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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday links

Cover for new Neal Stephenson book revealed on Boing Boing. I'm sure they meant to leak it to me instead. I guess something went wrong.

"Despite what some people think, hero is not a synonym for competent government-hired killer." Via Elizabeth N. Brown on Twitter.

Jesse Walker's short history of political correctness. On Twitter, Justin Raimondo comments, "Interesting history of "PC"  … altho I disagree with the conclusion. PC Is now the default, so it 'disappears'."

Somebody has finally said it — radio technology is so great and so cheap, everyone takes it for granted. Radio also was one of the first techno-information breakthroughs, predating TV, cable and Internet. (I collect radios.)

Stephen King's top ten books. I'm pleased with the inclusion of Bleak House. I've read four of these.

No, I don't have a plausible excuse for running the "Arian Baptistry ceiling #mosaic, erected by King Theodoric - 5th-6th century AD Ravenna, Italy" in the RAW blog, I just like it. Via frederic lecut. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Glenn Greenwald

Robert Anton Wilson has some harsh words for feminists late in his life, although it seems to me that his criticism was directed mostly at the language and arguments used by certain feminists, rather than feminism itself. See, for example, my blog post about the feminist musicologist who said that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was a "musical hymn to rape."

Some feminist writers, when they wrote about men, sounded like Nazis writing about Jews, RAW would point out.

This discussion fits in with the ongoing arguments about "political correctness," and whether accusations of racism, sexism, etc. sometimes are used to make legitimate discussion impossible. Here is a perhaps appropriate quote from RAW about anarchism:

I see anarchism as the theoretical ideal to which we are all gradually evolving to a point where everybody can tell the truth to everybody else and nobody can get punished for it. That can only happen without hierarchy and without people having the authority to punish other people.

That's from Jeremy Weiland's piece on political correctness,  which was published back in 2012,

The debate over political correctness has been revived lately by Jonathan Chait, who wrote a much-discussed piece on political correctness that drawn a great deal of criticism and praise.

My favorite response is from Julian Sanchez. I can't find anything to disagree with (and see the interesting back and forth in the comments). James Taranto weighs in from the right, thoughtfully (if you run into a paywall, try Googling it). From the left, Amanda Taub says that political correctness "doesn't exist."  Glenn Greenwald believes that Chait's complaints reflect a feeling of entitlement from prominent journalists, and that vicious attacks come with the territory these days:

 As is true for everyone, it’s easy to predict that criticizing certain targets – President Obama, Israel, “New Atheists” – will guarantee particularly vitriolic and sustained attacks. Way more times than I can count, I’ve been called a racist for voicing criticisms of Obama that I also voiced of Bush, and an anti-Semite for criticizing militarism and aggression by Israel. All of that can create a disincentive for engaging on those topics: the purpose of it is to impose a psychic cost for doing so, and one is instinctively tempted to avoid that.


But that’s the price one pays for having a platform. And, on balance, it’s good that this price has to be paid. In fact, the larger and more influential platform one has, the more important it is that the person be subjected to aggressive, even harsh, criticisms. Few things are more dangerous than having someone with influence or power hear only praise or agreement. Having people devoted to attacking you – even in unfair, invalid or personal ways – is actually valuable for keeping one honest and self-reflective.

Sounds a little bit like a restatement of the Cosmic Schmuck principle, no?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

'The Social Justice Illuminati is real'

Logo of Crash Override Network 

Via a posting on Supergee (lot of interesting news over there today) comes word of the Crash Override Network, a secret group of online hate group activists who are trying to help victimized by some of the online harassment groups, some of them associated with Gamergate. The piece is headlined, "The Social Justice Illuminati Is Real, And It’s An Anti-Hate Task Force." (Zoe Quinn is one of the founders.) The problem of online harassment is real (with women particularly singled out for vicious treatment), so it's good to hear about the group. You can find out more at the official site. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Robert Heinlein and 'Stranger in a Strange Land'

Robert Heinlein, left, with L. Sprague de Camp and Isaac Asimov at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1944. I began reading all three authors as a teenager. 

At this week's Illuminatus! reading group entry, Christian Greer writes in the comments about the game that George Dorn and the others play to guess who the "Martian" is.

Christian asks, "It seems clear to me that Jesus and Emperor Norton were figures who refused to be incorporated into the state and ended up (in their own life times) as creating a new realty for themselves. How does George's incomprehension of this out him as 'the Martian'?"

Perhaps one inspiration for the "Martian" game might have been the book character who was, at the time, arguably the most famous "Martian" in popular culture.

"Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named Smith," begins Robert Heinlein's Stranger in the Strange Land. "Valentine Michael Smith was as real as taxes but he was a race as one."

Smith was human had become a Martian when he grew up on Mars. He was certainly a person who created his own reality for himself and others.

The Wikipedia article on the book says it was so controversial that it was excluded from school reading lists. I actually read it in high school as an assigned novel in my senior year. The book, published in 1961 escaped the science fiction "ghetto" and became a very popular novel in the 1960s, particularly among the counterculture.

Robert Anton Wilson was certainly a huge Heinlein fan. See, for example, the New Libertarian Notes interview. "Heinlein has been an idol to me for more than 20 years. He can do no wrong, no matter how much he loves wars and hates pacifists," Wilson says.

Robert Shea was probably more of a science fiction fan than Wilson, and he certainly knew Heinlein. His son remembers, "Like most authors, he read all the time. He loved his routines. After writing over a long day he'd sit back in our living room in a big chair and read whatever book struck his fancy. I remember seeing the racy cover of FRIDAY by Heinlein and even Robert Jordan's EYE OF THE WORLD in his hand. I only remember those because of how the covers of them struck me."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Week 49, Illuminatus! online reading group

Congressman Charles August Lindbergh Sr., the famous aviator's father.

(This week: "Hate, like molten lead, drips from the wounded sky," page 513, to page 523, "I'll take some more of the medicine when my mind starts crumbling.)

The ten pages this week are a rich and tasty slice of Illuminatus!, but I don't know a convincing way to tie all of the pages together; I will resort to numbered points:

(1) "He said little, but Lepke read a lot in his eyes" page 514. This is part of a nice bit tying together the Dutch Schultz murder.

"Congressman Charles Lindbergh Sr., had been an outspoken critic of the Federal Reserve monopoly" page 514. And the other bit that would tie the Lindbergs to opposition to the Illuminati is that Lindberg Jr., the aviator, was a noninterventionist who opposed U.S. entry into World War II.

