ROBERT ANTON WILSON
Paradigm Shift Interview by Philip H. Farber
We think many of our readers are already familiar with the work of Robert Anton Wilson. If you're not -- hoo boy! -- we are a little envious of you, because you've got the chance to discover for the first time an amazing collection of books including Illuminatus! (with Robert Shea), The Earth Will Shake, The Widow's Son, Prometheus Rising, Cosmic Trigger, Quantum Psychology, and a bunch more. Wilson's novels and non-fiction are guaranteed to blow the cobwebs from your neurons, rattle your cage, yank your chain, and open your eyes.
Paradigm Shift recently had the pleasure of conducting the following interview with Dr. Wilson:
PHF: What is it that you most like to do with your time these days?
Robert Anton Wilson: I like to get stoned and surf the Web. I find all sorts of wonderful wonders, both in text and art. This hobby occupies a few hours a night, three or four nights a week. Otherwise, I enjoy most of what I do but feel more pressure about it. I look after my wife Arlen, who is recovering from a stroke; I shop and cook and houseclean etc.; and I keep working on an encyclopedia of conspiracy theories for Harper Collins. All that has its own rewards, but stoned Websurfing is just pure play... and often educational, too.
PHF: Heh heh.... That's a common pastime around here, too. Do you think that the hyperlinked nature of the web encourages a different kind of thinking? If so, does surfing stoned enhance that?
RAW: I kind of suspect that hyperlinking encourages holistic or at least nonlinear perception, but I had a lot of experience with that before the Web. Most of my favorite 20th century writers --especially Joyce, Pound, Williams, Burroughs -- seem to have a hyperlinked style. McLuhan compared them to the front page of the New York Times and Kenner compared them to film montage. It's all blended in my head --nonlinear page make-up in journalism, montage in film, collage in painting, Joyce, Pound, Williams, Burroughs, now the Web -- and being stoned certainly helps you groove with that kind of "cubist" sensibility. In fact, stoned dial surfing on TV makes for much the same effect. (I once thought I invented dial surfing but so many others invented it at about the same time I don't think we'll ever know who was first...)
All that said, websurfing remains the most fun, and probably the most educational.
PHF: What are some of your favorite sites to surf stoned?
RAW: Well, I'd rather turn that around and ask you and your readers the same question. I'm working up a list of The 10 Best Sites To Visit While Stoned, which I'll add to my own web site when it's finished, and I'm still looking for more leads...Just tack them on at the end of this interview and I'll explore all the ones that are new to me.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please send submissions for the Best Sites To Visit While Stoned to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will forward suggestions to Dr. Wilson.
PHF: Okay... I'm sure we have enough stoned people surfing these pages. Perhaps we can set up a form to submit URLs that can accompany this interview.
RAW: I hope so. By the way, not to be too coy, a few of my favorite web sites, which I have bookmarked and don't keep the URLs for, are the Unofficial George Carlin site, the Monty Python sites, the SubGenius site, the Discordian site and the Republic of Texas site.
PHF: Anyway... From what you see in your virtual travels, do you think people are generally using the web with intelligence, or has it become a wasteland to rival prime time television?
RAW: I don't know what "people"are doing with the Web. Since most people seem to me to be moderately retarded, I assume they're not using much of what is available to them. However, the brightest people I know are using the Web very creatively and all seem to be getting brighter...or at least better informed.
I assume the brightest people use TV that way, too, and they have used books that way for 500 years now.
PHF: Our webzenmaster, John Hoke, asks, "Do you think the web is a conspiracy to keep all the other conspiracies out in the open?"
RAW: Well, that's certainly an amusing way of looking at it. In general, I regard the Web as the closest approximation yet achieved to the ideal of a free marketplace of ideas. The Marxist criticism of democracy ("freedom of the press belongs only to those who own the press") has always been uncomfortably close to the truth. But with the Web (and newsgroups, chat rooms etc.) more people have more freedom of the press or freedom of speech than ever before. I believe that is the most positive development in this generation.
