Surviving With Robert Anton Wilson, by Tiffany Lee Brown


DATE: Oct. 18, 2012, 11:55 p.m.

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  1. Surviving With Robert Anton Wilson
  2. by Tiffany Lee Brown
  3. FringeWare Review 08:20
  4. Deep in the heart of darkest California, home to cults, crystals, and
  5. the techno-elite, pioneers of the psychedelic revolution live in quiet
  6. houses alongside surfers, artists, and programmers. Tourists flock to
  7. the beaches and craft shops while hippies drum in peaceful parks and
  8. hearty yuppies unload their cycling gear.
  9. In one such community lives Robert Anton Wilson, icon to Discordians,
  10. conspiracy theorists, modern mystics, subgenii, and trippers the world
  11. over.
  12. Best known for the The Illuminatus Trilogy (with Robert Shea),
  13. Wilson's writing romps from the medieval Church to the Chicago
  14. Democratc Convention, from puns to ciphers, from LSD to JFK, fusing
  15. impressive historical research with mindbending science fiction and
  16. postmodern fable.
  17. When I first met Wilson in 1991, I'd just spent a couple of years
  18. immersed in his works: Masks of the Illuminati, Cosmic Trigger: Vol 1,
  19. the Schroedinger’s Cat Trilogy, etc. I wasn't sure whether his writing
  20. had helped me toward indelible epiphanies, led me to Chapel Perilous,
  21. or just fucked my brain so hard it didn't know which way was
  22. up. Perhaps it had done all three; in any case, I immediately liked
  23. the man himself. Even while illustrating its ambiguity, he seemed
  24. solidly grounded in what passes for reality, treating with equal parts
  25. cynicism, humour, and hope.
  26. In spite of flooded highways and a multitude of glitches on the part
  27. of my usually-trusty tape recorder, I managed to talk survival and
  28. politics with Wilson..
  29. fwr: We're interested in how people process their own instinct to
  30. biosurvival, and how they deal with it in relation to society. This
  31. theme recurs in your work, most specifically in Prometheus Rising, in
  32. which you presented a tutorial of Timothy Leary's 8-Circuit model of
  33. consciousness. Do you still use that as a construct?
  34. raw: Yes. I find the 8-Circuit model very, very useful. I've been
  35. saying for a long time now that everything is temporary these days,
  36. and the a-Circuit model will be obsolete in 15 years. Then someone
  37. pointed out to me, "You've been saying that for 20 years!" I haven't
  38. found a better model yet.
  39. I don't call them Circuits anymore, I call them the eight Systems. I
  40. think Leary used too much cybernetic metaphor; "Systems" are a little
  41. more complex and abstract, and the word sounds better. The first thing
  42. is that Leary believes behavior results from genetics, imprinting, and
  43. conditioning. He hardly ever mentions learning, but I'm sure if you
  44. backed him into a corner he would admit that it plays a role, too.
  45. Even if you don't believe Leary's model all the way down the line,
  46. there's plenty of things which are neither conditioning nor genetics-
  47. they result from imprinting, or learning, or situational
  48. conditions. John Dillinger was a heterosexual outside of prison, and a
  49. homosexual inside prison. I think that's a pretty general
  50. pattern. This "either/or" I don't like.
  51. So, you've got four factors to behavior, and the Biosurvival System
  52. has a genetic drive to survival. Through bad imprinting this instinct
  53. can be negated, as in the case of autistic infants who don't make any
  54. effort to be alive at all. The main biosurvival drive is to find a
  55. Mommy, and reptiles don't have that drive because they're born ready
  56. to deal with the world as it is. But mammals need a certain period of
  57. nurture; so we all have some sort of mother complex, to some
  58. extent. There is a strong bond to the mother, and some degree of
  59. neurological damage appears to occur if there is no bond.
  60. Throughout history, the Biosurvival System has been attached to the
  61. tribe. Since tribalism has broken down and civilization has gotten
  62. more and more abstract, the biosurvival urge has hitched to "Survival
  63. Tickets", what we call money. It's not just Americans, it's everybody
  64. in the industrial world that is money-mad. We don't have tribes, we
  65. don't have extended families, we don't even have families anymore- so
  66. everybody's biosurvival drive is attached to money. When the money
  67. disappears, people experience dizziness, anxiety, general sense of
  68. panic, and near-death experience –which is what tribal people feel
  69. when they're lost from the tribe.
  70. In traditional societies, exile from the tribe was considered a
  71. terrible reproof. In Shakespeare, Romeo says, "Exile! The damned use
  72. that word in Hell!" Everybody in Shakespeare hates the idea of exile;
  73. nowadays, nobody gives a damn, because our survival drive isn't
  74. attached to the family and the tribe, it's attached to money. Nobody
  75. minds going into exile if they can take a million dollars with them.
  76. So how do you get your money? There is no general answer. Everybody's
  77. gotta figure that out for themselves.
