Thursday, January 23, 2020
The SNAFU principle in Illuminatus! that "Communication is possible only between equals" is restated in this meme from Rasa, Tweeted out from the @TheRAWTrust Twitter account. More on the SNAFU principle here.
Rasa writes, "Aside from the more obvious inequality in a hierarchical structure that RAW was primarily referencing, online conversations can suffer from a similar distortion when a belligerent inequality of reality tunnels exists."
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
As I recently blogged, The New York Times recently asked readers to discuss a book that had changed their lives; there were 1,300 submissions and the Times chose 14 to print. (I can't seem to find a link to the story.)
I was one of the submitters who didn't get chosen; here is what I submitted:
I have been influenced for decades by the "Illuminatus!" trilogy of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. (It's really one big book, although it was originally published as three mass market paperbacks by Dell; subsequent editions have been a one book omnibus.) I read it in college, at about the same time I was realizing that my weird mix of "conservative" and "liberal" beliefs actually made me a libertarian. "Illuminatus!" has influenced many libertarians somewhat the same way Ayn Rand has, but the book has influenced me in many other ways, in how I think about literature and what it can do. Unusually for the early 1970s, it mixes popular and serious literary influences; the authors are influenced by James Joyce and William Burroughs, but also by H.P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft even appears as a character.)
The contest did inspire one other online mention of Robert Anton Wilson.
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Peter Thiel (Creative Commons photo)
In many different articles and interviews, Robert Anton Wilson made bold predictions about technological progress that have not come true.
For example, the RAWilsonfans website includes a 1977 interview that predicted, “in the next 30 years,” developments that RAW said would include “the SMI2LE breakthrough – Space Migration, Intelligence-squared, and Life Extension.”
As more than 40 years have passed and we haven’t migrated into space and life expectancy in the U.S. actually has declined slightly because of drug addiction and suicide and booze, it seems reasonable to point out that RAW was too optimistic.
RAW apparently assumed that accelerating technological progress would continue unabated. He wrote about this expectation in "The Jumping Jesus Phenomena" in Right Where You Are Sitting Now.
In the last few years, a number of folks have been arguing that scientific and technological progress have been slowing down, including Peter Thiel and Tyler Cowen. This point of view is captured in Thiel’s quip, ““They promised us flying cars, and all we got was 140 characters.” Cowen wrote a book called The Great Stagnation.
Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex now agrees that tech progress has slowed down. In his blog post “What Intellectual Progress Did I Make in the 2010s,” he writes that he changed his mind about the controversy:
In the 2000s, people debated Kurzweil’s thesis that scientific progress was speeding up superexponentially. By the mid-2010s, the debate shifted to whether progress was actually slowing down. In Promising The Moon, I wrote about my skepticism that technological progress is declining. A group of people including Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen have since worked to strengthen the case that it is; in 2018 I wrote Is Science Slowing Down?, and late last year I conceded the point. Paul Christiano helped me synthesize the Kurzweillian and anti-Kurzweillian perspectives into 1960: The Year The Singularity Was Cancelled.
Cowen essentially argues that much of the "low hanging fruit" has been picked, and if you follow the link for "Is Science Slowing Down?" you can see Alexander embraces that theory. It's interesting to note that Cowen has swung more in the direction of Wilsonian optimism lately and believes that computers and AI will usher in big advances.
Of course, it is possible we’ll still get life extension, space colonies etc., and Wilson was merely premature in his optimism. I lean toward that. And the realization that a slowdown in technological innovation may be real did not become apparent until after his death.
Monday, January 20, 2020
Keith Moon in 1975 (Creative Commons photo.)
Eric Wagner's explanation behind his soundtrack selection in yesterday's blog post by Gregory is worth quoting again: " In 1985 after I graduated from college I went to Europe. I arranged my trip to arrive in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, on July 23. The next day I visited the concentration camp at Dachau which horrified me so much I just wanted to get out of Germany. I had a train ticket to leave for Vienna that night. I wandered the streets of Munich feeling despair about the human condition. I noticed a theater playing Bergman’s Magic Flute which I had heard about but never seen. I figured I had just enough time to see the movie and run to the train station to catch my train. I know some German, so I could barely follow the movie in Swedish with German subtitles, but the film restored my faith in humanity. Bergman’s realization of Mozart’s vision of a masonic society looking out for us seemed just what I needed." Eric linked to Bergman's Magic Flute on YouTube.
Certainly it is good news the movie is freely available and I plan to watch it when I have a nice chunk of time, but I also liked Eric's reminder that music in general, and classical music in particular, can be a positive force in our lives. Compare with RAW's essay on "Beethoven as Information" in The Illuminati Papers, in which he cites Beethoven's alleged statement that anyone who understands his music can never been unhappy.
Speaking of music, did you see Oz Fritz's comment in the Week 21 blog post of the Widow's Son discussion group, about the scene where Sigismundo Celine wakes up to find himself on the "ceiling" of his room? Oz wrote, "I wonder if RAW got some inspiration from The Who's maniacal drummer Keith Moon for the upside down room scene? From Rock Bottom by Pamela Des Barres: 'The road always beckoned and Keith got bored easily, but blessed with an ingenious, devilish imagination, he battled to keep the boredom at bay. ... Sleep never came easily for Mr. Moon: Once he spent hours nailing hotel-room furniture to the ceiling exactly as it had been on the floor'."
