[Here is Robert Anton Wilson's letter in issue No. 11 of Robert Shea's zine, "No Governor," dated July 1990. This is a pretty cool letter -- I didn't know, for example, that RAW was a John Barth fan, and the great defense of the principle behind civil liberties is valuable. -- The Mgt.]
Issue #10 of No Governor seemed great to me, as usual.
I can't answer Arthur Hlavaty's question about what John Barth thinks of my novels, but I can easily answer his second question. I enjoy Barth's books enormously. I think his Sabbatical covers the malaise of our time better than professional spy-thriller writers like Ambler and Le Carre have ever done. Just because one is never sure if the CIA killed the man on the boat or is trying to kill the hero, Sabbatical leaves one with precisely the sense of uncertainty and dread that has hung over this nation since democracy was abandoned in the National Security Act of 1947 and clandestine government became official.
Sometimes I find it astounding that we have lived under fascism for 40 years while continuing the rituals of democracy -- and that hardly any "major" novelist has tried to grapple with this issue. I salute Barth for his subtlety and the eerie atmosphere he creates in describing our increasingly Machiavellian world. To be brutally frank and eschew false modesty, I think only Mailer, Pynchon and myself have captured the terror of the situation as well as Barth did in that book.
Oh, yeah, I like Barth's other books, too. Sabbatical just happens to be my favorite.
I think Neal Wilgus has his head up his ass. With all his ifs and ands and buts and subordinate clauses and modifications, he still seems to be endorsing the idea that any "moralist" that thinks X's way of life is "immoral" has the right to come in and trash anything X owns, and I find that bloody damned terrifying. It only seems remotely akin to sanity if you substitute some person or group you violently dislike for "X,"but put your own name in the place of the "X's " and read it again. See what you think then. If it doesn't work with "the NAACP" or "Bob Shea" or "the Credit Unions" in place of X, it seems a very dangerous idea, even if "Mobil Oil" or "the American Nazi Party" in place of X does not upset you immediately.
Civil liberties remain indivisible, and what can be done to Catholics or Mobil Oil today can be done to Protestants or nudists tomorrow. ("If they can take Hancock's wharf they can take your cow or my barn," as John Adams once said.) Since the majority always rejects the Bill of Rights whenever a sociologist tries the experiment by offering it for approval by a cross-section of the population, and since George Bush earned great enthusiasm for his attacks on the ACLU, I don't suppose Wilgus or most people will understand this point, but we libertarians have to keep saying it over and over, every generation, and hope it will eventually register.
Maybe Wilgus thinks he knows who "is" "really" "immoral" and who isn't, and only supports vigilante action against the "really" "immoral"? I would congratulate him on having attained Papal Infallibility, except that I suspect he has only obtained the delusion of Papal Infallibility.
Wilgus asks, "What about the Luddite minority who don't want your damn progress?" Well, some questions remain unanswerable within the context where they are raised, just as some problems prove unsolvable at the time and place where they appear. Minorities have been the victim of monarchy, tyranny, fascism and every other authoritarian system, and they have usually been the victim of democracy, also. For instance, there is no way the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland will ever get justice through democracy; the Protestant majority will always outvote them. I also recall a TV show about the aborigines of New Guinea in which one of them said, as well as I can recall the words, "Democracy means the white majority will always get what they want and we will never get what we want. There must be something better than democracy."
I think the Bill of Rights and the division of powers were built into our government because the founding fathers, or some of them, saw that problem clearly and wanted to avoid total democracy in order to protect minorities from majority prejudice. Like all human inventions, the Bill of Rights and 3-headed government did not solve all problems, and minorities still get screwed frequently. As a libertarian (intellectually) and a sucker for the Under Dog (emotionally) I have sympathy for all minorities, including the Luddites, but I do not see any workable solution for Luddite problems within the present context.
Evolution, however, will soon move us to a new stage in which the Luddites can be segregated from the "progress" --ives without coercion and with free choice all around. I refer, of course, to the socio-genetic mutation of Space Migration. The Luddites will naturally have no part of anything so repugnant to their principles, and will stay on Terra. The strongly neophiliac will pioneer the first space colonies, the moderately neophiliac will follow later, and those even slightly neophiliac will join the migration eventually. The evolutionary vector, as I see it, indicates that everybody except the most Stone Age (neophobic) Luddite types will be moving into space sooner or later, and the Luddites will have this planet all to themselves, with no "damn progress" to annoy them. I suspect that all science and technology later than c. 1760 will leave when the creative spirits leave, and all the charms of pre-democratic pre-industrial Europe will gradually return to Earth to fill Luddite hearts with joy.
I offer that Utopia to Wilgus for whatever comfort it gives him.
Shea, I enjoyed your rebuttal to Carl Watner's commentary on the Conchis dilemma but I doubt that he understood it any more than he understood my original argument. I increasingly suspect Gurdjieff spoke accurately in describing the state of most people as deep hypnosis, and I would define "morality" as a condition of hypnosis so deep that the subject has not had a waking moment in an entire lifetime. Watner believes in his General Principles and cannot imagine or experience the concrete existence in sensory space-time around him of the 300 men who must die, according to his General Principles. The words (of the ideology or moral code) are experienced as real; the people are not.
I begin to agree with Shaw's verdict that people invented "morality" as an excuse to do things so terrible they would be ashamed to admit they enjoy them. I have noticed that when people do kind or generous things they do not mention "morality" or other abstractions at all; they just say something like, "I felt his pain," or, "I cried when I saw how she was suffering." They only talk about "morality" when they are about to add to the suffering and violence in the world, not when they are trying to heal or comfort one of the victims of that brutality.
Since all amoralists in history combined have not perpetrated as much cruelty and damage as the average moralist does in one lifetime, I think that whenever anybody starts raving about "morality" one should quickly trade the car in for a tank, buy a gun and a stack of ammo, wear a steel helmet and build a bomb shelter. Such people are dangerous. -- Los Angeles, California.
Thanks for posting this.
John Barth is one of my favourite writers, I thought Goatboy and illuminatus shared a very similar conceit. I have never read Sabbatical, though now, with the endorsement of Wilson, I think I will read it. Never thought that Wilson would have ever read Barth.
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