  78. fwr: One of FringeWare's exercises in community has been fostering
  79. some online tribalism, using the Internet to find like minds. We even
  80. try to earn survival Tickets through the Internet, without giving our
  81. energies over to the usual corporate entities...
  82. raw: On the Internet, you don't know who you're talking to, so you
  83. respond to people's minds. Ageism, racism, and sexism become less an
  84. issue in that environment. In a sense, people are fundamentally their
  85. minds; a strange thing for me to say, since I try to put things into
  86. functional and non-Aristotelian terms, and I just came up with
  87. something very Aristotelian.
  88. But the mind of a person is what interests me most about them, and the
  89. Internet puts you in a position to interact with the mind, with the
  90. Third Circuit or Semantic System. You don't know their colour or
  91. gender or sexual orientation.
  92. fwr: It seems to me that government creates itself in an attempt to
  93. satisfy biosurvival urges; since we lack organic tribes or families,
  94. we create an external structure to act as our tribe, our protective
  95. father archetype, our nurturing mother, and to allocate our Survival
  96. Tickets.
  97. raw: I agree with Tom Payne – government is a necessary evil. Or
  98. George Washington, who said "Government is a dangerous servant and a
  99. fearful master." I think government has become our master too much,
  100. and I find a great deal of morbid humour in the right-wing talk show
  101. hosts who are blaming it on the liberals. Most of the things the
  102. government does which have annoyed me have been done by
  103. conservatives. The government has become a monster that pries into our
  104. private lives and harasses us; continually, the conservatives have had
  105. as much blame to take for this as the liberals. It's amazing how they
  106. can get away with saying that the liberals are to blame.
  107. fwr: How do you suggest that Americans get involved with politics, or
  108. should they at all?
  109. raw: For years, I was in the anarchist headspace: "Don't vote, it only
  110. encourages them." I didn't vote for years. Then I went through a
  111. change; part of it was living in Europe, then moving back here, and
  112. part of it was the end of the Cold War, in which I began to see the
  113. differences between the Republicans and the Democrats again. During
  114. the Cold War, those differences tended to disappear. The Democrats
  115. have been corrupted to some extent, but they do pretend to be on the
  116. side of the working class. And some of them really are trying to help.
  117. The main thing I learned from Europe is that a multi-party system is
  118. better than a two-party system. Every part of Europe has amenities
  119. that are distinctly absent here, due to the fact that they have three
  120. or four parties in their parliaments. A party that only represents a
  121. minority can change things, through blocking the legislation of the
  122. major parties.
  123. I tend toward the libertarian, but I think – and this is going to
  124. shock every Libertarian who reads it – I think every country in Europe
  125. that's had a socialist government has benefited from it. Having four
  126. or five parties, with the radicals winning occasionally, tends to
  127. produce a more balanced society than here, where we've got basically
  128. two right-wing parties, one of which has a nostalgia for its left-wing
  129. past. Relative stasis here – even Perot, whom I trust about as much as
  130. I would trust David Rockefeller – Perot was helpful in the sense that
  131. he made the debate more interesting in the last presidential election.
  132. But if I could be dictator for a day and pass any law I wanted, I'd
  133. pass a law that every medium- television, radio, papers- has to give
  134. equal coverage to any political party that has over a million
  135. members. The media keeps telling us that a third party can't win-
  136. well, they win all the time in Europe, and they would here if they got
  137. some coverage. The media always starves them out. If people knew more
  138. about the Libertarians, or about Peace and Freedom . . . the thing is
  139. people need to see more than just this incredibly narrow choice that
  140. they've got in the two-party system.
  141. fwr: The media presentation encourages us to stay uninvolved. It
  142. generally presents two viable parties, and prevents those in the third
  143. parties as freaks, losers, or radical revolutionaries who wanna blow
  144. shit up.
  145. raw: Every country that has a multi-party system has a higher voter
  146. turnout than we've got. We've got the lowest voter turnout in the
  147. Western world, and we were the first major democracy formed. People
  148. have gotten so disillusioned with it that they don't bother; at the
  149. polls, they’re confronted with “not a choice, but a dilemma” as John
  150. Anderson said back in 1980.
  151. The rest of the world is changing – Mandela comes out of prison and
  152. now he's president? Apartheid is ended? You look at the USSR coming
  153. apart, the Berlin Wall coming down, the British and the IRA
  154. negotiating -- the whole world is undergoing tremendous change because
  155. of the information revolution. And mathematically, this does lead to
  156. more unpredictable systems appearing.
  157. As information flow increases, according to chaos Theory,
  158. unpredictable increases. So we're gonna see a lot of surprising
  159. changes here. The way the country went to the Liberal side in '92 and
  160. toward the Conservative side in '94 is just a hint of the way the
  161. system is moving towards chaos, changing rapidly. I don't think anyone
  162. really understands the changes: I think the pundits are just guessing
  163. about why it went the way it did. The people are dissatisfied.
  164. fwr: How could we make third parties viable in American politics?
