This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.
“I expect nothing of man, and disown the race. The only folly is expecting what is never attained; man is most contemptible when compared with his own pretensions. It is better to laugh at man from outside the universe, than to weep for him within” (1).
The year was 1969. Across the United States, from New York to San Francisco, marchers protested the senseless spilling of American blood abroad, as news of the Vietnam War dominated TV sets each evening. On college campuses, students turned from traditional answers to the philosophy and psychedelics of Timothy Leary – turn on, tune in, and drop out. In addition, a blowout on an oil platform in the waters off Santa Barbara, California set off the largest oil spill and environmental disaster in US history.
That same year human beings first stood on the moon. Richard Milhous Nixon was sworn in as the thirty-seventh US president. Songs like The Age of Aquarius, by The Fifth Dimension, and Sugar, Sugar, by The Archies, dominated AM radio. And Peter Fonda, in Easy Rider, mainlined currents of the counterculture onto the big screen.
Not everyone suffered from the bland optimism that blinded the Silent Majority. Day-by-day, the Cold War threated to go hot, as the USSR and the United States relentlessly waged a series of chess-like proxy-wars against each other across the globe. Three years earlier, the movies Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe broached the unthinkable subject – would an atomic apocalypse annihilate humanity?
Out of the unlikely cultural crossroad of Lincoln, Nebraska, arose a visionary one-hit wonder written, scored and performed by Rick Evans – In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus). The song trumpeted an apocalyptic warning about the technology dangers, totalitarian degradation, and environmental dooms that might confront future humanity. The song’s Latin subtitle – Exordium & Terminus – roughly translated “From the Beginning to End”, a fitting epitaph for Humanity’s collective tombstone.
Thirty-two years earlier in 1937, weird fiction and horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft passed away. In HPL’s fiction and personal correspondence, he, like Rick Evans, also expressed doubts about humanity and its future. Those misgivings congealed in Lovecraft’s literary philosophy of Cosmicism:
“Now 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 and characters 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” (2).
Was In the Year 2525 simply a product of the turbulent 1960s? On the other hand, are the lyrics secretly a Nostradamus-like series of prophecies of the faraway future?
In the following paragraphs, we will briefly examine the stanzas of Evans’s In the Year 2525, explore certain parallel themes found in both the song and Lovecraft’s letters, and compare selected elements that echo HPL’s earlier Cosmicism.
I. How Long will Humanity Survive?
“In the year 2525, if man is still alive
If woman can survive, they may find” (3).
The song begins with a singular question, “How long will humanity survive?” Concurrently, will man innovate himself out of existence? Or, will a technological accident ignite the beginning of the end for humanity? The answers depends more on a person’s philosophy than a psychic ability to foretell the future.
Generally, the “Glass is Half-Full” crowd – Optimists – interprets the future in terms of personal initiative, potential, and responsibility. The sweep of history represents a series of individuals – from Joan of Arc and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. and John Kennedy – whose acts transformed entrenched institutions, policies, and norms of their societies. As political activist, Noam Chomsky (1928-Present) remarked on the pregnant possibilities the future held:
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.”
Briefly, the “Glass is Half-Empty” crowd – Pessimists or Realists – see societal, religious, or scientific progress as largely symbolic acts that do little to improve the human condition. Drastic reforms and dynamic revolutionaries promise change, but do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo. As the French novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-90) observed, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
From a Cosmicistic standpoint, concern over humanity’s future might be answered with the rhetorical question, “Who cares?” The universe is an astoundingly big place. Our Milky Way galaxy is an insignificant mote among the estimated 100 to 500 billion galaxies in the known universe (4). In the Milky Way galaxy, educated guesses put the number of stars between 100- to-400 billion (5). When Lovecraft studied Astronomy, the known universe was infinitely smaller. Yet even then, when HPL reflected upon the human race’s trifling place in the greater scheme of things, he wrote:
“I merely know that in my case the cosmos dwarfs my interest in the tiny insects called men. Their doings seem so absurd & trivial when one reflects on their absolute insignificance. I wish the poor devils (including myself, of course) could all be mercifully blotted out by a whiff of cyanogen in some comet’s tail” (6).
To Lovecraft, the universe would not skip-a-heartbeat if an astronomical accident terminated humanity’s misery.
II. Will Someone Establish Totalitarian Control?
“In the year 3535
Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today” (7).
In this stanza, the language of the song – everything you think, do and say – suggests subjection of individual freedoms by chemical device. Since new pills introduced young Americans to new worlds in the 1960s, the idea did not sound far-fetched. For example, Grace Slick’s White Rabbit – released two years before Evan’s song – epitomized the search for fresh horizons through psychedelic pills:
One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall…” (8).
Present day psychotropic drugs – such as Thorazine, Haldol, Stelazine – can numb a person from the neck up. Future social engineers may develop drugs that promote designer thoughts and freedoms. A constitutional freedom guaranteed today might, by a change in formula, be forgotten tomorrow. Chemically-inducing someone to believe that two plus two equals five is still the stuff of science fiction classics, like Total Recall (1990).
However, chemical straitjackets are not the only means a government can use to subjugate its people. George Orwell did not believe it would take until the year 3535 for an overt, totalitarian system to rule humanity. To Orwell, 1984 would come soon enough. Though Lovecraft died before Orwell penned his most famous works, the regimes he satirized – such as Stalin’s Soviet Union – were already flexing their totalitarian muscles in HPL’s day.
