The now almost-clichéd phrase that “ideas have consequences” is profoundly important to keep in mind here, and it is especially important because understanding the cause of poverty, terrorism, and human rights require a tremendous amount of knowledge integration between different areas of human life. Knowing the broader implications of ideas allows one to move beyond the superficial nature (and seemingly discreteness) of our modern problems.
With this foundation, it seems the most serious problem afflicting the world today is nihilism, which is the idea that values do not and cannot exist. Nihilism can take form in philosophy, but it is more recognizable in actions. Incidentally, there are a number of examples of nihilism applied to action that correlate to what the BBC found were the most serious problems. A recent example was the 2011 London riots, in which youth rioters destroyed and looted urban streets. As one commentator notes, “Nihilism, or the conviction that life on Earth is totally pointless, saps the young of their energy, their ambition, and their will to strive, struggle and triumph” (Dean). In this case, people commit violence not to achieve something, but for violence for violence’s sake.
On a larger scale, in his book Ominous Parallels, philosopher Leonard Peikoff indicates that Nazi Germany arose out a culture of nihilism, which fanned the flames of extreme poverty, military aggression, and genocide. Anders Behring Breivik, a perpetrator of the Oslo terrorist attack, committed his crime in the attempt to destroy as much value as possible (Nowicki). In fact, this is a consistent theme across time and space, among humankind’s most grievous catastrophes and crimes: the desire to destroy and the results of that attitude.