psychopathic hymns

As you are aware, I have never been able to soothe myself with the sugary delusions of religion; for these things stand convicted of the utmost absurdity in light of modern scientific knowledge. With Nietzsche, I have been forced to confess that mankind as a whole has no goal or purpose whatsoever, but is a mere superfluous speck in the unfathomable vortices of infinity and eternity. Accordingly, I have hardly been able to experience anything which one could call real happiness; or to take as vital an interest in human affairs as can one who still retains the hallucination of a “great purpose” in the general plan of terrestrial life. … However, I have never permitted these circumstances to react upon my daily life; for it is obvious that although I have “nothing to live for”, I certainly have just as much as any other of the insignificant bacteria called human beings. I have thus been content to observe the phenomena about me with something like objective interest, and to feel a certain tranquillity which comes from perfect acceptance of my place as an inconsequential atom. In ceasing to care about most things, I have likewise ceased to suffer in many ways. There is a real restfulness in the scientific conviction that nothing matters very much; that the only legitimate aim of humanity is to minimise acute suffering for the majority, and to derive whatever satisfaction is derivable from the exercise of the mind in the pursuit of truth (from Letter to Reinhardt Kleiner  (14 September 1919), in Selected Letters I, 1911-1924 edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, pp. 86-87).

To what degree are we just endlessly retracing the brute materialism of thinkers like HP Lovecraft? In the historical period that follows the dissolutions of the scientific  corrosions. Even here though we might question Lovecraft’s insistence that the ‘only legitimate aim of humanity is to minimise acute suffering from the majority’. If there is nothing inscribed in the fabric of the cosmos or in the biological programming of the individual or the species then what grounds the claim that that we are to reduce the sufferings of humanity? Moreover, what makes this the only feeble construction worth pursuing?

Given his own thoroughly scientistic materialism this ethical injunction can only be a suggestion proffered as a normative ideal on the basis of something in the deep history of the neurological and physiological make-up of his individual body and its interactions with an environment “enriched” by a history of socio-cultural pushing and pulling in elaborating on the basic human tendency to maximize survival through cooperative activity. If this is how Lovecraft responds to the problem of suffering then this is just how Lovecraft responds to the problem of suffering. We might say that such is his character. From the claustrophobic confines of mechanistic philosophy we can say no more.

This is what is at stake in the limit cases of psychopaths. By the quirks of his own design history the psychopath is exempt from the need to make calls in favour of limiting acute human suffering or from stepping in to do so. In fact the psychopath is often the one who operates in a space of freedom from the normative expectations of a species that feels such ideals intuitive truth more than they cognize them as rational.
Lovecraft himself was clear on this when he wrote that

. . . all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large . . . To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown – the shadow-haunted Outside – we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.

The terrestrialism of our moralities have no validity or significance beyond our own parochial loves and hates, and these can be no more compelling to others than our preferences for horror stories over romantic comedy. This is a fundamentally depressive discovery that no amount of pretty language or speechifying can ever overcome. I do not mean to say that it is a depressing thought because the resilience of the healthy-minded is by definition incapable of integrating the disturbing realization that things are moral or immoral based on local organic valuations that essentially boil down to “this makes me feel good” or “this makes me feel bad”- a moral nihilism indistinguishable from emotivism at the practical level. If I say this is a depressive discovery it is because this is the world as it presents itself to every depressive who stares up at the things that surrounds them and realizes that this is it, and it is everything, and everything is nothing much at all.

The universe is only a furtive arrangement of elementary particles… The human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure ‘Victorian fictions.’ Only egotism exists.

It is possible to keep staring. It is possible to stare at the wall and then at the window and then at the things beyond it- the sun and the trees, the buildings and people. These are all arrangements of elementary particles-  or patterns or compressions of energy or mathematics, if that doesn’t sit well with our contemporary physics. From this position of formalist detachment it is a matter of supreme indifference whether what I am looking at is tree or a cup or a fly or a thing that thinks it is a person. At the psychopathic extremes one can begin to see the suffering of humanity as little more than a particular re-arrangement of the same elementary particles. A cancer is just a replication error in the information that organizes tissue; pain is a particular triggering of synaptic activity; a wound is a new way of arranging the cells of the body; a dying body is an extreme burst of biotic activity that rushes headlong into ecstatic vibration; a genocide is the redistribution of organic and inorganic materials on a scale that is humanly impressive but cosmically insignificant. Holding a knife and plunging it into another body could seem- at least in theory- to be no more than the dispassionate perturbation of physical system. The material organization the knife plunges into might let out a shriek before collapsing to the floor to enjoy a new choreography with the forces that impress upon it; the shriek would be the mere troubling of air packets, a disturbance of the particles connecting this knife-wielding structure to that one crumpled on the floor. You could watch indifferently as thick red fluid escapes from the incision your structure has made.

