Chapter no 2

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race


For ages they had been without lives of their own. The whole of their being was open to the world and nothing divided them from the rest of creation. How long they had thus flourished none of them knew. Then something began to change. It happened over unremembered generations. The signs of a revision without forewarning were being writ ever more deeply into them. As their species moved forward, they began crossing boundaries whose very existence they never imagined. After nightfall, they looked up at a sky filled with stars and felt themselves small and fragile in the vastness. Soon they began to see everything in a way they never had in older times. When they found one of their own lying still and stiff, they now stood around the body as if there were something they should do that they had never done before. It was then they began to take bodies that were still and stiff to distant places so they could not find their way back to them. But even after they had done this, some within their group did see those bodies again, often standing silent in the moonlight or loitering sad-faced just beyond the glow of a fire.

Everything changed once they had lives of their own and knew they had lives of their own. It even became impossible for them to believe things had ever been any other way. They were masters of their movements now, as it seemed, and never had there been anything like them. The epoch had passed when the whole of their being was open to the world and nothing divided them from the rest of creation. Something had happened. They did not know what it was, but they did know it as that which should not be. And something needed to be done if they were to flourish as they once had, if the very ground beneath their feet were not to fall out from under them. For ages they had been without lives of their own. Now that they had such lives there was no turning back. The whole of their being was closed to the world, and they had been divided from the rest of creation. Nothing could be done about that, having as they did

lives of their own. But something would have to be done if they were to live with that which should not be. And over time they discovered what could be done—what would have to be done—so that they could live the lives that were now theirs to live. This would not revive among them the way things had once been done in older times; it would only be the best they could do.


For thousands of years a debate has been going on in the shadowy background of human affairs. The issue to be resolved: “What should we say about being alive?” Overwhelmingly, people have said, “Being alive is all right.” More thoughtful persons have added, “Especially when you consider the alternative,” disclosing a jocularity as puzzling as it is macabre, since the alternative is here implied to be both disagreeable and, upon consideration, capable of making being alive seem more agreeable than it alternatively would, as if the alternative were only a possibility that may or may not come to pass, like getting the flu, rather than a looming inevitability. And yet this covertly portentous remark is perfectly well tolerated by anyone who says that being alive is all right. These individuals stand on one side of the debate. On the other side is an imperceptible minority of disputants. Their response to the question of what we should say about being alive will be neither positive nor equivocal. They may even fulminate about how objectionable it is to be alive, or spout off that to be alive is to inhabit a nightmare without hope of awakening to a natural world, to have our bodies embedded neck-deep in a quagmire of dread, to live as shut-ins in a house of horrors from which nobody gets out alive, and so on. Now, there are really no incisive answers as to why anyone thinks or feels one way and not another. The most we can say is that the first group of people is composed of optimists, though they may not think of themselves as such, while the contending group, that imperceptible minority, is composed of pessimists. The latter know who they are. But which group is in the right

—the existentially harrowed pessimists or the life-embracing optimists— will never be resolved.

If the most contemplative individuals are sometimes dubious about the value of existence, they do not often publicize their doubts but align themselves with the optimist in the street, tacitly declaiming, in more

erudite terms, “Being alive is all right.” The butcher, the baker, and the crushing majority of philosophers all agree on one thing: Human life is a good thing, and we should keep our species going for as long as we can. To tout the rival side of the issue is asking for grief. But some people seem born to bellyache that being alive is not all right. Should they vent this posture in philosophical or literary works, they may do so without anxiety that their efforts will have an excess of admirers. Notable among such efforts is “The Last Messiah” (1933), an essay written by the Norwegian philosopher and man of letters Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899–1990). In this work, which to date has been twice translated into English, Zapffe elucidated why he saw human existence as a tragedy.

Before discussing Zapffe’s elucidation of human existence as a tragedy, however, it may be useful to muse upon a few facts whose relevance will become manifest down the line. As some may know, there exist readers who treasure philosophical and literary works of a pessimistic, nihilistic, or defeatist nature as indispensable to their existence, hyperbolically speaking. Contrary by temperament, these persons are sorely aware that nothing indispensable to their existence, hyperbolically or literally speaking, must make its way into their lives, as if by natural birthright.

They do not think anything indispensable to anyone’s existence may be claimed as a natural birthright, since the birthrights we toss about are all lies fabricated to a purpose, as any student of humanity can verify. For those who have given thought to this matter, the only rights we may exercise are these: to seek the survival of our individual bodies, to create more bodies like our own, and to perish from corruption or mortal trauma. Of course, possession of these rights presumes that one has been brought to term and made it to the age of being reproductively ready, neither being a natural birthright. Stringently considered, then, our only natural birthright is a right to die. No other right has ever been allocated to anyone except as a fabrication, whether in modern times or days past.3 The divine right of kings may now be acknowledged as a fabrication, a falsified permit for prideful dementia and impulsive mayhem. The inalienable rights of certain people, on the other hand, seemingly remain current: somehow we believe they are not fabrications because hallowed documents declare they are real. Miserly or munificent as a given right may appear, it denotes no more than the right of way warranted by a

traffic light, which does not mean you have the right to drive free of vehicular misadventures. Ask any paramedic as your dead body is taken away to the nearest hospital.


Our want of any natural birthright—except to die, in most cases without assistance—is not a matter of tragedy, but only one of truth. Coming at last to the pith of Zapffe’s thought as it is contained in “The Last Messiah,” what the Norwegian philosopher saw as the tragedy of human existence had its beginnings when at some stage in our evolution we acquired “a damning surplus of consciousness.” (Indulgence is begged in advance for the present work’s profuse entreaties for assent, or at least suspension of disbelief, in this matter.) Naturally, it must be owned that there are quarrels among cognitive psychologists, philosophers of mind, and neuroscientists about what consciousness is. The fact that this question has been around since at least the time of the ancient Greeks and early Buddhists suggests there is an assumption of consciousness in the human species and that consciousness has had an effect on the way we exist. For Zapffe, the effect was

A breach in the very unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature. Life had overshot its target, blowing itself apart. A species had been armed too heavily—by spirit made almighty without, but equally a menace to its own well-being. Its weapon was like a sword without hilt or plate, a two-edged blade cleaving everything; but he who is to wield it must grasp the blade and turn one edge toward himself.

Despite his new eyes, man was still rooted in matter, his soul spun into it and subordinated to its blind laws. And yet he could see matter as a stranger, compare himself to all phenomena, see through and locate his vital processes. He comes to nature as an unbidden guest, in vain extending his arms to beg conciliation with his maker: Nature answers no more; it performed a miracle with man, but later did not know him. He has lost his right of residence in the universe, has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and been expelled from Paradise. He is mighty in the near

world, but curses his might as purchased with his harmony of soul, his innocence, his inner peace in life’s embrace.

Could there be anything to this pessimistic verbiage, this tirade against the evolution of consciousness? Millennia had passed without much discussion one way or the other on the subject, at least in polite society, and then suddenly comes this barrage from an obscure Norwegian philosopher. What is one to say? For contrast, here are some excerpts from an online interview with the eminent British multidisciplinary thinker Nicholas Humphrey (“A Self Worth Having: A Talk with Nicolas Humphrey,” 2003):

Consciousness—phenomenal experience—seems in many ways too good to be true. The way we experience the world seems unnecessarily beautiful, unnecessarily rich and strange. . . .

Phenomenal experience, surely, can and does provide the basis for creating a self worth having. And just see what becomes possible—even natural—once this new self is in place! As subjects of something so mysterious and strange, we humans gain new confidence and interest in our own survival, a new interest in other people too. We begin to be interested in the future, in immortality, and in all sorts of issues to do with . . . how far consciousness extends around us. . . .

[T]he more I try to make sense of it, the more I come back to the fact that we’ve evolved to regard consciousness as a wonderfully good thing in its own right—which could just be because consciousness is a wonderfully good thing in its own right!

Could there be anything to this optimistic verbiage in which consciousness is not a “breach in the very unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature” but something that is “unnecessarily beautiful, unnecessarily rich and strange” and “a wonderfully good thing in its own right,” something that makes human existence an unbelievably desirable adventure? Think about it—a British thinker thinks so well of the evolution of consciousness that he cannot contain his gratitude for this turn of events. What is one to say? Both Humphrey and Zapffe are equally passionate

about what they have to say, which is not to say that they have said anything credible. Whether you think consciousness to be a benefit or a horror, this is only what you think—and nothing else. But even though you cannot demonstrate the truth of what you think, you can at least put it on show and see what the audience thinks.


Over the centuries, assorted theories about the nature and workings of consciousness have been put forth. The theory Zapffe implicitly accepted is this: Consciousness is connected to the human brain in a way that makes the world appear to us as it appears and makes us appear to ourselves as we appear—that is, as “selves” or as “persons” strung together by memories, sensations, emotions, and so on. This view of a materialistic basis of consciousness with an evolutionary origin may be right or wrong. No one knows exactly what consciousness is, or even if it is, all speculation on the matter being debatable to the point of chaos.

Nevertheless, most thinkers in this area agree that consciousness is a fact in some way.

Accepting consciousness as a given for a sufficiently evolved brain, Zapffe moved on from there, since he was not interested in the debates surrounding this phenomenon as such but only in the way it quite apparently functions to determine the nature of our species. This was enough for his purposes, which were wholly existential and careless of seeking the technical verities of consciousness. How consciousness “happened,” since it was not always present in our species, remains as much a mystery in our time as it was in Zapffe’s, just as what was going on, if anything was going on, before the universe came into being remains a mystery. The same applies to the origins of living forms, however such things may be defined. First there was no life, and then there was life—nature, as it came to be called. As nature proliferated into more complex and various shapes, human organisms eventually entered the world as part of this process. After a time, consciousness happened for these organisms (along with others at much lower amplitudes). And it kept on gaining steam as we evolved. On this nearly all theorists of consciousness agree. Billions of years after earth made a jump from being lifeless to having life, human beings made a jump from not being conscious, or very much conscious, to being conscious enough to esteem

or condemn this phenomenon. No one knows either how the jump was made or how long it took, although there are theories about both, as there are theories about all mutations from one state to another.

“The mutations must be considered blind,” Zapffe wrote. “They work, are thrown forth, without any contact of interest with their environment.” As mentioned, how the mutation of consciousness originated was of no concern to Zapffe, who focused entirely on demonstrating the tragic effect of this aptitude. Such projects are typical among pessimistic philosophers. Non-pessimistic philosophers either have an impartial attitude about consciousness or, like Nicholas Humphrey, think of it as a marvelous endowment. When non-pessimistic philosophers even notice the pessimist’s attitude, they reject it. With the world on their side in the conviction that being alive is all right, non-pessimists are not disposed to musing that human existence is a wholesale tragedy. They only argue the fine points of whatever it is about human existence that grabs their attention, which may include the tragic but not so much that they lose their commitment to the proposition that being alive is all right. And they can do this until the day they die, which is all right by them.


Established: Consciousness is not often viewed as being an instrument of tragedy in human life. But to Zapffe, consciousness would long past have proved fatal for human beings if we did not do something about it. “Why,” Zapffe asked, “has mankind not long ago gone extinct during great epidemics of madness? Why do only a fairly minor number of individuals perish because they fail to endure the strain of living— because cognition gives them more than they can carry?” Zapffe’s answer: “Most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.”

From an evolutionary viewpoint, in Zapffe’s observation, consciousness was a blunder that required corrections for its effects. It was an adventitious outgrowth that made us into a race of contradictory beings—uncanny things that have nothing to do with the rest of creation. Because of consciousness, parent of all horrors, we became susceptible to thoughts that were startling and dreadful to us, thoughts that have never been equitably balanced by those that are collected and reassuring.

Our minds now began dredging up horrors, flagrantly joyless possibilities, enough of them to make us drop to the ground in paroxysms of self-soiling consternation should they go untrammeled. This potentiality necessitated that certain defense mechanisms be put to use to keep us balanced on the knife-edge of vitality as a species.

