Robert Anton Wilson
In Conversation With R.U. Sirius
from Neofiles @ LifeExtention.com
In a smarter world, Robert Anton Wilson would be widely acknowledged as one of the most important writers and thinkers in America. Of course, there is a smarter world within this one, and Wilson has a huge following both nationally and internationally. Most of our culture, indeed, operates beneath or beyond the mainstream media’s radar.
For many of us, Wilson is a subversive sage. He didn’t coin the phrase “guerrilla ontology” but he has been the world’s most valuable practitioner (MVP). The guerrillaontologist is a kind of memetic warrior who lives to dynamite people’s static reality tunnels (belief systems or b.s.). Since The Illuminatus Trilogy, a fictional tour de force published in 1975, he has managed to combine the most extravagant surrealism with unimpeachable logic; sometimes leaving us guessing as to which of these tactics he was employing.
Favorite books include the aforementioned Illuminatus Trilogy, Cosmic Trigger, and The Illuminati Papers, Masks of the Illuminati, The Earth Will Shake, and Prometheus Rising. (Many of you have your own list of faves, no doubt). NeoFiliacswho are willing to risk having the walls fall down around their own belief systems should read (or re-read) The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science, published in 1986.
Now at 71-years-old, Wilson has spent the last few years fighting off Post-Polio Syndrome with a little help from medical marijuana. At the same time, he wrote T.S.O.G.: The Thing that Ate the Constitution, a coruscating and hilarious rant against the current rulers of the USA, which he calls the “Tsarist Occupation Government.” T.S.O.G. rips into the drug war, imperial militarism, and a million or so other absurdities in a land ruled by “the Bush crime family.” And he appeared in a superb documentary about his life and philosophy called Maybe Logic.
Four of us gathered in Marin for a drive down to Santa Cruz to see the Wizard. The caste of characters that participated in this conversation includes:
Will Block: CEO of Life Enhancement Products and a long time friend and fan of Bob
Severe Tire Damage: Part of the original cast of characters around Mondo 2000 and another BobManiac
Videobrain (a.k.a. Eve): She goes all the way back to “The Network,” a group who would gather at Wilson’s Berkeley home to SMI2LE. She’s been confusing Mr. Wilson at regular intervals ever since.
RU Sirius: That’s me. I stole my pseudonym from RAW’s hallucinations. ‘Nuff said.
NEOFILES: Stem cell research, gay marriage … can panicky neophobes block the future?
ROBERT ANTON WILSON: They can’t stop scientific research. They keep on trying. Throughout all history they tried, but scientific research continued even during the inquisition. They can slow it down but they can’t stop it. Stem cell research will just continue in other countries.
NF: William Burroughs used to say that “the mark of a basic shit is that he can’t mind his own business.” I’ve been thinking about that during this gay marriage controversy. I mean, why in the world would anyone think that what those people over there are doing ruins it for me?
RAW: Yeah … what the hell is with that?! I saw Bob Barr debating Barney Frank on TV and Barr said that gay marriage will dilute the meaning of marriage. And Frank was saying, “I can’t understand. What would someone else’s marriage have to do with your marriage?” And Bob Barr said, “I don’t mean my marriage, I mean the institution of marriage.” It’s so damn stupid. Talk about “diluting” an “institution” makes as much sense as asking “Why is a duck?” Barr lives in the 13th Century. Next he’ll inquire into how many angels can dance on the head of a Pookah.
NF: I was trying to figure it out the other day and I realized it’s not even so much about bigotry, it’s just these people saying “the world is changing too fast. Make it stop.” Maybe we should take the state out of marriage entirely.
RAW: Have you looked at my Guns & Dope website?
NF: I have.
RAW: My new mantra is “Everybody for President.” Everybody can write in their own name and take responsibility forthemselves. We’re not going to pass on our responsibility to some asshole like George Bush or a Congress of assholes and corporate whores. We’re going to take our own responsibility. We don’t need a czar. Who the hell needs a fucking czar? Why should 21st century America be like 19th century Russia? My doctor and I can make our own medical decisions for me. The whole idea of the TSOG — the Tsarist Occupation Government — is that the Tsar is in communication with God just like in 19th Century Russia. He knows how to handle my health problems better than me and my doctor and my friends and family. And he does it without even seeing me! He knows because he’s in direct communication with God. And this horseshit is what the American people are supposed to believe? I don’t believe it. I think he’s a political hack. I don’t think he knows anything about my health at all. I’d like to debate him. Or I’d like to ask him about my health problems … “Do you think I can go back to eating chocolate now that I’m no longer officially borderline diabetic?” (my doctor changed my status to non-diabetic six months ago.) Does the Tsar and his God want to over-rule that medical opinion too?