Moon, who died in 1978, was arguably rock's greatest drummer. My first thought when I read Oz' comment was "Probably not -- RAW didn't pay much attention to rock music." But RAW had plenty of young fans who did, and it's perhaps not far-fetched to think that one of them had told RAW about what Moon did.
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Illustration from “Right Where You Are Sitting Now” for “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.”
Week Twenty Two (pg. 361-382 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 15&16, Part III all editions)By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Chapter 15 should be considered in light of an earlier article by RAW that was seemingly written during the time of the composition of either The Earth Will Shake or The Widow’s Son: “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.” (The name of the article is not-coincidentally named after a play that has already been briefly mentioned in our posts The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade better known as Marat/Sade.)
In the beginning of the essay RAW mentions “This interest was particularly concrete at this time because there was one part of the historical Novel that was giving him trouble. His hero, Sigismundo Celine, had seen a meteorite fall. Celine had dragged the Damned Things, which couldn’t exist according to 18th-century science, to the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Naturally, he was roundly denounced and mocked for his troubles. This was accurate: anyone who reported a meteorite to 18th-century scientists was treated like a Close Encounter of the Third Kind today.” Obviously, there were some changes made during the time in between the original High Times article and the final draft of The Widow’s Son. Instead we see our secondary protagonist Sir John dragging his stone and sanity before the uncompromising panel of scientists from The Royal Scientific Society.
Sir Charles Nagas is obviously a stand in for Carl Sagan. Sagan wasn’t present during the panel on “Science and Pseudoscience” that inspired RAW’s essay but his debate with Emmanuel Velikovsky is mentioned and our Author seems to think Sagan wasn’t fair to the iconoclast author of Worlds in Collision. As in the novel the Author takes time to point out that Nagas had discovered nothing himself but rather was merely well known as he wrote often for the papers and journals, RAW refers to Sagan simply as a “television scientist” in his earlier essay. I can understand RAW’s disdain for scientists who seem to think that proficiency in one of the multitudinous branches of science such as evolutionary biology (Dawkins), astrophysics (Tyson), mechanical engineering (Nye) makes them an (or the) authority on every facet of reality. These science communicators who follow in Sagan’s mold do as much to repel the public away from science as they do to popularize it. I don’t really need some creep who doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up online or a former kids television host telling me whether God exists or not but they sure seem to think I do. These science popularizers’ extraordinarily high regard for themselves led to the markedly evangelical efforts of atheists in the early 21st century by scientists such as Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, the aforementioned Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Like the unruly “Herbert Sharper” in the narrative, whose bigotry against “Papists” and “Moslems” is on full display during Sir John’s tribunal, these atheist-evangelists have at times shown that they are no scientists but rather run-of-the-mill bigots (see Harris and his hellish alliance with right wing thinkers to promote an anti-Muslim philosophy).
Gardner Marvins is obviously a stand-in for Martin Gardner who was known for his love of Lewis Carrol and GK Chesterton, his mathematical puzzles, and his founding role of CSICOP (now CSI). (RAW mentions a novel with a scientist named Bertha Van Ation that is in the works- he must have been talking about the novels in the Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy which also include a cocaine-addicted writer names Marvin Gardens.) Gardner, like his counterpart, had a lighter touch than other self-appointed skeptic inquisitions, but his works, such as Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, drip with paternalistic condescension for those who aren’t in lockstep with his understanding of current scientific consensus. (See also Sagan’s Demon Haunted World.)
The most belligerent member of the panel, Herbert Sharper, remains something of a mystery to me; his name is not a simple transposition of a famous scientist. After reading RAW’s article I can only deduce that Sharper is based on The Amazing Randi himself. Years ago I wrote about the so-called skeptic movement in the paranormal community and contended that it was nothing more than a movement of evangelical atheists who believe that current human knowledge is nigh-infallible. Nothing happens that cannot be explained by our human understanding of the universe. In that essay I quoted RAW’s article and can think of no better commentary on Randi and his character: “Finally, the high point of the morning arrived, in the form of The Amazing Randi, as he styles himself. Randi looks like Santa Claus and talks like the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (Rep.-Wis.) Randi is not a Liberal by any definition but a real, old-fashioned, honest-to-Cthulhu Conservative, fire-breathing variety. He wants to hit the heretics on the head with a blunt instrument.
You see, The Amazing Randi is of the school of thought which holds that he and his friends have the only ‘real’ reality-labyrinth on the planet. All proponents of alternative reality-labyrinths are therefore, by definition, a bunch of sneaks, cheats, and liars. This is the best rhetorical stance for a heresy-hunter, since it is rooted deeply in the primate psychology… Hitler pointed this out in Mein Kampf, every demagogue knows it, and Randi, an old showman, plays it to the hilt.
Randi’s presentation consisted of saying five different ways that the heretics are a bunch of dishonest bastards who lie morning, noon and night, and lie in their sleep just to keep in practice. Then, in case there were any dullards in the audience who hadn’t gotten his message, Randi said it again, five more ways. The Journalist [Wilson refers to himself in different ways throughout the piece to show where his mindset was at] hadn’t heard such oratory since Jim Garrison way in his heyday, finding new Kennedy assassins every second newsbreak. It was a smashing performance, and the Sociobiologist was convinced that most of the audience were breathing harder and starting to tense their muscles before it was half over. Primate mode psychology at its most primitive.”
