Robert Anton Wilson – March 1995
On a rainy day in March, intrepid Internet geek CCN traveled to Capitola, California with a cracked Realistic mini casette recorder and a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey to record an interview with local author Robert Anton Wilson.
CCN: What would you call your writing: conspiracy literature, science fiction, futurism?
RAW: Well, I used to call it “guerrilla ontology,” which is a term that I picked up in the Physics Consciousness Research Group. I forget who coined the term and nobody in the group seems to remember who coined it either. It was just going around the group. It could have been Fred Wolfe, Jack Sarfatti, or maybe Nick Herbert. Everybody in the Physics Consciousness Group seems to have written a book by now and has gotten better known …
CCN: When was this?
RAW: Somewhere back in the ’70s. I like “guerrilla ontology” as a description. Ontology is the branch of philosophy that tries to understand what’s real and what isn’t, or what’s the difference between real reality and mere appearance. Guerrilla ontology is closely related to French deconstructionism. I didn’t realize this while I was developing guerrilla ontology, but our approach is to knock down everybody else’s attempt to settle the question. Our attitude is: There is no final answer.
What the scientifically illiterate consider the final answer is just the latest model. The latest model, presumably, will include more facts than any previous model, or it won’t become prevalent. The latest model will be the best we can do at this time, but it will be replaced by a better model in five years, if not sooner.
CCN: In the Illuminatus! trilogy, there was a character named Markoff Chaney, the midget, who acted as one of the few out of control random elements in all of the various plots, conspiracies and intrigues described in the book.
RAW: His name comes from a mathematical term for a random numerical process.
CCN: It seems the midget would be a good prototype for a guerrilla ontologist in the sense that he spent the bulk of his time throwing semantic monkey wrenches into other people’s environments which shifted their perception of reality, and behavior.
RAW: Yes. I got the idea in a store on Clark Street in Chicago, North Clark Street. I saw a sign which appears in Illuminatus!, and the sign says, “No employee may punch the time card for any other employee. Any deviation will result in termination. The Mgt.”, which obviously stood for the management. But looking at that sign, I immediately conceived of this character, this angry midget who’s on a crusade to stamp out sizism and not to concede a fucking inch to the conceited and arrogant giants who run the world. He wants to get little people recognized for the contributions they’ve made. And he also engages in guerrilla warfare against their expectations. Like, he’s the one who’s wired the traffic signs so they say “Walk” on red and “Don’t Walk” on the green. Everybody has noticed that. Well, that’s his work.
And he engages in a lot of other activities like that calculated to drive the overgrown majority out of their heads and make them a little uncertain. He’s at war with the concept of the average or the normal, actually. These things are very unscientific and dehumanizing terms. He’s been adopted as a hero by gay people and “Stamp Out Sizism,” which is a slogan he goes around graffiti-ing, has been picked up all over the Castro, I’m told. He later wrote a book…a book called Little Men with Big Balls claiming all important science and art was created by men less than five feet tall. The publisher decided Chaney had some kind of unconscious bias of his own and changed the title to Little People with Big Ideas …
CCN: Well, it sounds as if the efforts of the midget come from his own biases and, perhaps, some personality problems. What is it that drives you to be a guerrilla ontologist yourself? What’s the chip on your shoulder?
RAW: Well, I find that I’m not normal either. Chaney’s problem was very conspicuously visible. Society treats people different if they’re short. A very good friend of mine, the actor David Rappaport, who played Markoff Chaney on the stage in England and Amsterdam once said, “You see the world entirely different when at a party all you see is people’s crotches and asses.” You have a different view of the world, and…I think I reflect the views of people who are alienated for one reason or another from orthodox society. Some people are alienated in ways that make my books very uncomfortable for them because their form of alienation is part of what I’m satirizing. I’m not only satirizing the normal. I’m satirizing everything that seems absurd or unreasonable to me.
CCN: Certainly, Illuminatus! was a collection of every absurdity on every level, something for everyone.
RAW: There’s hardly anything in that book that isn’t based on something that’s widely believed by some group of paranoids or individualists, or whatever you want to call them, some dissident group.
CCN: But back to the chip on your shoulder that’s leading you to be a guerilla ontologist …
RAW: Chip on my shoulder? I prefer to consider it a dilation of perception. For instance, I’m the American director of the Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal (CSICON). We insist that “the normal” doesn’t exist outside pure mathematics.. In the real world everybody is abnormal in one way or another. As James Joyce said, “The State is concentric, but the individual is eccentric.” And so we have a $10,000 reward for anybody who can produce any perfectly “normal” man, woman or child, normal in all respects, or even an “average” sunset or an “ordinary” day. And so far, nobody has collected it. The normal, the average and the ordinary are total fictions.
CCN: Well, you mentioned Chicago previously, and one of the things that really strikes me about Illuminatus! is that you portray Chicago in a way that indicates that you’ve had some very tough, brutal, personal experiences there. And so I’m wondering: what’s your problem with Chicago?
RAW: Well, I don’t have a problem with Chicago any more. Illuminatus! was written in Chicago. Shea and I were both living in Chicago when we wrote it. And our problem was that during the Democratic Convention of 1968, we participated in what appeared to us, or what we were told would be nonviolent demonstrations and, what looked like nonviolent demonstrations from where we were standing at different times. No matter where we went, we never saw any violence by the demonstrators. The police used tear gas, mace, clubs, to beat the hell out of everybody, cream them. They put hundreds of people in the hospital. They claimed that the demonstrators were violent. I claim that somebody was hallucinating. I never saw any demonstrator do anything violent. And so that was why there was a certain satire aimed at Chicago in general and Mayor Daley in particular. I just did not believe the official version of what happened in convention week. I believed what my eyes saw and my ears heard.
