Wednesday, April 27, 2011

RAW writes about Jack Parsons

[In this article, Robert Anton Wilson reviews Freedom Is A Two-Edged Sword by John Whiteside Parsons, published by Falcon Press. The piece was published in Magical Blend No. 27, July 1990. Thank you to Mike Gathers for supplying me with this. -- Tom]

A Sword Is Drawn by Robert Anton Wilson

John Whiteside Parsons, or Jack Parsons as he preferred, was born in Pasadena in 1914 and died there in 1952 in a laboratory accident. In his brief thirty-eight years he became one of the brightest stars of the brilliant Caltech faculty and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which founded the U.S. space program. He also wrote numerous scientific papers (all of them still classified by the U.S. "Defense" Department), at least one memorable poem, and a handful of essays on politics and the occult which have long been passed around in xerox copies and had considerable underground influence without ever being published in book form. They have now finally recently appeared in a handsome edition co-published by Falcon Press and the Ordo Templi Orientis, the radical Freemasonic lodge in which Parsons received his magickal training.*

Jack Parsons, some say, contributed more to the U.S. space program than any other single individual. He co-founded Aerojet General Corporation, now the manufacturer of the space shuttle's solid fuel booster rockets. In 1972, the International Astronomical Union named a crater on the moon after him, to honor his many contributions to space science (Parsons, 37 degrees North 171 degrees West.)

The first half of Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword is the long title essay, which I regard as the sanest, soundest, least kookie statement of classic individualist principles published in America in my lifetime. Parsons, who called himself a liberal, was bitterly aware that most self-proclaimed "liberals" had departed from what he considered the true liberal tradition, but, lacking a better word, he continued to use what had become a tainted term. If alive today, he would probably call himself a libertarian -- but he would be at odds with most other libertarians, just as he was at odds with the liberals of his time.

Jack Parsons pragmatically accepted that some "government control" was necessary to protect us from the Great Pirates of the corporate world, but he feared those who would give too much power to the government and wanted us to distrust and limit the powers of our elected officials on principle, and never, never, never regard them as saviors or fuhrers. He opposed the closed shop as tyranny, but warned against the reactionaries who wanted to stamp out labor unions entirely. He loathed communism as much as he loathed fascism (at a time when many "liberals" still loved Joe Stalin ... ) but he saw the threat of McCarthyism clearly and defended the rights of "Reds" and other heretics to enjoy the same free speech as other Americans. At no time did he ever lapse into the fanaticisms and dogmatisms that seem endemic in both Leftwing and Rightwing polemic since World War II.

Most attractive of all (to me, anyway) Parsons insisted that the Christian church was the single greatest enemy of individual rights and of freedom of thought and conscience.

Keenly aware of scientific method as the liberator of humanity from theological dogma, Parsons also foresaw the dangers of a new scientific priesthood arising, and serving as lickspittle satraps of the War Machine. He writes bitterly (and prophetically): "Science, that was going to save the world back in H.G. Wells' time, is regimented, straight-jacketed, scared shitless, its universal language diminished to one word, security."

I guess he didn't like having his (or other) scientific papers "classified" and hidden.

He attacks dogma at its root, wherever it appears; at times he almost foresees the inquisitorial CSICOP:

Now since all tyrannies are based on dogmas ... and since all dogmas are based on lies, it behooves us first to seek for truth ... and the truth is that we know nothing ... Objectively, we know nothing at all. Any system of intellectual thought, whether it be science, logic, religion or philosophy, is based on ... axioms which are assumed, but cannot be proven.

No philosophy, theory, religion or system of thought can be absolute and infallible ... Every man has the right to his own opinion and his own way of life ...

... Science is a tool and has nothing to do with absolute truth ... (To claim scientific "ultimate truths") is exactly the position that the pedant, the dogmatist and the dialectical materialist would have us take. Then, posing as a "scientist" and propounding "scientific" doctrine, he can persuade us to accept his values and obey his orders. (Emphasis added -- R.A.W.)