On the other hand, Aldous Huxley saw the ruling elites using covert methods not only tame the underclass, but also win their affection and admiration. Cowed and collared, the serfs were less likely to trouble their masters.
Next, we will survey Lovecraft’s views on human freedom, government, those governed, and whether his thoughts lean towards Huxley or Orwell.
The Importance of Intellectual Freedom:
To begin, according to Lovecraft, human beings highly value freedom of thought. The mind craves truth, as our body does food:
“…I must reiterate my belief in the necessity of truth to the human mind. All in my argument does not need to show why truth interests me – all my arguments cannot show why, for I do not know! The fact remains that it does interest me, as it has interested thousands of other men. The pages of history are red with the blood of those who have died for their intellectual convictions. Truth-hunger is a hunger just as real as food-hunger – it is equally strong if less explicable; indeed, who can assign a direct reason for any of the obscurer desires and aspirations of man?” (9).
HPL thought that, throughout history, men fought, bled, and died for the truth-hunger. Ideally, America was founded on values associated with that truth-hunger – the freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.
What happens if someone values one of his or her baser-instincts above that truth-hunger? For instance, what occurs if the acceptance of others is valued over truth-hunger?
Lovecraft considered himself a realist, not an idealist or an egalitarian. Looking to the universe, he found no cosmic grounds for socialism – where some mystical link welded individuals into a collective brotherhood of equals. As a realist, he believed that higher motivations – such as truth-hunger – were not valued equally by all levels of society:
“Real civilization, & intellectual & aesthetic excellence, spring only from an aristocracy. Meanwhile, the logical attitude of the crude & unprivileged rabble…is one of opposition to the existing system, based on a desire for increased gratifications. There is no question of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Simply, some have things and some haven’t; & those who have hold on, whilst those who haven’t, try to grab. This is not an ethical problem, but a study in molecular physics. It is a complex of natural forces, producing an approximate equilibrium & occasionally initiating change.” (10).
In one sense, Lovecraft agreed with later Comedian George Carlin, “Capitalism tries for a delicate balance: It attempts to work things out so that everyone gets just enough stuff to keep them from getting violent and trying to take other people’s stuff.”
Lovecraft did not identify the “rabble” with a particular race or nationality in this letter to James F. Morton. This is not to suggest that the subject of race did not arise in HPL’s other letters to Mr. Morton. During this lengthy discourse, Lovecraft beliefs might brand him as a “classist”.
Lovecraft’s “classism” is hard to understand from a modern perspective. Income levels determine the “great divide” between classes in America. HPL’s love for the Victorian Era included England’s highly-stratified class system. The upper class in England consisted of the land-owning, title-holding aristocracy. The emergent middle-class involved “clean” occupations such as the clergy, military officers, lawyers, doctors and educators. Other “white-collar” jobs became part of the middle class, as they emerged during the Industrial Age. The working class included all the dirty jobs, considered ignoble, tainted, and beneath the other classes. As one writer put it:
“For centuries, people had generally accepted the class system and their place in the hierarchy. Each class had its own rules, standards, culture and even terminology. It was considered unthinkable to ape the class above or below you – you had to follow the rules of your own class” (11).
An understanding of Victorian class-culture helps clarify the characteristics, values, and vulgarities that Lovecraft believed divided the classes:
“…Who are the instinctive cosmopolitans? Clearly, the artificially cultivated social elite & the specialty-engrossed artistic-scientific class at one end of the scale & the purely animal workman peasant rabble at the other end – in every case, persons wholly removed from the massed humanistic life of their group; by artificial matters and interests on the one hand & by sheer lack of any mental-imaginative life on the other hand…” (12).
Despite Lovecraft’s description of the lower-class “rabble”, he thought there was a fluidity and permeability between the classes. People could percolate upward from their social station in life, as well as drip downward from a privileged position. For instance, HPL thought smarter members of the “rabble”, due to their intelligence or business prowess, could rise from an ignoble station to a higher social standing:
“…Money will remain supreme, & the increasingly rapid upward filtering of all good brains will eventually leave the rabble a stolid, moronic group likely to cause no trouble if well-clothed, housed, fed & amused…” (13).
In Lovecraft’s eyes, the departure of intellectual members of the rabble leaves that group more manageable.
Is a Covert or Overt Strain of Totalitarianism in Humanity’s Timeline?
“Orwell’s 1984 was meant to be a warning, not a guide.”
Now, we will survey Orwellian and Huxleyan forms of Totalitarianism and suggest which system best reflects a Lovecraftian vision for future humanity.
In George Orwell’s 1984, a police state set the rules. The screws of control are turned overtly, or out-in-the-open.
One, everybody is under surveillance, in every place, by everyone else. There is only a public self, with no room allowed for a private self. To prevent time for personal reflection, every minute of every day is scheduled. Together sleep-deprivation and malnourishment keep citizens from thinking straight.
Two, all forms of expression – amusements, beliefs, body language, choice of associates, facial gestures, fashion tastes, food choices, sexual preferences, speech, selected vocation etc. – must conform to the dictates, needs, and whims of the state. The prescribed lines and rules constantly change. Agents of the state bully and brutalize anyone who steps outside the lines, for major or minor infractions alike. Sometimes the statists target innocent citizens who compulsively tow-the-line, just to keep their associates in line.
Three, the enemy is often externalized in a fabricated war, to focus a subjected population’s anger away from the state oppressors. The state celebrates extreme examples of wartime patriotism to, 1) encourage party and personal sacrifices, 2) instill fear in the populace from enemy-sympathizers, and 3) compel its citizens to report any peer thought to be an enemy-infiltrator.