And then a police informer told the Red Squad that I was running guns for the Black Panthers, and… Jesus, I can talk about this now… I wasn’t running guns for the Black Panthers. I was one of the people involved in collecting food for their breakfast program for poor black children. But that wasn’t exciting enough — the fact that we were bringing food. The informer, to improve the story and please his superiors, said I was smuggling guns for them, which led to a tap on my phone and a mail cover and all sorts of things. And I found out about all this immediately because the Red Squad was infiltrated by a spy from Playboy. I was working for Playboy at the time, and the spy immediately informed Playboy’s managers whenever an editor of Playboy was under police surveillance and told them why. They come down to my office, closed the door, and we had a very frank discussion about whether I was or was not running guns for the Black Panthers. And I convinced him I wasn’t. The executive knew me a bit anyway, and he knew I’m not the type to be into violent revolution. And he said if they do anything nasty to you, Playboy will provide legal counsel. But it’s kind of nerve-racking to know you’re being spied on by people who think you’re smuggling guns and that people are lying about you and that this is perfectly normal among the subversive squads of our police forces.
CCN: Especially in Chicago. Let me see. Fred Hampton comes to mind.
RAW: Yeah. Fred Hampton got shot. They claimed he was shooting at them, but the evidence indicated he’d been drugged. Obviously, somebody slipped him a barbiturate to knock him out. He was unconscious when the cops came in and shot him.
CCN: So Chicago’s not a good town to be on the bad list of …
RAW: It’s not a good town to be radical in, I’ll say that. I don’t think Chicago is so bad, it’s just that’s where we were living when we wrote Illuminatus!, in my other novels set in Naples and London and Paris and New York and Dublin and other places, I described illicit and illegal and unconstitutional activities by government agents. This is, I think, a rather constant factor in history that always has to be warned against and fought against.
CCN: Yeah, I just … detected a certain personal amount of energy in your painting of Chicago as so …
RAW: Well, an English friend of mine said that I have a love/hate relationship with England, and that really astounded me. That’s just the way it seems to him because he’s English. I have a love/hate relationship with every country. They all have something admirable, and they all have governments that do evil things at times. H.L. Mencken said every decent man is ashamed of his government. That sounds sexist nowadays. Every decent person is ashamed of their government …
CCN: Let’s go over your bibliography …
RAW: I’ve got 28 books altogether.
CCN: What are you trying to say in your books?
RAW: There’s no one message. I’m trying to say lots of things. Schrodinger’s Cat in a sense was an attempt to dramatize how our view of the world would change if any of the eight standard interpretations of quantum mechanics were applied on the microscopic level. There’s a lot of debate about whether they could be applied on a microscopic level, but some think they could. And so in that book, the characters are waves and particles simultaneously, and every section or eigenstate is a parallel universe. . In between sections, the characters are waves, and the next time you see them, they’re a different kind of particle.
And I was very happy when New Scientist called that the most scientific of all science fiction novels because I did put a lot of effort into getting the physics right. There are three Cosmic Trigger volumes, and the third is just about to be published. The second was called “Down to Earth,” and the third which is coming out next is “My Life After Death.” And these are all attempts to relate my life and my thinking to the major problems of the 20th century…you might say I’m using myself the way Buckie Fuller used himself. He referred to himself as “Guinea pig B” for Buckie. …You might consider me “Guinea pig R” for Robert. And I’m using myself as a typical 20th century model as I’m trying to make sense out of the world around me.
CCN: So, you’re defining yourself as normal?
RAW: No, just typical in the sense of being one of the damn good models around these days. I am typical in the sense that…a lot of people are on the same wave length as me. I get fan mail from people that are absolutely stunned that there’s somebody else besides themselves who thinks this way. So, we’re a minority, but there are a lot of us. On a planet this overcrowded, a minority can have a few million numbers.
CCN: So when you say “think this way,” could you define that for me?
RAW: More scientific than religious. More open than dogmatic. More optimistic than pessimistic. More future oriented than past oriented. And more humorous than serious. I really dread serious people. Especially serious, dogmatic people. I regard them as sort of what Reich called the emotional plague. I regard them as very dangerous.
CCN: Well, I’m glad you mentioned Wilhelm Reich because aside from your references to Chicago, you also make a lot of references to Wilhelm Reich. Could you briefly describe who Wilhelm Reich was, what he did and why your interest in him? Did he present a good working model for you?
RAW: Well, Reich was a pupil of Freud. He was an M.D. from the University of Vienna which is pretty damn high qualifications. He was increasingly radical, and one of the turning points in his life occurred, I forget whether it was ’31 or ’32, one of those years just before Hitler came to power … he got kicked out the Psychoanalytical Society for being too Marxist. And then he was kicked out to the Communist Party too for being too Freudian. He joined the Socialist Party and was kicked out for being too anarchistic, and then he had to flee Germany because he was Jewish. And when he came to the United States, somebody filed a false report with the FBI that he was a Nazi agent which led to him being imprisoned for a period, not in prison, just held in custody until they investigated. He had a great capacity to arouse irrational hatred obviously, and that’s because his ideas were radical in the most extreme sense of the word “radical.” His ideas have something to offend everybody, and he ended up becoming the only heretic in American history whose books were literally burned by the government.
Timothy Leary spent five years in prison for unorthodox scientific ideas. Ezra Pound spent 13 years in a nuthouse for unorthodox political and economic ideas. Their books were not burned. Reich was not only thrown in prison, but they chopped up all the scientific equipment in his laboratory with axes and burned all of his books in an incinerator. Now that interests me as a civil liberties issue.
When I started studying Reich’s works, I went through a period of enthusiasm, followed by a period of skepticism, followed by a period of just continued interest, but I think a lot of his ideas probably were sound. A lot probably were unsound. And, I’m not a Reichian in the sense of somebody who thinks he was the greatest scientist who ever lived and discovered the basic secrets of psychology, physics and everything else, all in one lifetime. But I think he has enough sound ideas that his unpopular ideas deserve further investigation.
CCN: Unpopular ideas such as about sexuality and the energy of sex, “orgone”?