A footnote mentions how Hanfkopf disregards Barney and Betty Hill’s experience in New England as merely being caused by the stress of being an interracial couple in mid-century America. For anyone who has studied ufology this is a common explanation to write off the couple’s odd sojourn. In RAW’s essay a young physicist by the name of Stanton Friedman stands up to argue that some objects in the sky are unidentified and is roundly castigated. Friedman would become one of the leading authorities on the Barney and Betty Hill case on the side of those who aren’t sure what happened to the couple all those decades ago.
This chapter serves the same purpose of the essay: to show how certain humans are of their mastery of time and space despite the fact that we may presume, if there is a future, that our knowledge will grow and past convictions will become droll mistakes. Like the Royal Scientific Society, who are only aware of seventeen elements, it seems those who crusade on behalf of Science put the cart of certainty ahead of the horse of doubt which is, after all, the true driver of inquiry. (It is also humorous that the narrator mentions the full 92 elements that compose the universe as we are currently up to 118.) Given a choice between Randi and his ilk, I’d much rather hang out with the Divine Marquis.
Across the channel Sigismundo is still being bombarded by false circumstances that take place all over the continent and during different times. As he is being held in an English asylum in the nineteenth century Sigismundo again turns the tables on his interrogators before their conversation turns away from a concerned doctor and patient to initiate and interrogator. The symbolism of Masonry and mysticism swirls around as the drugged Sigismundo grapples through these staged circumstances: as he is led away by the Three Ruffians Sigismundo believes he is going to be thrown back in the well but is instead simply put back in his cell. The well refers to one of the initiatory rites of the O.T.O..
From Eric Wagner: “Well, with the Masonic talk in this week’s reading, I figured we might use the whole of Bergman’s Magic Flute. I considered “She Blinded Me with Science”, but I opted for Mozart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l17SQeytHN8”
(Eric sent this as a follow up to Tom and I and I asked his permission to share it here. My thanks to you.) “I hope all goes well. In 1985 after I graduated from college I went to Europe. I arranged my trip to arrive in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, on July 23. The next day I visited the concentration camp at Dachau which horrified me so much I just wanted to get out of Germany. I had a train ticket to leave for Vienna that night. I wandered the streets of Munich feeling despair about the human condition. I noticed a theater playing Bergman’s Magic Flute which I had heard about but never seen. I figured I had just enough time to see the movie and run to the train station to catch my train. I know some German, so I could barely follow the movie in Swedish with German subtitles, but the film restored my faith in humanity. Bergman’s realization of Mozart’s vision of a masonic society looking out for us seemed just what I needed. Peace.”
Saturday, January 18, 2020
With a fine sense of understatement, Jesse Walker remarks "Here is something unexpected," and sends along a few pages from the Congressional Record, above, showing that Congressman John P. Hammerschmidt put an article from the October 1978 issue of "Omni" magazine, "Some of Us Will Never Die," into the Congressional Record for Jan. 31, 1979. If it's easier to read, here's the PDF.
Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger is named in the text, and the article describes the murder of Wilson's daughter, Luna, and the attempt to preserve her cryonically for future revival, as described in the book.
Rep. Hammerschmidt is not, as you might guess, some hippy-dippy Democrat representing Berkeley, Calif., but was a conservative Republican from Arkansas who stood by Richard Nixon to the bitter end when Nixon was being forced out of office and who favored a law to protect the American flag from desecration. In one of his re-election campaigns, he defeated Bill Clinton.
Friday, January 17, 2020
Tyler Cowen (Wikipedia Commons photo)
Tyler Cowen, asked about a blog post explainingwhy he doesn't believe in God:
It struck me at the time that people who believe in a particular God of a particular religion are often reluctant to speak of it in Bayesian terms. Suppose someone said: “Well, I’m a Catholic, I think Catholicism is true with probability 2 percent, but all the other religions are true with probability of 1 percent. So I’m a Catholic, but there’s still a 98 percent chance I’m wrong.” That would actually make perfect sense to me, but I’ve never met a human who feels that way. Belief in religion is usually bundled with high certainty, and that to me doesn’t make sense.
More interesting opinions here, I agree with sombunall.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Daisy Campbell is on tour again and has announced three dates in January and February.
"Daisy Eris Campbell recounts the bizarre and hilarious true story of the pilgrimage to the centre of CERN to Immanentise the Eschaton. She shares what happened to her in the aftermath, and heralds its mind-blowing implications for April 23rd 2020.
"Her tale will be followed by live music performances from some of the Cerne2CERN pilgrims and a bit of dancing about and drinking if we fancy it. And voodoo modelling."
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Week Twenty One (pg. 339-359 Hilaritas edition, Part III Chapter 13&14 all editions)
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Howdy everyone, I can only beg your forgiveness for my tardiness; life and work have consumed the past few days.
Sigismundo’s ordeal takes such a bizarre and menacing turn that we are almost able to forget how kind our Author is towards their protagonist; Sigimundo has been led into the heart of some conspiratorial scheme that is able to warp gravity, time, and space but our intrepid hero is well-versed in the theory of conspiracy and is able to strike a claim in this new murky mental territory. Is this Chapel Perilous where Sigismundo may either grow insane or canny? Perhaps -- but much like a True Initiation, Chapel Perilous never really seems to end. Sigismundo has been thrust into so many mind-boggling, unpleasant situations and has learned so much contradictory information that it is hard to point to this sequence as the apogee with any certainty. But these experiences have taught Sigismundo the value of practical agnosticism and understand the nature of perspective.