NF: What do you think of the Barr McClellan scandal? One of this guy’s sons is press secretary to President Bush; another is head of the FDA. And their dad, a lawyer for LBJ, has written a book claiming that LBJ shot JFK … had him shot.
RAW: I have a copy of the TV special about that on video. They have about four or five inside figures who say he did it. It’s pretty interesting. It’s kind of a fringe theory. Most people think it was the CIA or the Mafia, and the worst most people say about LBJ is that he knew about it. But that’s the way LBJ worked. He got rid of people he didn’t like. And now the whole LBJ family is all screaming about slander and libel. I don’t know but it’s interesting.
NF: So what’s happening with the medical marijuana situation here in Santa Cruz?
RAW: Well, we’ve decentralized it. They’ll have to raid 100 gardens next time or maybe 200. It’s very decentralized. It’s working very well. I mean, what the hell are they going to do, arrest everybody in Santa Cruz County? 85%support medical marijuana. And it’s pretty much the same in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Counties of Mendocino, Humboldt, Marin, and Los Angeles … everybody knows that California is the marijuana capital of the country. They can’t really do anything about it. All the Tsar and his God can do is huff and puff.
NF: It always wins wherever it gets on the ballot so why don’t any mainstream politicians back medical marijuana?
RAW: I have three theories on this one. In the first place, if you’re of a superstitious nature, you’re afraid of marijuana. Politicians want to appeal to people who are of a superstitious nature. That’s the largest voting bloc in the whole country. And then there are the pharmaceutical companies. If anybody can treat their own pain by growing a plant in their own house or on their own balcony … you could see a very sudden drop in the use of very expensive painkillers that are legal and addictive. And people will go with this example and look into other herbs as well. That’s a real threat to the pharmaceutical monopoly that gives a lot of money to both the parties in every election.
NF: I always thought baby boomer “liberals” like Al Gore were just being hypocritical about medical marijuana but I was thinking about it recently and realized that they’re probably actually genuinely offended by the idea of routing around the regulatory process through a populist vote.
RAW: I read a book about ten years ago that said that seventy million Americans are pot smokers. How can you keep something that seventy million people do illegal? We’re the largest persecuted minority in the country. Eventually they’re going to have to back down.
If you look at the Dreyfus Case, then you know how governments work. They wouldn’t back down. Everybody inEurope knew he was innocent. Still they held him on Devil’s Island much longer than seems humanly possible. Governments hate to admit mistakes. People for years were lead to believe that the pope was infallible. Governments make more mistakes than anybody else because they don’t have to make a profit. Any other business that operated like the government would go bankrupt. They don’t go bankrupt; they just borrow more money and charge us the interest on it. They borrow more money from the Federal Reserve, the Federal Reserve prints the money, and then we all have to pay the interest on it forever. My children and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren will still be paying this debt that Bush has run up for his war in Iraq.
NF: One thing that makes me scratch my head are things that slip by, such as galantamine, a grandfathered nutritional supplement that’s also being sold as a drug called Reminyl for Alzheimer’s disease by Johnson and Johnson. Now, J & J is a big pharmaceutical company … yet neither they, nor the FDA, have been able to do anything about its sale as a supplement despite a huge and potentially huger multi-billion dollar market. From everything that you know, you would think that J & J is so powerful that no one could bump heads with them without getting blown out of the water, and ditto for the FDA. Yet they didn’t choose to do that despite their disgruntlement and admission, through the grapevine, that they screwed up. So here is a very powerful pharmaceutical company backed by a very powerful regulatory agency that appears to have its power very unevenly distributed on some levels ….
RAW: It’s my famous SNAFU principle — those on top don’t get accurate honest views from everybody else. Wherever I go I ask audiences if anybody there would swear that they would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to someone who was a government employee. Nobody ever raises their hand! Everybody lies to the government. We all want as little to do with them as possible. So that’s the first level of government corruption; theaccumulation of all the lies people tell to people just above them in the hierarchy. They make sure they don’t say anything to the one above them so they don’t have to write up reports or whatever and those above them lie a bit more to please the one above them so by the time the information gets up to George Bush, who knows what he’s getting? So they’re all running around asking, “How did we believe in the weapons of mass destruction when there aren’t any?” And the answer is that when you’re in a hierarchy of that sort, people won’t tell you what they know you don’t want to hear.
