H.P. Lovecraft

First, a disclaimer: I’ve said this before, but it’s necessary to reiterate every time I talk about him: H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t a very good person. He was a racist. He was an elitist. He was a Nazi sympathizer. (To be fair, he died in 1936; before the worst of their crimes would have been known to the world.) Anytime Lovecraft gets praised for anything, it has to be qualified by mentioning these facts.

When I was in college, I used to go to the library in between classes and hang around reading collections of Lovecraft’s letters. And while this meant having to suffer through his frequent bigoted rants, it also exposed me to another side of Lovecraft: the man who assembled a group of like-minded authors, and offered friendly advice, criticism, and encouragement.

Because despite his general fear of other people, Lovecraft was famous for the circle of friends he amassed—mostly fellow writers who were all trying to publish offbeat stories like the ones he wrote. He corresponded with many of the authors who wrote for the aptly-named pulp magazine Weird Tales. The most famous example of this is probably his letters to the teenaged Robert Bloch, who would go on to fame as the author of the extremely un-Lovecraftian horror tale Psycho.

It was also very likely Lovecraft’s correspondence with other writers that saved his work for future generations. August Derleth, another of Lovecraft’s pen-pals, was key to getting many of Lovecraft’s stories published after the author’s death. Lovecraft himself showed next to no interest in the commercial side of writing. I think he considered it beneath his dignity. But Derleth preserved and published the stories for a wider audience, to the point that now Lovecraft has an entire sub-genre named after him.

The ironic thing about Lovecraft is that, for me, most of his stories aren’t particularly scary. With a few exceptions, most of them are fairly obvious and sometimes downright tedious. He had good concepts, but only so-so ability to actually execute them.

But the reason Lovecraft is such an important figure is not his fiction, but that he was a conduit. As his famous essay Supernatural Horror in Literature demonstrated, he had a vast knowledge of the work of his predecessors, and kept alive the memory of masters like M.R. James and Robert W. Chambers to pass on to a new generation of horror writers. And in turn, the new generation that Lovecraft introduced popularized his writings, and his style.

Lovecraft wasn’t a great writer, but he had an ability to find people who were. He was like a beacon, assembling people who wanted to write a certain kind of horror, and introducing them to other authors who had tried similar concepts in the past.

(Side-note for Lovecraft fans: I’ve speculated that Lovecraft must have felt some sympathy for Joseph Curwen, the unnaturally long-lived sorcerer in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward who, through necromancy, confers with great minds of the distant past.)

Lovecraft had an uncanny ability to bring people together, and it was that ability that allowed the sub-genre that bears his name to exist. As the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society wrote in tribute to him, in one of their more sentimental Lovecraftian song parodies, “Mythos of a King”:

He was hardly famous, and never rich

Unless you count his friends.

But his Gothic pen has inspired men

And his vision still extends.

For all his flaws—and there were many—this was the thing Lovecraft got exactly right. To me, nothing illustrates this better than Victor LaValle’s novella The Ballad of Black Tom. LaValle is an African-American author who enjoyed reading Lovecraft at an early age, even despite all of Lovecraft’s disgusting racist sentiments. LaValle wrote a splendid weird tale both inspired by and in rebuke to Lovecraft.  Someone Lovecraft himself would have looked down on was able to build on the foundation of his tales, and make something better than the original.


Another one of those old dead snobs that I used to read in my youth was an author named Albert Jay Nock. Nock, like Lovecraft, was an autodidact, and also a self-described misanthrope. He was an early proponent of libertarian thought, although I have to believe he would find modern libertarianism entirely too crass. Nock, as we’ll see, had a pretty high opinion of himself.

Nock wrote an essay called Isaiah’s Job, about the Biblical prophet charged with warning the people about God’s wrath. While Isaiah is at first discouraged that so few believe him, God explains that His message is for what Nock called “the Remnant”: a select subset of the population who will understand it.

Nock obviously, and with characteristic arrogance, saw himself as a figure similar to Isaiah. His message was meant for a small group of people, people whom the messenger himself may never even personally meet, but who will nonetheless receive it and take appropriate action. Or as Nock put it: “Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness.”

Lovecraft’s function in the world of horror was similar: he put out the message about weird fiction, and became a kind of touchstone for everyone interested in it. Sherlock Holmes famously said to Watson, “You are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light.” Lovecraft was a conductor of darkness—dark fiction, to those interested in the genre. His own stories are almost superfluous to his real contribution: he united people who otherwise would have remained apart. 

The Republican Party

Cut tax and spend less.

And Heed the Word of the Lord.

But mostly, cut tax.