RAW: Well, first of all…I don’t believe in any more this idea that sexually repressive religions are the main cause of sadism. There are plenty of sexually open societies that have had a lot of sadists in them, so I think Reich was oversimplifying there. The Orgone Theory I’m still open-minded about, especially because recently there was a Ph.D. dissertation accepted at a German university where they did a double-blind study of the orgone accumulator, and nobody knew who was in the accumulators and who was in the inactive boxes, and yet the people in the accumulators did report the results that Reich said they should feel — tingling mildly erotic sensations and a rise in temperature. That interests me.
I don’t know why somebody in this country doesn’t have the balls to do an experiment like that. In this country the establishment says he was a nut, period, and they won’t repeat his results. People who do repeat his results tend to confirm him, although none of them have done a real hard, double-blind study. But if they confirm him, they get known as Reichians and dismissed as nuts themselves, and I think there’s an awful lot of prejudice there.
CCN: Yeah, no doubt. And you have a background in psychology? You have a doctorate I understand?
RAW: From an alternative university approved by the state of California. Now, California has four ratings from approved down to authorized. Authorized is the fourth. I forget the two in the middle. Approved is the highest they give. So it’s not a diploma, though. It was approved by the state but it’s not quite orthodox. It’s an alternative university.
CCN: Tell me a little bit about your play, Wilhelm Reich in Hell.
RAW: Well, in a sense…it’s about Reich. It’s about the controversy surrounding him. It’s also about my own doubts and confusions, and it’s in two parts. There’s a long introduction because Bernard Shaw said, “People don’t buy plays unless they have long introductions.” And it worked. People bought Shaw’s plays, and they usually don’t buy plays in book form. So I wrote a long, funny introduction like Shaw always wrote for his plays. And in the introduction I fight with the people who say Reich was a nut and they won’t repeat his experiments because it would just be a waste of time. That’s rhetoric where I’m defending Reich’s right to be heard. The play is what is poetry. Yeats said we make rhetoric out of our quarrel with others and poetry out of our quarrel with ourselves. The play is my own doubt, questioning, how much was sound and how much was crazy in Reich? I’m never sure. I keep changing my mind. So the play dramatizes my own doubts and questions. When did he go crazy? How crazy did he go? I’m not at all sure about that.
CCN: He died in prison?
CCN: In the United States?
CCN: The charge that he was convicted of …?
RAW: Contempt of court. He was forbidden to use the orgone accumulator any more, and he defied the court deliberately, to dramatize his libertarian position that a court has no right to say that certain lines of scientific research are illegitimate. That’s the same thing Leary went to jail for, except they had a better rationalization. Namely, one half of one marijuana cigarette. But the judge who sentenced Leary did denounce him for his dangerous ideas. So, it was basically, Leary and Reich have very similar cases. Except, believe it or not, Reich aroused even more fury and prejudice because, like I said, they burned his books and they didn’t burn Leary’s books.
CCN: … Why do you think that was? Reich is known, at least by myself, as somebody who is mainly what you would call a sex researcher, and Leary was exploring the effects of LSD and psycho actives, let’s say. Why is it that the drugs only landed Leary in prison, but the sex basically killed Reich?
RAW: Well, I think one reason is that Reich ran athwart of the courts in the ’50s when the McCarthy era was ending, but the atmosphere was still there, and things were a little more extreme, a little more fanatical, then than they were when Leary ran athwart of the system. But still Leary was originally sentenced to 37 years, which is pretty heavy for scientific dissent, especially in a country with the First Amendment which is supposed to guarantee freedom of speech. The sexual apsect of Reich’s work, well, that would push people’s buttons. I mean, look at Madonna. All you’ve got to do is come up with something that challenges orthodox sexual ideas and everybody goes off the handle, both the left wing and the right wing.
Who hates Madonna more — the Feminists or the Fundamentalists? Challenge sexual fascism or the traditional Judeo-Christian code as it’s called and all hell breaks loose. Everybody is down on your case. And they were all down on Reich, everybody from the extreme left to the extreme right.
CCN: When you say orthodox sexual ideas, the first thing that comes to my mind is that we don’t really have any these days.
RAW: Well, we had more back in the ’50’s. There was more of a consensus than there is now. If Reich were alive today, I think he’d have much less trouble publishing and discussing his ideas. He was just publishing half a century too early. But today, Reich would probably sound conservative.
CCN: Well, what are you working on now? What is your current literary project?
RAW: Well, I just finished Cosmic Trigger III, and I’m working on Bride of Illuminatus!.
CCN: Bride of Illuminatus!?
RAW: Yes. Bob Shea and I agreed to write another book together after all those years of not collaborating. We never had a feud like Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s just that we both got busy with different projects, and we never had the time to work together. And then one day he said, “Why don’t we do a book together. We could fit it into our schedule.” Well, anyway, we decided we could do it, and we got started and then Shea died of cancer which was…the major tragedy of the last couple of years of my life. He was my best friend I think. So I’m finishing it on my own…. It may not be as funny as the first one because Shea’s death kind of hangs over every page of it in the back of my mind somewhere. But anyway, it’s called “Bride…” because I thought we should follow the Hollywood tradition where the first great sequel was “Bride of Frankenstein,” so why not Bride of Illuminatus!? Then I realized that the first great sequel was “Son of …”
CCN: Son of Mighty Joe Illuminatus!.
RAW: No, the first great sequel was the New Testament. Somebody said, hey, the God book is doing really good, let’s do Son of God, and they wrote the New Testament. Most movies do go from Godzilla to Son of Godzilla, and so on. Frankenstein is one of the few that remembered you need a woman for reproduction and went to the bride, next after the original. So this is Bride of Illuminatus!. Once we had the title, we had to figure out who the bride of Illuminatus! was…and we’ve got a very interesting heroine, and she’s getting more interesting.
CCN: Any sneak previews you want to share?
RAW: Well, it’s set in 2026, exactly 50 years after Illuminatus! ended, and I didn’t realize when we started, but Internet is going to play a large role in the plot. So is Cryonics.
CCN: Well, I want to touch upon your thoughts about the Internet a little bit later, but one thing I want to talk about since we mentioned Shea is that just to get into the mechanics of a writer, how did you collaborate?
