• Matthew Norton

OPINION: The Problem with Nihilism

Nihilism, in the context of today’s social and political environment, is the belief that in this current world, no amount of voting, activism, or political pressure will change the current state of our world. Nihilists feel that they do not have any power to change the state of today’s society, so instead, they check out of the system or complain endlessly about all sides of the political spectrum. In other words, nihilists will often have a “doom and gloom” attitude toward the world. This article will outline the case for and against nihilism in today’s world.

Climate Change

One of the most common reasons for nihilism in today’s world is in the context of climate change. Climate change is one of the biggest problems that we face today, and it does not seem that enough global leaders have done enough to combat the problem. There has not been sufficient action taken to reduce CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases, with far too many vague platitudes on the subject but minimal action. We have left the issue of climate change far too late, and more needs to be done to address the problem.

From this, nihilists will suggest that we should all give up hope that anything meaningful can be done anytime soon because nothing significant has happened so far. However, this does not mean we should give up hope for the future. In fact, the current state of climate policy is even more important a reason to get involved in any way possible; because of how badly the current leaders have handled climate change, there is even more urgency to take the fight to the doorstep of those leaders and get them to take the issue seriously through meaningful action, or simply to vote them out of office. We know that CO2 emissions are increasing and climate change is worsening, so more needs to be done about it. Now is no time to give up.

Corruption & Electoral Politics

Another common contributor to nihilism is corruption in electoral politics. Corruption, in many countries (especially developing ones), seems endemic. As lobbyists, big corporations, and others flood elections with money in hopes of influencing lawmakers and other key departments, oftentimes the general public is left out in the cold. It seems that lawmakers are always trying to help themselves, rather than act as public servants.

However, the solution to this problem isn’t to throw up our hands and say “nothing can be done.” – this gives the corrupt few exactly what they want. Instead, a better approach would be to fight for change in the system. This could include electing more lawmakers who vow to end corruption or whatever issue you care about, and vote them out of office if they do not. It is an imperfect solution, but unfortunately the only feasible action at the moment, and is far better than doing nothing. If one wants to try to have less corrupt systems, the last thing they should do is to check out of the system and give the corrupt few exactly what they want.


The impact of Covid-19 on nihilism cannot be understated. Covid has certainly changed all of our lives, and not necessarily for the better. Nihilism around Covid-19 is one of the most understandable forms out there. Possible new variants that could jump current vaccines give many people endless worries about Covid, as do being in and out of lockdown for the past two years, ever-changing public health guidance and travel rules, frustrations between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, and more. It is also safe to say that this has not been improved in the least by the spreading of the Omicron variant.

However, nihilism around Covid-19, while being understandable, does not actually solve the problem. The best solution to Covid-19 is to get vaccinated, wear a mask, and all the other public health advice we have been receiving for months. Activism on the issue of vaccine equity in developing countries is also time well spent. Scrolling through doom and gloom covid related social media, while understandable, does not do anything to solve the problem, at an individual or societal level.

We Can’t Afford Nihilism

At the end of the day, what nihilism is about is simply throwing up our hands and giving up. While this may seem natural and even appealing to some, at the moment, we simply do not have that luxury. From climate change to Covid to inequalities all over the world, there are simply too many problems we cannot leave untackled.

Nihilism is also exactly what many current leaders want. They want people to feel so overwhelmed and so pessimistic about the current state of the world that everyone gives up, stops fighting, and leaves the corrupt few to rule. Simply put they want a free pass to corruption.

But rather than giving up entirely, now is the exact time to fight and make change. After all, as the late Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice".