Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Lisa Tuttle's fantasy top 10

The Guardian ran Lisa Tuttle's list of the top ten "mould-breaking fantasy novels" and I duly noted that one of my favorite books, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, made the list at No. 2.

One of Robert Anton Wilson's favorites also made the list: The Magus by John Fowles. (Wilson mentions it, for example, near the beginning of this interview.)

But I'm also posting about here because I noticed that another book Tuttle mentioned, John Crowley's Aegypt, sounded like a book RAW fans would be interested in. Tuttle's description: "A fantasy of history, concerned with occult practices, memory palaces, John Dee, etc, yet utterly grounded in real places and times in our world. Pierce Moffett, a child of the 60s in New York, investigates his suspicion that the world might have split at some point in the past, creating more than one true history."

(I should note for clarity that The Book Formerly Known as Aegypt is now known as The Solitudes and is the first book in the Aegypt tetralogy.)

Since I've never gotten around to trying Crowley, I turned for help to two literary mavens (and RAW fans) on Twitter, Ted Hand and Roman Tsivkin. (Sorry about some of the repetition below. Twitter makes it extremely difficult to copy conversations.)

@t3dy @Zenjew Have you guys read John Crowley's "Aegypt" novels? If so, what did you think of them?

@jacksontom @t3dy Crowley's hard to pin down as a writer. Sometimes superb, but sometimes the reader--this reader, in any case--nods off.

             — Roman Tsivkin (@Zenjew) August 29, 2013

I just have trouble reading novels. Most of my reading time is spent sampling from hundreds of nonfictions. @Zenjew @jacksontom

            — Ted Hand (@t3dy) August 30, 2013

@zenjew @t3dy Feels like I should try him -- he sounds like someone I would like.

           — Tom Jackson (@jacksontom) August 30, 2013

Think of it as a prequel to "Historical illuminatus" @jacksontom @Zenjew

@jacksontom @t3dy Do give Crowley a spin, Tom. Very PKD-ish gnostic themes in the Aegypt novels. I keep meaning to finish reading them.

Speaking of RAW-related, I read Antoine Faivre, "Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition" great one on illuminati esotericism. @jacksontom @Zenjew

            — Ted Hand (@t3dy) August 30, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Free issue of New York Review of SF

I subscribe to very few periodicals these days — I concentrate on reading books, and there's so much free stuff on the Internet -- but I do take the New York Review of Science Fiction.

The magazine has passed into the hands of Kevin Maroney, who is doing a good job and has taken it through the process of converting from an electronic to a digital publication.

The latest issue, No. 300, has been released as a free issue, so you can download a copy for  yourself and decide whether to join me in subscribing to it. The issue has a nice mixture of features, including a piece on Gene Wolfe by Kim Stanley Robinson. I have read a big pile of books by both authors, and my interview with KSR ran in NYRSF many years ago.

(Hat tip: Arthur Hlavaty, one of the editors at NYRSF).

NYRSF, by the way, was founded by David Hartwell, one of RAW's editors.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ready for some good news?

As the U.S. apparently prepares to jump into yet another Mideast war, would you like some good news?

Bryan Caplan, a libertarian economist and blogger (and a pacifist), points out in his post, "Peace on Earth is Almost Here," that despite all of the bloodshed in North Africa and Asia, much of the rest of the world is peaceful. Caplan writes, "If you don't feel grateful, you should.  Yes, things could get worse.  At some point, they almost certainly will for a spell.  But the utopian dream of peace on earth now looks amazingly realistic.  Who knows?  We might abolish war before we get driverless cars!"

Meanwhile, Reason's writers continue their apparently quixotic quest to keep the U.S. from intervening in a civil war on the same side as Al Qaeda. For example, here are Peter Suderman's "8 Reasons Not to Go to War in Syria," and Jesse Walker's "The 'Experts' Who Want a War With Syria."

Over at Dangerous Minds, leftist Richard Metzger reacts to all this by complaining that Timothy Leary once supported Ron Paul. (Mysteriously, Leary lent his support to one of the few politicians who was then ready to call for an end to the war on drugs. Leary biographers are still puzzling over the strange episode.) Whatever you think of Ron Paul, his antiwar credentials are pretty solid. I think Dangerous Minds is a fine blog, but Metzger's timing seems a little off this time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spying on the U.N.

I just finished reading Matthew Aid's history of the NSA, The Secret Sentry. The George W. Bush administration and its top officials do not come off especially well in the book.

The book discusses how Dubya reacted the leader of the United Nations didn't get behind America's planned invasion of Iraq in 2003:

"NSA and Britain's GCHQ began intercepting all of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's telephone calls and emails, and a special eavesdropping device was surreptitiously planted inside Annan's office suite on the thirty-eighth floor of the U.N. headquarters building in New York City; it recorded all of the conversations held in his office. The U.S. and British governments were both concerned that Annan was personally opposed to the United Nations' approving a resolution calling for war with Iraq."

Thanks heavens we got rid of that Republican asshole Bush.

Oh, wait.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Oz Fritz on Aleister Crowley

Oz Fritz has begun a new series of posts on Aleister Crowley.

You could read the first post for sentences like these:

"The first time I read Magick in Theory and Practice sometime in the early '80's, I turned it into a Magical Retirement, that is to say, I dropped out of all the conventional social games and spent a week concentrating on reading and digesting the book and doing some spiritual practices. I rented a room above a dive bar, The St. Regis Hotel in downtown Calgary, Alberta and fasted from food, drugs and alcohol. After morning yoga, I'd walk around downtown Calgary and find somewhere interesting outdoors to read the book."

Or you could read it for the Joey Ramone anecdote. Or for the way Oz relates Crowley to Bucky Fuller. But my takeaway was Oz's explanation for what "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" really means.

I'm looking forward to the follow-ups.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

RAW on Abbie Hoffman

Robert Anton Wilson said some harsh things about Abbie Hoffman; in Schroedinger's Cat, Markoff Chaney, harassing Frank Dashwood, envisions "a new letterhead that would say FRATERNAL ORDER OF HATE GROUPS and have Robert Welch, Abby Hoffman, Anita Bryant, and George Wallace listed as officers."

