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how to return for nihilism?

I'm a sw developer, right now in a middle of burnout (started 2 years ago). Sometimes I feel as a nihilist.

8-10-12 years ago I loved programming, just to make things. Today I don't see any value in anything.

I simply do not care if I can add a value for a client. Why should I do that? I do that because I need to pay bills, but that's it.

I thought I change profession. But then I realized that if I would be a doctor, I would share the same view. Why should I spend my time helping others?

Or a lawyer? Why?

Guys, why are you doing what you do?

Thursday, March 04, 2004


Thursday, March 04, 2004

void foo(void)

Aaron F Stanton
Thursday, March 04, 2004

Nihilist, you might want to search the archives for
some more thoughtful answers to similar questions.
People are getting burned out on burnout.

son of parnas
Thursday, March 04, 2004

> void foo(void)

technically void foo(void) could still do something, side effects specifically, it doesn't quite mean "nothing in nothing out", but it's all theoretical.

Nihilist have you actually tried looking outside and realize how bloody lucky you are compare to the rest of the world? I'll see you at work tomorrow 8:30am sharp.

Li-fan Chen
Thursday, March 04, 2004
Thursday, March 04, 2004

Nihilism is SO MUCH more than just plain burnout.

Yet also so much less.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Early mid-life crisis.  Your life priorities are changing.  Figure out how to get your life in line with your new priorities.

Takes time and effort, but it's worthwhile.  Gets rid of that fuck-it-all feeling.

Should be working
Thursday, March 04, 2004

Thursday, March 04, 2004

just read Sartre

Joe Hendricks
Thursday, March 04, 2004

Go make something out of wood. A spoon. Or a log cabin. Or a boat. Or a guitar. Or a chair.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

maybe I read to much Cioran. some quotes for you guys:

Thursday, March 04, 2004

How do you spell Sartre?
Thursday, March 04, 2004

> maybe I read to much Cioran. some quotes for you guys:

Those are weenie nihilists ! *Real nihilists* read Sartre and Turgenev (and program in Eiffel) .

Joe Hendricks
Thursday, March 04, 2004

Six months with a good psychoanalyst, twice a week.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

"Sometimes I feel as a nihilist."

8-10-12 years ago I loved programming, just to make things. Today I don't see any value in anything.

I simply do not care if I can add a value for a client. Why should I do that? I do that because I need to pay bills, but that's it. "

If you were consistent with your nihilist position,  you would just drop the word "care" altogether.  What the heck do you "care" about paying bills, if it is all pointless anyway.  If you were true to your position and your actions have no meaning or purpose and the most important thing is to just act (the will to power) then it doesn't matter if you do your job or just quit (either one is pointless).  According to your position as a nihilst, other people's  opinions would be just as invalid and meaninless as the next guy.  So what do you "care" what people's opinions are?

Thursday, March 04, 2004

I think Jean Paul Sarte would be considered an existentialist.

Quote from Nausea
"Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance.  I leaned back and closed my eyes.  The images, forewarned, immediately leaped up and filled my closed eyes with existences... I knew it was the World, the naked World suddenly revealing itself, and I choked with rage at this gross absurd being."

If Sarte was consistent with his existential position, why did he sign the Algerian Manefisto?  What position did he have to take a moral stance  against an unjust war.  If it's all pointless why make a deliberate, political, moral stance.
I think that it is impossible to be human and live consistently according to the philosophies of Nietzche, Sarte, or Camus.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

From the definition of nihilism at

> a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless

Perhaps the emphasis is on "traditional", and that the only values or beliefs that have a foundation are those that are found in you.

> a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

This definition doesn't deny subjective grounds.

> a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility

Again, the emphasis (implied by the phrase "the social organization") would be on 'traditional'.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, March 04, 2004

> Why should I spend my time helping others?

I don't know that you "should". Many people don't.

> Guys, why are you doing what you do?

I read about Buddhism a long time ago. I liked it because I felt that what I read was *empirically* true, i.e. "originating in or based on (*my*) observation or experience", not merely a doctrine to be taken 'on faith'.

