Thomas Ligotti, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror” (2010) – Cosmic pessimism! The belief that existence is fundamentally worse than non-existence, generally coupled with the idea that consciousness in specific was a dramatic evolutionary mistake. As Thomas Ligotti, renowned horror writer points out in this dip into the nonfictional (or anyway philosophical), not a popular position. I remember when “True Detective” Season 1 came out and Matthew McConaughey’s cosmic pessimism (influenced, the showrunner admits, by Ligotti) provoked much eye-rolling from people who, as I recall, were mostly unified by their belief in a better future. These ranged from “hopepunk” Whedon-loving liberals to youthful revolutionaries somewhere on the post-Lenin evolutionary tree- cosmic pessimism was a big no no to them and a wide range in between.
I don’t know, man. I’m pretty lucky. Born white, male, middle-class (if downwardly mobile), American, to loving parents, in the late twentieth century, I’ve been dealt a hand so high in the top percentages of hands dealt that I don’t know how many zeroes would go to the right of the decimal point. And still… I can see cosmic pessimism’s point. Certainly enough to avoid hand-waving it away as though I’m above it. At the end of the day I do what I can to make the world better (or foil those who’d make it worse) but I’m not convinced of the ultimate existential validity of what I do- who can be? Recent events, between climate change, reversion to fascist barbarism, and now pandemics, give the pessimist position more of a hearing than you’d get even ten years before. Longer-term secular trends, like the uncovering of just how prevalent mental illnesses like depression are, help too.
I don’t think I’m going to resolve the cosmic pessimism/cosmic optimism question on my moribund blog or facebook wall. Instead of basing my review on how much I agree or disagree with cosmic pessimist Ligotti, but on how much I got out of the book. This alone makes me a dodger of the grim truths of reality in the cosmic pessimist book, but I never expected any thanks for flak-catching for Rust Kohle anyway. The book is honestly something of a mess. On a sentence level, Ligotti is clearly a very capable writer. I’d be interested in reading his fiction. But I had a hard time getting through the book, and not because it depressed me. It kind of bored me- which is precisely what a hope-clinging millennial would say in dismissal (that way millennials often say “boring” when they mean “offends me but without officially crossing established offense-lines), but I don’t mean it like that. I just mean philosophical speculation and neuroscience bore me and that’s a lot of what’s in this book. It doesn’t seem well-organized to me, though maybe there’s an organizing scheme I just didn’t get. I’ve read much juicier anti-life material, by John Dolan, say, and Schopenhauer (who gets name-checked but then moved on from for reasons I didn’t quite get). According to its own terms, pessimism has the entire vista of nature and human behavior to choose from to illustrate its points, but there’s very little in the way of illustration, here. All in all, more of a puzzling, sedate kind of book than one that grabbed me, one way or another. **’