Tonight, the sun will sink below the horizon as it always does. Streetlights will blink on, one by one. Overstated neons will glow in the darkness. Bars, clubs, dance halls, music venues, and house parties all across the world will fill with people looking to leave the world behind.
The Nihilistic Nature of Partying
Nihilism rejects the “higher powers” of religion and morality. It is often discussed in terms of extreme skepticism (i.e. a questioning or doubt toward knowledge) and relativism (i.e. there is no certain truth; only our perceptions exist). For most of the 20th century it has been associated with the belief that life is meaningless.
So what is the point of living?
While this is often seem as a negative thing, especially by those with religious faith, it doesn’t have to be. “Meaningless” doesn’t mean life without joy; nihilism doesn’t mean without activity.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP), defines a “true nihilist” as one who “would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.”
Staying up, partying all night, watching the sunrise through a haze from the floor of a hotel room or some random house or the street is a way to destroy; to break from normalcy, reject anything greater than ourselves, and affirm that nothing really matters.
In this age of information, we grew up knowing that nothing is forever. Uncertainty can be something of a security blanket, i.e. “ignorance is bliss,” and fuels a hope that because we don’t know for certain, there might still be meaning to all of this. There might be a greater purpose, a greater power, or at least something that gives life greater meaning.
But if life is meaningless and nothing really matters, then we may as well have fun tonight.
As Woody Allen shows us at the start of his 1980 film Stardust Memories, those who are happy “winners” and those who are miserable “losers” all end up in the same place anyway.
God is Dead, We Are Alive
Partying has always been an expression, a la Montmarte at the turn of last century, or a symbol of freedom, a la the speakeasies of the Prohibition. Thus, and especially today, it has become a statement of being.
I enjoy therefore I am?
Not exactly. But things have changed. Religion, the past favorite for humans to escape the fear of nonexistence, is on the decline. The type of community and comfort found in church is waning. Fewer people than ever before register themselves as conforming to a religion. Has the club truly replaced the church? No, but if fewer people than ever believe in God, then fewer believe that an afterlife is more comforting than the now.
No religion is the new religion.
There are more confirmed atheists across the globe than ever before. Not believing in a higher power, i.e. God or gods, then translates into a search for something else. A different way to confirm existence. What we do know is that we are here, we are alive, and that is what is important. Of course there are plenty of us who get lit on Saturday night and still make it to church Sunday morning; the two certainly don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God – Galatians 5:19-21
But there is clearly a reason why the Bible frowns on partying.
If there is no one to judge you in an afterlife, why not engage in these “works of the flesh?” the “drunkenness” and the “orgies?” What is to stop you from simply do what feels good right here and now?
What Are You Doing Right Now?
Presentism is the belief that we know nothing is real except for the current moment. Nothing is real except for what is real right now. It’s becoming more and more common for people to believe that there may not be anything greater than this very moment, whether or not they call themselves presentists.
As Fyodor Shcherbatskoy put it:
“Everything past is unreal, everything future is unreal, everything imagined, absent, mental . . . is unreal. . . . Ultimately real is only the present moment of physical efficiency.”
If we don’t have anything more to believe in than the moment, we don’t have to deal with consequences. Right now, tomorrow doesn’t exist. Why would it influence my decisions tonight?
The thankfully short-lived mantra of “YOLO” (You Only Live Once, so basically do whatever you feel like right now) is more or less a byproduct of presentism.
While presentism is more extreme, espousing that past and future literally do not exist, the idea here is that if it isn’t happening right here, right now in front of us, it doesn’t really matter. All we really have is right now. We want to make it the best right now it can possibly be. We need to enjoy this moment, as it is the only thing that’s we know is real.
And what’s the quickest way to enjoy a moment?
For those who adhere to Solipsism, the idea that nothing can truly be proven to exist except one’s own mind, it gets a bit more complicated. By adding substances to your brain (when your mind is all that is real), you’re very quickly distorting, and potentially destroying, your reality.
Tonight We Dance Forever (Or Not At All)
It isn’t just drugs and alcohol. Getting lost in the melange of faces, colorful outfits, pulsing beats and flashing lights means an escape, sometimes enhanced by substances, that leads far and away from the anxieties and struggles placed upon us by the world. Everyone has their escape.
The idea is to have so much fun that if the world did end tonight, it wouldn’t be so bad. To party is to celebrate. Celebrate being here. Every day you live is reason to celebrate, and the idea that tonight might be your last chance.
Or maybe it’s because this moment is forever, and the next one, and the next. Eternalism, the opposite of presentism, tells us that it’s not up to us anyway. Time is not linear; every single point in history is equally real. If we party tonight, it’s because we always have. And we will always will. Mozart is partying in Vienna, David Bowie is partying in New York City, with you, tonight. For eternity.
We are here, and we will always have been here.
While all of the minds of the philosophers behind these theories would probably disagree with their work being associated with the hands-in-the-air ravers of Saturday night, it’s at least something to think about. The more people understand that religion won’t save them, and start adhering to other existential points of view, the more they will fill their lives with something else.
But this could be changing. A study by the Office for National Statistics reported less than half of young people (aged 16-24) reported drinking in the past week, compared with 66% of those in Middle Age (aged 45-64). The Guardian published a piece describing the changing habits of our youth: The party’s over for young people, debt laden and risk averse.
What are youngsters doing instead of drinking? Running. Which is certainly a healthier alternative.
But this hasn’t prevented alcohol from being named the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth. Or the bars, clubs, raves, house parties, dance halls, and town squares across the world being filled with people looking, searching for something more than the world in front of them.