Wilson apparently came to regret being so hard on Hoffman; in a comment to my August 22 post, Jesse Walker wrote, quoting an email RAW sent to Walker in 2004, "I softened my view after details of his illness came forth. Before that, I considered him nasty and mean. After, I decided my few meetings with him probably came in depressive valleys of his bipolar cycle and I had non-semantically thought I 'knew' him.... See my Cosmic Shmuck law; it's very important to me these days to remember my Cosmic Schmuckhood. Wish I had met Abbie once on one of his peaks... Met Anita toward the end of her life & liked her a lot."

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Did the U.S. government hack Tor?

On Twitter, Julian Sanchez suggests, "What if people decided on principle to deprive NSA of as much data as possible, even at the cost of convenience? Always use Tor, even though it's slower. Encrypt even trivial emails. Stop using PSTN. Always use OTR. Stop using PRISM search engines. It would be a mild pain in the ass. And after a week or two you probably wouldn't notice the difference."

This is likely good advice, although I wonder if a really determined NSA probe would be able to get all of your information. I noticed, for example, a ProPublica story about an attack on Tor.

In this cautiously-worded report, ProPublica raises the issue of whether the U.S. government was responsible for a malware attack on Windows machines running the Tor Browser Bundle, a popular way to use Tor. The author says that the evidence is interesting, but not conclusive.

ProPublica has a lot of good NSA coverage and it has a good apps to read its stories on your table, mobile phone, etc.

Friday, August 23, 2013

'Robert Anton Wilson & Operation Mindfuck'

The Disinformation web site, as you may already have noticed, has published an excerpt from Jesse Walker's The United States of Paranoia, "Robert Anton Wilson & Operation Mindfuck." The posting has been getting publicized by the various RAW sites, but I wanted to post, too, to make sure no one missed it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

'Cosmic Schmucks' and a little RAW skepticism

Michael Johnson wrote a piece about Robert Anton Wilson's "Cosmic Schmuck" principle back in July 2012, and now he's followed it up with a sequel posting. Some key sentences in the new piece:

I think Robert Anton Wilson wanted much more of all of that (deliberation, negotiation, collaboration, compromise, playfulness) in his thinking that actuated the Cosmic Schmuck Principle. Why? Well, for one: the need to be "right" all the time seems linked with being repressive and Authoritarian. RAW used a term he attributed to Mike Hoy: "Correct Answer Machine": this is an assumption deeply embedded in out culture, so we take it in, seemingly, with mother's milk: that we must have The One True Answer to any question, as if there were a little machine in our brains that always knew the "correct" answer to everything. Wilson thought this was basically the same as an ideology, but an authoritarian one, almost always based on Aristotelian two-value logic, with no room for the Excluded Middle. Wilson called it "robot circuits in our brains." (see Email To The Universe, p.135)

The whole piece is good, and see also his responses in the comments.

In a somewhat similar vein, Jesse Walker and I Tweeted back and forth after yesterday's piece. After I posted a link to the "Anarchism and Crime" article, Jesse Tweeted, "I am extremely dubious about that Swedish rape statistic." ("We would not have so many rapists and other violent nuisances if our society were not, in some way, training them from birth onward to behave like that. For instance, Sweden has only a few rapes per year; the United States has one every seven minutes.")

I looked it up, and this is what Wikipedia has to say (noting that it's talking about current statistics, not 1970s ones):

Sweden has the highest incidence of reported rapes in Europe and one of the highest in the world. According to a 2009 study, there were 46 incidents of rape per 100,000 residents. This figure is twice that of the UK which reports 23 cases, and four times that of the other Nordic countries, Germany and France. The figure is up to 20 times the figure for certain countries in southern and eastern Europe.[80]

By 2010, The Swedish police recorded the highest number of offences - about 63 per 100,000 inhabitants - of any force in Europe, in 2010. The second-highest in the world.[81]

The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention claims that it is not "possible to evaluate and compare the actual levels of violent crimes... between countries", but that in any case the high numbers are explained by a broader legal definition of rape than in other countries, and an effort to register all suspected and repeated rapes. It asserts that comparisons based on victim surveys place Sweden at an average level among European nations.[82]

Jesse then Tweeted, "Sometimes Wilson's skepticism failed him. I've heard an early talk where he claimed that cancer was absent among the Eskimos." I replied, "A fair criticism. He probably should have treated many of Tim Leary's claims with more skepticism."

Now, obviously I'm a huge RAW fan and Walker is too (more on that tomorrow), but we can treat Wilson as a human being and separate the wheat from the chaff. See the back and forth in the comments to Michael's new post that I just referenced.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

'Anarchism and Crime' by Wilson and Shea

(This article ran in Green Egg. I could not find a date, so all I can say is it was in the 1970s. It reads like one of the missing appendices for Illuminatus!, but I can't think of anyone I could ask to test my theory. My thanks to Mike Gathers for making it available to everyone. -- Tom.)

Anarchism and Crime
By Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

Because anarchists aim at the abolition of government, the first question they are usually asked is, "What about murderers, thieves, rapists? The government protects us from them. Would you just let them run wild?"

The answer, first of all, is that government does not protect us. Its claims are a total imposture, like the fraud of a primitive shaman who claims to bring rain and warns everybody, "If you abolish me, it will never rain again." Thus, the major crimes are all legal; the thieves who have stolen the land and the natural resources from under our feet operate with a government franchise. These huge banks, corporations and land monopolies finance both political parties, train the corporation lawyers who become Congressmen or Presidents, and can never be successfully resisted in the courts because they own the judges, too.

Second, the next level of crime, the so-called Syndicate or Mafia, is also in cahoots with big government and big business, and only token arrests and light sentences are ever imposed on "gangland leaders" -- usually rebels who have become unpopular with the higher-level mobsters. In every big city, the links between the mayor's office and the Mob are well-known and often "exposed" in the press, but no reforms are permanent and never can be under this system. The links between the national Mob and the national government are less well publicized, but books like The Politics of Opium in Southeast Asia, the recent Harpers magazine issue on the CIA and heroin, etc., show that the heroin syndicate could not operate without high-level Federal protection.

