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Monday, May 22, 2017

Email to the Universe Discussion Group, Week 2!

The Santa Cruz shore during the Robert Anton Wilson memorial service; one of the boats is Wilson's family, preparing to scatter RAW's ashes as the same location off the boardwalk as his wife, Arlen. I am told the scene is similar to what RAW could see from his balcony in the scenes mentioned in the haiku. Photo by Branca Tesla. 

By Gregory Arnott, guest blogger 

(Pages 1-37 of the Hilaritas Press edition, up to location 782 of the ebook).

Before saying anything else, I’d like to say that the “note” on page three is perhaps one of the most elegantly succinct statements of Robert Anton Wilson’s philosophy that captures his years of experience and wonderment. “I don’t believe in anything, but I have many suspicions.” Michael asks the reader to ruminate if RAW’s theory of “intelligent design” has any analogs; to my knowledge his proposition is similar in its operation to certain theories that point out that consciousness may be an emergent property of matter and the ponderings of Jacques Vallee and Charles Fort.

Claude Shannon,  mentioned in the "Note."  (Creative Commons photo via Wikipedia).

Michael’s introduction also asks us to consider the meta-models as a type of yoga. While I have very little hands on experience with any of systems that RAW says he is indebted to, I do remember thinking it was curious that he didn’t say anything about Crowley or Leary who had been in so much of his earlier works. Perhaps this acknowledgement is part of a shift away from those men and their influence.

Part One begins with three quotes. One of which is from my favorite television series, The Prisoner.
Considering the footnotes and the subject matter I believe that “The Passion of the Antichrist” was included by RAW in this volume because the threats to our civil liberties haven’t passed but simply changed. Sadly parts of this essay are still all too relevant as we still live in a de facto Christian nation. Anti-Islam rhetoric is at an all-time high in our nation as our Commander-in-Chief, who had called for a national ban on Muslim immigration (which was received with cheers by his supporters), currently on his Armageddon tour of the Middle East.

One part of the essay that isn’t as relative today is that atheism isn’t exactly the daring philosophy that it was for Madalyn Murray in the Fifties. Indeed the virulent rhetoric of typified by the New Atheists mention by Mr. Johnson in the Introduction had made atheists into something of a joke on the internet. Sam Harris is also a well-known bigot who proves that you don’t have to be Christian or Jewish to be prejudiced against Islamic people. If the bullying tactics of the New Atheists can be traced back to Murray does that make her a less sympathetic character? And does her character matter?

Netflix recently released a film based on Murray’s activism and her murder mentioned at the end of the essay. It, like Time and Newsweek, also steals the title “The Most Hated Woman in America.” I watched it this past week and enjoyed it myself. Much of the discussion about Murray centers on her personality and accusation of moral ambivalence. Elsewhere RAW even notes that Murray could be unpleasant and even mocked him on occasion for his beliefs.

But the essay isn’t about atheism or Ms. Murray, is it?

Madalyn Murray O'Hair in 1983. Creative Commons photo by Alan Light. 

After another haiku that ends with the sumptuous image of “buttermilk clouds” RAW introduces the reader to the one law of economics. I couldn’t think of any exceptions -- did anyone else have any luck?

“The Celtic Roots of Quantum Theory” is classic RAW that comes from roughly the same period as Cosmic Trigger II and Coincidance which is why its themes and material seem so familiar. I’ve been a fan of Bishop Berkeley ever since reading Borges’ "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" and becoming interested in the often mentioned “Berkeleyan idealism” that help explain the fantastical happenings in that story. I can attest that Berkeley helps one lose their grip on consensus reality.

One thing that RAW brings up a few times in the essay is the relationship between New Agers and Quantum physics that has led to so many terrible books and a widely accepted documentary that was actually made by a cult in Seattle that believes a middle aged woman is channeling an ascended master. ("What the Bleep Do We Know!?" –also available on Netflix) As someone who has spent too much time reading about occultism I try to avoid talking about Quantum physics. Everything I know about the subject is due to RAW or Alan Moore and both of them would probably ask me to do a little more reading before opening my mouth. So I’m happy to leave this open to the more scientifically minded among us.

The final quote by Dennis Kucinich (the true Democratic candidate of 2008) is reminiscent of John Higgs Stranger Than We Can Imagine which ends with a discussion of evolution of corporations into personhood and how this dooms all of us. The situation has degraded since 2005.

