Category Archives: philosophy


Collapse is one man sitting in the basement of an abandoned meatpacking plant in downtown Los Angeles, smoking a cigarette and explaining why human civilization in its present form is doomed. The ambience, the music (a Philip Glass-styled score) and the way he is portrayed – like a prisoner in a cell, or like a monk in confession – makes me think of The X-Files. However, this is not fiction.

Michael Ruppert, a former Los Angeles police officer and investigative journalist, is probably most known for dealing with conspiracy theories. However, I’d rather say he’s in tune with reality and facts, because he has learned how to connect the dots. He was one of the first to talk openly about CIA dealing drugs in America, as well as starting the very influental newsletter From The Wilderness, which exposes governmental corruption.
Before you dismiss Ruppert’s “conspiracy theory” as the brainchild of an old tin foil hat, we need to understand what a conspiracy theory really is. I wrote about what Noam Chomsky had to say on the subject of conspiracy theories here. Please read that article as well.

In Collapse, Ruppert talks about peak oil (”People have felt what a 145 dollar a barrell of oil feels like”, ”In the case of oil or any other substance like that, no matter how much money you throw at it, you’re never gonna be able to increase oil production above where it was at peak”) and the war against time that the United States are waging in their desperate pursuit to find and exploit more oil. This war has been going on since the mid 1970’s, as shown by declassified CIA documents from that era. They were perfectly aware of peak oil even back then.

From here on, he goes on for 80 minutes speaking about electricity, energy, food, the CIA’s drug dealing business, economics, money, population growth, the law of the crash, local food production, moving out of the city, communities and tribes… It’s pretty much Oswald Spengler and Overshoot rolled into one. I love it.

However, I do not agree with everything Ruppert says. ”There is no such thing as clean coal, and there never ever will be” – he makes a lot of these statements. We don’t know what will be invented in the future. Things might change to the better. Even though I personally believe that it’s way too late for science to save us from doom, one cannot be certain that it’s not gonna happen. We might just be saved by the bell in the very last nanosecond.

Here are my humble predictions for the near future in one crazy incoherent rant without word wrapping:
In a near future (five to ten years) one thing should be perfectly clear: 
The gap has become too wide to fix. I’m talking about the gap between rich and poor, men and women, left and right, within extremist groups, races, countries, cultures, political parties, extra-parliamentary opposition, between the digitally informed and the digitally unaware, between Zionists and Jihadists, young and old, freaky Christians and freaky Muslims, between the average Joe and plain Jane… The gap will be the keyword of the future. America will be at more wars than ever (but will at the same time lose much of its power), Jihadists too (but they will gain power) and the world won’t be able to do shit about it. And China, let’s not even talk about China… All we can do is watch the world collapse on our computer screens. Good friends will disagree vehemently on political issues, because politics have gone too far, become too extreme, and it will ultimately tear friendships and relationships apart. Most people won’t even talk politics or care at all to get involved, because of fear of losing friends, or fear of saying the wrong things. People who are rather well off in society will part with friends who are or have been subjects to (for example) racism, violence, discrimination, poverty, depression etc – the extreme political situation will not allow them to interact with each other anymore since politics is in everyone’s face and cannot be avoided. Lots of people won’t make the effort of even trying to understand – let alone accepting – what another person has gone through. People won’t understand that one can condemn the Zionist brutality, but still be in favor of certain Israeli policies. Feminism will rise, and so will its enemies. Hate crimes will be more brutal than ever. Even the mainstream will start to clash with the police. A lot of people who’ve been politically active and always spoken out will turn silent, while some will become even more agitated and more extreme. These “extreme” people will sooner or later be forced to go underground and act anonymously to be able to carry their message. The left will split into myriads of small fractions, as will the right, and the extreme fractions are those that will be heard about in the media. In these extreme times ordinary people won’t be able to tell left from right, since left- and right-wing politics will pretty much be the same, only fighting for slightly different causes, but still using the same tools. In 2015–2020 the world will know for sure that the environment is beyond repair, because the environment don’t care if we close our eyes and turn away. It will just simply destroy us. There will be worldwide chaos, massive unemployment issues, economical collapse, famine even amongst previously wealthy people (the Western world), pandemics like the HIV/AIDS and Ebola, lots of people will die, the future will have to be revalued… What once was considered conspiracy nut theories will be mainstream knowledge, but people still won’t give a fuck. In short, the gaps will be shockingly wide in a near future, and we won’t ever understand that it’s been too late to fix for far too long. What we’ve created for so long will be destroyed in seconds.

Here lies the greatest problem of mankind – we will never learn. We do not understand or care about the most basic equations of life and death. When we cannot even solve the most fundamental problems in our daily lives, how are we supposed to save the world? We are living with the dying. Our children will look down and whisper “No.”

But what experience and history teach is this, – that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.

I see no change in our way of thinking, and that’s why we deserve this collapse. It’s already happening all around us. Nothing strange about that, really. In the mind frame of Oswald Spengler:
Every civilisation in history has collapsed. Why should ours be any different?

>Derrick Jensen: Endgame


I just started reading Derrick Jensen‘s Endgame (thanks to Pierre) after having read bits and parts in A Language Older Than Words and The Culture of Make Believe. Here are the twenty premises of Endgame.

Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.

Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources—gold, oil, and so on—can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.

Premise Three: Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

Premise Six: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.

Premise Seven: The longer we wait for civilization to crash—or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down—the messier will be the crash, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.

Premise Eight: The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.

Another way to put premise Eight: Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral, and stupid. Sustainability, morality, and intelligence (as well as justice) requires the dismantling of any such economic or social system, or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase.

Premise Nine: Although there will clearly some day be far fewer humans than there are at present, there are many ways this reduction in population could occur (or be achieved, depending on the passivity or activity with which we choose to approach this transformation). Some of these ways would be characterized by extreme violence and privation: nuclear armageddon, for example, would reduce both population and consumption, yet do so horrifically; the same would be true for a continuation of overshoot, followed by crash. Other ways could be characterized by less violence. Given the current levels of violence by this culture against both humans and the natural world, however, it’s not possible to speak of reductions in population and consumption that do not involve violence and privation, not because the reductions themselves would necessarily involve violence, but because violence and privation have become the default. Yet some ways of reducing population and consumption, while still violent, would consist of decreasing the current levels of violence required, and caused by, the (often forced) movement of resources from the poor to the rich, and would of course be marked by a reduction in current violence against the natural world. Personally and collectively we may be able to both reduce the amount and soften the character of violence that occurs during this ongoing and perhaps longterm shift. Or we may not. But this much is certain: if we do not approach it actively—if we do not talk about our predicament and what we are going to do about it—the violence will almost undoubtedly be far more severe, the privation more extreme.