While a modicum of consciousness may have had survivalist properties during an immemorial chapter of our evolution—so one theory goes—this faculty soon enough became a seditious agent working against us. As Zapffe concluded, we need to hamper our consciousness for all we are worth, or it will impose upon us a too clear vision of what we do not want to see, which, as the Norwegian philosopher saw it, along with every other pessimist, is “the brotherhood of suffering between everything alive.” Whether or not one agrees that there is a “brotherhood of suffering between everything alive,” we can all agree that human beings are the only organisms that can have such a conception of existence, or any conception period. That we can conceive of the phenomenon of suffering, our own as well as that of other organisms, is a property unique to us as a dangerously conscious species. We know there is suffering, and we do take action against it, which includes downplaying it by “artificially limiting the content of consciousness.” Between taking action against and downplaying suffering, mainly the latter, most of us do not worry that it has overly sullied our existence.

As a fact, we cannot give suffering precedence in either our individual or collective lives. We have to get on with things, and those who give precedence to suffering will be left behind. They fetter us with their sniveling. We have someplace to go and must believe we can get there, wherever that may be. And to conceive that there is a “brotherhood of suffering between everything alive” would disable us from getting anywhere. We are preoccupied with the good life, and step by step are working toward a better life. What we do, as a conscious species, is set markers for ourselves. Once we reach one marker, we advance to the next—as if we were playing a board game we think will never end, despite the fact that it will, like it or not. And if you are too conscious of not liking it, then you may conceive of yourself as a biological paradox that cannot live with its consciousness and cannot live without it. And in so living and not living, you take your place with the undead and the human puppet.

Undoing I

For the rest of the earth’s organisms, existence is relatively uncomplicated. Their lives are about three things: survival, reproduction, death—and nothing else. But we know too much to content ourselves with surviving, reproducing, dying—and nothing else. We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering—slowly or quickly—as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are—hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.

Nonhuman occupants of this planet are unaware of death. But we are susceptible to startling and dreadful thoughts, and we need some fabulous illusions to take our minds off them. For us, then, life is a confidence trick we must run on ourselves, hoping we do not catch on to any monkey business that would leave us stripped of our defense mechanisms and standing stark naked before the silent, staring void. To end this self-deception, to free our species of the paradoxical imperative to be and not to be conscious, our backs breaking by degrees upon a wheel of lies, we must cease reproducing. Nothing less will do, per Zapffe, although in “The Last Messiah” the character after whom the essay is named does all the talking about human extinction. Elsewhere Zapffe speaks for himself on the subject.

The sooner humanity dares to harmonize itself with its biological predicament, the better. And this means to willingly withdraw in contempt for its worldly terms, just as the heat-craving species went extinct when temperatures dropped. To us, it is the moral climate of the cosmos that is intolerable, and a two-child policy could make our discontinuance a pain-free one. Yet instead we are expanding and succeeding everywhere, as necessity has taught us to mutilate the formula in our hearts.

Perhaps the most unreasonable effect of such invigorating vulgarization is the doctrine that the individual “has a duty” to

suffer nameless agony and a terrible death if this saves or benefits the rest of his group. Anyone who declines is subjected to doom and death, instead of revulsion being directed at the world-order engendering of the situation. To any independent observer, this plainly is to juxtapose incommensurable things; no future triumph or metamorphosis can justify the pitiful blighting of a human being against his will. It is upon a pavement of battered destinies that the survivors storm ahead to ward new bland sensations and mass deaths. (“Fragments of an Interview,” Aftenposten, 1959)

More provocative than it is astonishing, Zapffe’s thought is perhaps the most elementary in the history of philosophical pessimism. As penetrable as it is cheerless, it rests on taboo commonplaces and outlawed truisms while eschewing the recondite brain-twisters of his forerunners, all of whom engaged in the kind of convoluted cerebration that for thousands of years has been philosophy’s stock in trade. For example, The World as Will and Representation (two volumes, 1819 and 1844) by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer lays out one of the most absorbingly intricate metaphysical systems ever contrived—a quasi-mystical elaboration of a “Will-to-live” as the hypostasis of reality, a mindless and untiring master of all being, a directionless force that makes everything do what it does, an imbecilic puppeteer that sustains the ruckus of our world. But Schopenhauer’s Will-to-live, commendable as it may seem as a hypothesis, is too overwrought in the proving to be anything more than another intellectual labyrinth for specialists in perplexity. Comparatively, Zapffe’s principles are non-technical and could never arouse the passion of professors or practitioners of philosophy, who typically circle around the minutiae of theories and not the gross facts of our lives. If we must think, it should be done only in circles, outside of which lies the unthinkable. Evidence: While commentators on Schopenhauer’s thought have seized upon it as a philosophical system ripe for academic analysis, they do not emphasize that its ideal endpoint—the denial of the Will-to-live—is a construct for the end of human existence. But even Schopenhauer himself did not push this aspect of his philosophy to its ideal endpoint, which has kept him in fair repute as a philosopher.


As adumbrated above, Zapffe arrived at two central determinations regarding humanity’s “biological predicament.” The first was that consciousness had overreached the point of being a sufferable property of our species, and to minimize this problem we must minimize our consciousness. From the many and various ways this may be done, Zapffe chose to home in on four principal strategies.

  1. ISOLATION. So that we may live without going into a free-fall of trepidation, we isolate the dire facts of being alive by relegating them to a remote compartment of our minds. They are the lunatic family members in the attic whose existence we deny in a conspiracy of silence.
  2. ANCHORING. To stabilize our lives in the tempestuous waters of chaos, we conspire to anchor them in metaphysical and institutional “verities”—God, Morality, Natural Law, Country, Family—that inebriate us with a sense of being official, authentic, and safe in our beds.
  3. DISTRACTION. To keep our minds unreflective of a world of horrors, we distract them with a world of trifling or momentous trash. The most operant method for furthering the conspiracy, it is in continuous employ and demands only that people keep their eyes on the ball—or their television sets, their government’s foreign policy, their science projects, their careers, their place in society or the universe, etc.
  4. SUBLIMATION. That we might annul a paralyzing stage fright at what may happen to even the soundest bodies and minds, we sublimate our fears by making an open display of them. In the Zapffean sense, sublimation is the rarest technique utilized for conspiring against the human race. Putting into play both deviousness and skill, this is what thinkers and artistic types do when they recycle the most demoralizing and unnerving aspects of life as works in which the worst fortunes of humanity are presented in a stylized and removed manner as entertainment. In so many words, these thinkers and artistic types confect products that provide an escape from our suffering by a bogus simulation of it—a

tragic drama or philosophical woolgathering, for instance. Zapffe uses “The Last Messiah” to showcase how a literary-philosophical composition cannot perturb its creator or anyone else with the severity of true-to-life horrors but only provide a pale representation of these horrors, just as a King Lear’s weeping for his dead daughter Cordelia cannot rend its audience with the throes of the real thing.

By watchful practice of the above connivances, we may keep ourselves from scrutinizing too assiduously the startling and dreadful mishaps that may befall us. These must come as a surprise, for if we expected them then the conspiracy could not work its magic. Naturally, conspiracy theories seldom pique the curiosity of “right-minded” individuals and are met with disbelief and denial when they do. Best to immunize your consciousness from any thoughts that are startling and dreadful so that we can all go on conspiring to survive and reproduce as paradoxical beings—puppets that can walk and talk all by themselves. At worst keep your startling and dreadful thoughts to yourself. Hearken well: “None of us wants to hear spoken the exact anxieties we keep locked up inside ourselves. Smother that urge to go spreading news of your pain and nightmares around town. Bury your dead but don’t leave a trace. And be sure to get on with things or we will get on without you.”

In his 1910 doctoral dissertation, published in English as Persuasion and Rhetoric (2004), the twenty-three-year-old Carlo Michelstaedter audited the tactics we use to falsify human existence as we trade who we are, or might be, for a specious view of ourselves. Like Pinocchio, Michelstaedter wanted to be a “real boy” and not the product of a puppet maker who, in turn, did not make himself but was made as he was made by mutations that, as Zapffe relays to us from evolutionary theory, “must be considered blind,” a series of accidents that continually structure and restructure all that exists in the workshop of the world. To Michelstaedter, nothing in this world can be anything but a puppet. And a puppet is only a plaything, a thing of parts brought together as a simulacrum of real presence. It is nothing in itself. It is not whole and individual but exists only relative to other playthings, some of them human playthings that support one another’s illusion of being real.

However, by suppressing thoughts of suffering and death they give themselves away as beings of paradox—prevaricators who must hide from themselves the flagrantly joyless possibilities of their lives if they are to go on living. In Persuasion and Rhetoric, Michelstaedter pinpoints the paradox of our division from ourselves: “man ‘knows,’ which is why he is always two: his life and his knowing.”

Michelstaedter’s biographers and critics have speculated that his despair of humanity’s ability to become disentangled from its puppet strings was, in conjunction with accidental factors, the cause of his suicide by gunshot the day after he finished his dissertation.

Michelstaedter could not accept a stellar fact of human life: that none of us has control over what we are—a truth that extirpates all hope if what you want to be is invulnerably self-possessed (“persuaded”) and without subjection to a life that would fit you within the limits of its unrealities (“rhetoric,” a word oddly used by Michelstaedter). We are defined by our limitations; without them, we cannot suffice as functionaries in the big show of conscious existence. The farther you progress toward a vision of our species without limiting conditions on your consciousness, the farther you drift away from what makes you a person among persons in the human community. In the observance of Zapffe, an unleashed consciousness would alert us to the falsity of ourselves and subject us to the pain of Pinocchio. An individual’s demarcations as a being, not his trespass of them, create his identity and preserve his illusion of being something special and not a freak of chance, a product of blind mutations. Transcending all illusions and their emergent activities— having absolute control of what we are and not what we need to be so that we may survive the most unsavory facts of life and death—would untether us from the moorings of our self-limited selves.

The lesson: “Let us love our limitations, for without them nobody would be left to be somebody.”

Undoing II

The second of Zapffe’s two central determinations—that our species should belay reproducing itself—immediately brings to mind a cast of characters from theological history known as Gnostics. The Gnostic sect of the Cathari in twelfth-century France were so tenacious in believing the world to be an evil place engendered by an evil deity that its

members were offered a dual ultimatum: sexual abstinence or sodomy. (A similar sect in Bulgaria, the Bogomils, became the etymological origin of the term “buggery” for their practice of this mode of erotic release.) Around the same period, the Catholic Church mandated abstinence for its clerics, a directive that did not halt them from betimes giving in to sexual quickening. The raison d’être for this doctrine was the attainment of grace (and in legend was obligatory for those scouring hither and yon for the Holy Grail) rather than an enlightened governance of reproductive plugs and bungholes. With these exceptions, the Church did not counsel its followers to imitate its ascetic founder but sagaciously welcomed them to breed as copiously as they could.

In another orbit from the theologies of either Gnosticism or Catholicism, the nineteenth-century German philosopher Philipp Mainländer (born Philipp Batz) also envisaged non-coital existence as the surest path to redemption for the sin of being congregants of this world. Our extinction, however, would not be the outcome of an unnatural chastity, but would be a naturally occurring phenomenon once we had evolved far enough to apprehend our existence as so hopelessly pointless and unsatisfactory that we would no longer be subject to generative promptings. Paradoxically, this evolution toward life-sickness would be promoted by a mounting happiness among us. This happiness would be quickened by our following Mainländer’s evangelical guidelines for achieving such things as universal justice and charity.

Only by securing every good that could be gotten in life, Mainländer figured, could we know that they were not as good as nonexistence.

While the abolishment of human life would be sufficient for the average pessimist, the terminal stage of Mainländer’s wishful thought was the full summoning of a “Will-to-die” that by his deduction resided in all matter across the universe. Mainländer diagrammed this brainstorm, along with others as riveting, in a treatise whose title has been translated into English as The Philosophy of Redemption (1876).

Unsurprisingly, the work never set the philosophical world ablaze. Perhaps the author might have garnered greater celebrity if, like the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger in his infamous study translated as Sex and Character (1903), he had devoted himself to gripping ruminations on male and female matters rather than the redemptive dissppearance of everyone regardless of gender.4

As one who had a special plan for the human race, Mainländer was not a modest thinker. “We are not everyday people,” he once wrote in the royal third-person, “and must pay dearly for dining at the table of the gods.” To top it off, suicide ran in his family. On the day his Philosophy of Redemption was published, Mainländer killed himself, possibly in a fit of megalomania but just as possibly in surrender to the extinction that for him was so attractive and that he avouched for a most esoteric reason— Deicide.