RAW: Well, different writers have had different techniques. What Shea and I agreed on is to write alternate sections, and then I, how shall I phrase it? I persuaded Shea to let me rewrite his sections in order to make the style more uniform. So there are many sections that are almost all Shea in content, but they’re still me in style if you know what I mean. Like, one of the longest sections that’s almost all Shea is the movie about Atlantis… …yet the style is me. I rewrote the thing to get it into the style of the rest of the book, and I added a few key things like the idea of the fur bristling as an expression of emotion and a few other things like that. I also come up with the clouded lenses and I was trying to figure out how people who didn’t have our concepts of sin or mental illness would describe somebody whose perceptions they couldn’t understand, so I came up with the metaphor of the clouded lenses.
CCN: …Well…that’s a very good point because when you say, “Your lens is clouded,” and we talk about that in the context of somebody who’s, let’s say, crazy, we get to the notion of “normal”, “crazy” being defined loosely as “not perceiving normally” or “not behaving normally”. I don’t see pink elephants floating around the room, and let’s say somebody who’s insane and is prone to hallucinations might see these pink elephants. There seems to be a spectrum of human perception and of behavior that might be called normal.
RAW: Then the spectrum is much wider than most people realize. I’ve been doing seminars for nearly 30 years now…originally on general semantics, and then later I broadened it out so much that it’s just a Robert Anton Wilson seminar, it includes so damn much. But in my seminars, I have lots of exercises that show that no two people ever perceive the room the same way or hear the same sounds. So we’re all living in our own epic reality, as they call it in sociology. I like Leary’s term “reality tunnel” because it’s poetic and vivid and people get it right away. We’re all living in our own reality tunnel, and I define psychoses as behavior that has reached the level of the unendurably obnoxious.
I don’t care what the hell people believe. They can bore me by talking about it too much, but that still doesn’t bother me. It’s when they start doing weird or frightening things that I call them mentally ill and want them removed from my environment. We once lived with a schizophrenic in a building in Berkeley, and his beliefs didn’t bother me in the slightest, but his behavior did when he started getting on the phone to the police regularly because he was imagining the building had been captured by terrorists or other fantasies of that sort. We all in the building agreed we couldn’t stand having the police come in so damn often.
And so that’s when I come up with my “objective” definition of insanity. Operationally, nobody has ever defined what’s real to my satisfaction. So operationally, the only definition of psychoses is the condition in which people’s belief systems lead them to act in a way that nobody else can tolerate for a day longer no matter how hard they try.
CCN: Convenience and safety.
RAW: When behavior becomes intolerable, then I call it psychotic. I get somebody to take them somewhere else so I don’t have to put up with them any more.
CCN: Like the definition of a flower and a weed.
CCN: A weed is just a person you don’t want to be around.
CCN: I’ve read a few pieces by you and have heard you on the radio talking about androphobia. The women against white males conflict. The impression I get after talking with you, is that in talking about androphobia, there seems to be some guerrilla ontology involved …
RAW: Yes, there is an element of deliberate parody in there. It’s like Markoff Chaney’s crusade against the giants who run the planet, these enormous overgrown ignoramuses who don’t treat midgets with proper respect. And his attempt to prove all culture was created by people shorter than five feet and often shorter than four feet.
CCN: So in this case …
RAW: … but there’s more to it.
CCN: … everything good was created by people with vaginas.
RAW: Yeah. That seems to be the current mythology, and a lot of it is just as crazy as my satire. I don’t think even the craziest feminists are as dangerous as, say, the American Nazi Party. But there is a tendency in feminism that is really crazy, it seems to me. And I often feel like a Jew in Germany in 1931. Nothing bad has happened yet except for about 20 cases of guys whose penises have been cut off. Bobbit is just the one that got all the publicity. The Fortean Times had a list of about 20 others who it’s happened to, honest to God. I feel…well, I’ll trace the background of my thinking. They opened the Nazi death camps when I reached puberty. I think reaching puberty is a point of acute imprint vulnerability, and I developed a horror not just of anti-Semitism but of any kind of group hatred. And this was reinforced by the educational system of New York City when I was in high school. English, civics, history. In lots of courses the teachers spent a lot of time trying to train us not to make reckless generalizations about groups. And as I grew up, I thought every educated person had learned that, and then suddenly this new movement appears that’s devoted to making wild and reckless generalizations about a certain group and that seems to be inculcating hatred and contempt toward that group just like with the anti-Irish thing in the 19th century, the anti-Mexican thing in California now, the anti-Semitic mania in Germany, and a lot of other tragedies in history. It seems teachers stopped teaching about the dangers of group hatred.
And this time the group selected for the target of stereotypes and hate mongering is a group I happen to belong to, so I not only think it’s illogical and historically dangerous, and morally objectionable and so on; I’m also one of the potential victims if it continues to grow more irrational and more violent. We’ve seen a lot of evidence of what this kind of thing can lead to. If they get enough sperm in the sperm banks and start building the gas chambers, I’m in the group that they picked out to be exterminated, the villains. We’re the ones elected the villains like the Jews were in Nazi Germany. Now, I don’t want to carry that too far. I don’t think in the first place Ms. is the main organ of that movement, and they never had a circulation higher than 200,000 at their best, so I am not paranoid or terrorized, but at the same time it irritates me to hear all these unscientific and unfounded libels against the male gender. So I can’t resist satirizing them and pointing out how similar this is to the Nazi generalizations about Jews.
CCN: Well, you’ve just said “they” and the “movement,” and I wonder if you could describe who “they” are in a little bit more specific terms like in terms of the ideology involved and the movement, the things that you are reacting against here. Obviously, not all feminists want to chop off penises. The feminist movement is yet another spectrum with extremes.