NF: Bush the other day was talking about how he met with a group of Iraqis who all told him how thankful they were that America had invaded their country and I thought … “ah hah … the burden of omniscience”
So what gives you the most hope in the midst of all this madness?
RAW: I don’t think politics is all that important. Spending too much time focused on politics leads to total despair with the state of the human race. But if you look at the whole spectrum of human behavior, I think the science and the arts are driving it. I think the sciences and the arts relate to a lot more of human behavior than politics does. They’re going to try to stop developments in science but they’re not going to stop it and it’s going to change everything. I think we’re going to have major breakthroughs in biotech in the next five-ten years and they can’t do a damned thing to stop it. It’s going to change the whole world. Meanwhile the Japanese are planning on building hotels in space.
NF: We just interviewed some people who are planning to build some space hotels.
RAW: Of course. It’s just a game these politicians play. It’s a permanent anchor on development but it never stops it.
NF: So we can just wait ‘em out?
RAW: I don’t know, but the acceleration of change is coming faster and faster all the time. There are more patents every year; more internet website opening every month … change is happening faster and faster everywhere.
Hey, I’ve got a replay TV. I didn’t even know they existed until a couple of months ago. I can set the replay TV and it will record anything I want. I can go to sleep and it will record a movie at three o’clock in the morning that I can watch the next evening. And I don’t have to ever look at a commercial if I don’t want to ever again. Now I can enjoy the TV as much as anybody in the country. I love TV.
NF: Back in the late ‘70s you wrote about the coming immortality pill …
RAW: Oh yeah … heh ….
NF: Are you optimistic about something like that?
RAW: Oh yeah, something like that. I don’t think it will be a single pill but there’s so much going on in biotech. Even now, the number of people on this planet over 100 is more than it’s ever been, and the average age of death inAmerica has gone from 73 to 77 just in the last few years. We’re getting closer to it all the time.
In that film, Maybe Logic, you said that you didn’t think I was really an optimist because you’re not an optimist … so I can’t be an optimist, I must be putting you on. Look in my condition. If I was a pessimist I wouldn’t be walking today. I have to be an optimist. Pessimism is a luxury that only the comfortable can afford.
NF: A recent article in Science by a demographer named James Vaupel has concluded that if there was a limit to the increment in average lifespan — which increases in the world’s healthiest countries by about 2.5 years every ten years — that increment would start to decline indicative of an approaching ceiling. But Vaupel says that the data indicates that there’s no ceiling … or that lifespan is going to shoot right through the presumed ceiling.
RAW: Yeah, Buckminster Fuller points out that most people in the 19th Century died after fifty years … that was the average lifespan … it was 27 in Europe during the French Revolution.
NF: That was an averaging out though wasn’t it?
RAW: Yeah, you have to account for crib deaths.
NF: … there appears to be something happening to increase the probability of longer life for every decade we live … that will tend to enable more of us who hold out to live to100 or more in better, more vibrant health..
RAW: Hell, when George Burns reached one hundred the whole country paid attention. When Bob Hope recently turned 100 hardly anybody noticed.
NF: They’re saying that the universe isn’t even entropic now. Starting with the big bang it just expands ….
Do you feel a rapport with young people?
RAW: It seems to me that every ten years I get a new audience among young people. It seems to me that some of my books are rather dated by now but they keep on selling so I guess they’re not as dated as they seem to me.
NF: I just re-read The Illuminati Trilogy. It was actually only the second time I read it all the way through. I think maybe references to stuff like SDS might be a little bit obscure but that’s about it. The names of the bands are right up to the moment.
RAW: [Laughter] Well, when I write a novel I set it somewhere definite, not in never-never land. So there will always be references specific to whatever time I’m setting it in. That’s not what I mean. I wasn’t thinking about Linda Lovelace or SDS. I was thinking of the scientific knowledge, but I can’t do anything about that.
NF: Is there anything specific that you can think of that you feel has been superceded?
RAW: I can’t think about it right now. You can’t be a generalist in this world. So many things I’ve written about have changed by now I don’t know how out-of-date I am. I just know I must be out-of-date.
NF: Do you follow the cosmological discussions about the origins of the big bang and all of that?
RAW: Nah. I don’t believe in any of it. They keep changing it every few years. It’s all guess work.
NF: I read somewhere recently someone saying that most of the versions of what Bell’s theorem could mean have been eliminated … disproved.
RAW: Yeah, that’s what I mean. I was doing an article about Bell’s Theorem about five years ago. I found out a new interpretation of Bell’s Theorem that I’d never seen before and I wanted to do some more research before writing the article. I had no idea that most of the theories had been discarded. You can’t keep up with everything. I can’t even keep up with Joyce scholarship.