This post was brought to you by Netflix and pessimism. Let’s try for something more lively next week when we’ll get to discuss Black Magic and Paranoia.

(Next week: Pages 38 to 53 of the Hilaritas Press edition, e.g. to the end of the "Black Magic and Curses" essay.)


Anonymous said...

1. Here’s something I wrote when a bio of Madalyn Murray was published:

If the Jesuits had created an atheist to their specifications, they would have come close to Madalyn Murray O'Hair: a woman who thinks for herself, refuses to accept authority in anything, enjoys sex and talks openly about it, but is also loud, aggressive, self-dramatizing, and often just plain dishonest. I first encountered her in the pages of The Realist in the 60s, after she'd won the case against prayer in the public schools. Like any paranoid, she was not entirely mistaken: She and her son Bill were assaulted by police and of course charged with assaulting police, but by this point she was accusing everyone who disagreed with her of being a Catholic agent (including, at times, Paul Krassner). She and her family eventually beat the phony charges against them. Twenty years after the whole mess, Bill became a born-again Christian, and some of us wondered what had taken so long. In the end she was done by even worse than she did: The police beating left her in pain for life; O'Hair, her last husband, was actually snooping on her for the FBI; and she and her remaining family were brutally murdered. The story is in UnGodly, by Ted Dracos.

2. “The Celtic Roots of Quantum Theory” is a marvelous intro to RAW at his best. A couple of further thoughts:

(a) Example of a noncommutative operation:
Put on your socks and shoes
Put on your shoes and socks
(b) Two-valued logic is a tool. It works very well with mathematical entities and very badly with people. We used to think we could divide people up into black & white. Now we know we can’t even divide them into male & female.

Jesse said...

FWIW, part of the intro to the Madalyn Murray O'Hair profile echoed an essay by H.L. Mencken. (It was the bit about the lynching and the mantelpiece.) My old editor at Liberty magazine, the late Bill Bradford, was convinced this was plagiarism and was at one point set to run a short piece he'd written denouncing RAW for it. I argued it was allusion/homage, and Bill wound up not publishing his attack. He was still aggrieved about it, though, on the grounds that Mencken loved Baltimore and would not approve of seeing his device repurposed this way.

That didn't bother me, but I always thought this was one of Wilson's weaker articles. His profilee says some silly things (an "economic branch" of government? what does that even mean?) that he doesn't challenge, preferring to revel in her alleged status as a fellow anarchist. Of course I don't know how much of that was Wilson and how much was Ralph Ginzburg; RAW's other FACT pieces were also relatively weak.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I agree with Greg that RAW talked less about Aleister Crowley and Leary's theories later in life, but I have an alternative theory on why Crowley and Leary aren't mentioned in the "Note." It seems to me that the people he does mention, such as Korzybski, influenced Wilson's efforts to "change your way of perceiving/conceiving the world ... simply by using words in certain special ways," and are thus more directly relevant to what he's talking about in the Note.

Branka Tesla said...

I have been re-reading Email to the Universe literally on my balcony with views of San Francisco Bay and experiencing occasional waves of intense and profound connections with RAW. Wilson created many "neuro-semantic challenges" for me at first and managed to destabilize me as a reader for a while which felt somewhat turbulent and uncomfortable. Subsequent reading and thinking over the last 15 years allowed me to feel comfortable as a destabilized reader and enjoy the process.

Wilson's work has significant didactic value for me and I find the fluidity and flexibility of his mind, expressed on page 3 where he writes about "Intelligent Design" , brilliant and seductive: "I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignty,"........"decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-casual feedback." (Sociology of knowledge.)

Speaking of flexibility and lack of it, one of the most recent "studies finds the link between brain damage and religious fundamentalism - lacking 'cognitive flexibility' could contribute to radical religious belief." Here is the link for the article:

I find the story about Madalyn Murray chilling; and all that was happening in the USA in the 1960's when Beatles were singing "All You Need Is Love" !?!? Being an atheist myself I feel thrilled to see once banned atheist commercial on cable TV for Freedom From Religion Foundation ( with Ron Reagan saying: "I am a lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell".