Finally, the small-time free-lance criminal -- the rapist and sneak thief -- can be arrested and prosecuted in this system; but is he, usually? In New York, in 1972, there were 300,000 burglaries but only 20,000 arrests for burglary. The police are too busy protecting the high-level criminals -- as we will explain -- to have the manpower to really battle the small independents.

Do you deny this? Well, of course, you have been trained by the State-run schools and the mass media to deny it,  do you believe your own denial? How safe do you feel in a large American city, especially after  dark? Do you honestly think the government can and will protect you?


Many admit that they are frightened and appalled by modern American  life, but they think the answer is more laws, tougher laws, an evolution toward the total Police State.

This is, of course, the natural direction of government. The more honest (and misguided) a politician happens to be, the more laws he will write -- to prove to himself that he is "working" for the people. Obviously, every time the legislature meets, the honest politicians will introduce more laws, to show how hard they're working. Eventually, nothing will remain that is not covered by some law or other. Everything not compulsory will be forbidden, and everything not forbidden will be compulsory.

Stop and ask yourself if you really want that kind of Nazi- or Communist-style tyranny.

Now, even if we (or most of us) do want it -- to be protected from criminals -- and even if we escalate our progress and pass a billion new laws a year, arriving at Total Law in say five or ten years, what then? How will such a system be enforced? Kinsey estimated that to enforce our sex laws alone, 95 percent of the population would have to become either police or jail-guards -- except that they would all be in jail themselves. This is already impossible, but suppose we tried to enforce the anti-drug and anti-gambling laws, also? We would all spend our lives in Federal prisons, spending part of the day guarding others and part of the day being guarded by them.

This is absurd, but within the framework of government and law, how can we stop short of such a total prison-society?

And remember: each step in this direction -- each new law, and each new bureaucracy to enforce the new laws -- raises your tax burden. Already, you are working from January 1 to May 23 for the Federal government, to pay your IRS bill for the year. For a few months thereafter, you are working to pay nuisance taxes, state taxes, and various other concealed taxes on every item you buy, every movie you see, every drink you take. Already, it would probably be cheaper to just let yourself be robbed every week by a casual sneak-thief. Government may be more genteel than a mugger (occasionally) but it usually ends up taking more of one's money.


There are three kinds of laws on the books today, and to understand them is to understand the State.

The first kind of law declares the State's power over you. It says: we may rob you of this much per year (taxation), we may enslave you for this period of time (the draft), we may do this and that and the other thing to you, and you cannot resist because we are your Masters. This is the earliest kind of law and was originally imposed on conquered people by conquerors. No attempt to justify it has ever been convincing to anyone bold enough to question it in the first place. It is based on mere Force; its only argument is the gun.

The second kind of law is coercive morality. This makes the State into an armed clergyman. It says you can enjoy yourself this way, but not that way; you can smoke this, but not that; you can drink this, but not that. Thou Shalt Not Play Parchesi On The Night of the Full Moon. Thou shalt not gamble on Sunday. Thou shalt not make love to  your wife the way you and she both like, but the way the legislators like. Four million arrests a year, and an incredible expenditure of time and manpower and money, go into enforcing these laws.

These are the laws that establish crimes without victims. These are the laws that everybody occasionally violates and some people violate constantly. Their only justification, as with the first type of laws, is sheer brute force. That is, without force, a man who believed in, say, the Seventh Day Adventist vegetarian diet would still obey that diet's rules; with force, the Adventists, if they get into government, can make all of us obey it. The day is not distant when pot-smokers will take over, and if they are vengeful, anti-booze laws will come back on the books. This stupid bullying can go on forever, each group getting its turn to impose its own prejudices on others. Anarchists say: stop it now, get off your neighbor's back, get him off your back, and let everybody enjoy his or her own lifestyle.

Finally, there is the third class of laws -- the class that every decent person wishes society would live by. No killing. No stealing. No rape. No fraud. Anarchists, just like you, would like to see these laws really functioning. We just don't believe that government can do that job. We think government is, always has been, and always will be preoccupied with the first two kinds of law. Read on and we will explain this.


Government was instituted to guarantee that property would remain stolen. The chief function of every cop, every judge, every bureaucrat is to see that property remains stolen.

The first kings were conquerors. They stole the land by shot and shell, period. Then, they settled down to rob the survivors at a certain rate per year, called taxation. Next, they divided up the land among their relatives or officers in the army, who all became lords-of-the-land, landlords, and were empowered to rob the citizens at a certain other rate per year, called rent. When science and industry appeared, other satraps and sycophants of the royal families received charters to monopolize the resources and means of production, and to rob at a certain rate per year, called capital interest or profit. When banks were formed to circulate the medium of exchange (money), other charters were handed out to others in the bandit-gang,  who became bank directors with a license to rob at another rate per year, called money interest or economic interest.

It soon became evident that those not in the gang, the majority of the population, were inclined to rob back as much as they could. The Robin Hood hero appears in all societies at this point, and most of us still admire him, although shamefacedly, since the schools and mass media tell us not to. (Still,  who doesn't heroize Jesse James or John Dillinger a little?)

Anarchists say that the first crime was the crime of the conquerors/governors, who seized a whole land, cut it up among themselves, and proceeded to rob all of us forever by taxation, rent, corporative profit, money interest, and various sub-classes of the same basic fraud. Anarchists say that the Earth belongs to its inhabitants, not to this small "owning" and "governing" class of less than 1 percent of the population.

Anarchists say that the way to stop crime is to stop the primordial crime, the State, and administer the land through voluntary associations (syndicates) of all the people.

Anarchists say that if people could work for themselves -- if they received the full product of their labor through a syndicate of fellow-workers -- almost all motivation for crime would disappear. If you didn't have to pay taxes and rent, starting tomorrow, your purchasing power would be more than doubled. If other forms of exploitation and robbery, through the financial-interest system, were also abolished, your purchasing power would more than quadruple. How much envy, how much worry about money, how much irrational fear, ulcers, nightmares, headaches and other motivations to cheat a little or steal a little would survive after this simple economic justice was achieved?


