism below.)]
Know that I am a patriot and person who has written extensively on morality. If you wish to remember all of our discussion as one long advocacy of theft and immorality, know that you are wrong and a poor listener and worse interlocutor. [LA replies: again, you said that stealing is not wrong, and I simply said that you said that stealing is not wrong. So how have I wronged you? How have I failed to understand you?]
When I speak about nihilism, I refer to Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose’s seminal discussion in his short book, Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age. In the introduction, Rose writes:
Nihilism has been defined, and quite succinctly, by the fount of philosophical Nihilism, Nietzsche:
Also, in the preface of Rose’s book, Monk Damascene Christensen writes:
“That there is no truth, that there is no absolute state of affairs, no ‘thing-in-itself.’ This alone is Nihilism, and of the most extreme kind.”
Nihilism—the belief that there is no Absolute Truth, that all truth is relative—is, Eugene affirmed, the basic philosophy of the 20th century: “It has become, in our time, so widespread and pervasive, has entered so thoroughly and so deeply into the minds and hearts of all men living today, that there is no longer any ‘front’ on which it may be fought.”
And this is why, I would suggest, you yourself feel wronged when I point out that your own statements are relativistic and nihilistic. Relativism and nihilism have become so much a part of people’s thought today that they do not realize that they themselves are relativists and nihilists. Thus this whole discussion began with you protesting the fact that some conservatives called you a relativist. But then it gradually became clear from your own statements that you are a relativist. But you don’t see that you’re a relativist. You don’t see it because, as you put it, “according to culturism, within our particular Western culture stealing is absolutely wrong.” So how can Auster call you a relativist, when you said that stealing is absolutely wrong? The problem is that you also said that stealing is not wrong. And if stealing is not wrong, how can it be absolutely wrong in the West? Oddly, you have turned relative truth (“Stealing is wrong in the West because Washington and Kant said it is”) into absolute truth, and, having done so, you think that you’re not a relativist, when in fact you are an extreme relativist. You are an extreme relativist because you raise relative truth to a higher level and call it absolute.
Leonard D. writes:
Mr. Press’s assertion that it is not wrong to steal is amazing. I think what he is getting at is that, unlike you, he does not believe it as a true universal. (You asked him if it was “objectively wrong” to steal.) In this, I agree with him. However, I find his statement objectionable in several ways.
First, if one wants to reject the idea of objective morality, then especially with a statement of near-universally believed morality, I think it better to make that explicit. Saying “Because there is no objective morality, it is not objectively wrong to steal” comes across as quite different than “It is not wrong to steal”.
Second, I think that theft is considered wrong in every human culture, at least among social peers. Or at least, if there are exceptions they are vanishingly rare. (The Spartans maybe? I don’t know what Press meant by that.) As a human universal, we ought look for some cause. You might identify the design of God; I would appeal to human nature. Either way, we have a higher source than the mere will of men.
Finally, Press makes things much worse for himself by saying ” … it is wrong to get caught.” What could this mean? In what sense is “it is wrong to be caught” something one can agree with whereas “it is wrong to steal” isn’t also? Certainly not, as you point out, as a matter of cultural history. Getting caught has never been wrong; if anything, it is considered right since it will presumably lead to justice. A nihilist would say neither theft or getting caught is wrong. The only ways I can think of that makes this intelligible is that Press is a selfish utilitarian, or a solipsist. Since that contradicts his expressed morals, I find it much easier to think he simply mis-wrote.
As for who he is appealing to, I think it is the tea-party sort of person. Not particularly ideological (i.e. not a VFR reader). Lightly religious. A person who opposes multiculturalism but mostly inarticulately, and wishes to have some ideological ammunition for use in argument with normal liberalism-influenced Americans, that is, generally sensible people who are nonetheless fanatical anti-racists and tepid multiculturalists.
I do think that the matter of universalism is a political weakness of traditional Christianity, at least within democracy. I find it hard to argue that if there is a grave injustice somewhere in the world, and I can right it easily and cheaply, that I should not. In democracy the “I” to “we” conversion is nearly automatic; hence we get what we have. The principle of interventionism is established and the arguments are strictly pragmatic, where opinions can vary considerably. Certainly the support on the right for the Iraq War shows this. It was not just neocons—it was practically everyone.
Press is, I think, right about that. Any universal value is a wedge in the door of American isolationism. One way to keep it shut is to reject universals. It’s not clear to me it can be kept shut otherwise. (My solution to that would be to get rid of democracy, not universalists.)
Leonard D. writes:
I think you are being too hard on Mr. Press in several respects in this discussion.
First, he has said he believes in traditional Western morals, and thus does believe stealing is wrong. In this he is quite like most other Westerners, for example me, who lack your faith. I think it much more charitable to believe he mis-spoke, as I suggested before, rather than he is immoral. At least until he explains that statement more fully.