(2) "The steady exponential growth of bureaucracy is not due to Parkinson's Law alone. The State, by making itself ever more redundant, incorporate more people into its set and forces them to follow its script." (Quoted excerpt from "Never Whistle While You're Pissing," page 518.)

I just finished reading The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray, and one of the points made in the book is that personal behavior used to be largely regulated by custom rather than by the heavy hand of the law; Sean Gabb made the same point in my recent interview with him.  The advantage of the earlier approach, or at least one of them, was that you can violate norms without being tossed into prison. It was an approach that allowed for more personal liberty.

(3) Mama Sutra and Daniel Pricefixer, pages 518-523.

As in other portions of Illuminatus!, Shea and Wilson invoke Buddhism to demonstrate that they are delivering some serious content and not just having fun with us. A "Sutra" is a discourse by the Buddha, the equivalent of a "sermon" or "homily" in a Christian context. Mama Sutra's waiting room has a Buddha and her consulting room is decorated in the white void of Mahayana Buddhism (page 520).

On the vexing problem of whether the Mama Sutra character is based upon a real person, American anarchist Mary Frohman, see Jesse Walker's piece for Reason magazine.  Frohman, by the way, was onetime the lover of prominent science fiction fandom filker Leslie Fish. I tried to find an image of Mary Frohman for this blog posting but I could not. I wrote to Neil Rest, the "real Simon Moon," if he knows whether Mama Sutra was based upon Frohman. He replied, "No clue. I don't know if Mary was in the Siren collective . . . Arlen was, and several others of the circle, and that would make it likelier, but I really don't know. Les Fish might know." He CC'd Fish; no comment from her by press time. [Update: See the blog posting for Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015.]

Daniel Pricefixer is an interesting minor character, an intelligent and conscientious detective. He is, for example, the detective who found the box of memos on the Illuminati.

(Next week: "I'll give it to you raw," Mama Sutra said quietly, page 523, to "What can I do about it?" page 537.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More basic income discussion

John Higgs

A couple of articles reinforce the point that a basic income guarantee, once a radical idea discussed only by a few, has entered mainstream discussion.

John Higgs, who has been writing pieces on British politics for UsVsTh3m, has a piece on "Why ‘unconditional basic income for all’ fails the ‘splutter test’ but would liberate the world." John notes, "Variations on the idea have received support from people as different as Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell and Robert Anton Wilson." Good job of slipping his name in there, John!

Nathan Schneider weighs in with a piece at Vice, "Why the Tech Elite Is Getting Behind Universal Basic Income." Nathan does a good job of naming some of the folks who are interested in the idea and I agree with Nathan that the details matter, although I disagree on whether it is a good idea to take the money from existing welfare programs. I think it is, because it is the only way to have a reasonably generous basic income -- I don't see how it's feasible, in an era of big deficits, to afford a basic income AND the existing welfare system. I do think, though, that a basic income would have to be combined with some sort of national health insurance program.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sean Gabb on Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley

Sean Gabb has reprinted a piece he wrote about the famous British occultist Aleister Crowley, and I found it amusing reading, although perhaps Crowley fans will be less pleased. Sean finds Crowley "less interesting than those who think him interesting," and find few signs that Crowley's occult abilities actually did Crowley much good. Sean writes, "He quickly ran through the fortune his parents had left him. He spent his last years in poverty. Long before he died, he had begun to resemble the mug shot of a child murderer." Well, Crowley wouldn't be the first writer who "spent his last days in poverty." Perhaps there are other measurements of success.

In any event, Sean turns from Crowley himself, arguing that there are two main strands in the opposition to the New World Order." One group, Sean says, believes in going back "to the pre-modern sources of wisdom – whether these are religious or ethnic, or frankly mystical." The other group consists of scientific rationalists, and that is the group in which Sean counts himself: "I believe that most philosophical and political wisdom is to be found in Epicurus, Sextus Empiricus, Bacon, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, John Stuart Mill, and the others of their kind. There are valuable insights beyond this progression. But these are the writers who asked the questions that matter."

If there really are such two distinct groups, then I guess that I, like Sean, fall into the second one. But it seems to me that Robert Anton Wilson was a member of both groups. On the one hand, he was something of a mystic, if an agnostic one, and certainly found more in the writings of Aleister Crowley than Sean finds. But on the other hand, Wilson was certainly something of a John Stuart Mill sort of libertarian; his political writings seem to fall into that tradition. (And perhaps it would be misleading to just assume that anyone interested in Crowley would be a mystic in the usual meaning of the term; RAW seemed to be interested in magick as a form of neuroprogramming and thought astrology was bullshit.)

But perhaps Sean has hit on something. Many of the magick fans among RAW's readers do not seem interested in libertarianism, while many of the libertarians who like RAW are not particularly interested in magick. Perhaps only a minority of RAW fans have a deep interest in both? Or am I giving short shrift to the fact that many RAW fans are interested in magick AND support civil liberties? RAW had so many interests that it cannot be expected that everyone who is, say, interested in James Joyce will also be fascinated by Beethoven, or by the theories of quantum mechanics. Well, read Sean's piece and see what you think.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

R.U. Sirius on his new book and on RAW

R.U. Sirius

If you pay attention to today's counterculture, you probably already know who R.U. Sirius is: The Mondo 2000 founder and editor, the guy who has written for  200 gazillion publications including "Wired" and "Rolling Stone," and so on and so on.

I have been wanting to interview him for a long time, but the publication of his new book, Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity (with Jay Cornell) seemed to provide a convenient opportunity to approach him.

The new book's website explains,  "Transcendence is a mind-stretching and entertaining look at the international movement that advocates the use of science and technology to overcome the 'natural' limitations experienced by humanity. In nearly ninety A-Z entries, Transcendence provides a multilayered and often witty look at the accelerating advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive science, genomics, information technology, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, neuroscience, robotics, virtual worlds, and much more, that are making transhumanism a reality."

Sirius appears in the movie "Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson." You will almost certainly be charmed by reading his Boing Boing article about discovering the first and third original paperbacks of  Illuminatus! when he walked into a bookstore in Binghampton, N.Y., in 1976. ("I fished the rumpled scraps of welfare-provided legal tender out of my pocket and bought both immediately.")

You can follow him on Twitter.

We conducted the interview via email. Can you tell my readers something about your new book, and why they'd be interested in running out the door immediately (or running to their computer) to obtain a copy?

SIRIUS: It’s probably the only irreverent book about transhumanism and the singularity, served up in bite-sized sections, you’ll ever find. As most of your readers know, RAW was an advocate of Space Migration, Intelligence Increase and Life Extension. My original inspiration for getting into this sort of stuff was RAW and Timothy Leary. I feel like I’m following through. It may be a long shot towards the relatively utopian future that RAW favored, but the technology, at least, is getting there. How does the new book fit in with your previous work?