"But, but -- how about the violent criminal types? How about the thrill-killers, the nuts, the psychopaths or sociopaths or sadists? How about those who simply enjoy being evil and destructive?"

We are not evading that question. It is absolutely necessary, however, to put it in perspective by explaining the Major Economic Crime of capitalist government (and feudal and other governments) and how other, lesser crimes mostly derive from that primordial injustice.

Now, after economic justice is achieved and voluntary associations of all sorts (labor unions, credit unions, consumer-owned co-ops, people-owned insurance companies, rural communes, tribes, any type of free human grouping) have taken over the functions of government, some persons, due to sickness or perversity or one damn thing or another, will still make trouble. Rape. Pilfering. Attempts to defraud. How will anarchists deal with these remaining no-goodniks?


The first step in solving any social problem, like any medical problem, is prevention. Other remedies are necessary only when prevention fails.

Anarchists claim that the violent-nut-type of human being is produced by our current methods of child-rearing. This claim is hardly radical or extreme: every psychiatrist, every sociologist, every anthropologist, in one way or another, admits that this grave charge is true. We would not have so many rapists and other violent nuisances if our society were not, in some way, training them from birth onward to behave like that. For instance, Sweden has only a few rapes per year; the United States has one every seven minutes. One rape every seven minutes is not natural male behavior (whatever Womens Lib may say); it is a function of the sexual misery in this society.

Anarchists believe that the repressive, authoritarian, coercive, brutal and degrading practices currently used in the family and the school are only necessary to condition the young human to live in a government-run society. Children must be beaten or otherwise terrorized and bullied in the home and the school in order that they may "adjust" to the terror and brutality of government as they mature. In short, a State-run society must be repressive because repression is the essence of the State.

Libertarian, free-form families and schools -- the open family, the Summerhill school, the free association of men, women and children without authoritarian control -- will not produce the deformed, mentally twisted, violent and "mean" and "crazy" types so common in our authoritarian society. So anarchists aim, first of all, to prevent violent criminals by changing the child-rearing methods that produce them.


There still remains the inexplicable criminal -- the guy who enjoys harming others for reasons nobody today can understand. The superstitious say he is possessed by demons; the naturalists imply that maybe he has bad genes or is a throwback to an earlier stage of evolution. Whatever the explanation, he will appear, presumably, in anarchist societies, as he has appeared in all other societies, even after economic injustice and mind-warping education are abolished.

Human-centered societies (as distinguished from governmental or property-centered societies) have dealing with this problem for thousands of years. Tribes, clans, bands, free communes, have existed outside, before and alongside the States which get all the attention from historians. Anthropologists have investigated these free human groupings and have found a variety of methods of dealing with "demoniacs," many of them as good or better than the State's traditional jails, tortures or executions.

Ostracism should not be underestimated. One critic of anarchism, George Orwell, actually complained that ostracism was so cruel that most people would rather fall afoul of government and go to jail than be the sole ostracized person in an anarchist community.

Exile, widely used by governments before jail became popular, is also effective. At least, it solves the problem for the community that uses it (while, alas, passing the problem on to the unlucky community that next gets the offensive nut.)

The Quakers have widely practiced a form of moral forgiveness which sounds impractical to most of us, but which is murderously effective. Bertrand Russell was so impressed with this that he suggested it as a fit punishment for Stalin. Until you have seen a group of Quakers reciting somebody's sins in public, weeping over them loudly, and then forgiving and praying for the culprit, you can't imagine how much psychological impulse-to-change this generates.

Many anarchists believe the private defense groups are legitimate; some even are willing to allow  such groups to use traditional Vigilante methods. Clarence Lee Schwartz, an American anarchist who observed this system first-hand in the old West, thought it both more humane and more effective at peace-keeping than the government law system back East. Other anarchists fear this as the possible source of a new State.

Most anarchists believe that criminals should not be caged under any circumstances, due to the overwhelming evidence that every prisoner comes out of a cage worse than he goes into it. Others believe, however, that punishment in a form of indemnification is compatible with libertarian ideas and should be rigorously enforced by anarchist syndicates. Under the indemnity system, every criminal must pay in cash or work or some needed good to compensate his victims (or their survivors). This certainly does the victims more good than having the criminal put in a cage and fed at community expense, to say the least of it; and is probably just as discouraging or more discouraging to every nut with even the remnant of an ability to forsee the probable results of his actions.

Finally, we must mention miscellaneous solutions. Just as crime in an economically just and free community will be freaky and sporadic (rather than the steady hour-after-hour terror that it is in this mad, unequal and unfree society), the remedies will also be individualized and peculiar to each situation. In some cases, undoubtedly, an anarchist community will decide the "criminal" was right and the community was wrong; for this reason, anarchists do not believe in unalterable laws, but only in general policies.

The acme of anarchist theory is the principle of non-invasiveness or non-coercion -- Mind Your Own Business -- and those found to be violating this will  be given, usually, some method of compensating those whose lives they have damaged. If they refuse, methods like the boycott-ostracism-exile or general cold shoulder need not always be deliberately organized against them. The good sense, the social bonds, and the sense of humor of the organic community will find some way to make them known that human tolerance, even under anarchy, is not infinite. In the Old West, men booted through town with a skunk tied around their necks, and then shoved onto the  highway, often became valuable, co-operative and productive citizens in the next town, after some time to figure the likelihood of a repetition of that public amusement if they were to try similar modes of behavior again.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Various links

Hello Robert Anton Wilson Kitty. Yours for $123. (Via Roman Tsivkin).

At Salon, Laura Miller reviews Jesse Walker's The United States of Paranoia, out today. It's an interesting review, and Miller talks quite a bit about Robert Anton Wilson, e.g., "Although conspiracies do exist, we need to be vigilant against our propensity to find them whether they are there or not. The most sensible outlook would appear to be that of Robert Anton Wilson, who concluded that 'powerful people' could well be 'engaged in criminal plots' but who found it unlikely that 'the conspirators were capable of carrying out those plots competently'.” 