  165. raw: Educate, talk about it, try to get the media to adopt such a
  166. law. If Clinton and Gingrich had a debate with a Libertarian, somebody
  167. from Peace and Freedom, and someone from the Green Party and the
  168. American Independent Party, boy the voters would turn out. Everybody
  169. would see somebody up there who was close enough to them to be worth
  170. voting for, and we'd have a more interesting Congress.
  171. It's going to surprise everyone. I think the changes that are going to
  172. happen have a good chance of occurring nonviolently, because of what
  173. happened in South Africa and others. Any attempt at a violent
  174. revolution in this country wouldn't last very long. Nobody could
  175. overthrow this government, it's so goddamned powerful and it's got so
  176. many atom bombs to begin with.
  177. The one thing I'm keen in keeping is the division of powers within our
  178. government.
  179. fwr: One option for handling the discrepancy between how we think we
  180. ought to live and the reality of living in society is to "drop out,"
  181. or withdraw from the social or governmental structure. Have you made
  182. experiments in extracting yourself from American government and
  183. society?
  184. raw: I extracted myself from the major society by going to live on a
  185. farm for a while, twice I did that, once in Ohio and once in
  186. Mendocino. It didn't really work; rural life is okay for those who
  187. like it, but I'm not one of them.
  188. I also did so by moving to Europe. The IRS doesn't tax you when you're
  189. in Europe unless you make over $75,000 a year. I went over there
  190. because I was so fed up with the pinhead bureaucrats in the IRS and
  191. their pinhead rules that get more incomprehensible every year.
  192. Newt Gingrich was right in claiming the Clintons are counterculture
  193. McGovernicks or whatever the hell he called them. They're definitely
  194. counterculture types who are trying to cover it up by acting
  195. respectable. You read about what they were doing in the 60's, and they
  196. have the same sort of education and background- they're the first
  197. First Family in my lifetime that I would enjoy having dinner with,
  198. that I would enjoy conversation. I feel that all this hatred that's
  199. being directed at them is directed at me, too; it's directed at the
  200. whole aspect of American society that they represent- and we've turned
  201. out to be a much smaller group than we thought we were after the last
  202. election.
  203. I like Hillary and Bill; I don't like all the compromises they've
  204. made, but compromise is what government's about. .
  205. fwr: I guess compromise is the problem I have with the government and
  206. with today's structures for seeing to my survival needs; I know that
  207. compromise is necessary for any kind of social unit to exist, but it
  208. seems so impossible to reach acceptable compromises. You seem to have
  209. reached an equilibrium, which I admire, actually. You write good
  210. stuff, get it published, you have a home and family you care for. Yet
  211. a lot of your work is incredibly subversive.
  212. raw: But in a good-hearted way. I don't hate anybody.
  213. BOB '95
  214. So, what's up with Robert Anton Wilson in 1995? Is he resting on his
  215. hard-won laurels, drawing Social Security and drinking Guinness all
  216. day? Are he and his lovely wife Arlen lounging on cruise ships while
  217. some flunky ghost-writes their memoirs?
  218. Nope. Wilson's still cranking out his trademark prose and publishing
  219. Trajectories newsletter. "I've completed Cosmic Trigger 3," he says,
  220. "which like everything when I've finished it, seems like the best
  221. thing I've ever written. I started thinking of things that would round
  222. out Cosmic Trigger 2, which I'd thought would be the last, and it
  223. turned into a whole new book."
  224. "I didn't set out to be a trilogy writer, it's just sort of happened,"
  225. he adds with a chuckle. CT3 will be available later this year from
  226. Falcon Books.
  227. Previously, Wilson and Robert Shea has begun work on Bride of
  228. lIIuminatus, collaborating on the outline together. He explains, "The
  229. title derives from my saying to Bob Shea, "Let's name it after the
  230. first great sequel.' He said, “Bride of Frankenstein.” Then I thought
  231. that the first great sequel was really the New Testament. They said,
  232. "Hey, the God book is selling. Let's do ‘Son of God!'"
  233. Shea passed away before the book had been written. Regretfully, Wilson
  234. says he's writing Bride of the Illuminatus pretty much on his own now
  235. – though he did stick with the title Shea suggested. "It does make
  236. more sense to do the Bride before the Son, so I decided to follow the
  237. Frankenstein model," he says with a laugh. "I may do a Son of
  238. Illuminatus later."
  239. There's also a new Wilson book on the shelves of your local bookstore
  240. right now: Chaos and Beyond, a collection of articles from the first
  241. six years of the Trajectories newsletters.
  242. Miss Brown (a.k.a. magdalen) guest-edited Issue #8 of Fringe Ware
  243. Review with Erika Whiteway (a.k.a. outrider), in which this interview
  244. was first published. Nowadays, she is a Portland-based writer and
  245. performer who edits 2 Gyrlz Quarterly – online at Though
  246. copyright is unfashionable, she'd appreciate it if you'd contact her
  247. should you be interested in reproducing this interview in whole or in
  248. part. Please seem for more info. Thanks.

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