Friday, June 18, 2010

More on Lovecraft...


I really have to read more by and about him. Fascinating guy - but obviously objectionable in a lot of ways (we've been over that). This is one really fun quote I found from 1936 about the Republicans. A little harsh, but you have to appreciate writing like this:

"As for the Republicans — how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provincial ideals exalting sheer acquisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes based on the bygone agricultural-handicraft world, and revel in (consciously or unconsciously) mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license or that a rational planning of resource-distribution would contravene some vague and mystical 'American heritage'…) utterly contrary to fact and without the slightest foundation in human experience? Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead." [emphasis mine]
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I especially like that line "the single detail of unrestricted economic license". It's a little over-simplified, but it gets at this point of the very restrictive and asymmetric understanding of "liberty" held by a lot of libertarians that is heavily predicated on the existing property rights regime (that's why they scoff at ideas like externalities as real violations of liberty - because liberty is tied to property for them and externalities specifically come in where there are no property rights).

Also, I see that an anthology of his writings on atheism has been released very recently, with foreward by Christopher Hitchens.

30 comments:

  1. What an incredibly stupid human being. Heh, he even has a sop to that grand project of the left throughout the 1930s: "rational planning of resource-distribution."

    No doubt this is a plug for Marx: "...who shut their eyes to history and science..."

    BTW, there are apparently articles on the Stormfront website about Lovecraft ... I did not visit them, but you can see them via a search. More on Stormfront here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stormfront_%28website%29

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  2. The planning of distribution I obviously disagree with, but figured I should bold the whole phrase in fairness and full disclosure of the idea.

    I'm not getting into the race thing on this thread. I bet Stormfront uses the cross and the American flag and possible even the "don't tread on me" flag too. See... I'm already getting sucked back into this. Not on this post.

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  3. Apparently he had quite a romantic - though qualified - view of Hitler as well:

    http://www.gormogons.com/2009/09/hp-lovecraft-fascist.html

    Apparently he was really, really hung up on the "Jewish influence" on American life.

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  4. Interesting statement here:

    "Devoting an entire chapter to Lovecraft’s racism, Houellebecq points out that, prior to arriving in New York, Lovecraft displayed no greater tendency to racism than was common in someone of his class and origins. Lovecraft’s more infamous views only started to emerge once he arrived in New York and he was forced to deal with not only the collapse of his marriage but also his complete failure to find any kind of employment. This experience must have been horrific for Lovecraft as here was a thoughtful and erudite man from a good family not only estranged from his wife but also incapable of finding work. Meanwhile, all around him people of other cultures and races lived broadly happy and occasionally prosperous lives in the great melting pot and economic centre that was New York in the mid-20s. Why should they be able to live happily while a man of breeding and refinement such as Lovecraft should be so utterly miserable?"

    http://www.fruitlessrecursion.com/review-h-p-lovecraft-against-the-world-against-life-2005.html

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  5. BTW, this is just a really dumb statement (about as dumb as Lovecraft's):

    "It's a little over-simplified, but it gets at this point of the very restrictive and asymmetric understanding of "liberty" held by a lot of libertarians that is heavily predicated on the existing property rights regime (that's why they scoff at ideas like externalities as real violations of liberty - because liberty is tied to property for them and externalities specifically come in where there are no property rights)."

    I have as yet to meet a libertarian who argues against tort law, and tort law deals with externalities quite a bit. You would be far safer to claim that libertarians do not deal with externalities the way you would like them to be dealt with; but libertarians are more than aware of externalities and they have a plethora of solutions for them.

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  6. Anyway, I find it interesting that Lovecraft reacted to the city the way he did; negative reactions to the city are always a good sign you are dealing an anti-liberal.

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  7. Good libertarians acknowledge externalities. There are many libertarians that don't even acknowledge them and consider them to be Keynesian nonsense (which is always weird to hear since the idea was most famously championed by Pigou, who is usually contrasted with Keynes).

    Don't make the mistake of looking at the movement through rose colored glasses. I'm not saying all don't acknowledge them - I'm saying a lot don't.