SIRIUS: It’s very similar to Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge which I edited with Rudy Rucker in 1993. That book covered the cyberculture/cyberpunk of that era and presented an A – Z list of technologies, sciences, memes, groups and personalities that were very avant garde and made them accessible to a common person. I believe this does the same thing for a culture just beginning to directly feel the impact of advanced robotics and AI, nanotechnology, genomics and on and on.

And I continue to take the piss out of all of it at the same time. It’s a habit I got from my father, Arnie, or as one of his friends used to call him “Irony.” You wrote a biography of Timothy Leary, Timothy Leary's Trip Through Time. Oz Fritz's review said that it was "the biography to read if someone knows nothing about Timothy Leary apart from his popular, often misrepresented image given in mainstream media." Oz also wrote it  is "a valuable and worthwhile read even to the hardcore Leary cognoscenti." Was this the balance you were trying to strike?

SIRIUS: Sure. It was really a brief biography written mainly for his estate’s website. It’s rare that a famous person has an estate that wants to not only put the best possible face on that person but also is willing to manifest some of his playful irreverence. I’m really proud to be associated in any way with the Leary estate What do you think of other Leary biographies that are available — Flashbacks and the Higgs, Greenfield and Harcourt-Smith books?

SIRIUS: Flashbacks was wonderful and inspirational. I understand the book company made him cut it in half. I wonder if some of that is in the NYPL archives.  He once mentioned the book company lawyers making him cut some of the Mary Pinchot-Meyer stuff. One wonders what revelations were within. I also wonder if they cut some about his dealings with the FBI. There’s a feeling that he may have glossed over a bit there and I’m wondering if he tried to say more about it.

The John Higgs bio is really good and very European with a lot of focus on his escape from prison and his exile (which was mainly in Europe). That was the period when I, personally, became most fascinated by Leary.  While I dug some of his underground press writings during the ‘60s as a high schooler, Leary wasn’t really my thing then.

The Greenfield biography is obviously problematic. It’s the biggest effort of any of the bios, very complete; and it’s even, in parts, affecting in a good way. One gets a sense of the enormity of the ambition and drama… even its benign nature, if one is very very skilled at reading between the lines.  But the authorial voice is absurd. I read the book a second time and I counted 30 some places where the author intrudes with a judgment that is a massive leap of bad faith or where he presents a resentful person’s comments as gospel truth. The one that stands out is a scenario in which Leary is in some kind of courtroom situation and his wife Rosemary and daughter Susan are in jail. And Greenfield quotes an authority figure (I think it was a D.A. or someone of that sort) as saying that Tim was talking and laughing about his wife and daughter being in jail and kind of leads us with the impression that this definitely occurred.

Now, was Tim inclined to laugh in the face of grim authority and persecution? Yes. Was he overconfident that the psychedelic revolution would overcome everything and everyone during the 1960s? Yes. Would a D.A. know or understand what Leary was laughing about? No. (Of course, the other question would be whether this thing really happened at all.) But here he is in this biography, the picture of evil… Snidely Whiplash tweeking his moustache, laughing and tying his daughter to the railroad tracks. Come on.

Joanna’s book is pretty damn good. I read what I remember as an earlier version that she sent to me a long time ago. I’m pretty sure she worked hard to improve it, although maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood when I first got it.

It’s a complicated thing for the Timothy Leary legacy because she says he was all in on her actions with the feds outside prison while he was inside, which caused some people some problems. And people close to Leary have implied that he was unhappy with those actions, and Timothy himself implied that, albeit very gently. So it’s a conundrum, because she’s alive and doing her public work and just wrote a very sympathetic book and the other two people who were really involved, Leary and Dennis Martino aren’t around anymore.

It would also have not been very chivalrous for Leary to come out directly and let Joanna take the rap for any damage done by the FBI affair, so he’s kind of in trouble either way.

It’s also possible that they were both telling their own truths. The situation was terrible and disorienting for both of them, I’m sure. He seemed to have undergone something bordering on torture in prison and she was pulled into a ridiculously sad and messy situation. She was, in a sense, a hostage to the feds — him having someone that close on the outside made them both vulnerable to exploitation. Joanna’s book dramatizes this very nicely.

There are other aspects of her book that are interesting to people who follow the Leary story. We can see how for real he was about magick and psychedelics and transformation and all those things during the ‘70s. It’s a pretty loving portrait, ultimately, and quite humanizing. In a way, it really contrast with Greenfield’s version, even with… or in spite of… the FBI stuff. Can you comment on why your Leary biography has not been made more widely available? It was released as a free PDF ebook when it came out, but now it's not even listed on Amazon.

SIRIUS: Not really. It was written mainly for the website. I know they were going to get it on Amazon but I certainly didn’t have any follow through on it.  I’ve daydreamed about expanding it slightly and having it published by a book company (with the Estate’s permission, of course). We’ll see. Is there a book tour planned to promote your new book?

SIRIUS: No. Book companies, at least the big corporate ones, used to sponsor glorious book tours. They were expensive but really effective. When I toured for the Mondo 2000 book, I got every major daily paper, local tv talk shows, radio — shock jocks, colleges, and your local PBS affiliates in 19 cities over 3 weeks. They don’t do that anymore. In fact, they basically only promote one book per season, usually their best known writer who doesn't need it.

This bitching is not applicable to my publishers at Red Wheel/Weiser/Disinformation because they’re very cool and not a big corporate monster and I wouldn’t expect them to be able to put me on the road.  I just think it’s interesting how things have changed.

We will be at Green Apple Books in San Francisco though on January 30. Everybody within reach, please come! You mentioned Leary and RAW's interest in space migration and life extension. It seems to me that Peter Thiel and Elon Musk deserve credit for trying to make these things happen, but I wondered what your take was.

SIRIUS: They do deserve credit. It would be wonderful if there was enough wealth flowing through society at all levels so that some of these things could be crowdfunded — owned and controlled by groups of people from all walks of life (SpaceX works with NASA, so in a sense that is happening via taxes). Thiel and Musk are visionaries (Musk, particularly, strikes me as a well-balanced altruistic entrepreneur) and we’re lucky they’re reaching towards these goals. But it’s also worth noting that there are lots of brilliant visionaries and we need to liberate the potentials of greater numbers of people to make this stuff happen faster.  Post scarcity could lead to crowdsourcing at an undreamt of scale.

