Meeting with a Remarkable Man: A Talk with Robert Anton Wilson
The date was July 25, 2003. I was somewhat in denial of the fact that I was about to sit down with Robert Anton Wilson, philosopher/magician/cantankerous old codger, and conduct an interview with what felt like no prep at all--just a few notes scrawled into my notebook when I found out that I got the interview two hours earlier. You see, originally I was in town only to see a documentary about him entitled Maybe Logic -- which by the way was sharp as a tack -- but then I decided to go for the gusto and see if I could sit down with the man who warped my mind like a K-hole when I read the Illuminatus! trilogy as a teenager. The reality of the situation was that I could only stay in town for three nights, as that was the maximum amount of time the International Youth Hostel of Santa Cruz would allow me to sleep there. If I wanted to stay longer, I'd be forced to pay inflated summer rates for a motel room or kick it with the hobos and homeless on the streets for a couple of nights. Or worse, I might have to head back east with nothing but the impression that Santa Cruz was a strange, strange place.
The closer I got to RAW's apartment the more it dawned on me that I was late, unprepared, and not sure if the tape recorder I just bought at Radio Shack would pick up any of our conversation. That's just how life is sometimes.
For those who don't know who RAW was, or seemed to be, perhaps the simplest way to put it is that the man was an icon for being an iconoclast. Throughout his forty some odd years writing biting social commentary with a sly psychedelic wit, he used the language of a street comedian rather than a pundit on a soapbox. Reading his books gives you the feeling that he has turned on the lights and discovered that ostentatious intellectuals have been unknowingly fondling an elephant with maladroit hands. He assessed the bullshit, or er, elephant shit, and wisely stepped aside and acted as a fair warning system to those of us venturing into the less illuminated parts of our minds. If there is one phrase that echoes in those darkened halls it must be, "Think for yourself."
I was nervous. It was trepidation mixed with a strong feeling of joy that allowed me to make it up the three flights of stairs to RAW's apartment door without being winded. To me, Bob seemed a master raconteur, at ease winding yarns around his audience's mind until you laugh yourself out of the skull cap he just knit for you with his story.
Propaganda Anonymous: I'm sitting here talking with Mr. Robert Anton Wilson. I originally came out here to see the world premiere of his documentary entitled, Maybe Logic, premiering on July 23rd, 2003.
Mr. Wilson, July 23rd, 2003 seemed like a special date on more than one instance for that night.
Robert Anton Wilson: Well, it was Monica Lewinsky's 30th birthday. I only blew the minds of a few people. She blew the minds of the whole country....or she blew something.
Prop: And along with Monica Lewinsky's 30th birthday, it was also a day that was named after you, for the city of Santa Cruz, by the Mayor.
Wilson: Yeah, a friend of mine in Massachusetts is trying to make it a national celebration among my fans, which would be called Maybe Day. He asked me to suggest rituals. I wrote back in e-mail just before you arrived. I suggested he should invite Christians, Jews, and Moslems, and have chanting of "Jesus is the only Son of God, maybe" "Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God is one, maybe" and "There's no God but Allah, maybe, and maybe Mohammed is his prophet." I think this will do a great deal to restore sanity to this planet. It depends if Jews and Moslems show up for this celebration. Maybe it'll do their heads a lot of good.
Prop: And also on that day, as mentioned in Maybe Logic, was the 30-year anniversary of when you first received communications from what seemed to be an extra-terrestrial-higher intelligence. Has there ever been any recurrences, small flashbacks, if you will, since those 30 years past?
Wilson: Oh... um, it never really stopped. But my metaphor for it changes. Now I prefer to regard it as an increase in intuition and psychic abilities, rather than a separate entity guiding me. But the experience takes different forms. Sometimes I forget about it for weeks on end. I prefer to think of it as a white rabbit from County Kerry, because there is no chance anybody will take that literally, including me.
Prop: You were involved in a protest in September 2002 concerning the issue of medical marijuana. What exactly has the federal government impinged upon in crossing the rights of citizens in California, concerning that issue?
Wilson: Well, the government kills people. Take Peter McWilliams, the best-selling author. [And I'm not a best-selling author; I'm a cult author. I have a small but passionate following. It'd be nice to write a bestseller. I admire people who have that skill. I wish I had it.] He was a best-selling author, and one of the leading gay rights advocates. And he had AIDS and Cancer. They took away his marijuana, which controlled his nausea, and a few weeks later he choked on his own vomit, and died.
Now, of course, there are thousands of people in pain all over the country, because the government won't let them have medical marijuana.
And then there was a case in Virginia. It was on 60 minutes. On CBS news! Goddamnit. The truth even gets into the corporate media sometimes.
This doctor had his license suspended for three years for giving an unnamed drug, they wouldn't name it --I think it was heroin, but I'm guessing -- to a patient who had some condition I never heard of, it's very rare. This guy was in horrible pain, all over his body, 24 hours a day. The only relief he got was from this unknown drug this doctor gave him. So the doctor's license was suspended, and this guy committed suicide. He made a video of himself, shooting himself in the head, denouncing the United States government. They showed that on CBS.
The only possible rationale that can justify the behavior of the federal government and the Tsarist bureaucracy, would be that, no sick person in the country, nor their doctor and none of their family in consultation, none of us, can judge what's best for the patient. Only the Tsar knows what's best for the patient. The only way this makes any sense is if we assume the doctrine called Mystical Tsarism, which arose in the 19th century in Russia as a defense against European rationalism.