It's not just the conspiracy pages that show a much greater diversity of opinion than the general media. Diversity is all over the net. Everybody who can save up enough money to get a computer can send their own version of reality to the world at large. "Just what I always wanted," Tom Jefferson would say.
PHF: Is there anything you'd like to see happening on the 'net that you haven't found there?
RAW: A more perfect union of internet, TV and VCRs. And that can't be more than a few years away...
PHF: I'm interested in your recent work with Richard Bandler. Have you found NLP to be useful in your writing?
RAW: Yes and no. Dr. Bandler keeps insisting that I have used NLP for years, even if I didn't know it myself. I can see what he means. Both Richard and I have been strongly influenced by Alfred Korzybski, whose system of non-aristotelian logic and general semantics underlie a lot of what Bandler does in his workshops and hypnotherapy; and they also underlie much of my "guerilla ontology," not just in my ideas but in my styles of presentation and my way of altering styles. (For instance, my psychedelic theories derive as much from Korzybski as from dear old Timothy Leary.)
So you might say I "knew" NLP before I studied it. On the other hand, studying NLP has helped me a great deal. I understand my own work better and therefore I think I can do it more skillfully and powerfully now.
To put this into wider context, in a recent conversation Dr Bandler agreed with me that Faulkner uses many NLP techniques in his prose, particularly in his famous long sentences, where the readers absorb a lot more than they consciously comprehend. And, of course, Faulkner also influenced my work a good deal.
PHF: Okay... Since NLP was developed from modeling effective language, that makes sense. Apart from writing skills, have you been playing with it in other ways? Accessing altered states or otherwise changing brains?
RAW: Of course. Chiefly, I use it to relax and stop worrying -- two things I need to work on these days, due to medical problems afflicting people near and dear to me. I use a combination Sufi listening exercise (which gets you into relaxation and near trance) and Bandler's mighty mantra, which you repeat every time you start going back into worry or anxiety. The mantra is slow and spaced and it says to the voice of worry, "Shut the fuck up." After a few tries you get very good at making that damned voice shut the fuck up.
I've also used some NLP techniques in my workshops to make various meditation exercises quicker and more efficient. No doubt about it, NLP has one of the most practical and efficient reprogramming systems around.
PHF: Do you think NLP or Ericksonian hypnosis has potential for changing imprints? Or just conditioning?
RAW: Gee whillikers, I wish you wouldn't ask such hard questions. I have been trying to figure this one out ever since I learned a little NLP, and the more I learn, the more unsure I become. NLP certainly changes conditioning. Maybe, just maybe, it can even reverse imprinting. I'll have more definite opinions about that in another year or so.
PHF: Damn... I was hoping you had the answer to that one! Anyway... on to other territory... What's your take on the Clinton administration's attempt to squelch medical marijuana, even in the states where people have voted for medical herb?
RAW: I hate to become predictable, but I regard Clinton's position as not only wrong, morally and medically, but unconstitutional, fascistic and all-around rotten. If Bob Marley hadn't said it already about the pope, I'd say Clinton was Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Godfather of the Mafia and general all-around Anti-Christ; but I guess that line does work better for the pope.
To sound less violent and more precise, the Constitution lists the powers of the federal government very clearly. Nowhere does it list the power to create an official school of correct medical theory and use force to prevent competition by rival theories.
This power is clearly reserved "to the States or the people," an ambiguity I assume was deliberate because the founders wanted power divided as many ways as possible and each part in some tension (a la Bucky Fuller's dynamic tension philosophy) with all the others. The growth of federal power over all the traditional checks and balances is the worst single event of this dying century and I hope it will be reversed in the next century.
This is not just a matter of one medical heresy; the FDA is cracking down more and more often on any doctor who does not obey orthodoxy, and orthodoxy always turns out to be that which benefits the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry. Materialists may consider that match between orthodoxy and profits mere coincidence, Jungians may call it synchronicity, but to me it looks like a conspiracy to rip off the public.
There's a new medicine for AIDS, I forget its name, but it will cost $20,000 a year. Those with less money than that will just have to suffer on. Now really does anybody believe this medicine would be legal if you could grow it in your backyard and it made no profits for the corporate elite?
