with Robert Anton Wilson
Robert Anton Wilson: The two things I do best are writing and talking. I used to be pretty good at fucking, too….
Playboy.com: How do you feel about your honorary title, “Father of Conspiracy Theory”?
Robert Anton Wilson: Well, I’ve written a few books that deal with conspiracy theory. I have 32 books in print, last I counted, and 28 of them don’t deal with conspiracy at all. It just seems that conspiracy is so fashionable, so in, that I get identified with that. My other books are all in print! People keep buying them! I get royalties every year! To tell the truth, it does begin to bug me. I can’t seem to get away from it. Worse yet, they keep offering me advances to write another book on conspiracy theory, which is hard to resist. Though I am resisting it at present.
PB: So what are you writing about now?
RW: I’m writing two books that can in no way be identified with conspiracy theory. One is about black magic and curses, which is either social science disguised as satire or satire disguised as social science. Even I can’t make up my mind. It’s about the historical/anthropological connections between hurling curses to kill people and using words that make people have extreme physiological reactions, like Lenny Bruce or George Carlin or myself in my own books. You say “fuck,” and you get reactions out of people these days quite similar to what you would get if you said “goddamn” 300 years ago. Nowadays, “goddamn” doesn’t mean anything because people don’t believe in damnation. We still have a lot of people who think Playboy is so terrible that even mentioning the word may do some terrible damage. The Supreme Court actually ruled you couldn’t say “fuck” on radio before midnight. They didn’t put a ban on Playboy before midnight, so if you get horny at ten o’clock, nine o’clock or even in the middle of the afternoon, you can do it; you just can’t talk about it on the radio.
The second book is called The Tale of the Tribe, subtitled Alphabet/Ideogram/Pound/Joyce/Shannon/McLuhan and Internet. The idea is alphabetical and idiogrammatic thinking as it’s expressed [in the works of these thinkers]. McLuhan’s analysis shows we’re becoming a global village. Which is an idea he got from Pound.
PB: You’re tying the Internet to great philosophers; do you visit websites regularly?
RW: There are three or four websites I check every day for information: I check the weather in my area, I check what’s on Turner Classic Movies and I go to a hunger site to make a donation. When I’m writing a book, I’m on the web half the time because I’ve found that almost anything I need I can find there.
PB: Has the web made conspiracy theories trendier?
RW: Dissident politics, up until the web, was a matter of getting a mimeograph machine, and it didn’t have a chance to compete with the dominant paradigm or the corporate media or whatever you want to call the force that reaches the majority of people. On the web you don’t know who you’re reaching, but you know you’re reaching a hell of a lot of people. Anyone can put up their own website and put up their own view of the universe and humanity. I think this is a tremendous historical breakthrough. The printing press was nothing compared with this. It still had gatekeepers: Before you got published you had to find a publisher or raise the money to publish yourself. I really feel it’s going to be the death of the major media. Nobody decides what gets on the Internet but the users.
PB: Doesn’t the proliferation of websites make it harder for people to know whom to believe?
RW: That’s all for the good. I think intelligence begins with questioning. That’s got to inspire brain activity. People are getting livelier. And that’s why the government is getting more and more paranoid about the Internet and trying to figure out a way to control it. I have the optimistic opinion that they never will find a way. It’s more and more international, and it was designed by the military to survive an atomic war. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Orrin Hatch have a bill that tries to take out any information about how to make drugs. They can’t enforce that outside of the U.S. Feinstein has been the most intelligent and relentless enemy of the First Amendment in my lifetime, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that she’s trying to destroy the Internet.
PB: What do you have to say about your six years as an associate editor at Playboy magazine?
RW: All I can say about my years at Playboy is that those were the happiest years of my corporate existence. At Playboy, I got the highest salary I ever got anywhere, and I got it for writing exactly what I believe. I was writing for the Playboy Forum, Hefner’s philosophy. The only reason I quit was that I was approaching 40 and suddenly realized I didn’t want to die as an editor. I wanted to be a full-time writer no matter what the risks involved. So I quit, and I launched my career and plunged my family into two years of poverty before we started making a little progress. And I still feel guilty about that. I’m still being overly generous to my children to compensate them for what I put them through.