Mystical Tsarism held that the Tsar is directly guided by God, and therefore no one can understand his decision except him and God. That's the same rationale as our government today -- the Tsar must be directed by God; how else could he know what medicine is best for every patient? He must be guided by God, so they revived mystical Tsarism, and incorporated it into the Constitutional democracy we once had in this country... and they're killing people, and they're hurting people all the time, and they're doing this for reasons nobody knows. Either they're mentally stark staring batshit crazy, and they really do believe that some "god" is gonna to run the whole system for us, or else they are so superstitious and stupid that they should really be put in remedial reading classes and start over in Kindergarten or something like that. Or they're in conspiracy with the large pharmaceutical companies to keep people from getting cheap effective medicine and force the sick people to use the expensive and rather ineffective medicine that the big drug companies keep pushing at us. "Let them eat Celebrex."
Prop: I read in a previous interview that you considered yourself an Anarchist earlier in your career.
Wilson: At one point I was calling myself an Anarchist, an Atheist, and a Witch. Then when I reached my 40's I softened that. I started to describe myself as a libertarian, a pantheist, and a neopagan. And since then I moved on to a decentralist, a pragmatist, and a proponent of maybe logic.... I got the idea from T.S. Eliot. T.S. Eliot was the most popular poet of the 1920s, and suddenly in the 1930s he announced he was a monarchist in politics, a classicist in literature, and an Anglo-Catholic in religion.
It horrified most of his previous admirers, and it brought him a whole new bunch of admirers from the other side of the literary world.
Then Dylan Thomas declared himself an Anarchist in literature, a Drunkard by religion, and a Welshman in politics.
Prop: Was he drunk when he said that?
Wilson: Well he usually was. He died of drink. Damn fool. People who die of drink are all damn fools....In my judgment, I don't mean they "are" damn fools. I mean, I judge them to be damn fools, from my estimation, in my reality-tunnel.
Some of the people I admire most died of alcoholism. Malaclypse the Younger, the founder of the Discordian Society, W.C. Fields, William Faulkner, Hemingway....
Hemingway shot himself, because, as he told a friend "I can't hunt, I can't write, and I can't even fuck. What's the use of going on?" That was all because he put too much booze into his body, ruined his liver and his brain.
Prop: He did LSD. Hemingway.
Wilson: Really? I never heard about that.
Prop: Well, I wouldn't call myself an expert researcher in Hemingway, but I heard that he had done LSD once. I was hoping you might verify that.
Wilson: Nah. Maybe he didn't have the right set and setting. There's nothing magical in LSD by itself. You gotta have LSD plus the right set and the right setting for really dramatic changes. That's why I got interested in Crowley. I was reading Magick in Theory and Practice, trying to figure out what the hell it's all about. Trying to make sense of his medieval ravings and rantings. Then it suddenly struck me. This was the best way to program an LSD trip. Do a Crowley ritual -- work it up, all the steps, then keep careful records afterwards. Do the rituals, keep notes, keep notes for at least a year, then see the results you're getting, and see if you need to change the path and try a different set of rituals.
This is a science! This is as empirical as biology. This as practical as.....(laughing) no, no, erase that. This is empirical as the Stock Market anyway. You see, you try to see what works for you, you know.
I prefer Las Vegas to the Stock Market, but I never go to Las Vegas, and I never invest in Stocks. I am not inclined to gamble, though I think I'd have better luck in Las Vegas. Everybody I know who has tried to beat the Wall Street professionals has ended up losing their investment. They come around telling me how much money they made, and what a damn fool I am for not trading on the computer all day. Then I see them a year later, and they're flat on their ass broke, telling me they lost it all.
Just like Las Vegas. The more you win, the more you bet. The more you bet, the more certain you're going to lose it all eventually. Everything keeps doubling.
Like Baldy Bacon in Pound's Canto XII:
Also ran up 40,000 bones on his own
Once, but wanted to "eat up the whole'r Wall Street"
and dropped it all three weeks later
40 thousand was a lot back then when Pound wrote that. In my parent's first house they rented, the rent was 48 dollars a month. Most of my money goes to my rent. I just like living here. I love the view. I love the Buddha out on the balcony. I like to sit out on the balcony, look at the Buddha, and think of the sea.
Then those damn idiots next door put up an American Flag. I gotta think about that now too. I can't just think of the Buddha and the ocean.... All these domesticated primates who used to charge into battle, waving the king's umbilical cord; then they discovered the umbilical cord wore out, so they used a colored piece of cloth, then they started putting designs on the colored pieces of cloth, now they've got them hanging out their windows to keep the terrorists away...or something. .... It's more likely to attract the attention of the terrorists. If I had to travel [thank god I don't] I would've learned to do a good Irish dialect. I can't do an English accent no matter how hard I try. I can almost barely do an Irish one, at least if I'm not in Ireland. I wouldn't want anybody to know I'm an American.
I'm sort of a half-time Harry Browne fan. You know him? He's the Libertarian candidate for president last term. He has a weekly column he sends out on e-mails. Well, I agree with him on half and disagree with him on half. Like most libertarians, we never agree with one another totally. The greatest thing he ever wrote was in a recent e-mail, "America fears most of the world and most of the world fears America." Everybody's afraid of America, with good cause. In America you're afraid of everybody else, with good cause. I get more reactionary all the time. Jefferson and Adams and Washington, Madison, that whole group seems so much smarter than the people who are running the government today. Back in the 18th century we had people smarter than me. Now we've got Bozo. See: every rebel becomes a reactionary.
Prop: In the Foreword of Quantum Psychology, you write about a handful of philosophies. Two of which are Operationalism and Existentialism. As an example, in academia, someone who is heavily into Existentialism won't really think about looking at phenomena in Operational terms. Could you explain?