Premise Ten: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.

Premise Eleven: From the beginning, this culture—civilization—has been a culture of occupation.

Premise Twelve: There are no rich people in the world, and there are no poor people. There are just people. The rich may have lots of pieces of green paper that many pretend are worth something—or their presumed riches may be even more abstract: numbers on hard drives at banks—and the poor may not. These “rich” claim they own land, and the “poor” are often denied the right to make that same claim. A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world.

Premise Thirteen: Those in power rule by force, and the sooner we break ourselves of illusions to the contrary, the sooner we can at least begin to make reasonable decisions about whether, when, and how we are going to resist.

Premise Fourteen: From birth on—and probably from conception, but I’m not sure how I’d make the case—we are individually and collectively enculturated to hate life, hate the natural world, hate the wild, hate wild animals, hate women, hate children, hate our bodies, hate and fear our emotions, hate ourselves. If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. If we did not hate ourselves, we could not allow our homes—and our bodies—to be poisoned.

Premise Fifteen: Love does not imply pacifism.

Premise Sixteen: The material world is primary. This does not mean that the spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother, or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is a mess, and not just the movement of God’s eyebrows. It means we have to face this mess ourselves. It means that for the time we are here on Earth—whether or not we end up somewhere else after we die, and whether we are condemned or privileged to live here—the Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything. It is silly to think or act or be as though this world is not real and primary. It is silly and pathetic to not live our lives as though our lives are real.

Premise Seventeen: It is a mistake (or more likely, denial) to base our decisions on whether actions arising from these will or won’t frighten fence-sitters, or the mass of Americans.

Premise Eighteen: Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.

Premise Nineteen: The culture’s problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.

Premise Twenty: Within this culture, economics—not community well-being, not morals, not ethics, not justice, not life itself—drives social decisions.

Modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the monetary fortunes of the decision-makers and those they serve.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the power of the decision-makers and those they serve.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are founded primarily (and often exclusively) on the almost entirely unexamined belief that the decision-makers and those they serve are entitled to magnify their power and/or financial fortunes at the expense of those below.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: If you dig to the heart of it—if there were any heart left—you would find that social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well these decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.

>Nietzsche: Ny moral


 ‘I haven hört, att det var sagt de gamle: Du skall ej röva, du skall ej dräpa. Men jag frågor eder: var på jorden fanns det någonsin värre rövare och dråpare än just sådana heliga ord?’ Dessa Nietzsches ord har i kälkborgarens ögon en djupt omoralisk klang, fastän de blott säga, att den, som vigt sitt liv åt ett stort och ädelt mål, ej får låta sin handlingskraft söndersmulas av de tusen hänsyn, som trycka den kortsynta och egoistiska vardagsmänniskan ned i gruset. En sådan idealism är allt annat än immoralisk; den ställer tvärtom betydligt högre och hårdare krav på sin man än de kristna husdjursdygderna, och den smutsas aldrig ner av tankar på tack och vedergällning.
Bengt Lidforss, 16 december 1902

>Paradise – Disease and death and the rotting of the flesh


 But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what  is always beyond reach: it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – only if we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us – if only we were worthy of it.
Now when I write of paradise I mean Paradise, not the banal Heaven of the saints. When I write “paradise” I mean not only apple trees and golden women but also scorpions and tarantulas and flies, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters, sandstorms, volcanos and earthquakes, bacteria and bear, cactus, yucca, bladderweed, ocotillo and mesquite, flash floods and quicksand, and yes – disease and death and the rotting of the flesh.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitarie (1968)

>Edward Abbey on population growth


When reading Edward Abbey‘s most excellent Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (1968), I found his thoughts about the condition of the Navajo Indians very much related to population growth, limited space, carrying capacity and what it will probably lead to. The beginning of the end, so to speak.

 The increase [of the population of the Navajo tribe] is the indirect result of the white man’s medical science introduced on the Navajo reservation, which greatly reduced the infant mortality rate… […] Are the Navajos grateful? They are not. To be poor is bad enough; to be poor and multiplying is worse.
In the case of the Navajo the effects of uncontrolled population growth are vividly apparent. The population, though ten times greater than a century ago, must still exist on a reservation no bigger now than it was then. In a pastoral economy based on sheep, goats and horses the inevitable result, as any child could have foreseen, was severe overgrazing and the transformation of the range – poor enough to start with – from a semiarid grassland to an eroded waste of blowsand and nettles. In other words the land available to the Navajos not only failed to expand in proportion to their growing numbers; it has actually diminished in productive capacity.

In order to survive, more and more of the Navajos, or The People as they used to call themselves, are forced off the reservation and into rural slums along the major highways and into the urban slums of the white man’s towns which surround the reservation. Here we find them today doing the best they can as laborers, gas station attendants, motel maids and dependents of the public welfare system. They are the Negroes of the Southwest – red black men. […] Unequipped to hold their own in the ferociously competitive world of White America, in which even the language is foreign to them, the Navajos sink ever deeper into the culture of poverty, exhibiting all of the usual and well-known symptoms: squalor, unemployment or irregular and ill-paid employment, broken families, disease, prostitution, crime, alcoholism, lack of education, too many children, apathy and demoralization, and various forms of mental illness, including evangelical Protestantism. Whether in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the barrios of Caracas, the ghettos of Newark, the mining towns of West Virginia or the tarpaper villages of Gallup, Flagstaff and Shiprock, it’s the same the world over – one big wretched family sequestered in sullen desperation, pawed over by social workers, kicked around by the cops and prayed over by the missionaries.

As people suggest solutions to the miseries of mankind, Abbey speaks about the importance of not forgetting traditional values, simply put: We are all different, let’s learn from each other. The critique of mindless labour (”spending the best part of his life inside an air-conditioned office building with windows that cannot be opened”) versus life is also clearly present in this quote:

 …they fail to take into account what is unique and valuable in the Navajo’s traditional way of life and ignore altogether the possibility that the Navajo may have as much to teach the white man as the white man has to teach the Navajo.

Industrialization, for example. Even if the reservation could attract and sustain large-scale industry heavy or light, which it cannot, what have the Navajos to gain by becoming factory hands, lab technicians and office clerks? The Navajos are people, not personell; nothing in their nature or tradition has prepared them to adapt to the regimentation of application forms and time clocks. To force them into the machine would require a Procrustean mutilation of their basic humanity.
Coming from a tradition which honours sharing and mutual aid above private interest, the Navajo thinks it somehow immoral for one man to prosper while his neighbors go without.