    And tort law only deals with damages - it doesn't address questions of underinvestment due to positive externalities, and it doesn't address negative externalities that aren't understood as "damages" (try to use tort law against a guy driving a car down the street).

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  8. RE: "Anyway, I find it interesting that Lovecraft reacted to the city the way he did; negative reactions to the city are always a good sign you are dealing an anti-liberal."

    I find psychologizing and off the cuff interpretation of life events without any evidence a tough thing to swallow. Just cause this was Houellebecq's pet theory doesn't mean it's true. The man grew up in Providence. It's not the booming metropolis that New York was, but he was familiar with urban life. Houellebecq's theory seems a little too convenient and a little too vague and unverifiable for my tastes.

    If you're so interested in Lovecraft's racism (I honestly can't see how that can be what interests you, given the stuff he wrote about), you might look at what ST Joshi has done with that facet of his life. Joshi is a big Lovecraft fan and critic, but of course he had to grapple with this racism issue. What did he do with it? He put it out in the open and published an anthology of American racist literature so that we don't whitewash or forget what a powerful force racism has been and is in this country. And then he returned to the parts of Lovecraft that he loved and enjoyed.

    It's like Keynes with the euthanasia enthusiasm. It's not pleasant - let's be open about it and move on. How can THAT be what some people constantly want to harp on? What's the point? If I was trying to deify Keynes or lift up Keynes the man for special praise that would be a worthwhile critique to counter me with. But that's not what I'm doing, so let's not focus on it (I'm not saying you do this necessarily - it's just another example of how people can get sidetracked by sensational non sequitors like this). Human beings can be an ugly bunch, particularly in certain periods of history. Let's not hide from that - but really what's the point of dwelling on it?

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  9. This is great... the emphasis on economic license as a "single detail" sums up so much of the arguments that have gone on here, and I think it can be applied to plenty of other reductive systems as well.

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  10. Evan - doesn't he Lovecraft look like Drew Greeves in this picture?

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  11. dkuehn,

    All libertarians that I have ever known acknowledge externalities.

    "Don't make the mistake of looking at the movement through rose colored glasses."

    I'm not; I just happen to know something about it.

    Tort law is merely an example; it isn't the only way libertarians deal with externalities.

    "...it doesn't address questions of underinvestment due to positive externalities..."

    Since underinvestment in any area is the result of the state's mixed up incentives it is hardly the role of libertarians to suggest solutions beyond getting rid of those perverse incentives.

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  12. Statements like "all X acknowledge Y" are rarely true I'm afraid. Neither is "No X acknowledge Y", which is why I never said that - I should add.

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  13. dkuehn,

    No, he was apparently familiar with a certain kind of urban life. And of course Lovecraft came from a particular background as well.

    "Houellebecq's theory seems a little too convenient and a little too vague and unverifiable for my tastes."

    Sounds like wishful thinking to me.

    "How can THAT be what some people constantly want to harp on?"

    Because it is a good way to come to terms with what he advocated in general. To me it is a bit like ignoring Nathan Bedford Forrest's role as the founder of the first KKK or his life as a slave holder and focusing merely on his generalship. Keynes was more than a guy who wrote "The General Theory."

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  14. dkuehn,

    I have as yet to meet a libertarian who denied the existence of externalities; indeed, given the libertarian focus on force and fraud underlines why libertarians would have a hard time ignoring such.

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  15. First, there's the question of scope. There's nothing wrong with the military historian looking only at Forrest's generalship. There's nothing wrong with the economist looking only at Keynes's economics. There's nothing wrong with the literary critic looking only at Lovecraft's literature (this doesn't hold QUITE as well since a person's life experiences obviously contributes to something like art).

    But even if we're looking more broadly than that, emphasizing this sort of stuff risks the impression that these sorts of positions poison everything. You don't like Keynes to begin with so that's an easy one for you. What about Jefferson or Madison? Do we toss out constitutional democracy and limited government because they were slaveholders? I maintain that Jefferson and Madison valued human liberty despite their slaveholding, not that they didn't value human liberty because of their slaveholding. Your fascination with this sort of stuff is based on some sort of false assumption that humans don't make mistakes or that they can't hold to two logically inconsistent positions. They can.