Wilson: Oh, yeah. The point is that Operationalism and Existentialism have more in common than they realize. The only reason they don't realize how much they have in common is because of this goddamn psychological warfare going on between the Humanities department and the Science department. If they would stop waving their dicks around yelling "Mine is bigger than yours" and sit down and talk, essentially they'll realize existentialism and operationalism are basically the same method applied to two different areas.
Operationalism is your experience with instruments. Existentialism is your experience without instruments. They're both dealing with your experience; they're throwing out all the traditional abstractions of the Western mind. They have more in common than they realize.
Prop: In the documentary, Maybe Logic, the subject of Giordono Bruno came up, and how in his time mysticism and science were studied in conjunction, both at the opposite end of the spectrum as religion. It seemed as if Quantum Psychology might be doing that as well. Do you feel that Quantum Psychology put mysticism and science on the same playing field?
Wilson: Yeah, I guess I was trying to do that. I did that in several of my books. I think. Yeah, Bruno is a really key figure. Frances Yates, who wrote a couple of books, Giordono Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, made a pretty good argument that Bruno and John Dee and Johann Kepler and a few others were all in communication with one another and were plotting this scientific mystical overthrow of the Theological systems in Europe.
This became the Rosicrucian Brotherhood, and later became Freemasonry. It's a very plausible theory. And whether it's true or not, it is certainly true that Bruno was burned on 18 counts, not just for teaching Copernican astronomy, but also for practicing cabalistic magic and teaching a mystical system of improving your memory. And, oh yeah, planning secret societies to plot against the Vatican.
With him there was no difference between science and mysticism. They were both ways to find out what's going on, and both of them were in opposition to the bureaucrats of the Catholic Church who had their own dogma, and who insisted that you agree with them or keep your mouth shut. Even if you keep your mouth shut, you might be accused of sick salacious thoughts if they found the wrong books in your house.
Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600. And 1766 or 1765, there was a guy who was beheaded in France for having Voltaire's books in his house. And he was also suspected of throwing shit on the altar of the local church, but they couldn't prove that. All they could prove was that he had Voltaire's books.
Prop: Speaking of shit, could you talk about this in relation to the 2nd circuit?
Wilson: Well, when you take your dog for a walk, your dog pees in not one place but several places. The dog is marking her territory. There's lots of evidence in the last 30 years by animal researchers that human beings, like other animals, have territories. Just walk around and see all the "no trespassing" signs around your area of the country.
Humans are very territorial animals. That's why Timothy Leary said, "The only intelligent way to discuss politics is on all fours." Politics is all about territorial squabbles. Who's in charge around this habitat? Who is the alpha-male or female? Elephants are the only mammals I know that have Alpha females, but most insects do.
With most mammals it's the Alpha males who are in charge. And who's the Alpha Male? Who gives the orders? Another question is could we hold this territory? Or would it be better and expand it and knock off the next tribe and take their territory too?
And this is an Evolutionary Relative Success. Except that as technology advances it's getting more and more dangerous for all of us. So I believe the higher circuits should be evoked now at this point in history because it's becoming, as Bucky Fuller used to say, Omni-lethal. I don't know how many more world wars we can tolerate. There's going to become a point where we're going to wipe the human race out if we don't stop war before that happens.
So we got to learn to do something else with the territorial squabbling. Well, we can squabble over ideological territories. Let's make a deal we're not going to shoot each other over this, we're going have a place like the UN, where everybody can say "We have the best political system in the world, and the rest of you guys suck. You don't know shit about politics." Just so long as they're not shooting one another.
A lot of people get off on that, like New York intellectuals. They spend all their time insulting one another. This is known as witty conversation. ...What it comes down to is who can dominate the territory with the best verbalisms. New York intellectuals are the most backward people in the country, outside of Congress, so if they can learn it, then I think Congress and diplomats at the UN can learn it. Just sit and argue and insult each other. And if they learn to use Maybe Logic -- that might take 100 years or so -- they might even make more progress. Instead of just arguing they might even come to some agreements. As long as they just agree to stop shooting at everybody. The rest of us are just innocent bystanders -- Don't shoot at us.
Prop: It seems that this level of communication is prevalent in much of our culture.
Wilson: I detest the cruelty of most literary criticism. And this is not, believe it or not, a personal vendetta. I have gotten, I would say, about 90 good reviews for every 10 bad ones. Probably even better than that. I got a lot of rave reviews on all my books and advertisements and so on. And some of them from prestigious places like New Scientist even.
So I'm not complaining for myself. When I read these bitchy, male and females intellectuals, and the males are bitchier than the females....when I read them denouncing one another, in such nasty terms it reminds me of a bunch of nasty kids in the schoolyard. I think, jeez, I gave that up when I was about 12 years old. What's the matter with these people who are still doing it?
I kind of like Norman Mailer for punching Gore Vidal. At least Mailer brought it down to the level where he made it visible where it all comes from. It's all macho aggression. I think they should punch one another more often, and spend less time being bitchy.
Prop: You've listed Mailer as an influence on your writing style, in his long sentences -- which are phenomenal, the way that he does it and the way you do it, as well..
Wilson: Well, both Mailer and I learned a lot from Faulkner, and Faulkner learned a lot from Joseph Conrad, so let's give everybody credit... I'm not putting Norman down. Norman learned a lot from Faulkner, I learned a lot from both Faulkner and Norman Mailer. I then, very late in life, discovered Joseph Conrad, who was doing that type of word experiments with long sentences back around the end of the last century, early this century.