Second, you accuse him of being an “extreme relativist.” This may be true in a narrow sense. However, when I hear that phrase, what I think is an extreme nihilist—someone who thinks “everything is relative, there is no truth at all, therefore I can do whatever I can get away with.” Clearly Mr. Press is not that. Indeed, he has hashed up a way to be a “limited” relativist—a relativist at the largest scale, who nonetheless is a “universalist” within a limited context. This is, I think, his point. [LA replies: I understand what you’re saying, but that is not what I mean by relativist. The classic relativist of our time is not a person who is trying to get away with something. He is a normal, good person in his conduct. But here is the typical way he explains himself: “I believe that there is such a thing as good and bad, but I don’t believe in imposing my beliefs on others.” In other words, his beliefs about good and bad apply only to himself. There is no general truth that applies to all of us. That is nihilism. Thus nihilism (or relativism) is not necessarily equal to some dark evil, which is the usual way people think about it. Millions of good, ordinary people today are nihilists. Nihilism is common. In fact, it the ruling belief system of our age. This is the revolutionary insight that one gets from reading Seraphim Rose.]
More generally, in my opinion the very word “extreme” has become, in the political/ideological context, a hateword to the left, and therefore I think better avoided, at least in polite discussion. In that sense it is rather like “racist.” [LA replies: good point.]
Here is my interpretation of Mr Press’s argument. He seems to be reasoning as follows: (1) stealing is considered wrong in Western culture; (2) the beliefs of a culture are objectively true—but only in that culture; (3) therefore, stealing is objectively wrong—but only in the West. Now, I find this odd myself—it is more parsimonious either to reject objective morality (as I do), or to believe that Western culture has discovered some actual universal truths (as you do). That is, we both reject (2), for different reasons. Although (2) is an odd precept, if Press does believe it, then the logic does go through. [LA replies: I don’t see how the logic holds.]
I do think that you have him on two points. First, that (2) is weird, so it may be hard to sell to the public. Second, that (2) is not, as a matter of history and tradition, something people have believed in the West, so advocating this sort of reasoning as traditionalism is untrue. It is, however, conservative, in the sense that it gets to (3).
Thanks to Leonard for the very interesting and thoughtful comment. :-)
I appreciated your explanation of nihilism in the sense of Fr. Rose.
You say that the logic I impute to Mr. Press does not hold. I am not sure why you say that—maybe I did not explain it very well. Let me try again in slightly more extended terms. Also I think it better to cease using theft as my exemplar. Theft is universally wrong, or at least, almost so. (As Kristor noted in the other thread, it is almost wrong by definition.) So it is hard to understand Mr. Press’s logic by using that example. I think it better to use something where the West and other societies do in fact differ. For example, homosexual conduct, or allowing polygyny.
I think his logic works as follows:
1. Within a culture, that culture’s metaphysical beliefs are objectively true (axiom);
2. Statements about right and wrong are metaphysical beliefs (definition);
3. Therefore within a culture, that culture’s statements about right and wrong are objectively true;
4. Polygyny is considered wrong in Western culture (observation);
5. Therefore within the West, polygyny is objectively wrong.
As I said, (1) is a weird axiom, but I don’t think it is necessarily contradictory. It does obviously contradict the standard Western concept of objective truth, namely, that the scope of all objective truth is universal. However, it may be that some kind of truths (i.e. scientific/material ones) are universal, while other metaphysical truths aren’t.
Perhaps it would help to think about it using a materialist analogy. In a science-fictional scenario, we could imagine that Muslim scientists start measuring the Earth’s gravity and discover that within Muslim lands, it is not 9.8 m/s2, but rather 9.7 m/s2. Certainly this would be deeply strange, a violation of everything we know (or think we know) about physical law. Physical law is universally true! How could it be that the beliefs of people affect gravity in their zipcode? Culturally variant physical law is repulsive! But we can, at least, imagine it, and I find imagining culturally variant metaphysics much less hard to rationalize.
I imagine your aesthetic assessment of cultural relativism is similar to my aesthetic assessment of “physical law relativism.”
As I said, (1) is a weird axiom, but I don’t think it is necessarily contradictory. It does obviously contradict the standard Western concept of objective truth,,,
Well, that is the obvious problem, isn’t it? Your logic chain begins with a highly problematic statement.
To explain why it is problematic, I would discuss it in experiential terms, not abstract terms.
Also, I am not going to use the more culturally based examples you use, such as polygeny and homosexual conduct. I deliberately chose theft as my example, precisely because theft is universally seen as wrong, and we don’t have to deal with various cultural attitudes.