RAW: Yes. There’s quite a wide variety of feminist ideas. I very much approve and like Sharon Presley’s Alliance of Libertarian Feminists. This agrees with the majority of the feminist movement in being Libertarian oriented rather than Marxist oriented. My wife has been a feminist all her life, but she stopped using the word because she doesn’t like the extent to which male-bashing Marxists have taken over the movement. To be specific, I don’t like to name names and attack individuals, but that’s the only way to avoid making reckless generalizations, so I will name a few names. Robin Morgan, Andrea Dworkin, Catherine McKinnon and to a great extent Gloria Steinam, and to some extent Naomi Wolfe, have all written things that I think are as crazy as anything that was ever published in Der Sturmer in the 1930s. They exactly fit Reich’s profile of the similarity of Red Fascism and Blackshirt Fascism. You just take out the word “male” and put in the word “Jew” and it sounds exactly like Nazi propaganda… …and I think anybody who isn’t a little bit frightened by it is living in a dream. They’re trying so hard to be fashionable and politically correct that they stop thinking entirely.
CCN: So you think that we’re seeing an era in which we’re producing more good Germans in terms of this whole political correctness thing because the feminist ideology that you’re referring to here seems to be under the generalized PC umbrella. It’s not just feminism but…you know, the whole “who is the victim now,” you know, and the oppressor seems to be, in general, the “white male.”
RAW: Yeah. “The white male” doesn’t exist, any more than “the normal” or “the average.” The columnist in the San Jose Mercury, Angelo Figueroa, who says white males own all the corporations is a classic case of neurolinguistic neuroses. What he says is true, but it’s false. It’s true in the sense that most, not all, most of the corporations are owned by white males except for the ones that are owned by oriental males, Arab males, etc. … and some of them are owned by women, a few, very few, but a few. But that does not mean that all white males own corporations. This is where you need symbolic logic to avoid getting confused. Label logic often gets you all messed up. All giraffes are animals, but not all animals are giraffes. Most corporations are owned by white males but most white males do not own corporations. I wish people like Figueroa had to spend six months studying elementary logic before they were allowed to vomit their racist and sexist hatreds in print.
This Figueroa asshole, if I may speak precisely, he walks every day, or he drives everyday, past lots and lots of homeless white men begging on the streets, and he doesn’t see them because his definition of “white male” is somebody who owns a corporation. Just like the Nazis didn’t see poor Jews. Their definition of a Jew was somebody who owned a bank. This kind of terminology makes people blind. They can’t see what’s directly in front of them. Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinam cannot see how many poor white men there are in this country. They think all white men own corporations. Just like the Nazi hallucination. I’ve never owned a corporation in my life and I don’t think I ever will own one. I don’t even own part of one. I don’t have any stocks.
CCN: So this is personal for you, being a member of the “hated class” here, being the Jew or the nigger of the ’90s.
RAW: It’s personal in the sense that I refuse to stand there with a polite expression on my face when feminists say nasty things about men. I just won’t do it any more. I feel like a Jew smiling politely at a Nazi in 1931. I won’t do it. If they say something nasty about men, I tell them that sounds as stupid as Hitler talking about the Jews. I know it’s not nice, but I tell them to their face. If the Jews were less nice in 1931, more of them might have survived.
CCN: You’re on the Internet now.
CCN: You’re what is referred to as “net newbie.”
CCN: What are your thoughts on the Internet as an environment, and your experiences as a newbie?
RAW: I think technology used properly in a decentralized way can solve all of the problems that are confronting this planet. That’s my favorite solution to all problems: better technology and more decentralization, and Internet seems to me the most successful example of what I believe in and hope for. It’s a technology that’s so radically decentralized that I don’t think anybody will ever be able to control it.
CCN: Well, there are various efforts under way in Congress to control the content of the network. The most recent is the “Decency in Communications Act” in the Senate.
RAW: I signed a petition against it. I like the idea of an electronic petition. And I also wrote to Bill Clinton to organize the Democrats against it. It’s stupid in the first place, but if they could try to enforce it, the result would be that America would fall behind the rest of the world as the Internet continues to grow. They’d be dragging people out of business.
CCN: But, in general, how are you finding your experience on the network?
RAW: There are a lot of things that are really exciting to me. One day, I exchanged e-mail with a friend in Munich twice in one day and sent a fax to a reporter in Australia, and I thought, my God, I really am living in a global village. I begin to see some of my favorite futurist, especially McLuhan and Fuller in an entirely new way. It’s becoming more real and concrete. I’ve been thinking about these things for years, but now it’s becoming easier to think about because I’ve got a concrete example to illustrate …
CCN: But when you say “it’s becoming more real and concrete,” what it? The “global village of McLuhan” it? The “future is here now” it? “We’re able to talk to each other no matter where we are physically” it?
RAW: One way of looking at is Bucky Fuller made a lot of graphs of trajectories. And he predicted that by the 1980s we would be crossing oceans in seconds. And he said he was stunned himself by that, and he couldn’t imagine how we could do it, what kind of technology would make that possible? Well, we’re doing it. It’s just that our physical bodies aren’t traveling along with us. I still go on lecture tours every year, but I always hate the airports, I hate the airplanes. I have post-polio syndrome which is not anything serious, but everybody who had polio had or has it to some extent. I get terribly cramped and have a lot of muscular problems on long airplane trips. But I have to do it because I get a lot of money out of my lecture business.
But it’s wonderful that a lot of things I can do in cyberspace without traveling at all. I’m beginning to see how a time will come, I don’t know all the details, a time will come in which I can get paid for my ideas by people in Tokyo and Berlin without actually traveling to Tokyo and Berlin in those god damn uncomfortable planes. I won’t have to travel. In order to compete, the airlines will have to make more comfortable airplanes, finally, which they should have done 30 years ago or 50 years ago. It’s ridiculous that airplanes are so uncomfortable.
CCN: So one effect of the Internet might be more leg room.
RAW: Yes, they might build airplanes that you’re not uncomfortable in, just so they can compete.
CCN: We can only hope, that and better food.
RAW: [laughs] And better food, yeah.
CCN: Have you met anybody on the Internet now? One of the great things about the Internet is the fact that you can meet people in safety. You can meet mind to mind without having to worry about the safety of the body or even the comfort.
