HL Mencken was the first person in the English-speaking world to translate Nietzsche and comment on him at length; and Mencken’s take on Nietzsche retains relevance today for what is known as “skepticism”—the “k” is an important component in this identity, incidentally; an identity that is very much similar to the New Atheists and, ironically enough, collaterally related to those Wiccans and Crowleyites who insist that “magick” contains a “k”—and do so for very similar reasons to the skeptics.
Mencken interpreted Nietzsche in line with his own thought: so with Mencken’s Nietzsche we get Nietzsche as a scientific materialist and social Darwinist who disdains the boobies who dominate mass democratic societies. Mencken amputated everything mystical and classical in Nietzsche and inserted his own prejudices—hence we get Nietzsche, strudeled through Mencken, as a forerunner to that man’s man Teddy Roosevelt. What Mencken lost was Nietzsche’s sense that the classical gods were music and that rhythm ties the cosmos together: Nietzsche was far from a straightforward materialist, nor was he a Darwinian.
Mencken—a journalist, a man who depended on “the boobs”—would have been held in contempt by Nietzsche, as he should be by us: journalists are a low sort, and for all his professed elitism Mencken was and remained a journalist until the end of his days. He lived to cynically serve mass prejudices—and enjoyed it.
Mencken is comparable to HP Lovecraft, a contemporary quasi-journalist, who took a hobbyist interest in science. Mencken liked to potter around with chemicals and put forward his own “metaphysical” theories, just as Lovecraft liked to ponder astronomy. They were both autodidacts, both were cranky and inferior types. Nietzsche was a true philologist; his only professional work on philology was sneered at by his contemporaries—Mencken was a journalistic philologist who produced a work on the American language; naturally, it was lauded to the heavens.
Nietzsche would have despised Mencken’s suburban prejudices: his tedious pride in his Germanic heritage, his tendency to despise the Jews—his flat-footed scientism and dull materialism. His phoney act that he was a curmudgeon who hated “the boobs”—when all he did was write for the boobs, cultivate his boobies.
The skeptic strikes an intellectual pose that is really Nietzsche as seen by Mencken: “I follow the skeptical Nordic tradition whereby I test everything for myself. I need no priests or fairy-dust, save that for your spinster aunt on her Sunday excursion to see the tent preacher and his ‘miracle’ cures. I trust science, not Semitic superstition—primitive desert superstition. There are no miracles, no Heaven, no Hell—just mountebanks who con the boobs. They prey on lower racial types, the negroes and so on; yet science has shown that it is all just an animal struggle—survival of the fittest.”
You can see still see this type in outline in the wild today if you glance at Curt Doolittle, a taut commentator on social matters known for an unfortunate problem with perspiration. The type owes a lot to Nietzsche as understood by Mencken; for this type will often cite Nietzsche but completely misunderstand him. They misunderstand that Nietzsche was in many ways a poet, not a man who expressed a sceptical materialistic attack on God as mediated through science.
They mistake Nietzsche for an 18th-century rationalist. The idea that we have fallen under “a Semitic superstition” that will be overcome through experimental science is closer to Voltaire’s fierce anti-Semitism than to Nietzsche. Today, skeptics would be mortified to say that they liberate mankind from “Semitic superstition”, but you see still a flicker in that direction from men like Dawkins—who, as with Varg Vikernes, can inveigh against that “primitive desert religion”. Yet the desert is a pure place, and this is why skeptics dislike the desert so much—they are impure people.
This perhaps explains why they adopt the “skeptic” spelling, they fancy themselves—rather like Lovecraft—as 18th-century gentlemen in wigs who ride about the countryside to debunk peasant superstitions with the scientific method. “Arrived in Little Warbling today. The local peasantry seem suspicious, cannot trust a skeptic in their midst. Yet Squire Browning and myself set up an experiment with various chemycals to identify the Moor Rider and lay this peasant superstition of a ‘poltergeist’ to rest once and for all.” Fans of Scooby-Doo know the basic drill.
This is where skepticism and magick intersect, for the skeptic is also the same type to say: “Magick is primitive science; when you develop magick to a certain level it becomes science. So, yes, even though I’m a skeptic I practice magick; just like Aleister Crowley I see it as an empirical science. Only rubes think this is actual demonology, we’re dealing with low-level science here.” The conceit is taken further by men like the professional “Satanist” Anton LaVey so that the boobs who fear Satan deserve to be tortured by an “overman” who adopts a Satanic guise, and appears on various talk shows to do so. The Satanism in question turns out to be a Machiavellian approach presented with a black cloak and a few naked chicks draped about to place (possibly to sacrifice). The act is enhanced if you shave your head, keep a pet tiger in your house, and wear a black cowl for everyday intercourse. Nietzsche crops up again in this regard—with particular emphasis on his Antichrist—yet the sensibility is more Gothic horror and 18th-century Enlightenment than Nietzsche’s sun-kissed ancient Greece.