One might say this is a primitive attitude.
I say it’s a civilized one.
Back to population growth:

 They [the politicians, businessmen, bankers, administrators, engineers – The Developers] cannot see that growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness, that Phoenix and Albuquerque will not be better cities to live in when their populations are doubled again and again. They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human.
So much by way of futile digression: the pattern is fixed and protest alone will not halt the iron glacier moving upon us.
No matter, it’s of slight importance. Time and the winds will sooner or later bury the Seven Cities of Cibola, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, all of them, under dunes of glowing sand, over which blue-eyed Navajo bedouin will herd their sheep and horses, following the river in winter, the mountains in summer, and sometimes striking off across the desert toward the red canyons of Utah where great waterfalls plunge over silt-filled, ancient, mysterious dams.

Partner in thought-crime, Oskorei, has written many inspirational articles (in Swedish) about Edward Abbey. Click here for further reading.
Recommended soundtrack: OM – Pilgrimage.

>The Greatest Shortcoming of the Human Race


Dr. Albert A. Bartlett examines the arithmetic of steady growth, continued over modest periods of time, in a finite environment. These concepts are applied to populations and to fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal.

The whole presentation is available on YouTube, divided into eight clips. This is the first one, and below is a summary and direct quotes of what he says.

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. The exponential function is used to describe the size of anything that’s growing steadily, for example 5% per year.
[And then follows some easy mathematics that you’ll have to check for yourself in the beginning of the clip, I won’t bother typing that stuff…]

On July 7, 1986, the news reports indicated that the world population had reached five billion people, growing at a rate of 1.7 percent per year. Doubling time = 41 years. In 1999 we read that the world population had reached six billion people, growth 1.3 percent per year, doubling time 53 years.
In 1999 the world population was increasing by approx. 80 million people per year. If this modest 1.3% percent per year could continue, the world population would reach a density of one person per square meter on the dry-land surface of the earth in 780 years. Of course, this won’t ever happen, because in a rather short period of time – compared to those 780 years – zero population growth will become a fact: today’s high birth rates will drop and today’s low death rates will rise until they have exactly the same numerical value.

How to decrease population growth then? Certainly not by supporting immigration, medicine, public health, sanitation, peace, law and order, clean air, but rather by encouraging abortion, small families, war, famine, murder, violence, pollution, and by stopping immigration… Wow, that’s radical! But it’s the truth. Nature will have its way with us, no matter what we say. There’s one option, though, which is open to us. We need to find something on this list of horrible tragedy that we can go out and campaign for. Anyone  for promoting disease?

The human dilemma is that everything we consider as good makes the population problem worse. Everything bad will help us solve the problem, and nature is taking care of that problem right now. In Southern Africa, growth is slowing due to the high number of HIV-related deaths, just to pick an example out of many.

Now let’s examine the characteristics of steady growth in a finite environment (remember the discussion of finite funds in the second Overshoot post).
Imagine bacteria growing steadily in a bottle (the bottle being the finite environment). They double in number every minute. At 11:00 AM there is one bacteria in the bottle. One hour later the bottle is full.

Three questions:
1. At what time was the bottle half full?
Answer: At 11:59 AM.
2. If you were an average bacterium in the bottle, at what time would you first realize that you were running out of space?
Answer: Well, at 11:55 the bottle is only 3 percent full. 87 percent open space just yearning for development. How many of you would realize there was a problem?
3. Let’s say some intelligent bacteria realize there is a problem and get out of the bottle in search of new bottles. They find three new bottles. An amazing discovery! But how long can the growth continue?
Answer: At 11:59 Bottle 1 is half full. At 12:00 Bottle 1 is full. At 12:01 Bottles 1 & 2 are full. At 12:02 all four bottles are full – and that’s the end of the line.

You don’t need any more arithmetic than this to evaluate the absolutely contradictory statements made by experts who tell us we can go on increasing our rates of consumption of fossil fuels, and in the next breath they say ”Don’t worry, we’ll always be able to make the discoveries of new resources that we need to meet the requirements of that growth”…

In the year 1973, world oil production was 20 billion barrels.
The total production in all of history, 300 billion.
The remaining reserves, 1700 billion.
Back then, in 1973, the clock read two minutes to 12:00.
Today it’s 12:00 and we’re about to finish using up the oil reserves of the earth.

There will be discoveries of oil, but ask yourself: what do you think is the chance that oil discovered after the close of our meeting today will be in an amount equal to the total of all we’ve known about in all of history?

Dr Hubbert in 1974 predicted that the peak of world oil would occur around 1995, so lets see what’s happened. We have to go to the geology literature and ask the literature, “What do you think is the total amount of oil we will ever find on this earth?” The consensus figure in the literature is 2000 billion barrels. Now, that’s quite uncertain, plus or minus maybe 40 or 50%.
That would mean the peak is this year (2004). If I assume there is 50% more than the consensus figure, the peak moves back to 2019. If I assume there’s twice as much as the consensus figure, the peak moves back to 2030.
So no matter how you cut it, in your life expectancy, you are going to see the peak of world oil production. And you’ve got to ask yourself, what is life going to be like when we have a declining world production of petroleum, and we have a growing world population, and we have a growing world per capita demand for oil. Think about it.

Well, we do have to ask about new discoveries. Here is a discussion from about fifteen years ago about the largest discovery of oil in the Gulf of Mexico in the past twenty years, an estimated 700 million barrels of oil. That’s a lot of oil, but a lot compared to what? At that time, we were consuming 16.6 million barrels every day in the United States. Divide the 16.6 into 700 and you find that discovery would meet US needs for 42 days.

Bill Moyers interviewed Isaac Asimov. He asked Asimov, “What happens to the idea of the dignity of the human species if this population growth continues?” and Asimov says, “It’ll be completely destroyed. I like to use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then they both have freedom of the bathroom. You can go to the bathroom anytime you want, stay as long as you want, for whatever you need. And everyone believes in freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the constitution. But if you have twenty people in the apartment and two bathrooms, then no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there’s no such thing. You have to set up times for each person, you have to bang on the door, ‘Aren’t you through yet?’ and so on.” And Asimov concluded with one of the most profound observations I’ve seen in years. He said, “In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive overpopulation. Convenience and decency cannot survive overpopulation. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies, the more people there are, the less one individual matters.”

