Our exploration climaxed with the most powerful entity in the cosmos, and now we have a brief coda with one of the most trivial and flippant beings. Still a Great Old One, but one so lazy he is named “the Sleeper of N’Kai.” What do we know of Tsathoggua?
He was very squat and pot-bellied, his head was more like a monstrous toad than a deity, and his whole body was covered with an imitation of short fur, giving somehow a vague sensation of both the bat and the sloth. His sleepy lids were half-lowered over his globular eyes; and the tip of a queer tongue issued from his fat mouth.
–“The Tale of Satampra Zeiros”
[In] that secret cave in the bowels of Voormithadreth . . . abides from eldermost eons the god Tsathoggua. You shall know Tsathoggua by his great girth and his batlike furriness and the look of a sleepy black toad which he has eternally. He will rise not from his place, even in the ravening of hunger, but will wait in divine slothfulness for the sacrifice.
–Clark Ashton Smith, “The Seven Geases”
While still deadly and horrific to any mortal who would encounter him, he’s far too apathetic to come out and provide a threat to the world at large.
In reference materials, he is often known for his sense of humor, and his willingness to provide magical wisdom to seekers who amuse him.
All of the gods we have discussed so far are answers to the question “What really matters to you? What can you care about so much that you would discard all comforts and caution for? What does it look like when you care about one idea to the exclusion of all other considerations?”
Tsathoggua’s answer to that is “nah.”
He is the lack of answer to this existential question. He’s found some creature comforts in life, and committing his existence to any ideal just isn’t worth it.
Nietzche wrote of this fate in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”
Lo! I show you the Last Man.
“What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” — so asks the Last Man, and blinks.
The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.
“We have discovered happiness” — say the Last Men, and they blink.
They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.
Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!
A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.
One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.
One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.
No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.
“Formerly all the world was insane,” — say the subtlest of them, and they blink.
They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled — otherwise it upsets their stomachs.
They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.
“We have discovered happiness,” — say the Last Men, and they blink.
It’s the opposite of a cult. It’s not even a “healthy balance” between contentment and passion, but it’s the spirit of giving yourself fully over to not caring.
With his humor and his condescending sagacity, Tsathoggua is the ultimate disaffected hipster. He has raised irony to an art form, capable of piercing the pretentious seriousness of all other gods. Their grand designs and explanations for existence pop like a balloon beneath his sarcastic wit and inability to be riled up.
He is not mean, since even meanness requires caring enough to harm someone. He is actually rather nice, so long as being nice only requires doing exactly what he would already be doing. His is your friend who sits you down with some takeout and shows you funny Youtube videos of cats, assuring you there’s nothing else you have to do in the world to earn his approval.
If every shining goal in the world is terrible, then the few things that are a comfort to you are infinitely precious. Your favorite chair, that has molded to fit you just right all these years, is worth more than a political promise. A cup of coffee from the 7-11 with every syrup added just the way you like it is better than any flawed revolution. The one friend who said kind words to you when you were young and laughs at your absurdist cartoons is more important than transcendental enlightenment ever could be.
You would not dare reform the world;
It pleases you to mock
A thousand towers shining on the sand–
That quaver with the soft and liquid land —
No use for pebbles stacked on inland rock,
No need for solid stone beneath your hand.
You would not dare upend the world;
It pleases you to keep
An empty place beside your broken throne–
Rich linens draped along a couch of bone–
And ‘til she next returns to sit and weep
To labor in your laughter all alone.
It’s charming in friends. On the internet it’s just addictive. Irony runs rough-shod over all other forms of discussion, turning any philosophy into a meme, and any cause into cynicism about zealots who take themselves seriously. Andrew Hussie or @dril or Daria or Tony Stark will provide you with obfuscatory absurdity or witty quip to defuse any situation. If someone calls them on it, they can say they were “just trolling” and of course they agree with you in every particularity, it’s just a joke.
A lot of webmasters such as bloggers or webcomic authors have fundraisers from time to time. It’s usually for something like a new computer (they are upgrading so they can better bring YOU content. How benevolent!), or some other piece of electronic equipment, or maybe even a medical procedure.
This practice is of course self-indulgent bullshit. If you need money for something, go get a job and save the money yourself. Shaking coins from your readership like a piggybank at the threat of suspended content or hiatus is a crass move indeed.
Unless you have a really good reason, that is. Like me.
Today I am launching a bold fundraising campaign, “Fundraiser 07-08: Need for the Steed”, to obtain the monies necessary to purchase this incredible painting.
We like to talk big. Vampires do. ‘I’m going to destroy the world.’ That’s just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got… dog racing, Manchester United. And you’ve got people. (exhales) Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real… passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Picadilly. Farewell, Leicester Bloody Square. You know what I’m saying?
Passive nihilism through overwhelming irony and creature comforts.
It’s easy to get Tsathoggua confused for some other gods here. Both he and Azathoth could be classified as nihilists. There’s a difference between an active nihilism, that wants to take part in the destruction of ordered reality, and the passive nihilism that finds it a good excuse to indulge your basest, most slothful desires, since there’s no real consequence to anything anyway.
But Nyarlathotep is the most similar in attitude. Both the toad and the Crawling Chaos are jokers, who find the efforts of lesser beings amusing. The difference is that Nyarlathotep holds himself in the highest regard, having every right to manipulate others and feel superior since he is the one pulling the strings (and His followers feel the same about themselves and their own superiority.)
Tsathoggua has no better opinion of himself than he does of anything else. If he did, that would imply some obligation to do something with his unique merit. He finds his gibbous, disgusting body as worthy of scorn as any other being in the universe, and won’t hesitate to tell jokes at his own expense. He hides behind his self-loathing as a disguise: If I lampshade everything you might be thinking about me, then there’s nothing you can say about me to make me feel even worse?
Francis Fukuyama wrote the most influential political text of the last fifty years about the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarian/utopian forms of government in the decades to come. But people forget that before it was just called “the End of History”, the essay had another title.
In particular, the virtues and ambitions called forth by war are unlikely to find expression in liberal democracies. There will be plenty of metaphorical wars—corporate lawyers specializing in hostile takeovers who will think of themselves as sharks or gunslingers, and bond traders who imagine, as in Tom Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, that they are “masters of the universe.” (They will believe this, however, only in bull markets.) But as they sink into the soft leather of their BMWs, they will know somewhere in the back of their minds that there have been real gunslingers and masters in the world, who would feel contempt for the petty virtues required to become rich or famous in modern America. How long megalothymia will be satisfied with metaphorical wars and symbolic victories is an open question.
— Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
And the toad blinked.