Paul Krassner Interviews
Robert Anton Wilson
from High Times #331, March 2003
I [Paul Krassner] first met Bob Wilson in 1959. The ’60s counterculture was in its embryonic stage, exploding out of the blandness, repression and piety of the Eisenhower-Nixon administration, Reverend Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking and Snooky Lanson singing “It’s a Marshmallow World” on TV’s Lucky Strike Hit Parade.
Wilson had written his first article, “The Semantics of God,” which I eagerly published in The Realist. “The Believer,” he wrote, “had better face himself and ask squarely: Do I literally believe ‘God’ has a penis? If the answer is no, then it seems only logical to drop the ridiculous practice of referring to ‘God’ as ‘He.'” Wilson then started writing a regular column, “Negative Thinking.”
His books include The Illuminatus! Trilogy (with Robert Shea); the Cosmic Trigger trilogy, The New Inquisition, the Schrodinger’s Cat trilogy, Prometheus Rising, The Walls Came Tumbling Down, Wilhelm Reich in Hell, Natural Law, Sex and Drugs, and Everything is Under Control: An Encyclopedia of Conspiracy Theories.
He is also the subject of a feature-length documentary movie by Lance Bauscher, Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson, featuring 23 different Bobs, Tom Robbins, R.U. Sirius, George Carlin and myself. For more information, go to maybelogic.com.
In 1964, I published Wilson’s front-cover story, “Timothy Leary and His Psychological H-Bomb.” “The future may decide,” he began, “that the two greatest thinkers of the 20th Century were Albert Einstein, who showed how to create atomic fission in the physical world, and Timothy Leary, who showed how to create atomic fission in the psychological world. The latter discovery may be more important than the former; there are some reasons for thinking that it was made necessary by the former….”
I hereby nominate Bob Wilson as the third greatest thinker of the 20th Century, who continues to explore his consciousness and communicate his ideas and causes—with passion, wit, imagination and insight—into the 21st Century. This interview was conducted by the electronic magic of e-mail.
Q. You’ve written 34 books with the aid of pot. Could you describe that process?
A. It’s rather obsessive-compulsive, I think. I write the first draft straight, then rewrite stoned, then rewrite straight again, then rewrite stoned again, and so on, until I’m absolutely delighted with every sentence, or irate editors start reminding me about deadlines—whichever comes first. Hemingway and Raymond Chandler had similar compulsions but used the wrong drug, booze, and they both attempted suicide. Papa succeeded but poor Ray didn’t and just looked like a sloppy alcoholic. (He tried to shoot himself in the head and missed.) Faulkner also had obsessive components and died by falling off a horse, drunk. I don’t think booze is a very safe drug for us obsessive-compulsives. Almost as bad as becoming known as a Sage. By the way, Congress should impeach Dubya and impound Asa Hutchinson.
Q. The piss police read High Times. What would you like to tell them?
A. “You are all equally blessed, equally empty, equally coming Buddhas.” But some of them are such assholes it will take a long time to get from there to here.
Q. Columnist Clarence Page recently wrote about the DEA raiding “a legitimate health co-operative [WAMM, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana] that was treating more than 200 patients, some of them terminally ill, in Santa Cruz. Snatching medicine out of the hands of seriously ill patients sounds like terrorism to me. In this case it was federally sponsored and taxpayer-financed.” Tell me about your own relationship with WAMM.
A. I thought you’d never ask. Long before I needed WAMM, Valerie Coral, the founder, came regularly to my Finnegans Wake reading/rapping group and I considered her incredibly bright. As I learned about her WAMM activities, distributing pot to terminal cancer and AIDS patients, sitting with them, giving love and support during the death process, I decided she was also a saint. I never thought I would become another WAMM patient. My post-polio syndrome had been a minor nuisance until then; suddenly two years ago it flared up into blazing pain. My doctor recommended marijuana and named WAMM as the safest and most legal source. By then, I think I was on the edge of suicide; the pain had become like a permanent abscessed tooth in the leg. Nobody can or should endure that. Thanks to Valerie and WAMM, I never have that kind of torture for more than an hour these days. I pop one of their pain pills and I’m up and back at the iMac in, well, if not an hour, then at most two hours. By the way, Congress should impeach Dubya and impound Asa Hutchinson. Or did I say that already?