RAW Illumination: You have played in bands and made recordings. Is rock music dead, or is there life in the form yet?

SIRIUS: I’m pretty sure that as a vivid expression of the zeitgeist and as a source for identity and rebellion, particularly among youth, it was a phenomenon of the second half of the 20th Century, at least in the West. Almost the dominant expression of the zeitgeist for that period, really. You never know, but I think ‘90s grunge, appropriately, was the final nail in the rotting coffin of rock rebellion. Which is not to say that some people aren’t doing good stuff or that it isn’t bracing to see Nick Cave perform or fun to dance to electronic music and so on. There are still good artists and it’s still a pretty good way to let it loose.

RAW Illumination: You appeared in the "Maybe Logic" movie. What can you share about RAW that people might not understand by reading his books?

SIRIUS: I didn’t hang with Bob all that much, but I can say a few things that might surprise some people. He could be a really grumpy old guy sometimes… which is a position I’m increasingly learning to respect.

I can remember checking into a hotel room for a conference and him being right next to me doing the same. When you get invited to a conference and you warn the conference people ahead of time that you want your room paid for in advance and you don’t want the charges put on your card even temporarily, the hotels always fuck that up. And you have to stand around after a long trip and wait for them to clear it up.  I seem to remember a few scenes like that. He didn’t suffer fuck ups and fools gladly, at least in certain moments. And, in my experience, he was more inclined, in casual circumstances, to display a dry George Carlinesque wit than to wax cosmic.

There’s also the fact that he considered himself a libertarian but he was for social welfare. I remember standing backstage with him at the Disinfo Con. He’d just returned from one of the Scandinavian countries and he talked about the free health care and referred to Europe as “the civilized world,” in contrast to the US.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

'The funniest and the dirtiest book in the world'

James Joyce

Over at Only Maybe, Steve "Fly Agaric" Pratt reports that he is joining an effort to record the entirety of Finnegans Wake to make it accessible to more readers. The project is called "Waywords and Meansigns." Steve's meaty post explains why RAW fans would be interested in the project. You can check out the website for the project. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When I interviewed Richard Blake, Sean Gabb sat in, too!

Richard Blake

If you love historical fiction as much as I do, you need to get to know Richard Blake, the author of a series of historical novels about the adventures of an Englishman named Aelric in Italy after the fall of Rome, and in various portions of the Byzantine Empire. They offer a wonderfully vivid portrait of a fascinating period of history. And also lots of action and intrigue.

Blake's first novel in the series came out in 2006 as The Column of Phocas. Perhaps wisely, the major British publisher which picked it up retitled it Conspiracies of Rome. It's been followed by The Terror of Constantinople, The Blood of Alexandria, The Sword of Damascus, The Ghosts of Athens and The Curse of Babylon.

Blake also writes novels and nonfiction works under his real name, Dr. Sean Gabb. He is an outspoken political polemicist, a radical libertarian and a defender of British traditions such as the monarchy. He lives in Kent, in England. In this interview, I have chosen to keep his British spellings.

Robert Anton Wilson fans should note his strong antiwar views. I was a big fan of Blake's before I even realized he liked RAW, too.

This interview ran previously in my book blog at the Sandusky Register. You may be interested in sombunall of my other author interviews. You have written six acclaimed historical novels about Aelric, an English lad who gets caught up in various adventures in the early Byzantine Empire, early in the seventh century. Why did you choose this setting?

Richard Blake: The literal answer to your question is simple but opaque. In April 2005, I decided to write a novel. I sat down at the computer. By the time I got up to make some coffee, I had written the first three chapters of what would become Conspiracies of Rome. There was minimal conscious planning. I just sat down and wrote. Over the next six weeks, I continued writing. I wrote on railway journeys to and from London. I wrote at work in the gaps between lectures. The words accumulated in thousands and tens of thousands. I had no idea where the plot was going. I felt at times as if I were taking dictation.

This isn’t to say that I wrote entirely on autopilot. I ransacked Wikipedia for dates and other facts. I spent hours checking things like whether horses had stirrups, and how long it needed for a man to ride between Rome and Ravenna. I had a street map of Ancient Rome open on the computer throughout. But I finished the novel in a state of shock. I had never written anything so large or so fast. I also knew that what I had written was rather good.

This being said, I can reconstruct the background causes of the novel. In February 2005, my wife took me for a long weekend in Rome. Out of duty, we went round the bigger piles of ruins, and they are very grand. But we found ourselves repeatedly struck by the very old churches and the mediaeval buildings. Some of the churches date from the fourth century, when the Empire was still intact. They have all been in continual use and are still standing. They had a much greater immediacy and feeling of communion with the past than the patched up ruins of the Temple of Vesta.

When I set out to write a novel, I decided it would be an historical novel. I also decided it would have to be set right at the end of antiquity. In the first instance, I thought it would be exclusively focussed on early mediaeval Rome. The more I wrote, however, the more I found I was sinking into the power politics of the Byzantine Empire. In the other five novels in the series, my hero is solidly based within the Empire, and the theme that gives continuity to the series is the first steps along the path that took that Empire from a slave state ruled by snobbish intellectuals to something like a state capitalist democracy.

The Roman Empire has enormous glamour. It was large and successful. It was the place where the Christian Faith emerged. Its civilisation is the basis of our own. But it was a ghastly thing. Part of its ruling order was a class of parasitic landlords, whose land was largely tended by slaves. The other part was a monstrous bureaucracy. It was headed by Emperors who were sometimes capable and even humane, but who were more often bureaucratic non-entities, or tyrants, or raving lunatics, or a combination of all three. The middle classes were progressively destroyed by grinding taxation. Everyone was disarmed and suspected. One reason why the Christians were persecuted was that they didn’t fit into the increasingly totalitarian structure of the Empire’s life.

The high culture in both Greek and Latin halves of the Empire was stagnant. Before about 200AD, both Greek and Latin as written were dead languages. Educated Romans were expected to write as if Cicero and Vergil were still alive – and the language in which they wrote had never been understood by the people at large. Educated Greeks were expected to write as if they were living in Athens c400BC. The subject matter was self-consciously obsolete.

The Empire wasn’t destroyed by catastrophic floods of barbarians, who burned the cities and killed the scholars. What happened in the West was that misgovernment and bad luck created a demographic vacuum into which rather small bands of marauders entered and set up new states. And these were really the beginning of our own civilisation.