Joseph Conrad was born speaking Polish, he learned English very late in life. He wrote all his novels in English. And They're so beautifully written you can't believe this guy was using English as a second language. And he was. So was Arthur Koestler, come to think of it. He's not as great a writer as Conrad, but still Arthur Koestler was damned eloquent.
It amazes me. I know bits and dabs of several languages. I never learned any of them well enough to carry on an intelligent conversation, much less write a goddamned book in it. People who can do that, they really leave me flabbergasted. Like people who can play the Apassionata on the piano. I think that they must have some gene, I don't even have a cousin of that gene. I have an ear to listen to it, but I can't envision myself actually being able to perform it.
Prop: Speaking of writing, in the Illuminatus trilogy you once described that novel as a journey from paranoia to metanoia, where you first believe everything is connected but it's in a bad way. And at the end of the book, you believe that everything is connected, but it's joyous, like Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
I, for one, after reading that book as a teenager..I kind of felt that journey from somewhat paranoia to metanoia. But it was hypnotizing -- the prose. And I came across one of your interviews on the Internet, where you had once said that you meant for that to happen. You wrote the book for that particular purpose, to kind of hypnotize. I know that most writers try to do that, but it seemed that the blueprint you set out to do was very successful.
Wilson: Yeah, I feel pretty happy with the results. There was a woman in North Carolina who wrote for a science fiction fan zine, who kept criticizing me on the grounds that Illuminatus! drove several of her friends to commit suicide. She claimed that it was not a journey from paranoia to metanoia, but that it was a journey into further paranoia and absolute insanity. I never did figure out what to say about that. Except that somebody had committed a bunch of murders after reading Thomas Wolfe's, The Web and the Rock.
His name was Harold Unrah. He lived in New Jersey. He was reading The Web and the Rock , and he came out with a gun and shot everybody he met on the street until the police got him. He was the first of the modern spree killers, as they call it. As distinguished from serial killers who pace themselves between victims, thinking they are going to get away, the spree killers are going to kill as many as they can, knowing they are going to get killed themselves. You can't do a spree killing and expect to walk away from it.
So, even if I did have a bad affect on some of them, it's not my fault, any more than it was Thomas Wolfe's fault. And besides, most serial killers when asked to name their favorite book, all say the Book of Revelations. Not all of them, but that's the most popular book with serial killers. You can see why. You read that stuff... Just try getting stoned and reading the Book of Revelations. You'll have the most paranoid delusions and hallucinations. No. Don't try it out. Don't try it out until you are over 60; otherwise you might really flip out entirely. It's not in the Lutheran Bible, you know. Martin Luther considered it dangerous lunacy, or something like that; he cut it out of the Holy Scripture. He thought the Church in Rome wrote it to drive the suckers crazy.... In spite of that woman in Carolina, I do think Illuminatus! has helped most of its readers. I get so much positive feedback, .......of course those that did commit suicide have no time to write back and ask why you drove us to suicide. Let's hope they're really very few and far between. Let's hope she really just had a grudge against me, and made it all up. Let's hope....
Prop: Timothy Leary was in jail with Charles Manson, or so he wrote in a few of his books; and their cells were actually adjoining, only a wall between them. Do you know of his impressions of Charles Manson?
Wilson: I don't know if this is one of his books, but he told me that, "Charlie was the shortest guy in the prison." He wasn't a midget, but he was 5'2 or 5 foot or something, very short. At some point in his career -- he was in and out of prison all his life, you know, -- at some point in his career he realized, that the only way he could survive with that much disadvantage in lethal combat was to make everybody think you're so damn crazy they wouldn't want to mess with you. You had to be so crazy, you were terrifying. So Manson developed that talent to an extraordinary degree.
I was staying at a really nice hotel in Los Angeles a few years ago. I was a guest speaker at a Neuro-Linguistic Programming workshop. I invited Paul Krassner and his wife over and have lunch on me, in my room. Room service at my expense. And, oh wow man. Putting on the dog. Paul used to pay me $15 an article when the Realist was first started. And, anyway, Paul told me that hotel was strange cause Charlie Manson worked as a pimp in the lobby for a couple of years in between his various prison terms. It made the whole hotel seem darker and more sinister. And the hotel was supposedly haunted by the ghost of Clifton Webb.
Prop: Did you ever harbor any thoughts about maybe becoming an actor?
Wilson: No, but I've often thought I became an actor without intending to. All my life I've had this fantasy of directing a movie. The fantasy is stronger now than it used to be.
I never thought of myself as an actor until I saw a video of a stand-up comedy act I did at a nightclub in San Francisco. And I thought, "Hey, I'm an actor." Every comedian is an actor in a sense. That's a role I put on to keep the audience laughing. So I'm being an actor without even working at it. I don't know if I can do another role.
Like Woody Allen: he's one of the most innovative people around as a director and as a writer, but as an actor, he's afraid to play any role except for the role he played the first time out, but it was a success. Why is he so afraid to experiment as an actor? When he's so experimental as a writer and director? I don't know.
The only role I play is Robert Anton Wilson, the comic philosopher.
Prop: You once said that the law is based on precedents and the past. With technology rapidly increasing, there seems to be no real map for the territory that is coming upon us. If there is going to be some kind of change, socially, how do you think it is going to occur?
Wilson: I don't know how change is going to occur. In a rational world there would be enough politicians on this planet, in each country, that, two or three of them would eventually stumble upon the World Game Center in Philadelphia, founded by Buckminster Fuller, and they would study it intelligently, or assign a team to study it intelligently, and they would take out a few suggestions that seems useful to them. If this happened often enough, the world would keep changing in a way that would be satisfactory to everybody on the planet and hurt nobody.
