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Saturday, October 1, 2022

1962 letter by Robert Anton Wilson on psychopaths and anarchism

Another Martin Wagner discovery: A 1962 letter to the editor by Robert Anton Wilson, asserting that a libertarian society would not produce psychopaths. Here is the claim: "How will anarchism handle psychopaths? The same way the Zuni handle Suicides, the Trobrianders handle homosexuals, and Summerhill handles bullies. It will not produce them."

This seems a bit naive to me and an early formulation of ideas that RAW developed later on in more depth. But see what you think. 

Published in Volume 23, issue 23 of Freedom, apparently an anarchist publication. 


Bobby Campbell said...

It's an interesting premise!

I agree it doesn't seem to work as cogent socio-political commentary, but probably would make for a fun Twilight Zone style short story.

Though even then you'd probably want to recognize that social structure is not the sole contributing factor in personal development?

Also, probably obviously, the implied framing of homosexuality as a societal ill, in sequence with murder and suicide, isn't great.
Even if it's not what he meant, that he didn't care to clarify, remains a notable sign of the 1962 times.

It's kinda funny for a guy who could so expertly navigate the multiplicity of realities, IDK if RAW ever really wrapped his head around homosexuality.

At best he seems to regard it as a benign aberration, or maybe sometimes a silly prop to freak out the squares, and then eventually, somehow, a potential source of oppression against straight people???

"This instance demonstrates fully that the 'individual' cannot be separated from the 'society': he thinks, acts and feels within a spectrum of possibilities defined by the society."
- RAW, born in 1932 to an Irish Catholic family.

Jesse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
michael said...

Up to his writing of Prometheus Rising, RAW seemed...confused about homosexuality. He uses "choose" then emphasizes "accident" w/the imprinting of sexual roles on the 4th circuit. Both he and Leary used "cure" from the early 1970s to the early 1980s, often citing dubious anecdotes. Later in PR, sexual attraction is a "stochastic process." Also, none of us take on the one true Platonic ideal imprint for sex, so we all feel some sort of "guilt" over our sexuality. His historicism was a tad weak, then, on this issue.

Still in PR: wild idea about left-handed homosexual geniuses, with Leonardo cited, but I guess RAW had all kinds of other fish to fry rather to develop these ideas?

Still, in PR: "Homosexuals may or may not be the chief creators of cultural innovation, as some Gay Pride advocates claim; but it is certainly true that they have done more than their share. The reason? They are not trapped into parental roles." Evolutionary Psychology seems mostly with him on this riff.

By 1979, in Diagonal Relationship, RAW cites the gay population as being "between 12% and 37%" of the population, "depending on whose figures you believe."

By 1988, in an interview with Lewis Shriner, RAW talks about a book he'll never write, but wants someone to "rip off" his idea: The Truth About Sex. Then RAW rips the famous Dr. David Reuben book for being so bad. We don't have a true Sexology yet (1988), and this was always one of RAW's complaints, similar to the outlawing of research on psychedelics. RAW goes on with Shriner about how his The Truth About Sex would work:

"It'd be in question and answer form, but instead of one answer to each question, there would be four or five, or maybe even a dozen, all from leading authorities, and all contradicting one another. The idea of the book was to show that the authorities don't know what the hell they're talking about. It's an area full of prejudice. There's no real science of sexology yet; it's all various people expressing their personal prejudices and disguising it as psychology or sociology. So I thought, take a question like, 'What causes homosexuality?' and give twelve different answers just to show how much the scientific community really knows; they can't even agree with a simple thing like, 'What causes heterosexuality,' for that matter."

michael said...

(That reminds me of the few times I've encountered a "they chose to be gay and they deserve what they're getting" idiot. I tell them, very fondly, with a wistful look off into the distance, of the day I made the wise decision to dig girls. Then I ask them to share with me their memories of the day THEY chose their sexual preference.)

