President Hannibal Lector & the Thing That Ate the Constitution: An Interview with Robert Anton Wilson
By David Jay Brown
Robert Anton Wilson is a writer and philosopher with a huge cult following. He is the author of over 35 popular fiction and nonfiction books, dealing with such themes as quantum mechanics, the future evolution of the human species, weird unexplained phenomena, conspiracy theories, synchronicity, the occult, altered states of consciousness, and the nature of belief systems. His books explore the relationship between the brain and consciousness, and the link between science and mysticism, with wit, wisdom, and personal insights. Comedian George Carlin said, “I have learned more from Robert Anton Wilson than I have from any other source.”
Wilson is a very entertaining writer and both his fiction and nonfiction books can be as reality-shifting as a hearty swig of shamanic jungle juice. Wilson has an uncanny ability to lead his readers, unsuspectingly, into a state of mind where they are playfully tricked into “aha” experiences that cause them to question their most basic assumptions. The writers of many popular science fiction films and television shows have been influenced by Wilson’s writings, and they will sometimes make subtle cryptic references to his philosophy in their stories–often by making the number 23 significant in some way, which refers to Wilson’s strange synchronicities around that number.
Since 1962 Wilson has worked as an editor, futurist, novelist, playwright, poet, lecturer and stand-up comic. He earned his doctorate in psychology from Paideia University, and from 1966-1971 he was the Associate Editor of Playboy magazine. He is perhaps best known for the science fiction trilogy Illuminatus!, which he co-authored with Robert Shea in 1975. The Village Voice called the trilogy “the biggest sci-fi cult novel to come along since Dune.” His Schroedinger’s Cat trilogy was called “the most scientific of all science-fiction novels” by New Scientist magazine.
Wilson has also appeared as a stand-up comic at night clubs throughout the world, and he made a comedy record called Secrets of Power. His more academic lectures are best described as “stand-up philosophy”, and they are as funny and thought-provoking as his comedy routines. He also teaches seminars at New Age retreats, like the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and his Web site–www.rawilson.com–is in the top two percent of the most visited sites on the internet. Rev. Ivan Stang, cofounder of The Church Of The Subgenius, described Wilson as “the Carl Sagan of religion, the Jerry Falwell of quantum physics, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of feminism and the James Joyce of swing-set assembly manuals.”
Wilson starred on a Punk Rock record called The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy, and his play Wilhelm Reich in Hell was performed at the Edmund Burke Theater in Dublin, Ireland. His novel Illuninatus! was adapted as a ten-hour science fiction rock epic and performed under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Great Britain’s National Theater (where he appeared briefly on stage in a special cameo role). A documentary about Wilson’s life and work entitled “Maybe Logic” (by Lance Bauscher) was released on July 23, 2003. At the premiere of the film (at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz, California), the mayor of Santa Cruz (Emily Reilly) officially declared that, from that day forth, July 23rd would be “Robert Anton Wilson Day” in Santa Cruz.
Bob and I have been good friends for over fifteen years, and he has been an important source of inspiration for me. Bob is particularly fond of the writings of James Joyce and Ezra Pound, and I’ve learned a lot about Finnegan’s Wake, The Cantos, and his own Illuminatus! by going to his weekly discussion groups. Actually, it was Bob’s book Cosmic Trigger that not only inspired me to become a writer when I was a teenager, but it was also where I first discovered many of the fascinating individuals who would later become the subjects of my interview books. So it was a great thrill for me when Bob wrote the introduction to my first book, Brainchild. I interviewed Bob for my next book, Mavericks of the Mind in 1989, and then again for my new book Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse in 2003. To follow are some excerpts from the interview that had to be cut from the new book.
At 73 Bob remains as sharp and witty as ever. Bob has an uncanny ability to perceive things that few people notice, and he has an incredible memory. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of many different fields–ranging from literature and psychology, to quantum physics and neuroscience. He is unusually creative in his use of language, and he has his own unique style of humor. Despite many personal challenges over the years, Bob has always maintained a strongly upbeat perspective on life, and–regardless of the circumstances–he never fails to make me smile every time I see him. Everyone who meets him agrees; there’s something truly magical about Robert Anton Wilson.
David: What were you like as a child?
Bob: Stubborn, it seems; maybe pig-headed. My mother often told me how, when I had polio at age 4, I kept trying to get up and walk. She said that no matter how hard I fell, I’d stand and stagger again until I fell again. I attribute that to Irish genetics–after 800 years of British occupation, the quitters did not survive to reproduce, you know. But I still loathe pessimism, masochism and every kind of self-pity. I regard loser scripts as actively nefarious and, in high doses, toxic. Due to that Nietzschean attitude, and the Sister Kenny treatment, I did walk again and then became highly verbal.