The Democratic Party

We must tax the rich.

Unless they’re in Hollywood.

Then we’re conflicted.


Cut Government Waste!

Like useless departments that

Monitor spending.

The Tea Party

We hate government

Unless it does what we want.

So… basically… yeah.

Moderate Democrats

We can disagree

On Reagan’s policies, but

His hair was perfect!*


Globalism good.

If there’s more to it than that,

We don’t want to know.

Liberal Progressivism

We’re disappointed.

We won’t vote for Obama.

Kucinich ’16!

Moderate Republicans

We’re not Democrats.

No, really, we promise you!

Not the same at all!

The Alt-Right/”Manosphere”

We strongly believe

We’re slaves to biology.

Go build some robots.


We are all selfish.

It worked great in the novel.

Check your premises.


Why do we have to adhere to this stupid form? We will use however many freakin’ syllables we damn well please!

*Apologies to the late, great Warren Zevon for stealing this line.

Say this for Thomas Friedman: he was right that Michael Bloomberg could unite moderate Republicans and Democrats. I think that they, along with all the libertarians, agree that his soft drink ban is rather absurd.

The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited…“–The New York Times.

I know Republicans–particularly those in the “Tea Party” faction–will say otherwise, but in my experience there are precious few Democrats who will draw a line in the sand and fight to the bitter end to prevent the sale of medium-sized soft drinks. Yes, liberals want to regulate big business, but it’s Kochs, not Cokes, that they are concerned with.

No matter how hard Friedman wishes upon stars, (specifically, these stars)* Bloomberg isn’t going to be President, because banning soft drinks is not the sort of thing that the average voter takes kindly to. It is saying not merely “I know what is best for you,” but “I cannot permit you to even have the chance to act otherwise.”

Is there anyone who doesn’t already know that drinking carbonated corn syrup is worse for you than drinking a bottle of water? I very much doubt it. It can be inferred from the scientific principle that everything that tastes good is bad for you.

It would be different if the ban was on selling the stuff to kids. That would be something people could understand. But if a consenting adult wants to drink a gallon of sugar water, who can say that person hasn’t the right to do so?

Are there any other instances in history of unhealthy beverages being prohibited? Any famous ones that didn’t work at all? Someone should investigate that.  In the meantime, you have to wonder just how much this can possibly change obesity in New York City. Maybe Bloomberg should eliminate all forms of public transportation in the city instead, thus forcing people to exercise. (True, they could try driving. But this is New York City we’re talking about.)

Of course, this isn’t in any way a massive infringement on New Yorkers’ rights. They’re not even banning all sodas; just certain sizes. What could be wrong with that? The mayor himself commented upon the sheer banality of his plan:

“Your argument, I guess, could be that it’s a little less convenient to have to carry two 16-ounce drinks to your seat in the movie theater rather than one 32 ounce,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a sarcastic tone. “I don’t think you can make the case that we’re taking things away.”

He’s right, you know. It doesn’t even make a difference! A trifle, nothing more!

Hey, wait, why do it then? And why tell the portly partakers of Pepsi the loophole that they just have to buy more drinks? I mean, is he serious about matters of public health or not? This is where trying to be a centrist gets you into trouble: you end up doing just enough to annoy the Republicans without solving the problem the Democrats want solved.

I rag on the libertarians a lot on this blog, mostly because I used to be one and I can see so many of their errors. We need government regulation to protect the public health. We need it for big things that private industry might cut corners on, such as making sure that the sewer system and the drinking water system are two distinct things.

But not this sort of thing. This stuff makes the libertarians feel justified. I realize that the government feels like it ought to do something, just to make sure it still can, but in this case it really would be better to just put up some posters telling people to eat and drink healthy stuff, silly as that may seem.

*This is what I am alluding to regarding Mr. Friedman

How did I not hear about this sooner?

Curses! They knew my one weakness! Now I’ll have no choice but to vote for Ron Paul. Even if he’s not actually running as an independent come November, I’ll still have to write his name in.

Okay, I’m just kidding. Don’t worry. But really, this is bizarre. It figures to easily surpass Deus Ex as the best video game for Ron Paul fans, I’ll say that much. I don’t know if it’s a joke or not, but in my opinion, it doesn’t really do wonders for the Paul’s image as a “serious” candidate.

Read more about it here.

I’m not a lawyer. I don’t anything about Constitutional law or any of the precedents involved in the present Supreme Court case on Obama’s health care plan.

But this Mother Jones article by Adam Serwer about it seems pretty vapid to me. Why, Serwer criticizes Solicitor General Verrilli, the guy defending the law to the court, for coughing. So what? Did his arguments make sense? He complains that Verrilli gave “a rambling, apprehensive legal defense” of the law, but doesn’t offer specifics as to what that means.