I can imagine this indifference to the local claims of parochial morality underpinning the strange case of the Black Dahlia murder: the body treated not as the substrate of the person but as a furtive arrangement of elementary particles that may as well be arranged this way as well as that. Cut open, cut apart, the body is laid down in the grass, a new figuration and geography of the body that is no longer restricted to that inherited through the morphological necessities of gene and developmental unfolding.

Of course none of this implies that we are in this psychopathic position. We are at present constrained to our terrestrial horizon, although our accelerating cybernetic condition may already be liberating us from those limits. It does imply that there are any number of responses to the acute suffering that Lovecraft believes it is our legitimate aim to diminish- although as we have seen may also simply cease to care about that suffering (even if we continue to display the necessary level of social concern to keep on-side with our communities). The call to attend to the need to reduce suffering already echoes the ethos of post-nihilist praxis found on this site. Over and again the authors of this blog have written that after the collapse of all transcedent signifiers in the post-intentionalist wake of the semantic apocalypse all that remains all that remains is bodies and their ecologies. We are called to care for them. We are called to a practice of compassion.

Accepting that any of this is the case under the present understanding that one either feels or does not feel the call, this leaves us with no guide for how to go about the reduction of suffering. What action aiming at the reduction of suffering is off the cards? If it were possible to painlessly sterilize the human race as it is in the tv show Utopia, or even to effect an instantaneous, simultaneous and totally painless species-extinction event would that satisfy the Lovecraftian impulse?

I have a horrible habit of writing very quickly, and not very carefully. The desire and more importantly the time for writing comes rarely. There is also the horrible tyranny of the big blue “publish” button at the bottom of the writing screen urging you to imagine you have finished when you’re still at the stages of a very rough draft. As I attempt to slow down and get more attentive, I hope to be able to do whatever justice an amateur philosopher can do to these subjects.

I should also acknowledge that all the above that in this post I have still remained very much within the ambit of the human that is effaced in the visions of psychopathy and extinction gestured to above. It is beyond my ability in this short post to enter into an analysis of what Reza Negarestani has dubbed the “cthuloid ethics” of inhumanism.

In future posts that I hope to spend more time writing than this piece of work I hope to explore these questions. From the truly materialist standpoint it would seem that an ethics of compassion or solidarity with fellow sufferers is the only ones capable of moving us to act. The ethical paths that opens up from this thorough-going atheism include negative utilitarianism and antinatalism on the one hand, and the possibility of a radical machinic acceleration on the other. This accleration might consist of a renewal of attempts to literally re-engineer the species, perhaps by means of direct interventions into the endocrine and neural infrastructure responsible for the emotions responsible for moral action. In either case we are dealing we are ultimately dealing with dreams of extinction of the merely human. And in either case we may be dealing with ethico-political ideals that appear monstrous to us. Perhaps it is this monstrosity that has led pessimist philosophers to almost universally advocate resignation, passivism, and asceticism.

11 responses to “psychopathic hymns

  1. Lovecraft in that sense follows the path of that other harsh realist, the Buddha who once put suffering at the heart of existence; and, like Lovecraft sought to alleviate this fateful disease of time by a slow and methodical detachment from the objects of our illusive desires. The only end to suffering is the knife or the noose; else abortion as categorical imperative. Otherwise “amor fati” that love of fate of which Nietzsche following Heraclitus revived… joy before death.

    • I seriously need to learn some patience and attentiveness so I can follow these thoughts properly. I’m thinking of cutting myself off from social media and blogs- they only distract me, get me pulled in umpteen directions, and keep an already pretty manic brain flying in twenty directions. Impossible to meditate in the philosophic sense.

      It seems the Ligotti-Lovecraft connection that has been emphasised in the last few years is the right one- the one that I struck when I was a teenager: the powers of depression’s neurological mysticism. lolz.

      There are some other names to add to the Ligotti-Lovecraft-Buddha nexus. Schopenhauer, despite his idealism- which is probably resolvable if we flip that shit the way Ligotti and Metzinger do- and that big admirer of Lovecraft, Michel Houellebecq.

      The hated Houellebecq is probably the best author we’ve had in a long time. I’d say that he stands as the successor of Lovecraft’s materialism stripped of it’s mythological dimension. Houellebecq is a thoroughly physicalist horror writer.

      [any tips on my attention problem? you certainly don’t seem afflicted.]