Full transcript here:

Thanks to Eda for linking to this amazing lecture.

>Overshoot #2: Death control for the hunters and gatherers?


As for population growth, between 1650 and 1850 the world’s human population doubled. Industrialization was the key. Also, in 1865 the practice of antiseptic surgery began. Vaccination, antibiotics and hygienic practices etc., leading to death control.
The population doubled again by 1930, in only eight years. Since 1950, the world’s population has almost tripled. The city of Lagos had a population of 700,000 in 1960. That will rise to 16 million by 2025.

The displacing of species, as mentioned in the first Overshoot post, was not only directed towards plants and animals, of course. In the takeover process, humans not capable of such massive exploitation – the people less equipped – became victims. American Indians, Aborigines, Africans, Polynesians… That’s how life works. That’s what creatures do. We kill each other in search for space, in means of survival. To each his own.

However, industrialization did not take over a place that had previously supported other forms of life. Instead, it went underground in order to enlarge carrying capacity – from a finite fund! Modern industrial societies continue to behave as if we will constantly discover new funds of mineral materials and fossil fuels. The whole industrial process relies on this hunt for new funds, not realizing that there almost aren’t any left.
Since 8000 B.C. mankind has been taking over contemporary botanical processes that contains material with renewal times much shorter than a human lifespan. Now, we rely on material with renewal times that are millions of times longer than a human lifespan.

 After ten millenia of progress, Homo sapiens is ”back at square one”. Industrialization committed us to living again, massively, as hunters and gatherers of substances which only nature can provide, and which occur only in limited quantity.

For long, countries have been able to get away with exceeding the human carrying capacity of their own lands, but only by drawing on carrying capacity located elsewhere on the planet. William R. Catton, Jr., takes Great Britain and Japan as an example: ”If food could not be obtained from the sea (6.5%) or from other nations (48%), more than half of Britain would have faced starvation… […] …if Japan could not have drawn upon fisheries all around the globe and upon trade with other nations, two-thirds of her people would have been starving, or every Japanese city would have been two-thirds  undernourished (which presumably means that nearly all might have died).”
To be continued in Part #3.

My friend, Ola of Massgrav fame, works at Greenpeace, and they’ve made the finest posters.

Click to enlarge.



 In a future that is as unavoidable as it will be unwelcome, survival and sanity may depend on our ability to cherish rather than to disparage the concept of human dignity.

Thanks to a partner in crime, Erik Sundin, I became aware of William R. Catton, Jr., and his book Overshoot – The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (1980). This book pretty much sums up everything I’ve been trying to say with the political and philosophical rants on this blog. It’s a realistic take on what will happen in a near future. Man will never learn, never change – and if he does, it will be too late. ”Eventually has already come yesterday”, as Catton puts it.
The book was written 30 years ago, but is more relevant than ever – and its relevance only continues to increase, because we’re living in that future right now.

In ecology, overshoot occurs ”when a population exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment”. Note that Catton makes a distinction between population numbers and population pressure. Overshoot deals mainly with population pressure.
The main point is that we’ve exaggerated the contributions of technical genius and underestimated the contributions of natural resources. If we had written history with ecology in mind (instead of war, money and brutal human dominance), things would have looked brighter today.
After World War II we believed that science and technology could fix just about anything. In July 1969, when we had people walking on the moon, President Nixon claimed it was ”the greatest week since the creation of the Earth”. However, the 70’s and all of its setbacks showed that wasn’t the case; superior weapon technology did not win the war in Vietnam, great famines in Africa and Asia was a hard nut to crack for the scientists, and so on… Again, ”survival and sanity may depend on our ability to cherish rather than disparage the concept of human dignity”. Also, ”the alternative to chaos is to abandon the illusion that all things are possible”.

During the course of history, mankind has been forced to enlarge this planet’s human carrying capacity.This is absolutely necessary, since populations continue to grow in a very rapid pace. It was done by displacing other species, meaning taking over various spots in the biosphere – simply killing off what was there before. Plants and animal types were the first in line to become extinct due to mankinds’ continued search for space. But this displacing of species could not go on forever. Eventually we ran out of displaceable competitors.
When people sought the good life they were told to ”go west”, i.e. go where there is new land to take over. Now, to access the good life we’re told to speed up the economy, i.e. ”try to draw down the finite reservoir of exhaustible resources a bit faster”. Today’s complex societies are dependent on rapid use of exhaustible resources, but there are insanely more human beings alive than those resources can support.

So, before we start killing each other off for real, here is our desperate solution: With technology we’ll make use of geological reservoirs, simply slowing down the process of ending these resources. It will work for a while. The most ”developed” societies will temporarily be able to feed off this exploitation – until they run out. Because the thing is, these kind of reservoirs of materials are not limitless, and they cannot be renewed within any human time frame. Hence, we are forced to steal from – and thus destroy – the future. To be able to feel good today, we are forced to make it worse for future generations, for the children of today, the children of the grave.
Not too long ago, people were convinced that the future would be better than the past…

 All of the familiar aspects of human societal life are under compelling pressure to change in this new era when the load increasingly exceeds the carrying capacities of many local regions—and of a finite planet. Social disorganization, friction, demoralization, and conflict will escalate.

Catton puts it like this:

carrying capacity:           maximum permanently supported load.

cornucopian myth:         euphoric belief in limitless resources.

drawdown:                    stealing resources from the future.

cargoism:                      delusion that technology will always save us from

overshoot:                     growth beyond an area’s carrying capacity, leading to

crash:                           die-off.

Technological (and other) ”successes” in the history of mankind, which solved problems only in a short-term perspective, are now escalating the end of humanity. All the harmful substances created by technology accumulate too fast for the ecosystem to reprocess them. We’ve used the atmosphere as a garbage dump for far too long and are now beginning to see the results of that, in terms of global warming, measurable rise of sea levels, change of the seasons, movement of communities to higher latitudes, and disruption of many aspects of human life that we didn’t see coming.
Catton means that we need to become aware of the ecological facts of life, and that they affect our lives far more importantly and permanently ”than the events that make headlines”.

This is old news, but we still don’t get it.
I say yes to Bolt Thrower’s question: ”When we understand, will it be too late?”

