An analysis of the dark ethics behind rapacious NeoLiberalism.
From Thomas Learmont
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
― H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
Sometimes something is so huge we cannot see it. It dominates our field of consciousness to the point it becomes invisible. As the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher said ‘Capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable.’ Extending this position to its logical conclusion he (re) defined the dominant discourse as ‘Capitalist Realism’: “It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action.” (2006: 16) This suggests not only its ubiquity, but a kind of agency, a nefarious one at that. Without literalising it and reducing it to a conspiracy theory, I would like to offer a plegian metaphor – to facilitate awareness and discussion of it. Late Capitalism and NeoLiberalism both offer useful and ‘acceptable’ terms, but deploying the same language as the faceless business speak that got us into this mess in the first place, they both lack the necessary shock value to wake people up to the horror of what is being perpetuated, and so I suggest a new term: Cthulunomics.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s mythos of a race of Elder Gods from dark planets at the edge of our solar system and beyond, who, laying dormant beneath the Earth for aeons, or lurking behind interstellar portals, threaten to awaken and overthrow and enslave humankind, is much-loved, even despite the blatant racism and xenophobia of the early Twentieth Century author of weird tales (a toxicity that Matt Ruff brilliantly tackles head-on in his novel Lovecraft Country). Lovecraft’s mythos has inspired other writers of Fantastika – Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, China Miéville, and Alan Moore, to name some – and a legion of fans. Perhaps it should not be surprising that a bleak, disquieting cycle of stories which pull back the flesh-suit of reality to reveal a cosmic horror at its core – one that devastatingly destabilizes our privileged position in Creation (what Lovecraft called ‘Cosmicism’) – should take hold of readers’ imaginations. For it conveys an existential nakedness – an ultimate Endarkenment. By getting to grips with it, acknowledging it, even admiring it, one pre-empts a loss of innocence in a disenchanted, deromanticised, and cruelly competitive world. By being a Lovecraft fans one is ‘vice signalling’ to the world: I know how dark things really are. I am ‘woke’ to its horrors. Perversely, this has led to a perpetuation of Lovecrafts oeuvre through RPGs, video games, comic-books, cos-play, cutsey knitwear and plushes, that have become, in their own way, a kind of consoling fiction (and one that, on the whole, perpetuates a commercial ‘business as usual’).
And yet the Cthulu mythos is a resonant one, that has gained new currency in this post-9/11, post-Obama, post-Truth, Trumped-up world, where we seem to exist permanently in the ‘Upside Down’ (to use the term from the hit Netflix show, Stranger Things, which itself draws upon the Cthulu mythos, in small town 80s America). As the Trump Administration does its best to not only dismantle any measures to counter Climate Change, but to actively discredit it through the gaslighting intentionality of GOP-media ‘fake news,’ oil-lobby funded ‘reports’, and late night tweets from POTUS 45, the spiralling effects of the Age of the Anthropocene (‘Cthulucene’ as it has also been called) can be seen daily on our news: melting glaciers, increasing hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts, and devastating wild fires, and the first waves of climate refugees. The latest report from the scientifically rigorous IPCC says we have 12 years maximum to stem a 1.5°C increase on the global average temperature. Any more than that and we go beyond the tipping point – an irreversible rubicon after which the Earth’s climate goes into terminal tailspin.
World-renowned nature ambassador David Attenborough has also reiterated the urgency of this call-to-action: “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon." And yet … business continues as usual, maybe with a bit of greenwash here and there, but even the window-dressing of ‘sustainable development’ policies seems to be increasingly ‘last century’ as the new unapologetic, hard-nosed paradigm – modelled by Trump-Putin’s unconscionable behaviour – becomes the new normal. Don’t apologise to the snowflakes. Screw them, screw the planet. Make some money. Who gives a fuck? seems to be the prevailing message – the New Barbarism, it could be called, sold to us as darkly seductive ‘Grimdark’ – the only game (of thrones) in town. Yet, it is less anthropocentric than even that implies. What we are seeing in the intentional destruction of the Earth’s resources, and thus, ultimately, our one and only precious home, is something inhuman, something that is perhaps easier to imagine being perpetuated by a coldly sentient alien race who look upon humans as just a resource to be exploited at best, or at worst, an inconvenience – an infection to be extirpated. For this is how these faceless multinationals come across in their wilfully destructive policies that decimate lives, habitats, communities, and cultures. Guided by amoral hierophants, false prophets whose only god is profit, who perform their arcane rituals to extract the maximum energy from those their anonymised system exploits for the sake of the cabal of the executive, and majority shareholders, these priests of Cthulunomics seem to be working not for the benefit of humankind, but for some Elder God. From their non-Euclidean temples of dark geomancy in the financial districts of major cities, they employ their shoggoths to their bidding: the bosses, bullies, and bailiffs, the local heavies, the rent-a-thugs, the intimadators and agent-provacateurs, the bought experts and hacks. On panels and chat shows, TV debates, vlogs, and radio features, they cite from their ultimate tome of truth: The Economicon. Their minions troll those who resist, mock those who attempt to engage in civilised debate, shoot down any who offer reasonable alternatives, heckle and harangue the voices of reason, send death threats, or just go in guns blazing, via their ‘crazed lone gunm[e]n’. As with the fate of Lovecraft’s protagonists, any who get too close, who behold That-Which-Cannot-Be-Described, are driven mad, doomed to ‘suicide’ or disappearance.
Courting annihilation, the investigators keep investigating, and sometimes fragments of their reports make it back – voices from the void, despatches from the abyss. And more and more of us are getting truly ‘woke’, whether through the Transition Movement, Anti-War, Occupy, the new wave of Extinction Rebels, or countless other grassroots initiatives and campaigns. And wherever we see Cthulunomics in action, we can and must call it out.
How to identify it? It can be found in dismal, austerity-hammered towns and cities, where half the shops are boarded up, businesses have gone bankrupt, where inhabitants shamble about dissolutely, stare from doorways or their cardboard beds, beshadowed Innsmouths where the inhabitants have become part of the food chain, their progeny fatally corrupted by the eugenics of poverty. And it can be found also in the privileged neighbourhoods, the College Hills, with their odour of evil, haunted by lurkers in the dark – the fine buildings built by slavery money, the statues and memorials to the satanic saints of history, the elite libraries where knowledge festers, the institutions where inequality is institutionalised, where women and people of colour are manwashed and whitewashed out of the narrative, where education has become monetized and bloated vice-chancellors grow fat on student fees, and degrees only lead to a lifetime chain of debt, in the Miskatonic Universities of Cthulunomics.
It can be found in the modern icons of Dagon that decorate our Malls, where we go to make offering, sucked in by the point of singularity of Black Fridays and January Sales. The Next Big Thing with its built-in obsolescence. It operates via the occult algorithms that target our mailboxes and social media accounts. With its many eyes it tracks our every move, our every purchase. We install the software of control in our offspring – the religions that close down thought, close down critical discourse. We pass down our prejudices and opinions. Every night we plug our heads into the mainbrain and receive our updates.
In our thoughtless lifestyle ‘choices’ and endless consuming we are complicit in the destruction of the only home we have in a vast, cold cosmos.
We are their worker drones and we don’t even know it.
Its distinguishing feature is harmfulness: is this policy for or against the planet? For or against the benefit of humankind and all those we share this planet with? For if it is against then you are hearing the unmistakable call of Cthulu. There is no doubt, that “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits not dreaming, but re-animated.”