So, to borrow from someone like, say, Barack Obama, RAW seems to have "evolved" a bit. Later, in Cosmic Trigger III (1995), he writes movingly of his friendship with a cool gay guy named "Don," who I highly suspect was Dean Gengle, who wrote for The Advocate, and who interviewed both Leary (see ch.29 of Changing My Mind, Among Others)and RAW. By this time, RAW muses, about the origins of homosexuality and heterosexuality: "I don't think, contrary to fashionable opinion, that genes play the _only_ role..." He's bored with Gay Pride's "genes" and Fundamentalist Xtians' "choice.": "That particular either/or seems even dumber to me than most Aristotelian dualisms. RAW(1995) thought all behavior "results from a synergy of (1) genes, (2) early imprinting, (3) conditioning, (4) school-and-other learning, and (5) blind circumstance." See "Horseman, Pass By" in CT3. Gengle died of AIDS in 1993. RAW writes of unknowingly attending Dean's last - "Don" would soon die - birthday party: "I realized with _thunderous_ emphasis how little Gayness or straightness mattered in human terms: what _did_ matter, in the moral dimension, jumped out at me like a chord in Beethoven - everybody at the party manifested love, care, kindness and support to an almost superhuman degree."

Then again, RAW was weird about this in the last 15 years of his life: he'd witnessed A Pride Parade in SF or Santa Cruz and wonder why they needed to march to show they were gay and proud: hey, good for you, you're gay. Maybe I should start a Straight Pride Parade. I'll come out as straight. Some lines like that. That riff is now a part of the MAGA fascist's playbook, and there's no way RAW could've foreseen such a thing. RAW seemed too rational in this sense: the optics of We're here, we're queer get used to it was seen by gay activists to be a public statement of strength, and I tend to agree. But becoming friends with at least one homosexual seems to really change the previously ignorant heterosexual mind. I speak for myself here...

michael said...

RAW seemed fascinated by Dillinger's sexuality: not only was he apparently hung like a horse, but when in stir, he switched over to gay sex. Historical stories like this always fascinated me, because, as Woody Allen said, heterosexuality is great and all, but bisexuality immediately doubles your chances to get a date for Saturday night.

This reminds me of Howard Becker's citation of a (c.1950?) sociological study of "straight" young street hustlers who performed sex acts on gay men because they saw it as easy, safe money. The hustlers self-identified as "straight." Were they being straight with the Sociologist?

Donald Fagen of Steely Dan wrote of the time he went off to Bard College in 1965 and finally met a gay dude. "The thing was, as I'd never knowingly met a homosexual, and had doubts as to whether they actually existed, the only category I could think to put him in was, maybe, 'hyperaesthetic messenger of the gods.'" (Eminent Hipsters, p.74)

It's easy for us in 2022 to forget how fucked up things were in the 1960s, for gay people. And how appallingly ignorant heterosexuals were about gays.

Allen Ginsberg said that psychedelics opened him up to his "heterosexual" side. This would be almost the 180 of Leary talking of LSD "curing" gays. (Alas, Ed Sanders has Ginsberg thinking his schizophrenic mother walking around the house naked reinforced his gayness. - Poetry and Life of Allen Ginsberg, p.18)

Going back to the 1960s, before RAW worked for Playboy, he criticized Hef for celebrating sexual freedom, when so many gays were being persecuted. In the 1960s, RAW seemed to see homosexuals as being a problem due to their ability to be blackmailed (it's a problem for his loveable character Sir John Babcock in the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, too), which of course isn't/wasn't their fault. And it would be easy to chalk all that up to RAW's reading of Wilhelm Reich, but we have seen how relatively unenlightened RAW was about homosexuality, especially when when writing for a perceived audience, from the 1960s to the early 1980s. (Let's not even discuss WR's ideas about gayness!)

But you guys are right in citing RAW's ignorance from earlier in his career. It's really interesting to me.

Jesse said...

This letter would have been right around the same time that he contributed an article to a Mattachine Society publication, so I guess he was still hashing out how he felt about homosexuality.

I am reminded of this line in The Book of the Breast: "Homosexuals—who are, ethologicaliy considered, men who have been conditioned to become sexually aroused by other men; nothing more remarkable or sinister than that—have been counterconditioned, in a few notable cases, and suddenly get turned on by women, just like you and me." The message of tolerance is welcome. The idea of being converted to heterosexuality is less so, though it clearly was not being offered with intolerant intent. But what really feels winceworthy is the assumption ("you and me") that the reader is a heterosexual male.

(OK, OK: So there probably *is* a good chance that someone who picked up a Playboy book called The Book of the Breast is a heterosexual male. Alas, the line was still there when the volume was transformed into Ishtar Rising.)