Somehow or other we are going to stagger blindly until we reach that point. I just feel that.... Just yesterday, my son sent me a clipping from Space News about life that lives in rocks and eats rocks. I've often used that as an argument against Vegetarians, "If you don't want to kill anything, then eat rocks," but there are organisms that eat rocks it seems. I heard on t.v., about two years ago, on the science channel, they found life in the volcanic ash in the ocean in Krakatoa which is not based on DNA, it is entirely different form of life, which apparently arose after the eruption of Krakatoa.
As for the DNA form of life, it has gotten to the top of the Himalyas, it has gotten to the South Pole, it's all over the tropics, it's swarming, it takes so many forms. One day I saw, on the sidewalk in Chicago, a leave of grass poking up between a crack in the concrete. And, I had acid the night before, so I was especially sensitive. That leaf of grass suddenly said to me, "Life is Unconquerable." We always find a way.
And I just feel, somehow or other, life finds a way. I'll quote Bucky Fuller one more time, "People always do the most intelligent thing, after they've tried every stupid alternatives and none of them have worked." That's the cause of my optimism.
Nothing will work except an intelligent program. So eventually, somehow or other, even people like George Bush -- not George Bush...Well yeah, even George Bush -- might eventually, if they appoint him to a second term, or if he wins an election fairly, and has a second term, even George Bush might -- by 2008 -- he may be forced to have an original thought. Some of his closest advisors may force him to consider an original thought. I mean, it could happen.
In Ezra Pound's Cantos, Canto 85 or 86, somewhere around there, Pound has the line: "Ike driven to the edge almost of a thought"
If Eisenhower was driven almost to the edge of a thought, maybe George Bush can be driven there too.
Now this whole thing about being ruled by precedents, I don't agree. Many flaws in this country come from the fact that we've got more lawyers in Congress than any other professional group. We'd be better with a Congress mostly of dentists. All these dentists read the latest dentistry. They're up to date in at least one science. I think the whole damn Congress should be made up entirely of engineers and researchers. But I don't expect anybody to accept that idea very soon.
We have a government run almost entirely by lawyers. What do lawyers do? They look up precedent. That means the government is always governed by the past, never by the present, much less the possibilities of the future. They're always looking backwards. A government made up of lawyers is by definition reactionary. Looking backwards, all the time looking backwards. So I think we should shoot a couple hundred lawyers every year. Whittle off the population of lawyers, so that Congress will have to recruit from other areas or professions.
A couple of astronauts have gotten into Congress. They'll have to recruit a couple of physicists, a couple of engineers, a couple of economists who know something..... there are a few economists who actually know something.... a biologist or two might be very useful. But as long as we're governed by lawyers....
Every July 4th I invite a bunch of friends over and show them 1776. This time, I dug out my edition of the Letters and Writings of John Adams and John Quincy Adams to read them a few selections. Towards the end of their correspondence, just before they died, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "The problem, as I see it, is how to prevent freedom from allowing intelligence and ambition to accumulate great wealth. And how to keep great wealth from corrupting Congress." Nobody has solved that. Great wealth has corrupted the Congress since about the 1890s. It's corrupted the whole goddamned government by now.
Prop: What was it about the 1890's that caused the change?
Wilson: I think it was the 1890s with the Spanish/American War. It was the beginning of the American Empire. And also it was in the 1890s that the Supreme Court ruled a rebuttal in the jury nullification case. The jury did have the right to nullify, but the judge had the right to prevent the jury from knowing that they could nullify. The judge had the right to lie to the jury if he wanted to. And the judge could even prevent the defense counsel from telling them they could nullify.
This was in the case involving somebody whom committed the heinous crime of forming a labor union, which was illegal in those days. You know, most people don't realize where jury nullification comes from. That's how they started modifying it, by saying the judge could hide it from the jury that they had the right to nullify, it was over labor unions.
The biggest case in this country was the Peter Zenger case. 30 Years before the American Revolution Zenger committed the crime of criticizing the government. It was a crime then. And the jury nullified the law, and let him go. And in England in 1692, William Penn committed the unspeakable atrocious blasphemous obscene crime of preaching a religion not that of the Anglican Church, which was then against the law in England. The ancestors of our Protestant Fundamentalists in this country were called dissidents then. The Anglicans didn't want any of the dissidents or the Roman Catholics preaching in public. William Penn disobeyed that law, and the jury nullified. That's where religious freedom starts in the modern world.
Jury nullification has done so much good. And it's getting more and more on television, on all legal shows. The more and more they keep bringing the topic up. The more people who know about it the better, because if you don't know about it going into court, you're not going to find out about it when you're in court.
Prop: On your website you have a links page, and one of the links was for a site called The Molecular Biology of Paradise. That site definitely goes into the realm of neuroscience and biotechnology. Do you know any good introductions, besides your books, for people who want to learn about themselves in the molecular sense?
Wilson: Well, I'm no expert in that field, but the best book I can think of to get an overview of, say, understanding how the basic principles of the so called "mind" and the so called "body" interrelate is Ernest Lawerence Rossi's Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing. He doesn't go into the chemistry, but he goes into the names of the chemicals anyway, and neuropeptides and so on.
Peptides are fascinating. They're just like particles in quantum mechanics, which act like waves part of the time. Peptides act like neurotransmitters part of the time, and like hormones part of the time. That's why they affect both the so-called "mind" and the so-called "body." Yeah, Rossi's book and the references in that book make a very good place to start.
Prop: Cool. In your book The New Inquisition, you considered matter as a metaphor. If you could just kind of elaborate on that, that would be great.