Mainländer was confident that the Will-to-die he believed would well up in humanity had been spiritually grafted into us by a God who, in the beginning, masterminded His own quietus. It seems that existence was a horror to God. Unfortunately, God was impervious to the depredations of time. This being so, His only means to get free of Himself was by a divine form of suicide.

God’s plan to suicide Himself could not work, though, as long as He existed as a unified entity outside of space-time and matter. Seeking to nullify His oneness so that He could be delivered into nothingness, He shattered Himself—Big-Bang-like—into the time-bound fragments of the universe, that is, all those objects and organisms that have been accumulating here and there for billions of years. In Mainländer’s philosophy, “God knew that He could change from a state of super-reality into non-being only through the development of a real world of multiformity.” Employing this strategy, He excluded Himself from being. “God is dead,” wrote Mainländer, “and His death was the life of the world.” Once the great individuation had been initiated, the momentum of its creator’s self-annihilation would continue until everything became exhausted by its own existence, which for human beings meant that the faster they learned that happiness was not as good as they thought it would be, the happier they would be to die out.

So: The Will-to-live that Schopenhauer argued activates the world to its torment was revised by his disciple Mainländer not only as evidence of a tortured life within living beings, but also as a cover for a clandestine will in all things to burn themselves out as hastily as possible in the fires of becoming. In this light, human progress is shown to be an ironic symptom that our downfall into extinction has been progressing nicely, because the more things change for the better, the more they progress toward a reliable end. And those who committed suicide, as did Mainländer, would only be forwarding God’s blueprint for bringing an

end to His Creation. Naturally, those who replaced themselves by procreation were of no help: “Death is succeeded by the absolute nothing; it is the perfect annihilation of each individual in appearance and being, supposing that by him no child has been begotten or born; for otherwise the individual would live on in that.” Mainländer’s argument that in the long run nonexistence is superior to existence was cobbled together from his unorthodox interpretation of Christian doctrines and from Buddhism as he understood it.

As the average conscious mortal knows, Christianity and Buddhism are all for leaving this world behind, with their leave-taking being for destinations unknown and impossible to conceive. For Mainländer, these destinations did not exist. His forecast was that one day our will to survive in this life or any other will be universally extinguished by a conscious will to die and stay dead, after the example of the Creator.

From the standpoint of Mainländer’s philosophy, Zapffe’s Last Messiah would not be an unwelcome sage but a crowning force of the post-divine era. Rather than resist our end, as Mainländer concludes, we will come to see that “the knowledge that life is worthless is the flower of all human wisdom.” Elsewhere the philosopher states, “Life is hell, and the sweet still night of absolute death is the annihilation of hell.”

Inhospitable to rationality as Mainländer’s cosmic scenario may seem, it should nonetheless give pause to anyone who is keen to make sense of the universe. Consider this: If something like God exists, or once existed, what would He not be capable of doing, or undoing? Why should God not want to be done with Himself because, unbeknownst to us, suffering was the essence of His being? Why should He not have brought forth a universe that is one great puppet show destined by Him to be crunched or scattered until an absolute nothingness had been established? Why should He fail to see the benefits of nonexistence, as many of His lesser beings have? Revealed scripture there may be that tells a different story. But that does not mean it was revealed by a reliable narrator. Just because He asserted it was all good does not mean He meant what He said. Perhaps He did not want to leave a bad impression by telling us He had absented Himself from the ceremonies before they had begun. Alone and immortal, nothing needed Him. Per Mainländer, though, He needed to bust out into a universe to complete His project of self-extinction, passing on His horror piecemeal, so to say, to His creation.

Mainländer’s first philosophy, and last, is in fact no odder than any religious or secular ethos that presupposes the worth of human life. Both are objectively insupportable and irrational. Mainländer was a pessimist, and, just as with any optimist, he needed something to support his gut feeling about being alive. No one has yet conceived an authoritative reason for why the human race should continue or discontinue its being, although some believe they have. Mainländer was sure he had an answer to what he judged to be the worthlessness and pain of existence, and none may peremptorily belie it. Ontologically, Mainländer’s thought is delirious; metaphorically, it explains a good deal about human experience; practically, it may in time prove to be consistent with the idea of creation as a structure of creaking bones being eaten from within by a pestilent marrow.

That there is redemption to be found in an ecumenical nonexistence is an old idea on which Mainländer put a new face. For some it is a cherished idea, like that of a peaceful afterlife or progress toward perfection in this life. The need for such ideas comes out of the fact that existence is a condition with no redeeming qualities. If this were not so, none would need cherished ideas like an ecumenical nonexistence, a peaceful afterlife, or progress toward perfection in this life.


Among the unpleasantries of human existence is the abashment we suffer when we feel our lives to be destitute of meaning with respect to who we are, what we do, and the general way we believe things to be in the universe. If one doubts that felt meanings are imperative to our developing or maintaining a state of good feeling, just lay your eyes on the staggering number of books and therapies for a market of individuals who suffer from a deficiency of meaning, either in a limited and localized variant (“I am satisfied that my life has meaning because I received an ‘A’ on my calculus exam”) or one that is macrocosmic in scope (“I am satisfied that my life has meaning because God loves me”). Few are the readers of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) who do not feel dissatisfied with who they are, what they do, and the general way they believe things to be in the universe.

Millions of copies of Peale’s book and its imitations have been sold, and they are not purchased by readers well satisfied with the number or

intensity of felt meanings in their lives and thus with their place on the ladder of “subjective well-being,” in the vernacular of positive psychology, a movement that came into its own in the early years of the twenty-first century with a spate of books about how almost anyone could lead happily meaningful lives.6 Martin Seligman, the architect of positive psychology, defines his brainchild as “the science of what makes life worth living” and synopsized its principles in Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (2002).

There is nothing new, of course, about people searching for a happily meaningful life in a book. With the exception of sacred texts, possibly the most successful self-help manual of all time is Émile Coué’s Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion (1922). Coué was an advocate of self-hypnosis, and there is little doubt that he had an authentically philanthropic desire to help others lead more salutary lives. On his lecture tours, he was greeted by celebrities and dignitaries around the world. Hordes turned out for his funeral in 1926.

Coué is best known for urging believers in his method to repeat the following sentence: “Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” How could his readers not feel that their lives had meaning, or were proceeding toward meaningfulness, by hypnotizing themselves with these words day by day? While being alive is all right for the world’s general population, some of us need to get it in writing that this is so.

Every other creature in the world is insensate to meaning. But those of us on the high ground of evolution are replete with this unnatural need which any comprehensive encyclopedia of philosophy treats under the heading LIFE, THE MEANING OF. In its quest for a sense of meaning, humanity has given countless answers to questions that were never posed to it. But though our appetite for meaning may be appeased for a time, we are deceived if we think it is ever gone for good. Years may pass during which we are unmolested by LIFE, THE MEANING OF. Some days we wake up and innocently say, “It’s good to be alive.” Broken down, this exclamation means that we are experiencing an acute sense of wellbeing. If everyone were in such elevated spirits all the time, the topic of LIFE, THE MEANING OF would never enter our minds or our philosophical

reference books. But an ungrounded jubilation—or even a neutral reading on the monitor of our moods—must lapse, either intermittently or for the rest of our natural lives. Our consciousness, having snoozed awhile in the garden of incuriosity, is pricked by some thorn or other, perhaps DEATH, THE MEANING OF, or spontaneously modulates to a minor key due to the vagaries of our brain chemistry, the weather, or for causes not confirmable. Then the hunger returns for LIFE, THE MEANING OF, the emptiness must be filled again, the pursuit resumed. (There is more on meaning in the section Unpersons contained in the next chapter, “Who Goes There?”)

Perhaps we might gain some perspective on our earthly term if we stopped thinking of ourselves as beings who enact a “life.” This word is loaded with connotations to which it has no right. Instead, we should substitute “existence” for “life” and forget about how well or badly we enact it. None of us “has a life” in the narrative-biographical way we think of these words. What we have are so many years of existence. It would not occur to us to say that any man or woman is in the “prime of existence.” Speaking of “existence” rather than “life” unclothes the latter word of its mystique. Who would ever claim that “existence is all right, especially when you consider the alternative”?


As heretofore noted, consciousness may have assisted our species’ survival in the hard times of prehistory, but as it became ever more intense, it evolved the potential to ruin everything if not securely muzzled. This is the problem: We must either outsmart consciousness or be thrown into its vortex of doleful factuality and suffer, as Zapffe termed it, a “dread of being”—not only of our own being but of being itself, the idea that the vacancy that might otherwise have obtained is occupied like a stall in a public lavatory of infinite dimensions, that there is a universe in which things like celestial bodies and human beings are roving about, that anything exists in the way it seems to exist, that we are part of all being until we stop being, if there is anything we may understand as being other than semblances or the appearance of semblances.

On the premise that consciousness must be obfuscated so that we might go on as we have all these years, Zapffe inferred that the sensible

thing would be not to go on with the paradoxical nonsense of trying to inhibit our cardinal attribute as beings, since we can tolerate existence only if we believe—in accord with a complex of illusions, a legerdemain of duplicity—that we are not what we are: unreality on legs. As conscious beings, we must hold back that divulgement lest it break us with a sense of being things without significance or foundation, anatomies shackled to a landscape of unintelligible horrors. In plain language, we cannot live except as self-deceivers who must lie to ourselves about ourselves, as well as about our unwinnable situation in this world.7

Accepting the preceding statements as containing some truth, or at least for the sake of moving on with the present narrative, it seems that we are zealots of Zapffe’s four plans for smothering consciousness: isolation (“Being alive is all right”), anchoring (“One Nation under God with Families, Morality, and Natural Birthrights for all”), distraction (“Better to kill time than kill oneself”), and sublimation (“I am writing a book titled The Conspiracy against the Human Race”). These practices make us organisms with a nimble intellect that can deceive themselves “for their own good.” Isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation are among the wiles we use to keep ourselves from dispelling every illusion that keeps us up and running. Without this cognitive double-dealing, we would be exposed for what we are. It would be like looking into a mirror and for a moment seeing the skull inside our skin looking back at us with its sardonic smile. And beneath the skull—only blackness, nothing. Someone is there, so we feel, and yet no one is there

—the uncanny paradox, all the horror in a glimpse. A little piece of our world has been peeled back, and underneath is creaking desolation—a carnival where all the rides are moving but no patrons occupy the seats. We are missing from the world we have made for ourselves. Maybe if we could resolutely gaze wide-eyed at our lives we would come to know what we really are. But that would stop the showy attraction we are inclined to think will run forever.8

Pessimism I

Along with every other tendentious mindset, pessimism may be construed as a fluke of temperament, a shifty word that will just have to do until a better one comes along. Without the temperament that was

given to them in large portion, pessimists would not see existence as basically undesirable. Optimists may have fugitive doubts about the basic desirability of existence, but pessimists never doubt that existence is basically undesirable. If you interrupted them in the middle of an ecstatic moment, which pessimists do have, and asked if existence is basically undesirable, they would reply “Of course” before returning to their ecstasy. Why they should answer in this way is a closed book. The conclusions to which temperament lead an individual, whether or not they are conclusions refractory to those of world society, are simply not subject to analysis.

Composed of the same dross as all mortals, the pessimist cleaves to whatever seems to validate his attestations. This fact should come as a shock to no one. There is no scarcity among us of those who not only want to think they are right, but also expect others to affirm their least notion as unassailable. Pessimists are no exception. But they are few and do not show up on the radar of our race. Immune to the blandishments of religions, countries, families, and everything else that puts both average and above-average citizens in the limelight, pessimists are sideliners in both history and the media. Without belief in gods or ghosts, unmotivated by a comprehensive delusion, they could never plant a bomb, plan a revolution, or shed blood for a cause.