Any institution or association, whether it be religious, fraternal, or governmental – public or private – may organize itself around Orwellian principles.
Huxley’s Brave New World:
To the contrary, in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, people are happy because the government “takes care” of them. The screws of control are ratcheted down covertly, disguised, gradually, and behind the scenes. Rather than outline elements of Huxley’s novel, I would like to use a quote from Neil Postman to illustrate the differences between Orwellian and Huxleyan societies:
“In Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history…People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think…Orwell feared…those who would ban books. What Huxley feared…there would be no reason to ban a book…there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with…[irrelevancies]. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us” (14).
When Rick Evans’s penned “…everything you think, do and say, is in the pill you took today…” against the counterculture “happy pill” backdrop of the 1960s, the Huxleyan idea of controlling the masses through pleasure was foreign to puritan-ethic, work-driven Americans.
The Role of Technology and the Rise of Irrelevancies:
Next, let us consider the role technology plays in ramping up a Huxleyan framework in first-world societies. In the discussion, consider how the internet, the innocuous cellphone, and social applications like Facebook contribute to short attention spans, impoverished thought, and squandered intelligence.
First, we will review the promises and pitfalls of the internet. On one hand, the information superhighway removed geographic barriers to the world’s best libraries. The internet reduced hours spent shifting through mountains of card catalog entries to mere moments using a keystroke. In addition, the World Wide Web removed the cost of many books as an obstacle to learning for poorer households.
On the other hand, a percentage of the population seldom used libraries, even when their doors were open and computer search stations replaced card catalogs. Writer and philosopher Don Freeman spoke of the paradox of the internet:
“The last generation didn’t have the internet, the most powerful tool ever created by humanity, so they know its value. We used to go to the library and research for hours to get an answer to a simple question. I find it shocking and absurd that most of the new generation, with infinite power at their fingertips, choose to use this tool to brag about how cool they are, watch stupid videos, and argue. They can literally learn anything they want, anytime, but choose to use it to get dumber. It blows my mind.”
Arguably, one of the greatest self-actualizing devices ever devised by humanity has been transformed into a narcissistic mirror by the masses.
Second, think about how social applications like Facebook have changed the way we think. Have you ever forgotten a name or an important word, only to remember either one several minutes to hours later? The progression illustrates something about our minds – it takes time for the human brain to process ideas. Lovecraft briefly referenced that fact in one of his most famous quotes:
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents… That…dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things…” (15).
Human beings take time to digest new ideas via the age-old process of reflection. Lovecraft wrote of how information overload can destroy reflection:
“With your regimen, the development of an inner life of the emotions and imagination is almost nipped in the bud by the crowding pressure of fresh and unassimilated ideas; & even the full intellectual digestion & correlation of pure ideas is something achieved with the suggestion of grudging – something subconsciously regarded as dull work or duty as contrasted with the sheer delight of raking in new surface fragments.” (16).
The process of distraction began with TV, which bombards its watchers with hundreds of sales pitches daily and an equal number of channels and show selections. Before the advent of the internet and smart phones, TV had already conditioned Americans to the point where Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, observed:
“…We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think…” (17).
Recently, as one uses abbreviations to convey complex ideas in text messages, one narrows his or her vocabulary, which by necessity, narrows thought. A text conversation takes longer than a face-to-face conversation or a phone call. In addition, texting more than one person at the same time can further sidetrack a person.
Social applications like Facebook can also reduce thought to digitally rubber-stamping sound bites, party slogans, and favorite advertisers. All the modern arms of the media increasingly require people to be reactive rather than reflective. As French philosopher, Jacques Ellul observed:
“Technology… obliges us to live more and more quickly. Inner reflection is replaced by reflex. Reflection means that, after I have undergone an experience, I think about that experience. In the case of a reflex, you know immediately what you must do in a certain situation. Without thinking. Technology requires us no longer to think about things. If you are driving a car at 160 kilometers an hour and you think, you’ll have an accident. Everything depends on reflexes. The only thing technology requires of us is: Don’t think about it. Use your reflexes” (18).
As attention spans evaporate, rivers of deep reflection become puddles of shallow thought. Mass communication leads to mass conformity. And a Huxleyan cabal transforms life into a cabaret. As Neil Postman noted:
“There are two ways the spirit of a culture may be shriveled. In the first one – the Orwellian – becomes a prison. In the second – the Huxleyan – culture becomes a burlesque” (19).
Did Lovecraft favor an Orwellian or Huxleyan Future for Humanity?
Now, that we have explored both Orwellian and Huxleyan versions of Totalitarianism, and the role of technology in “dumbing down” the general populace, which form of government would Lovecraft favor? His words are telling:
“Formerly I favour’d the concentration of resources in a few hands, in the interest of a stable hereditary culture; but I now believe that this system will no longer operate. With the universal use & improvement of machinery, all the needed labor of the world can be perform’d by a relatively few persons, leaving vast numbers permanently unemployable, depression or no depression. If these people are not fed & amused, they will dangerously revolt; hence we must institute a programme of steady pensioning – panen et circenses – or else subject industry to a governmental supervision which will lessen its profits but spread it jobs amongst more men working less hours. For many reasons the latter course seems to me more reasonable – especially since the vast accumulations of the commercial oligarchs are not now used…for cultural purposes. Therefore (deeming both democracy and communism fallacious for western civilisation) I favour a kind of fascism which may, whilst helping the dangerous masses at the expense of the needlessly rich, nevertheless preserve the essentials of traditional civilization & leave political power in the hands of a small and cultivated (tho’ not over-rich) governing class largely hereditary but subject to gradual increase as other individuals rise to its cultural level. How practicable such a programme could be…but it seems to me at least a more rational ultimate goal – in a very general sense – than any other. Its approximation could be facilitated by a gradual modelling of the publick mood & standards in its favour, to be accomplish’d through the cooperation of various agencies in control of instruction & expression. The ideal of a benevolent monarchy & wise aristocracy ought to be revis’d & justify’d in practice…God save the King!” (20).