Wilson: Well in the first place, as Alfred North Whitehead pointed out -- Alfred North Fucking Whitehead, one of our most prestigious philosophers in the last century, and a great mathematician too -- he pointed out that you couldn't give anybody a piece of matter. Just like you can't give them a piece of time or a piece of space. All you can give them is a piece of matter on a certain time at a certain space. So space-time-matter can't be split up into parts.
Korzybski incorporated that into Science and Sanity . Obviously, you can't leave mind out either, because how do you know the space-time-matter are there at all unless there is a mind to observe them. So space-time-matter and mind make up the four parts of any transaction. So where does that get us?
Prop: It's good for me.
Wilson: Oh, yeah also, I object to Fundamentalist Materialism. Although, in some ways I lean very closely to what I'd call a liberal materialism as a working hypothesis that's safe most of the time. As long as you're not directed into a goddamn dogma or an idol. The Fundamentalist Materialists is what I call these people, this mindset, that takes the materialist model and revere it as passionately as a religious conviction. Like some these goddamn Darwinians I see on television. To me, they're as embarrassing as the Fundamentalist Christians they're arguing with. All these Fundamentalist Christians are yelling, "God created the world in six days." All the Fundamentalist Materialists as yelling back, "Evolution is not a theory, it's a proven fact." Well, it's not a proven fact. It's a hypothesis. It's a very plausible hypothesis, seems to me the most plausible hypothesis. But you can't confuse it with a fact. In the first place it can't be tested in the laboratory, so it can't be refuted.
According to Karl Popper, any theory that can't be refuted is not part of science. I think evolution did occur. I mean I "believe" in it. But, jesus, some of these people are so fanatical about it they sound just like the Christians. It's like the same guy arguing with his own reflection in the mirror. Or her own reflection.
I coined the term spokesentities, because I was in a restaurant in Boulder, and they gave me a card, to evaluate the food, the service, this that and the other, and they asked me to evaluate the waitperson. And it asks for comments. So I wrote in the comments, I wrote, "Waitperson stinks of human chauvinism. Change it to waitentity at once!" And I signed it "animal lover."
And then I started using that, then, and my wife, Arlen, changed it to waitcritter.. Waitcritter, Congresscritter; clergycritter... I wouldn't want a clergy-critter getting into my house. And it changes the whole abortion debate. Now all they can argue about is what point after the penetration of the ovum by the sperm does the resultant become a critter? And when does it attain critterhood?
Prop: Your comment about the suggestion that you left for the restaurant in Bolder reminded me of a character in a few of your books called Markoff Chaney. And the way he messed around with the signs of stores, in his little Anarchist sprees. How did you come up with that character?
Wilson: Well, believe it or not, the first sign that appeared in the Illuminatus! is the sign that Simon Moon sees in a second-hand clothing store. Not second hand, a bargain, wait, I don't know what the hell kind of clothing...anyway a cheap clothing store in North Clark Street, Chicago. And the sign said, "No employee may punch the time clock of any other employee. Any deviation will result in termination. The MGT."
And I really saw that sign. And I liked the line, "Any deviation can result in termination" Made me think, you can make a song out of that. "I got the any deviation can result in termination blues....Baaa-By" And, somehow the midget began to appear more and more real in my imagination. Then he got the name Markoff Chaney, because for years I have been fascinated by Claude Shannon's mathematical theory of communication, and the mathematical function called the Markoff Chain, which played a very crucial role in his equations. So somehow Markoff Chain became Markoff Chaney, and I started thinking of Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney Jr., so Markoff Chaney emerged out of my memories of Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., and the Markoff Chain.
Prop: I heard in a previous interview of yours called "In Defense of Anarchism," in which you spoke of how Cybernetics will be the technology, when applied to Industry, that will bring about the ideas that Anarchists cherish.
Wilson: Most people think Anarchism means throwing bombs at people you don't like. That's one school of European Anarchism. There are a dozen other types of Anarchist thought. And, it seems to me, the most intelligent type of Anarchism is based upon the idea that Control and Communication should be decentralized as much as possible.
So imagine my excitement when I read the first book on Cybernetics by Norbert Weiner, a mathematician at MIT. It was called Cybernetics: Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. And the whole book adds up to: the more control and communication are decentralized, the more intelligent the thing will behave whether it's a machine, an animal, a herd of animals or a society of human beings.
I regard that as the mathematical proof of Anarchist Theory. I see us heading there more and more, in spite of the fact that we seem to be going more and more towards fascism as a system, as a state. I think as a society, the Internet is pushing us more and more towards Anarchy with control and communication getting more and more decentralized. When Internet covers the whole planet, and everybody is in not in six-degrees of separation, but is one degree separated from everybody else on this planet by cyberspace, I think then we will begin to act intelligently as a species, but as long as we got these damn hierarchies where communication comes from the top-down, never goes up again, we're going to continue to act like the Frankenstein monster, staggering around killing people by accident.
You know the nicest thing my wife ever said to me?
Wilson: "If all men were like you, there would be no need for Feminism." Every time I think of that, I feel such a warm glow. She knew me pretty well. She had to, after 42 years.
Prop: That's quite a complement.
Wilson: The greatest complement I've ever received.
Prop: Well what are your views on Feminism these days?
Wilson: Well, there was a point where the most widely publicized of the feminists was the nut fringe, and they were talking about men the way Hitler talked about Jews. I was not at all reticent or shy about expressing that opinion, and continually pointing out the similarity there.
They're still around, but they're not as influential as they used to be. I've always supported Feminism, except for what the mass media projected in the 60s, 70s.