Some of what has been reported about Michael Hastings' death apparently is false.

But it's still pretty mysterious.

Tyler Cowen on the Nick Turse Vietnam book.

Why did the libertarian cross the road? (Via Kevin Carson.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Jesse Walker on his new book

Tomorrow marks the publication of Jesse Walker's new book, The United States of Paranoia, which traces the history of conspiracy theories in the U.S. I was allowed to read an advance copy of the book and it's very good. It will interest (1) Folks who want to think about conspiracy theories and what they sometimes say about us; (2) Anyone interested in U.S. history who wants to read a book that isn't about the same old stuff (3) People who like  interesting nonfiction in general. Far from being a hobby of people on the fringe, conspiracy theories are at the core of the country's history and always have been, Jesse argues.

Oh, yeah, it also will interest (4) Robert Anton Wilson fans, and not just because the entire book is about conspiracy theories. As this blog concerns Robert Anton Wilson and Wilson's interests, I should point out that Jesse's book contains a chapter, "Operation Mindfuck," that will tell you much that you didn't know before about Discordianism, Kerry Thornley, RAW etc.

The Los Angeles Times reviewed Walker's book on Thursday and called it "an oddly entertaining exploration of the roots of 'paranoid' thinking across several centuries of American history.

"It's all too rare to come upon a writer willing to attack the sacred cows of the right and left with equal amounts of intelligence and flair. Walker is, thankfully, that kind of writer and a tireless and thorough researcher to boot," LA Times reviewer Hector Tobar wrote. "He also states an obvious fact many skeptics are unwilling to accept: Behind just about every conspiracy theory there is also, more often than not, a grain of truth."

Jesse Walker
I  asked Jesse for a new interview (I first spoke to him here) and asked him about his book, including what he hopes people will learn from  it and what really happened to JFK in Dallas. I'm going to cross post this to my blog at work, but the complete interview, featuring "RAW material," is what you are about to read.

Jesse has several speaking appearances set up to promote the book; you can read about them here.  In addition, Jesse will be at the Cato Institute on Sept. 11. The C-SPAN interview is here. For more events, follow Jesse's Twitter feed.

What do you hope people will learn after reading The United States of Paranoia?

WALKER: I hope they'll learn that conspiracy theories are not some new invention: that they've always been with us and that they aren't going away. I hope they'll learn that there isn't a single all-purpose political or psychological explanation for why such stories take hold. I hope they'll learn that the American establishment is prone to conspiracy thinking, no less than its critics on the left and the right are. I hope they'll learn that these stories have something to teach us even when they're entirely false—that a conspiracy theory doesn't take hold with a lot of people unless it speaks to their anxieties or experiences.

And I hope that as they read about the things our ancestors believed, they'll feel a little shock of recognition. The fears and folklore of modern times can sound a lot like the fears and folklore of earlier generations. We're not as unique as we think.

It seems to me we are living in very paranoid times, akin to what the country went through in the 1970s. Do you think the timing of your book turned out to be good, perhaps by accident?

WALKER: Many people have said this to me. But as I say in the book, "it is always a paranoid time." If this had come out last year, people would have looked around at all the election-year conspiracy chatter and told me how well-timed the book was. If it had come out the year before that, people would have pointed to the birthers or to the conspiracy theories about the death of bin Laden.

Do you hope some of your readers will become more tolerant? Much of the book seems to argue for tolerance of other peoples' conspiracy theories, or at least an effort to understand where they are coming from. 

WALKER:Well, I'm all for debunking claims that aren't true, and that includes untrue claims about conspiracies. But I do hope the debunkers will approach their task with a little humility, an awareness that they're capable of believing dubious tales too.

One chapter of your book traces the effects of 1970s paranoia on popular culture, including conspiracy movies. Do you expect a new wave of paranoid surveillance movies in reaction to the NSA scandal?

WALKER:If we do get them, I hope they're as good as the '70s movies were.

Is there anything interesting you learned about Robert Anton Wilson by speaking to his daughter, Christina Pearson, that didn't make it into the book?

WALKER:There's a lot. Actually, one of my regrets about the book is that I have so much material about Wilson -- from that interview and from other sources -- that I didn't use. I could have made that chapter three times as long, and it would have been interesting, but it would have stopped being a segment in a book about American paranoia and started being a biography of Robert Anton Wilson. And while that's a book that absolutely needs to be written someday, it isn't the book I wrote this time.

When I talked with Christina, the portrait of her dad that emerged was one of a devoted husband who was a loving but neglectful parent. Someone who in some ways was a classic absent-minded professor: capable of sharp intellectual insights but unsure what to do when a light bulb broke. Someone who spent half his life striving to establish himself as a writer, who finally had a breakthrough with Illuminatus!, and who promptly had his world fall apart again when one of his daughters was murdered and his son went mad. And someone who was, despite everything that went badly in his life, fundamentally an optimist. "He thought he was going to live forever," Christina told me. "When did he stop thinking that?" I asked. "About 48 hours before he died."

Pearson is best known for founding the Trichotillomania Learning Center and in her official biography she refers to her "chaotic and unstable" childhood. Did she relate her condition to growing up in Chicago in the days of the counterculture and government surveillance?

WALKER:This is what she told me: "At 13, I just started pulling out my hair. And people say, 'Oh, it's because you had a crazy childhood.' But I know people who don't have crazy childhoods and they do the same thing."

So, what do you think happened to JFK in Dallas?

Walker: Contrary to what you may have read in the Weekly World News, he died.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Clive Crook: Justice system a 'disgrace'

Pundit Clive Crook has written a piece which ties together many different problems with the U.S. criminal justice system, arguing that it's "a national disgrace, from top to bottom." His comments on the federal court system seem particularly apt.