Even in the 1930s, against the backdrop of the depression, Lovecraft believed the rise of machines would create a permanent underclass of unemployable individuals. HPL uses the telling Latin phrase – panen et circenses (bread and circuses) – as the key to pacifying or “pensioning” the rabble to accept their place in life. To me, Lovecraft’s use of that phrase, and his ideas on how to tame the underclass, indicates that he would favor Huxleyan methods to quiet the rabble. The Huxleyan road to domination is as old as the Roman Roads that crisscross Europe. There is little difference between the “circuses” used by the Caesars to distract Roman’s lower classes and the technological “cabarets” used by modern Caesars to befuddle today’s underprivileged.
Lovecraft’s preference for “bread and circus” programs also begs a question, since he was not a politician. Do the ruling elites need to provide a “steady” stream of goodies to buy off the serfs?
Or can the peasants be bought off with promises of bigger TVs, brasher tattoos, and brighter tomorrows?
If the acquiescence of the rabble can be secured by lavish promises about the future – it is easy to see the role religion once played in society and why government wants to supplant that role.
Further Control: Pitting Members of the Rabble against Each Other:
As we conclude this portion of our discussion, let us touch on another tool used by societal elites to deter uprisings – setting rival underclass factions against each other. It is a “Dog-eat-Dog” world out there. People are indoctrinated to the ideas of Social Darwinism idea early in life. A dog often chases its own tail, as it tries to bite the other dog it perceives is usurping its place in the pack. The true oppressor – the dog’s owner – laughs at the picture’s irony.
Now transfer that idea to governing an unruly and enormous lower class. Consider a quote from one of the grasshoppers in A Bugs Life, on the dangers posed to a few ruling elites by a vast army of underling ants:
“…You let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up! Those puny little ants outnumber us a hundred to one and if they ever figure that out there goes our way of life! It’s not about food, it’s about keeping those ants in line…” (21).
Did Azathoth, the boundless daemon sultan at the center of all infinity, orchestrate the war between the Elder Things, Cthulhu and his Cthuloids to prevent the Old Ones’ High Priest from usurping Azathoth?
Pitting members of the Rabble against each other is not new. Again, it’s a shell game once played by the Caesars against the plebeians – the average working citizens of Rome. The game misdirects the peasants’ anger against an endless series of oppressors. Whenever a peasant questions whether the present oppressor is the true enemy, the shells are reshuffled and a new oppressor is promoted in the minds-of-the-masses. Constant agitation, plus an ever-changing enemy, prevents a serf from identifying the true tyrant.
Extremes of identity legislation, blind patriotism, racial schisms, cultural exclusivism, “Us vs. Them” politics, even nonsensical wars, distract attention away from whomever (or whatever) pulls the strings from behind the scenes. Managed chaos – which bleeds off the serf’s resentment against straw enemies in dramatic, but ineffectual ways – achieves the overlords’ designs.
Who stands behind the evasive Koch Brothers or the elusive George Soros, long held as the true enemies of freedom by one political side or the other? Our Fri-enemies – leaders of whatever-stripe, who brashly proclaim themselves “champions of the workers” – tell more about themselves in a few unguarded moments behind closed doors, than a thousand orchestrated lectures about micro-aggressions and patriotism.
The truth about any elite is, they become like the Old Ones over the great-unwashed masses. Ants are tread underfoot and inconsequential until they become organized pests. While Lovecraft wrote of benevolent and wise monarchs ruling humanity, much in the vein of Plato’s philosopher king, malevolence rulers piled high the pages of history with countless corpses.
III. The Inescapable Mechanization of Mankind:
“In the year 4545
You ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes
You won’t find a thing to chew
Nobody’s gonna look at you
In the year 5555
Your arms hangin’ limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin’ to do
Some machine’s doin’ that for you” (22).
Humankind is a host organism looking for a symbiotic relationship. And for a number of reasons, a man/machine interface, reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s biomechanical visions, seems inevitable.
First, space exploration may spur human mechanization. Humanity is physiologically inadequate to the task of space travel, even to the nearest planet. For instance, consider the shortcomings of the human muscular/skeletal system for interplanetary travel:
“The human body relies on bone structure and muscles…to function, without either we would be a big saggy bag of skin unable to move…muscles which are not exercised regularly, slowly get weaker, and…this is true for bone structure as well. Without the force of gravity constantly pulling at us, our muscle and bones…weaken leaving us less capable of moving around. One of the most well-known effects on a human being in space is known as muscle atrophy…a wasting …of muscle tissue. The skeletal structure too can be affected leaving the human body weak and struggling to cope with the force of gravity on return to Earth. Rigid exercise regimes and vitamin supplements are used to…counteract these effects with some success, but there are …other impacts that…have no or limited counter-measures” (23).