In the East, it was different. The demographic collapse was never so great, and there was much more commerce. The downside of this was that, adapted to a now hegemonic Christianity, the governing structures of the Roman Empire seemed likely to continue indefinitely. Then came the great crash around the middle of the sixth century. There was now a demographic collapse brought on by the unexpected arrival of bubonic plague. After this, came the long Persian War, in which large parts of the Empire – Egypt and Syria chiefly – were conquered. The Persians were eventually thrown back and destroyed. Almost at once, though, came the Arab conquests, and the Empire that emerged from these crises was fundamentally different.

The Empire survived because it became different. Mediaeval Byzantium was a Greek Orthodox nation state, with a large mercantile class and an armed class of peasant freeholders. A microscopic intellectual class kept the old culture ticking over – and we should be grateful for their efforts to hand on to us what we have of the Greek classics. But mediaeval Byzantium lacked the social and bureaucratic rigidities of the Roman Empire. But it was mercantile and commercial and armed. The Greek mostly written was something like the spoken language. It had the popular cohesion and the wealth and the flexibility to face down militant Islam for something like four hundred years. The Roman Empire survived in the East because it had stopped being the Roman Empire in any meaningful sense. State capitalism is inferior to free market capitalism, but was better by far than what it replaced.

These changes began in the early seventh century. If we know a little about the origins and progress of the changes, they make an inspiring story. As said, they are the background to the whole series of my Byzantine novels.

Cover of the Greek translation of "Conspiracies of Rome." Your books give a lot of information about the Mediterranean world in late antiquity, but your characters also drink a lot, have lots of sex and take lots of drugs. Did they really party that hard, or did you tart things up a bit for a 21st century audience? 

 Richard Blake: At all times, and in all places, people are motivated by sex and power and money. The objects they pursue will depend on local circumstances – for example, the ancients saw boys as well as women as legitimate targets of their affections, and power was often achieved by religious means. Again, where we expect to live at least sixty years, and expect to get over mechanical damage, and do not have to live in great pain, people in the past had to pack their lives into their teens and twenties. I think Aristophanes had his first hit when he was seventeen. Catullus was dead before he was thirty. But there are no essential differences between us and our distant ancestors. To show them as other than human beings is to write bad fiction.

 This brings me to language, which is a problem in all historical fiction. Let me begin by showing how it shouldn’t be done. Take this:

 The King rose up upon his couch. “Thou shalt, before this night is out,” he quoth, “mount upon thy trusty charger and bring me the head of the false Bobindrell.”

 Whether people may once have spoken like this in England is beside the point. What matters is that it sounds ridiculous now, and it distances a reader from the characters in a novel. Whether your novel is set in England c1550, or some other time and place, here is how I suggest it should be done:

Still smiling, the King leaned closer. “I want the fucker dead,” he breathed. “I don’t care how you do it. Just make sure none of the blame ever drifts my way.” He took another swig from his cup and went back to watching the jugglers.

 Of course, you avoid words and images that only make sense in our own civilisation. But, when I write one of my Byzantine novels, I try to write in a way that sounds natural to a modern English reader. I can do this because the pretence is that the narrator is writing in natural Greek which has been translated into natural English. At the same time, an educated person writing Greek in the seventh century would have paid some regard to the conventions of the ancient language. Therefore, the English translation has a slight tinge of the eighteenth century. You get something like this:

 “My Lord Bishop,” I sighed, “you really should consider how much you are pissing off our Imperial Lord and Master.”

As for things like sexual morality and the taste for recreational substances you’ll find in my novels, these are fully evidenced in the sources. Life is usually awful when it isn’t boring. The answer has always been to find the right mix of chemicals to make things seem better than they are. Under your real name, Dr. Sean Gabb, you have written nonfiction and begun to publish science fiction novels, such as your new book, "The Break." Why did you turn to science fiction, and what have you learned about SF fans, as opposed to historical novel buffs?

Richard Blake: I’ve been devouring historical fiction since I was eight. I discovered fantasy fiction by accident when I was twelve. I found a copy of Rider Haggard’s She in the local library. If you’ll pardon the colloquialism, it blew my mind. From Rider Haggard, I moved to Bram Stoker and H.P. Lovecraft and H.G. Wells. Later, I discovered Colin Wilson and R.A. Wilson and Philip K. Dick. I didn’t come to actual science fiction – Asimov, Heinlein, L. Neil Smith et al – until much later. Even now, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that I write science fiction. I write fantasy fiction. The Churchill Memorandum is an alternate history thriller, set in a 1959 where the Second World War hadn’t happened. The Break is set in a 2018 when the mainland United Kingdom has been lifted out of the present and dumped into the world of 1064. The York Deviation is about an ageing lawyer who wakes up one morning, and finds himself in his younger body thirty years before at university. I will defer to your greater reading in the genre. But I suggest that none of these novels is straight science fiction.

I write it because I like it. I probably like it for the same reason I like historical fiction. I am bored with the world I inhabit. I appreciate its technology and general wealth, but don’t feel inspired to love it. For me, whether reading it or writing it, fiction is an escape.

As for differences between the fans, I see none. What readers of any genre want is a good story. Beyond that, they want authenticity. They don’t want historical fiction to be clogged with anachronisms. They don’t want fantasy that hasn’t been thought through. For example, suppose you have created a world where people live for about a thousand years. Well, this will be a world with longer investment horizons than we now have: very slow returns will be normal and acceptable. It will be a world with less specialisation than we now see: everyone has time to learn medicine and law and how to play the piano. It will be a world where people can’t be lied to as easily as they now are. Your politics are largely libertarian, but you also seem to be a bit of an old school Tory. You are in favor of the monarchy, for example, which isn't a big strain in American libertarianism since about 1776. How do you define your politics, and what do you call yourself?

Richard Blake: I am a libertarian. That is, I believe that people should be left alone to live as they please. I don’t like our present world of wars and heavy taxation and omnipresent surveillance. Almost inevitably, this makes me a conservative of sorts. One reason for this is that both England and America had more overall freedom in the past than they now have. I grant, two men couldn’t get married before 1914, and they would have gone to prison if caught in bed together. But you could buy guns and drugs without any question. You hardly ever came in contact with the State unless you went to a Post Office or asked a policeman for the time.

The second reason is that there are good abstract arguments for liberty. But the problem with abstract arguments is that they are abstract. Special cases can always be found or made up for state action. What keeps America from becoming a really ghastly police state isn’t arguments about the non-aggression principle, but the wording of a Constitutional document that is generally revered. You can’t burn paedophiles in the town square because there is something in the Constitution about “cruel and unusual punishments.”