One could expect a young man who has seen multiple people killed in front of him, been drugged by his own rapist/murderer father, killed himself, learned of the different infamies of life in such demonstrative ways to have been broken at this point; consigned to an ugly world or driven mad by its brutality. But Sigismundo is keeping his head above water, able to deal with his new circumstances in the Bastille, or wherever the chamber had been prepared, with enough calmness and rationality to see the nails keeping the furniture on the ceiling/floor. He is able to not dispassionately examine the pantomime behind his surroundings and even reacts with sincere good humor when dragged before what appears to be an Inquisitorial board. Many of us have the 23rd Psalm read after our deaths but how many have the conviction to recite that as we are led away to have the demons whipped out of us?
The hidden variable to Sigismundo’s supple mind isn’t that he has read widely but that he has an education that allows himself to examine ideas from many different angles. I would name the hidden variable as magic, the rituals and lessons in between have already brought him into the metamorphic world of occultism whose foundation seems to be composed of Fata Morgana, shadow-boxing, and a mountain that disappears and reappears with the blink of an eye. Magic is stronger medicine than most philosophy is one takes enough and is able to keep it down: what differentiated Wilson from others who lost themselves in Chapel Perilous? What techniques did he use to cope with his season in hell?
Like Cosmic Trigger, these chapters stand as a clear-enough enunciation of RAW’s theory of conspiracy. It does not do to give into first impressions, nor does the slitting one’s throat with Occam’s razor and subsequently giving into the next best choice of the “simplest” explanation. (As a fideist, I’ve always wondered exactly how anyone was certain that they knew what the simplest explanation would be.) Of course, like a flu shot, one must take some of the virus inside one’s body to prevent a greater sickness, and like most occultists who I give credence to Sigismundo’s mind is filled with gods and wild happenstance. But this adds flavor to paranoia and makes it considerably more edifying. Right now, when we see Sigismundo in such desperate circumstances, I see our protagonist stronger than ever, excelling in the light of misfortunate circumstance and such concerted conspiracy.
Notes: Don’t occultists always do a much better job of interpreting the profundity of Hume and Berkeley than run-of-the-mill academic philosophers? How anyone who truly buys into the religious nonsense of Academe thinks they grasp the arch-Skeptic is beyond me.
Another Freemasonic interpretation of the Ripper murders is covered in Alan Moore’s From Hell where Dr. William Withey Gull is fingered as the agent of destruction. Of course, Moore’s Gull’s crime exceed his mandate and he is eventually drug before a tribunal of high-ranking Masons, including founders of the Golden Dawn, before being sequestered in an asylum. Moore also adds his own take on conspiracy theory and muddy history in his epilogue, “Dance of the Gull-catchers.”
De Selby appropriately gets the last word on this part of the narrative as he splits reality into a trinity of interpretations.
Enjoy the Days Between.
The perfect pick from Eric Wagner: The upside down room suggested this Fred Astaire number: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsoYyDlYU8M
Buck Henry in 1978. Creative Commons photo by Alan Light
An amusing example of the slogan Robert Anton Wilson coined. From the New York Times obituary for screenwriter and comedic actor Buck Henry:
Then, in 1959, he joined forces with a friend, Alan Abel, who had created a hoax organization, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, which was dedicated to putting pants — or at least undershorts — on dogs, horses and cows as a response to society’s evident moral decline.
Mr. Henry became the public face of SINA, as the organization was known, playing the role of its president, G. Clifford Prout, giving interviews to newspapers and magazines and appearing on television, where he would argue that zoos should be closed down until the animals could be properly attired.
The hoax wasn’t entirely unmasked until 1965, but until then many people — millions, perhaps — had been hoodwinked. Among them was Walter Cronkite, who featured a segment on SINA in August 1962 on the “CBS Evening News.” He never forgave Mr. Henry after learning that it had been a joke.
Monday, January 13, 2020
Neil Peart (Creative Commons photo)
Mike Grossberg has penned a tribute at the Prometheus Awards blog.
The New York Times ran an obituary and also ran a separate article on ten of his best performances. Rolling Stone's article also is available.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
From the New York Times:
What book — new or old, fiction or nonfiction — has influenced how you think, act or look at the world? Tell us how it did, in no more than 200 words. The deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 10 a.m., Eastern time.
Please include your name, city and phone number, and put “books” in the subject line.
Via Chad Nelson. I have already written the Times to describe how Illuminatus! changed my life. Chad says, " I will probably cite Quantum Psychology."
Saturday, January 11, 2020
Can you tell Joshua Hallenbeck is a RAW fan? He has officially launched two products from his organic mushroom farm in Colorado. His brand is Sirius Mushroom Extracts. The two products are Lion's Mane (a nervous system extract) and Turkey Tail (an antioxidant).
I tried photographing the two bottles he sent me, but I'm apparently not very good at photographing small objects up close, so I've published, above, the photo he sent me with his announcement. He doesn't have a website yet (I'll update this when the information becomes available) and the product at present is being sold locally in Colorado, but the extracts also are available by contacting Joshua. (See Facebook for his Sirius Shroomery page.)
Here is a piece on the health benefits of Lion's Mane mushrooms. You can also read about Turkey Tail mushroom benefits.
Friday, January 10, 2020
There's quite a bit of RAW material in Adam Gorightly's latest post on Discordian history, "The Epistles of Thomas the Gnostic."
