H.P. source: Selected snippets by H.P. Lovecraft
These snippets, selected by Everard Cunion in March 2021, are from H.P. Lovecraft’s Some Repetitions on the Times, written during the great depression of the 1930s. They are as relevant now as they were then.
Our governing body must be brought to understand that the time is past for cherishing abstract institutions and deferring to purely theoretical ideals such as “rugged individualism”, “unregulated private property”, “sound money”, “free initiative”, “legitimate profits”, “economic laws”, “balanced budgets”, and so on. These institutions and ideals have to do with methods, but not with the realities underlying them — and today it is with the naked realities that we are having to deal.
— H.P. Lovecraft, Some Repetitions on the Times, 1933 (*)
He includes several warnings about the excesses of Soviet communism. (Later, he draws some important conclusions from his analysis of that doctrine.)
Today the country has plenty of resources and productive facilities, so that enough exists to support the entire population very comfortably — and without any of the destructive absolute equalisation demanded by ruthless communists.
By the 1930s, when Lovecraft wrote this work, the automation of the means of production following the industrial revolution was well advanced.
Baldly stated — in a highly mechanised nation there is no longer enough work to be done, under any conceivable circumstances, to require the services of the entire capable population if each individual is worked to his maximum (even an humane and rational maximum) capacity.
This is an unbeatable truth around which no amount of sophistry can get. It means that from now on no person of average ability and willingness can be given a guarantee of food, clothing, and shelter in exchange for work performed. There is not enough, under a laissez-faire system, for all to do; hence a residue of the permanently unemployable, increasing as mechanical ingenuity increases, must always be with us.
It seems that the inability of the highly skilled to obtain worthwhile work is not a new phenomenon.
Of the unemployed, an undoubted majority are persons of ample skill, experience, and capacity, prepared to offer in exchange for decent wages certain definite services which have hitherto been useful and necessary. They are not less capable than the average run of persons still employed, but are merely the unlucky ones in the constant competition for the insufficient number of positions now available. A natural upturn in the current of business would restore work to many, but not to a great remaining bulk.
In principle, that freedom from the need for labor provided the opportunity for increased leisure for the people and an accompanying explosion in the popularity of sport, science, art, literature, and other explorations of our universe. Why has that been rejected these last 90 years?
Being accustomed to consider themselves necessary parts of the industrial system, whose labour has a real and definite value, they have developed a high degree of self-respect; while the assurance of at least a modest income has given them a wholesome, comfortable, and in many cases tasteful standard of living. This standard of living is now so deeply ingrained that it cannot be lightly abandoned — indeed, it would be a calamity if it were abandoned, since its good effect on the tone of the whole nation’s civilisation is so ample.
In contrast to the populist right-wing view, partly based on a deliberate misinterpretation of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976) educated people are concerned not solely with the well-being of themselves and their close relatives, but with the future of humanity as a whole.
Ethics perish along with good manners when people begin to feel that there is nothing to live or fight for any more.
There is a widespread view, in Britain at least, that the unemployed — that is other people’s unemployed sons in particular — should be made to dig ditches and fill them in so as to fulfill a religion-inspired requirement that they ‘do work’ rather than get paid for ‘doing nothing.’ In the mid 1970s I dug ditches and filled them in again as part of a UK government ‘job creation scheme.’ It was carried out in the name of archaeology, and I have read that some artifacts of historical usefulness were found, but mostly we unearthed horse bones (with an associated risk of anthrax).
Naturally, some steps have been taken toward the relief of the people’s more elemental woes; but their ironic inadequacy is easy to see.
The abnormal, artificial, and essentially charitable character of the alleged “work” — haphazardly created as an excuse for giving out monetary driblets — is almost always manifest to a devitalising and spirit-dampening extent. It is so clearly a disguised “dole” that it lacks all the stimulus of that genuine work which supplies the actual needs of the community. Moreover, it is usually so repugnant in nature, and so ill-adapted to the capacities and temperaments of its performers (ditch-digging and brush-clearing for soft-handed, short-winded office clerks, and so on), that it tends all too often to become stultifying and sullenness-breeding nightmare.
Lovecraft nevertheless held some bizarre mistaken beliefs, understandable given the cultural climate of the time and place in which he lived (eastern USA in the 1920s) that led him to a confuse skin color with intelligence and refinement:
Likewise, our deepest racial instincts would be outraged by attempts to enforce negro social equality. Cherished landmarks and background details — the small things which give us a sense of placement, direction, and purpose in life — would be snatched away by the dozen. Our calendar, for example, would probably be butchered almost beyond recognition, with numbers substituted for the names of the months and days as frequently in seventeenth-century New England and among the Quakers.
Here, he touches on a fundamental problem that must be addressed in any solution:
Education, however, will require amplification in order to meet the needs of a radically increased leisure among all classes of society. It is probable that the number of persons possessing a sound general culture will be greatly increased, with correspondingly good results to the civilisation. On the other hand, it would be foolish to assume that the more mentally sluggish types will ever lose their present cultural inferiority.
No bungling democratic government could even begin to accomplish the delicate adjustments which loom ahead. Laymen of slight education and low intelligence are wholly useless and potentially harmful as determiners of the national course, and even laymen of wide education and high intelligence can do no more than roughly (and often erroneously) judge the general executive calibre of certain administrators from watching their performances in a few fields which may happen to be familiar.
A problem with the kind of crude democracy we have, is that those in government tend to represent either the corrupt capitalists on one hand or the ignorant on the other.
Office-holding must be limited to men of high technical training, and the franchise which elects them must be granted only to those able to pass rigorous educational examinations (emphasising civic and economic subjects) and scientific intelligence tests.
One problem with the foregoing is that, while there are genuinely scientific studies of economics, most professional economists judge their their success by how well they conform to what other economists say, no matter how ridiculous their statements.
Some Repetitions on the Times, H.P. Lovecraft, 1933, on Archive.org