Thursday, July 18, 2019

The 'dark side of Maybe Logic'?

Ted Hand, left, hanging out with me in Sandusky in 2018. 

Ted Hand launched a big discussion on Twitter a couple of days ago by arguing that some of RAW's work has not held up well in the current political climate, specifically the interest RAW focused on conspiracy theories. Ted argues that the alt right/racist right have used  conspiracy theories as a recruiting tool.

There's a danger I'll misrepresent him if I don't quote everything he said, but here are a couple of representative comments from Ted, and you can go to Twitter and read more:

"Chatting with @mitdasein I realize my attitude about "Fringe research" has changed a lot since my RAW boyhood. I used to think a lot of that stuff had serious intentions but was marginalized. Now I see much of it is racist conspiracy theory. TLDR:  Pizzagate ain't Fortean."

And "Lots of RAW has aged poorly, but his methodological agnosticism can be helpful. It's just a bit obsolete, and in practice it's problematic. Look at all the Jordan Peterson fans on RAW boards parroting stuff abut reality tunnels as if they were epistemologically savvy..."

Some of the thread is here, but you'll have to go beyond it.

Some of the folks weighing in include Erik Davis, John Higgs, Cat Vincent, uel aramchek and Semiotic Stochastic. Bobby Campbell, writing at the @RAWilson23 account (a must-follow for RAW fans) writes, "It's strangely cathartic to read such undeniably valid criticisms of ideas I help propagate. Very many thanks for helping to elucidate the dark side of Maybe Logic."

John wrote about similar issues with his "Operation Mindfix" piece in 2017. He comments, "Reading that back, I'm struck by how the notion that the certain and the alt-right are the only people who can never escape from Chapel Perilous stands up well in light of the whole Qanon thing."

Ted also has issues with RAW's alleged "right libertarianism. " I didn't post much on the conspiracy theory stuff, but I did push back against what I think is the exaggerated notion that RAW was right libertarian; I suggested instead that his attitude toward feminism is more problematic. I got some support from Erik Davis on the libertarianism observation  and on the feminism comment.  (For my money, RAW often but not always combines the best libertarian and left ideas, but Ted complains, "RAW spent a lot of writing hours writing right wing libertarian propaganda that makes perfectly sensible left wing ideas sound ridiculous to bigots." )


Anonymous said...

I was always of the opinion that Bob viewed conspiracy theories as a form of art with the assessing scale being:
- how well it all fit together (like the different components of any picture, movie, poem etc)
- how open is it to feedback from diverse sources (See Picasso, James Joyce etc.)
- how does it fit or not fit with the biggest bestest model of reality we have constructed at this time.

Thomas Pychon has suggested that the opposite of a conspiracy theory is the theory that nothing at all connects to anything. So any theory that suggests connections is in itself a mini conspiracy theory.

Given that current fundamentalist conspiracy theories for the left and right
don't engage with any of the above, would seem to suggest they are not the same as what Bob was interested in.

Oz Fritz said...

Everybody gets the Robert Anton Wilson they deserve. By that I mean anyone interested in his work makes up a simulation of him in their minds then attributes their interpretations of his work to this simulation. This contrived simulation often gets confused with the objective person.

I don't find it accurate to blame Nietzsche, or a simulation of Nietzsche, for the perversion the Nazis did to his philosophy to suit their ends. I find it equally shortsighted to blame RAW or his work for the conspiracy nut jobs out there. Yes, people will twist his ideas, that occurs with many philosophers and doesn't appear new.

In my view, RAW used conspiracy theories primarily as a means to examine consciousness and how we see the world, not to promote an agenda other than increased intelligence.

A genuinely deep exploration of consciousness excavates and renders visible a dark side. Maybe Logic appears a tool for the exploration of consciousness. Tools don't have a light or dark side. What comes from a tool depends on how you use it.

Jesse said...

The whole "post-truth" thing—by which I mean people complaining about "post-truth," not the alleged phenomenon itself—is basically a moral panic about living in a world where, in RAW's terms, we're likely to stumble into other people's reality tunnels much more often. So I'm not surprised that there's pushback against model agnosticism.

On a related note: I'm hearing variations on "I used to think goofy conspiracy theories were fun to think about but now they scare me" fairly frequently these days. In some cases, the people saying this may have been flirting with ideas that they only just realized have creepy content ("wait...I just noticed that this UFO guru is kind of racist"), but in other cases I think it's related to that post-truth panic.

Unknown said...

