Nihilism vs. Fatalism

What's the difference between these two things?

By Deane Barker

Nihilism is the idea that there is no grand control or purpose to anything.

Fatalism is the idea that you should just surrender yourself to what’s inevitably going to happen to you. (Key point: the word doesn’t come from “fatal,” as it’s easy to assume. It comes from “fate.”)

So, in some ways, the words are opposites.

  • Nihilism says no one is in control.

  • Fatalism says that your fate is pre-determined by sources outside your control, and there’s no way around it so don’t fight it.

I learned the above from a resource helpfully entitled: The Difference between Nihilism and Fatalism.

Why I Looked It Up

I get really exhausted on long trips. I was trying to describe the feeling, and I couldn’t figure out which word to use.

Turns out, I get fatalistic on long trips. For example, I was returning to Sioux Falls from Auckland, New Zealand, which is just a brutal slog through airports and plane flights. I tend to just go limp, and surrender myself to whatever is going to happen, knowing that there’s nothing I can do about any of it, so why try?

That’s the textbook definition of fatalism.

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