Well, read the transcript and make up your own minds.

One other thing: at one point, Chief Justice Roberts said:

You say health insurance is not purchased for its own sake, like a car or broccoli; it is a means of financing health care consumption and covering universal risks. Well, a car or broccoli aren’t purchased for their own sake, either. They are purchased for the sake of transportation or in broccoli, covering the need for food. I — I don’t understand that distinction.

Verrilli answers:

The difference, Mr. Chief Justice, is that health insurance is the means of payment for health care and broccoli is (interruption) And — and broccoli is not the means of payment for anything else.

Well, I suppose we could have a barter system, and maybe broccoli would be then. But we don’t. We have a fiat currency system. Currency, in fact, is a means of payment for things. And who is in charge of the currency? Yes, indeed; the government is. The government regulates the currency market. Does it compel everyone to have currency? No, not exactly, but see how far you get without it.

Now, even more specifically, does Congress have the power to regulate currency? Oddly enough, it does under the Constitution, but it voluntarily ceded that power to the Federal Reserve. Even more strangely, many of the libertarians I know who oppose the health care law because of the power it gives Congress also support abolishing the Federal Reserve and giving much greater power back to Congress.

As I see it, according to Libertarian logic, one or the other is unconstitutional, but not both. Of course, it could be neither. In fact, I rather think it is neither, and that both the Fed and Obamacare are quite alright. But it’s only right to offer you fellows a chance. I keep hearing you say you want to end the Fed and strike down Obamacare and it makes me curious.

But like I said, I’m no lawyer. I’m Joe Moron, the blogger. So, to you lawyers out there: explain the flaws in my thinking.

There’s a scene in the video game Jade Empire when the character Sagacious Zu is warning the protagonist about the ruthless tactics of the evil Lotus Assassins, and after he’s done describing them, he concludes, in shame and anguish:  “I should know. I… I was one”. I have always loved the way Robin Atkin Downes says that line, and it’s been running through my head as I’ve been thinking about libertarians lately.  I don’t mean to imply that libertarians are evil. They have a lot of good ideas. But they aren’t as brilliant as they think.

What set me thinking about this was reading this article at Fox News by Wayne Allyn Root about the “Ron Paul phenomenon”. It’s a rather weird article, but Root is pretty much right when he describes what the young people like about Congressman Paul, writing: “Like Ron Paul, young people want government out of their bedroom and wallet. They crave economic and personal freedom.”

True, but it deserves a little elaboration. Having been one, I am pretty sure I know what’s going through the minds of those young people who are supporting Ron Paul. It’s something like this:

Well, the Democrats and Republicans are both corrupt. I’m not gullible, so I’m not going to buy into either side of this false dichotomy. I am more sophisticated than that. I am going to choose a different way, a way that is like neither of the parties, but new and different. I am a rebel! 

Yes, I remember it well. I thought I was a genius for figuring out that the Democrats and Republicans were not perfect, and that blind allegiance to either would not do.

Of course, it doesn’t do have blind allegiance to the trendy thing that everyone who’s too cool for the two party system is doing, either. It took me only four or five years to figure out that it was suspicious how mainstream we supposedly radical libertarians were. And also how little impact we had.

My first thought on considering this was a predictable conspiracy theory about the libertarians being used on an ad hoc basis to give whichever party was out of power a credible group to ally with, without actually giving that group anything in the way of a share of power.

I think many a cynical libertarian would agree with me wholeheartedly about this. And I still believe it to be true. However, my real break with the libertarians came next, when it occurred to me that the reason this happened was not because we libertarians were pure martyrs, cruelly tricked by the denizens of a fallen world, but rather because we really were just a bunch of people who thought we were much cleverer than we actually were for combining the Republican economic policy with the Democratic social policy, and worrying about the government’s power all the time.

I admit it took me awhile to get here. Like most libertarians, I read Ayn Rand early on in my college career. Unlike most libertarians, who are usually quite impressed with her at first, and only later qualify their admiration, I knew from the beginning something was amiss with her philosophy. Lest I sound like I’m bragging, I don’t think it was because I was smarter than anybody else; I think it was more that I have an instinctive rebelliousness that tells me to say “not X” to anyone who forcefully tells me “X”. And what Ayn Rand forcefully told me was “$”.

But, that was just the beginning. Not all libertarians believed in the “almighty dollar”. Most of them did not, actually, and were much more reasonable and accommodating than the strident Rand.