Q. I think you did.
A. Well, it bears repeating.
Q. When the City Council staged a public giveaway of medical marijuana, a DEA agent asked, “What kind of message are city officials sending to the youth of Santa Cruz?” How would you answer him?
A. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” I didn’t invent that; I found it in the back of my dictionary, in a dusty old historical document called “U.S. Constitution,” which Dubya seemingly has never heard of, but it’s supposed to be the rules of our government. I wish more people would look at that document, because it has a lot of other radical ideas that seem worth thinking about. Look it up before the Bush Crime Family forces dictionary publishers to remove it. Congress should impeach Dubya and impound Asa Hutchinson. Or does this begin to sound like an echo chamber?
Q. How does all that tie in with your new book, TSOG: The Thing That Ate the Constitution? First, what does TSOG mean, and how do you pronounce it?
A. TSOG means Tsarist Occupation Government and I pronounce it TSOG, so it sounds like a monster in a Lovecraft story. The book presents the evidence that ever since the CIA-Nazi-Tsarist alliance of the 1940s, the Tsarists have taken over as the “brains” of the Control System and America has become a Tsarist nation, with the Constitution only known to those who peek in the back of their dictionaries, like I did. Hell, we even have an official Tsar and he has the alleged “right”—or at least the power—to come between my doctor and me, and decide how much excruciating pain I should suffer before dying. What next? Is he going to rule on controversial questions in physics and astronomy? In mathematical set theory? In biology? Believe me, there’s no Tsar mentioned in the Constitution. Personal doctor/patient matters are left to the individuals. You see, this was supposed to be a free country, not a Tsarist despotism.
Q. You were brought up as a Catholic and became a Marxist when you were 16. What disillusioned you about each of those belief systems?
A. Their rigidity. All rigid Belief Systems (B.S.) censor and warp the processes of perception, thought and even empathy. They literally make people behave like badly-wired robots. Philip K. Dick noticed this too, and worried a lot about the possible robots among us. Some people think he was crazy, but I’ve never met anybody with rigid beliefs who seemed fully human to me. Phil got it right: a lot of them do act like robots. Especially in government offices and churches. Gort, Dubya marada nikto, dig?
Q. What was the purpose of what you call the Christian conspiracy?
A. Well, I regard the Bill of Rights as the result of a conspiracy by the intellectual freemasons of the Enlightenment Era. It’s always had a precarious existence because of the rival Christian conspiracy to restore the dark ages—Inquisitions, witch-hunts and all. With the Tsarist take-over, the Christians appear to have won. Not a single clause in the Bill of Rights hasn’t gotten either diluted or totally reversed.
Q. Why are you so skeptical about organized skepticism?
A. Like I keep saying, rigid Belief Systems frighten me and make me think of robots, or “humanoids”—some kinda creepy mechanism like that. Organized skepticism in the U.S. today contains no true skeptics in the philosophical sense. They seem like just another gang of dogmatic fanatics at war with all the other gangs of dogmatic fanatics, and, of course, with us model agnostics also. Look at the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. They never do any Scientific Investigation at all, at all. Why? My guess is that, like the Inquisitors who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, they have a deep fear that such research might upset their dogmas.
Q. What’s the basis of your obsession with Hannibal Lecter?
A. Hannibal Lecter, M.D., please. In the books, he seems one of the greatest creations in literature to me. I admire Thomas Harris more than any novelist since James Joyce. Everything about Dr. Lecter is likeable and even admirable except that one Nasty Habit [cannibalism], but that habit’s so intolerable, even to libertarians, we can never forget it even when we find him most likeable and most admirable. A paradox like that can inspire Ph.D. candidates for 1,000 years. I mean, how can you resist a psychiatrist who tells a Lesbian patient, as Hannibal did once, “There’s nothing wrong with being weird. You have no idea how weird I am”—and really means it? In the films, of course, Dr. Lecter also has the stupendous contribution of intelligence and eerie charm only Anthony Hopkins can project. By the way, God bless Valerie Coral and God damn Asa Hutchinson.
