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This is the sort of character that goes by doctrines along the lines of "Don't cling to pain. Don't expect happiness. Don't fear loss. Accept reality as it is. Enjoy the good. Endure the bad. Don't make a big deal out of anything. Be selfless, and unconditionally kind and just, without ever expecting a reward. We're all going to end up as piles of dust, so why not be nice to each other and get those pleasant fuzzies?"
Basically, a Nihilist that decides to be nice, altruistic, virtuous and/or ethical for the same reasons the Nietzsche Wannabe decides to be an unfettered, Social Darwinist, omnicidal Complete Monster.
Instead of angsting all the time about "Life is hell, we're all gonna die and you can't fight fate, thus we might as well start killing each other right now", this type thinks more like "Life is hell, we're all gonna die and you can't fight fate... but why not make each others' lives worthwhile and enjoyable in the meantime?" The Anti-Nihilist is usually a Knight in Sour Armor who knows how cynical the world is, but decides to stick to a particular value and make meaning out of it, despite knowing how utterly meaningless doing so is.
The Anti-Nihilist is very likely to adhere to a Utilitarianism morality, although this isn't a universal rule; there are Anti-Nihilists whose morality might border on self-made Blue and Orange Morality (see the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche). Expect this declaration of defying nihilism to be uttered as a form of shutting up nihilists' lectures on Despair and how Humans Are Morons. Thus, very likely to take form as a World-of-Cardboard/Patrick Stewart Speech.
Compare Determined Defeatist, who is pessimistic not about the world but about his own chance of success, but has a similar 'let's try anyway' mentality. See also Ubermensch for the type of person who believes in creating their own meaning and morality, but may not be quite as caring or considerate of others in the process.
Note that the title of this page is based more on popular misconception of Nihilism, rather than the actual philosophy as conceived by Friedrich Nietzsche, which was somewhat closer to this in reality.
See Existentialism for the philosophy that encouraged living in Real Life as this character.
Anime & Manga
- The main conflicts in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann have shades of this, with the Hot-Blooded protagonists representing this trope while their opponents appear to be Nietzsche Wannabes there's more to them than that, but they're still very depressed people.
- Jack Rakan from Mahou Sensei Negima.
- Fate Averruncus appears to be growing into this as of late.
- In Madlax, the eponymous heroine is a gun-for-hire in a civil war-torn country, yet this only makes her more appreciative of life and its small everyday joys; e.g. she visits her client and target (same person) on the night before his assassination to comfort him. In the end, it is she (or the part of Margaret corresponding to her) who defeats the Nietzsche Wannabe of a Big Bad.
- Elmer C. Albatross of Baccano has pretty much this exact outlook. The guy had a horrible childhood and as a result adopted this sort of unsettling Stepford Smiler personality and obsession with happiness. Basically, he feels the world sucks so much that it's important to be happy.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion's Shinji Ikari grows into this trope at the end of End Of Evangelion. With all the hell he's put through, and with the horrifying Endofthe World As We Know It, it would make sense that he would jump into the Despair Event Horizon and become an omnicidal Nietzsche Wannabe, especially when Rei gives him control over the fate of humanity. Nevertheless, he lets the Assimilation Plot fail, and chooses to live life as an individual. Based on how you interpret it, Evangelion itself is loaded with Existentialist themes, like Jean-Paul Sartre's "Hell Is Other People" (in Eva, the so-called Absolute Terror Field surrounding all souls), but at the same time affirms that being alive and suffering are parts of life and that happiness can be achieved.
- Kaji also has very strong traits of it. He knows more about what's going on than almost anyone else, yet he's the only character who appears genuinely happy. During one very close battle against an angel that appears to be the final moments before the end of the world, he is watering the melon patch he is growing, with the battle being visible in the distance. If the world does not end on that day, then the melons need to be watered. If it does, then it won't matter what he is doing in the final moments anyway. Either way, he can't do anything to change what's going to happen in the next ten minutes.
- The character Panaru in episode three of Boogiepop Phantom is respected for having this philosophy and teaching it to others.
- Filicia Heideman from Sora no Woto. The things she went through constantly haunt her. She concluded that, perhaps, life doesn't have any particular purpose, and made herself one in taking care of her new unit, even if it takes commiting treason to stop a war. And, she has Rio.
- Makina from Shikabane Hime. The final scene in the anime is of her repeatedly punching her archenemy Hokuto (a fellow fighting-zombie) in the face after all is lost: it's the first time she ascribes meaning to her existence.
Makina: You're not an undead! You're alive! And so am I!
- Main point of Kino's Journey: "The world is not beautiful, therefore it is".