The post is about Tom McNamara, a relatively obscure early Discordian, but quite a bit of Robert Anton Wilson information crops up in the interactions between McNamara and other Discordians. For example, Adam quotes a letter from Greg Hill describing a Chicago get together that included Wilson, Robert Shea, Tim Wheeler from National Review ("Harold Randomfactor") and Mary Wheeler ("Hope Springs"); Wilson and Wheeler apparently got into a political argument. Randomfactor is mentioned in Illuminatus!
Adam's post links to "The Secret History of Immanentizing the Eschaton: The Mary Wheeler Interview" which gives quite a bit of background on Discordianism at William F. Buckley's "National Review" magazine and has a nice anecdote about Wilson.
Adam's post also includes McNamara's review of Illuminatus!, published in the Berkeley Barb. Martin Wagner points out there's also a Tom McNamara review available of Wilson's Sex and Drugs.
Discordianism plays a big role in the Illuminatus! trilogy. If it and Wilson's other writings survive in the literary canon, as I expect and hope will be the case, Adam's hard work exploring Discordian documents in his books and blog will be a major resource for scholars for centuries to come.
More on Adam Gorightly and his books.
Thursday, January 9, 2020
The above from Martin Wagner's Twitter account, Robert Anton Wilson Archives.
Martin says, "Playboy Forum Letter from Hugh Crane (mosprobably Robert Anton Wilson)
PLAYBOY, May 1970."
In an email, he adds, "Hugh Crane is a Schrödinger's Cat character which may or may not be Next Door Universe's Hagbard Celine."
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Robert Anton Wilson (Creative Commons photo)
An email from Eric Wagner: "I plan to listen to some Beethoven on 1/11 and on 1/18 to commemorate Bob Wilson’s death and birth. Deadheads refer to the period between 8/1 (Jerry Garcia’s birthday) and 8/8 (the day of his passing) as 'The Days Between'."
Wilson was born Jan. 18, 1932, in Brooklyn, N.Y., on the East Coast, and died Jan. 11, 2007, in Capitola, Calif., on the West Coast.
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Lorenzo Hagerty from the "Psychedelic Salon."
I've linked to websites, but if you have a decent podcasting app on your phone, you should be able to find these.
The Psychedelic Salon, "RAW's Politics." A recording of Robert Anton Wilson at a 1987 Libertarian gathering. Sound quality is not the best. Very funny much of the time, but mostly what you have heard before. RAW repeats the joke, "You know how dumb the average guy is? Half of them are dumber than that," so he's apparently not quite clear on the difference between the average and the median.
The Jai Dev Show, "Oz Fritz, the Wizard of Sound." A good introduction to Oz' interest in the Kabbalah and other topics. I posted about the podcast earlier and finally managed to actually listen to it.
Eric Weinstein's The Portal, "Tyler Cowen - The Revolution Will Not Be Marginalized." The first part of the podcast discusses the consumer price index and was hard for me to follow, but there's a good discussion of conspiracy theories in which Eric does better than Tyler. Then there's a good music discussion, and it turns out Tyler is very good at talking about the Beatles.
Monday, January 6, 2020
By Andrew Bacevich
“The game has changed.” So announced Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in warning that the Trump administration would take preemptive action to prevent further attacks on American personnel and facilities in Iraq. The killing of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force, by U.S. drone strikes at Baghdad‘s international airport shows that Esper is as good as his word.
Yet, except in a nominal sense of enlarging the target set, the game remains unchanged, even if violence escalates further in the days ahead. It’s a game that the United States has been playing — and losing — for close to a generation.
The purported objective of the game, which dates to the enunciation of the Carter Doctrine way back in 1979, is this: the use or threatened use of U.S. military might to impose order on the Persian Gulf and its environs. Ideally, that order would include respect for the values that Americans profess to cherish, among them democracy and regard for human rights. Minimally, it would permit the free flow of gulf oil to nations that rely on it to fuel their economies (our own not among them, given recent increases in U.S. domestic oil and gas production).
Yet since 9/11, U.S. military exertions in the region have destroyed what little order once existed there. In place of order, today there is anarchy: civil wars, failed states and terrorist organizations that did not even exist when the American “Global War on Terrorism” commenced nearly two decades ago. Iraq itself, today host to pro-Iranian militias and targeted by U.S. airstrikes, embodies that failure nearly 17 years after its supposed liberation.
As candidate for president and repeatedly since his election, Donald Trump has denounced this project as the height of folly, vowing to extricate the United States from the mess that it has done so much to create. Yet, as is so often the case, the gap between the rhetorical position Trump stakes out and the results he actually achieves is enormous.
With the Suleimani killing, Trump has effectively thrown in the towel. The wars he promised to end will continue. America’s enemies list never gets smaller; the body count grows ever larger.
They will do so in no small part because the Congress is pusillanimous and supine, having long since forfeited its constitutionally prescribed authority regarding war. The Democratic members of the Senate and House who whine about not having been consulted or at least notified in advance of the drone attack that took out the Quds commander deserve not a respectful hearing but contempt. Their behavior over the past decade and more in giving presidents a free hand to wage war however they see fit cannot be described as anything but cowardly. It was, after all, President Obama who pioneered the role of assassin-in-chief to which Trump has now laid claim.
More importantly, the U.S.’ Middle East wars will continue due to the intellectual bankruptcy of the foreign policy establishment, which remains wedded to a highly militarized conception of “American global leadership.”