Q. I thought you don’t believe in God?
A. I have no “beliefs,” only probabilities; but I was not speaking literally there. A poetic flourish, as it were.
Q. I know you don’t believe in life after death, but I’m intrigued by the notion that, during 42 years of marriage, you and Arlen imprinted each other’s nervous systems. Could you elaborate on that?
A. I don’t “believe” in spiritualism, but that does not keep me from suspecting an unbreakable link between those who have loved deeply. To avoid sounding esoteric, let me put it in nitty-gritty terms. I literally cannot look at a movie on TV without knowing what she’d say about it. For instance, if a film starts out well and ends up a mess, I can virtually “hear” her saying, “Well, they had one Story Conference too many….”
Q, Would you relate the tale of Arlen and the Encyclopedias?
A. She liked to collect old encyclopedias from second-hand bookstores, and at one point we had eight of them. When I wrote my first historical novel—back in 1980, before I was online—I used them often as a research tool. For instance, I learned that the Bastille was either 90 feet high or 100 feet or 120 feet. This led me to formulate Wilson’s 22nd Law: “Certitude belongs exclusively to those who only look in one encyclopedia.”
Q. How has the Internet changed your life?
A. It has felt like a neurological quantum jump. Not only does the word-processing software make my compulsive rewriting a lot easier than if I still had to cut my words on rocks or use a typewriter or retreat to similar barbarism, but the e-mail function provides most of my social life since I became “disabled.” I do most of my research on the World Wide Web, get my answer in minutes and don’t have to hunt laboriously through my library for hours. It has improved my life a thousand ways. I also have a notion that Internet will eventually replace government.
Q. How do you discern between conspiracy and coincidence?
A. The way Mr. and Mrs. Godzilla make love: very carefully.
Q. A dinner party was scheduled for March 31, 1981, the day after an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, which, if successful, would have elevated Vice President and former CIA chief George Bush to the presidency. The dinner was immediately cancelled. It would have been held at the home of Neil Bush, and a guest was to be Scott Hinckley, brother of the would-be killer. Hinckley’s father and Bush were friends and fellow oil industrialists. A PR firm issued a statement: “This horrible coincidence has been devastating to the Bush Family. Our condolences go out to all involved. And we hope to get the matter behind us as soon as possible.” Congressman Larry MacDonald was the only legislator who demanded an investigation, but his plane crashed. Whattaya think—coincidence or conspiracy?
A. To me, it looks at first glance like coincidence by about 75% probability. I mean, who would be dumb enough to use an assassin with such obvious links to his employers? But then again, the Bush Crime Family seem to think they can get away with anything, from S&L fraud to stealing an election in the clear light of day with the whole world watching. They must have an even lower opinion of the intelligence of the American people than I do. Maybe I should change the probability down to about 50%. I guess this does deserve further investigation, by somebody who doesn’t fly in airplanes.
Q. Ishmael Reed said, “The history of civilization is the history of warfare between secret societies.” Do you agree?
A. Yes and no. I would say there is no history, singular; only histories, plural. The warfare between secret societies is a history, one that both Ishmael and I have explored. There also exists a history of class war, a history of war (or competition) between gene pools, a history of primate/canine relations, etc., ad infinitum. None of them contradicts the others, except in the heads of aristotelian logicians, or Ideologists. They each supplement all the others.
Q. You and I have something in common. Lyndon LaRouche has revealed the truth about each of us: You’re really the secret leader of the Illuminati; and I was brainwashed at the Tavistock Institute in England. Do you think he actually believes such things, or is he consciously creating fiction, just as the FBI’s counter-intelligence program did?
A. I still don’t understand some of my computer’s innards and you expect me to explain a bizarre contraption like the brain of Lyndon LaRouche? I can only hazard that he seems more a case for a bile specialist than a psychiatrist.