- He's slightly different from the example, but Rorschach has a similar philosophy. Instead of abandoning rules and discipline due to a nihilistic outlook he decides his rules and principles are all the more important in a world that has no more meaning than the one we impose on it.
- Rorschach is arguably more of an Ubermensch, considering his largely misanthropic view of life. It's shown that he does care about what few friends he has in the world, though.
- Dr. Manhattan also develops into this by the end.
- Batman, Depending on the Writer. The victim of a random and meaningless crime, young Bruce Wayne could have decided that life was pointless, and succumbed to depression and nihilism. But instead he chose to create his own purpose, re-inventing himself as a force for order and justice.
- There's actually a surprisingly deep quote in Batman and Robin which captures the existential nature of Batman's character.
Alfred: "Death and chance stole your parents. But rather than become a victim, you have done everything in your power to control the fates. For what is Batman if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world, an attempt to control death itself."
- Despite hanging out with various Norse gods and calling Thor "oathbrother", Beta Ray Bill does not believe in God in the theological sense. This doesn't stop him from being a true hero.
"If there is nothing but what we make in this world, brothers... let us make good."
- Harry himself, in Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality. He knows that there is no God or meaning to the universe, so he decided to become God, and... optimize things. This is also the fundamental difference between him and this 'verse's Voldemort. Voldemort saw an uncaring world and said "Why not be evil?" Harry saw an uncaring world and said "Why not be good?"
- Collateral shows how one of these might be created. Max starts the film as an idealist and a dreamer, contrasted with Nietzsche Wannabe Vincent. After a series of lectures from Vincent, Max eventually throws his philosophy back in his face--yes, Max's life is meaningless, and yes, if he continues living it the way he currently is, he'll never achieve his dreams, so why shouldn't he risk his own life to try to stop Vincent?
- The title character of Jacques the Fatalist is (obviously) The Fatalist, and since he believes everything that happens is preordained, he appreciates the good things and reacts with stoicism toward the bad ones.
- Attila József: "Why should I be honorable? I'll be laid out regardless! Why shouldn't I be honorable? I'll be laid out regardless." ("Miért legyek én tisztességes? Kiterítenek úgyis! Miért ne legyek tisztességes? Kiterítenek úgyis.")
- Arguably, Ralph, Piggy and Simon in Lord of the Flies. The primary theme of the novel is the regression of humans when removed from the rules and order of society. Ralph and Piggy ruminate on the fact that structure and meaning of the "real world" doesn't apply to their island, but they still commit themselves to maintaining order and peace. All the others, without anything to control them, quickly fall into anarchy and violence.
- Many Discworld books have this theme, especially ones focusing on Death and Sam Vimes. Pretty much reflects Terry Pratchett's Real Life views.
- The books of His Dark Materials end up coming around to this theme, more or less, with a bit of a Fantastic Aesop courtesy of Dust. But it's former nun Mary Malone who first reaches the conclusion: that though once she felt that no God meant no purpose to the world, the need to keep Dust alive, that is, wisdom, curiosity, education, and kindness, gives the worlds purpose. In other words, "There is now!"
- Christine, the narrator of the novel Dead Romance thinks like this when she's dismissing one of her friend's uber-depressing, Wangsty poetry:
What I'm getting at is that in a pointless, empty universe a good time is as meaningless as a bad time, so you might as well slap on a smile and get on with your life.
- Professor Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide, who goes through Hell and back and comments on the weather.
- The narrator of Ted Chiang's short story "Exhalation" is watching his universe wind down to equilibrium. Rather than despair, he implores future explorers to "contemplate the marvel that is existence and rejoice that you are able to do so. I feel I have the right to tell you this because, as I am inscribing these words, I am doing the same."
Live Action TV
- Inherent to all of Joss Whedon's work.
- Mal fought for freedom and honor in The War Of Coreward Aggression. He lost, and has come to terms with that. But at the same time, he refuses to be a slave or a thug - even when the entire 'Verse insists that he has to obey a higher authority or act against his principles to survive, he remains Captain Malcolm Reynolds. And he aims to misbehave.
- Simon also has something of a tendency toward this. He specifically states that acting morally means even more out in the black without an authority to impose it.
- River recognizes that all meaning is "imbued" and thus there really is no "meaning" to begin with, River has a surprisingly positive outlook on life, and sees things in a very innocent way (i.e. the loaded gun everyone was freaking out about took the form of a harmless stick in her mind). Objects In Space is actually an exploration of these two character types, juxtaposing River against Jubal Early, who's definitely a Nietzsche Wannabe. Faced with the same realization as River, Jubal's response was to become a complete psychopath who tortured his puppy.
