Impermanence Is Different Than Nihilism

Apparently this is called, “A Monument to Impermanence” on Wiki Commons. Fitting.

I’m blanking on the semi-viral Tweet I saw about it the other day, but there’s a strain of thought that seems salient nowadays that you also see crop up if you browse reddit’s life pro tips, or LPT, subreddit: Institutions don’t care about you, people don’t care about you, whatever the case, it and they will move on.

In fact, the reddit LPT on this had 52,300 upvotes, so obviously, it’s a popular idea. And to me, it’s one of those ideas that at first blush seems not only obvious, but like a “popular wisdom” that clicks in your head and you’re like, “Oh yeah, right on,” until you think about it further, that is.


Because there’s an element of truth to it, which is why it clicks in people’s heads. Sure, do not think you are irreplaceable because you are. Whether it’s a job, a relationship or some other facet of life, or even life itself as the LPT mentioned. I fell into this own trap relationship-wise. I think after a certain amount of time with someone, admittedly, I developed a sense of, “They won’t ever leave me because we are so interwoven, how would they go on without me?” Which is, yes, a ridiculous notion, narcissistic even because of course they can go on without you. They went on the prior X amount of years without you and can go on the rest of their life without you, too. To be fair, I also thought the reverse, “How can I go on without them?” Which again, is silly, but I was amid suicidal ideation at the time.

So yes, I think understanding that impermanence is important and de-centering yourself as the center of … anything and everything.

But also, I think this idea misses the point a little bit. For example, in the context of a job, yes, the job, the institution, whatever the case, will move on without you. The newspaper would find another editor to fill my shoes. Loyalty does not go toward the institution because there’s a misguided sense of irreplaceability or loyalty to upper management per se.

If you ask me, loyalty to the “institution” in this way is manifest in loyalty to people who rely upon the institution or the job, or even to fellow co-workers. And because of personal pride (taking pride in what you do and create). That is, this strain of thought seems to almost come across nihilistic to me, “Nothing matters, so why care? Why be loyal?” But it’s not loyalty to our capitalist overlords (if I can exaggerate the point-of-view on offer), but loyalty to all of that other stuff.

I’m fervently loyal to my “institution” known as The Clermont Sun not because of some misguided sense of loyalty to upper management or rather, that a misguided sense that they care about me, but because I care about the product the readers will get and I care about the people I work with not having to shoulder all the responsibility on their own as long as I’m there.

The nihilism of the statement perturbs me. Even framing it as people “moving on” and you being “forgotten” is odd. Yes, to echo the Buddha again, everything is impermanent, but that’s different than nothing mattering because you will be forgotten or people will move on. People’s lives will continue because they have to continue, but that’s different than what’s being suggested here.

Admittedly, it’s late on a Tuesday night after my busiest day of the week and I know I’m rambling and not being as coherent or lucid as I would normally like to be, so my apologies, but my point is: I think most people intuitively understand that their loyalty and hard-work isn’t to please The Man®, but to service others, such as those receiving the service or their fellow coworkers. And again, that personal pride in spite of all the nonsense otherwise.

One thought

  1. Certainly a worthwhile perspective, but nihilism still ends up the much greater force.
    “Service to co-workers” – what if the co-workers are anti-humanist drones? That was definitely the case at the institution where I worked, and is the case at almost every institution, if you have read David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs.”
    “Service to others” – as in the clients? What if they rationally disdain your service? That also was the case where I worked.
    The premises of our economy on built on bullshit, so why should you adopt the credo of “Service” to it, or within it?
    A paycheck doesn’t come with a moral worth figure attached to it.


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