You probably knew this already, but nihilism is in. I’m a chronically late adopter – I only found out about skinny jeans in 2012 and I’d be growing a beard around now if my follicles were up to it. A cultural vibe shift has to be seismic before I notice it. So if new-gen nihilism is on my radar, it must be everywhere, a dense, pillowy fog of meh enveloping the globe.
There were hints earlier: I remember being charmed by the “Why don’t you just give up and let the moss reclaim you?” meme of 2019 – it’s certainly a phrase I’ve whispered countless times since, imagining inhabiting a silent, primeval forest, nostrils filled with the damp, earthy smell of moss as it slowly conquers my inert form, all thoughts of Virgin Mobile’s call centre and our perpetually clogged sink forgotten.
Despite that, I missed Wendy Syfret’s book The Sunny Nihilist in 2021. In it, Syfret reframed nihilism as a potentially life-enhancing response to the relentless pressure to self-optimise in an exceptionally suboptimal world. She describes this “nothing matters” philosophy, appealingly, as “a balm for a group burning out over exceptionalism, economic downturns, performative excellence, housing crises and living your best life on Instagram”.
What has taken me from a vague attraction to moss, to a sense, as 2022 fizzles miserably out, that nihilism is everywhere? It’s logical, I suppose, that roiling permacrisis makes us more receptive to the notion that striving is pointless. You can get Nietzsche coasters and “nothing matters” cross-stitch kits on Etsy now. For me though, it was an egg that did it.
I’m in thrall to Gudetama, the lazy egg. On the off-chance you’re as out of touch as I am, Gudetama is a listless cartoon egg created in 2013 by Sanrio, the kawaii megacorp behind Hello Kitty. Kitty-cute, but sluggishly disengaged, Gudetama can’t see the point of anything in the face of their certain fate: being eaten. They are “joyless and hopeless and completely without opinions or ambitions, except to be left alone to squelch and loll in their own malaise”, according to a New York Times feature on the ovoid antihero’s new Netflix animated series, which launches
Does that appeal? Like many (Gudetama has a huge fanbase), I’m drawn to this desultory puddle of albumen and anomie, urging us to accept the essential futility of everything. There are alternative nihilist role models: a TikTok of a sheep with a bucket on its head, supposedly at “a place in her life where peace is a priority” resonates. Noodle, the pug who slumped in his basket to announce a “no bones day” died recently, but his spirit lives on. When life is fraught, I Google the blunt-headed burrowing frog, a tiny-eyed, marsh-dwelling amphibious blob. I don’t know what it is about the burrowing frog, but I’m instantly soothed by contemplating its impassive features and imagining myself belly-down in a Thai marsh.
Neo-nihilism makes sense as a corrective to frenetic hustle culture, multi-jobbing and tech oligarchs futilely trying to biohack their way to immortality with flaxseed sludge and 23-hour fasts. Vision boards, manifesting and five-year plans feel ridiculous when the traditional sources of meaning – fulfilling work, forming a family, having a home, planning a future – have never felt more out of reach for so many. That’s terribly sad when you think about it: no wonder it feels more soothing to conclude that nothing matters.
Is that really where we are? I’m probably behind the curve and over optimistic, but I don’t think nihilism is about to conquer the world – most of us are fortunate enough to feel our lives still have meaning. Even so, plenty of things don’t matter nearly as much as we feel they do. As a thought experiment, there might be sanity in “having the spirit and fortitude not to care at all”, as the Gudetama cookbook urges, at this time of year. No turkey, courier lost your presents, a family member spoiling for a fight about pronouns? None of it matters. Wrap your egg white around you like a cosy blanket, become moss, enter the marsh. Peace is your priority now.