Today must always be free to overthrown its yesterdays.

His defense of intellectual freedom acknowledges no sacred cows and blasts bigotry in any guise, from any sector of the political spectrum:

As I write, allegedly liberal groups are agitating for the denial of public forums to those they call fascist. Americanism societies are striving for the suppression of communist or "red" literature ... Religious groups are constantly campaigning for the prohibition of art and literature which they term "indecent," immoral or dangerous.

"It would seem that all organizations are devoted to one common purpose, the suppression of freedom," he concludes sardonically.

Unlike all-too-many libertarians these days, Parsons does not think the freedom of the individual means screwing every other individual: "We are one nation, and one world. The soul of the slums looks out of the eyes of Wall Street, and the fate of a Chinese coolie determines the destiny of America. We cannot suppress our brothers' liberty without murdering ourselves." Tell that to the CIA death squads in Latin America, who think they are defending our freedom.

After a searing polemic against the Cold War mentality that began in his time and reached its apotheosis in the Reagan years, Parsons reminds us that the masses are often their own worst enemy:

Nor is the guilt entirely with the warmongers, plutocrats and demagogues. If people permit exploitation and regimentation in any name, they deserve their slavery. A tyrant does not make his tyranny possible. It is made possible by the people and not otherwise.

Only space limitations bring me to halt here. Jack Parsons is the kind of writer you want to go on quoting endlessly. In fact, as Mencken said of Nietzsche, you want to read him aloud, shouting and pounding on the table.

So much for the left-brain side of Parsons' work.

The second half of Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword consists of short, often unfinished essays on Magick and Feminism. Heavily influenced by Crowley, Parsons writes here as right-brained visionary, in mythopoetic language. He was obviously working his way toward a post-Crowleyan position, and his own unique Magick, which he eventually called The Witchcraft (the "The" was important to him.). The Witchcraft according to Parsons is strangely contemporary with the current neo-Pagan movement, Riane Eiseler's Feminist writings on the Partnership Society vs. the Dominator Society, some neo-Reichian theory, the speculations of Terence McKenna, and a great deal that sounds strangely prophetic for a man writing over 40 years ago.

Parsons saw Feminism not just as a demand for economic equality (many male Feminists even earlier than him saw and supported that) but as a biological-spiritual upheaval that would change the very definition of humanity and human possibility. He knows that this means "a shift in the constellation of the archetypes" as Jung said -- a new "dark" mysticism, contradicting traditional pieties. He considers, at one point, a new religion (rooted in Gnosticism) with God the Father, God the Mother, and two children, Jesus and Sophia. (This owes a lot to Crowley's Tarot deck.) Later, Parsons is more concerned with Babalon, Crowley's "chaotic" sex goddess, a kind of cross between the Gnostic Sophia and our own Star of the Decade, Madonna. (In Who's That Girl?, one of the characters asks Madonna, "Are you the Anti-Christ?" Parsons would probably accept her as an avatar at least ...

Always, Parsons sees religion as a metaphor, a set of symbols which can liberate the energy of an age, usher in a new evolutionary epoch, and unleash repressed human potentials -- but which becomes poison if the symbols are taken literally and become Idols or dogmas. He prefers magick, which does not demand belief, but only incites what Crowley called neuro-physiological experiment. Like Crowley, Parsons regarded "gods" and other spiritual entities as constellations of evolutionary forces, which the Will and Imagination of the magician compresses (invokes) into a "being" or "intelligence" with whom "knowledge and conversation" is possible.

Jack Parsons may have been the most original and profound American thinker of his time, and it is perhaps an evolutionary signal that an audience capable of understanding his work is finally beginning to appear thirty-eight years after his death.







* Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword, by John Whiteside Parsons, Falcon Press, Santa Monica, 1989, 94 pp., $9.95.


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