Q. What was LaRouche’s factoid about the Queen of England?
A. He said Liz sent Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts over here to destroy us with Oriental religions and drugs, so England could become the top Super-Power again. If you took Liz and England out and put Fu Manchu and the Third World in her place, it would make a great matinee thriller. I think Dubya lives in that film with Mickey and Goofy and Osama bin Laden and Darth Vader.
Q. What’s the most bizarre conspiracy theory you’ve come across?
A. A group called Christians Awake claims Ronald Reagan was a Gay freemason and that he filled the government and courts with other Gay freemasons. I suppose they let Clarence Thomas in as a concession to the Gay Prince Hal lodge.
Q. And what would be the least known conspiracy theory—I mean, that you know of?
A. The Church of Positive Accord believes—and I think they make a damned good case—that the God of the Bible is corporeal, not spiritual. In udder woids, he eats and shits just like you and me. And, contrary to my 1959 heresies, he definitely has a penis. He even has boogers: they proclaimed that in an interview with [SubGenius Church reverend] Ivan Stang. They point out that all “spiritual” ideas of God derive from Greek philosophy, not the Bible, and claim that gaseous Greek god has been promoted by a conspiracy of intellectuals. Just re-read the Bible with that grid and it makes sense, in a Stone Age sort of way. He walks, He talks, He’s a serial killer, and in the sequel He even knocks up a teen-age chick.
Q. Your readers can’t always discern—when you write about the Illuminati, for example—whether you’re sharing information or satirizing reality. Does it make any difference?
A. To quote Madonna, “I’m only kidding—not.” Add my Celtic sense of humor to Niels Bohr’s model agnosticism and out comes my neo-surrealist novels and “post-modern” criticism.
Q. I’ve had many occurrences of satirical prophecy, where something I invented turned out to become reality. Has that happened with you?
A. Well, in Illuminatus! (published 1975), terrorists attack the Pentagon and only succeed in blowing a hole in one of the five sides. Sound familiar? Also, in Schrodinger’s Cat (published 1981), terrorists blow up Wall Street. I don’t regard either of those “hits” as precognition or even “intuition,” just common sense. It seemed obvious to me that the TSOG could not run amok around the planet, invading and bombing damned near everybody, without somebody firing back eventually.
Q. Here’s a confession. In my article on the conspiracy convention in High Times, I did a reverse of satirical prophecy. I had once asked Mae Brussell, the queen of conspiracy researchers, why the conspirators didn’t kill her, and she explained that agents always work on a need-to-know basis, but they would read her work and show up wherever she spoke, in order to get a peek at the big picture, because it was “a safety valve for them,” she said, “on how far things are going.” I asked, “Are you saying that the intelligence community has allowed you to function precisely because you know more than any of them?” And she replied, “Exactly.” Well, in my HIGH TIMES satire, I put those words into the mouth of somewhat fraudulent conspiracy researcher David Icke. Anyway, my question is, do you think the conspirators allow you to live because you know too much?
A. I doubt it. I don’t think they’ve ever heard of me. They don’t read books.
Q. The original meaning of conspiracy was “to breathe together.” What’s your personal definition of conspiracy?
A. When me and me friends gits together to advance our common interests, that’s an affinity group. When any crowd I don’t like does it, that’s a goddam conspiracy.
Q. After my HIGH TIMES column on the Prophets Conference, in which I referred to you as “the irreverent bad boy at this oh-so-polite conference,” why were you disinvited from speaking at future Prophets Conferences?
A. A lot of my fans think I got booted for lack of respect for His Royal Fraudulency George II. I take that as an assertion beyond proof or disproof. The managers said it was for finding a Joycean epiphany in a Spike Lee movie. I take that as an assertion beyond even comprehension.
Q. I’d like to hear about your—perhaps psychotic?—experience with higher consciousness and the resulting epiphany.
A. I have had not one but many seeming encounters with seemingly nonhuman intelligences. The first was a Christmas tree that loved me—loved me more than my parents or my wife or my kids, or even my dog. I was on peyote at the time. With and without other drugs—for instance by Cabala—I have seemingly contacted a medieval Irish bard, an ancient Chinese alchemist, an extraterrestrial from the Sirius system, and a giant white rabbit called the pook or pookah from County Kerry. I finally accepted that if you already have a multi-model ontology going into the shamanic world, you’re going to come out with multi-model results. As Wilson’s Fourth Law sez, “With sufficient research you will find evidence to support your theory.” So I settled on the magick rabbit as the model nobody could take literally, not even myself. The real shocker came when I discovered that my grandmother’s people, the O’Lachlanns, came from Kerry and allegedly have a clan pookah who protects us from becoming English by adding periodic doses of weirdness to our lives.