Nightmare world
Reflected as a dream
Vision blurred
This surely can not be
Twisted now
Far from reality
Delving into depths
Mankinds depravity

Violated planet – world bureaucracy
Graved with resentment – global lunacy

Stricken thoughts
Terror overrides
Pierce the fragments
Of the mind
Deep regret now
Engraved upon the soul
Mortality now echoes
Throughout this world

Avarice – leads to compulsion
Ruined world – beyond recognition

When we understand
Will it be too late?
To future generations
A legacy of hate
A legacy of hate

Living with the dying
Oswald Spengler – The Decline of Cultures
Här finns inget varaktigt och allmängiltigt (about Spengler in Swedish)
Great movies of the 80’s: Threads
Society’s sickness
Situationism – Part 1
Situationism – Part 2
Situationism – Part 3
Planet Earth and misanthropy
The art of psychogeography
Spengler: The morale of dawning “civilization”
Manufactured landscapes
The Earth shall inherit the meek
Into The Wild and the ego
Theodore Kaczynski

>Some reflections on the historical pessimism of Yukio Mishima


Guest #1: Sven André. Poet and translator (b. 1981 in Växjö, Sweden).
Graduate studies in modern Japanese literature at Ritsumeikan University 2006-2009.


Some reflections on the historical pessimism of Yukio Mishima

By Sven André


Yukio Mishima, pen-name for Kimitake Hiraoka. Born 1925 and raised in a troubled family treasuring its samurai roots. Novelist, playwright, critic, actor, martial artist and commander of his own private nationalist militia Tate-no-kai, the Shield Society. Dies on November 25, 1970, a quarter past noon, from a long, deep wound to his abdomen and the severing of his head with a sword by a young follower. The scene of this ritual of death and dedication is the office of General Kanetoshi Mashita at the Eastern Headquarters of the Japanese Self Defence Forces in Ichigaya, Tokyo. Ten minutes into the past Mishima and his second-in-command, the 25-year-old Masakatsu Morita, are shouting their message of  martial honour and national revival, while three other Tate-no-kai members are holding the general hostage in his office. For more than a year Mishima has been preparing himself meticulously for this day when he is to transcend time and existence as we know it. Three hours into the past he is placing a note, a farewell note on his writing desk: “Human life is limited, but I would like to live forever”. When Hiroyasu Koga, after Morita’s botched decapitation attempt, with one powerful stroke of the sword severs Mishima’s head from his body, the limit will be reached and the mystery of eternity revealed to the quickly dying brain. Meanwhile, history will continue to unfold. The universe will go on as if nothing happened. The river flows on, a tiny ripple in the white-foaming cascade of the waterfall is seen for a flicker of a moment and then closed again. Time has come to an end and yet it is neverending. What is the nature of this mighty stream, always in flux and still unchangeable? What was Mishima’s view of it, and of what we call “history”?


As for the future, Mishima apparently regarded it as having little personal importance. His desire to live forever should be interpreted as a longing for a transcendent existence outside of what we call time, the pinnacle moment of beauty and purity stretched into eternity (understood as the atemporal rather than limitless time) and the void, rather than simply a wish for his body of work to survive him as timeless classics. Mishima deeply wanted his death to be that of a man of action, as demonstrated from the fact that he had planned to write the Chinese character signifying “sword” with his own blood after plunging the short sword into his abdomen (a gesture seemingly abandoned for practical reasons). It is also likely that Mishima, despite the support his ideas of a second “Shōwa Restoration” may have enjoyed in certain military circles, had little hope to actually spur a coup d’état with his final action at Ichigaya. The notion, spread by some careless or tendentious writers, that Mishima committed suicide out of disappointment when the Self-Defense Forces refused to rise together with him, is absolutely untrue. The ritual suicide, which in elder days often had served as an act of remonstration performed by the samurai before his master, was part of the plan from the beginning, and Mishima had anticipated the negative response of the soldiers at least two months prior to the event. On the other hand, it is most likely that Mishima would have carried out his rite of death even in the unlikely event that Self Defence Forces would have risen with the Tate-no-kai.
   Preparations for the ritual death had been made as prescribed by tradition. The final action was not a mean to serve an end, but a ritualized display of purity and defiance, an act carried out for its own sake. Nowhere is this made more explicitly clear than in the brief “Counterrevolutionary Manifesto” (Han-kakumei sengen) penned by Mishima in February 1969 to sum up the Shield Society’s positions. In this we read that the society, an “embodiment of Japanese beauty”, “the last ones” are to fight a battle which “must be fought once only and must be to the death”. Most significantly, the outcome of this battle is of no decisive importance to the Shield Society: “effectivity is not a concern”. This stance echoes an aristocratic-heroic tradition found not only in Japanese but also in European tradition, wherein the decision to fight from a lost position is met with praise (as Mishima put it in an interview, “Harakiri sometime makes you win”). The Old English poem The Battle of Maldon tells us that “will shall be the sterner, heart the bolder/spirit the greater as our strength lessens”, a sentiment also voiced a thousand years later by J.R.R. Tolkien, a historical pessimist if there ever was one, who poetically described his avatars of creativity and beauty, the dwindling elves, as having “fought the long defeat”. To Mishima, the future meant not the risk of defeat or the possibility of victory as much as the certainty of disillusionment and decay.


An important hint as to Mishima’s view on the nature of time and history towards the end of his life can be found in the book Hagakure Nyūmon (“Introduction to Hagakure”, translated into English as The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan: Yukio Mishima on Hagakure) which was published in August 1967. Hagakure, “Hidden among the leaves” is an early 18th spiritual and practical guide for the samurai written by Tsunetomo Yamamoto (also known as Jōchō Yamamoto, 1659-1719), a former retainer to Mitsushige Nabeshima (1632-1700), a feudal lord who outlawed the practice of junshi, the traditional suicide whereby a retainer followed his lord in death, thus ironically providing Jōchō, a staunch preserver of tradition, with the opportunity to write down his teachings in old age. During the period in question, the martial traditions of the samurai had led a dwindling existence for over a hundred years, due to the national peace brought by the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. In the view of Jōchō, Japan had become emasculated and dominated by the economistic and hedonistic values of the merchant class. His attitude towards his age was one of stoic pessimism: 

 The climate of an age is unalterable. That conditions are worsening steadily is proof that we have entered the last stage of the Law [Mappō, the end of the law, the era in Buddhist tradition corresponding to Kali Yuga or Ragnarok]. However, the season cannot always be spring or summer, nor can we have daylight forever. Therefore it is useless to try to make the present age like the good old days a hundred years ago. What is important is to make each era as good as it can be according to its nature. The error of people who are always nostalgic for the old ways lies in their failure to grasp this point. On the other hand, people who only value what is up to date and detest anything old-fashioned are superficial.