As Bismarck said, "Laws are like sausages. You have more respect for them if you haven't seen how they're made."
Oh to get back to that Bob Marley quote. I don't really consider Clinton the Godfather of the Mafia or Imperial Wizard of the KKK, but he does look more and more like a General All-Around Anti-Christ.
PHF: Heh... I'm in agreement. Do you think the various pro-medical-pot bills that passed in a few states bodes well for legalization in the near future, in spite of Clinton and the pharmaceutical industry? Under what conditions would YOU like to see herb legalized, if at all?
RAW: I have an Ideal Answer and a more Pragmatic Answer. Ideally, I would like a government that let everybody to hell alone and let us all make our own medical decisions and even our own recreational decisions. That, I think, is the kind of government intended by the Constitution. The idea that we are ignorant children and Papa Government has to make all our decisions for us is not a democratic idea, not at all; it's a medieval, almost Papist idea. I'd get rid of all victimless crime laws and let everybody do anything that harms not their neighbors. I know that sounds looney, like one of those 18th Century radicals of the Tom Jefferson ilk, but ideally it is the kind of government I'd like.
Pragmatically, since most Americans, like most people everywhere, have an emotional anchor to the patriarchal- authoritarian structure, as described by Reich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism, I don't expect the radical ideas of 18th Century intellectuals to have any sudden rebirth here, or anywhere else on the planet. So, pragmatically, I just hope for gradual moderation of the present insane drug laws, as more and more people, even conservatives, become more and more aware that we're spending vast billions of dollars on a "war" that cannot be won, while other parts of our country are falling apart because of lack of funding for better schools, civilized medical care, etc. According to Pete McWilliams's Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, we spend around 450 billion a year trying to enforce victimless crime laws. People who want a balanced budget or a smaller national debt have more and more realized what a vast waste that is. They will favor moves toward more moderation and some sanity.
Of course, the major argument for cutting back on the War On Sin is simply that in real crimes you've got victims who are eager to help the police identify the culprit, public agreement that such crimes (robbery rape etc.) should not be allowed, and a general cooperation between the people and the cops. In victimless crimes, you have the opposite situtation. The only way the power elite can really win any war against Sin is to spend trillions, not billions, and establish a full-scale totalitarianism. There's enough growing resistance to federal power already; I don't think the public will allow the higher taxes and total loss of liberty such a war would cost us.
PHF: Free associating from the federal gov't to conspiracies... Do you think the current media glut concerning aliens, X-files, Men in Black, etc., is an indication of some organized attempt at propaganda or disinformation? Or something rising from the collective unconscious?
RAW: This requires a complicated answer. I don't see one organized conspiracy running the whole show, but I do agree with Jacques Vallee and Phil Klass that the government has used UFO flaps to help plant certain belief systems (Vallee) and also to cover up other things they didn't want us to know (Klass) --for instance, in early days, the U2 spy planes. However I think most UFO events come from somewhere else...and my favorite model combines Jung (spontaenous release of archetypes of the collective unconscious) and Persinger (energy fluctuations that provoke real Lights, usually ball lightning, plus "poltergeist" type phenomena (dancing furniture, electric systems going on and off unpredictibly etc.) plus brainwave change unleashing the Jungian archetypes...>
But these are just my favorite models. The UFO experience seems to me profoundly more puzzling than either the dogmatic Believers or dogmatic Debunkers seem to realize. I guess my third favorite model, or non-model, is Hynek's agnostic notion that we may have to change basic ideas (about time, space, ego or whatnot) before we can begin to fathom this galloping wierdity.
Based on experience with media, I don't think any central conspiracy "controls" everything totally, although certain ideas get notably ignored in mass media and certain ideas get reinforced over and over... but on the other hand, what gets fashionable depends most often on box office returns. For instance we've had so many films about serial killers,not because the Power Elite wants to make us more afraid of one another, but because The Silence of the Lambs did so damned well; and we have so many alien movies because ET did so damn well, and now we have sinister alien movies because X Files did so damn well.