Identical with religions that ask of their believers more than they can possibly make good on, pessimism is a set of ideals that none can follow to the letter. Those who indict a pessimist of either pathology or intellectual recalcitrance are only faking their competence to explain what cannot be explained: the mystery of why individuals are the way they are. To some extent, however, why some individuals are the way they are is not a full-fledged mystery. There are traits that run in families

—legacies lurking in the genes of one generation that may profit or impair those of another. Philosophical pessimism has been called a maladaptation by those who are concerned with such things. This call seems indisputably correct. The possibility must be considered, then, that there is a genetic marker for philosophical pessimism that nature has all but deselected from our race so that we may keep on living as we have all these years. Allowing for the theory that pessimism is weakly hereditary, and is getting weaker all the time because it is maladaptive,

the genes that make up the fiber of ordinary folk may someday celebrate an everlasting triumph over those of the congenitally pessimistic, ridding nature of all worry that its protocol of survival and reproduction for its most conscious species will be challenged—unless Zapffe is right and consciousness itself is maladaptive, making philosophical pessimism the correct call despite its unpopularity among those who think, or say they think, that being alive is all right. But psycho-biographers do not often take what is adaptive or maladaptive for our species into account when writing of a chosen member of the questionably dying breed of pessimists. To them, their subject’s temperament has a twofold inception:

(1) life stories of tribulation, even though the pessimistic caste has no sorrows exclusive to it; (2) intractable wrongheadedness, a charge that pessimists could turn against optimists if the argumentum ad populum were not the world’s favorite fallacy.

The major part of our species seems able to undergo any trauma without significantly re-examining its household mantras, including “everything happens for a reason,” “the show must go on,” “accept the things you cannot change,” and any other adage that gets people to keep their chins up. But pessimists cannot give themselves over to this program, and its catchwords stick in their throats. To them, the Creation is objectionable and useless on principle—the worst possible dispatch of bad news. It seems so bad, so wrong, that, should such authority be unwisely placed into their hands, they would make it a prosecutable malfeasance to produce a being who might turn out to be a pessimist.

Disenfranchised by nature, pessimists feel that they have been impressed into this world by the reproductive liberty of positive thinkers who are ever-thoughtful of the future. At whatever point in time one is situated, the future always looks better than the present, just as the present looks better than the past. No one today would write, as did the British essayist Thomas De Quincey in the early nineteenth century: “A quarter of man’s misery is toothache.” Knowing what we know of the progress toward the alleviation of human misery throughout history, who would damn their children to have a piteous toothache in the early nineteenth century, or in times before it, back to the days when Homo sapiens with toothaches scrounged to feed themselves and shivered in

the cold? To the regret of pessimists, our primitive ancestors could not see that theirs was not a time in which to produce children.

So at what time was it that people knew enough to say, “This is the time in which to produce children”? When did we think that enough progress had been made toward the alleviation of human misery that children could be produced without our being torn by a crisis of conscience? The easy years of the Pharaohs and Western antiquity? The lazy days of the Dark Ages? The palmy decades of the Industrial Revolution as well as the other industry-driven periods that followed?

The breakthrough era in which advancements in dentistry allayed humanity of one-quarter of its misery?

But few or none have ever had a crisis of conscience about producing children, because all children have been born at the best possible time in human history, or at least the one in which the most progress toward the alleviation of human misery has been made, which is always the time in which we live and have lived. While we have always looked back on previous times and thought that their progress toward the alleviation of human misery was not enough for us to want to live then, we do not know any better than the earliest Homo sapiens about what progress toward the alleviation of human misery will be made in the future, reasonably presuming that such progress will be made. And even though we may speculate about that progress, we feel no resentment about not being able to take advantage of it, or not many of us do. Nor will those of the future resent not living in the world of their future because even greater progress toward the alleviation of human misery will by then have been made in medicine, social conditions, political arrangements, and other areas that are almost universally regarded as domains in which human life could be better.

Will there ever be an end of the line in our progress toward the alleviation of human misery when people can honestly say, “This is without doubt the time to produce children”? And will that really be the time? No one would say, or even want to think, that theirs is a time in which people will look back on them from the future and thank their stars that they did not live in such a barbaric age that had made so little progress toward the alleviation of human misery and still produced children. As if anyone ever cared or will ever care, this is what the pessimist would say: “There has never been and never will be a time in which to produce children. Now will forever be a bad time for doing

that.” Moreover, the pessimist would advise each of us not to look too far into the future or we will see the reproachful faces of the unborn looking back at us from the radiant mist of their nonexistence.

Pessimism II

In his lengthy study Pessimism (1877), James Sully wrote that “a just and correct estimate of life is to be looked for” in “views . . . which lean neither to the favourable nor the unfavourable pole.” By this claim, Sully erred in his otherwise able dissection of his subject. People are either pessimists or optimists. They forcefully “lean” one way or the other, and there is no common ground between them. For pessimists, life is something that should not be, which means that what they believe should be is the absence of life, nothing, non-being, the emptiness of the uncreated. Anyone who speaks up for life as something that irrefutably should be—that we would not be better off unborn, extinct, or forever lazing in nonexistence—is an optimist. It is all or nothing; one is in or one is out, abstractly speaking. Practically speaking, we have been a race of optimists since the nascency of human consciousness and lean like mad toward the favorable pole.

More stylish in his examination of pessimism than Sully is the American novelist and part-time philosopher Edgar Saltus, whose Philosophy of Disenchantment (1885) and The Anatomy of Negation (1886) were written for those who treasure philosophical and literary works of a pessimistic, nihilistic, or defeatist nature as indispensable to their existence. In Saltus’s estimation, a “just and correct view of human life” would justly and correctly determine human life as that which should not be.

Controverting the absolutist standards of pessimism and optimism as outlined above are “heroic” pessimists, or rather heroic “pessimists.” These are self-styled pessimists who take into consideration Sully’s unfavorable pole but are not committed to its entailment that life is something that should not be. In his Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations (1913), the Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno speaks of consciousness as a disease bred by a conflict between the rational and the irrational. The rational is identified with the conclusions of consciousness, primarily that we will all die. The irrational represents all that is vital in humanity, including a universal desire for immortality in

either a physical or nonphysical state. The coexistence of the rational and the irrational turns the human experience into a wrangle of contradictions to which we can bow our heads in resignation or defy as heroes of futility. Unamuno’s penchant was for the heroic course, with the implied precondition that one has the physical and psychological spunk for the fight. In line with Unamuno, Joshua Foa Dienstag, author of Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit (2006), is also a proselytizer for a healthy, heroic pessimism (quotes implied) that faces up to much of the dispiriting lowdown on life, all radically pessimistic visions being cropped out of the picture, and marches on toward a future believed to be personally and politically workable. Also siding with this never-say-die group is William R. Brashear, whose The Desolation of Reality (1995) concludes with a format for redemption, however partial and imperfect, by holding tight to what he calls “tragic humanism,” which recognizes human life’s “ostensible insignificance, but also the necessity of proceeding as if this were not so, . . . willfully nourishing and sustaining the underlying illusions of value and order.” How we nourish and sustain illusions of value and order in our lives is explained in Zapffe’s “The Last Messiah.” How we might nourish and sustain at will what we know to be illusions without a covenant of ignominious pretense among us is not explained by Brashear and has never been explained by anyone else who espouses this façon de vivre. Not in the same class of pessimism as the antinatalist Zapffe—Unamuno, Dienstag, and Brashear meet existence more than halfway, safely joined in solidarity with both ordinary and sophisticated folk, who take their lumps like grown-ups and by doing so retain their status with the status quo. Attuned as they may be to the pessimist’s attitude that life is something which should not be, they do not approve of it. But Unamuno, Dienstag, and Brashear’s solution to the pessimist’s rejection of life puts us in the same paradoxical bind that Zapffe sees in human existence, that is, living with the pretense that being alive is all right. The only difference is that Unamuno, Dienstag, and Brashear knowingly accede to a pretense that ordinary folk shirk knowing, at least as a general rule, because even average mortals are sometimes forced to admit this pretense—they just do not linger over it long enough to make it a philosophical point of pride and sing their own praises for doing so.

A philosophical cohort of Unamuno, Dienstag, and Brashear is the French existentialist writer Albert Camus. In his essay The Myth of

Sisyphus (1942), Camus represents the unattainable goal of the title figure as an apologetic for going on with life rather than ending it. As he insists in his discussion of this gruesome parable, “We must imagine Sisyphus as happy” as he rolls his boulder to the top of the mountain from which it always tumbles down again and again and again to his despair. The credo of the Church Father Tertullian, “I believe because it is absurd,” might justly be placed in the context of Camus’s belief that being alive is all right, or all right enough, though it may be absurd.

Indeed, the connection has not been overlooked. Caught between the irrationality of the Carthaginian and the intellectuality of the Frenchman, Zapffe’s proposal that we put out the light of the human race extends to us an antidote for our existential infirmities that is infinitely more satisfying than that of either Tertullian or his avatar Camus, the latter of whom meditated on suicide as a philosophical issue for the individual yet did not entertain the advantages of an all-out attrition of the species. By not doing so, one might conclude that Camus was only being practical.

In the end, though, his insistence that we must imagine Sisyphus as happy is as impractical as it is feculent. Like Unamuno, Dienstag, and Brashear, Camus believed we can assume a view of life that can content us with the tragedy, nightmare, and meaninglessness of human existence. Camus may have been able to assume this view of life before his life ended in a vehicular misadventure, but he must have been jesting to pose it as a possibility or a duty for the world.

It would be a sign of callowness to bemoan the fact that pessimistic writers do not rate and may be reprehended in both good conscience and good company. Some critics of the pessimist often think they have his back to the wall when they blithely jeer, “If that is how this fellow feels, he should either kill himself or be decried as a hypocrite.” That the pessimist should kill himself in order to live up to his ideas may be counterattacked as betraying such a crass intellect that it does not deserve a response. Yet it is not much of a chore to produce one. Simply because someone has reached the conclusion that the amount of suffering in this world is enough that anyone would be better off never having been born does not mean that by force of logic or sincerity he must kill himself. It only means he has concluded that the amount of suffering in this world is enough that anyone would be better off never having been

born. Others may disagree on this point as it pleases them—but they must accept that if they believe themselves to have a stronger case than the pessimist, they are mistaken.

Naturally, there are pessimists who do kill themselves, but nothing obliges them to kill themselves or live with the mark of the hypocrite on their brow. Voluntary death might seem a thoroughly negative course of action, but it is not as simple as that. Every negation is adulterated or stealthily launched by an affirmative spirit. An unequivocal “no” cannot be uttered or acted upon. Lucifer’s last words in heaven may have been “Non serviam,” but none has served the Almighty so dutifully, since His sideshow in the clouds would never draw any customers if it were not for the main attraction of the devil’s hell on earth. Only catatonics and coma patients can persevere in a dignified withdrawal from life’s rattle and hum. Without a “yes” in our hearts, nothing would be done. And to be done with our existence en masse would be the most ambitious affirmation of all.

Most people think that vitality is betokened only by such phenomena as people in their eighties who hike mountain trails or nations that build empires. This way of thinking is simply naïve, but it keeps up our morale because we like to imagine we will be able to hike mountain trails when we are in our eighties or live as citizens of a nation that has built an empire. And so the denunciations of critics who say the pessimist should kill himself or be decried as a hypocrite make every kind of sense in a world of card-carrying or crypto optimists. Once this is understood, the pessimist can spare himself from suffering more than he need at the hands of “normal people,” a confederation of upstanding creatures who in concert keep the conspiracy going. This is not to say that such individuals do not suffer so much and in such a way that they sometimes kill themselves, possibly even more per capita than do pessimists, or that because they kill themselves they are hypocrites for ever having said that anyone is better off for having been born. It is only to say that when normal individuals kill themselves, even after having said that anyone is better off for having been born, they are disqualified as normal individuals, because normal individuals do not kill themselves but until their dying day think that being alive is all right and that happiness will stand out in the existence of life’s newcomers, who, it is always assumed, will be as normal as they are.


Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees—a blunder of blind nature, according to Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not what we are—contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating. What could be more judicious or more urgent, existentially speaking, than our self-administered oblivion? At the very least, we might give some regard to this theory of the blunder as a “thought experiment.” All civilizations become defunct. All species die out. There is even an expiration date on the universe itself. Human beings would certainly not be the first phenomenon to go belly-up. But we could be the first to precipitate our own passing, abbreviating it before the bodies really started to stack up. Could we know to their most fine-grained details the lives of all who came before us, would we bless them for the care they took to keep the race blundering along? Could we exhume them alive, would we thankfully shake their bony, undead hands and promise to pass on the favor of living to future generations? Surely that is what they would want to hear, or at least that is what we want to think they would want to hear. And just as surely that is what we would want to hear from our descendants living in far posterity, strangers though they would be as they shook our bony, undead hands.