Harsh words, but Crook makes a good case. Excerpt:

"The U.S. — a country that loves freedom, so I’m told — has virtually abolished trial by jury. According to one recent count, guilty pleas resolve 97 percent of federal cases that are prosecuted to a conclusion. Instead of bothersome trials, the U.S. has a plea-bargain system in which prosecutors not only bring the charge but also, in effect, determine guilt and pass sentence. As this astonishing assault on civil liberty proceeds, judges have allowed themselves to be turned into rubber-stamping functionaries, apparently for reasons of administrative simplicity."

Another good bit:

"The U.S. is not a forgiving country, and most Americans believe in harsh punishment for serious crimes. I’ve no quarrel with that. But the principle of proportionality — really, the very notion of justice in sentencing — seems to have been overthrown. According to a forthcoming report from the American Civil Liberties Union, 2,074 federal inmates are serving sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes. Think about that."

And another:

"You can tell from my puzzlement and outrage that I’m not a lawyer. It takes years of legal training to be acquainted with this system and not be appalled by it. Somebody who knows more about the law than I do will have to explain why plea bargains and mandatory minimum sentences don’t violate the Constitution’s requirements of “due process” and “equal protection of the laws,” or why life in prison without parole for a nonviolent offense isn’t an instance of the “cruel and unusual punishment” forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. You’ll need an expert to tell you why the Supreme Court was right to uphold a sentence of 50 years to life (under California’s three-strikes rule) for the crime of stealing nine video cassettes."

As far as I can tell, Clive Crook isn't a libertarian or ACLU official or other variety of sorehead; he simply seems to be an economist and pundit who is often worth reading.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Various links

French rocked by woman's shocking sex life. (She's having an affair with a married man now, so she's resumed a normal French lifestyle.)

Jesse Walker on five classic conspiracy theories. (Some were false but some were true.)

New book on Singapore's health care system. (Free for Kindle, at least for now.)

Roderick T. Long recommends a book by Herbert Spencer (important classical liberal philosopher.) Long, an "Aristotelean Wittgensteinian left-wing market anarchist and sf fan," has been defending Spencer from critics in a series of articles, for example here and here. (Get a copy of the book Long recommends, "Social Statics,"  here.  According to Wikipedia, Murray Rothbard called it "the greatest single work of libertarian political philosophy ever written."

John Higgs newsdump.

Philip K. Dick, music critic. Like RAW, he liked Beethoven.

Mike Mungowitz, libertarian college professor, publishes a long list of links every Monday.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jesse Walker writes about RAW (and government paranoia) for the Washington Post

Jesse Walker, in the Washington Post, on the federal government's crackdown on leaks. The anti-leak program has been adopted in many federal agencies that have nothing to do with national security. The piece does a good job of summarizing the various ways the Obama administration has shown that is is obsessed with government secrecy.

And he gets Robert Anton Wilson into the Washington Post! Excerpt:

Did anyone ever imagine a government so scared of its own shadow? I can think of at least two people who did. One is novelist and essayist Robert Anton Wilson, who often wrote satirically about conspiracies. Any secret police agency, he suggested, must be monitored by another arm of the government, lest it be infiltrated by its enemies. But then “a sinister infinite regress enters the game. Any elite second order police must be, also, subject to infiltration. . . . So it, too, must be monitored, by a secret-police-of-the-third-order” and so on. “In practice, of course, this cannot regress to mathematical infinity, but only to the point where every citizen is spying on every other citizen or until the funding runs out.” The point applies not just to police but to any hierarchy with secrets to hide.

Walker's Post piece links to his Reason article on "The Legacy of Robert Anton Wilson."

Some of the material in the piece is adapted from Walker's new book,  The United States of Paranoia, out next week. (More on that Monday, when my interview with Mr. Walker will run.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Emperor Norton news roundup

I guess if any blog is going to have an Emperor Norton news roundup, it should be this one.

Petition to name the Bay Bridge "The Emperor Norton Bay Bridge." (Via Roman Tsivkin.)

Ten minute Emperor Norton documentary. (Via Roman, again).

List of the emperor's proclamations. (Via Jesse Walker, who explains, "Shawn Wilbur is listing (and soon will be posting) the published proclamations of Emperor Norton."

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

White House says Clapper won't run NSA review

Many civil libertarians took it badly when the news hit that James Clapper would be the running the review of the NSA's spying on the American people. I was one of those folks; see yesterday's post.

The White House, reacting to all of the criticism, is now saying that Clapper will not be running the review and will not be part of the group. Members of the group are being chosen by the White House and will be announced soon, according to an article by the Hill. Clapper's own memo called the review group "the Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies," Yahoo News points out. (Clapper is the director of national intelligence, so Clapper himself is saying it's his group.)

I guess we'll have a better idea of what to think when the members of the review panel are named.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Obama's 'independent group' of 'outside experts'

I've been trying to resist blogging too often about the NSA scandal, but this is just unbelievable.

On Friday, I took time to watch President Barack Obama's press conference. It's the one in which he promised to bring in a "high level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies." The president said he would ask the "independent group" to give an interim report in 60 days and a final report at the end of the year. Wow, I thought. Who is he going to name to run this thing?

So who did the president name to head the "independent group" of "outside experts"? Bruce Schneier, maybe? Julian Sanchez? Cory Doctorow?  Sen. Ron Wyden? Jimmy Carter?  The head of the ACLU?

Give up? It's James Clapper!

Details here.

This sort of thing is bipartisan, of course.

"As Hannah Arendt noted, during the Vietnam War 'the policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy but chiefly if not exclusively destined for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress'.”

That's from an excellent James Bovard piece about lying as an essential tool of government policy. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Nice Distinctions 24 released

Science fiction fan, RAW expert and blogger Arthur Hlavaty has released  Nice Distinctions 24, the latest issue of his fanzine. Physical copies are being mailed out the the traditional fashion, but in modern way, you can also get the online version here. I get mine via email. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

New Falcon puts 'Coincidance' on sale

I mentioned in a recent post that I'd like to host an online discussion of Robert Anton Wilson's Coincidance, probably in mid-September. (Sometime soon, we ought to have a discussion of what kind of reading schedule to follow, how to handle those little chapters, etc.)