My wife was a feminist, her mother was a feminist, her grandmother was a feminist, we raised our daughters to be feminists. I am a feminist, as far as anybody with a willy can consider himself a feminist. I enthusiastically support all the goals of Feminism, except for that dingbat wing who really does want to get rid of men entirely. They don't bother me anymore, because the world's going to get rid of me pretty soon anyway, so I don't care.
But I do think men have certain qualities that should be preserved. In zoos at least.
Prop: You made an album with a punk group back in the 80's...
Wilson: Two punk groups. One in Ireland, one in Germany. The one in Ireland was called the Golden Horde; the one Germany was called The Klingons.
Prop: Did you ever listen to them before you recorded with them?
Wilson: Yeah. I just listened to a CD a week or so ago that somebody sent me; to write a jacket blurb for, and I think it was punk rock. I don't know, I don't know all these... maybe it was trash rock, they have all these different sub-divisions. I didn't like it much, but I liked parts of it. I gave them a good review anyway for their jacket. I know how hard it is for young artists. It's a hard enough struggle, you help where you can.
Prop: Do you ever listen to Hip-hop?
Wilson: Well, some of it is amusing, but I don't think much of it as music. But as poetry, some of it is pretty good. I like the lyrics to some of it. Especially the deliberate irregularity of the meter, I like that. There is nothing more boring than Tennyson walking up and down 5 steps this way, 5 steps back, 5 steps this way and 5 steps back. Oh my God, stop it man, do something different for once.
Prop: Speaking about being unconventional by choice, or marginalized by a center. Your books, most of your books, it seems, have been published by a small publisher, New Falcon. And somewhat outside of the academic and mainstream publishing. What are your views on the publishing Industry?
Wilson: (small titter...Long silence) That's the longest pause you've produced so far. Shall I say what I really think? WHY NOT? I Don't know, I just feel. If I say what I really think, I feel I'm violating my Buddhist principles. Well, let me put it this way, at the age of 70, I'm 71 now, I decided I was not submitting anymore of my books to the major publishers. All my books now go to New Falcon, despite the fact that the the major publishers give me bigger advances, they give me more promotion, I can get bigger pay earnings -- but they insist on rewriting my books, and they insist on five different editors each, each having a hand in it.
"An editor," Gene Fowler said, "is a person who is convinced the soup doesn't taste right until they've personally pissed in it."
And I just don't want to go through that again. And I don't have to. Between what I make from my New York publishers, on my previous works, and what I make from New Falcon I can survive. I don't have a family to support anymore. I've only got to support myself, and pay the rent on this place. Why should I put up with that crap anymore?
Everything goes to New Falcon, because they print it just the way I wrote it. If they find a mistake they send me an e-mail and say this looks like a mistake. And if it is a mistake, I say, yeah, let's change that. They don't try to improve my prose. You see I'm a fanatic, I'm an obsessive-compulsive, about my writing. Everything goes through several drafts, and I put so much time and attention into it. And to have some person, whom I consider a bumbling amateur come in with like a butchers cleaver and start chopping things up to suit their weird tastes. I can't stand it. I won't put up with it. I don't have to put up with it, so I won't put up with it. That's a simple answer without animosity in it, I don't mean any animosity.
If you want to make a lot of money, you gotta learn to write how the New York publishers want, which means committee writing. You gotta learn to do it. If you want to be a writer in Hollywood you gotta learn to work with a committee. I don't work well with committees. Besides, I spent 20 years of my life working for corporations to support a large family. A large family by American standards, a wife, four kids, 9 dogs, I forget how many cats, you know, and 25 chickens and a pony at one point.
And I had enough of working in a hierarchy. I like my relationship with New Falcon. I like the books they publish, and that's all there is to it.
And then there's the lawyers. You know what I think of lawyers. You heard me on the subject of lawyers already. Before Everything is Under Control was published, I spent 3 days on the phone -- not 24 hours a day, but 3, 5 hour phone conferences with their lawyers. And it took me most of the third day to understand that they were not interested in winning libel suits. They were interested in preventing libel suits. Which would mean that everything that can possibly be construed as lible would have to come out. For a book about conspiracy theory's it instills kind of a bland flavor to it. Conspiracy theories don't make sense unless you mention somebody's name. It's like John Adams says in 1776, "We're having a revolution, goddamnit. We got to offend somebody." You can't write a book about conspiracy theories, published by a New York publisher, if you are going to offend somebody.
Anyway, I don't mean to complain. I'm making enough money out of that book that it was worth the time and effort. If I get my energy up, after finishing my current book I'd like to do a book on conspiracy theories for New Falcon, in which I wouldn't have to worry about that.
Prop: What book are you working on right now?
Wilson: The Tale of the Tribe. It's about how Joyce and Pound anticipated Internet. And it's also about how Fenollosa's theory's about the Chinese language influenced Pound and made him a prophet of the Internet. And how Vico's theory about the Latin language influenced Joyce and made him a prophet of the Internet. And Marshall Mcluhan, who knew Pound and read Joyce like a maniac. How Marshall Mcluhan almost brought it all together.
There's no mystery about the Cantos, they are the tale of the tribe. And the tribe is the whole globe. It's even more true in Finnegans Wake. Pound only covers the high lights from the low points. Joyce tries to cover goddamn near everything. He has a sense of infinity that beats Escher.
Prop: Have you read Charles Bukowski? What are your impressions of Charles Bukowski both as a poet and a writer?
Wilson: No I have not read Charles Bukowski.
Prop: Never came across any of his books?
Wilson: No. I have lived 71 years, in which there are 365 days in each year, and only 24 hours in each day. My areas of ignorance are absolutely staggering. And I'm more and more aware of that, because my knowledge of most of the subjects I've written about is either 5 years or 20 years out of date now. So if I ever did another lecture tour, I'd have to spend a month before the tour doing research on-line to try to figure out what is scientific matter that is still accepted.