RAW: I like that. You know, the Irish have a wonderful custom. I lived in Ireland for six years. They have a wonderful custom. You never invite anybody to your home, and you never expect anybody to invite you to their home when you’re first getting to know each other. You agree to meet at a pub. That’s very comfortable because you don’t have to figure how the hell to get them out the door if you don’t like them. All you do is say, “Oh, geez, it’s getting late,” and you leave the pub, you know. And we don’t have an equivalent institution in America. E-mail does it. If you find somebody who’s incompatible, you just stop answering them and they get off eventually.
CCN: You mentioned something earlier in conversation about the ramshackle nature of the Internet …
RAW: Yeah, the ramshackle. I started referring to Internet as “ramshackle techno-anarchism” because it’s growing and changing all the time, and the parts aren’t always perfectly compatible, and I’ve begun to discover that some things are not mistakes on my part, it’s just the system is weird. And it always will be because there’s always new software and hardware, and things are always changing and being added. And sometimes I’m going through Cern, and suddenly I’m cut off, and God knows why. But I’m pretty sure, some cases, it’s not a mistake I made, it’s just that’s the nature of the system. But that’s the way the world is more and more becoming. Internet helps you to get used to the fact that we’re living in a world where everything is being torn down and rebuilt continually. The Buddha understood that, but very few people since Buddha have understood it.
CCN: What do you think the Internet’s going to do politically? Previous forms of communication, especially mass communication have all been broadcast oriented. With the Internet you can send e-mail to the author and say, “I loved your book” or “the book stinks.” It’s the same with politicians who are now getting on the net. There’s more direct feedback mechanisms. What do you think this is going to do to society to suddenly have a dialog capable, planet-wide communications system?
RAW: I have very high hopes for it. I think, well, to quote an unpopular poet, Ezra Pound, “Peace comes with communication.” They did a show about Internet on channel 54 a few weeks ago in which they presented some evidence, which I don’t recall too well, that Internet played a large role in the failure of the coup in Russia, the attempt to restore hard-line Communism. And, I think, well, this is long before Internet, this was one of the things that I developed out of the study of general semantics 30 years ago, 40 years ago. Communication tends to solve problems. Not always, but it tends to solve problems. Breakdown in communication tends to aggravate problems.
And, so I see Internet as potentially the greatest contribution to world peace that’s come along in my lifetime, and may have played an indirect role in a lot of other things that have happened besides blocking the hard-line coup in Russia. Since ’89, we had not only the overthrow of the Soviet empire, the most peaceful, nonviolent revolution over the greatest land mass from East Berlin to Vladavostok. Nothing like that has ever happened in history before. After that, we’ve had the establishment of the Palestinian state, the peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, very uneasy but still it’s there, it’s working. They’re both working toward it.
And Nelson Mandela come out of prison. He’s not only a free man, he’s now the president of the country. And the IRA and the British are beginning to negotiate. The IRA is negotiating with everybody else. The British are agreed to join in the negotiations, and the president of Sean Fein was a guest of the White House on St. Paddies day. Internet may be playing an indirect role in all these things.
CCN: When you talk about communication, one of the statements in Illuminatus!, and actually a theme frequently in your books whether it’s stated explicitly or not, is that communications is only possible between equals. Let’s look at the Germans and the Jews. How do you get through somebody’s thick skull?
RAW: Well, you picked a really hard case …
CCN: Bosnians and Serbs, I mean, we could look at the feminists, the feminists and the white males …
RAW: Let’s go back to the Nazis and the Jews. I don’t think Internet, even if it existed then, would have necessarily deflected the general path of Nazism, the general direction it was going in. But I think if it had existed, a hell of a lot more Jews would have found out soon enough how bad it was and got out quicker, so there would have been a lot more survivors. I think that’s pretty damn clear. At least, I mean…we’ve got to distinguish survivors and escapees. There were those who went into the camps and survived through sheer good luck, and then there were the escapees who never went into the camps because they got out before that happened. Internet would have increased the number of escapees. There would have been a more clear understanding of what was going on. Internet would have, undoubtedly, put enough pressure on the United States to accept more Jewish refugees. Roosevelt wanted to, but he knew what he was up against in Congress so he couldn’t.
CCN: So the “ship of fools” would have been impossible.
RAW: The “ship of fools” would have landed in New York, and they all would have gotten off.
CCN: So, at the very least, even if there’s not communication with the adversary, there would have been communication amongst the folks in the same boat, so that organization would have possible, survival oriented organization.
RAW: And also to some extent Internet might have cut down the size of the Nazi Party. Communication does tend to break down prejudices in the long run.
CCN: Well, let’s look at the prejudices that exist in America today. People with a certain level of technological access, income and education now on the Internet find themselves, still, with the fundamental inability to communicate. A large amount of the content of the online discussion groups is little more than personal insults and never ending verbal wars.
RAW: Well, we’ll just have to wait and see just how much good Internet does. One of the newsgroups I subscribe to is for the topic of Free Masonry, and there’s a very lively discussion going on there between Free Masons and the people who believe Free Mason worship the devil. And I don’t know if the Free Masons have converted anybody yet and have persuaded them that they don’t worship the devil, but it’s fascinating that the conversation is going on. And I think some people may get over the idea that Free Masons worship the devil, some of the people in that discussion. Of course, some people, because of their own emotional problems, will never be cured by any amount of discussion. But discussion, by and large, it’s better than no discussion.
CCN: You wanted to talk a little bit about chaos and society …
CCN: Chaos. Are you talking about the mathematical chaos or political chaos?
RAW: Well, I’m talking about the mathematical, but the curious thing is that…the Discordian Society which I got involved in back in the early ’60s was based on the belief that chaos is the fundamental fact of existence, and everything that we can put into an orderly form is just an abstraction from the fundamental chaos. I didn’t discover until later that Nietzsche had that idea even before it was Discordian. And now there’s a lot of interpretations of chaos math that say that’s what it’s indicating is that the universe is fundamentally chaotic, and the Newtonian or classically deterministic systems are a minor subcase. But the aspect of chaos that especially interests me now is what I heard about at the meeting of the world future society a couple years ago. A mathematician named Gordon has demonstrated that as information flow increases, chaos increases, chaos in the mathematical sense. That’s the unpredictability.