Nature proceeds by blunders; that is its way. It is also ours. So if we have blundered by regarding consciousness as a blunder, why make a fuss over it? Our self-removal from this planet would still be a magnificent move, a feat so luminous it would bedim the sun. What do we have to lose? No evil would attend our departure from this world, and the many evils we have known would go extinct along with us. So why put off what would be the most laudable masterstroke of our existence, and the only one?

Of course, phenomena other than consciousness have been thought to be blunders, beginning with life itself. For example, in a novel titled At the Mountains of Madness (1936), the American writer H. P. Lovecraft has one of his characters mention a “primal myth” about “Great Old Ones who filtered down from the stars and concocted earth life as a joke or mistake.” Schopenhauer, once he had drafted his own mythology that everything in the universe is energized by a Will-to-live,

shifted to a commonsense pessimism to represent life as a congeries of excruciations.

[L]ife presents itself by no means as a gift for enjoyment, but as a task, a drudgery to be performed; and in accordance with this we see, in great and small, universal need, ceaseless cares, constant pressure, endless strife, compulsory activity, with extreme exertion of all the powers of body and mind. Many millions, united into nations, strive for the common good, each individual on account of his own; but many thousands fall as a sacrifice for it. Now senseless delusions, now intriguing politics, incite them to wars with each other; then the sweat and the blood of the great multitude must flow, to carry out the ideas of individuals, or to expiate their faults. In peace industry and trade are active, inventions work miracles, seas are navigated, delicacies are collected from all ends of the world, the waves engulf thousands. All push and drive, others acting; the tumult is indescribable. But the ultimate aim of it all, what is it? To sustain ephemeral and tormented individuals through a short span of time in the most fortunate case with endurable want and comparative freedom from pain, which, however, is at once attended with ennui; then the reproduction of this race and its striving. In this evident disproportion between the trouble and the reward, the will to live appears to us from this point of view, if taken objectively, as a fool, or subjectively, as a delusion, seized by which everything living works with the utmost exertion of its strength for some thing that is of no value. But when we consider it more closely, we shall find here also that it is rather a blind pressure, a tendency entirely without ground or motive. (The World as Will and Representation, translation by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp)

Schopenhauer is here straightforward in limning his awareness that, for human beings, existence is a state of demonic mania, with the Will-to-live as the possessing spirit of “ephemeral and tormented individuals.” Elsewhere in his works, he denominates consciousness as “an accident of life.” A blunder. A mistake. Is there really anything behind our smiles and tears but an evolutionary slip-up?


Schopenhauer’s is a great pessimism, not least because it reveals a signature motif of the pessimistic imagination. As indicated, Schopenhauer’s insights are yoked to a philosophical superstructure centered on the Will, or the Will-to-live—a blind, deaf, and dumb force that rouses human beings to their detriment. While Schopenhauer’s system of thought is as impossible to swallow as that of any other systematic philosopher, no intelligent person can fail to see that every living thing behaves exactly in conformity with his philosophy in its liberal articulation. Wound up like toys by some force—call it Will, élan vital, anima mundi, physiological or psychological processes, nature, or whatever—organisms go on running as they are bidden until they run down. In pessimistic philosophies only the force is real, not the things activated by it. They are only puppets, and if they have consciousness may mistakenly believe they are self-winding persons who are making a go of it on their own.

Here, then, is the signature motif of the pessimistic imagination that Schopenhauer made discernible: Behind the scenes of life there is something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world. For Zapffe, the evolutionary mutation of consciousness tugged us into tragedy. For Michelstaedter, individuals can exist only as unrealities that are made as they are made and that cannot make themselves otherwise because their hands are forced by the “god” of philopsychia (self-love) to accept positive illusions about themselves or not accept themselves at all. For Mainländer, a Will-to-die, not Schopenhauer’s Will-to-live, plays the occult master pulling our strings, making us dance in fitful motions like marionettes caught in a turbulent wake left by the passing of a self-murdered god. For Bahnsen, a purposeless force breathes a black life into everything and feasts upon it part by part, regurgitating itself into itself, ever-renewing the throbbing forms of its repast. For all others who suspect that something is amiss in the lifeblood of being, something they cannot verbalize, there are the malformed shades of suffering and death that chase them into the false light of contenting lies.

By analogy with that pernicious “something” the pessimist senses behind the scenes of life are the baleful agencies that govern the world of

supernatural horror fiction. Actually, it would be more proper to speak of the many worlds of supernatural horror, since they vary from author to author as much as the renderings of the human fiasco vary from pessimist to pessimist. Even within the writings of a single author, the source of something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world switches about, the common link being a state of affairs that overturns our conception of reality for the worse.

In “The Willows,” for instance, the twentieth-century British writer Algernon Blackwood suggests that an inimical force abides within nature. What this enormity might be is known to the characters of the story only by mysterious signs and sounds that unnerve them as they make their way in a small boat down the Danube and camp for the night on an island overgrown with willows, which become the symbolic focus of a region where nature shows its most menacing aspect. The narrator tries to explain what it is about the willows that seems particularly threatening to him, as distinct from the more immediate perils of the severe weather conditions that have developed along the Danube.

A rising river, perhaps, always suggests something of the ominous: many of the little islands I saw before me would probably have been swept away by the morning; this resistless, thundering water touched the deep sense of awe. Yet I was aware that my uneasiness lay deeper far than the emotions of awe and wonder. It was not that I felt. Nor had it directly to do with the power of the driving wind—this shouting hurricane that might almost carry up a few acres of willows into the air and scatter them like so much chaff over the landscape. The wind was simply enjoying itself, for nothing rose out of the flat landscape to stop it, and I was conscious of sharing its great game with a kind of pleasurable excitement. Yet this novel emotion had nothing to do with the wind. Indeed, so vague was the sense of distress I experienced, that it was impossible to trace it to its source and deal with it accordingly, though I was aware somehow that it had to do with our utter insignificance before this unrestrained power of the elements about me. The huge-grown river had something to do with it too—a vague, unpleasant idea that we had somehow trifled with these great elemental forces in whose power we lay helpless every hour of

the day and night. For here, indeed, they were gigantically at play together, and the sight appealed to the imagination.

But my emotion, so far as I could understand it, seemed to attach itself more particularly to the willow bushes, to these acres and acres of willows, crowding, so thickly growing there, swarming everywhere the eye could reach, pressing upon the river as though to suffocate it, standing in dense array mile after mile beneath the sky, watching, waiting, listening. And, apart from the elements, the willows connected themselves subtly with my malaise, attacking the mind insidiously somehow by reason of their vast numbers, and contriving in some way or other to represent to the imagination a new and mighty power, a power, moreover, not altogether friendly to us.

The mystery of the pernicious something that the willows represent is never resolved. However, at the end of the story the two travelers see a man turning over and over in the rushing river. And he bears “their mark” in the form of indentations they had seen before in the sands of the island—funnels that formed and grew in size throughout the night the men had camped on the island. Whatever power that was not “altogether friendly to us” had procured its victim and satisfied itself. The men had been saved at the price of another’s death. That which makes a nightmare of our world had revealed itself for a time and withdrawn once again behind the scenes of life.

Such is the motif of supernatural horror: Something terrible in its being comes forward and makes its claim as a shareholder in our reality, or what we think is our reality and ours alone. It may be an emissary from the grave or an esoteric monstrosity, as in the ghost stories of M. R. James. It may be the offspring of a scientific experiment with unintended consequences, as in Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan,” or the hitherto unheard-of beings in the same author’s “The White People.” It may be a hideous token of another dimension revealed only in a mythic tome, as in Robert W. Chambers’s “The Yellow Sign.” Or it may be a world unto itself of pure morbidity, one suffused with a profound sense of a doom without a name—Edgar Allan Poe’s world.

Reflected in the works of many supernatural writers, the signature motif Schopenhauer made discernible in pessimism was most consistently promulgated by Lovecraft, a paragon among literary figures who have thought the unthinkable, or at least thought what most mortals do not want to think. In conceiving Azathoth, that “nuclear chaos” which “bubbles at the center of all infinity,” Lovecraft might well have been thinking of Schopenhauer’s Will. As instantiated in Lovecraft’s stories, the pernicious something that makes a nightmare of our world is individuated into linguistically teratological entities from beyond or outside of our universe. Like ghosts or the undead, their very existence spooks us as a violation of what should and should not be, suggesting unknown modes of being and uncanny creations which epitomize supernatural horror.


Philosophically, Lovecraft was a dyed-in-the-wool scientific materialist. Nevertheless, he is a felicitous example of someone who knew ravishments that in another context would qualify as “spiritual” or “religious.” Yet from childhood he adhered to a vigorous atheism. In his lectures collected as The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), William James proposes that a sense of “ontological wonder” and “cosmic emotion” argues for the legitimacy of religious faith. In both his creative writings and his letters, Lovecraft’s expression of the feelings James describes form an exception to the philosopher-psychologist’s argument.9 For Lovecraft, cosmic wonder and a “tranquility tinged with terror,” as the British political theorist and aesthetician Edmund Burke referred to such experiences, were basic to his interest in remaining alive. Sublimating his awareness of the universe as nothingness in motion, he also mitigated the boredom that plagued his life by distracting himself with reveries of “surprise, discovery, strangeness, and the impingement of the cosmic, lawless, and mystical upon the prosaic sphere of the known” (Lovecraft’s emphasis).

From the other side of an emotional and spiritual chasm, the French scientist and Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote of his sense of being “engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me; I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread” (Pensées, 1670).

Pascal’s is not an unnatural reaction for those phobic to infinite spaces that know nothing of them. “Kenophobia” is the fear of such vast spaces and voids. Perhaps kenophilia should be coined to describe the “ontological wonder” and “cosmic emotion” Lovecraft felt when he contemplated the outer rim of the unknown.

A complex and contradictory figure, as illustrated above, Lovecraft often seemed to be on the fence when it came to his convictions about the value of existence. In a letter to Edwin Baird, the first editor of Weird Tales, he penned some remarks that express a univocal stand by a pessimist who is estranged from all solace known to ordinary folk. These merit quotation at length.

Popular authors do not and apparently cannot appreciate the fact that true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto, and approaching a theme purged utterly of any usual or preconceived point of view. Wild and “different” as they may consider their quasi-weird products, it remains a fact that the bizarrerie is on the surface alone; and that basically they reiterate the same old conventional values and motives and perspectives. Good and evil, teleological illusion, sugary sentiment, anthropocentric psychology—the usual superficial stock in trade, and all shot through with the eternal and inescapable commonplace. Who ever wrote a story from the

point of view that man is a blemish on the cosmos, who ought to be eradicated? As an example—a young man I know lately told me that he means to write a story about a scientist who wishes to dominate the earth, and who to accomplish his ends trains and overdevelops germs and leads armies of them in the

manner of the Egyptian plagues. I told him that although this theme has promise, it is made utterly commonplace by assigning the scientist a normal motive. There is nothing outré about wanting to conquer the earth; Alexander, Napoleon, and Wilhelm II wanted to do that. Instead, I told my friend, he should conceive a man with a morbid, frantic, shuddering hatred of the life-principle itself, who wishes to extirpate from the planet every trace of biological organism, animal and vegetable alike, including himself. That would be tolerably original. But after all, originality lies with the author. One can’t write a weird

story of real power without perfect psychological detachment from the human scene, and a magic prism of imagination which suffuses theme and style alike with that grotesquerie and disquieting distortion characteristic of morbid vision. Only a cynic can create horror—for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.

The salient interest of this letter is that it shows Lovecraft as a perfectionist of cosmic disillusion. But relatively dissociated from Lovecraft the cosmic disillusionist was another Lovecraft, one who reveled in protectionist illusions that could not be more alien to the propensities of his alter ego. In this latter identity, he took refuge from what he specified as his cynicism (also “cosmic pessimism”) in a world of distractions and anchorings he had amassed over the years. Among them was his sentimental immersion in the past. Especially dear to him was the traditional way of life emblemized by architectural remnants of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England. Old towns with winding streets, houses with semicircular fanlight doors, and other postcard images of Yankeedom conjured up for Lovecraft a picture of bygone times as an aesthetic phenomenon that often tailed into a Blood-and-Soil mysticism. A proud Novanglian, Lovecraft grew up and lived among abundant reminders of a past he idealized. His attachment to historic New England counterbalanced his infatuation with the far reaches of time and space, beside which, as he well knew, the outdated culture-streams that so enraptured him were local, fleeting, and accidental forms without immanent virtue. For Lovecraft, both quaint small-paned windows and a bracing alienage from human mores had charms that he heartily honored in his works as well as his life, even during his darkest days of cynicism and pessimism.