And when we mention our Founding Fathers I wish we would mention Thomas Jefferson and James Madison more often, and the separation of church and state in the US.

"The total absence of humor from the Bible is one of the most
singular things in all literature." - Alfred North Whitehead

Eric Wagner said...

Interesting comments. Eco's "The Name of the Rose" dealt with Jesus's sense of humor.

Eric Wagner said...

I ordered "email to the universe" from Create Space 44 days ago and it still hasn't arrived, so I will use page numbers from the New Falcon edition. On page 19 Bob mentions a number of details about religious qualifications for judges and witnesses, etc., in Maryland at the time of the writing of the article. I wonder about the situation today.

Eric Wagner said...

Pg. 28: I loved the Robert Altman film "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial".

Rasa said...

Eric! I'm going to call CreateSpace for you tomorrow to see what's up with your copy of ETTU! That's not right.

Eric Wagner said...

Thanks, Rasa. I look forward to read the Krassner afterward.

Rarebit Fiend said...

@supergee Your write up on Madalyn Murray is a great summarization of her career. It is irksome that because of the sanctimony that goes along with religion that Xtians are so quick to clasp onto any opponent's foibles as if that discounts their rights and/or ideas. They always forget about Let He Who is Without Sin...didn't RAW suggest every moralist getting that tattooed on their foreheads backwards?

I feel that RAW did a lot to push the idea that while we often act as if we live in an Aristotelean ( a term I can't hear without RAW's Brooklyn accent) either/or universe we simply don't and this causes all sorts of problems.

@Jesse I'm glad you talked Mr. Bradford out of his denouncement. I can't think RAW would have been anything but shocked. I do feel the article was definitely meant to be a polemic and like all polemics it is unbalanced. He does speak about Ms. Murray with more reticence elsewhere.

@Tom That is a great explanation. Evidently there's a new book about Claude Shannon coming out this Summer that I now intend to read. I should have been able to recall Remy de Gourmet from my decadence and symbolist seminar. I've actually read stories from his Angels of Perversity but I am unfamiliar with his disassociation of ideas.

@Branka Tesla When I was a senior in high school I did my capstone project on the constitutional providence of "separation of church and state" that pundits were at the time debating as the exact term wasn't in the First Amendment (really) and the fundamentalist pricks in my English class wouldn't stop talking about it. There was a lot about Jefferson, Madison, and Adams (that's where I first ran across the quote that he prefaces this essay with) in my research- in short, I agree. As a non-Christian living in this country I find its influence on my life to be pernicious and cloying. I wish we didn't live in a de facto Christian country.

Although, not to disagree with Whitehead, I will say that after smoking the devil's weed and opening the Bible I've found myself laughing. The Book of Job is hilarious when you read it as the absolutely unnecessarily fucked up Grand Guignol it really is. And the part about Israel being inhabited by magic giants and how that's the actual reason this whole situation exists...because people think that God delivered this land to them from magic fucking may be dark but there's some humor there.

@Eric I haven't watched the Caine Mutiny regrettably. I did think that the glowing terms that RAW uses to describe Hawaii and Mr. Greenstein were interesting. I especially found it interesting that he called Hawaii the most liberal of all the states. I don't know much about Hawaii myself but it has been striking that some of the efforts to thwart Trump have originated on the islands.

Oz Fritz said...

Wilson appeared to have some involvement with Crowley and Thelema up until near the end of his life. For instance, he led a very successful online Crowley course in 2005 that was truly amazing.

Crowley may not explicitly appear in this book, but I see a strong implicit influence in the opening pages. An allusion to one of the two "schools" Crowley organized turns up in the "Notes" section. The title of the first essay, "The Passion of the Antichrist" describes Crowley's work to a "t." Crowley famously declared himself to be the Antichrist. The gematria in that title appears deliberate and revealing. It was not the original title of the article.

"The Passion of the Antichrist" seems a more fitting title for Crowley than it does for the subject of the essay, Madalyn Murray O'Hair. She did not declare herself to be the Antichrist, nor did anyone call her that. There are a couple of minor parallels between the two: both used multiple pseudonyms; O'Hair was called "The Most Hated Women in America" by newspaper headlines, Crowley was deemed the "Wickedest Man in the World" by the press; both started organizations that had the initials A.A. - O'Hair's was the American Atheists; both were ostracized for their beliefs.