Here is an experience I once had. There’s nothing unusual about it, it’s the kind of experience all of us have had in one form or another probably hundreds of times in our lives, but I recount it because it made a lasting impression on me. During one summer in the 1970s, I took over a one-man advertising business run by an acquaintance of mine in Aspen, Colorado. It was an old-fashioned sandwich board, which displayed ads for various local businesses. Our agreement was that I would pay him a certain percentage of the receipts from the customers, whether they were his previous customers or new ones that I had found. After the summer was over, and I had paid my partner what I owed him, I happened to receive an additional check from a customer, beyond what was expected (perhaps I had forgotten that this particular customer still owed money). I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and mentioned this to him. He said I had already fulfilled my obligations to my business partner, my partner was satisfied, there was no way he could know about this additional check I had gotten, and I didn’t need to go out of my way to tell him about it. I should just see the money as icing on the cake and keep it. I sat there for a few moments gazing into space, then said, “No, I have to pay him his share.” What I saw when I was gazing into space was that it would be simply and absolutely wrong to keep this money from my partner. The wrongness had nothing to do with culture or opinion or any other contingent factor. It had nothing to do with whether I would be found out if I cashed the check and kept it all, since I would not be found out. It was simply that keeping the money would be inherently and objectively wrong. Though the words “inherently” and “objectively” were not part of my vocabulary at that point, what I experienced in that moment was the reality of objective moral truth.
Now, I think that most or all human beings have had experiences like this. They know and feel, without putting it into philosophical language, that stealing is intrinsically wrong, that is, the sense of wrongness is not a function of our attitudes, it is a function of the very nature of stealing. Such experiences tell us that there is a transcendent moral order. Indeed, I regard my above-related experience as proof that there is a transcendent moral order. If someone replies that my “proof” is just in my experience, in my thoughts, and is not “real,” I reply that when we’re dealing with moral realities not physical realities, the proof can only be in our experience. Further, when we are speaking of human convictions, the convictions as experienced are indeed the primary data with which we are concerned. That is what I was referring to when I said that Plato and Kant experienced moral principles as objectively existing outside their self, not as mere subjective personal opinions, and therefore when Mr. Press portrayed the Western belief that stealing is wrong as an opinion based on what certain Western authorities had said, he was misrepresenting what those authorities actually believed. What they actually believed was that stealing is intrinsically and objectively wrong, apart from what anyone says about it.
Therefore, your statement number 1, “Within a culture, that culture’s metaphysical beliefs are objectively true,” is false, or rather nonsensical. If something is experienced as objectively true, its truth is not a function of any particular culture. The truth of that thing (e.g., the truth that stealing is wrong) resides in the very nature of that thing.
(I apologize for my repetitiveness, and for what may seem like the kindergarten level of this discussion. But sometimes clarity requires repetition, and wasn’t there a book with a title something like, “We Learned Our Most Important Lessons in Kindergarten”?.)
Speaking of lessons learned in Kindergarten, I am reminded of this passage from Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality”. I think Wordsworth gets a bit carried away by his vision, as when he calls the child a “mighty prophet,” but still, there’s something to what he says about primal truths experienced in childhood which we afterwards lose sight of:
Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
A six years’ darling of pigmy size!
See, where ‘mid work of his own hand he lies,
Fretted by sallies of his mother’s kisses,
With light upon him from his father’s eyes! …
Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
Thy soul’s immensity;
Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,—
Mighty prophet! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave; …
Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height!
John Press writes:
First, to put the famous sentence in context. Here is the quote upon which you obsess from the original, I wrote, “To answer your question about is it wrong to steal: It is not wrong to steal, it is wrong to get caught. Read up on the Spartans.” While I clearly see how you could miss it, I thought the allusion to the Spartans would be obvious to all educated people. To remind you, as part of their military training, the Spartans starved their students to the point where they had to steal. If they got caught, the Spartans, very famously, punished them, not for stealing, but for getting caught. IN THAT CULTURE, it cannot be denied that successful theft was honored and esteemed as a virtue. Do you see how when PUT INTO CONTEXT the statement’s meaning was that cultural diversity is real / not that I am a proponent of theft? (thanks Leonard D. for taking the overall argument into context and giving me the benefit of the doubt.) [LA replies: Since you didn’t explain the context, I wonder why expected anyone else to understand it. Have you noticed that no one understood the context which you didn’t bother to explain? The bottom line is, you said, “It is not wrong to steal,” and now you complain because everyone understood your statement, “It is not wrong to steal,” to mean, “It is not wrong to steal.” Also, once you realized that people were misunderstanding you, why didn’t you immediately clear up the misunderstanding? Even in your previous comment, where you said that I had misrepresented you, you didn’t explain the Spartan context. You have thus allowed an entire stage of this discussion to take place under the impression that you said something which, it now appears, you did not intend to say. Finally, if your real meaning was, “For the Spartans, it was not wrong to steal,” how it that responsive to my original question, “Is it objectively wrong to steal?”, since, apart from this weird example of the Spartans, in every other culture we know about it IS wrong to steal? Therefore your Spartan reference is unresponsive to my question. Just as there are individuals who do and approve all kinds of perverted and wicked things, there are cultures that do and approve all kinds of perverted and wicked things. The fact that they do and approve those wicked things does not mean that those things are not wicked.]
Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 16, 2010 01:22 AM | Send
Two directly related points come to mind. One is that you have written about neo-cons blindness to the very existence of Islam. In writing this, you seem to accept that cultural diversity is real and they are blind for not seeing it. If so, that far, we agree. But, whereas I contend that the West and Islam have fundamentally different values (as we and the Spartans), you seem to indicate that their cultural diversity is only apparently real. If properly educated, Muslims could not but agree with us. [LA replies: I have never said or implied anything like this. To the contrary, I have repeatedly argued—indeed it is the very basis of my separationist strategy, frequently restated by me, as a mantra—that we cannot destroy Islam, we cannot democratize Islam, we cannot moderate Islam, and we cannot assimilate Islam; therefore the only thing we can do about Islam is to contain and isolate Islam, so that it will not have the opportunity and ability to harm us. At the same time, I have praised the heroic efforts of evangelical Christians to save the souls of individual Muslims, which is possible, so long as this evangelical effort is not understood as a sufficient way of protecting the West from Islam.] I cannot uncover their deepest hearts. But, I think that sort of “we all have the same objective universal values deep down” orientation justifies wars such as Iraq. Didn’t George Bush say that we all believe in the same values of freedom, democracy, and rights? I say hogwash. Muslims do not prize freedom, democracy, and rights. And the failure to recognize the reality of cultural diversity doomed his Iraq mission before it started. Continuing the argument that our values are objective and universal is conducive to more Wilsonian adventures.
The second point is that within our sphere, I see our morals as absolute—that is how I am not a relativist. [LA replies: I’m sorry, but this is to use words in a meaningless and nonsensical way. If something is true only within a given subjective context, then, by definition, it is not absolute. An absolute is something that is true always and in every circumstance. To murder or to steal is absolutely wrong. That is what absolute means. The fact that the Spartans, as you tell us, apparently approved of stealing in some contexts does not mean that the act of stealing is not absolutely wrong. The fact that consistent and serious Muslims approve of murdering non-Muslims because they are non-Muslims does not mean that murder is not absolutely wrong. You have the right to your opinions; you do not have the right to make up new and idiosyncratic definitions of words with well-established definitions and expect your definitions to be accepted by other people.] We, for example, should not have polygamy because it violates our traditions and ontology (I’m big on ontology—the study of being). While the Spartans (minor tributaries in the Western river) may have valued theft, we consider it an evil. I am a member of the Western mainstream. As such, I too cannot but help hate and fear theft. Were I raised in a Spartan village, (or an American inner city) I might esteem theft. But being a product of the mainstream of Western tradition, I cannot but hate and fear stealing. It rubs against my vary sense of being (ontology). Is that clear? Does that explain how the charge that I am “not aware that Americans have traditionally believed that it is wrong to steal” is not only ludicrously and silly, but false?
You seem to believe that there are people who believe in universal –objective truth and nihilists who believe in nothing. As the quote from the preface of Eugene Rose’s book you chose asserts, if you don’t believe in Absolute Truth you must be a relativist (without an anchor for beliefs). In this formulation, no alternatives exist—there is no other front upon which to fight. This discussion started with our agreeing that those who disagreed with you calling you a “fascist” shut down deep thought. Well, ironically, I see the same thing happening here. It is exactly because I think that our truths are not objectively and universally true, because we might lose against Islam, because diversity is real, that I consider our values fragile, temporal, precious, and necessary to defend. We might discuss the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of grounding values. But to say that, because I don’t believe in your mode of moral grounding I am a moral monster who lauds theft, mirrors the very sort of mental rigidity the post originally opposed. [LA replies: As I have already explained in previous comments and as is also made clear by Fr. Rose, being a nihilist does mean that one is a moral monster. It means that one does not believe in absolute (moral) truth. That is not my idiosyncratic definition of nihilism. Nor is it Fr. Rose’s definition of nihilism. It is the definition of nihilism given by Nietzsche, who is the authority on the subject. And the disbelief in objective moral truth, the belief that “all truth is relative,” is, as Nietzsche predicted and as Fr. Rose demonstrated, the dominant belief of modern, liberal society. So when Nietzsche, Fr. Rose, and Larry Auster call people nihilists, they are not calling them moral monsters, they are saying that they are ordinary members of modern society. Nietzsche’s peaceful, bourgeois, self-satisfied “Last Man,” for example, is a nihilist. (Yes, there are nihilists who are monsters, who seek to destroy everything, men such as Hitler and various anarchists; but that is relatively rare [though it is becoming more frequent] and only pertains to the most extreme stage of nihilism, as explained here.)]