CCN: So as communication increases in a system, chaos increases.
RAW: The unpredictable increases. What happens is that as information increases, that’s unpredictable knowledge, things we couldn’t predict before, we see the information gives us a new reality tunnel. Out of that, inevitably, comes new technologies, and out of new technologies comes new social forms, and so as the acceleration of information increases, the acceleration of technology increases, and society changes in weird, jerky ways. And you can see this in lots of periods of history where things go one way, and then suddenly they jump and go the other way. And I think right now information is doubling faster than ever before in human history, so it’s only to be expected that the world, the planet, should be changing in very unpredictable ways, such as Nelson Mandela going from a convict to the president of the country in a couple of years. Or the president of Sinn Fein being a guest at the White House. The next thing is Fidel Castro will be a guest at the White House. That’s no more shocking than the head of Sinn Fein being a guest at the White House, it really isn’t. It takes people a while to get used to something like that. John Major is not quite adjusted yet to Gerry Adams being at the White House.
CCN: In Illuminatus!, you talk about neophobes and neophiles, the lovers and haters of things that are new. Might that not be a measure of a person’s ability to deal with unpredictability?
RAW: Yeah, I think people are going to have to get used to a lot more uncertainly which is what all my books are preaching, the acceptance of uncertainty, a high tolerance for uncertainty. Some things you can say yes or no, but more and more there are more and more things where you can’t say yes or no. You can only calculate the probabilities in between, and people are going to have to get more and more used to that. Meanwhile, since most people still think in terms of yes and no, we’re getting more and more bizarre and weird political movements. In this part of the country the weirdest ones we’ve got aren’t quite as weird as what you find on the other side of the Rockies where there are talk shows that are actively their listeners to buy guns and prepare for a march on Washington.
That’s really going on. That’s treason, technically, but they’re still getting away with it because, I guess, because the administration doesn’t want to give them more publicity by busting them, and there’s this very delicate First Amendment issue there too. But I think that kind of weirdness, people who are ready to make war on the government, that’s scarey. I distrust government in general, but I don’t regard the government as being that dangerous at this point that I’m going to buy automatic weapons and prepare to join a revolution against it. But that’s a yes/no logic. I can see how people are driven to positions like that until they learn to think in terms of probabilities. The world is getting more unpredictable. And one way of handling it is to believe in a conspiracy theory and arm yourself against the conspiracy.
CCN: To turn yourself into a victim of a conspiracy.
RAW: Yeah. There’s also a tendency — it goes way back to the stone ages where the king was regarded as being in charge of the weather–so there’s a tendency to praise the president if anything good happens, and blame the president if anything bad happens, as if the president is a kind of demi-god. And I used to say the president’s popularity goes up and down depending on how many earthquakes and tornadoes we had that year. And, by God, after the recent flooding, there are actually people blaming the government. Sam Farr said the rain had something to do with flood damage too. [laughs]
CCN: So, it seems there’s a lag time involved with social innovation and people’s ability to respond to it. Things are becoming a little bit more reactionary, politically and socially. People are looking for targets to blame.
RAW: Everybody has their own scapegoats or stereotyped groups.
CCN: Is it a reaction to just things becoming unpredictable though?
RAW: Yes, some people, since they don’t have mathematical and sociological, perspectives on the thing, they look around for who to blame. And depending on their upbringing and the biases that seem natural to them, they find some evidence to blame whoever they have a natural tendency to dislike anyway. And so we’ve got a country full of groups that hate each other.. We’re a country full of hatred at present. There are lots of people who get along very well, but every group in the country has members who hate a couple of other groups and are encouraging everybody else to join them in blaming and hating some other group. It’s incredible the amount of scapegoat groups, and you have a choice, depending on what you want. You can pick any group out to hate, and you find out who hates them and write to them, and they’ll send you a whole bunch of books to prove that your hatred is justified.
CCN: Well, what do you think this says about the human race? We have self-esteem problems, and we need somebody to beat up?
RAW: We need better education in science and logic. [laughs]
CCN: Is that really it, though? I mean, let’s go back to the Internet. I know I mentioned this before, but let’s beat the dead horse some more. You know, you have to have a certain level of education and intelligence and access to economic resources to buy a computer and plug into the Internet. And yet, on the Internet you see the ongoing abortion debate, the man vs. women debate, the heterosexual versus homosexual debate, and you see some incredibly ignorant, hateful remarks being spat out from both ends, and it seems that maybe intelligence and education aren’t proof against idiocy or hatred.
RAW: Well, not the kind of education we have so far. We need better education.
CCN: Well, when you say “we,” this is worldwide?
RAW: Yeah … I mean, yeah, it’s worldwide.
CCN: What are your hopes? And about when can we expect to see this education developed and implemented?
RAW: I’ve given up naming dates.
CCN: Not even ballpark?
RAW: No. As Heinlein said, it doesn’t pay a prophet to be too specific. Really, every prediction I’ve made in my books has turned out to be a little bit too optimistic. I have yet to see any grounds for abandoning any of my predictions, I just have to postpone them. And when I started writing about longevity…nobody, hardly anybody else, was writing about it. Now it’s a major topic of not only articles and so on, but of research, real scientific research. We are going to have longer life spans. It’s just not coming as fast as I thought. We are going to have space colonies. They’re just not coming as fast as I thought. But we are going to have space colonies. Everything, I haven’t lost faith in any of my predictions. I’ve just lost faith in my ability to guess the speed at which they’re coming.
CCN: So you’re basically talking the long haul. The historical perspective.
RAW: Yeah …
CCN: Are you a little discouraged? Does it seem like the human race is a little bit stupider than your optimism would want you to say?