Within that establishment, forgetting takes precedence over learning. Note, for example, how quickly Washington has moved on after last month’s publication of the Afghanistan Papers, with their astonishing revelations of pervasive waste, incompetence and blatant dishonesty in the conduct of America’s longest war. The impact of those revelations in policy circles, never more than minimal, has already all but vanished. But rest assured that the Pentagon will receive more than $780 billion in the year ahead to keep doing what it did last year and for many years before that, with few questions asked.
This is an election year. In a serious democracy, the casting of ballots is preceded by a thorough public vetting of the vital issues of the day. The worsening crisis in U.S.-Iranian relations certainly qualifies as one such issue. Yet far surpassing that issue in importance are even larger questions pertaining to the misuse of American military power in the Middle East and to the normalization of war.
Secretary Esper demands that the Iraqi authorities “get left of the problem” to prevent further attacks on U.S. forces and “get the Iranian influence out of the government.” My own demand, however futile, is that Washington will exert itself to “get left of the problem” of war and rid the U.S. government of the militarists and their lackeys, even as we find ourselves thrust into yet another escalating conflict.
This op-ed was previously published in the LA Times and reprinted at the Quincy Institute website. Andrew J. Bacevich is the President of the Quincy Institute. More information here about the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Sunday, January 5, 2020
Joseph Warren rethinking his refusal of a General’s commission
Week Twenty (pg. 325-337 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 11&12 all editions)By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Chapter 11 serves as another zoom out shot of what is happening in Sigismundo’s world while he is imprisoned, while Chapter 12 is a zoom into Sigismundo’s mind as he languishes in the Bastille.
The Committee of Correspondence is precisely what RAW describes it as, though there is plenty more interesting historical information about the Committees here. These Committees served as the first Continental network of Revolutionary sentiment in the years building up to the spring of ‘75. Given that the purpose of the first Committee was explicitly spelled out as to “state the rights of the colonists,” I don’t think the “radicals” Samuel Adams and Dr. Warren were trying hard to fool anybody.
Dr. Joseph Warren was a physician who served along with Revere on his Midnight Ride to warn the countryside, fought at Lexington and Concord, and denied his General’s commission to fight at Bunker Hill as a private which proved to be a noble decision, if not entirely the best one. Dr. Warren’s martyrdom was preserved by John Trumbull’s painting that served as powerful propaganda for the American Experiment. Samuel Adams was, of course, a famous brewer who pioneered overcharging customers for mass-produced mediocre beer by claiming it was “craft beer.”
Weishaupt was, by many accounts, outwardly a pretty mellow guy. He was a deep one.
As someone who sat through enough Music Appreciation classes in grade school to have seen Amadeus at least three times, I can attest based on the most solid of historical information that Mozart’s relationship with his dad was, indeed, quite fraught.
This is an accurate description of one of the many scandals in the life of de Sade. The four prostitutes that he procured that afternoon would perhaps serve as an inspiration for the four prostitutes who inspired the sexual depravities in the beginning of 120 Days of Sodom. (The prostitutes were considerably more jaded and enthusiastic about sexual excess in de Sade’s fucked up masterpiece- go figure.) Cantharides, also known as Spanish Fly, is a classic aphrodisiac which is derived from beetle excretions and inflamed the urethra which I guess is what some people felt they needed to perform. Today it ranks up there with famously mysterious accoutrements such as Horny Goat Weed and those tablets behind the counter at gas stations as an essential part of any witches’ apothecary.
What RAW leaves out of the account of de Sade’s debauchery in the south of France is that he was sentenced to death for sodomy with his manservant during the same orgy he had with the four prostitutes. He, the manservant, and the seduced sister of his wife were the ones who made the initial escape. They would be captured shortly after this only to escape again and be rejoined by his wife at a later date. I guess Renee de Sade would adopt an attitude of “if you can’t beat ‘em” for a few years before finally divorcing the Divine Marquis.
Jean Jacques Jeder reminds us again of the quotidian facts of existence in the 18th century as he experiences meager prosperity. Sartines, who evidently trusts the free market as much as the infallibility of the Roman See and the benevolence of governments, has taken control of some parts of the Parisian economy, freezing inflation.
And finally we come to Sigismundo, slowly succumbing to despair and fearing that he is succumbing to madness.
Richard St. Victor was a Scottish theologian and one of the Mystics of the Catholic Church. The other philosophers that Sigismundo quotes in his journal are all pretty well known. Sigismundo is dithering, understandably so as it seems his luck has run out for the time being and all that he has ahead of him is confined within the walls of the Bastille. Between Sigismundo’s entries RAW’s footnotes provide a scaffolding of conspiracies so that the reader shares in Sigismundo’s inability to take much comfort from the philosophical fragments that he records. The anxiety of Oglesby’s War and the sinister machinations of Hanfkopf and the Vatican seep through time to infect the already tenuous situation in 1772.
Like Sir John Babcock (Crowley’s student not Maria’s husband), as Sigismundo is spinning out he uses formulas and equations to calm his mind. This reminds both men of the non-subjective “facts” of reality and that there is something very solid outside their own, relatively uncomfortable, existences.
Finally something happens to free Sigismundo from his depressing musings. He finds himself stuck on the roof of his cell.
From Eric Wagner: “This section of the novel enters 1772 and mentions Mozart’s Symphony 21, so that seemed an obvious choice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3md8zc7Ernc .”