For example, I remember reading the "Sermon At Benares" at which the Buddha said (I paraphrase)...

There are four 'Noble Truths':
* Life is suffering (enumerates 12 types of suffering: pain, sorrow, and so on)
* Suffering is caused by desire: craving sensuous pleasures (the desire to have what you don't have, the desire to keep what you have now), the craving to live, and even the craving to die
* Suffering can be ended: by ending desire
* There is a way that leads to end suffering (called the 'Eight-fold Path', which he then goes on the explain).

A person's original motive for following the 'Eight-fold Way', then, is not explicitly because they 'should' in order to help others (which Christ's 'Second Commandment' might have you take on faith), but more especially (or originally or explicitly) to avoid their (your) own suffering.

This 'way' may include helping others (for example, because it's painful to feel hatred; or because, if you feel empathy or compassion, then another person's sorrow will affect the way you feel).

> I do that because I need to pay bills, but that's it.

That too could be in accordance with Buddhism, which recommends that you follow a 'Middle Way': between the extremes of self-indulgence on the one hand, and self-mortification (which is 'painful, useless, and unprofitable') on the other.

> I simply do not care if I can add a value for a client. Why should I do that?

Because you care about paying the bills, perhaps; and adding value for a client helps the client to pay your bills.

Because it's a right thing to do (and if it isn't, perhaps you should start doing something else).

> 8-10-12 years ago I loved programming, just to make things.

So you had no desire but to make things, and were happy?

And now you're no longer feeling the happiness that you remember you used to have, and you crave it, and because of that you're suffering?

Christopher Wells
Thursday, March 04, 2004

I used to have depressing thoughts like these, although never to the point that I would embrace nihilism.

The problem as I saw it was that most work today doesn't mean anything at a basic needs level.  You aren't tied to the earth and the world in any basic and meaningful way.

At the dawn of civilization, work products were critical to survival - food, clothing, shelter.  As societies progressed, the work products became more refined, all the while more abstract from the basic needs.  In the 20th century, the work products in developed nations evolved from industrial (tangible) goods to intangible services.  The degree of abstraction away from basic needs progressed much more rapidly.

Look at the finance industry.  Centuries ago it was basic money changing (usary).  Later it progressed to asset protection, investments, and capital infusions for the markets.  Now, you have teams of Physics PhD's doing Brownian motion Monte Carlo simulations of calls and puts.  Not only are there derivatives of basic investments, but there are derivatives based on other derivatives (and probably derivatives of those).

For me, all this abstraction made work less and less meaningful.  And I worked in test engineering for a medical device manufacturer - seemingly important work!  I still managed to take my work very seriously, but after seeing the test methods get modified, the data twisted, and the results thrown out time and again, you start to lose the passion.  It all becomes meaningless, and you wonder how others can continue to be so driven doing activities that in the greater scope of things, have no meaning.

That's when it hits you.  You have to either (1) find a different career path that is meaningful, or (2) find one that may or may not be meaningless, but at least you enjoy it.

I chose (2) and switched to software.  What you choose is up to you, but I'd stay away from nihilism.

Friday, March 05, 2004

You named your own problem and your own solution.

"I simply do not care if I can add a value for a client. Why should I do that?"

As you said, 10 years ago you cared about your work. If you put in 10 units of effort, you got at least 10 units of reward. Now, for whatever reason, you're putting in x units of effort and getting considerably less than x units of reward.

Maybe some volunteer work, or switching jobs to something you're passionate about, but unskilled in can help. It's certainly not just a matter of unplugging for a little while, you need a complete change.
Friday, March 05, 2004

Sartre was originally existentialist, but in his later years he renounced his earlier positions and adopted Marxism.

And here I thought that philo degree would never pay off.

Friday, March 05, 2004

You'll lose your faith in nihilism some day.

In the meantime, don't be surprised if you go through phases where you are working just for the money. That's just the way it goes sometimes. It's like asking why some days are sunny and some days are cloudy.