Like most of us, Lovecraft distracted himself with fabricated values, and he did so until death was bestowed upon him by a combination of intestinal cancer and Bright’s disease. Concerned as a fiction writer with smashing to bits humanity’s grand illusion about its place in the universe, Lovecraft welcomed any illusions he could accept in good faith, as did Zapffe and Schopenhauer, who also pursued gratifying diversions that took their minds off what the latter philosopher called the “vanity and

suffering of life.” During his later years, Lovecraft did seem to mellow considerably as he walked the plank into nonexistence. In letters to his friends and colleagues he attested that he had left his cynicism and pessimism behind and had become an “indifferentist,” meaning one who sees no malice in the physical universe but only a flux of particles. To the benefit of supernatural horror aficionados, Lovecraft’s indifferentist philosophy did not require him to discontinue writing about virulent phenomena that compromise the sanity of anyone who learns of their existence. Lovecraft was exhilarated by the idea of something pernicious that made a nightmare of our world, whether it was indifferent to us or quite partial to our devastation. In his indifferentism, Lovecraft did not seem to have shambled far from the cognitive style of the individual who advised his friend to write about “a man with a morbid, frantic, shuddering hatred of the life-principle itself, who wishes to extirpate from the planet every trace of biological organism, animal and vegetable alike, including himself.” If only there were a man who could bring to fruition such a wish. Then the earth could finally be “cleared off,” as Wilbur Whately wrote in his diary in “The Dunwich Horror.”

Why anyone should be drawn to the writings of Lovecraft and his confederates is usually expounded as a natural aspect of the human temper, a healthy yearning of our souls to exceed the bounds of ordinary existence. In his lecture “On Morbidity,” part of a series of brief expositions on supernatural horror, an academician known only as Professor Nobody (an ostentatiously cocky pseudonym) submits his analysis of an atypical individual who does not partake in the wholesome motivation of the majority with respect to the horrific and extraordinary, “a man with a morbid, frantic, shuddering hatred of the life-principle itself.” While there is indeed something invigorating in supernatural horror for this individual, it is a negative rather than a positive activation that pleasures him by its antipathy to all that lives. The floor is now ceded to the professor.

Isolation, mental strain, emotional exertions, visionary infatuations, well-executed fevers, repudiations of well-being: only a few of the many exercises practiced by that specimen we shall call the “morbid man.” And our subject of supernatural horror is a vital part of his program. Retreating from a world of heath and sanity, or at least one that daily invests in such

commodities, the morbid man seeks the shadows behind the scenes of life. He backs himself into a corner alive with cool drafts and fragrant with centuries of must. It is in that corner that he builds a world of ruins out of the battered stones of his imagination, a rancid world rife with things smelling of the crypt.

But this world is not all a romantic sanctum for the dark in spirit. So let us condemn it for a moment, this deep-end of dejection. Although there is no name for what might be called the morbid man’s “sin,” it still seems in violation of some deeply ingrained morality. The morbid man does not appear to be doing himself or others any good. And while we all know that melancholic moping and lugubrious ruminating are quite palatable as side-dishes of existence, he has turned them into a house specialty! Ultimately, however, he may meet this charge of wrongdoing with a simple “What of it?”

Now, such a response assumes morbidity to be a certain class of vice, one to be pursued without apology, and one whose advantages and disadvantages must be enjoyed or endured outside the law. But as a sower of vice, if only in his own soul, the morbid man incurs the following censure: that he is a symptom or a cause of decay within both individual and collective spheres of being. And decay, like every other process of becoming, hurts everybody. “Good!” shouts the morbid man. “Not good!” counters the crowd. Both positions betray dubious origins: one in resentment, the other in fear. And when the moral debate on this issue eventually reaches an impasse or becomes too tangled for truth, then psychological polemics can begin. Later on we will find other angles from which this problem may be attacked, enough to keep us occupied for the rest of our lives.

Meanwhile, the morbid man keeps putting his time on earth to no good use, until in the end—amidst mad winds, wan moonlight, and pasty specters—he uses his exactly like everyone else uses theirs: all up.

Undoing III

When people are asked to respond to the statement “I am happy—true or false,” the word “true” is spoken more often than “false,” overwhelmingly so. If there is some loss of face in confessing that one is not happy, this does not mean that those who profess happiness as their dominant humor are lying through their teeth. People want to be happy. They believe they should be happy. And if some philosopher says they can never be happy because their consciousness has ensured their unhappiness, that philosopher will not be part of the dialogue, especially if he blathers about discontinuing our species by ceasing to bear children who can also never be happy even though, to extend the point, they can also never be unhappy given their inexperience of existing. Ask Zapffe.

So you ask whether I would choose to be unborn? One must be born in order to choose, and the choice involves destruction. But ask my brother in that chair over there. Indeed, it is an empty one; my brother did not get so far. Yet ask him, as he is traveling like the wind below the sky, crashing against the beach, scenting in the grass, reveling in his strength as he pursues his living food. Do you think he is bereaved by his incapacity to fulfill his fate on the waiting list of the Oslo Housing and Savings Society? And have you ever missed him? Look around in a crowded afternoon tram and reflect whether you would allow a lottery to select one of the exhausted toilers as the one whom you put into this world. They pay no attention as one person gets off and two get on. The tram keeps rolling along. (“Fragments of an Interview,” Aftenposten, 1959)

The point that in the absence of birth nobody exists who can be deprived of happiness is terribly conspicuous. For optimists, this fact plays no part in their existential computations. For pessimists, however, it is axiomatic. Whether a pessimist urges us to live “heroically” with a knife in our gut or denounces life as not worth living is immaterial. What matters is that he makes no bones about hurt being the Great Problem it is incumbent on philosophy to observe. But this problem can be solved only by establishing an imbalance between hurt and happiness that would enable us in principle to say which is more desirable—existence or nonexistence. While no airtight case has ever been made regarding the undesirability of human life, pessimists still run themselves ragged trying

to make one. Optimists have no comparable mission. When they do argue for the desirability of human life it is only in reaction to pessimists arguing the opposite, even though no airtight case has ever been made regarding that desirability. Optimism has always been an undeclared policy of human culture—one that grew out of our animal instincts to survive and reproduce—rather than an articulated body of thought. It is the default condition of our blood and cannot be effectively questioned by our minds or put in grave doubt by our pains. This would explain why at any given time there are more cannibals than philosophical pessimists.

For optimists, human life never needs justification, no matter how much hurt piles up, because they can always tell themselves that things will get better. For pessimists, there is no amount of happiness—should such a thing as happiness even obtain for human beings except as a misconception—that can compensate us for life’s hurt. As a worst-case example, a pessimist might refer to the hurt caused by some natural or human-made cataclysm. To adduce a hedonic counterpart to the horrors that attach to such cataclysms would require a degree of ingenuity from an optimist, but it could be done. And the reason it could be done, the reason for the eternal stalemate between optimists and pessimists, is that no possible formula can be established to measure proportions and types of hurt and happiness in the world. If such a formula could be established

—on the premise that an oppositional comparison may be made between hurt and happiness, of course—then either pessimists or optimists would have to give in to their adversaries.

One formula to establish the imbalance at issue has been tendered by the South African philosopher of ethics David Benatar. In his Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence (2006), Benatar attempts to prove that, because some amount of suffering is inevitable for all who are born, while the absence of happiness does not deprive those who would have been born but were not, the scales are tipped in favor of not bearing children. Therefore, propagators violate any conceivable system of morality and ethics because they are guilty of doing harm. To Benatar, the extent of the harm that always occurs matters not. Once harm has been ensured by the begetting of a bundle of joy, a line has been crossed from moral-ethical behavior to immoral-unethical behavior. This violation of morality and ethics holds for Benatar in all instances of childbirth.

Nevertheless, people like Benatar who argue that the world’s “ideal population size is zero” are written off as being unhealthy of mind.

Further accentuating this presumed unhealthiness is Benatar’s argument that giving birth is not only harmful but should be seen as so egregiously harmful that there is no happiness that can counterbalance it. As harms go in this world, there are none worse than the harm that entails all others. Ask William James for a perspective on one of those great harms

—to which he gives the name “melancholy”—and how it is generally passed over in the lives of healthy adults.

The method of averting one’s attention from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it will work. It will work with many persons; it will work far more generally than most of us are ready to suppose; and within the sphere of its successful operation there is nothing to be said against it as a religious solution. But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes; and even though one be quite free from melancholy one’s self, there is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.

The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its innings and takes its solid turn. The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact.

Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait until you arrive there yourself. (The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902)

James himself suffered a brush with melancholy, but he made a full recovery and began to think positively, or at least equivocally, about being alive, answering yes to the question “Is Life Worth Living?” However, by force of his honesty of intellect he knew this opinion needed to be defended as much as any other opinion. No logic can support it. Indeed, logic defeats all feeling that life is worth living,

which, James says, only a self-willed belief in a higher order of existence can instill. Then every suffering will seem worthwhile in the way that the vivisection of a living dog, to use James’s example, would seem worthwhile to the animal if only it could comprehend the goodly ends its pain serves for the higher order of human existence. In his lecture “Is Life Worth Living,” James opined that human beings, unlike dogs, can in fact imagine a higher order of existence than theirs, one that may legitimate the worst adversities of mortal life. James was a rare philosopher in that he put no faith in logic. And he was doubtless wise to adopt that stance, since the fortunes of those who attempt to defend their opinions with logic are not enviable.

Naturally, for those whose opinion is that it is “better to be” than “better never to have been,” Benatar’s logic for the latter proposition is rejected as faulty, the more so in that its conclusions are not supported by a consensus of ordinary folk. Logic notwithstanding, Benatar’s moral-ethical censure of reproduction does prove that humanity’s continuance is not universally accepted as a good in itself, even in a super-modern world. It also reminds us that no one can make a case that every individual’s birth, or any individual’s birth, is a good in itself. And that is the case that needs to be made, at least morally and ethically speaking as well as logically speaking. (For more on this, see the section Pressurized in the chapter “The Cult of Grinning Martyrs.”) If most people believe that being alive is all right—the alternative to this belief having no appeal for them—the rectitude of causing new people to become alive is just a matter of opinion.


In “The Last Messiah,” Zapffe wrote: “The whole of living that we see before our eyes today is from inmost to outmost enmeshed in repressional mechanisms, social and individual; they can be traced right into the tritest formulas of everyday life.” The quartet of formulas that Zapffe picked out as individual and social mechanisms of repression are probably the most trite he could have chosen, which may have been deliberate on his part because they are so familiar to us and so visible in our day-to-day existence. These mechanisms are related to the psychoanalytic theory of unconscious repression, although they are also perilously accessible to the conscious mind. And when they are accessed,

no one can concede them with impunity. Not overweight persons or tobacco users, who must play dumb when they are scarfing down a cupcake or smoking a cigarette. Not soldiers fighting a war, who must not be aware they are risking their lives and limbs for a rationalization— their country, their god, etc. Not anyone who is going to suffer and die (that is, everyone), who will not voluntarily confess to playing the same old games for as long as possible rather than be haunted by thoughts of mortality and the unpleasantness that may precede it. And definitely not artists, who keep their aesthetic distance for fear of being hamstrung by the realities they “bring to life.”

Once the facts that repressional mechanisms hide are accessed, they must be excised from our memory—or new repressional mechanisms must replace the old—so that we may continue to be protected by our cocoon of lies. If this is not done, we will be whimpering misereres morning, noon, and night instead of chanting that day by day, in every way, we are getting better and better. Although we may sometimes admit to the guileful means we use to keep us doing what we do, this is only a higher level of self-deception and paradox, not evidence that we stand on the heights of some meta-reality where we are really real. We say we know what is in store for us in this life, and we do. But we do not know. We cannot if we are to survive and multiply.