Thank god there are the Jordan Petersons pushing back against the wave of leftists who want to take away the freedom of speech, etc., and want to label anyone who disagrees with them "alt-right"(whatever the hell that means) and "nazi"(synonymous terms it seems) and by so labeling them making it alright to use violence against them or to de-platform them at the least. I used to consider myself a feminist until that word seemed to morph into meaning "marxist" and many other unsavory things. I am sure many, including some mentioned above, would label me an "alt-right nazi" for just these views. I have always considered myself an anarchist in the original meaning of the word, as RAW seemed to be to me(something perhaps perpendicular to the left-right axis). I think everybody needs to step back and see the core of what RAW talked about and consider their own stuckness in their own reality tunnel and how they are letting themselves be programmed still by the media, or the reactions to those media. With the internet there are lot more ways any and every shmuck can broadcast their prejudices to universe. But nothing really has changed; "nothing new under the sun" - Ecclesiastes 1:9. It is still up to each of us to work on our own receivers and bull-shit detectors and remember. "Anyone who thinks they know what the hell is going on is [probably] full of shit." And above all that should include our self. "Know thyself" "The unexamined life is not worth living" etc. etc.

chas said...

This is like a textbook example of everything that is wrong about twitter. About the only thing I can add to that is that everyone gets the Robert Anton Wilson they deserve.

Bobby Campbell said...

The idea that everyone gets the RAW they deserve seems to me both true, but also indicative of the limits of Maybe Logic, because stated otherwise it means everyone gets the RAW they WANT to get. Everyone hears what they want to hear.

Very many moons ago I stayed up late working on my website, and right before I went to bed I added a little "Guns & Dope Party" animated gif, which featured my fav RAW quote, "like what you like, enjoy what you enjoy, and don't take crap from anybody."

The next morning I woke up to the news of the VA Tech mass shooting.

The juxtaposition occurred involuntarily, synchronistically, and the implication jarred me.

If the shooter had read that meme the night before, nothing about it would have discouraged him from continuing on his path. In fact, quite the opposite.

Now, of course, I don't think every one of RAW's pithy aphorism should bear the burden of having to avert all tragedies, but it did highlight the potential for catastrophe in ambiguity.

Like Crowley's "Do What Thou Wilt" interpreted as "Do Whatever You Want"

I don't blame RAW for the fact that we live in a Post-Truth world, in fact I think he did more than most to help us prepare for it, but I can't deny that in this new paradigm "Maybe Logic" seems like a double edged sword to me.

Maybe Logic can magnify uncertainty even in cases where decisive action might work best.
Maybe Logic can create equivalence between unequal things.
Maybe Logic can persuade you to deny the evidence of your own experience.

RAW's work does not account for these aspects of Maybe Logic.

Also, and obviously, RAW's work doesn't account for much outside of a straight white male's perspective.

Those seem like fair criticisms to me.

and not criticism in the sense of tearing his work down, but rather seeing how it can get elevated up into the future.

Maybe Logic seems to me like one of the most important tools we have moving forward in this supremely bizarre world, but not without understanding it, not without confronting its limitations and biases.

To just dig in your heels and say "NO, NO, RAW DID EVERYTHING RIGHT!" seems completely antithetical to the spirit of his work. To do so doesn't defend it, it destroys it.



And I wrote the whole damn thing in e-prime too!

Banake said...

"I didn't post much on the conspiracy theory stuff, but I did push back against what I think is the exaggerated notion that RAW was right libertarian; I suggested instead that his attitude toward feminism is more problematic. I got some support from Erik Davis on the libertarianism observation and on the feminism comment." - Taking in consideration that the same feminist, Mary Koss, who came up with came with the 1-in-6 number also redefined rape to exclude male rape victims (of women), I don't see how his views on the subject were problematic, if something, he should go further. And calling Jordan Peterson an altrighter is such a useless fallacy I wonder how could anyone take this guy seriously. (I am not a Jordan's fan, by the way.) I guess I won't be reading ANYTHING from this 'Ted Hand' guy anytime soon.

Banake said...

(There is two names for what Mr. Hand is doing with Peterson: "Godwin's Law" and "Reduction Ad Hitlerum" - This thing that Peterson is turning your kids in to facists is its own dumb conspiracy theory. XD)

Banake said...

Mr. Hand retweeted Jenny Nicholson, he is in my 'people I don't care about' with her for the time being. XD

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I don't agree with everything RAW did or said, and I think Bobby makes some good points.

At the same time, in my reading of Robert Anton Wilson's work, he did not in fact have an opinion in favor of "uncertainty even in cases where decisive action might work best" or in favor of an "equivalence between unequal things" or believe people should "deny the evidence of your own experience."

I always understood Maybe Logic as a critique of fanaticism and dogmatic certainty. Am I missing something? Maybe!