      • I think it comes with age… like you I went through my virulent nihilistic plunge when I was younger; let’s say, like Land I went mad, not on amphetamines, more on the psychedelics of the era 60’s … then came out the other side, more unique, more monstrous… it was then that I discovered Nietzsche, Rimbaud, and all the rest after the fact…. I think that made the difference… I went through nihilism and the abyss before coming to words… then discovered others before me had already been there, done that… everything else has been a long protracted consolidation of this state of being or nonbeing… yea, Houellebecq strips it to the quick, the bare minimum… I found Cioran to be to my taste… his lyricism and gnostic parodies… same for Pynchon, Borges, DeLillo, Nabokov, and others along the way who used gnostic themes in parodic form… Bataille and Land from the philosophical nonknowledge path…

        • This is pretty much how I’m orienting- or trying to. I’ve had my depression and it lasted longer than the period of my life where I haven’t been depressed. The irony is that now I have people asking if I’m bipolar because my behaviour can be a bit bizarre, I can slip into pressured speech, and so on. I’ve thought for a while that in line with certain strands of psychoanalysis we discover our “truths”- or rather obsessions- in adolescence and early adulthood. We then have two options:

          1. consolidate.
          2. flee.

          I think I took option two. Perhaps by necessity. And it was that which led me down politics- leftism, anarchism.

          I have my reading list- a list of those I have read and said “yes”. It includes a lot of the people you mention- through in Schopenhauer, JG Ballard, Thomas Bernhard, Steve Aylett.

          The problem I have is literally sitting down and reading attentively one or two books at a time- taking note etc. It’s not that I get bored- its that I seem actually to have forgotten how to do this over the years since I left university. It’s a skill I need to re-learn, if I ever had it.

          Part of that is also learning to say “actually political theory isn’t for me and I don’t really care about economic theory or climate science or the billion of other very worthy things I *should* be prioritising above everything else”.

          So it’s a super-ego problem. How dull, hey?

          • Yea, as I’ve been reading through Bataille again of late, following his path realizing how his base materialism moved from Outside in…. from the external to the inward experience and forms of spiritual exercises: yoga, etc. all devoid of the mythologies, and gods, and other leftovers of a religious age. Each of these steps reminds me of that same path I took, which was a janus faced immersion in the external / internal, an oscillation between the two, a sort of reverse dialectic to that of Hegel, rather than a conclusion of those contradictions I moved toward the war of all contradictions allowing for an ultimate annihilation of both the external and internal. When I spoke of coming out the other side: it’s more like a new birth, a second birth, a sort of movement into that uniqueness and monstrosity of being Bataille speaks of as pure evil (i.e., for Bataille evil is not a moral evil, it is this very act of defiance and uniqueness of being without foundations).

            • I think I might more be following the Houellebecqian root. At least at the moment. His new book has this wonderful Lyotardian insight running through it: dependence isn’t slavery; submission is destruction. It’s also what makes some of the (mostly) bizarre and stupid neoreactionary stuff interesting: after the nihililations of so many cognitive collapses of values, heirarchy etc etc., what do we turn to? Is there actually a need to have some kind of ordered society. Houellebecq’s satire plays with this, swings close to a Durkheimian kind of “when shit gets to deregulated we need to restratify” position. What surprised so many reviewers who had written him of as an Islamophobic asshole- under the influence of a hysterical leftist reactivity- was that his protagonist is better off under a moderate Islamic regime than he is under the neoliberal French Republic. He doesn’t paint it as a utopia- women and children obviously lose out in some respects, but they gain in others.

              That’s a fun thought to play with sometimes. This whole “Cthulu swims left” things. Regardless of whether the left has any real power, and regardless of whether cultural marxism is a thing- both are clearly rightist paranoias- there is this undeniable sense that the rise of left-liberal cultural values and technocapitalist nihilism go hand in glove. Is it correlation or is it causation? If the former then let’s get aboard the left accelerationism train; if the latter then some kind of neotraditionalism rears its head as an attempted answer.

              And then there is the path of a darker acceleration into madness and moar nihilism than nihilism can manage.

              The way you talk about Bataille- the idea of defiance and uniqueness- sounds a lot like Max Stirner. I’ve always been keen on Stirner barr his residual Hegelianism.

  2. Quite interesting you guys. I see no darkness though, no ‘we are minuscule’. I kinda see that as another ‘phase’ in the existential movement. A reaction to conventional rhetoric. I agree Aaron; I’m tending to try and remove my obsessive dependence on this digital answer: It makes me have to comment and correct and answer and tell, when really Hickman may have it right. But I feel this Lovecraft OOO /SR thing is just another fad or conventional reactions trying to assert identity. Really the Zizekian capitalism keeping its hold through reactionary politics.
    I may have also gone through these phases you guys talk about, but the end run is that there were no phases, only identity politics. I think. 😜

          • I think the equation that relates those two clauses are a part of a particular manner of appropriating objects.

            That we are a natural occasion connotes only that we are universally determined; and the idea that we are sowing our own destruction part of the universal motion. But I have never witnessed the destruction of humanity. Nor the earth . The identification of meaning to ‘universal meaning’ is a part of our ‘making meaning’. There is no ‘universal’ connection, it is only a part of our natural self establishing nature. I’d say.

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