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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Why is RAW still relevant?

Robert Anton Wilson. (Photo by Duncan Harvey).

When I participated in Bobby Campbell’s two-hour “Maybelogues” Zoom session on July 23, I anticipated Bobby might ask why Robert Anton Wilson remains  relevant in 2021. So I had an answer ready. 

In the event, Bobby posed other interesting questions (we wound up debating billionaire space exploration, for example), but after pointing yesterday to Brian Dean’s Maybe Day thoughts, I thought I would share my own.

Wilson wrote about many interesting topics: The Timothy Leary eight-circuit model of consciousness, brain transformation, quantum mechanics, Aleister Crowley, Beethoven, libertarianism, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, modernism in literature, General Semantics,  and other subjects I am  leaving out because it is so difficult to list all of his interests. He devoted serious study to many of these topics and wrote with intelligence and wit. He wrote novels and nonfiction, ranging across genres.

But it seems to me one particular theme runs through much of his work, two related propositions: You can be happy, and you can find a meaningful place for yourself in the world.

This is particularly explicit in Cosmic Trigger 2: Down to Earth, an innovative work that in my opinion has not received as much attention as it should (well, it has that in common with many of RAW’s works, but CT 2 is one of my particular obsessions.)

If you haven’t read it, Cosmic Trigger 2 ostensibly seems to be a memoir. But it’s generally short chapters trace several discernible plotlines; it seems structured more like a novel than a typical nonfiction book.

One of the plotlines concerns how Wilson, who had abandoned the Catholicism of his youth, searched for success as a writer and in his personal life. I don’t want to give away the ending for people who haven’t read the book yet, but I will say he came up with a positive answer, in the 1950s, long before he made a name for himself as an author.

But I would argue that happiness and meaning is a theme in many of Wilson’s other works. In the first Cosmic Trigger, friends of Wilson such as Timothy Leary help him avoid falling into utter despair after Luna’s death. Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology can be read as esoteric “self-help” books. (See Caroline Contillo’s 2013 guest post for this blog, “How Quantum Psychology Changed My Life,” about how the book transformed her when she was “teetering on the edge of nihilism.”

It seems to me that Robert Anton Wilson’s positive messages remain as relevant in 2021 as ever.

Many people essentially have adopted an obsession with politics as a substitute for traditional religion. I don’t know if that has worked out well for everybody.

The other day on Twitter, Scott Adams wrote, “There's a massive loneliness epidemic happening right now and it's probably the biggest problem in the country, by a lot.” Book editor Eric Nelson commented, “No one wants to hear this but the solution is church. Nonbeliever attendance has had, in the past, numerous unrecognized benefits.” I don’t know that everyone needs to march off to church, but I think Nelson has a point about community and connection. 

And all of the discussion about “deaths of despair” in the U.S. (see for example this David Leonhardt piece in the New York Times, “Life Expectancy Falling” ) also seems to suggest that despite the fact that options for entertainment and education are more rich than anything I could access as a young adult, many people seem to make themselves miserable and need a message of hope. 


Spookah said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us, Tom. Very nice outlook on RAW, and I think you might be right, in a way.
It seems to me that Bob Wilson's life philosophy, at least towards the end, could be simply "hilaritas", something that Rasa and Christina have picked up on.

I will keep on thinking about what you wrote for some time.

Eric Wagner said...

Terrific post.

tony smyth said...

That's a great post Tom.Certainly a world that needs as much optimism as possible these days.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Thanks, everyone, appreciate the kind words.

Psuke said...

"despite the fact that options for entertainment and education are more rich than anything I could access as a young adult, many people seem to make themselves miserable and need a message of hope."

I agree that people decidedly need a message of hope, and I think RAW's message that one can be happy and find a place in the world despite insanity and stupidity *en masse" is imporant. But I respectfully disagree that access to entertainment and education in themselves are...adequate replacements for connections to one's fellow human beings, which is the thing lacking for most people in these days of continued pandemic.

Also, not everyone enjoys "entertainment" or processes "education" in the same way. I work 40 hours a week and care for a parent with demntia, as well as doing the shopping and cooking. I don't have a lot of time left over for The Great Courses, or Librivox, or scrolling through endless Netflix (or youtube) menus looking for something I consider worth watching.

This isn't to bitch about my life. I could put my parent in a home and eat ready made meals if it were that important, just offering a different perspective on what "access to entertainment and education" might mean to different people.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Psuke, I certainly did not mean to make light of anyone's personal situation, and of course I agree you have quite a difficult load. I admire you for taking on your responsibilities. And as for "connections to one's fellow human beings," I sincerely hope you have the friends, family and support network you deserve.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

If I may attempt a further clarification: I was expressing gratitude for technological progress and reflecting on the gratitude I feel. I am not attempting to make light of people who experience depression, serious illness, heavy life burdens, etc.