About the dangers of ambiguity: Some of the pre World War II Surrealists gave up Surrealism, at least for a time, because they felt it was important to be understood plainly in the political atmosphere of World War II. I don't have the book at hand, so I'll have to give a citation in a later comment.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I just found the passage that reminded me of what Bobby wrote: In the introduction to the book "English and American Surrealist Poetry," the book's editor, Edward B. Germain, wrote that "the surrealists in England soon began to experience the frustration of making social and political comments in a medium that the public, for all its curiosity, regarded as a freak-show. With the fall of Spain and the incremental advance of the Nazis through Europe, it seemed more and more essential to be understood."

Bobby Campbell said...

Thanks for that quote, Tom!

It reminds me of another of my fav RAW aphorisms:
"If you think you know what the hell is going on, you're probably full of shit"

A wonderful mantra for dispelling paranoia and other varieties of cosmic schmuckery, but on the flip side, when applied from the top down, it becomes a meme for quelling dissent.

Also, I should clarify, when I say:

Maybe Logic can magnify uncertainty even in cases where decisive action might work best.
Maybe Logic can create equivalence between unequal things.
Maybe Logic can persuade you to deny the evidence of your own experience.

I don't mean RAW advocated for this, I mean it as an unintended consequence.

I think in some cases the distinction between a dogmatic certainty and a scientific/historic fact becomes too blurry, and too dependent on the individual's personal preferences, and a balkanization of epistemology results.

Oz Fritz said...

You get the RAW you deserve can, but does not have to, mean you get the RAW you want. I pity anyone who deserves so little. The statement appears misunderstood if interpreted you always and only get the RAW you want; like confusing Do what thou wilt with Do what you want.

As I see it, RAW attempted to tease people into thinking for themselves.

Einstein doesn't get blamed for blowing up Hiroshima by enabling the key to nuclear fission. RAW shouldn't get blamed for poor usage of Maybe Logic. He always asked: "Who is the master that makes the grass green?"

Defending someone doesn't mean that the defender considers the defendee infallible and always right. That seems a false equivalence.

Oz Fritz said...

I don't intend to sound harsh to anyone who may get into trouble through RAW's work. Chapel Perilous appears inevitable to those who take it far enough. Two keys RAW gave to navigate this treacherous terrain have stayed with me: the choice between paranoia and agnosticism, and his abundant, extremely funny(if sometimes crude)sense of humor.

Rob Pugh said...

I still find RAW's writings on feminism, that I can recall off the top of my head, on point, tbh. 3rd wave feminists that frame the current political debate are far more militant and extreme than even what RAW contended with, I'd think. I find this whole notion of RAW not "aging well" or the idea that ideas he held or philosophies he espoused being used "wrongly" kind of paternalistic and silly, tbh. Somebody's trapped inside their own reality tunnel, doesn't like someone else's. Reminds me of the cartoon - I think from one of RAW's books - of a priest and a stereotypical native in a cartoon, both thinking the same thing, something along the lines of "ignorant savage."

Rob Pugh said...

"Also, and obviously, RAW's work doesn't account for much outside of a straight white male's perspective."

I've enjoyed Mr. Campbell's work at New Falcon and the The Illustrated Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson, but I find this assertion to seem like a really poor assertion. One of the main points of RAW, imo, is the idea that you make a continual effort to move your thought processes in and out of different models, continually expanding your apprehensions and experiences. This reductionist, damaging, limiting viewpoint about the nature of your ideas or thoughts being constrained and defined by race, gender, sexuality (what about class, nationality, height, weight, attractiveness, health, left-handedness, or the dozens of other ways one might needlessly classify people?) to be mostly useless. Though in practice, in the current era, worse than useless, as your identitarian marker, almost always ascribed to you by someone else, serves as an epithet to discount, dismiss and shut down *ideas.*

Jesse said...

Presumably the parts of RAW's writings that have aged the least well are the ones that assured me I'd be aboard a space colony living an eternal life by now.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Butterfly Language has a somewhat related blog post, written without knowing about the Twitter discussion I wrote about here:

Some resulting Twitter discussion:

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Jesse, I'm also not suddenly smarter yet, as readers of the blog no doubt already know. But "maybe" RAW was off on his timing and some of that will come true yet.

Jesse said...

The secret to having your work age well is to avoid overly precise timelines.

chas said...

So much goodness in here I wish you had a like button! I do want to comment though that Tom’s notion that RAW’s libertarianism is a feature not a bug, reminds me that in this regard Bob can be very useful to people who lean to the left. The common fear that the lefties want to steal your individuality (which is absurd if you look at a picture of a Trump rally and then a picture of any random leftist rally and then think about it for a minute) must be met with some straightforward engaging language. Who is going to give you more support than a self proclaimed libertarian who constantly kvetched about lack of universal healthcare, how crappy the welfare system in the USA is, etc. etc. etc.