What, if anything, you should do about it will come to you in the fullness of time. If you keep your eye on the ball I assure you that you will find a way.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, March 05, 2004

"Sartre was originally existentialist..."

What precludes someone from being  'existentialist' as well as 'nihilist' ? (not that I see either as healthy) AFAIK, neither Camus nor Sartre ever used 'existentialist' as a label for themselves - it was ivory tower philosophy professors that did that years later...

Joe Hendricks
Friday, March 05, 2004

I thought life was about what you do AFTER you get home from work: family, friends, hobbies, food, drink, music...

Friday, March 05, 2004

I used to agree with that. Now I consider it to be a mild schizophrenia common to modern society.
Friday, March 05, 2004

say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism Dude, at least it's an ethos.

Saturday, March 06, 2004


I think this is easier than splitting philosophical hairs.  How you feel makes perfect sense.  And you're not alone: hundreds of thousands of computer people (including myself) feel the same way.  I suspect many don't recognize it because, well because they're guys - and if they started a family in the good years, they are now sufficiently distracted that they don't need work to mean anything anymmore.

But back to the point: 10-15 years ago this industry was largely about creating cool stuff that would hopefully make a difference.  Some things worked, and made a bunch of money.  And of course as soon as that happened, every uncreative moron on the planet jumped on the bandwagon - both engineers and VC's.  IMHO, the VC's blew it all, because they encouraged valueless ideas and funded ANY idea in the off chance of making a buck.  Harmless?  Not to those who cared.

This continued a few years until creativity and making a difference were so insignificant that they were smothered by marketeers and hype in every form possible.  And those who cared about their work found themselves in a world of zero values - a moral and creative vacuum.  That's where we all are, pal.  Personally, I don't have the stomach to go back to work while it's all BS.  And despite what some say, I think that even now the BS is rampant.  So I'm thinking about writing about it - like my first title: "Of COURSE you're depressed!  Only a heartless machine would be happy right now! (how you got here and how to get out)".  Probably sounds lame, but man - do I have some good content :-)

Anyway don't let it get you down.  We've just seen a period where the worst in everyone came out.  Your feeling bad is an indication that you aren't comfortable in that BS.  Thank God!  So separate yourself from it, remind yourself ot things you enjoy, and get back to some of them while this thing works itself out.  Or maybe never come back to it which is what I expect to do.  Life is so much better and real outside the geekosphere - go rediscover it!  :-)

Saturday, March 06, 2004

PS - examples that work for me:
-Reconnect with friends/fam you blew off while workaholicing
-Finally get in shape - amazing how it clears the confusion
-Learn to fly - great mix of technical and FUN
      -or start a new hobby that's fun and creative (NOT work!)
-Get laid / party / spend time with kids / other "human stuff"
-STOP being indoors - get out every chance you can

...kinda like how simple and great life was when I was 10... (except maybe for the getting laid part :-)

Hmmm - just think how cool life could be if you could act like a 10-year old and ALSO get laid!  Whatta life :-)

Saturday, March 06, 2004


First Nihilism is not a bad thing. If you spend some time reading related work (Nietzsche, Camus, etc.), you'll discover that you're not alone, and that what you feel is perfectly legitimate. No one can prove anything has a meaning, therefore, no one can prove Nihilism is false.

I understand your feelings, as I am too a Nihilist SW eng. - it took me about 7 years to realize that. You asked "how to return...", and the short answer is you can't. I believe the way to Nihilism is a one way road. No turning back.

One option, like others have commented here, is to focus on other things in life, leaving your work as a way of paying the bills and nothing more. That is what I usually do, unfortunately. I don't think changing a profession would help, but you can start reading philosophy books. Learn, expand your horizon, find out new ideas. That is life. Who knows - maybe one day you'll find a better thing to do.

Btw, maybe writing software of your own, other than what you do for a living, could help. I mean open-source projects, like all those GNU related. That way you choose the software purpose, how it works, what it does, etc. - could be a little more interesting.

But in the end of the day, as "fun" as software can be, nothing is better than exploring and learning.

Xavier W.

Xavier W.
Saturday, May 01, 2004

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