Mencken’s quasi-elitist disdain for the boobs easily melds into the standard liberal elitism that moved from a demand for independent responsible men in parliament to the idea that an elite group must force the masses to rise up through state education. Mencken’s contempt for the religious and the rural amounted to disdain for the country’s virtuous backbone; and his faith in science made his sensibility only too easy to co-opt by liberal progressivism. Hence the skeptic elitist—who sneers at the tent preacher because his mass-market Mencken paper told him to—becomes prey for cooption by the administrative state.
Indeed, I knew a man who went to an event called “Skeptics in the Pub”—an event with many franchises around the world—where experts confidently followed the Mencken tradition and debunked “woo” (skeptic for “sin”); later, in about 2014, the same man went to a seminar at Oxford where he heard other experts explain why we all needed to eat insects to save the planet. This was my early intimation that “eat the bugs” was on the way; and, sure enough, about two years after it was retailed at Oxford the media began to tell us to “eat the bugs”—very little skeptical enquiry occurred into this demand. Incidentally, my ardent skeptic was one miserable bastard. A man who swallowed the bug story whole yet casually mentioned that the university servers were alive with child pornography—compared to the urgent need to eat the bugs a ho-hum situation.
A notable skeptic organisation gave itself the acronym CSICOP, and this is how the skeptics see themselves: they are the psychic cops—they are here to police your experience. They are here to suppress consciousness, mystery, experience—they will replace these with an “experiment” that satisfies their narrative. They have no artistic sense at all—art is additional, like bran flakes, and somehow good for you (and we have the studies to prove it). They do bust charlatans, but so did the Christians—and then they said Christianity was rational, just as skeptics boast they are rational.
This is what makes skeptics a greater irritation than the most phoney preacher; they are so smug. Yet throw three sceptical question before them—climate change, the holocaust, race—and watch them scream. “Just let me wear my little LaVey horns to scare the Christian Youth Union…don’t say these evil things!!!”. You will often find people on the radical right who have arrived at there because they started off as skeptics—on some message-board, probably—but autistically took skepticism at face value. It starts with the vaguely still acceptable question as regards whether men can become women—then you question whether whether race is a social construct, whether climate change is real, whether six million really died. If you maintain the sceptical stance all the way through you become a right-wing extremist. “Look, I’m just saying people lie a lot—things are covered up. You know, UFOs and Atlantis and the Hyperborean civilisation.” “You’re like some schizo religious nutter!” “No, I’m a sceptic.”
The late illusionist James Randi sums up skepticism. Randi was a dwarfish Canadian queer who hated his family. Due to his cretinous nature he dedicated his retirement to skeptical activities—basically to ruin everyone else’s life because he was a miserable bastard. Sure, he exposed charlatans here and there; but his real resentful thrust was to ruin religion for everyone else because he was a bitter freak.
Randi investigated a woman who claimed she was “magnetic”. He took along a compass; if this woman were magnetic the compass would point to her—it did not. Although the woman was a fraud, when she said she was “magnetic” she meant it in the popular sense that “objects stick to me.” The incident revealed Randi’s disposition; he knew that the woman meant “magnetic” in the colloquial sense, not the scientific sense—and yet he chose to deliberately misunderstand her. A person who made a genuine sceptical enquiry would take it for granted that the woman used the word colloquially. Yet Randi had made up his mind long before, the legerdemain with the compass was showmanship to stroke his skeptical audiences—to appear scientific.
It was eventually revealed that Randi’s long-term partner had committed immigration fraud to stay in America. Randi had met his adolescent lover at a library and invited him to come home and look at his telescope—pun intended. In a biographical film about Randi this whole episode was portrayed as a love story against the odds. The other perspective: a senior man picked up a vulnerable adolescent, groomed him, and committed immigration fraud to do so. This is about as sleazy as anything Randi uncovered as a skeptic—and unlike many of the psychics he busted it was actually illegal.
In the film, this was all brushed aside—ideologically pure people are exempt from scepticism. Yet if character matters and Randi committed immigration fraud, what else did he lie about? Grounds for scepticism. Randi’s crime sums up what skepticism is at heart: a para-state movement for the resentful who use pretended scepticism as a veneer to attack anything wholesome. So eat the bugs and ignore the child porno on the university server—and especially ignore the old dude as he salivates over the fresh illegal meat in the library.