It used to be the same in England. We had no written constitution. But freedom was preserved because it was part of an order of things that had lasted since the middle ages. Trial by jury couldn’t be abolished, because it had always existed. It was the same with secret trials and ex post facto laws. If you look at the story of how England lost its freedom, it begins with the assault on customs and institutions that had nothing obvious to do with individual freedom, but that provided the setting within which individual freedom was untouchable. Once those were swept away, the freedoms themselves became isolated oddities that could be abolished as hindrances to some overriding goal – the war on terror, the war on drugs and money laundering, and so forth.

I grew up in a country where you defended trial by jury and the right to silence by saying no to anyone who suggested the judges and lawyers should stop wearing wigs in court. Sadly, that war has now been lost. England is a revolutionary state, and conservatism is no longer an appropriate defence of freedom. One of my favorite interviews is the one that science fiction writer Gene Wolfe did with himself in his book, The Castle of the Otter. Please ask yourself a devastatingly clever question, and then answer it.

Richard Blake: The only question I can think of is to ask why I write. The answers are as follows:

1. I like writing and do it rather well. Most things I do no better than indifferently. Don’t ask me to run a conference or manage an office. Don’t ask me to set up a business that requires me to employ people. I am a good teacher – a very good teacher. But my empire is of the written word. I seldom read back what I’ve written. I hardly ever revise it. I just think what I want to say, and how I want to say it, and the words come without conscious effort. I can, at full stretch, turn out five thousand words a day. I can write a whole novel in six weeks, though I normally take about four months. Stop me from writing, and I might die.

2. I do it for the money. Much of what I write is for free – this interview, for example, or the millions of words of libertarian polemic I’ve turned out. But I can make money from my fiction. It pays the bills and keeps me and my family fed. It isn’t a stable income. One year, I made so much, I was able to pay off my mortgage. This year has been good enough for me to buy part of the building next door and to lay out a fortune on integration works. Other years, I’ve had to scratch around for teaching work. I never know how much I’ll make, as I’m paid twice a year, eighteen months in arrears. I could work out what is coming to me. But I never do. I simply wait and see how much appears in my account in April and November.

3. I do it to annoy. I am widely known and sometimes admired admired in America and parts of Europe. Within much of the British libertarian movement, I am bitterly hated.

I have dissented from the libertarian mainstream on British politics since the 1980s. I dismissed the Cold War as a bogyman made up to scare the sheeple and enrich the weapons makers. I denounced the Thatcher Government for laying the foundations of a police state. I said its privatisations were more about big business privilege than free market reform. I said its policy of contracting out state services was a recipe for corruption. When other libertarians were seeing who could crawl farthest up his back passage, I was uncompromisingly hostile to Tony Blair. I denounced him for the Serbian and Iraq and Afghan wars as a liar and mass-murderer.

Indeed, it was these two latter wars that caused the breach. Until then, I was tolerated. Once I turned out to be one of the half dozen people of note in the libertarian movement who wasn’t in love with the American war machine, I was on borrowed time. It didn’t help that the passing of time, on this and the other issues, showed that I was more often right than wrong.

This should bring me to a fourth answer to the question. I think I know what is wrong with my country and the world at large. I think I know what needs to be done. Whether in my fiction or my political books and essays, I write in the possibly forlorn hope that someone will take notice of what I have to say before the present order of things collapses into something even worse.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Week 48, Illuminatus! online reading group

Enlightenment on a stick, Zen style.

(This week: page 499, "One year later, in the Hotel Claridge," to page 513, "Starting with Dorn, right here and right now.)

The connection between Buddhism and the Celine System seems to me to be key here, and I thank Dutch Discordian and scholar Christian Greer for his comment in the last entry that got me thinking along those lines.

Buddhism diagnoses "craving" or "thirst" as the source of suffering, and the object of the "Buddha's method," e.g., understanding the Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path is to achieve liberation by easing the craving.

Harry Coin gains a moment of sudden insight and peace when he give up the fear of death: "then, for the first time in his life, Harry Coin knew peace, as he relaxed into death," page 504. Compare with Robert Anton Wilson's well-known saying, "The fear of death is the beginning of slavery."

Attachment is described on page 506 as The Tar Baby Principle, with anarchism described as giving up attachment "to a god or a government, for direction or strength," much as James Joyce's alter ego gave up attachment to government ("non serviam") and to the Catholic Church in Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses. 

On page 507, the Zen Master helps the student give up his attachment to theory about Buddhism by hitting him with a stick.

Being attached to being beaten to a stick seems like another form of attachment to me, but I have to admit that I'm no Zen expert.

"had started with two handicaps," page 506. Compare with the only "weapons" James Joyce allowed himself — the nonviolent weapons of "silence, exile and cunning."

A couple of notes:

Hotel Claridge, page 499, an old hotel in New York City mentioned in Midnight Cowboy; it's no longer there.

Calley, page 499. William Calley was the American officer blamed for the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam; hence his association in the text with Eichmann. "Don't take it too hard," Calley said. "We're only following orders." Page 499.

(Next week: "Hate, like molten lead, drips from the wounded sky," page 513, to page 523, "I'll take some more of the medicine when my mind starts crumbling.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cosmic Trigger play to California?

Daisy Eris Campbell, fresh from her triumph mounting the Cosmic Trigger play in England, is looking at California as a location to bring her production to the U.S., according to an email sent out by Richard Rasa, who seems to run the official Robert Anton Wilson website.

Text of his email, sent out, 6:08 p.m. Pacific Standard Time Jan. 17:

Subject: Help Bring RAW’s "Cosmic Trigger the Play" to the States!

Help Bring RAW’s Cosmic Trigger the Play to the States!

I’ve been communicating with Daisy Eris Campbell about bringing her Cosmic Trigger the Play to the states. As Project Coordinator for the Robert Anton Wilson Trust, I have a lot of motivation, but I don’t really have the right contacts to help Daisy out. If anyone out there wants to help, or knows of others in the theater, event promotion or Lasagna-Gravity-Defying fields who would like to help bring this wonderful production to the states, please write back!

Daisy just wrote:

"Yes, my feeling is to aim for San Francisco or California, and ideally to do something similar to what we did in Liverpool, i.e. create a festival of Bob and his ideas- with speakers, films, bookstall, art gallery etc. This proved a fantastic way to gather all the right people together to see the show and create a genuine happening - it's all about Finding the Others!"

Check out the play’s website:

Please Help Daisy Find the Others!

Keep the Lasagna Flying!

RAW Project Coordinator
The Offices of The MGT. -
The Robert Anton Wilson Trust

(This email is going out to members of Bob’s original GroupMind email list, as well as selected others, mostly in California. There is probably a bit of duplication in lists, so I apologize if you get an extra copy.)