Well, by coincidence, or "coincidance," New Falcon Press has announced a summer sale of Coincidance, cutting the price to $10.53. The list price is $22.95. The new $10.53 sale price is cheaper than the $15.62 price that's listen on Amazon.

A complete price comparison, however, has to include shipping and handling. Amazon's shipping price is $3.99, bringing to the total up to $19.61. New Falcon charges $8.50 for shipping one paperback book, bringing the total price to $18.83. Good, but not the biggest sale of the year.

Could this be the opening salvo in a vicious online price war over Robert Anton Wilson's books? We can only hope!

REMINDER: First Church on the Moon is free today as a Amazon Kindle. It may only be free for one week, so grab it now.

Friday, August 9, 2013

'Science fiction fandom reminds me of the IRA'

My Tuesday posting on writers who are consistently good inspired a back-and-forth in the comments between Eric Wagner and myself. I like to think all of that was interesting, but I particularly liked Eric's last comment:

I started reading Robert Anton Wilson in 1982 and read all of his books I could get a hold of. When I attended the World Con in Baltimore in 1983 I felt disconnected from the science fiction world, and that feeling increased at the few conventions I attended after that. Bob Wilson replaced Robert Heinlein as my favorite author, and my worldview changed. The worldviews I encountered in the sf world didn't appeal to me as much. Wilson got me heavily into Pound, and that led me to change my college major from math to English. However, science fiction fandom reminds me of the IRA: Once in, never out. I have never fully entered the university English department worldviews because they tend to look down on the Heinlein/SF worldviews which have shaped me and still seem to me to have some validity.

I have think my tastes have evolved. I like to revisit science fiction worldviews from time to time.

I hope Eric can be coaxed into explaining what he means when he writes, "The worldviews I encountered in the sf world didn't appeal to me as much." I never noticed much of a contradiction between Robert Anton Wilson's technological optimism and the science fiction worldview, so perhaps Eric is referring to something else. I never felt disconnected going to SF conventions back in Oklahoma, because I always saw a bunch of old friends, but it can be an odd experience going to a convention if you don't know the attendees. I went to Penguicon in Michigan last year and didn't run into a single person I knew.

It's interesting that RAW replaced Robert Heinlein as Eric's favorite author. Arthur Hlavaty has written many times that his worldview was shaped by RAW and Heinlein. I read plenty of Heinlein as a teenager (my favorite was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) but he was never my favorite, as he was for so many fans. (If I had to pick a favorite in those days, it probably would have been Isaac Asimov.)

Bonus bit: For anyone who is interested, Iain Banks' Culture novel, Surface Tension, is $1.99 today only as an Amazon Kindle. I liked it very much.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Latest John Higgs news

The new John Higgs novel, First Church on the Moon, will be released on Saturday. A paperback will be available, but the electronic version will be free on Amazon Kindle for one week. I got to read an advance copy and liked it a lot.

His Timothy Leary biography, I Have America Surrounded, is available again in the U.S. as a paperback. I read it a few months ago and can recommend it; it seemed carefully researched and seemed to strike the right balance between respect for Leary's ideas and unwillingness to uncritically accept anything Leary ever said. There's no news yet on an ebook version.

John also reports that interest in Robert Anton Wilson in England apparently remains strong: "The London RAW talk me and Daisy are doing in October has sold out already, which has given me a real buzz and shows a healthy level of affection for Ol' Bob bubbling away under the surface."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pardon Edward Snowden

A petition has been started at White House website, asking the Obama administration to pardon Edward Snowden. I have signed it, and invite the rest of you to sign, too. There are more than 132,000 signatures so far; the White House is supposed to respond to every petition that can gather 100,000 signatures.

In a column for, Justin Raimondo explains why the petition is worth supporting:

On June 9th, someone from Rochester, New York, with the initials "T.R.," started a White House petition demanding a presidential pardon for Snowden. Within a few days – and with minimal publicity – it garnered tens of thousands of signatures. Within a few weeks it had passed 100,000 signatures, the threshold requiring a presidential response. The total now stands at over 132,000, and the White House has yet to respond. I called the White House press office to ask whether some kind of acknowledgment is forthcoming. I was told to email my query to the White House press officer. I’m sure no one is shocked to learn that, to date, my query has gone unanswered.

Well, then, you say, so what? The White House petition program was always a farce, and we shouldn’t take it seriously. But if you said that you’d be dead wrong: we can turn this administration’s unmitigated arrogance against it, and expose their hypocrisy by insisting on an answer. The majority of Americans say Snowden isn’t a "traitor," he’s a legitimate whistleblower: so this is an issue on which we have the support of the American people. And it is certainly an issue of process that should be of great concern to progressives, including the majority who supported the election of President Obama partly on the basis of his commitment to democracy and "transparency."

The cliché we’ve heard endlessly repeated is that we have to ignore what’s happening to Snowden and focus on "the real issue." Yet the question of Snowden’s personal fate is inextricably bound up with the fate of the Constitution and the future of freedom in America. The key to winning this debate over the rule of law in America is demanding a full pardon for Snowden so he can come back to America and testify as to what our government has been doing in the dark. Aside from that, however, the relentless pursuit of Snowden and his forced exile is a gross injustice that must be protested and rectified.

Bonus link: Want to know who the U.S. is at war with? It's a secret!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writers with consistency

Tyler Cowen answers the question: "Whose entire body of work is worth reading?"

You can read his list at the link, here is mine:

1. Vladimir Nabokov. I have still not read all of his novels, but I've read many of them over a period of decades. All of them have been good.

2. Robert Anton Wilson. You saw that one coming, didn't you? But I think all of the novels are worth reading -- in fact, all are very good except for Nature's God. The collections are also consistently good. Chaos and Beyond has been out of print for years but it's quite good.

