This probably isn't good. A "researcher" for the Discovery Institute, the anti-evolution collective of pseudoscientists, apparently has it out for H. P. Lovecraft. According to Steven Newton's column on the Huffington Post yesterday, "Another Discovery Institute associate, David Klinghoffer, has tried to link Darwin to Dr. Mengele, H.P. Lovecraft, Chairman Mao, and Charles Manson" as, in Klinghoffer's words, "the fabric of Darwinism's moral legacy."
Lovely. I checked into this, and I had completely forgotten Klinghoffer's 2009 article describing why he enjoys Lovecraft--since his purposeless, amoral cosmos allows him insight into what believers in evolution really think about humanity. As PZ Myers so archly put it,
"Apparently, we aren't just unbelievers, or even merely Satan-worshippers anymore — we've moved on to worshipping inimical alien beings beyond space and time that intend to remorselessly destroy us."
Well, that's science for ya.
I'm not quite sure how to explain a new experimental film version of H. P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror playing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Apparently, the "film" contains no pictures, only sound. This differs, its creators say, from a radio play because the sound is mixed for playback in a theater. More about the movie (?) here.
The Onion A.V. Club had an interesting article today from Leonard Pierce arguing that we are in a golden age of popular culture and essentially condemning those who disagree as narcissistic and self-indulgent. Pierce is quite right that the purveyors of nostalgia point with depressing consistency to their late adolescence as the best years of American culture, whenever those collegiate semesters happened to be--the '60s, '70s, '80s, or '90s. However, I am not sure I can agree that we are in a cultural golden age.
The problem is defining what we mean by "culture." How do you measure the totality of a culture against any given year in the past? There is no doubt that television (entertainment, at least, if not news) is better today than ever before, both in terms of quantity and quality. But movies are a mixed bag, technically superior but too often script deficient. Books seem better but only because the sheer volume of them includes greater raw numbers of good ones, but not a greater percentage. The internet is great, but since it didn't exist in the past, it's rather hard to count it as an improvement or a decline. About the best we can say is that popular culture today is better attuned to today's problems and challenges that old popular culture is, since old popular culture was made for its own time. This makes today's product seem better by virtue of matching our current cultural biases and assumptions.
In the broader sense, some aspects of our larger culture are better and some are worse. Our politics is more disfunctional than it was in the 1950s, but less than in the 1850s. Certainly manner and morals have declined significantly since the Victorians, but are still better than in the colonial era. America is less powerful than it was even fifteen years ago, but it is more powerful than it was in 1890. Western Civilization reached the apogee of its power and influence around 1900 when it ruled half the world. Anything after that is a decline of sorts.
The question, then, is what aspects of culture are we using to argue for the superiority of one time over another? And for whom? If you are a multimillionaire, there was never a better time to be rich than in the Gilded Age, but if you are poor, then today is the best you've ever had it and tomorrow will probably be better. The middle class were most secure in the middle twentieth century, but they have more stuff now than ever before.
So, ultimately, the idea of decline has to be measured according to some kind of criteria. In the past I have been criticized for suggesting that elite (high) culture has declined since 1900 by those who took elite culture and political power as synonymous with popular culture or technological improvement. We can argue until we are blue in the face whether "culture" is better or worse, but unless we define what aspects, for which social groups, and what time periods, such subjective judgments are rather meaningless.
I was somewhat horrified today to learn that Donald Tyson, a self-professed practitioner of "magick" who has published extensively on how to use Cthulhu in magic rituals (though he claims this is for "entertainment," not serious magic), is planning a new volume for this fall that claims that H. P. Lovecraft was an "astral traveler" and a "prophet" of the New Age. Here is the description of The Dream World of H. P. Lovecraft: His Life, His Demons, His Universe:
"Occult scholar Donald Tyson plumbs the depths of H. P. Lovecraft's cosmic visions and horrific dream world to examine, warts and all, the strange life of the man who created the Necronomicon and the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft expressed disdain for magic and religion, and most of his biographers have dismissed the mystical side of his nature. Tyson concludes that Lovecraft was a man in fundamental conflict with himself, and reveals Lovecraft for what he truly was—a dreamer, an astral traveler, and the prophet of a new age."
It seems that Tyson is intent on forcing Lovecraft's biography to conform to his pseudo-scholarly mystical view of a universe pregnant with magic. Even if we accept nearly all of Tyson's premises about the Cthulhu Mythos as suitable fodder for magic, the Mythos leaves us with a prima facie problem for Tyson's thesis: Lovecraft's universe is free from magic (it is, at best, a misunderstood illusion created by science beyond human understanding), ruled by science, and--most importantly--demonstrates time and again that humans are too insignficant to successfully wield the power of the cosmos in any form, a direct rebuttal to the very foundational beliefs of "magick."
Though science philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and I have had our differences (he disapproves of my position that supernatural fiction has intellectual value), I want to offer praise for his "Thinking about Science" column in the July-August issue of Skeptical Inquirer. In his piece "Can Science Answer Moral Questions" Pigliucci exposes the elephant in the room in skeptics' debates about science and morality. As Pigliucci correctly notes, neurobiology, evolution, and "science" in general cannot determine our moral choices because morality is dependent on values, and values are not scientific. They are emotional. The best "science" can do is to calculate the costs and benefits of moral choices. It is up to the individual and the society to assign weight and value to these moral considerations in order to determine the "right" and the "good," factors that the vast cosmos could give two figs about.
Sam Harris, Paul Kurtz, to a lesser degree Michael Shermer, and others are attempting a secular humanist project designed to provide a scientific alternative to religious and culturally based morality. As praiseworthy as developing a secular humanist set of ethics may be, such a project is not scientific and should not be presented under the name of science. If one believes in the proposition of materialism, and if one is, like Sam Harris, an atheist, then one cannot argue that the universe has inherent moral laws discoverable through science. Instead, these thinkers are merely using science to justify a particular set of moral principles generally held by modern, Western, liberal thinkers to be inherently valuable and therefore somehow inherent in the universe. That type of reasoning seems all too familiar.
UnEarthed Press will be publishing my Mexican not-quite-werewolf story "Some Species of God" in a forthcoming anthology due in the fourth quarter of this year. The story concerns an archaeological dig, the Olmec were-jaguar deity, and a romance gone terribly wrong.
I am happy to announce that Paroxysm Press has picked up my short story "Ersatz Victorian with Reproduction Ghost" for inclusion in its anthology 100 Lightnings, showcasing the best flash fiction from around the world.
I uploaded the cover art for Letters from the Dead, an anthology in which I have a short story. The book is on sale now at Amazon and other booksellers. Apparently the book has been on sale since May 14, but I only found out about its release today.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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