RAW: No, I didn’t expect … no, I think stupidity is situational anyway. People can be stupid in one situation and not so stupid a few weeks later. My feeling is that a lot of the irrational behavior we see around today is because of this chaos, this unpredictability and the fact that most people have no tools to understand what’s happening. But I think … that’s only temporary. I think we are moving toward a … well, hell, Newt Gingrich, the head of the party that controls Congress is a fan of the Tofflers, who are not the best futurists around, but…to that extent he’s involved in futurist thinking. And Al Gore was the head of the Senate committee on the future all the time he was in the Senate and has got a very high reputation for the amount of books and articles he’s read, his general erudition in that area, and he’s a member of the World Future Society. And so on both sides of the aisle, in spite of the stupidity on both sides of the aisle, we’ve got people who are really involved in future studies. And we’re going to be moving more and more to the point where that dumb senator with the censorship bill will be impossible because the government will be educated enough to understand that Internet can’t be controlled that way.
CCN: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
RAW: Yeah, the only … the one thing that I really feel strongly about … that we haven’t discussed is Bill Clinton. I feel very strongly that he’s getting a raw deal from everybody. You expect him to get a raw deal from the right, but he’s getting a raw deal from the left too. And the only president I can think of who got so much abuse from both extremes before Clinton was F.D.R., who is now remembered as one of the greatest presidents we ever had.
CCN: Why do you think that is?
RAW: Well, I think we’re in a time where people are very angry and very frightened and very impatient for a solution, and if he’s not doing exactly what they think he should be doing, they think he’s selling them out, and so that comes from both sides. But as far as I’m concerned, I think Clinton is the best president we’ve had in my lifetime.
CCN: What makes you say that?
RAW: Because he never says anything conspicuously stupid. Because he frequently says intelligent things. Because he is cutting the deficit. Because he’s appointed more women and minorities to federal judgeships than all three presidents before him combined, which I think is very important to restore, to start to establish an approximation of real justice in the court system. And he’s done a lot of other things that I approve. And all the accusations of him waffling, weaseling and so on, to me that’s a matter of evaluation. To me it just looks like he’s an intelligent man. Intelligent people change their minds.
CCN: That’s true, but he’s more than just a man or a person, he’s a totem, an icon. He’s the guy who has to make the crops come in.
RAW: Yeah, and he hasn’t made the crops come in yet, but I don’t think any American president has such a successful record internationally in solving problems non violently. I think that’s an incredible thing. We’ve never had a president who’s gone into so many hot situations and diffused them. He’s had a lot of help from Jimmy Carter. But he’s obviously, he’s the one in charge. I think you’ve got to give … you can’t say Jimmy Carter is saving Clinton. Clinton is, I think, Clinton is the main strategist, and Jimmy Carter is the front, the one who has the knowledge of the people, the more experience.
But I think the Clinton administration has a very good record for solving violent problems nonviolently, and that’s what we need now that the cold war is over, and we can start to think in new categories. All we need is to study how to make peace. We’ve studied how to make war too long, and we’ve got to learn how to make peace. And besides, I like Hillary. I know every right wing nut in the country seems to … regard her as a mixture of Lady Macbeth and the Bride of Frankenstein, and I think Hillary is a marvelously intelligent and witty person. And, so Bill and Hillary seem like a very attractive combination; As Arlen, my wife, says, “They’re the only first family in our lifetimes that we’d enjoy having for dinner. We’d enjoy conversation with them.” I can’t imagine having an intelligent conversation with George and Barbara or with Pat and Dick or with Ronnie and Nancy.
CCN: Why not?
RAW: They never struck me as being particularly intelligent people.
CCN: Is it possible for a stupid person to become the president of the United States of America?
RAW: It sure looks that way to me. I mean when the doctors announced that Reagan has Alzheimer’s, my reaction was, Jesus, I knew that 10 years ago. What’s the matter with the medical profession that took them this long to figure it out?
CCN: So, would you say, then, that maybe the executive of the country is not really the pinnacle of power. I mean, if a person with certain attention deficits and whatever you want to call Ronald Reagan could become president of the United States, a former Hollywood actor could become president of the United States, do you think this speaks to something about the political scene in America?
RAW: Yeah, they picked a mediocre actor. I wonder if they picked Paul Newman, he would have made a much better president. He’s a better actor, and he’s obviously a more intelligent person. I’d really like to see Barbara Streisand as president.
CCN: She has the power drive for it. What do you think psychologically about somebody who aspires to be president of the United States who wields a lot of power over, let’s say, situations and other people and you or I?
RAW: There’s probably not that much difference. They have a different way of seeking to influence history, but I definitely want to influence history. I don’t admire Karl Marx in particular … he’s one of my least favorite political figures. But if you were to put a gun to my head and tie me to a lie detector and ask me …, “What’s your highest hope for your books?” It would be that they shake up the 21st century as much as Marx shook up the 20th century but in a more constructive way. Not in a destructive way. I really want to change the world. I think everybody has that in the back of his mind. So some people want to do it by becoming president. Buckie Fuller used to answer people who asked, “Why don’t you run for president?” He said, “I’ve got more important things to do,” because his way of changing the world is through inventions. My way is through books. Bill Clinton’s way is through going into that dirty area called politics. Somebody has to do it. Somebody has to clean cesspools too.
CCN: Do you think Clinton and Gingrich might makes some sort of a team? A progressive team? A future thinking team as opposed to an atavistic type of team? Will there be a team at all?
RAW: Well, Clinton has certainly been generous towards the opposition in many ways. When Gingrich’s mother made that mistake on television of quoting Newt about Hillary, instead of taking advantage of that to tromp on Gingrich, Clinton made a joke out of it. “I’m glad Connie Chung didn’t interview my mother.” He’s trying very hard to build bridges. I think that is his main vision of himself as a bridge builder, a problem solver and a bridge builder. That’s what he wants to be, I think.
CCN: Is this the right time for somebody like that?
RAW: Maybe not. Maybe this is a time for extremists. But in that case, we’re in for a bad decade. I hope bridge builders have a chance.
CCN: Oh boy, me too.