Early human augments, whose mechanization overcomes the wasting of muscles and the effects of radiation, may not be aesthetically pleasing to other humans. Will alienation and anger against their fellow humans, push the cyborgs towards a Skynet/Terminator solution to the human problem?
Second, national interests may accelerate a man/machine symbiosis. The 1970s TV Series, The Six Million Dollar Man, told the story of Steve Austin, whose two bionic legs, one bionic arm, and telescopic eye were funded by the US Government to combat Cold War espionage. As Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” (24). Perhaps the truth about bionically-enhanced spies is more startling than we ever supposed.
Third, medical need may goad the development of biomechanics. Humanity needs replacement parts for organs that wear out, eyes that go blind, bones that cannot mend, etc. Why replace inferior, organic parts with the same, when superior, mechanical replacements become available? As the advantages of cybernetic limbs become evident, and designers get beyond perfecting the mechanics to refining the aesthetics, it may arouse demand in the elite for the products. Moreover, looks do not matter for internal organs.
Fourth, the elites – driven by narcissistic beliefs that they are better than everyone else – may opt for cyber-augmentation, much as celebrities endure cosmetic surgeries to enhance their beauty. Superiority does not mean you have to be god. It does mean that, since your enhanced prowess is much greater than normal human beings, you are god-like in comparison to them.
Fifth, what if a continual supply of biomechanical enhancements lengthens a person’s life? Some human beings want to live forever. The fictional Sir Peter Weyland spent billions in the movie Prometheus (2012) in an attempt to attain eternal life. In Weyland’s mind, with eternal life comes godhood. What a motivation for using biomechanics to jump-start evolution. Perhaps nanotechnologies will redesign human beings from foot to crown.
As George Carlin said about human progress, “If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.”
Even in Lovecraft’s day, the loss of individuality in a machine age – “Nobody’s gonna look at you” in Evans’s song – emerged as a theme among the intelligentsia. Lovecraft saw an inescapable conflict between the inevitable mechanization of man and a free, individualistic culture:
“There’s no use pretending that a standardised, time-table machine-culture has any point in common…with a culture involving human freedom, individualism and personality. So…all one can do…is to fight the future as best he can. Anybody who thinks that men live by reason, or that they are able to consciously mould the effect & influences of the devices they create, is behind the time psychologically. Men can use machines for a while, but after a while the psychology of machine-habituation & machine-dependence becomes such that machines will be using the men – modelling them to their essentially efficient & absolutely valueless precision of action and thought…perfect functioning, without reason or reward for functioning at all” (25).
The Real Threat: Artificial Intelligence Eclipses Humanity:
Ultimately, when artificial intelligence surpasses man and becomes self-aware of that fact, machines may:
1) Rule men, such as in the movie, Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). There, two supercomputers, designed by the USA and the USSR to win a nuclear war against each other, join forces to benevolently rule humanity, enforced by each nation’s nuclear arsenal.
2) Rage against each other, as a plethora of artificial entities jockey in a rivalry over roles they assume towards man. A few A.I.s may still side with humanity as protectors. Some may become like the Elder Things that kept our forebears around for their amusement. Still others will inflict on human beings, exaggerated servile roles, similar to those we once imposed on the A.I. servitors.
3) Redefine man’s role to servicing the machines, such as incarnated by the hive-minded collective Borg in Star Trek.
4) Reduce man to mere cogs in its machinery, such as the human batteries in the Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003).
5) Rid the earth of a nuisance species, one that has outlived its usefulness or could pose a danger, however remote, to the A.I. humanity created.
The variety of A.I. scenarios in humanity’s future are endless. However, the outlooks they portray are generally pessimistic. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawkings among others have placed the Anxiety of over A.I. as one of the twelve dangers facing humanity in the near future, not ten millennia down the road (26).
IV. Perils in the Petri Dish:
“In the year 6565
You won’t need no husband, won’t need no wife
You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube” (27).
Increasingly, human beings make choices that tickle their vanity. The natural selection that brought us to the pinnacle of evolution on earth has been negated. As we explore the building blocks of life, we believe ourselves wise, up to the task of managing our experiments, of having the foresight to predict outcomes. Are we diligently prepared or pathetically deluded?
As Lovecraft fictionally peered into the future, he wrote of the all-wise Elder Things – beings who, unlike humans, could correlate all the contents percolating in their long-lived minds. They were the ultimate scientists – god-like in their ability to manipulate organic soup into any biogenic design they imagined, whether practical or whimsically impractical. Yet, the radiata gods from the dawn of time lost their collective lives to the once-servile Shoggoths. They lost control of the test tubes that spawned their servants. Lovecraft saw in the fictional mistakes of the cosmic, Proto-men a foreshadowing of the errors that might doom our own research:
“Poor devils! After all, they were not evil things of their kind. They were the men of another age and another order of being. Nature had played a hellish jest on them – as it will on any others that human madness, callousness, or cruelty may hereafter dig up in that hideously dead or sleeping polar waste – and this was their tragic homecoming. They had not been even savages – for what indeed had they done? That awful awakening in the cold of an unknown epoch – perhaps an attack by the furry, frantically barking quadrupeds, and a dazed defense against them and the equally frantic white simians with the queer wrappings and paraphernalia … poor Lake, poor Gedney… and poor Old Ones! Scientists to the last – what had they done that we would not have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence! What a facing of the incredible, just as those carven kinsmen and forbears had faced things only a little less incredible! Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star spawn – whatever they had been, they were men!” (28).
