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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.


Oz Fritz said...

He probably should have treated many of Tim Leary's claims with more skepticism."

Like what for example?

michael said...

Thanks for the link and your thoughtful comments, as always, Tom.

I can't afford to be buying new books, but I HAD to have Jesse's new book _The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory_. So far: c'est fantastique!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Oz, like the claim that treating inmates with LSD sharply reduced their recidivism rate. John Higgs reported in his Leary biography that the claimed high success rate turned out to be a mirage.

A more amusing example is when Leary denounced Bob Dylan to curry favor from the right and Wilson went along (see the New Libertarian Notes interview with RAW under Feature Articles and Interviews.) If I recall correctly, Leary himself later expressed regret for dissing Dylan.

Don't get me wrong, Leary was a brilliant guy and came up with a lot of great ideas, and I agree with Jesse Walker that in some cases Wilson did a better job of presenting Leary's ideas than Leary himself. Wilson did a very good job of developing Leary's "reality tunnels" concert. I also think Wilson did a great job with Leary's 8-circuit model.

BerserkRL said...

Given that Aristotle is always looking for a third way between false alternatives (though not between logical contradictories), the characterisation of him seems rather inappropriate.

michael said...

@ Tom: thanks for reminding me of that...weird, I thought...animus towards Bob Dylan. A related but more pointed and (I thought) "valid" critique was RAW's depiction of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. It seems there's still a lot to comment on there.

In Leary's Design For Dying he outright says RAW did a better job of explaining his ideas better.

If you ask me where he says that, I'll have to paraphrase Rev. Lovejoy and say, "Somewhere near the back."

In my opinion, if we look at what Leary had developed in his 8 circuit model, then look at what RAW had done with it in Prometheus Rising, it's a VAST improvement, mostly because RAW was far more the generalist intellectual than Leary, and a far, far, far better writer.

Higgs thought Leary's ideas about particle "spin" in quantum mechanics and how it relates to the westward migration of maverick genes was not one of his best. I agree, and yet the audacity of creativity with metaphors from physics amuses me. There seems an intellectual "free play" in Leary that's not to be taken "seriously" in the sense that we usually probably assume. RAW commented somewhere that the idea was worth thinking about.

Isaiah Berlin said that intellectuals are people who want ideas to be as interesting as possible. I'm probably paraphrasing, but there seems a long list of intellectual riffs/routines in Leary and RAW that seem, to borrow from Joyce, "jocoserious": these are ideas that could be "true" but they're fun to think about and may serve to open up creative space for other thinkers. They're also ideal for hauling out when you're on the lecture circuit?

Oz Fritz said...

@Tom, it was psylocybin they used in the prison experiment which reported those statistics. Yes, the statistics "turned out" not as good as Leary initially reported. Higgs was looking at the recidivism rate over a longer period of time.

RAW had extensive experience with psychedelics so I think he accepted Leary's claim based on his experience with what they can do rather than a lack of skepticism.

I also accept that claim. To my knowledge it's not been proved false. Leary's prison program got terminated early. His report on it is in "High Priest." In it, Leary adamently says that without follow-up counseling and contact with non-prisoners on the outside that it's likely to fail. That ended when the program lost funding. He does report successful case studies from the program. It's worth reading to get the facts straight.

Without more information, I don't accept the premise that RAW derived his opinion of Dylan from Leary because they were similar or because Leary and Dylan kind of had this subtle on-going spokescritter of the generation rivalry going on. It's interesting to see what Dylan said about Leary.

RAW expressed an opinion of Dylan at one time that seemed more about a perceived attitude than his music. A lot of people had a sharply critical view of the cynical, sarcastic, whiningly bitter side of Dylan they interpreted. Bowie wrote a song on Hunky Dory expressing a similar sentiment towards Dylan.

I agree that RAW presents Leary's ideas better than Leary sometimes but don't believe it has to do with a lack of skepticism.

As recounted in Cosmic Trigger I in regard to Leary's Starseed Transmission, RAW questioned medical authorities (like his prison staff psychologist} about Leary's sanity at the time. I don't know how much more skeptical you want him to get than doubting his friend's sanity?

Unknown said...

Oz wrote: "I don't know how much more skeptical you want him to get than doubting his friend's sanity?"

Indeed. And that was one incident at one point. What seems to be plausible is that such scepticism did not apply consistently. And, indeed, why would it, if ti's a friend's utterances you're dealing with.

Jesse said...

A related but more pointed and (I thought) "valid" critique was RAW's depiction of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.

Wilson's view of Hoffman softened after Hoffman's death. From an email he sent me 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 bipoar 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"

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Does anyone besides me think that an Oz Fritz book on RAW and Timothy Leary would be a great read? Thanks for correcting my memory on Leary's prison rehab project. Has anyone ever adopted the strategy of posting half-baked, ignorant pieces in order to draw brilliant comments? Looks like it would work here.

i don't know how to prove RAW's dis of Bob Dylan was inspired by Tim Leary, but I still suspect it. Leary inspiration or no, it seems odd that RAW, the word guy, would single out for abuse the fellow who wrote "Blowing in the Wind," "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall" etc etc

Welcome to the comments, Roderick Long!

I'd sure love to see the full email correspondence between RAW and Jesse Walker. Thanks for sharing the Abbie Hoffman bit.

Perhaps another blog post (and comments) could be about "things RAW apparently got wrong where he still looks pretty smart." Obviously, space colonies and life extension didn't follow the timetable RAW was hoping for, but that seems like an indictment of our culture. Neal Stephenson has written quite a bit lately about our failure to tackle big projects such as moon colonies.

gacord said...

Not much time here lately... but I'll second the Oz book idea... and if he threw in some Uncle Al too boot... wow it'd be grand.

Oz Fritz said...

I'll get right on it, thanks guys!

Eric Wagner said...

I love the idea of an Oz book on Tim and Bob.

On another note, I love Tim Leary as a writer and an innovative thinker.