PHF: Any thoughts about where such a radical change in basic ideas might come from?
RAW: As of today (August 11, 1997) I find the most interesting ideas in traditional Buddhism, Nietzsche, Charles Fort, several quantum physicists (Nick Herbert, David Bohm, Fred Wolfe, David Finkelstein) and in Rupert Sheldrake. Add together the Buddhist yoga of detachment from fixed ideas and emotions, Nietzche's and Fort's merciless assault on the cultural prejudices that are so deeply embedded we usualy don't notice them, quantum uncerainty and holism, Sheldrake's special variety of holism, and I think we have the beginning of a hint of the New Paradigm we need.But after looking at this list I realize I should have included Korzybski's general semantics, Bandler's neurolinguistic programming and Leary's evolutionary-existentialist neuro-psychology or info-psychology as he most recently labelled it.
PHF: Okay... so why are conspiracy theories so popular?
RAW: Information flow is accelerating, as several studies have indicated and as I have documented in a few of my books. Information acceleration leads to fractal functions, according to mathematician Theodore Gordon. Fractal functions are always unpredictible. Okay?
Well, most people don't know enough math and sociology to understand that simple paragraph.All they know is that everything is getting more unpredictible and that looks spooky to them. (The unpredictible tends to spook all mammals...) Unable to grasp what is happening (accelerated evolution), most domesticated primates feel spooked and threatened and look around for some Evil Force to blame. Conspiracy theories will continue to proliferate as long as the acceleration does not include an acceleration of general education...but that will have to happen as the whole world moves into high gear. Then we'll have more understanding (science) and less demonology (conspiracy theory.)
PHF: Any suggestions for those who might find themselves curious about conspiracy theories, or on the verge of swallowing one whole?
RAW: I am 100 per cent in favor of studying conspiracy theories because, next to quantum mechanics, they represent the best test of how well you can handle ambiguity and uncertainty. Most people at present cannot handle indeterminacy at all and generally evade it by rushing to premature certitude. If you really study conspiracy theory carefully, examining all its flavors, the result is like studying quantum theory and all of its conflicting models. You either go bonkers or you learn to think beyond the aristotelian either/or logic of our culture.
The best way to study conspiracy theory without swallowing one theory whole is to prepare yourself by a thorough training in clasical logic, fuzzy logic, general semantics and quite a bit of Zen-Sufi humor, until you have internalized the realization that Universe is infinite chaos and any model you make at a date cannot possibly contain all of it but only represents the mixture of your knowledge and ignorance at that date.
PHF: You recently joined the Board of Advisors of the Fully Informed Jury Association. Why is this group so important in your estimation?
RAW: Well, after I quit the ACLU I had to find some outlet for my energies. (The ACLU has decided they're in favor of discrimination against certain groups.I'm not in favor of discrimination against any groups, so I had to withdraw.)
The Fully Informed Jury Assocation seems to me the best safeguard against the absolute tyranny of the federal government, toward which we seem to be headed. When juries know that they have the right, both de jure and de facto, to nullify any law they find obnoxious or trannical, we have a real chance of withstanding the increase of omnipresent State meddling in every aspect of our lives. (They're prying into our bladders already. When even your bladder is not private and safe from invasion, how much liberty is left concretely?)
De facto any jury can vote as they damned please, and they often do. De jure, they have the right to acquit when the law itself seems unfair or unjust to them, but judges often lie and tell them they do not have this right. FIJA is around to spread the word that juries have had this right since Magna Carta and still have this right, and any judge who says otherwise is a liar and tyrant.
Of course, as an advocate of jury nullification, I also belive in the equally old tradition that juries should be chosen totally at random. In the early days, a jury was the first twelve men the bailiff saw when he walked out the door of the court. It should be both men and women,of course, but it should remain equally random. The lawyers should have no ability to stack a jury. The traditional system, with its random factor, comes as close as humanly possible to obtaining a true cross section of the common sense, the common decency and the common humanity of the people, and I trust those factors, if not blindly the way Catholics trust the pope, certainly a lot more than I trust lawyers and judges.