I also find it of great interest that RAW began "Email to the Universe" with a tale of a women persecuted by rival beliefs. As an archetype, it connects with the 3 of Cups in the tarot, very graphically portrayed in the Thoth tarot as the swords of intellect piercing the heart. That card is labelled SORROW. The 3 corresponds with Binah, the Great Woman archetype, the suit of Cups with the emotional centrum. This card or archetype also portrays the state of the world in regard to the wars and terrorism going on as tragically demonstrated two days ago with the bombing at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester, England. Radical religious ideology motivating a suicide bomber to kill 22, injure several more and pierce the heart of thousands of others empathetic to their pain including Grande herself who cancelled the rest of the tour. Coincidentally, or not, her name appears an obvious correspondence to Binah.

My assertion: RAW tapped into the basic Hermetic principle: "As below, so above," by specifically writing about O'Hair while symbolically describing the condition of the world; uniting the microcosm with the macrocosm. No wonder he placed this essay first. Another coincidence that makes one wonder wtf is going on, if you consider it a coincidence: Wilson writes about O'Hair, an article put in the spotlight and brought to wider public attention through this reading group. The piece closes with O'Hair's tragic murder. The same week we have these tragic murders in Manchester, England. Manchester England is also the title of a song from the musical "Hair," a song that includes the lyrics "Timothy Leary" as if affirming the Wilson connection.

Terrorism gets referenced in the article's post script and again two pages later under Thoughts To Ponder.

Jesse said...

I can't find the original Mencken essay online, but the passage that the O'Hair piece echoes is quoted here:

"A third item I lift from the celebrated Marylander and Herald of Princess Anne, a leader in the current movement to bust Baltimore by boycott: 'One member of the mob took his knife and cut off several toes from the Negro’s feet and carried them away with him for souvenirs.' What has become of these souvenirs the Marylander and Herald does not say. No doubt they now adorn the parlor mantelpiece of some humble but public-spirited Salisbury home, between the engrossed seashell from Ocean City and the family Peruna bottle. I can only hope that they are not deposited eventually with the Maryland Historical Society."

Note that the original incident took place not in Baltimore but on the Eastern Shore.

Rarebit Fiend said...

@OzFritz You're gematria is impeccable, as always. As someone who has been an avowed qabalistic and has never mastered gematria/temurah/or notariquon I am impressed. I really wish I could have taken that class. Do you by chance have any of the materials still in your possession? I'd be very interested in reviewing them. Please tell me if you'd be willing to share and I'll forward my email to you.

@Jesse Fascinating! Sadly, while I'm a LoA Charter member and they have a beautiful double volume edition of Mencken's work, I only familiar with a few of his pieces around the Scopes Trial. I was friends with a group of people from the Eastern Shore and they always highlighted the difference between their people and those from Baltimore. Thank you for the distinction!

Rasa said...

Eric, I'm sending you a separate email, but I spoke to CreateSpace, and they said you would have to call them to resolve the book order issue. They were eager to have you call, in fact. Here's the number: 866-356-2154

Oz Fritz said...

@RarebitFiend, I'm willing to send you what I've got, but that probably isn't very much, if anything at all. I always hoped someone archived his online courses, but have never heard anyone actually did. To my best recollection, qabala wasn't explicitly reviewed or studied in the Crowley course.

Incidentally, I think the first edition of Email to the Universe was published while that course was underway.

Martin Wagner said...

@Rarebit Fiend, @Oz Fritz
This is what I've found on Scribd:
Robert Anton Wilson Crowley Class - Week 1
Week 2 Assignment for Robert Anton Wilson's Class on Crowley
I would love too to have more material.

Eric Wagner said...

CreateSpace says my copy should arrive tomorrow. Coincidentally, my deluxe edition of Sgt. Pepper should arrive tomorrow as well (with Aleister Crowley on the cover).

chas said...

@rarebit fiend--I was a wee lad growing up in Hawaii when Bob wrote The Passion of the Antichrist, and I can attest that the ethnic harmony meter pushes 11, as it were, although white people can take some heat, especially from young Hawaiians, part Hawaiians, and Samoans.

@Oz--The Smiths song Suffer Little Children, about the moors murders in the 1960s, contains the telling line "Oh Manchester, so much to answer for."