Q. The dedication in my book, Murder At the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities, reads: “This one is for Robert Anton Wilson—guerrilla ontologist, part-time post-modernist, Damned Old Crank, my weirdest friend and favorite philosopher.” Since these are all terms you’ve used to label yourself, would you explain what each one means?
A. Well, I picked up “guerrilla ontology” from the Physics/Consciousness Research Group when I was a member back in the 1970s. Physicists more usually call it “model agnosticism,” and it consists of never regarding any model or map of Universe with total 100% belief or total 100% denial. Following Korzybski, I put things in probabilities, not absolutes. I give most of modern physics over 90% probability, the Loch Ness Monster around 50% probability and anything the State Department says under 5% probability. As Bucky Fuller used to say, “Universe is nonsimultaneously apprehended”—nobody can apprehend it all at once—so we have no guarantee that today’s best model will fit what we may discover tomorrow. My only originality lies in applying this zetetic attitude outside the hardest of the hard sciences, physics, to softer sciences and then to non-sciences like politics, ideology, jury verdicts and, of course, conspiracy theory. Also, I have a strong aversion, almost an allergy, to Belief Systems, or B.S.—a convenient abbreviation I owe to David Jay Brown. A neurolinguistic diet high in B.S. and low in instrumental data eventually produces Permanent Brain Damage, a lurching gait, blindness and hairy palms like a werewolf.
Then I started calling myself a post-modernist after that label got pinned on me in two different books, one on my sociological works and one on my science-fiction. Then I read some of the post-modernists and decided they were only agnostic about other people’s dogmas, not their own. So then I switched to Damned Old Crank, which seems to suit my case better than either of the previous labels. Besides, once my hair turned snowy white, some people wanted to promote me to a Sage, and I had to block that. It’s more dangerous to a writer than booze. By the way, Congress should impeach Dubya and impound Asa Hutchinson.
Q. Since you believe that the universe is indifferent, why are you an optimist?
A. It may have genetic origins—some of us bounce up again no matter what we get hit with—but as far as I can rationalize it, nobody knows the future, so choosing between pessimism and optimism depends on temperament as much as probabilities. Psychologist John Barefoot has studied this extensively and concludes that optimists live about 20% longer than pessimists. When the outcome remains unknown, why should I make the bet that keeps me miserable and shortens my life? I prefer the gamble that keeps me high, happy, and creative, and also increases lifespan. It’s like the advantage of pot over aspirin. Pot not only kills pain better, but the High boosts the immune system. High and happy moods prolong life, miserable and masochistic moods shorten it.
Q. Recently, when I spoke at a college campus, a student asked what I wanted my epitaph to be. I replied, “Wait, I’m not finished.” What do you want your epitaph to be?
A. I have ordained in my will that my body will get cremated and the ashes thrown in Jerry Falwell’s face. The executor of my will should then shout one word only: “Gotcha!”
Robert Anton Wilson is the coauthor (with the late Robert Shea), of the underground classic The Illuminatus! Trilogy which won the 1986 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. His other writings include Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy, called “the most scientific of all science fiction novels” by New Scientist, and many nonfiction works of Futurist psychology and guerilla ontology. Wilson, who sees himself as a Futurist, author, and stand-up comic, regularly gives seminars at Esalan and other New Age centers. Wilson has made both a comedy record (Secrets of Power), and a punk rock record (The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy), and his play, Wilhelm Reich in Hell, has been performed throughout the world. His novel Illuminatus! was adapted as a 10-hour science fiction rock epic and performed under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Great Britain’s National Theatre, where Wilson appeared in a special cameo role. He is also a former editor at Playboy magazine.