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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

More on Jesse Walker, jokes and RAW

An agent of the Illuminati, Ludwig van Beethoven. 

Yesterday, I blogged about Jesse Walker's new Reason article, "From Antifa to UFOs, One Joke Can Spawn a Thousand Conspiracies."  I'd like to stay on it and make a couple of points.

One of Jesse's main arguments that is something which is offered as a joke can wind up being taken seriously.

There's an example of that in Illuminatus! (well, there are probably at lot of examples, but here's one). Ludwig van Beethoven is depicted as being part of the Illuminati conspiracy.

In this interview (and I think in other places) Robert Anton Wilson maintains that this was simply a joke he made up: “Actually, a few things that I thought I invented did turn out to be true, oddly enough. The one I still remember is Beethoven’s link to the original, real, historical Illuminati. I invented that as a parody of right-wing books on the Beatles serving Moscow – but hot damn years later I found, in a bio of Ludwig, that he had several associates in the Illuminati and the Illuminati commissioned his first major work, The Emperor Joseph Cantata."

I think RAW is referring to the Maynard Solomon biography of Beethoven. A more recent Beethoven biography, by Jan Swafford, goes into considerable detail about the Illuminati influence on some of Beethoven's most famous works, including the Ninth Symphony, which was important to RAW.

Wilson's remarks about Illuminatus! and Robert Anton Wilson are worth discussing. As I've urged everyone to read the whole thing, I hope I can quote some of what he wrote without making the Reason folks mad:

[After noting Illuminatus! came out in 1975] Rumors immediately began to circulate that the books were more than just fiction. Conspiracy Digest reported that while many of the digest's readers believed Wilson "was an Illuminati agent attempting to lampoon and discredit conspiracy theories," others thought he was trying "to slip the truth past Establishment censors by disguising the truth as a titillating parody"; still others took the books as "a reliable guide to the inner doctrines of the hidden world of the secret societies alleged to control the conspiracy."

These sorts of reactions continued for decades afterward. The Rev. Ravi Holy, today an Anglican vicar, was an anarchist and occultist in his youth. Back then, the British journalist Damian Thompson has reported, Holy accepted Illuminatus! as "truth lightly clothed as fiction." When he was born again in a Pentecostal sect and created a conspiracist website, he "carried out only minor adjustments to this narrative." (Holy now describes himself as a "recovering conspiracy theorist.") The same sort of thing has happened to some of Wilson's other novels. In a 1992 tract called Dark Majesty, for example, the conspiracist Texe Marrs writes that Wilson's Masks of the Illuminati "purports to be fiction" before declaring that "there is little doubt that it contains much insight and many hard facts about the Secret Brotherhood."

Wilson has described the Illuminati as a "metaphor," but with all of the humor and fantasy elements in Illuminatus!, many people take it quite seriously -- libertarians focus on the political comment, people into magick tune in to the magick, etc. Certainly the appendices contribute to the notion that it's not just a story.

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