Mishima writes that Jōchō is “a realistic observer of the flow of time”, which must mean that he himself, at least to some degree, agreed on the notion that we are living in an age of progressive decline, and that time is cyclical, so that the dark age is followed by a new golden age, where a new, purified world is born out of the ashes of the previous one.
Mishima further remarks that Jōchō is “clearly inconsistent”, for while he declares the “climate of the age” to be “unalterable”, he also laments the decadence of his era. If this can truly be called a contradiction, then it is one which can be found also in the writings of Mishima, from early works such as the arch-romanticist historical fiction of Hanazakari no Mori (A Forest in Full Flower, 1944) to his final great novelistic work, the tetralogy Hōjō no Umi (The Sea of Fertility, 1965-1970), at whose very beginning we find the following description of a photograph taken at a military memorial service held during the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905): 

 The figures of these soldiers, in both foreground and rear, were bathed in a strange half-light that outlined leggings and boots and picked out the curves of bent shoulders and the napes of necks. This light charged the entire picture with an indescribable sense of grief.

   From these men, there emanated a tangible emotion that broke in a wave against the small white altar, the flowers, the cenotaph in their midst. From this enormous mass stretching to the edge of the plain, a single thought, beyond all power of human expression, bore down like a great, heavy ring of iron on the center.
   Both its age and its sepia ink tinged the photograph with an atmosphere of infinite poignance.

Among the honoured fallen are the two paternal uncles of the protagonist of the first volume (Spring Snow), Kiyoaki Matsugae. Originally a samurai family, the Matsugaes has joined ranks with a partially westernized aristocracy, with the father of Kiyoaki bearing the title of marquise. The fate of the uncles mirrors that of Kiyoaki. While the latter is an aesthete who abhors the wild shouts of the kendō fencers at school, he too finds his death on the battlefield, although that of romantic love. With the last scion, the last fruit of the family tree fallen, the Matsugaes gradually spiral into ruin and dishonour, as revealed in the subsequent volumes of the tetralogy.


Did Mishima believe it possible to transcend not only the “climate of the age”, but the decaying nature of time? Certainly, he sought to defy many of the mores and ideals of the times he lived in (or at least, to heckle them). In the 1968 autobiographical essay Sun and Steel we read:

 Everything was not, as I had deluded myself, recoverable. Time was beyond recall after all. And yet, as I now realized, the attempt to fly in the face of the relentless march of time was perhaps the most characteristic feature of the way in which, since the war, I had sought to live by committing every possible heresy.

Judging by the same piece of “confessional criticism”, he was not merely opposed to the spirit of the present age, but set against it a – real or imagined – sacralized past: 

 For me, beauty is always retreating from one’s grasp: the only thing I consider important is what existed once, or ought to have existed.

It is easy to find in those words a correspondence with certain traditionalist notions. There is no indication that Mishima was aware of the writings of so-called perennialist or integral traditionalist thinkers such as René Guenon or Julius Evola, for whom the dichotomy between a superior, transcendent “world of being” and an inferior, immanent “world of becoming” is a central concept, but as an avid reader of German philosophic literature, it is likely that he had come into direct or indirect contact with the thought of the “conservative revolutionaries” of Weimar Germany, who harboured some similar ideas, and the works of Nietzsche always had a quintessential influence on Mishima. Further inspiration may have come from various nationalist-mystical ideas adopted by members of Nippon Rōman-ha, the Japanese Romanticist School, in which periphery Mishima spent early years as an apprentice teenage writer. Most importantly, Mishima was steeped in classic Japanese literature and philosophy. Traditional Japanese culture thinking, with its high regard of ritualized forms and stress on the Buddhist-influenced concepts of mono no aware (the pathos of things) and mujō (transience), naturally encourages the search for transcendent order behind the imperfect and impermanent shapes of the immanent world. Needless to say, those concepts are not wholly unique to Japanese or East Asia, for they have Western counterparts in the lacrimae rerum of Virgil and the mood expressed by the Anglo-Saxon elegies.
If Mishima believed in the possibility of a personal transcendence of time, it was most likely one following the path of ritualized death. At the moment of such a death, he writes (again in Sun and Steel), can the pinnacle of beauty be reached and art and action be united. A self-destructive display of fanatical dedication and “purity” would thus enable, in some inscrutable way, the unveiling of the numina.            
In the August 1969 article “A Problem of Culture”, Mishima remarks on the Shinpūren (League of the Divine Wind) incident of 1877, where two hundred fanatically traditionalist samurai, armed with swords only, rose against the modernized Japanese army in the name of the emperor:

 Their reckless action and inevitable defeat was necessary to show the existence of a certain essential spirit.

Elsewhere, in a dialogue with Marxist-turned-Nationalist Fusao Hayashi, Mishima noted that the rebellion was «bound to fail, but not before it revealed purity and orthodoxy and the substance, call it core, of what we mean when we speak of Japan and the Japanese».
It almost need not be mentioned that the few rebels that did not fall for the onslaught of bullets all committed seppuku. Clearly Mishima, in his final action, set out to emulate the purpose he ascribed to the Shinpūren. Armed with Japanese swords only – a token of “purity” – he and his Tate-no-kai cadets were to reveal “a certain essential spirit” to the soldiers of the Self Defence Forces, who, according to Mishima’s speech from the Ichigaya balcony, unless they rose with the Tate-no-kai, would end up as “a soulless arsenal”, “American mercenaries” in a Japan that had “no spiritual foundation”. With this action, Mishima would deal a final blow against the “relentless march of time” and at the same time disappear into the rift opened in it through the violent display of an atemporal, transcendent “purity”.


In the August 1955 essay “Departure from a sense of finality” (Shūmatsukan kara no shuppatsu), Mishima claims that the end of World War II and the defeat of Japan to him “was not an especially sorrowful event”, and this may be true, especially when compared to the death of his beloved sister Mitsuko shortly after the war’s end, but there’s no escaping that it came to take on an increasing significance in his writing. Mishima’s American biographer John Nathan writes that the news of the defeat “seems to have struck him with the somehow unidentifiable force of a presentiment”, and goes on to quote from the 1945 short story “A Tale at the Cape” (Misaki nite no monogatari), in which an eleven-year-old boy become witness to the love suicide of a young couple and experiences an eerie feeling of abandonment. Nathan also quotes from “August 15, Before and After” (Hachigatsu jūgonichi zengo), a reminiscence written in August 1955, wherein Mishima relates his own impressions from the day of defeat ten years earlier:

 A summer meadow stretched in front of me. In the distance I could see the barracks. And above the woods sailed quite summer clouds. If the war had really ended, that scenery would suddenly have altered its significance. Perhaps I couldn’t have identified just how it had changed, but the meadow, those woods and those clouds must now have become part of a world we had never before experienced. In that instant, I felt I had glimpsed a world of a different sensuous dimension.