- Angel from Buffy once had the revelation that life has no purpose or meaning, thus making even the tiniest act of kindness an end in itself. Angel's Koan:
If nothing that we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.
- Wesley outright states the existential nature of the character Angel (as well as the series itself) when he says:
"There is a design Angel, hidden in the chaos as it might be. But it's there. And you have your place in it."
- Dean Winchester of Supernatural to some extent, at least up until episode 2 of season 4.
- Implied by Oma Desala in Stargate SG-1
The Universe is so vast, and we are so small, there is only truly one thing we can control; whether we are good or evil.
- The Bleak Cabal in Planescape is canonically an example of this. Life is meaningless and cruel so hey, no need to add more meaningless cruelty to it by your own actions. The Bleak Cabal runs Sigil's soupkitchens and asylum, and are at a whole a rather decent bunch even if most of them are insane to one degree or another. Sure, their actions won't make any difference in the long run (but in their view, nothing does anyway), but it helps today.
- The more idealistic characters in Exalted. Sure enough, the world is gangbanged from all directions by undead, Wyld mutants, demons, and other awful things. The folks in charge of defending it are too busy politicking. Heaven is a sham and a scam, and the patron god of heroism is a crack addict. But --and this is a massive but-- you're a hero, possessed of a power to drastically change the world. And by "hero", it's hero in an archaic sense: you get to decide what is right or wrong, answerable only to your own conscience (or the lack thereof).
- This is the life philosophy of the Geth in Mass Effect. The usual philosophical conundrums of organics are easily answered by the Geth: Why do we exist? What happens after death? For the Geth, they were created to be menial labor for the Quarians, and their memories are archived after "death". Since they are no longer performing their original task and have been "disowned" by their "gods", they have created their own purpose: total unity of ther Mind Hive in a single giant "Dyson Sphere" platform (though a more accurate analogy would be a Jupiter Brain). The True Geth (which Legion is from) want to do so on their own terms along technology paths they find themselves, while the Heretic sect took an easier, more controlled path under the command of the Reapers.
- The Assassin's Creed; "Nothing is true, everything is permitted." There is no God. There is no Devil. There are only Flawed Humans, the children of flawed Precursors. So if we wish to live in peace, prosperity and freedom, we must build a civilization that permits those things.
Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad: ...laws arise not from divinity, but reason. I understand now that our creed does not commend us to be free - it commends us to be wise.
Ezio Auditore da Firenze: ...merely an observation of the nature of reality: To say that nothing is true is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilization. To say that everything is permitted is to understand that we are the architects of our actions, and that we must live with their consequences, whether glorious or tragic.
- In Fate/stay night, Shirou lives his life by this sort of doctrine, even though he doesn't realize it. The "Unlimited Blade Works" route causes him to actively seek it, as he realizes his life is empty and the only thing he finds meaning is is selflessly sacrificing himself for others.
- There is a Xkcd strip in which the white beret guy used this trope when confronted with a more typical nihilist.
- This A Softer World strip sums it up pretty well. "Nothing matters at all. Might as well be nice to people."
- The Nostalgia Critic is developing into someone who thinks that life is stupid and the world has very few good things in it, but cares deeply about protecting children and displaying Honor Before Reason Undying Loyalty to the people he likes.
- According to Rufus, the entire future will be based on this:
"Be Excellent to Each Other and Party On, Dudes"
- Buddhism in a nutshell. Possibly even the Ur Example.
- Soren Kierkegaard's "Knight of Faith", one of the major influences to the Existentialist trope. You fully accept that following such stuff about God and ethics are ultimately an absurd goal in this life, but in contrast to the aesthetic "nihilist" and the otherworldly "knight of infinite resignation", you still prefer to make the most virtuous out of it.
- Usually, this is the Classical response of atheists, agnostics, deists, Epicureans and the like to accusations of nihilism. After all, if there's no god (or God is apathetic) who will give us a meaning in life. "The fact that we have only one life to live should make it all the more precious."
- Likewise, the only way to live on past your death is through others. Might as well ensure that you can keep people smiling, even after you're gone.
- Indeed, many if not most atheists embrace this as their world view in place of any belief in a higher power or afterlife.
- Friedrich Nietzsche's version of the Anti-Nihilist in particular is less of a "utilitarian" who works For Happiness and more of a "Let's live by our own rules while being awesome, manly/virtuous and magnificent at it". It should also be noted that he pointed out that a way to make life suck a little less could be through charitable acts (note that he didn't say that it would make you happy, just feel less angsty/guilty/whatever)
- There might be older instances of this trope that couldn't be properly called Nihilists, since they predate the movement, but they should go through a Discussion first, so as not to dissolve the trope into meaninglessness.
- Albert Camus, despite The Stranger.