Annotating humanity’s attempt to bluff itself in the interest of the species is an extensive literature on self-deception, denial, and repression. Naturally, none of those working in this area of study believe human life to be such a morass of self-deception, denial, and repression that we do not know which way is up. But in Zapffe’s analysis of self-deception, denial, and repression, we cannot know which way is up without paying dearly for this knowledge. Enough of us must addle our consciousness so that we can be far less conscious than we might, which is the tragedy of the human species, for anyone who might have forgotten. Those who cannot pull off this jugglery will suffer the consequences.

Some who study self-deception, denial, etc. believe these are healthy practices if they facilitate our happiness without infringing on the happiness of our fellows. They speak of self-deception, denial, etc. as “useful fictions” or “positive illusions” and ballyhoo them as staples for both the individual and society. (For his book Vital Lies, Simple Truths:

The Psychology of Self-Deception [1996], Daniel Goleman studied how people and groups play along with factitious designs to scotch the animus and anxiety that would be loosed if an etiquette of honesty were somehow enforced.) Others believe that self-deceptive practices are too complex to be usefully analyzed. This does not mean that self-deceptive practices do not support heinous acts by the ingenious denial of these acts (Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, 2001); it only means that we cannot know how self-deception works in these cases. Finally, many of those who study self-deception believe we are not capable of self-deception because we cannot both consciously know something and consciously not know it, for this would involve us in a paradox.

However, others have reasoned their way around this supposed paradox. An example of such reasoning is presented by Kent Bach (“An Analysis of Self-Deception,” Philosophy and Phenomenal Research, 1981), who offers three means of avoiding unwanted thoughts that are nevertheless accessible to a subject’s consciousness: rationalization, evasion, and jamming. These are identical to the methods of isolation, anchoring, and distraction spotted by Zapffe in human life. Each may keep a subject in a state of self-deception regarding what is really the case. Bach’s essay does not, of course, extend his three categories of

self-deception to the entire human species, as does Zapffe. To Zapffe, we remember, we are all by nature and necessity false and paradoxical beings and should terminate our existence as strangers to reality who cannot live as we are and cannot live otherwise, who must constrain our consciousness because, tragically, our sanity depends on it.

In his Why We Lie: The Evolution of Deception and the Unconscious Mind (2007), David Livingstone Smith examines the mechanisms of

self-deception and denial, both individual and social, in terms of evolutionary psychology. This approach leads him to a conclusion about these mechanisms that is compatible with Zapffe’s diagnosis of humanity as a paradox. Smith’s thesis is that at some time in the remote past the human mind split into the dual levels of conscious and unconscious processes the better to deceive itself and others for the purpose of adaptation. This makes Smith’s hypothesis about the process of denial tantamount to that of the psychoanalytic theory of repression, by which individuals deny unpalatable facts about themselves to themselves, and, by extension, to others. Smith is in fact a psychoanalyst, and this may be

seen in his statement that the “ever-present possibility of deceit is a crucial dimension of every human relationship, even the most central: our relationship with our very selves.” To practice this deceit, one must repress consciousness of the deceiving, which does not exclude self-deception concerning consciousness itself and what it discloses about human life. Effectively, then, Smith is allied with Zapffe’s position that the human being

performs . . . a more or less self-conscious repression [Zapffe’s emphasis] of its damning surplus of consciousness. The process is virtually constant during our waking and active hours, and is a requirement of social adaptability and of everything commonly referred to as healthy and normal living.

Psychiatry even works on the assumption that the “healthy” and viable is at one with the highest in personal terms.

Depression, “fear of life,” refusal of nourishment and so on are invariably taken as signs of a pathological state and treated thereafter. Often, however, such phenomena are messages from a deeper, more immediate sense of life, bitter fruits of a geniality of thought or feeling at the root of anti-biological tendencies. It is not the soul being sick, but its protection failing, or else being rejected because it is experienced— correctly—as a betrayal of ego’s highest potential.

Even though Zapffe regarded psychoanalysis as another form of anchoring, whether or not a repressional mechanism is accessible to our consciousness or is wholly unconscious seems a trivial point. For both Smith and Zapffe, they lead to the same thing: occlusion of the real.

Another thing Smith and Zapffe share is that their ideas about humankind are not scientifically verifiable and will not be for some time to come, if ever. And without proof on a platter, anyone whose ideas are unpalatable to scientists, philosophers, and average mortals must expect to be poorly heard. Smith does not seem to understand this, and in the closing pages of his book expresses hope that humanity will one day “get real,” as the saying goes. At the end of “The Last Messiah,” Zapffe expressed an unconditional pessimism that this could ever happen, which was patently the only reasonable attitude for him to take. Smith himself might consider “getting real” about his hope we will ever get real, given

that humanity will always have its reasons for being repressed, self-deceptive, and unreal. A utopia in which we no longer deny the realities we presently must repress cannot be realistically hoped for. And who except a pessimist would wish for that utopia?

The effectiveness of conscious repressional mechanisms has been analyzed from many angles, particularly in relation to the fear of death. An enumeration of traditional strategies for grappling with thanatophobia appears in Choices for Living: Coping with the Fear of Dying (2002) by Thomas S. Langer. Although the subtitle of this book suggests that it concentrates on the fear of dying, it is more about the fear of death, not about the suffering and terror that may attend either a short-lived or a dawdling migration into death. Factually, Langer’s book, like many others of its kind, is fixated on living rather than on either death or dying, which seem to be only blurry contingencies while an individual is alive.

DOCTOR: “I’m afraid you have an inoperable tumor and haven’t long to live.”

PATIENT: “That can’t be. I feel in perfect health.”

POLICE OFFICER: “I’m sorry to inform you, ma’am, that your husband has been involved in a vehicular misadventure. He’s dead.”

WIFE: “That can’t be. He just left the house ten minutes ago.”

Given a little time, of course, the cancer patient and the woman who just lost her husband come around to their respective realities. Acceptance of one’s new condition, as opposed to going mad or reacting in some other pathological manner, seems to be the usual process—on the condition, naturally, that an individual lives long enough to accept it and does not die of an inoperable tumor first. In the media and all forms of entertainment, such bad breaks are exposed to us all our lives. But we still do not heed the old saw “Hope for the best, but expect the worst.” Instead, we hope for the best and think we have a very good chance of getting it. If we really expected the worst, we might well go mad or react in some other pathological manner before the worst came for us and ours. And that really would be the worst.

Suffering I

For almost all philosophers who write about death, the subject is studied in the abstract, with the unsightly tangibles at its bedside either bracketed or shrugged off. If dying is even given the time of day by philosophers, it must be studied as a subcategory of SUFFERING, THE MEANING OF, which few thinkers discuss outside of moral philosophy and ethics, relatively soft cognitive pastimes when placed beside logic, epistemology, ontology, etc. Philosophies that take human suffering as their overarching subject are given short shrift by analytic types, who leave SUFFERING, THE MEANING OF to religions such as Buddhism and Christianity, or to pessimists. Unless a philosopher is prepared to go all the way with it, to take a hard line on its relevance to the whole of human life, as did Schopenhauer and a few other relics of the pre-modern era, he will balk at saying anything about suffering.

One who did not balk entirely was the Austrian-born British philosopher Karl Popper, who in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) did have a thing or two to say about human suffering. Briefly, he revamped the Utilitarianism of the nineteenth-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, who wrote: “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness.” Popper remolded this summation of a positive utilitarianism into a negative utilitarianism whose position he handily stated as follows: “It adds to clarity in the fields of ethics, if we formulate our demands negatively, i.e. if we demand the elimination of suffering rather than the promotion of happiness.” Taken to its logical and most humanitarian conclusion, Popper’s demand can have as its only end the elimination of those who now suffer as well as “counterfactual” beings who will suffer if they are born. What else could the “elimination of suffering” mean if not its total abolition, and ours? Naturally, Popper held his horses well before suggesting that to eliminate suffering would demand that we as a species be eliminated. But as R. N. Smart famously argued (Mind, 1958), this is the only conclusion to be drawn from Negative Utilitarianism.

In “The Last Messiah,” Zapffe is not sanguine about eliminating suffering, nor is he so unworldly as to beseech a communal solution for its elimination by snuffing out the human race, as did the Cathari and the Bogomils. (He does lash out at the barbarism of social or religious proscription of suicide, but he is not a standard-bearer for this form of

personal salvation.) To reiterate with due compunction, Zapffe’s thought is foremost an addendum to that of various sects and individuals who have resolved that conscious existence is so odious that extinction is preferable to survival. It also has the value of advancing a new answer to an old question: “Why should generations unborn be spared entry into the human thresher?” But what might be called “Zapffe’s Paradox,” in the tradition of possessively named formulations that saturate primers of philosophy, is as useless as the propositions of any other thinker who is pro-life or anti-life or is only juggling concepts to clinch what is reality and can we ever get there. That said, we can continue as if it had not been said. The measure of a philosopher’s thought is not in its answers or the problems it poses, but in how well it fiddles with these answers and problems such that they animate the minds of others. Thus the importance—and the nullity—of rhetoric. Ask any hardline pessimist, but do not expect him to expect you to take his words seriously.

Suffering II

Perhaps the greatest strike against philosophical pessimism is that its only theme is human suffering. This is the last item on the list of our species’ obsessions and detracts from everything that matters to us, such as the Good, the Beautiful, and a Sparkling Clean Toilet Bowl. For the pessimist, everything considered in isolation from human suffering or any cognition that does not have as its motive the origins, nature, and elimination of human suffering is at base recreational, whether it takes the form of conceptual probing or physical action in the world—for example, delving into game theory or traveling in outer space, respectively. And by “human suffering,” the pessimist is not thinking of particular sufferings and their relief, but with suffering itself. Remedies may be discovered for certain diseases and sociopolitical barbarities may be amended. But these are only stopgaps. Human suffering will remain insoluble as long as human beings exist. The one truly effective solution for suffering is that spoken of in Zapffe’s “The Last Messiah.” It may not be a welcome solution for a stopgap world, but it would forever put an end to suffering, should we ever care to do so. The pessimist’s credo, or one of them, is that nonexistence never hurt anyone and existence hurts everyone. Although our selves may be illusory creations of consciousness, our pain is nonetheless real.

As a survival-happy species, our successes are calculated in the number of years we have extended our lives, with the reduction of suffering being only incidental to this aim. To stay alive under almost any circumstances is a sickness with us. Nothing could be more unhealthy than to “watch one’s health” as a means of stalling death. The lengths we will go as procrastinators of that last gasp only demonstrate a morbid dread of that event. By contrast, our fear of suffering is deficient. So Shakespeare’s Edgar when he passes on the wisdom that “the worst is not / So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’” Officially, there are no fates worse than death. Unofficially, there is a profusion of such fates.

For some people, just living with the thought that they will die is a fate worse than death itself.

Longevity is without question of paramount value in our lives, and finding a corrective for mortality is our compulsive project. Anything goes insofar as lengthening our earthly tenure. And how we have cashed in on our efforts. No need to cram our lives into two or three decades now that we can cram them into seven, eight, nine, or more. The lifespan of non-domesticated mammals has never changed, while ours has grown by leaps and bounds. What a coup for the human race. Unaware how long they will live, other warm-blooded life forms are sluggards by comparison. Time will run out for us as it does for all creatures, true, but at least we can dream of a day when we might elect our own deadline.

Then perhaps we can all die of the same thing: a killing satiation with our durability in a world that is MALIGNANTLY USELESS.

“Worthless” rather than “useless” is the more familiar epithet in this context. The rationale for using “useless” in place of “worthless” in this histrionically capitalized phrase is that “worthless” is tied to the concepts of desirability and value, and by their depreciation introduces them into the existential mix. “Useless,” on the other hand, is not so inviting of these concepts. Elsewhere in this work, “worthless” is connected to the language of pessimism and does what damage it can. But the devil of it is that “worthless” really does not go far enough when speaking pessimistically about the character of existence. Too many times the question “Is life worth living?” has been asked. This usage of “worth” excites impressions of a fair lot of experiences that are arguably desirable and valuable within limits and that may follow upon one another in such a way as to suggest that life is not totally worthless. With “useless,” the wispy spirits of desirability and value do not as readily

rear their heads. Naturally, the uselessness of all that is or could ever be is subject to the same repudiations as the worthlessness of all that is or could ever be. For this reason, the adverb “malignantly” has been annexed to “useless” to give it a little more semantic stretch and a dose of toxicity. But to express with any adequacy a sense of the uselessness of everything, a nonlinguistic modality would be needed, some effusion out of a dream that amalgamated every gradation of the useless and wordlessly transmitted to us the inanity of existence under any possible conditions. Indigent of such means of communication, the uselessness of all that exists or could possibly exist must be spoken with a poor potency.