Unfortunately, it gradually became apparent to me that, in their present form, most libertarian policies did lead to the tyranny of the almighty dollar, even if they didn’t quite see it that way, or even mean for it to happen. Or as Oscar Wilde said:

“For the recognition of private property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is. Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an Individualism that is false.” 

A beautiful sentiment–ultimately wrong, of course, but beautiful. Wilde misdiagnosed the problem in his society almost as badly as we libertarians did in ours, but in completely the opposite way. Private property is not the problem, as Wilde thought. And it’s not the solution, as libertarians think.

This is the heart of the matter. The libertarian policy is implicitly that private property–particularly money belonging to corporations–is the most important thing there is. However, experience will show that while it is an important thing, it is possible to construct a scenario in which private property rights are never violated and yet have a dysfunctional society. Which suggests that there are other things that are also important. (A good example of this is the debate over the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)

Of course, the reason we all got into this private property craze was that if private property rights could be violated by the government, it gave the government a lot of power. And the government, we reasoned, could abuse that power. Well, well, it’s been known to happen, so it’s not a bad thing to fear.

Unfortunately, the libertarian policies seemed to me to lead into situations where private-property is overvalued. (This phenomenon is closely related to the way the “neoliberal project has embraced the commodification of literally all human interaction”, as Freddie DeBoer so brilliantly put it.)

It is true that, if I were forced to choose a President from the current GOP field, I’d still probably vote for Ron Paul, even though I think those newsletters released under his name are quite disgraceful and his economic policy is insane. This tells you something about my opinion of the rest of the field. But the fact is, I’m not forced to choose from among the GOP field, and thus there’s not much reason to consider it further.

I have previously pointed out that the problem with government in this country is not tyranny, as Tea-Partiers often wildly claim. Rather, the way in which the government is most likely to negatively impact an innocent person in the United States is through the bureaucracy.

Having said that, it’s clear that bureaucracy is one of the best problems to face from a government. Not only that, who oppose it, especially Libertarians, often tend to forget why it exists. What I mean is that bureaucracy and government wastefulness often are talked about as if the latter is a result of the former, though in my experience many irritating bureaucratic rules and regulations exist precisely for the purpose of preventing the waste of resources.

This is why it rings hollow to me when politicians promise to end waste and to reduce the size of government. Sometimes it is necessary to grow government to combat waste.

So, I’ve been reading some of the works of Albert Jay Nock today. He’s not a very well known writer anymore, but, as Wikipedia puts it:

“Nock was an important influence on the next generation of American thinkers, including libertarians such as Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Frank Chodorov, and Leonard Read, and conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Jr..”

Given all this, I thought I knew about what to expect from him. But I was, at least partially, wrong. He seems to me a great deal smarter and more thoughtful than Rand or Buckley, and while he certainly does espouse many libertarian ideas, his philosophy seems much more nuanced and carefully thought out than most of what we consider “libertarian” thought today. This passage, from perhaps his most famous book Our Enemy, the State gives you an idea of what I mean:

“The State had by no means always kept its hands off trade, but it had never countenanced the idea that its chief reason for existence was, as we say, “to help business.” The merchants and financiers, however, had precisely this idea in mind. They saw the attractive possibilities of production for profit, with the incidence of exploitation gradually shifting to an industrial proletariat. They saw also, however, that to realize all these possibilities, they must get the State’s mechanism to working as smoothly and powerfully on the side of “business” as it had been working on the side of the monarchy, the Church, and the large-holding landed proprietors.”

It’s difficult to argue, given the title of Nock’s book, that he considers “the merchant-State” as he calls it, a good thing. Yet hardly a day goes by without some Libertarian and/or Republican demanding that our state do precisely what is described above. For example, this Washington Post article quotes Governor Rick Perry as saying on Friday:

“‘I am a pro-business governor and I don’t make any apologies to anybody about it. I’m going to be a pro-business president and I won’t make any apologies about it.'” 

Unless I am badly mis-reading one or the other, I see no way to reconcile those two lines of thinking.

It’s not that I agree with Nock’s philosophy; for he makes what I think are many naive errors. Also, many of his ideas will strike the modern reader as sexist and racist, although what I have read of his so far is no more so than was typical of the prevailing “wisdom” of his day, and at times perhaps even a little less so.

It’s just that, whatever his flaws, it seems to me that Nock put a lot of thought into his worldview, and consequently his work reads more like someone who was honestly trying to figure out how the world worked as opposed to the “I command you to be independent and obey me” attitude of Ayn Rand’s crowd. 

The long and short of it is: I very much doubt if any of the people who profess to admire him today have read his work beyond a few carefully selected quotes.