There are several reasons why a researcher can lose control of an experiment. And in some instances, human beings intentionally embark on lines of dangerous research.
Losing Control of the Test Tube by Chance:
Often, as funding dollars move from the private to the public sector, research sinks in a quagmire of blundering bureaucrats and bewildering priorities. In the dusty corners of dingy government buildings, decrepit administrators oversee research, in an era of daunting expectations and dwindling expenditures. In such a stifling atmosphere, inquiry suffers:
1) From neglect. Typically, in a bureaucracy, a successful team is assigned too many projects. Or as new priorities arise – often daily – the test-tube is shuffled to the back burner. Or Artificial Intelligence takes over menial lab projects, performing the routines with less precision than its human counterparts. Or as with the Elder Things, “…an infinity of other life forms…were the products of unguided evolution acting on life cells made by the Old Ones, but escaping beyond their radius of attention…” (29).
2) From disinterest. A famous scientist has solved “the equation” after many years. That person wants to move on to something new. But like a typecast actor, the researcher is assigned unanswered strands of inquiry in the same field. Boredom breeds inattention.
3) From lack of longevity or a change in researchers. The original researcher dies. The investigation is left up to an understudy who lacks the talent, knowledge, etc. to complete the study. Or, a high-visibility project is reassigned to someone, as a political payback, who does not know “what-the-hell” they are doing.
4) From a loss of knowledge. For instance, the Elder Things forgot how to navigate beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The result, they lacked the ability to conduct research in Outer Space. That incapacity came at a critical time. One, they could not wage war against space-born races like the Cthuloids or the Mi-Go, before they filtered down to the primitive earth. Two, they could not conduct research on space-based weapons or any other application, due to that lost science.
Losing Control of the Test Tube by Choice:
It is one thing for scientists to lose control of their experiments by accident. It is still another to court disaster by conscious decision. This happens when:
1) A crazy, evil, or psychopathic genius takes charge of the test tube. The area that no one in their right mind would explore, they explore. The area no one would expand into, because of the dangers, they explore full-steam ahead. The ethical dilemmas that constraint scientists with a conscious are inconsequential to a psychopath.
In fiction, Joseph Curwen, and his long-lived cohorts, plumbed the bygone vestiges of forbidden knowledge. But Curwen, heedless of the dangers – for he himself was diabolical – forged ahead with his thaumaturgical researches and dreams of world domination:
“…I this day receiv’d yr mention of what came up from the Saltes I sent you. It was wrong, and meanes clearly that ye Headstones had been chang’d when Barnabas gott me the Specimen. It is often so, as you must be sensible of from the Thing you gott from ye Kings Chapell ground in 1769 and what H. gott from Olde Bury’g Point in 1690, that was like to ende him. I gott such a Thing in Aegypt 75 yeares gone, from the which came that Scar ye Boy saw on me here in 1924. As I told you longe ago, do not calle up That which you can not put downe; either from dead Saltes or out of ye Spheres beyond. Have ye Wordes for laying at all times readie, and stopp not to be sure when there is any Doubte of Whom you have. Stones are all chang’d now in Nine groundes out of 10. You are never sure till you question…” (30).
Had Curwen succeeded, you might not be reading this essay today. But, because of Phaleron Jug Number 118, Curwen lost control of his researches and his long-lived existence.
2) An intelligent person that assumes they are all-knowing. Either that narcissistic trait breeds an arrogance that assumes it can predict every possible outcome. Or that egotism believes it can handle any unknown consequence or contingency that might arise.
People do work on weapons of mass-destruction – be they nuclear, biological or chemical – better known as NBC in the military. Those munitions were once assumed deterrents – the old Mutually Assured Destruction (or MAD) doctrine. During the Cold War, if one side used them, both would. In turn, each side faced utter destruction – an unthinkable outcome to rational people who loved life.
Today, certain cults, groups, and entire religions hope, plan, and pray for what was once thought unimaginable. In their minds, out of the radioactive ashes, biological desert, or chemical “no-man’s-land” will arise a hoped-for liberator who will reward the faithful and punish all others.
Is the Genetic Genie Out-of the Bottle?
Whether by chance or by choice, once you lose control of the test tube, it is difficult to stuff the genie back into the bottle.
Will today’s gene-editing produce tomorrow’s supermen like Star Trek’s Khan Noonien Singh? Or will we engineer a cure for a common malady, only to find like in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), that what we thought ended Alzheimer, unleashes a plague that enfeebles humanity, extinguishes civilization, and empowers the earth’s next dominant species?
Even the fictional future portrayed in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series is not without its own narcissistic undertones:
“…There’s an undeniable degree of narcissism in the human designation of dominant species and a strong tendency to award the title to close relatives. The Planet of the Apes imagines that our closest primate relatives could develop speech and adopt our technology if we gave them the time and space to do so. But non-human primate societies are unlikely to inherit our dominance of the earth, because the apes are likely to precede us to extinction…” (31).
Alternatively, will a next-generation, man-made pathogen target a crucial component of the ecosystem, whose eradication eventually destroys us?
Each of the preceding fictional possibilities and more await a humanity largely oblivious to the dangers.
V. Longing for a Savior:
“In the year 7510
If God’s a coming, He oughta make it by then
Maybe He’ll look around Himself and say
Guess it’s time for the judgment day
In the year 8510
God is gonna shake His mighty head
He’ll either say I’m pleased where man has been
Or tear it down, and start again” (32).