NF: In the process of doing this site, dealing with biotech, brain science, nanotech … it seems like it’s increasingly difficult when you read the literature to distinguish between stuff that has actually happened and stuff that just inevitably will happen.
Do you follow the idea of the Singularity at all?
RAW: No. I know what it is … but I feel that cosmology is not of great interest to me because the models are changing so rapidly. By the time I learn about a model to the point where I can talk about it I have to replace it with a new one. It gets harder as you get older. Isaac Asimov wrote an article called “The Sound of Panting.” It’s about how it’s harder and harder to just keep up with his own field which is biochemistry.
NF: Do you think artificial intelligences … robots … will become smarter than human beings? Do you follow that discussion?
RAW: Definitely. I think they have to. In some ways some of the equipment I have around here is smarter than me. The Replay TV in some respects…
NF: One of the things that always touched me deeply in your work is the level of optimism.
RAW: Well you see I had polio at the age of four. I had to learn to be an optimist or I never would have walked for most of my life. Now I have return [Ed.: Post-] Polio Syndrome and now I’m walking again. If I wasn’t an optimist I’d still be in the goddamned wheelchair. I don’t understand how pessimists survive. If they all believed what they say, they would all sit down and starve to death. You have to have some optimism to accomplish something. When I was a child I just kept falling down. I wouldn’t believe that I couldn’t walk. Eventually I walked…
Now I’m for a war against pain. Medical marijuana laws are a great victory in the war against pain. All you’ve got to do is hang the goddamned TSAR. Let everybody and their doctor decide for themselves what to do with their pain. I don’t see why pain can’t be abolished. I think we could abolish both starvation and pain in the next ten years.
NF: We had an interview with David Pierce who wrote this online book, The Hedonistic Imperative. He talks about abolishing pain and ….
RAW: Yeah, yeah. I’ve seen it. “The Biology of Paradise.” Beautiful stuff ….
NF: Not just eliminating pain but eliminating negative mind states ….
RAW: I’m all for it. Leary was all about that.
NF: You’ve noted before that all the messages that spiritualists get when they channel seem really obvious and banal.
RAW: Yeah, I guess spirits are boring. At least I got something more interesting when I tried it. I got Harvey the rabbit, Olga the Ostrich, the talking dogs from Sirius … a Chinese alchemist, an Irish bard … now I’m channeling Olga. [Laughs]
NF: What are the great scientific paradigms of recent times?
RAW: Well, quantum physics and general relativity and the emerging one I think is neuroscience. We’re receiving billions of signals all the time all over our brain and our brain processes all that. Talk about paradigms. So in my next book, Tale of the Tribe, I deal with Leary’s eight dimensions … I don’t use brain circuits. Brain circuitry is a little bit too mechanistic.
NF: As we lose track of the changes in fields like quantum mechanics how do you keep track of what’s influencing the general culture? How is the general culture being supplied with information?
RAW: I can only talk about the United States. I’ve lived and traveled in Europe but mostly I’ve been in the United States. Most of the culture here is running on a sheer terror of how rapidly things are changing. George Bush might have won the election, it’s at least possible. People are screaming “Go back go back! Let’s have simple answers.” It’s very difficult to have useful answers to everything that’s going on. There aren’t simple answers. Things are complex. We need precise knowledge of complex systems. We don’t need simple answers. Most of the public wants simple answers like let’s stop gay marriage.
Right now the most poplar belief systems or BS in the country are, in descending order, Protestant, Catholic, Agnostic, Buddhist, Jewish, Islam, Mormon, atheist, Sikh, Hindu — I remember the descending order with the mnemonic P-CAB-JIM=ASH. This country is so damn ignorant most of them don’t even know what a Muslim looks like. Four nuns were turned off an airline flight today because they looked like Muslims. They were Hindus! I heard it on CNN.
NF: Have you been to Burning Man?
RAW: The Guns & Dope Party is going to be there. The Guns & Dope party is going to have a presentation at BurningMan. I keep on saying if the gun people and the dope people could get together they would be a majority of the country. All they have to do is get over their paranoia about each other. Really, if the gun owners and dopers could get together we could really overthrow this whole system. After all, anybody who takes your money without your consent and then will try to throw you in prison if you don’t pay up … they’re not going to use the money to do anything for you obviously. They’re going to try to use the money to enslave you. And of course the next step after stealing our money is to take away our guns so we can’t fight back.