Not unexpectedly, no one believes that everything is useless, and with good reason. We all live within relative frameworks, and within those frameworks uselessness is far wide of the norm. A potato masher is not useless if one wants to mash potatoes. For some people, a system of being that includes an afterlife of eternal bliss may not seem useless.

They might say that such a system is absolutely useful because it gives them the hope they need to make it through this life. But an afterlife of eternal bliss is not and cannot be absolutely useful simply because you need it to be. It is part of a relative framework and nothing beyond that, just as a potato masher is only part of a relative framework and is useful only if you need to mash potatoes. Once you had made it through this life to an afterlife of eternal bliss, you would have no use for that afterlife. Its job would be done, and all you would have is an afterlife of eternal bliss—a paradise for reverent hedonists and pious libertines.

What is the use in that? You might as well not exist at all, either in this life or in an afterlife of eternal bliss. Any kind of existence is useless. Nothing is self-justifying. Everything is justified only in a relativistic potato-masher sense.

There are some people who do not get up in arms about potato-masher relativism, while other people do. The latter want to think in terms of absolutes that are really absolute and not just absolute potato mashers. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have a real problem with a potato-masher system of being. Buddhists have no problem with a potato-masher system because for them there are no absolutes. What they need to realize is the truth of “dependent origination,” which means that everything is related to everything else in a great network of potato mashers that are always interacting with one another. So the only

problem Buddhists have is not being able to realize that the only absolutely useful thing is the realization that everything is a great network of potato mashers. They think that if they can get over this hump, they will be eternally liberated from suffering. At least they hope they will, which is all they really need to make it through this life. In the Buddhist faith, everyone suffers who cannot see that the world is a MALIGNANTLY USELESS potato-mashing network. However, that does not make Buddhists superior to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. It only means they have a different system for making it through a life where all we can do is wait for musty shadows to call our names when they are ready for us. After that happens, there will be nobody who will need anything that is not absolutely useless. Ask any atheist.


Despite Zapffe’s work as a philosopher, although not in an occupational role (he earned his living by writing poems, plays, stories, and humorous pieces), he is better known as an early ecologist who popularized the term “biosophy” to name a discipline that would broaden the compass of philosophy to include the interests of other living things besides human beings. In this capacity, he serves as an inspiration to environmentalists who worry about the well-being of the earth and its organisms. Here, too, we catch ourselves—and Zapffe himself, as he affirmed—in the act of conspiring to build barricades against the repugnant facts of life by signing on to a cause (in this case that of environmentalism) that snubs the real issue. Vandalism of the environment is but a sidebar to humanity’s refusal to look into the jaws of existence.

In truth, we have only one foot in the natural environment of this world. Other worlds are always calling us away from nature. We live in a habitat of unrealities—not of earth, air, water, and wildlife—and cradling illusion trounces grim logic every time. Some of the more combative environmentalists, however, have concurred with Zapffe that we should retire from existence. But their advocacy of worldwide suicide as a strategy for saving the earth from being pillaged by human beings receives no mention in “The Last Messiah” and was probably not on Zapffe’s mind when he wrote this essay. As appealing as a universal suicide pact may be, why take part in it just to conserve this planet, this dim bulb in the blackness of space? Nature produced us, or at least

subsidized our evolution. It intruded on an inorganic wasteland and set up shop. What evolved was a global workhouse where nothing is ever at rest, where the generation and discarding of life incessantly goes on. By what virtue, then, is it entitled to receive a pardon for this original sin—a capital crime in reverse, just as reproduction makes one an accessory before the fact to an individual’s death?

In its course, nature has made blunders in plenty. These are left to die out, as is nature’s wont. Perhaps this will be how we will go—a natural death. It might be idly theorized, though, that nature has a special plan for human beings and devised us to serve as a way of revoking itself, much like Mainländer’s self-expunging God. An offbeat idea, no protest, but not the strangest we have ever heard or lived by. We could at least take up the hypothesis and see where it leads. If it is proved unviable, then where is the harm? But until then, might we not let ourselves be drawn along by nature’s plan, which includes our sacking the earth as a paradoxical means of living better in it, or at least living as our nature bids us to live.

We did not make ourselves, nor did we fashion a world that could not work without pain, and great pain at that, with a little pleasure, very little, to string us along—a world where all organisms are inexorably pushed by pain throughout their lives to do that which will improve their chances to survive and create more of themselves. Left unchecked, this process will last as long as a single cell remains palpitating in this cesspool of the solar system, this toilet of the galaxy. So why not lend a hand in nature’s suicide? For want of a deity that could be held to account for a world in which there is terrible pain, let nature take the blame for our troubles. We did not create an environment uncongenial to our species, nature did. One would think that nature was trying to kill us off, or get us to suicide ourselves once the blunder of consciousness came upon us. What was nature thinking? We tried to anthropomorphize it, to romanticize it, to let it into our hearts. But nature kept its distance, leaving us to our own devices. So be it. Survival is a two-way street.

Once we settle ourselves off-world, we can blow up this planet from outer space. It’s the only way to be sure its stench will not follow us. Let it save itself if it can—the condemned are known for the acrobatics they will execute to wriggle out of their sentences. But if it cannot destroy

what it has made, and what could possibly unmake it, then may it perish along with every other living thing it has introduced to pain. While no species has given in to pain to the point of giving up its existence, so far as we know, it is not a phenomenon whose praises are often sung.


In Zapffe’s “The Last Messiah,” the titular figure appears at the end and makes the mock-Socratic, biblically parodic pronouncement, “Know yourselves—be infertile and let the earth be silent after ye” (Zapffe’s emphasis). As Zapffe pictures the scene, the Last Messiah’s words will not be well received: “And when he has spoken, they will pour themselves over him, led by the pacifier makers and the midwives, and bury him in their fingernails.” Semantically speaking, the Last Messiah is not a messiah, since he saves no living soul and will be erased from human memory by a vigilante group whose kingpins are “the pacifier makers and the midwives.” Moreover, a resurrection seems to be the last thing in the Last Messiah’s future.

To exposit why humanity should not further tarry on earth is one thing; to believe that this proposition will be agreeable to others is quite another. Due to the note of hopelessness in the coda to Zapffe’s essay, we are discouraged from imagining a world in which the self-liquidation of humanity could ever be put into effect. The Norwegian himself did not take the trouble to do so in “The Last Messiah.” No reason he should, since he would first have to imagine a new humanity, which is not as a practice done outside of fiction, a medium of realism but not of reality.

Yet these new humans would not have to be super-evolved or otherwise freakish organisms living far in the future. They would only have to be like Zapffe in recognizing that a retreat from the worldly scene would be a benevolent proceeding for the good of the unborn.

Becoming extinct would seem to be a tall order, but not one that would be insurmountably time-consuming. Zapffe optimistically projected that those of the new humanity could be evacuated from existence over the course of a few generations. And indeed they could. As their numbers tapered off, these dead-enders of our species could be the most privileged individuals in history and share with one another material comforts once held in trust only for the wellborn or money-getting classes of the world. Since personal economic gain would be passé as a

motive for the new humanity, there would be only one defensible incitement to work: to see one another through to the finish, a project that would keep everyone busy and not just staring into space while they waited for the end. There might even be bright smiles exchanged among these selfless benefactors of those who would never be forced to exist.

And how many would speed up the process of extinction once euthanasia was decriminalized and offered in humane and even enjoyable ways?

What a relief, what an unburdening to have closed the book on humankind. Yet it would not need to be slammed shut. As long as we progressed toward a thinning of the herd, couples could still introduce new faces into the human fold as billions became millions and then thousands. New generations would learn about the past, and, like those before them, feel lucky not to have been born in times of fewer conveniences and cures, although they might still play at cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, management and labor. The last of us could be the very best of us who ever roamed the earth, the great exemplars of a humanity we used to dream of becoming before we got wise to the reality that we are just a mob always in the market for new recruits.

Quite naturally, this depiction of an end times by an extinctionist covenant will seem abhorrent to those now living in hope of a better future (not necessarily one in which glorious progress has been made toward the alleviation of human misery, but at least one that will partially exculpate them from a depraved indifference to the harm predestined for their young). It may also seem a romanticized utopia, since those who predict major readjustments in humanity’s self-conception (Karl Marx, et al.) often believe that a revolution in ethics will blossom when their “truths” are instituted. Worse, or perhaps better if the solution to human suffering is to be final, the idea of a new humanity may be a smokescreen for a tyrannical oligarchy run by militants of extinction rather than a social and psychological sanctuary for a species harboring the universal goal of delimiting its stay on earth. If Zapffe uselessly exercised himself by formulating the thesis of “The Last Messiah,” he was sharp enough to give it a hopeless finale. Without an iota of uncertainty, humankind is and will always be unsuited to take charge of its own deliverance. The delusional will forever be with us, thereby making pain, fear, and denial of what is right in front of our face the preferred style of living and the one that will be passed on to countless generations.

The reception of the research of a Canadian scientist named Michael Persinger may be seen as an indication of humanity’s genius for keeping itself locked into its old ways. In the 1980s, Persinger modified a motorcycle helmet to affect the magnetic fields of the brain of its wearer, inducing a variety of strange sensations. These included experiences in which subjects felt themselves proximate to supernatural phenomena that included ghosts and gods.

Atheists used Persinger’s studies to nail closed their argument for the subjectivity of anyone’s sense of the supernatural. Not to be left behind, believers wrote their own books in which they contended that the magnetic-field-emitting motorcycle helmet proved the existence of a god that “hard-wired” itself into our brains. A field of study called neurotheology grew up around this and other laboratory experiments.

Even if you can prop up a scientific theory with a cudgel of data that should render the holy opposition unconscious, they will be standing ready to discredit you—imprisonment, torture, and public execution having gone the way of chastity belts.

For writers of supernatural horror the perquisite of this deadlock is that it ensures the larger part of humanity will remain in a state of fear, because no one can ever be certain of either his own ontological status or that of gods, demons, alien invaders, and sundry other bugbears. A Buddhist would advise that we forget about whether or not the bogeymen we have invented or divined are real. The big question is this: Are we real?


Even though Zapffe’s theory is perceptible in our lives, we do not actually have any sense, or any strong sense, that human beings are false and paradoxical beings, at least not yet. And if we did, why would that mean we should go extinct and not continue to live as we have all these years? One would think that neuroscientists and geneticists would have as much reason to head for the cliffs because little by little they have been finding that much of our thought and behavior is attributable to neural wiring and heredity rather than to personal control over the individuals we are, or think we are. But they do not feel suicide to be

mandatory just because their laboratory experiments are informing them that human nature may be nothing but puppet nature. Not the slightest tingle of uncanniness or horror runs up and down their spines, only the thrill of discovery. Most of them reproduce and do not believe there is anything questionable in doing so. If they could get a corpse to sit up on an operating table, they would jubilantly exclaim, “It’s alive!” And so would we. Who cares that human beings evolved from slimy materials? We can live with that, or most of us can. Actually, we can probably live with any conception of ourselves for quite a while longer. Although we may have phases in which the power of positive thinking peters out, no scientific discoveries or anything else can get to us for long, at least not as far as we can see into the future. As a species with consciousness, we do have our inconveniences. Yet these are of negligible importance compared to what it would be like to feel in our depths that we are nothing but human puppets—things of mistaken identity who must live with the terrible knowledge that they are not making a go of it on their own and are not what they once thought they were. At this time, barely anyone can conceive of this happening—of hitting bottom and finding to our despair that we can never again resurrect our repressions and denials. Not until that day of lost illusions comes, if it ever comes, will we all be competent to conceive of such a thing. But a great many more generations will pass through life before that happens, if it happens.

You'll Also Like