Prop: Bukowski seems to have a large influence on younger generations. Being a writer from LA, and writing a movie called Barfly, he seems to be, what some people would call the voice of LA. But you may have a different opinion than that.
Wilson: Well, when I lived in Dublin, I thought, "This is great. This is a James Joyce theme park." When I moved to Los Angeles, I began to feel it was a Raymond Chandler theme park. I never read Bukowski, but if I read Bukowski I might start thinking of it as a Bukowski theme park. Right now LA is still, in my head, a Raymond Chandelier theme park. And everything from Boston to Providence is a George V. Higgins theme park. Have you ever read any of George V. Higgins?
Wilson: You should.
Prop: What's one of his books?
Wilson: The best one to start with is Outlaws . It's about revolutionaries, the CIA, cops, lawyers, prosecutors, and he does them all very well. He, himself, was for 15 years a prosecutor on the staff of the Attorney General of Massachusetts. Then he spent 15 years as a criminal defense attorney. He spent 15 years putting them away, then 15 years trying to keep the state from putting them away. He knows it from all angles. And he knows a lot about Massachusetts politics, and New England politics. And a lot about the Banking Industry. He is not only a very funny writer, with the greatest ear for dialogue of any American writer I've ever read, but he's also...he's a better critic of corporatism than Noam Chomsky. He brings it down to the daily life level, you know.
Prop: Speaking about a great mind, switch gears to Fuller. He invented the World Game. Suppose he said that, the knowledge is the most important thing about our resources, and that you can starve in a cornfield. If you don't know how to use the corn.
Wilson: He said that? He certainly said things like that. I know I've said that. I thought I invented phrasing it that way, maybe I was quoting Fuller and didn't even realize it. That happens sometimes.
Every time one of my books came out, my wife would get slightly indignant on reading and finding phrases of hers in there without credit. Sometimes I forget where I hear things, you know.
Prop: For myself, just to clarify what Fuller spoke of in terms of utilizing natural resources, Fuller said both Marxism and Capitalism was based on the theory of economics put forth by Malthus. How does Fuller get beyond that viewpoint of economics?
Wilson: Well it's very simple. Malthus assumed -- he was an employee of the British East India Company -- he observed that population was increasing faster than known resources. So he assumed that there would be perpetual warfare over the resources, and most of the population would perish by starvation or other means, because they weren't smart enough or cunning enough or ruthless enough to get their share or more than their share. Then Fuller pointed out that resources do not exist apart from us. Resources exist when the human mind sees how to use something. Resources accepted by statisticians and the economists have increased steadily since the time of Malthus. Resources are increasing faster than population actually. This fact is hidden from us by the goddamn banking system, which has inserted a bookkeeping system into the process, whereby every exchange has a interest charge on it, whether you know it or not. And most of the profits are going to the banks, where as they should be going to the whole population at large, because the credit is not created by the banks, it is created by everybody who's working.
Even me -- even people who are just working at putting words on paper are creating value. And banks aren't creating a damn thing. They're just charging usury at every step of the way.
Fuller agreed a lot with Ezra Pound A lot of people think Pound was an Anti-Semitic fascist, period, and that sums up Ezra Pound, but it doesn't. That's one cranky part of Ezra Pound, part time. There's a lot more to Pound than that.
Prop: Virtual Reality. In one of your interviews that I read, you mentioned how the possibility for Virtual Reality to experience non-Euclidean space. Do you recommend any books on the subject, in terms of becoming more acquainted with Virtual Reality?
Wilson: The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil
The interview was winding down. Wilson had expressed earlier that he had company coming over, and he wanted to rest up before they arrived. I was satisfied with what I had, and was ready, but not completely willing wrap it up. Bob had worked his magic yet again. In the course of two hours I'd sat and listened to a man who has truly attained deep wisdom about life and all of us circus freaks in it. Many times throughout our chat, I was convinced that this is the smartest man in America. His thread of logical discourse was just as adroit as anything I had heard in any college philosophy course. The only difference was that this guy was as funny as George Carlin. I was beginning to think to myself that I was in the presence of a sage.
I was sitting across from someone like Confucius or Lao Tzu, when not so suddenly, Bob leans disproportionately on one side of his couch cushion and performs what Carlin termed "the one-cheek sneak". I'm not sure if he thought, some other object in his apartment might have momentarily distracted me, allowing him to believe that he could let one by without my noticing. Or whether he just didn't care if I might be offended by this organic punctuation mark endowed within our bodies by Nature's God. Either way he seemed slightly bemused when I looked over at him after his fart.
"Oh, You heard that?" the old man said to me.
Coming from a fart friendly family myself, I tend not to get squeamish by such expulsions of methane from another's buttcheeks, occasionally I find it hilarious. Especially, when the dealer of the contaminated air molecules is able to play it off with wry dry surprise or feigned innocence. So I was not offended, it actually sparked a new conversation. He told a joke about a man farting in a doctor's office, which reminded me of a book Benjamin Franklin wrote called Fart Proudly. Being that he just did, Wilson commented that he read the book.
He continued," Mark Twain wrote a book about farting too, called 1602 or 1600, I forget which date. It was about a bunch of Elizabethan writers having a meeting and one of them farts. Then they all start arguing about who let that fart? And they all describe it in terms of their own vocabulary. Twain has a great skill at imitating styles. Shakespeare sounds like Shakespeare. Bacon sounds like Bacon. Raleigh sounds like Raleigh. It's really very funny."