A neighbor said, even before I started school, that I should become a lawyer because no judge could shut me up. I attribute that, not to genetics, but to the polio and polio-related early reading skills. Due to a year of total-to-partial paralysis,I missed a vital part of normal male socialization and never became any good at sports, but I devoured books like a glutton. The nuns at the Catholic school where my parents sent me did shut me up for a while. Catholic education employs both psychologocal and physical terrorism: threats of “Hell” and physical abuse. But they never stopped me from thinking–just from saying what I thought.
David: What inspired you to become a writer?
Bob: The magic of words. One of the biggest thrills of my childhood came at the end of King Kong when Carl Denham says. “No, it wasn’t the airplanes–it was Beauty that killed the Beast.” I didn’t know what the hell that meant, but it stirred something in me. In fact, it felt like what the nuns told me I would feel after eating Holy Eucharist–what we call a mystic experience–except that I didn’t get it from the eucharist but from a gigantic gorilla falling off a gigantic skyscraper and having that line as his epitaph. I wanted to learn to use words in a way that would open people’s minds to wonder and poetry the way those words had opened mine.
David: Why do you think politics on this planet is such a huge mess, and human beings are so violent towards one another?
Bob: Because most people have never heard of maybe logic and live in an either/or world, which applied to ethics and social policy becomes a good/evil world. Human vanity then determines that all the damned eejit always put themselves in the good position and anybody who disagrees in the evil. Look at any literary/politics journal–any journal of the nonscientific “intelligentsia”–and you’ll see that they all sound as medieval as George W. Bush or Osama bin Laden. Violence comes of self-righteousness and self-righteousness comes of right/wrong logic, without maybes.
David: Who is the TSOG, and why do we need to keep this “thing” from eating the U.S. Constitution?
Bob: I coined the term TSOG to mean “Tsarist Occupation Government” and to sound like a monster from a Lovecraft horror story. In a constitutional democracy, decisions concerning your health depend on your own judgement and that of your doctor. When such life-and-death matters get decided not by you and your doctor but by an allegedly omniscient Tsar, we have neither constitution nor democracy anymore but blatant and brutal Tsarist tyranny. Look at America today: we not only have a Tsar but he has more spies and informers working for him than Russia had in the days of Konstantin Pobedonostsev, who served as an advisor to Alexander III and Nicholas II. Pobedonostsev managed such an army of snoops that they called him “the Grand Inquisitor.” Read Turgenev and Dosteovksy and you’ll see how much America in the early 21st century has become like Russia in the 19th.
David: Tell me about your decision to run for governor of California, and about the Guns and Dope Party.
Bob: After I had written several articles and a whole book on the TSOG, my friends kept asking me to run, and I kept refusing, until it seemed every other nutcase in California had gotten into the act, so I finally made the leap. The Guns and Dope Partyrepresents my attempt to unify the libertarian right and the libertarian left, not on a theoretical or ideological basis, such as Norman Mailer once tried, but just on the rule all horse-traders understand: give me something of value and I’ll give you something of value.
I want the dopers to fight for gun rights and the gun people to fight for medical and recreational rights, because together we make a majority in the Western states, and especially in California. Besides, I agree with the gun people about this government. If only the police and the army have guns, we have a de facto totalitarian state that can do anything it pleases. The War on Some Drugs seems like an overture or dress rehearsal for such a totally Tsarist nightmare.
A few decades ago, Henry Kissinger said, “Anybody in Washington who isn’t paranoid must be crazy.” Under Dubya, I feel that anybody outside Washington who doesn’t feel paranoid about what’s going on in Washington must be crazy. First they take our money by force to do with as they please [the accursed IRS] , then they want to disarm us, and they dare call this democracy? I don’t think Jefferson or Adams would agree. They’d call it tyranny, and so do I.
David: Why do you think Hannibal Lector would make a better president than George W. Bush?
Bob: I started the Lecter for President write-in campaign to make people think about style in politics. Look: Dr. Lecter doesn’t kill for money. He has some standards, however egregious. Dubya seems to have none at all. Besides, Hannibal has a decent education and a sense of humor. He frightens me much less than Dubya. If we must have a serial killer in the oval office, and most Americans east of the Rockies seem to think we must, I’d prefer one with some class and panache. Dubya has as much of those as the stuff you step in and scrape off on the curb, hoping it’s not as bad as it smells.
David: Can you tell me about the film “Maybe Logic”, and about your reaction to the mayor of Santa Cruz’s proclamation at the film’s premiere that July 23rd will officially be “Robert Anton Wilson Day” in Santa Cruz?
Bob: My ego grew three inches in 24 hours.
David: What are you currently working on? Bob: I’m learning to walk for the third time. (I hope). Promoting the Guns and Dope Party. And I’m writing a book on the decentralization of power that I think Internet will create.
David Jay Brown is the author of two New Falcon titles, Brainchild and Virus, and was a contributor to the New Falcon book Rebels and Devils: The Psychology of Liberation. David is also the co-author of the three volumes of interviews: Mavericks of the Mind, Voices from the Edge, and Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press this Spring. To find out more about David’s work visit his award-winning web sites: http://www.mavericksofthemind.com/ andhttp://www.sexanddrugs.info/