A Tragic Misstep in Philosophical Belief

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I have recently been watching True Detectives on the Internet (where else would one go to watch such things). It is a show that tackles the question of human nature and the battle for good and evil despite an anxious possibility of meaninglessness. Rustin Cohle, interpreted by Matthew McConaughey, starts off the show with a very dark outlook on life. He explains:

I consider myself a realist, but in philosophical terms I am what is considered a pessimist…I think Human Consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming; stop reproducing; walk hand in hand into extinction; one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.


To that his partner, portrayed by Woody Harrelson, simply says, “Hmm, that sounds god fucking awful, Rust.”

I have to agree with Marty. There is this divide in Philosophical terms, of those that find meaning, and those that do not; the existential nihilist that find all life to be pointless, and the people like myself that see an actual purpose and meaning. Now, I wouldn’t go calling myself this or that, because it is hard to say what exactly my teleology is, or what I think God exactly is, but I do believe. I see people and other animals, and the way that birds can learn to fly on their own, that love matters to me, that we dress for each other’s approval, and that we strive for variety and flavor, as all being small subtle notions of purpose and value. I know I am not alone here. There are some really smart people out there, that are not smug enough to say one way or the other that life is a certain thing, but that it is and has been established in such a way that makes it more than just a blank empty mistake.

But, like Cohle, I am skeptical of authority, I question anyone that uses affluence as a way to tell other people how they ought to live or act or give. That is one of the reasons I am drawn to more obscure forms of Christianity (although I wouldn’t jump off the cliff as Rust has, thus bonding myself to the likes of Dawkins and Harris). I have recently been directed towards the writings of Terrance Deacon who (with Ursula Goodenough) points out that “there’s a lot of existential and religious havoc out there, and the situation doesn’t seem to be improving.” But even with all of this nonsense of popularly held Materialism, one that denies the self, the will, and meaning, there are alternative theories being bounced around, such as emergence that give us reason to think that life, and the self, are not just arbitrary terms used at whim for survival purposes (for more on this, see this, this, and this). The sheer fact that human consciousness exist, whether by a mistake or a divine artistry, gives one an inclination towards the spiritual, and even the most pessimistic people can appreciate existence in terms of being something unique and exciting. It was Nietzsche, the father of Nihilism, Eternal Recurrence, and a whole slew of ideas that Rustin Cohle appears to have digested, who said “at the bottom, every man knows that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.” There is hope in this world and it is no mistake that each person is ingrained with this spiritual appreciation for being a self-aware being. 

Even Rust seems to have gotten this by the end of the 8th episode. “Once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.” I leave you with the most quotable Matthew McConnaughey.


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  1. dougolena

    Who’s Marty?? Nietzsche is not the father of nihilism. Finding the original source might be impossible but even Hegel predates Nietzsche.

    That consciousness is a mistake is the way evangelical christianity treats it. What mean-spirited crap. Instead, can we say that Adam and Eve awoke from the slumber of animal consciousness when God breathed into them life and they became living souls? That’s the read I have. It’s clear especially if you’re a literalist for Genesis 1-11 that there were other people around during the life of Adam and Eve who were not their children, otherwise the fear that Cain had of the judgment from other people would have been groundless, and where were there cities without people to make them, etc. . . . ?

    Even Kant, in his speculative beginning of the human race speculates about what Adam and Eve were like before they awoke to consciousness.

    We were probably like our pets taking on the morality of our surroundings. Then the emergence of consciousness screwed up the tranquility of innocence when we thought hard about what we should do and came up with an answer less than optimal for all the variables (most of which we could not see) in life that were previously responded to by raw reason and instinct.

    Is consciousness a bad joke? Yes, often it is, but it is the only route toward fellowship with each other and God that is also moral and rewarding.

    • billytalty

      Marty is a character portrayed by Woody Harrelson, who is an ethical hypocrite. I mention Nietzsche as the father because he is widely known for his grim views. Even Parmenides tackles nothingness, just not the way Nietzsche does.
      I certainly like your thoughts on Genesis, I see it similarly. For me, consciousness is more than a raw deal. True detective will certainly entertain, at the least.

    • billytalty

      I often question how one might disregard other animals from being reflective and self-aware. Is it because they do not create in the same fashion we do? What if that is a form of low-level self-awarness, and we are in fact building and creating for the amusement of the other creatures? I just think any speculation on other animal consciousness is question begging at best, we already have this idea of consciousness that is speciest. Birds appear to be far better musicians anyway.

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