3. Neal Stephenson.

4. Tom Perrotta.

5. Jack Vance.

6. Jane Austen.

It's surprisingly hard to come up with a long list; most major writers, after they have succeeded, manage to get lesser works into print. Also, many of the writers I am familiar with are science fiction writers, and most of those guys have to write quickly to keep the wolf at the door and inevitably turn out some minor works (e.g., Roger Zelazny.) I considered Gene Wolfe, but The Book of the New Sun seems much better to me than most of his other work.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Meeting the author

I recently finished a collection of short pieces by Neal Stephenson, who is maybe my favorite living author. (The other possible candidate, Iain M. Banks, recently died.)

Stephenson's Some Remarks includes a piece, "Why I Am a Bad Correspondent," which explains why he is unlikely to answer an email from a stranger or accept a speaking engagement (he needs to be able to concentrate his time and attention on writing novels.)

While is isn't really germane to the main point of the essays, the article includes this passage:

Likewise, a novel represents years of hard work distilled into a few hundred pages, with all (or at least most) of the bad ideas cut out and thrown away, and the good ones polished and refined as much as possible. Interacting with an author in person is nothing like reading his novels. Just about everyone who gets an opportunity to meet with an author in person ends up feeling mildly let done, and  in some cases, grievously disappointed.

Most of my encounters with authors, whether in person at a science fiction convention or sitting in an audience at a speaking engagement, have been pretty pleasant. I particularly enjoyed meeting Robert  Shea many years ago at a worldcon in Boston; he was very nice and answered all of my questions. I did think that Jo Walton lacked charm and didn't seem particularly interested in being nice to her readers. (At a convention, I showed up for a "meet the author" event that was limited to a small group of people sitting around a table. Walton announced that there wasn't room, inviting me to leave. Another person said he was just leaving and got up, so I got to stay. Wouldn't a normal author, or a normal person, say "Pull up a chair, there's plenty of room?").

But I think I probably agree with what I take to be Stephenson's main point: In most cases, listening to an author talk is not as interesting as reading their best books. I think Robert Anton Wilson may be a possible exception, at least on his good days, as his interviews are often very interesting.  But in most cases, I've formed my opinion of authors by reading their books, not by listening to what they had to say at science fiction conventions or speaking appearances.

(I never met RAW. He occasionally went to SF conventions but wasn't the kind of guy  who turned up at worldcon every year.)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

More on the basic income scheme

The idea of replacing the welfare system with a guaranteed basic income from the government, pushed for years by Robert Anton Wilson and other luminaries, continues to generate chatter on the Internet.

Jesse Walker, writing for Reason's Hit and Run blog, points out that Alaska's system of giving out dividends from petroleum revenues to all of the state's citizens resembles a basic income scheme. (Jesse also points out that there is a new book on basic incomes. I'm not clear why the Kindle version of the book is more than $25, but perhaps the publisher is eager to discourage sales.) I was hoping Jesse would embrace my pet scheme to get rid of all existing social welfare programs and replace them with (1) Some form of health insurance for all and (2) A basic income for all, thereby inspiring an irresistible liberaltarian groundswell, but Jesse says, "Some of these ideas would be an improvement over the current system and some would not. But I don't want to get into the weeds of weighing the competing proposals right now."

A previous blog post on basic incomes is here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

James Frenkel out at Tor Books

Editor James Frenkel, a prominent science fiction editor, played a large role in the career of Robert Anton Wilson. As an editor at Dell, he pushed to have Illuminatus! reprinted as a one volume omnibus, a move Frenkel believes has helped keep the trilogy in print. Frenkel also was RAW's editor for the "Historical Illuminatus" series. You know about all this if you've read my interview with Frenkel. 

Ansible and other science fiction news outlets have reported that Frenkel no longer works as an editor at Tor Books (a big deal SF publisher). Here is Ansible's version:

"JAMES FRENKEL is no longer an editor at Tor Books (see also _A312_). Patrick Nielsen Hayden announced the departure in a succession of tweets: 'James Frenkel is no longer associated with Tor Books. We wish him the best. / We'll be contacting the authors and agents Mr. Frenkel worked with to discuss which editor here they'll be working with going forward. / This process will take some days or even weeks, so please be patient if you don't hear from us instantly. / Finally, if you had something on submission to Tor via Mr. Frenkel, you'll need to resubmit it via some other Tor editor. / If you don't have a particular editor in mind, you can re-submit it via Diana Pho (diana.pho [at] who will route it appropriately.' (all 11 July)"

This departure may be related to allegations that Frenkel sexually harassed a woman at Wiscon, a U.S. science fiction convention. Ansible again: "Elise Matthesen wrote about being sexually harassed at Wiscon this year, describing how she reported this to the convention and confirmed her report to the employers of the offender. He was later named as Tor editor James Frenkel. (, 28 June) Lawyers should please imagine the above as sprinkled with 'allegedly'."

There's been commentary about all of this on various blogs, but I could not find any accounts of what Frenkel allegedly actually said or did. So I offer no comment.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

'Kill Anything That Moves'

Chase Madar has written an interesting review of a book by Nick Turse that I blogged about before. Kill Anything That Moves tells the story, still largely unknown, about just how brutal the Vietnam War was.


Of the 33,000 books about the Vietnam War, all but a few eagerly sidestep the atrocious carnage inflicted on hundreds of thousands of civilians. Nick Turse’s scholarly mission is to haul it into the center of historical inquiry and public memory, where it belongs. Kill Anything That Moves offers neither argument nor a new narrative—it simply aims to make violence against civilians “the essence of what we should think of when we say ‘the Vietnam War’.”

The war was “a system of suffering.” Turse is sick of hearing about My Lai—the programmatic slaughter of over 500 Vietnamese women, children, and elderly men carried out on March 16, 1969 by Americal Division’s Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry—not because it wasn’t an appalling war crime but because the event, now fashioned as a horrific one-off anomaly, has perversely absolved the rest of the war, obscuring for instance the massacre of 118 civilians at Dien Nien or of 68 civilians at Phuoc Binh; of 200 civilians at An Phuoc; of 86 killed at Nhon Hoa; 155 killed at the My Khe (4) hamlet.

Madar goes into considerable detail about how the real essence of the war has been covered up.