Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 11th 2017 Contents 12 UWI TODAY – SUNDAY 11 JUNE, 2017
Nihilism is derived from the Latin nihil, meaning nothing.
The Oxford Dictionary refers to it as such an absence of
moral and religious principles that life has no meaning. In
philosophy, it refers to the idea that nothing in the world
has a real existence. Albert Camus referred to nihilism as
the biggest problem of the 20th century – which in its latter
phases gave birth to the Internet and virtual reality. The root
nihil is also found in the word annihilate, which means to
The pervasive nihilism that seems to now define
Trinidadian life found its expression in the runaway
Carnival hit song, “Full Extreme.”
Individuals who experience major depression frequently
have nihilistic beliefs that are part of their condition. They
feel empty, devoid of meaning and therefore, of hope, and
are consequently apathetic and completely demotivated.
How do we overcome this negation?
“Full Extreme” suggests that hedonism or partying to
the fullest is one way. “We jamming still,” while everything
burns down, is an indictment of our inability to face and
constructively overcome the negation that our social and
structural problems invoke. It also implicitly suggests
that the institutions should indeed be destroyed. If all
we can do is jam then the capacity to reconstruct or even
prevent the complete destruction of our own lives becomes
compromised by our philosophy that declares “we doh
The lack of trust in our institutions and the abiding
sense that most, if not all of them, cannot deliver what is
needed beyond a basic standard to lift the society out of its
despair, may be the rationale that lies behind our taste for
destruction. Rules and regulations are only useful if they
serve our narrow and self-seeking ends.
The repeated expectation of corruption and the lack of
accountability at every level have stymied our capacity to
BY GERARD HUTCHINSON
In “Full Extreme” some have seen a capacity to celebrate and enjoy our lives in spite of whatever problems we might be facing,
so that we are “jamming still” regardless. This might be a kind of resilience, if we accept that construction.
believe we can deal with the many outward manifestations
of these problems. The sense that our safety – individual
and collective – is under siege from criminal elements
adds to a sense of hopelessness and indeed, helplessness.
We know from neuroscience that when there is a lack of
safety, it generates a fear/rage response which alternates
with anxiety and which may be another explanation for our
anger and aggression.
Nihilism can be contagious and generational and is
thought to have informed another great modern trend:
narcissism or preoccupation with self. This in turn has led
to another negative manifestation, which is the demise of
interpersonal relationships: the very medium through which
humans derive meaning to challenge the emptiness that
might be generated by interactions with the wider world.
The absence of meaning lends itself to an absence of
trust and here the individual is mirroring the social, or is it
the social being constructed by the individual? The social
outcome we face here is the growth of interpersonal violence
now extending itself publicly all around us, particularly
among the younger age groups in the society.
This suggests that there are fundamental problems with
our initial social relationships. As Erik Erikson pointed out,
the essential struggle of the first year of life is the battle
between trust and mistrust. If fundamental relationships
are struggling to survive, then everything else will struggle
to survive, much less to thrive.
Immediate gratification and shallow hedonism are
likely reactions to this combination of conditions which in
turn begs the question: What is the appropriate response to
stress and adversity?
The question is very important because it will determine
how well we answer the even more critical question: How
do we step away from the brink of collapse and social
In “Full Extreme” some have seen a capacity to celebrate
and enjoy our lives in spite of whatever problems we might
be facing, so that we are “jamming still” regardless.
This might be a kind of resilience, if we accept that
However, celebration can only be liberating if it occurs
in an atmosphere of security, support and hope. Resilience is
a testament to hope that in spite of the gravity of our current
experience, we can overcome and do better so that hope can
be embraced and become a new reality.
But hope for what and in what?
What kind of society do we want to create?
This is our first challenge. Then there is the challenge
of rebuilding the social fabric of our communities, which
is a major pillar in the support that helps beleaguered
individuals survive their difficult circumstances.
Is there a need for a return of a community in spirit,
value and actions that can inform that process so the country
can really become all inclusive?
A belief in oneself and in the people around you is, by
extension, a belief in the national project that you become
an integral part of as long as your commitment to that
belief extends beyond self. Put another way, salvation of
self is only possible though salvation of the community
that you truly believe you belong to, and which reciprocates
your commitment with a sense of mutual benefit. The
neighbourhoods and active communities ultimately define
and inform the national identity.
We must invest in encouraging people to learn about
themselves and therefore to believe in themselves and the
inextricable links that bind them together as a people so
that the strength that comes from sharing life rather than
competing for its spoils will resonate in actions that will
allow our society to grow rather than burn down.
Gerard Hutchinson is a Professor of Psychiatry and Unit Head in Psychology at the Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI St. Augustine.
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