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Saturday, December 11, 2010

A RAW visit to North Carolina's Triangle region

[Editor's note: Today's posting is an account by Arthur Hlavaty of Robert Anton Wilson's visit to the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, comprised of the universities of Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State. It contains a substantial portion of the state's liberals, science fiction fans and other troublemakers, and thus was ripe territory for a visit from Mr. Wilson. Mr. Hlavaty's dispatch was written in 1987. — Tom]

Robert Anton Wilson has been visiting the Triangle area. While he lives in Ireland these days, he spends several months out of each year touring the United States, making speeches and giving seminars. A short while ago, a man named Philip Moon, who lives in Chapel Hill, had the idea of inviting Wilson to speak around here. He got together an ad hoc sponsoring group of local libertarians, futurists, and others, which took the name Carolina Illuminati Associates, partly for its sinister initials.

Bernadette and I have been part of the group, and we offered to let Bob stay at the Nuts' Lab while he was in town, which he has been doing for the past few days. Friday evening, there was a party in his honor, with a mixture of science-fiction fans,libertarians, Duke grad students, and assorted miscellaneous in attendance. The party went quite well. I saw Bob in conversation with Stanley Fish and Jane Tompkins, two of the leading lights of Duke's star-studded English Dept., and apparently they found that there were intellectual connections between some of the current ideas in academic literary theory and some of the work Bob has been doing.

Yesterday evening Bob delivered a speech at a small building on the University of North Carolina campus which had once been a church. He talked about his optimistic view of the future, based on space migration, increased intelligence, and life extension. While many people cling to a grim and depressing view of the world around them, and have evidence to support them in the acts of governments, among others, Bob suggests that the really important changes are being made by people working in such fields as computers, consciousness change, nutrition, and others, and that they are making breakthroughs that will give us a world so good that even the politicians can't mess it up.

He spoke for an hour, then threw the floor open to questions, which he fielded adroitly. When someone said that moral progress has not kept pace with scientific progress, Bob challenged that bit of conventional wisdom, pointing out that in the last 30 years, racial bigotry has gone from an almost universally accepted belief, supported by the force of law in much of the country, to something shameful and déclassé. In answer to another question, he suggested that the AIDS epidemic may lead to scientific breakthroughs. In a sense, he pointed out, we all have AIDS, inasmuch as everyone's immune system breaks down with age, and the disease merely speeds up the process to a catastrophic rate. Research on AIDS is likely to lead to greater understanding of, and perhaps the possibility of reversing, the "normal" version of that process.

He mentioned that while the government continues its blind opposition to consciousness change by chemical means, there is now available a machine (costing about $300)which electrically induces anyone of the known brain-wave states. I've tried various forms of meditation and similar activities, from a guided-Visualization program to the group-meditation sessions Bernadette and I used to attend. It seems unlikely that I never managed to attain a meditative state, but I remember an awful lot of unedifying thoughts like, "Gee, I wish I could meditate," "Are all these other people doing it?" and "When will this be over?" Thus the idea of a machine that will put me in a meditative state without drugs sounds too good to be true, but I certainly intend to look into it.

I left the speech with a feeling of optimism. It is certainly true that the politicians and generals could blow up the world tomorrow, but this speech gave me the feeling that if they don't hurry, it may be too late for them to do too much real damage.

The Nuts' Lab is somewhat small for three inhabitants (the guest room and the study are one and the same), but despite that, we've found Bob's stay most enjoyable. In person, he is as intelligent and witty as his books would lead one to expect, and his idea of proper host behavior coincides with ours: show guests where things are, and encourage them to help themselves.

We've had some interesting discussions. I mentioned that a friend told me about a short-lived ad campaign for soft drinks; out of ignorance or malice, the agency had come up with the slogan, "When you're drinking Hires, you're drinking Number One." Bob replied that in the 50s, when the meaning of certain words was not as well known as now, Del Monte Fruit Cocktail was advertised as "Five fruits in sweet cahoots-the gay dessert." We also decided that the antisex forces are missing an opportunity. In North Carolina and other jurisdictions, it is legal to sell paraphernalia that could be used for smoking marijuana, as long as it might also be used for tobacco. The State legislature, however, has made it a crime to admit that the stuff might be used for unlawful purposes. So the stores have signs saying that the papers and bongs are not to be used with anything illegal, and undercover agents are sent out to entrap the store proprietors. perhaps the smut stompers could demand a similar law against sexual paraphernalia. Vibrators would be sold only for relief of muscle tension, and undercover policewomen could purchase the things with hints about how lonely and frustrated they were, in the hopes that the vendors would be tricked into admitting what the devices really were for.
[2010: This last happened at least once in Texas]