The inner sensation supposedly experienced by him in this moment was one of profound confusion and dislocation: “I had the strange feeling that I had suddenly fallen through the ground”. In Sun and Steel, we find the same reflection:

 The war ended, yet the deep green weeds were lit exactly as before by the merciless light of noon, a clearly perceived hallucination stirring in a slight breeze; brushing the tips of the leaves with my fingers, I was astonished that they did not vanish at my touch.

The world remains the same, yet something is different. An invisible, untouchable shroud of beautiful nothingness has been torn away, leaving the dry bones of mundane reality, oblivious to the heart and its dreams.
   In The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956), the war and its imminent threat of destruction permit the ugly, stuttering temple acolyte Mizoguchi to sense a metaphysical unity with the golden temple which to him is the apotheosis of beauty. When the war ends without the American B-52s showing up to rain fire and destruction over Kyoto, his co-existence with Beauty is torn asunder:

 The war ended. All I was thinking about, as I listened to the Imperial Rescript announcing the surrender, was the Golden Temple. The bond between the temple and myself had been severed. I thought, now I shall return (…) to a state in which I exist on one side and beauty on the other. A state which will never improve so long as the world endures.

This nihilistic division of history into a past where this apocalyptic threat brought into flower the sensation of pure existence, and a barren present, recalls one of the aphorisms from Cioran’s early work Tears and Saints:

 This world must once have lived in God. History divides itself in two: a former time when people felt pulled towards the vibrant nothingness of divinity and now, when the nothingness of the world is empty of the divine spirit.

To Mishima, “God“, or the Absolute was immanent in the transcendental quality of the emperor system, which to him was not only the heart of the Japanese culture, but a mystical absolute central value enabling the verification of love and existence. The Shōwa emperor’s “declaration of humanity” (ningen sengen) – the renouncement of the emperor’s divine nature – following the end of World War Two was therefore in his view something of a denunciation of the Absolute and an emptying of existence, which he lamented in particular in his 1966 short story cum essay Eirei no koe (Voices of the Heroic Dead). In this he lets the ghosts of Kamikaze pilots ask the living: nadote sumerogi wa hito to naritamaishi? (“Why did the Emperor have to become a human being?”). Yet, throughout Mishima’s writings, such as in the third volume of The Sea of Fertility (The Temple of Dawn) there are hints suggesting that all efforts in our day and age to return to a state of transcendence and tradition, pure or impure as they may be, are tragic, futile attempts to stall the inevitable. The world is set on a steady course away from the divine, and has been so since time immemorial.


What of beauty? Is it, too, subject to the ruin of time, or does it harbour some atemporal aspect? In the writings of Mishima, beauty tends to be either inescapably linked to the physical world, and in particular to the human body, which beauty is doomed to decay and can be saved only momentarily – yet, perhaps, in a moment outside of time – by being destroyed at its zenith of perfection, or else portrayed, like in the previous quote from Sun and Steel, as something “always retreating from one’s grasp”; a paradoxical, shining nothingness haunting the sensible human mind like some ghostly vessel of the divine void, the nada of the mystics. In Mishima’s foremost work dealing with the latter, ethereal variant of beauty, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, the Kyoto temple of the title is described by the narrator, the obsessive, “evil” acolyte Mizoguchi as “a nihility that had been designed and constructed with the most exquisite care”. The Golden Temple’s “apparently indestructible beauty” towers before the protagonist “like some terrifying pause in a piece of music”, paralyzing his very sense of existence while at the same time constituting his raison d’être.
   At the end of the novel, however, Mizoguchi “sets free” the beauty of the temple by destroying the building with fire, and thereby also regain his will to live. His tortuous transition from passive to active nihilism also carries a tinge of nostalgia for a past “ruled by Buddhist law” where destruction by fire – and subsequent regeneration – was “the order of the day”. The unspoken irony of the novel is the fact that the temple just a few years later was rebuilt and its splendour resurrected, just like the phoenix portrayed on the top of its gleaming roof. The idea of beauty – and the human longing for it – endures the destruction of its visible forms.
   The inevitable decay of manifest beauty and the impossibility of “purity” in a world dominated by economistic and “humanistic” values are themes that recur throughout Mishima’s later novels, and especially in his major opus The Sea of Fertility. In the final volume of the tetralogy, The Decay of the Angel (Tennin Gosui, 1970), a masterpiece of subdued beauty and utter bleakness, time has run its course, life forces have come to their ends, a world has been lost. The idealism, dedication and romanticism displayed by the protagonists of the first two volumes have been replaced with vapidity, scheming calculation and narcissism. The book is filled with lyrical meditations on finality and decay, such as the passage wherein the observer-protagonist Honda describes one of the sceneries from the Kitano picture scroll in a haunting soliloquy on the subject of the death of angels:

The gold dust of all-powerful beauty and pleasure drifts down. Absolute freedom soaring in emptiness is torn away like a rending of flesh. The shadows gather. The light dies. Soft power drips and drips from the beautiful fingers. The fire flickers in the depths of flesh, the spirit is departing.
The brightly checkered floor of the pavilion, the vermillion balustrades, have faded not at all. Relics of grandeur, they will be there when the angels are gone.
Beneath shining hair beautiful nostrils are turned upward. The angels seem to be catching the first fore-scent of decay. Petals twisting beyond clouds, azure decay coloring the sky, all pleasures of sight and spirit, all the joyous vastness of the universe, gone.

The “angel” (tennin) of The Sea of Fertility is of course the repeatedly reincarnated (or apparently reincarnated) young protagonist of the four novels, but it is hard to escape the notion that their fate is supposed to mirror the history of modern Japan as Mishima perceived it (the third volume, The Temple of Dawn, appears to be an exception with its settings in Thailand and India, but the sensuousness and archetypically female traits of the protagonist Ying Chan may be linked to the notion of hedonism and “national emasculation” as characteristics of post-war Japan (trends actively promoted by the American occupational authorities, as shown by John Dower in his study Embracing Defeat), which crops up elsewhere in Mishima’s writings). Thus the pathos apparent in the photograph described at the beginning of Spring Snow has by the end of The Decay of the Angel been replaced with an air of pathetic dissolution, as in the sceneries of shallow affluence observed by the aged Honda on his way from Tokyo to Nara:

 Waiting with several women and children at a bus stop was a pregnant woman, warm in a bold Western print. The faces wore a certain stagnation, as of tea leaves floating on the torrents of life. Beyond was a dusty tomato patch.

