Gen Z is one of the most nihilistic generations, which is unsurprising since many of us have not been given the imagination or tools to work toward a brighter future.
Many of us have been burdened with news throughout our lives that focus on the extreme negative: Climate change, apocalypse, social injustice, lack of meaningful participation in governance, and more. Negative media is popular and promoted on the internet and news because it generates views and profit.
While some find that nihilism can be an uplifting philosophy in a roundabout way, I’ve seen more of an apathetic nihilism and hopelessness so crippling that people feel they can’t do anything meaningful towards the better. In this mindset people become pessimistic about humanity and the future, afraid to dream or try. We focus so much on our individual smallness that often doing anything doesn’t feel worth it.
When you’ve stared into the abyss your whole life, it seems like the most natural way to think in order to protect yourself and manage your expectations. But our society needs more of the younger generation believing that we can make a change and combat the seemingly inevitable, both in the imaginary and the real.
While often dismissed fiction is a powerful tool to move people and turn mindsets away from hopelessness. You can’t work towards a better future if you can’t even begin to imagine it in the first place.
Two speculative fiction genres that have come up in the past 20 years that have this idea at their very core are solarpunk and hopepunk.
In the article “Solarpunk: A Reference Guide,” the genre is described as “a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question ‘what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?’ … Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world — but never dystopian.”
Hopepunk, on the other hand, isn’t explicitly focused on tackling problems in our world, but rather sticking fiercely to an optimistic mindset in spite of the negative. This genre features stories about fighting for change, radical kindness, and communal response to problems.
In an article on BBC, author Becky Chambers writes of the genre, “the aim is to create well rounded stories that represent the breadth of experience. ‘Everything cannot end well for everybody – because that doesn’t happen in real life… But even when things go wrong, I take the time to show how these people heal.’”
Similarly, we need to highlight positive action in the real world to know that change is achievable and worth working towards.
Did you know that small-scale, local conservation actions tend to be some of the most impactful towards combating the impacts of climate change?
Examples include river restoration and protection, community gardens, farmers markets, and more. Groups working towards these projects can be found in most regions throughout the country.
When focusing on national or global news these efforts seem very small, but they create a ripple effect in our communities and local ecosystems, making them kinder and more resilient places in the face of upheaval.
Sometimes we don’t know how big their impact is until decades later. For instance the planting of native plants and river restoration in Tucson, Arizona has made the city into an oasis for insects and wildlife in the desert.
Further, learning from indigenous people is an important part of this. In western philosophy the idea that man and nature are separate is at the core of how many of us view the world, while many indigenous philosophies view people as a part of nature. These philosophies greatly impact how we view and interact with the world around us.
Despite making up only about five percent of the global population, indigenous peoples protect up to 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity.
In the US, traditional ecological knowledge has contributed to changes in how we manage forests and fisheries, transforming them into less extractive and more sustainable industries.
There is tons of good news out there and meaningful change being worked towards; we just need to look for it and try not to get sucked into the echo chamber of negativity around us.
Having hope can hurt, and nihilism is very attractive for protecting ourselves. But this cycle must be broken not only for the future of our planet and communities but also for our mental health.