Happy RAW birthday

Today is the 83rd anniversary of Robert Anton Wilson's birth, Jan. 18, 1932 in Brooklyn, N.Y. In other words, he was born on 1-18-1932. If you add those numerals up, you get 25, conforming nicely to the law of fives.

Marking RAW's birthday seems less melancholy than noting his death, which took place on Jan. 11, 2007,  just over eight years ago.

Since his death, there has been all sorts of confirmation that interest in him continues. I couldn't call it a mass movement, but the following is very persistent. Robert Anton Wilson Fans on Facebook had 2,610 members as of Saturday. Discordian Libertarians had 1,260 members Saturday. Daisy Eris Campbell's "Cosmic Trigger" play drew a good crowd and attracted a good deal of attention. This blog — devoted, let's face it, to a cult writer who never sold that many books, and to the subjects he was interested in — has more than 590,000 pageviews so far. RAW's fandom has an active Twitter presence. There are many websites. And so on and so on.

If you wanted to think about RAW's impact, you could go through some of the articles written by a Who's Who of countercultural writers for RAW Week at Boing Boing,  ("RAW Week" actually stretched on for weeks in 2012). Don't miss the "Older Entries" link at the bottom of the page). See also Michael Johnson's remembrance. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Winifred interviews Oz Fritz

Winifred Adams, dressed in white and showing off her long blonde hair. 

Thursday during my long drive home from work I listened to the podcast interview with Oz Fritz that Oz mentions in his most recent blog post.  I've mentioned Oz quite a few times in this blog, including a recent post where I mention that Oz recommends keeping a journal of dreams of synchronicities. 

During the podcast,  he's interviewed by Winifred Adams, who is a wellness expert, but also  a musician. He writes in the blog post, "I know Winifred as an excellent singer and songwriter."

I'm really a big fan of Oz and I was trying to listen carefully, when in a flash of not-terribly-sudden insight, I realized, I'm listening to an interview of Oz by a female musician named Winifred.

I  know Oz through our shared interest in Robert Anton Wilson and the Illuminatus! trilogy; he even did a guest posting for the online reading group at my request. So it was amusing to me to notice that he was talking to Winifred, not exactly a common female name. Illuminatus! of course has a character named Winifred who is a musician. 

And it gets better. The Winifred in Illuminatus! has "long blonde hair." The members of the band have blue eyes. She is the only female member of a rock band, the American Medical Association. On an album cover they are "dressed in one piece white suits." The planned climax of their career is a big event in Europe. 

If you look at Oz's blog post, you will see that Winifred Adams is dressed in white and has long blonde hair. In the course of the interview, you find out what she knows Oz (a recording engineer) because Oz worked on a recording session for one of her songs. She was in a rush to get it done, because she had a big project in Europe to go to (a music video). During the show, she thanks Oz for making her feel comfortable in the studio, because she was the only woman in an otherwise all-male band assembled for the recording session.

The show features house commercials, stressing that Winifred is a "medical intuitive."

Here's her web site, showing her logo (an "A" and a "W," i.e. an upside-down "M"). Scroll down for the picture of her, dressed in white again, on the shore of an ocean (or maybe a lake). The photo gallery on the site reveals she has blue eyes.

The bio for the American Medical Association. "The band is no longer active due to their tragic deaths while touring Germany." There really is an album called "Illumination" by the AMA, but I don't believe Oz was the recording engineer.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tomorrow's book news today!

R.U. Sirius

A Guardian book calendar for 2015.   It's a nice roundup.  I'm looking forward to the Neal Stephenson, Mary Beard and Elvis Costello tomes.

R.U. Sirius (and co-author Jay Cornell) will be at Green Apple Books in San Francisco at 7 p.m. Friday Jan. 30 to promote their new book, Transcendence. Watch for a great interview with R.U. Sirius, coming to a blog near you.

The revised edition of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information by Erik Davis will be released in March. An interesting recent interview with Davis has been posted, advising everyone to "follow their weird." Many readers of this blog already do that!

I have other exciting book news which I hope to be able to post about soon. As the radio folks say, don't touch that dial!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

News from the holy land of southern California

Eris by Michele Witchipoo, which launched the Eris of the Month feature at Historia Discordia.

Muslims have Mecca, Christians have Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Jews have the Holy Land, and Discordians have the Brunswick Shrine in Whittier, Calif., in Los Angeles County, sacred to the memory of Richard Nixon and the goddess Eris. The shrine is the bowling alley where Eris appeared to the two co-founders of Discordianism, Kerry Thornley and Gregory Hill.

The Herodotus of Discordianism, Adam Gorightly, has now completed three articles on the "Tales of the Brunswick Shrine," which you can now peruse (here is one, here is two and here is three.) The new entry, posted on Jan. 8, focuses on  the movie "The Big Lebowski."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New art from Bobby Campbell

Bobby Campbell shared this artwork with a few of us, explaining "Enclosed please find a visualization of RAW grooving on the Modern Jazz Quartet," and I immediately asked if I could share it here. Bobby has done a bunch of covers for Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea books for New Falcon.

Bobby's new work dramatizes Wilson's love of jazz. For on-demand listening to Steve Pratt shows linking RAW and jazz, go here. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Week 47, Illuminatus! online reading group

Novelist Iain Banks, who mailed the British prime minister his destroyed passport, Hagbard Celine style.

(This week: Page 489, "And Fission Chips whirled head over heels ...." to page 499, "could become the foundation of a successful career in smuggling.") 

Some annotations for Hagbard Celine's renunciation (pages 495-496)

"The next day he burned his naturalization papers and put the ashes in an envelope addressed to the President of the United States" ....

Compare with one of my favorite writers, Iain Banks, who tore up his passport as a protest against the Iraq War and sent it to Tony Blair.  "I was so angry about the illegality and immorality of the war. And this was me - a comfortably off, white Caucasian atheist from a vaguely Protestant background. If I thought it was a disgusting, what would Muslims think about how their co-religionists were being treated?"

"with a brief note: Non Serviam. An ex-slave." Latin for "I will not serve" or more literally, "I will not be a slave." ("I will not serve," answered Stephen.) 

"Der Einziege." From Wikipedia: "Der Einzige is the title of a German individualist anarchist magazine which appeared in 1919, as a weekly, then sporadically until 1925. "

"Without private property there is no private life." See "Property and Privilege" on page 767 of the Appendix, with the distinction it draws between two kind of property.

