The Black Sea of Experience

Proving once more that psychogeographers and chaos magicians might be onto something, the chance collision of pedestrian-crossing etiquette and computer gaming has summoned forth before me a dread irony: the human mind inconsistently correlates the meaning Lovecraft’s work, and that results in a lack of mercy.

A couple of days ago, a friend shared an example of a micro-aggression that they’d read on social media and an overview of the responses it had incurred: a woman pressed the button at a traffic-light-controlled pedestrian crossing and waited; a few moments later, a man arrived and pressed the button again; the woman felt this showed a belief that she (and hence women in general) couldn’t be trusted to work a pedestrian crossing; the responses and commentary to her story divided into people agreeing society has a long way to go stamping out sexism and people telling her to get over herself because getting annoyed over someone thinking you haven’t pressed the button is making something out of nothing.

My reaction was more complex (as I suspect was that of more than one other person): as many of my readers have no doubt already thought, there are reasons not connected to the woman’s gender. Perhaps he pressed the button without noticing she was there or does it instinctively whoever is there; certainly, I have seen enough people press the button when I am the only person at the crossing to claim such button pressing only occurs due to a belief someone is socially lesser. Perhaps he believes the urban legend that the speed at which the lights change is related to the number of people who press the button. So, perhaps he might not have—even unconsciously—acted out of a belief the woman was less capable of operating a pedestrian crossing.

It is a fact that his actions made her feel belittled. Clearly, people aren’t wrong for feeling something in response to stimulus; we are scared, overjoyed, or so forth when something happens because that is how we are in that instant. So, the questions become what onus she bears to seek explanations of the choices behind his action and what onus she bears to assume a lack of malice: do we require that everyone rule out all non-malevolent explanations before they can treat something as insulting, and do it for every fleeting encounter?

So this isn’t a binary question of whether or not a man pressing the button insults all women. There are instead two questions: did the man (consciously or not) insult women and was that woman entitled to feel bad? And the answer to one is independent of the other: after all, some of the times a person arrived at a crossing and pressed the button despite my having already done so might have been motivated by a belief I hadn’t pressed the button which I didn’t pick up on, so wasn’t insulted by.

…the problem with Lovecraft is that the latent themes of xenophobia are inescapable in his work.

“‘Call of Cthulhu’ Shows We Need to Move Past H.P. Lovecraft Once and for All”, Matthew Gault (Motherboard, 1 November 2018)

Many reviews of the recent ‘Call of Cthulhu’ computer game focus on it being samey and based on racism, which has caused another surge in the never-really-retreated tide of argument over whether Lovecraft’s work should be rejected as racist.

While I am self-aware enough not to claim to be free of unconscious prejudices, I am (as perhaps the foregoing paragraphs suggest) probably firmly in what many would label the liberal, woke, or social-justice category. However, I also still enjoy Lovecraft’s work and have done since I was a teenager. So, I don’t accept the idea that only racists like Lovecraft or that reading his work makes one racist, or that Lovecraftian works have to accept an underlying racism.

The intersection of this with the my reaction to traffic-light discussion crystallised something that had probably been in my unconscious for some time. The horror of miscegenation in ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ is loss of humanity, of a perceived devolution. If someone sees the Deep Ones as a metaphor for non-WASP people, then they see the story as claiming inter-race relationships are bad. If someone sees the Deep Ones as inhuman, they see the story as happening to be about a WASP protagonist but applying to all humans. That is, it is no more or less valid to experience Lovecraft’s work as “the mythos is Other because it is inhuman” as it is to experience it as “the mythos is inhuman because it is Other”.

Which is perhaps why the Mythos seems “played out garbage” (ibid): the representations are all drawing on the same facet of degenerate cultists and tentacle monsters opposed by educated white protagonists, rather than the broader Lovecraftian theme that the privilege of an educated white male is like being the most prestigious ant under the magnifying glass.

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