Still working on the 4th Flatland essay. This is clearly going to take a while.
Reader BJ wrote as follows in the comments section of Flatland Nihilism.
The thing that I see missing from the discussion is that happiness doesn't change for even good events, such as winning the lottery (studies done in both 70s and 00s). No matter what we experience good or bad, we return to baseline brain chemistry or programming or whatever you want to call it.
That is true nihilism.
Yes, it is.
I like the Teflon metaphor best because, with humans generally, it captures the idea that nothing sticks. Experience and knowledge basically count for nothing in the general case when something fucked-up happens. And of course humans fuck things up all the time. With rare exceptions, humans always return to their "baseline state". That baseline includes every Flatland instinct and bias I've ever discussed on this blog. It's not merely somebody's personal baseline.
This insight forms a subtle but powerful shift in my thinking about Homo sapiens, for the return to baseline—the nothing sticks adaptation—is the most basic and insurmountable form of existential threat filtering (see the first Flatland essay).
Filtering über alles. What's at stake is that humans acknowledge their own fucked-up nature. That will never happen. Their evolved psychological defenses are ironclad. Will never happen. What Flatland humans optimistically term "resilience" is nihilistic human inertia writ large.
This is easy to see once you grasp it, but it took me a long time to do just that. I alluded to this the other day in my authentic hope post.
For example, most everybody forgets all about that hopeful Ted Talk 5 minutes after its over. Everybody applauds, sings Kum-Ba-Yah and then goes home. Nothing much happens thereafter. In short, false hope amounts to yet another happy moment in the life of a social, story-telling species. These observations apply to Grinspoon's book as well.
And what applies to Ted Talks or books on Big Important Subjects also applies to nearly everything else when there's something important at stake. Every morning there is a talk show on NPR (now 1A, formerly the Diane Rehm Show). Everyday a panel of "experts" discusses some fucked up thing. Everyday. The discussion ends, the fucked up thing is still fucked up, and then they do it again tomorrow. No one ever notices that virtually everything (in America) is fucked up.
And why? Well, they do it everyday. Afterwards we forget about it, and they forget about it, and we listen in again tomorrow when another panel of "experts" discusses some other fucked-up thing. Wash, rinse and repeat. Nothing sticks.
This truly does apply to everything. Suppose Congress does some corrupt, fucked-up thing which screws lots of little people. (They do this all the time.) Some time afterwards, most everybody gets used to it, they adapt—only a precious few remember—and the circumstantial baseline is subtly reset.
More bad climate news? We need to act now! And quickly! Like water off a duck's back.
The deeper baseline, human nature itself, including the adaptive behavior I'm describing, can never be reset.
And if you complain about what Congress did, you will be told "life goes on" or "there's no point crying over spilled milk" or some similar adaptive nonsense. There are lots of such phrases, and they are deployed widely and liberally. There's a good reason for that.
I mean, this Teflon humans stuff has been pissing me off for as long as I can remember.
I think it's the temporal aspect of the return to baseline that makes this so hard to grasp. I've fought against this adaptation for many years now by maintaining extensive notes files. I update them everyday. So I don't forget. That's what allows me to write this blog.
If experience and knowledge basically count for nothing, there is only nihilism. Every time somebody tells you "life goes on" or "you'll get over it"—you are not dead yet—that person is telling you that human life generally, and your life in particular, is utterly meaningless.
That's totally absurd, of course, but how can evolved nihilism not be absurd?
In this sense the human condition could not be worse.
Have a nice weekend.