Saturday, January 4, 2020
"The Anti-Millennial bash was in full swing as the clock passed eleven and everybody looked forward to the non-millennium in less than an hour. Simon had even redecorated his pad, adding a reproduction of Dali’s Persistence of Memory to the seawall, melting clocks speaking mutely against grids of all kinds."
Happy new year!
Another Martin Wagner rediscovery, "Dali's Clocks."
Friday, January 3, 2020
By The Forces of Gravity – a Memoir, Rebecca Fish EwanBy Iain Spence
Special guest blogger
Some time back RAWIllumination had a short description of By the Forces of Gravity along with a link to buy it. I waited to see a review of the book on this same site, but none appeared. As we start into 2020 I thought I’d write one myself as it’s a marvelous book and worthy of some good mention here on Illumination.
Gravity covers an intense friendship which occurred between the author Rebecca Fish Ewan and Luna, Robert Anton Wilson’s daughter who many will remember from Cosmic Trigger. I was lent Cosmic Trigger to read many years back in my early twenties. The friend who lent it to me told me not to leaf through any of the last pages. He told me to read it properly from start to finish. As I came towards the end I asked my friend, ‘What is this strange energy which is building up in the book…?’ It was a bad feeling but I couldn’t put my finger on it: I’d never encountered severe grief before. My friend smiled sadly and told me to continue.
Luna Wilson’s life was so short (15) that most of us thought we’d never hear of her again.
Her delightful antics described in Cosmic Trigger were a tiny window into her life. Any other memories were a private affair, only for her family and friends. Then, just recently a part biography of Luna was written and drawn by one of her friends, Rebecca Fish Ewan. The book is a sequential art biography of the author’s deep friendship with Luna told in a very distinct manner. The whole book (all 492 pages) is profusely illustrated with roughly half of the book being text and the other half art.
What makes the book especially strange however is the manner in which the biography is told. Ms Fish Ewan doesn’t just tell of her childhood with Luna, instead she inhabits herself at that age (12 to 15) in order to tell her story. This is not just a new concept in sequential art, it also makes for an unsettling read. The reason for this is that Rebecca is a victim of sexual abuse.
By the time she’s performing oral sex with a dirty tramp in a hippie pad for a bowl of soup, we’re entering into the darker side of hippie culture. None of the other hippies bother to stop the abuse or help her out. They practically walk past her on the floor while the abuse is taking place. If such accounts of her lonely life were to be retold by Ms Fish Ewan from the perspective of an adult, one might expect some moralising, anger or reflection of how to stop such abuse from happening in present times. Instead we are made to face the story of the abuse from the point of view of the hapless child herself. Perhaps most saddest of all is the manner in which the ‘Me Then’ narrator accepts her unhappy emotional void as being normal.
For your average church-going conservative, the lack of moral judgement combined with the
illustrations would likely lead to outrage and disgust against the permissive Sixties and
even against the book itself. However it could be said that sexual abuse and emotional
neglect happen in all cultures in society and not just sub-cultures. We even have a current president who was exposed for making 'jokes' about sexually assaulting women.
So respect to Ms Fish Ewan for bringing some candid honesty to the grim side of the hippie world. If she had turned to adult narration with a moral clipboard the biography wouldn’t have had the same raw impact.
There are plenty of happy memories in Rebecca’s book too. There is a ray of sunshine in the young lady’s life – a gentle friend by the name of Lina Wilson. It is shortly after the previous hellish low that Lina and Rebecca decide to rename themselves in a special private ceremony in which Lina becomes Luna and Rebecca becomes Becky Star Fish: 'soul friends forever'.
Perhaps the most memorable scene in the book:
She picks Luna
So actually she’s only swapping one letter
For another letter
I for U
Which says a lot about her
Since she always thinks of other people
Before she thinks of herself
Later in the book Rebecca sums up the quiet love felt between these two best of friends as they hung out, just being together:
We used to talk to each other without words
We’d roam around Berkeley
Just me and Luna at all hours
Recognising her increasing vulnerability to abuse, the Wilson family invite Rebecca to stay at their house. But space is tight there (The Wilsons had 4 children) and so she eventually moves on. A school teacher also helps to put her on firmer ground and so she finally becomes grounded in a less aimless life.
In time the girls lose touch with each other, with Rebecca suffering the most. Luna Wilson is not as emotionally needy as Becky Star Fish. After one to two years of barely seeing each other Luna reaches out to Rebecca with a heart warming letter asking to renew their friendship.
In one of the last touching scenes they meet up at last in a clothing store where Luna works – both rather nervous and shy. Luna offers Becky Star Fish a gift; a choice of anything in the store. Rebecca chooses a bright yellow garment. When she leaves the shop clutching her precious parcel close to her chest, we get the impression that both of the young women are floating on cloud nine. But will they be able to renew the intense closeness of their friendship after such a long absence? The answer might just reduce you to tears…
By the Forces of Gravity is (much like Cosmic Trigger) a remarkable book. I hope it becomes more popular in time. It also deserves a larger audience beyond the world of R.A. Wilson’s fans. In stands proud in its own right as a special and moving account of Rebecca Fish Ewan and her intense friendship with Luna Wilson. If you haven’t read it yet I suggest you put it on your reading list for 2020.