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  16. RE: "I have as yet to meet a libertarian who denied the existence of externalities"

    I suppose that's possible - anything is possible - but the idea that you have managed to meet only the subset of libertarians that do and avoid the libertarians that don't is extremely surprising.

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  17. "Your fascination with this sort of stuff is based on some sort of false assumption that humans don't make mistakes or that they can't hold to two logically inconsistent positions."

    Now who is psychologizing?

    Anyway, until today, though having read some of Lovecraft's books as a teen, I had no idea about his affinity for Hitler, etc. Like anything new I find it interesting.

    As for Keynes, I don't believe I've ever mentioned his position on eugenics here. It his avidity for planning by elites and his dislike of the material aspirations of other people that troubles me about him - and that really is the core of his economic philosophy.

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  18. dkuehn,

    Can you give me some examples of these people?

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  19. "There's nothing wrong with the literary critic looking only at Lovecraft's literature (this doesn't hold QUITE as well since a person's life experiences obviously contributes to something like art)."

    A person's life experiences and philosophical positions also contribute to their work as economists, etc.

    Anyway, I'm not terribly interested in merely understanding Hayek or Keynes as economists; same with generals (be they Alexander the Great or Napoleon); same with writers.

    "I maintain that Jefferson and Madison valued human liberty despite their slaveholding..."

    They maintained certain attitudes about human liberty ... they were still rather, hmm, conventional in those though. Adams (Hamilton) is always seen as the great elitist, but they all fancied themselves as American versions of English gentry and were to be treated accordingly by their inferiors.

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  20. Way off topic - but here is a great interview with Penn Jillette: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2010/06/penn-jillette-is-willing-to-be-a-guest-on-adolf-hitlers-talk-show.html

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  21. "Market failures" aren't "externalities" specifically - but externalities are a subset of "market failures".

    Do you think a non-libertarian posted this on Wikipedia: "Many heterodox schools disagree with the mainstream consensus. Advocates of laissez-faire capitalism, such as economists of the Austrian School, argue that there is no such phenomenon as "market failures,"".


    Next time Cafe Hayek has a post up that is at all relevant to externalities maybe I'll comment with simply "externalities are real and important", and see how people respond.

    A non-trivial portion don't think they even exist. A larger portion may exist and don't acknowledge them. And as you say, there are many that acknowledge them and simply propose dealing with them differently.

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  22. *A larger portion may think they exist and don't acknowledge them.

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  23. Market failures exist, but they are the result of government actions - granting monopolies, etc.

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  24. 1. Wouldn't that be a government failure?, and

    2. Aren't you now identifying yourself as one of those people that wouldn't even acknowledge the existence of naturally occuring market failures like externalities?


    Let me put it this way - is the negative externality of pollution real or not?

    If it is real, isn't that a market failure?

    If it is a market failure, how is this the result of government action?

    You have to drop something here Xenophon. You're tying yourself up in knots.

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  25. If you look at the history of the way the law dealt with pollution in the 19th century and changed the common law understanding of it so as to benefit polluters you'll see a choice was made by positive law to benefit the industries which were viewed as far more important than those harmed by pollution. You can call this crony capitalism, etc. and you can call it a market problem, but its source lies in the government making the decision it made at the behest of certain industries.

    "Aren't you now identifying yourself as one of those people that wouldn't even acknowledge the existence of naturally occuring market failures like externalities?"

    No. Obviously industry actors were involved in the process I describe above; they are the market participants. You can't really separate the two - well, unless you get rid of government that is.

    And what does "naturally occurring" mean anyway? Personally I think this business of trying to lay externalities solely at the feet of "the market" is a self-fulfilling prophecy about the need for government action to stop the externality which the government was part and parcel of from the start.

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  26. Per our earlier discussion on energy: http://reason.com/blog/2010/06/18/jon-stewart-on-energy-independ

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  27. :) it was a very insightful point

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