"His afternoon was spent giving away his savings, which at that time amounted to seventy thousand dollars." Compared with the Buddha's great renunciation, when he abandoned his luxurious lifestyle to seek enlightenment: "He cut off his long locks with his sword, doffed his royal robes, and putting on a hermit’s robe retreated into forest solitude to seek a solution to those problems of life that had so deeply stirred his mind. He sought an answer to the riddle of life, seeking not a palliative, but a true way out of suffering,to perfect enlightenment and Nibbâna."

The Buddha sought enlightenment after he ventured out from his three palaces and saw what life was like for many other people.  Hagbard gains his insight into the nature of government after seeing U.S. officials take away Mohawk land to build a dam.

"Never Whistle While You're Pissing." See also the excerpts in the appendix on Page 790, "Appendix Teth." See also "Hagbard's Laws" from The Illuminati Papers.

(Next week: page 499, "One year later, in the Hotel Claridge," to page 513, "Starting with Dorn, right here and right now.)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

RAW art

From meme myself & ¡(@aLLcLipsbrO) on Twitter

Aldous Huxley, Robert Antonw Wilson and some woman sketch by Alexandra Callisto (via here)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Robert Anton Wilson on civil liberties

Robert Shea, author and publisher of 'No Governor'

In the light of recent events, here's a quote from Robert Anton Wilson on civil liberties:

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 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.

That's from a letter to No Governor, Robert Shea's anarchist fanzine. I'm stating the obvious, but I think if you read Wilson you'd see he opposed attacks on freedom of expression and also opposed scapegoating entire groups of people such as Muslims.

Here is Ross Douthat on "The Blasphemy We Need." 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

John Cage, genius or asshat?

John Cage

Year ago, in an otherwise unmemorable piece, a record reviewer wrote, "For years, people have been trying to figure out if Frank Zappa is a genius or an asshole."

Much the same could be said about the late avant-garde composer John Cage. But who knew a blog posting about Cage could plunge all fandom into war?

Supergee's blog posting, "Why John Cage should never have been taken seriously as a composer," has drawn 17 comments so far.

Arthur's post, tagged "asshat," begins with  a quote from Cage. It says "If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience."

Arthur then comments, "If you develop a preference for food that tastes good, it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse inedible food and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience. Hire me as a chef."

(If you're wondering why a post about John Cage is in a blog about Robert Anton Wilson, see Oz Fritz's post. If you squint hard, the Robert Anton Wilson five minute exercise Oz describes could be seen as a performance of Cage's 4'33".)

It seems to me that a composer should be judged by his music, not by whether he ever said (or did) anything that could be judge silly or wrong. Cage's piano music (both for "prepared" piano and for regular piano) is often quite good. Prokofiev looks like an "asshat" for deciding to return to Russian when it was ruled by Joseph Stalin (it must have been one of those "it seemed like a good idea at the time" kind of things) but I'm obsessed by Prokofiev's music.

Check out this performance of "Dream" by Cage.  For all of his reputation as an "out there" guy, much of Cage's music seems listenable even to people who hate modern classical music.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Week 46, Illuminatus! online reading group

Illuminatus! says that Julius Caesar has a typical personality for the Unordnung period of history

(This week: Page 475, beginning of Book Four, Beamtenherrschaft, to page 489, "back to the world of maya!")

Fission Chips stumbles into the Starry Wisdom Church, has a series of visions, meets the Dealy Lama and hears another version of the story of the Golden Apple and hears about "a series of Visions" (pages 486-489) of people passing through Chaos, Confusion, Discord, Bureaucracy and Aftermath.

This is the Illuminati Theory of History, which gets a long description in Appendix Gimmel (pages 742-756). If I understand the theory correctly, we are currently in the transition from Bureaucracy (the age of big government) to Aftermath (the age of Internet).

I thought it would be amusing to attempt apply the model to the history of Rome, a period of history I am relatively familiar with.

The early days of Rome, when Rome was one nation-state among many in Italy, let alone the whole of  southern Europe, would correspond to Verwirrung, or Chaos, when no nation dominated the Mediterranean, where classical culture was located. There were attempts to impose an empire upon the area -- the Athenians, for example -- but all of them failed. In the appendix, Wilson and Shea says this is the period in history when people lived without a state. Well, early classical culture did not have a dominating state. (Even when Alexander the Great ruled all of Greece and much of Asia, he didn't hold sway over Magna Gracia in Sicily and southern Italy, over Carthage and so on.)

The second stage, or Zweitracht, the discordant period, is governed by "a ruling class which attempts to control the others" and by "the imposition of one man (or one group's) will upon the others" (page 749.) This would correspond with the "rise of Rome," the turning of the Mediterranean into a "Roman lake," with the conquest of Italy, then the rest of the western Mediterranean with the defeat of Carthage, then the expansion into Greece, Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean. Soon there was no area of land bordering the sea that was not under Roman control.

In the next period, Unordnung or confusion, "an attempt is made to restore balance or arrive at the Hegelian synthesis" (page 746). The late Roman Republic was a time of endless civil war, forcing Roman leaders to bring balance by turning the enterprise into an empire. This transition was begun by Julius Caesar and continued by Augustus. This worked out well only for awhile. Illuminatus! says that this is a "time of turmoils, troubles and tyrannies that appear and disappear rapidly" (page 751). This is a rather good description of the Roman Empire's time of troubles in the third century, when the empire almost fell. One emperor after another arose and quickly disappeared, typically after being murdered.

A section of the Aurelian Wall built around Rome as the empire transitioned into Beamtenherrschaft. 

The next period, Beamtenherrschaft or bureaucracy, or "oppression by exhaustion," page 752, and corresponds in Roman history with the restoration of the Empire, the period of the late empire, by the likes of Diocletian. During this period of Roman history, the standing army was expanded, taxes were increased to pay for the army, the empire was divided into more numerous administrative districts, and more fortifications were erected. (This is the period of The Tower in Tarot, Wilson and Shea say). Rome itself was fortified by the emperor Aurelian during the transition to Beamtenherrschaft.

The last period, Grummet or aftermath, represents the transition back to chaos, when "authority has collapsed entirely" and there is "a renewed emphasis on clans, tribes and communes." This would correspond with the collapse of the western Roman Empire and its replacement with clusters of German tribes, monasteries established all over the place, and so on. Illuminatus! says that a "dropout" is the classic Grummet persona (page 754) and monasticism certainly represented an attempt to drop out and preserve learning.

(Next week: Page 489, "And Fission Chips whirled head over heels ...." to page 499, "could become the foundation of a successful career in smuggling."