Editor's Note: After Iain kindly offered me this review, I asked him to share a little bit about himself, and he obliged: "I first read Illuminatus! in my teens having discovered it in a dark little 2nd hand book shop in Inverness. I'm now in my mid 50s. By the late 1980s I became fascinated by a couple of parts of Prometheus Rising. As a result of this I went on write The Sekhmet Hypothesis, which then became revised and re-titled as The Hare Hypothesis in the early 2000s. I'll re-price it and the companion volume for free this Friday & Saturday in-case you might want a digital copy from Amazon.
"I'm not sure where you live in America - I hope it's not too hot. [Cleveland, Ohio, not terribly hot in the winter -- The Management.] I live in Scotland on the Isle of Mull. I seem to remember commenting on your site somewhere how we used to order several copies of Falcon Press books to share among ourselves here in the UK in the late 1980s. Thank goodness for eBay and Paypal!
"I just listened to the Gabriel Kennedy interview on your site with your friend, a gent called Greg someone [Gregory Arnott, my trusty Widow's Son blogger -- The Management] ...I was worried that a biography of RAW might end up reveling in gossip and the like, but he seems like a respectful man who's been in touch with the family. The Greenfield bio of Leary was (I think) truly awful...I only skipped through it. In contrast Mr Kennedy seems to be sympathetic & genuinely fascinated in his subject."
Thursday, January 2, 2020
F. Paul Wilson, author of The Keep and other books.
I have often written about the Prometheus Award, both because I'm involved in it and because the award intersects in several ways with the world of Robert Anton Wilson, not lease the fact that he won the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Illuminatus!
But I did not realize until the other day that RAW had played a role in launching the award. When the first award was given in 1979, it went to Wheels Within Wheels by F. Paul Wilson, and Robert Anton Wilson was the presenter. From the Libertarian Futurist Society blog, quoting a contemporary account:
“The first-ever Prometheus Award was presented for the best libertarian science fiction novel of 1978. The finalists were Poul Anderson’s The Avatar, James P. Hogan’s The Genesis Machine and F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels. Robert Anton Wilson did the honors, on behalf of the Prometheus Award Committee (an independent group of libertarian sf fans, who contributed the award), presenting the $2,500 in gold to (no relation) F. Paul Wilson. The prize (which has already increased significantly in value) is the largest award for science fiction given anywhere in the world.”
F. Paul Wilson's official site.
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
I meant to do ten favorite books but could not find any among these to leave out.
These are not all books that were published in 2019, but many of them were, and I've mostly called attention to books that are at least recent:
Kingdom of the Wicked, Book One: Rules, Helen Dale. (2017) Alternate world novels have become a staple in science fiction, but Helen Dale’s work about a Roman Empire that has gone through an industrial revolution is fascinating and provocative. Published a couple of years ago, but hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved.
Gnomon, Nick Harkaway (2017). An ambitious literary science fiction novel about a high surveillance society. This is one I intend to re-read. See this blog posting.
Dreaming the Beatles, Rob Sheffield (2017). A good examination of my favorite band. At one point Sheffield proclaims Revolver is the greatest Beatles album (I agree) and notes that is another way of saying it’s the greatest rock music album ever.
Come With Me, Helen Schulman (2018). Life is a matter of making choices, and some choices, made in an instant, have consequences that last a lifetime. A fine novel by a writer I had never encountered before but plan to seek out.
Beyond Chaos and Beyond, Robert Anton Wilson (2019). Scott Apel obviously worked hard putting together this new compendium of RAW material. There’s a lot of strong essays and interviews on a variety of topics, and also a long biographical essay, “Bob and Me: A Record of a 30 Year Friendship.” See my longer review.
Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero, Tyler Cowen (2019). A contrarian argument about a segment of American life which Cowen says is underrated. Largely convincing. Cowen is my favorite living "think for yourself libertarian."
Fall, or Dodge in Hell, Neal Stephenson (2019). Not always a compulsive page turner, but a philosophical and interesting book about the possibility of digital immortality. References Milton's Paradise Lost, which I guess I ought to read, having only read excerpts in college quite a while ago.
The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson (2017). The authors argue that many of our actions are not done for the reasons that we claim. One of the better nonfiction books I’ve come across in recent memory.
Somnium, Steve Moore (2011). I hesitate to call this a fantasy novel, as that often means "the same old shit you've read 100 times before, only slightly different." But this is a fantasy novel, and in fact it's very good. Longer review.
Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction, Judith Grisel (2019). I’ve read several books about addiction, and this is probably the best. Grisel is a neuroscientist and a recovered addict, so her book is both personal and based upon science.
A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration, Kenn Kaufman (2019). Northern Ohio where I live is an important bird migration area. I learned something new and interesting on practically every page. Kaufman is a nationally-known birder who happens to live near where I work. Like the Grisel, his book is both science-based and personal.
Note: I have gotten pretty good at selecting books for myself -- I seldom read something I really dislike unless it's something I'm forced to read as a Prometheus Award judge -- so these are not the only good books I read in 2019.
Apologies if I left out someone's favorite from yesterday's list of all of the books I read in 2019. For example, High Weirdness by Erik Davis, about Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K. Dick, also is very good. I am not an expert on McKenna or Dick, but the RAW chapters are interesting and insightful. The Eric Wagner Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson is left out of the top eleven because it was a re-read, but is also highly recommended, and I know the new edition, out soon I hope, will be even better. The Martha Wells "Murderbot" short novels are a don't-miss for SF fans. The Margaret Atwood is a classic, even better than I recalled. (I haven't read the sequel yet.) Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism is my favorite book on dealing with digital overload, and I adopted some of his recommended practices. And so on.