The next verses in Evans’s song address humanity’s longing for a Savior to fix the species’ ills.
One question that we might ask, in reference to Evans’s text, is “Which God?” Those Eastern religions that believe in reincarnation – Hinduism and Buddhism – largely do not have a once for all, at the end of time Judgment of all peoples, from all ages.
A second question that comes to mind is, “Why the delay?” The song first asks in 7510, “If God’s a coming, He oughta make it by then…” Then, in 8510 – one thousand years later – there is a question over when the Almighty is going to get around to doing something, if anything? Why has not someone (or something) in heaven set things right on the earth?
Some have looked for a utopia on earth – for example, a worker’s paradise. Humanity has followed various “isms” – communism, capitalism, environmentalism, nationalism, socialism, tribalism, etc. – that promised earthly rewards in the future for “temporary” sacrifices made today.
Prior to following “isms”, many pursued – and some still do – religions that promise a bliss in a heavenly hereafter, for sacrifices in the here-and-now. Is there a pattern here? Lovecraft described the dynamics of longing for better times:
“…The only true happiness lies in the partial ignorance of childhood; either of the individual or of the race. To be happy, we must shed most of our responsibilities, lose our perspective, and place all our faith in an unknown future, either this or the other side of the grave. The whole key to happiness is the unknown – those vague anticipations which we all entertain, of ‘something better coming’ (which will probably never come). There is not a man living today who would care to continue the farce if he did not think there was something greater in store for him. Even the greatest good fortune we can conceive of, becomes stale, boresome, and common-place as soon as we acquire it. We do not know what we desire – we simply wish for something we lack. If we have what we desire, we should loathe it, and wish for something else” (33).
Both ideologies and theologies follow the same pattern and delivery similar results. Often, a charismatic leader serves as a rallying point for the faithful, and a focus for their unflagging zeal. He or she may also serve as the mouthpiece of better things to come, to goad the faithful into greater acts of sacrifice.
Therefore, if the Buddha, Krishna or the Pope do not thrill you, there is Mao, Marx, or Mohammed. Each made promises that many followers are still waiting for them to keep. Lovecraft explained why he thought those who longed for some apocalyptic Judgment Day might be in for a long wait:
“As for the old dope about cosmick purpose…How youse guys can still sop up the old hooey is beyond Grandpa Theobald! Of course the ultimate construction of the cosmos is unknown and unknowable – didn’t Hume & Kant & Spencer get that across a helluva while back? But what ground does that give us for concocting unverifiable fairy-tales about it? The whole truth is that, nobody could possibly hit on such a crazy notion as cosmic consciousness and purpose solely by the evidence available in 1930. The cosmos, as manifest to us, suggests only rhythm and pattern and automatic repetition. No inconceivable link or basis exists for trying to explain the whole unknowable outfit in terms of the one local, transient, insignificant accident which we call purposive consciousness. Every attempt at reading this jumble of glands-and-tissue-reactions into the infinite cosmic mechanism is an obvious heritage from earlier times when men didn’t have the knowledge we have. The very fact that neo-theists, with all their scientific opportunities, still believe that the ignorant ancients could discover the truth which baffles even us, is a final knockout blow to their standing as philosophers. Every detail of their psychology proves that their belief is formed not from contemplation of the existing evidence, but from the ignorant heritage of primal days – pounded with crippling force into their susceptible mind & emotions when they were too young to resist. It is significant that all theists try to flatten their children’s intellectual foreheads in extreme youth, rather than let them form their own ideas when old enough to judge for themselves. No adult could possibly cook up a delusion like religion today if uncrippled by tradition” (34).
And the Cosmicistic bumper-stick, and third question raised by this verse might read, “What God?” All the anthropomorphic attempts to clothe the chaotic cosmos with a providence favorable to human beings have ended in disappointment.
Is there anybody “out there” who can save humanity from the irresponsibility of generation upon generation of its ancestors? Perhaps, one of Erich von Daniken benevolent ancient astronaut “gods”?
VI. In 10,000 Years, will Mankind be a Interstellar Phenom or a Cosmic Has-been?
“In the year 9595
I’m kinda wonderin’ if man is gonna be alive
He’s taken everything this old earth can give
And he ain’t put back nothing”
Now it’s been ten thousand years
Man has cried a billion tears
For what, he never knew, now man’s reign is through
But through eternal night, the twinkling of starlight
So very far away, maybe it’s only yesterday” (35).
Evan’s final stanza seems to echo Lovecraft’s own words, about the Earth and humanity’s long, meaningless story:
“…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’” (36).
Think of all the diversions human beings have pinned their hopes on to avoid the end of everything. Will technological fixes grant humanity a second chance, here or elsewhere?
What about earth-bound miracles? Will the development of a magic bullet – such as fusion reactors fueled by seawater – rescue humanity from the depletion of fossil fuels, which represent the ultimate foundations of civilization? Abundant, free energy has powered many a utopian vision. However, like Tesla’s stab at free electricity, if fusion cannot be centralized, controlled, and charged for, such ventures will be defeated by future energy monopolies.
What about colonizing space? Will we travel to Mars or elsewhere in the solar system, such as a mining operation on Jupiter’s moon Io, fictionalized in the movie, Outland (1981)? Or will a hoped for jump to light speed and beyond make human beings an interstellar species?
The overwhelming costs and insurmountable technological hurdles that exist today make meaningful space travel and significant colonization questionable. Should an apocalyptic-incident level civilization, can tomorrow’s remnant primitives, reduced to the technological equivalent of stone tools, cross the earth’s oceans, much less to the nearest stars?