The Daigo district was a clutter of all the dreary details of new construction, to be seen throughout Japan: raw building materials and blue-tiled roofs, television towers and power lines, Coca-Cola advertisements and drive-in snack bars.

The historical pessimism and the theme of decaying beauty are not specific to Mishima’s later period (usually considered to have begun with the publication of the short story “Patriotism” (Yūkoku) in the summer of 1960). In fact, it harks back to his very earliest works published during the war years, such as the already mentioned Hanazakari no Mori, wherein we encounter passages such as the following:

 Now Beauty is a gorgeous, runaway horse. But there was a time when it was reined in and stood quivering in its tracks and neighing shrilly at the misty morning sky. Only then was the horse clean and pure, graceful beyond compare. Now severity has let go the reins; the horse stumbles, regains its footing, plunges headlong. It is no longer immaculate, mud cakes its flank. Yet there are times even now when a man will see the phantom of an immaculate white horse.

It is likely of significance that the comparison of beauty to a white horse does not only relate to the concept of purity, but also brings to mind more specifically the horse of the emperor which, according to court traditions, has to be pure white. This imperial steed would reappear a quarter of a century later in Eirei no koe, bearing the “man who is a god”. Thus beauty is connected with purity, which in turn is linked to tradition and the perceived incarnation of the godhead, the numina now wrapped in the grey dusk of decay and disintegration, waiting for someone of sufficient “purity” to tear the dark clouds apart with a flashing sword.


Sven André, visiting Mishima’s grave, March 2004.

This essay is also available in Swedish here.
Sven André Det totalitära nuet here.

>Lovecraft and Houellebecq


When reading Michel Houellebecq‘s fantastic discussion of H.P. Lovecraft in Against the World, Against Life, I browsed the web for further information and thus stumbled upon one of the best articles ever written about one of my favourite authors. Of course, it was written by Houellebecq…
The link.
The text:

 ‘Perhaps one needs to have suffered a great deal in order to appreciate Lovecraft … ‘
Jacques Bergier

Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new, realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don’t care to know any more. Humanity, such as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us. All those prodigiously refined notations, situations, anecdotes … All they do, once a book has been set aside, is reinforce the slight revulsion that is already adequately nourished by any one of our “real life” days.

Now, here is Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937): “I am so beastly tired of mankind and the world that nothing can interest me unless it contains a couple of murders on each page or deals with the horrors unnameable and unaccountable that leer down from the external universes.” We need a supreme antidote against all forms of realism.

   * * *

Those who love life do not read. Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world.

As for Lovecraft, he was more than a little fed up. In 1908 at the age of 18, he suffered what has been described as a “nervous breakdown” and plummeted into a lethargy that lasted about 10 years. At the age when his old classmates were hurriedly turning their backs on childhood and diving into life as into some marvellous, uncensored adventure, he cloistered himself at home, speaking only to his mother, refusing to get up all day, wandering about in a dressing gown all night.

What’s more, he wasn’t even writing.

What was he doing? Reading a little, maybe. We can’t even be sure of this. In fact, his biographers have had to admit they don’t know much at all, and that, judging from appearances – at least between the ages of 18 and 23 – he did absolutely nothing.

Then, between 1913 and 1918, very slowly, the situation improved. Gradually, he re-established contact with the human race. It was not easy. In May 1918 he wrote to Alfred Galpin: “I am only about half alive – a large part of my strength is consumed in sitting up or walking. My nervous system is a shattered wreck and I am absolutely bored and listless save when I come upon something which peculiarly interests me.”

It is definitely pointless to embark on a dramatic or psychological reconstruction. Because Lovecraft is a lucid, intelligent and sincere man. A kind of lethargic terror descended upon him as he turned 18 and he knew the reason for it perfectly well. In a 1920 letter he revisits his childhood at length. The little railway set whose cars were made of packing-cases, the coach house where he had set up his puppet theatre. And later, the garden he had designed, laying out each of its paths. It was irrigated by a system of canals that were his own handiwork, its ledges enclosed a small lawn at the centre of which stood a sundial. It was, he said, “the paradise of my adolescent years”.

Then comes this passage that concludes the letter: “Then I perceived with horror that I was growing too old for pleasure. Ruthless Time had set its fell claw upon me, and I was 17. Big boys do not play in toy houses and mock gardens, so I was obliged to turn over my world in sorrow to another and younger boy who dwelt across the lot from me. And since that time I have not delved in the earth or laid out paths and roads. There is too much wistful memory in such procedure, for the fleeting joy of childhood may never be recaptured. Adulthood is hell.”

Adulthood is hell. In the face of such a trenchant position, “moralists” today will utter vague opprobrious grumblings while waiting for a chance to strike with their obscene intimations. Perhaps Lovecraft actually could not become an adult; what is certain is that he did not want to. And given the values that govern the adult world, how can you argue with him? The reality principle, the pleasure principle, competitiveness, permanent challenges, sex and status – hardly reasons to rejoice.

Lovecraft, for his part, knew he had nothing to do with this world. And at each turn he played a losing hand. In theory and in practice. He lost his childhood; he also lost his faith. The world sickened him and he saw no reason to believe that by looking at things better they might appear differently. He saw religions as so many sugar-coated illusions made obsolete by the progress of science. At times, when in an exceptionally good mood, he would speak of the enchanted circle of religious belief, but it was a circle from which he felt banished, anyway.

Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition toward chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and as stripped of meaning as the unfettered movement of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure “Victorian fictions”. All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact and radiant.

Lovecraft was well aware of the distinctly depressing nature of his conclusions. As he wrote in 1918, “all rationalism tends to minimalise the value and the importance of life, and to decrease the sum total of human happiness. In some cases the truth may cause suicidal or nearly suicidal depression.”

He remained steadfast in his materialism and atheism. In letter after letter he returned to his convictions with distinctly masochistic delectation.

Of course, life has no meaning. But neither does death. And this is another thing that curdles the blood when one discovers Lovecraft’s universe. The deaths of his heroes have no meaning. Death brings no appeasement. It in no way allows the story to conclude. Implacably, HPL destroys his characters, evoking only the dismemberment of marionettes. Indifferent to these pitiful vicissitudes, cosmic fear continues to expand. It swells and takes form. Great Cthulhu emerges from his slumber.

To be continued in this article