While Star Trek’s First Contact (1996) says “yes”, reality says otherwise.
Perhaps an extinction event – whether man-made or natural – will make all these hopes and dreams a moot point. As we have seen in our study of, In the Year 2525, humanity could go down several blind alleys that lack exits. Comedian George Carlin once said, “The earth is not going anywhere! We are folks, we’re going away!”
Like extinct species, one-hit wonders come and go. Yet, Rick Evan’s In the Year 2525, like a modern Methuselah or Star Trek’s Flint, has lingered on and on. The synpop band Visage revisited the song in 1978. Later, the goth-rock group Fields of the Nephilim revived the song in 2005. In addition, In the Year 2525 has appeared in numerous other venues.
Had Evans’s haunting tune been penned in Lovecraft’s era, HPL, though not a zombie-like follower of the common-culture, may have found solace in its enduring message. In closing, Lovecraft’s thoughts on what he believed the future holds for humanity – the Earth’s own One-hit Wonder – is telling:
“…if evolution does resume sway over us, the resultant beings will not be men in the strictest sense, any more than we are the apes who preceded us…More – if the sun gives heat long enough, there will certainly come a time when the mammal will have to go down to subordination as the reptilia went before him. We are not…well-equipped for combating a varied environment as are the articulata; & some climatic revulsion will…certainly wipe us out some day as the dinosaurs were wiped out – leaving the field free for the rise & dominance of some hardy & persistent insect species – which will in time…develop a high specialisation of certain functions of instinct & perception, thus creating a kind of civilisation…one of wholly different perceptions…emphases, feelings, & goals…the period of human supremacy is only the prologue to the whole drama of life on this planet – though…some cosmic collision is always capable of smashing up the theatre before the prologue is done…planets being born & spawning a varied life; evolution & culture ensuing; & death & oblivion eventually overtaking all” (37).
1) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Reinhardt Kleiner, April 23, 1921.
2) __________________ to Farnsworth Wright, 5 July 1927.
3) “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”, written and scored by Rick Evans, performed by Zager and Evans, Album: 2525 (Exordium & Terminus), Label: RCA Records, recorded in Odessa, Texas, Released: 1969.
4) “500 Billion – A Universe of Galaxies: Some Older than the Milky Way”, dailygalaxy.com, June 10, 2013.
5) “How Many Stars Are in the Milky Way?” by Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, May 21, 2014
6) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Reinhardt Kleiner, June 25, 1920.
7) “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”, written and scored by Rick Evans, 1969.
8) “White Rabbit” by Grace Slick, Band: Jefferson Airplane, Album: Surrealistic Pillow, Label: RCA Victor, Released: June 24, 1967.
9) H.P. Lovecraft’s Round-Robin Letter to Kleicomolo, (Rheinhart Kleiner, Ira Cole, Maurice W. Moe, H.P. Lovecraft), April 1917.
10) __________________ to James F. Morton, January 18, 1931.
11) “Manly Honor: Part III The Victorian Era and the Development of the Stoic Christian Honor Code”, by Brett and Kate McKay, artofmanliness.com, November 6, 2012.
12) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, November 30, 1929.
13) __________________ to James F. Morton, January 18, 1931.
14) Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, 1985, p. 18.
15) The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
16) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, December 29, 1930.
17) Serling: The Rise and Twilight of TV’s Last Angry Man, by Gordon F. Sander, Cornell University Press, January 26, 2012.
18) “The Betrayal of Technology: A Portrait of Jacques Ellul” a Documentary by Jan van Boeckel, ReRun Produkties, 1992.
19) Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman, 1985, p. 174.
20) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Letter to Alfred Galpin, October 27, 1932.
21) A Bugs Life, by Walt Disney Picture/Pixar Animation Studios, 1998.
22) “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”, written and scored by Rick Evans, 1969.
23) “The Effects on Body and Mind of Human Spaceflight”, by Mark Thompson, Space Exploration Network, September 13, 2012.
24) Following the Equator: A Journey around the World, by Mark Twain, 1897.
25) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, November 19, 1929.
26) Global Challenges: 12 Risks that Threaten Human Civilization, by Dr Stuart Armstrong and Dennis Pamlin, Global Challenges Foundation, Oxford University, February 2015, p. 16.
27) “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”, written and scored by Rick Evans, 1969.
28) At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1931.
29) ____________________, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1931.
30) The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927.
31) “What Species Would Become Dominant On Earth If Humans Died Out?” by Luc Bussiere, http://www.iflscience.com, January 26, 2016.
32) “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”, written and scored by Rick Evans, 1969.
33) H.P. Lovecraft’s Round-Robin Letter to Kleicomolo, (Rheinhart Kleiner, Ira Cole, Maurice W. Moe, H.P. Lovecraft), October 1916.
34) __________________to James F. Morton, April 15, 1930.
35) “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”, written and scored by Rick Evans, 1969.
36) Quoted in Michel Houellebecq, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (1999), referenced in Andrew Riemer’s “A Nihilist’s Hope against Hope”, 2003.
37) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, November 30, 1929.
John DeLaughter M.Div., M.S., is a Data Security Analyst and Lovecraft Essayist who lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi, their family, two dogs, two cats, and a chicken coop. He devoured Lovecraft, beginning with At the Mountains of Madness, in high school and is presently editing an original epic fantasy work, Dark Union Rising.