Bobby Campbell said...

I heartily agree with MJ & JW's comments :)))

Esp with the oddity of RAW having written such a sensitive and sympathetic gay relationship in the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, and then writing a weird "what about straight pride!?" piece in the 90's.

But! I think I have an idea about that. That particular article has been stuck in my head for a while now. If memory serves he announces his intentions to slaughter sacred cows or something similar, and is essentially daring readers to call him sexist, homophobic, and/or racist, while he is attempting to write precisely enough about gender, sexuality, and race that any accusations of prejudice would be demonstrably false. We see a lot of this now. Trying to bait the libs into jumping offsides and then calling them out for prioritizing "feelings" over "facts."

Though I think RAW, in this case, overestimates his understanding of non-straight-white-male identity politics, and his arguments here do not appear air tight enough to successfully pull off this high wire act. I don't think he crosses the line into the dreaded sexist, racist, or homophobic classifications, but the soundness of his positions appear to me very debatable.

Again, very much agreeing with the idea that RAW's clear lack of malice prevents this from escalating into anything more serious.

If he wasn't trying to do this 90's anti-PC bit, I doubt he would have waded into these waters.

Interestingly enough, I find whenever I disagree with RAW on one level, I internalize a larger lesson on another. In this case, the focus of the piece was slaughtering your sacred cows, of which certainly for most of its readers, RAW's infallibility would appear a more precious offering than anything else on the table.

michael said...

If there's anything I think we must take very seriously about RAW's thought, it's his repeated insistence that he is not infallible, that he thinks the very idea of infallibility is absurd, based on his personal and (to me) unique epistemology/ontology.

Another factor that I think should be considered with comments like I'm coming out as straight and have a Straight Pride Parade, etc: a large part of his oeuvre in the very largest sense, must include provocative and comic one-liners. McLuhan might have seen these as "probes." There must always be material, and when he's interviewed, he's NOT boring. Anything but that! He made his rent in large part touring and saying kooky political-philosophical things to audiences that made them think. I think of Late Carlin's lines about "I hope the world ends soon 'cuz it'll be fun to watch on TV" along these lines.

From a very early age, way before he became fascinated with Crowley's adoption of different personas in order to get beyond "ego", RAW saw Pound's use of persona (which he Pound got, largely from Robert Browning) as a sort of magickal working that operates on the problems of Ego.

Around a year ago, I stumbled upon a 2017 book called _Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan to Tumblr_, by Angela Nagle. Nagle was there at the beginning of all the social media SHIT, of both the fascist/Dumpy/Milo, etc 4Chan stuff (which I was only very dimly aware existed), and Tumblr, which I thought was only porn, but it turned out to be the incubator of Facebook's (which I'm not on) choice of 97 (or whatever) declared gender preferences. I knew virtually nothing of any of this stuff, but her book really filled in a lot of why our culture has gotten so fucking mean and idiotic so quickly.

an interview with Nagle:

I think RAW would've been interested in her book, but he died around a year before "social media" exploded. And, I suspect but don't "know" that he would have seen the "if you don't support the other-abled transgender pansexual neuroatypicals with the intersectionality of blah blah blah," we'll de-platform you and make your life miserable: as anti-progressive politics. I agree. What better way to do the old "divide and conquer" than to get the libs fighting amongst themselves? I really do think RAW was cool with the jungle of gender identities out there now; he just thought it was beside the political point.

And I think he would have seen the transformation of stuff that he and Krassner and Abbie Hoffman were up to in the 1960s but now being used by fascists as quite ironic, but with historical precedents.

I didn't finish my truncated quasi-timeline of what I dared to call RAW's "evolution" of understanding about homosexuality.

I hung out with him one day in 2003, four years before he died and I brought up the "Straight Pride" riff. Here's what he said:

"I don't think there's anything to be proud of on either side. It's something that's just a fact! Like the color of your eyes. What's to be proud of? The thing to be proud of is if you treat your partners with dignity and respect and tenderness. That's something to be proud of. Boy I am a damned old crank. (laughter)"

Again: in RAW's epistemic stance: neither you, nor I, nor he has the one "true" model.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

The Angela Nagle book Michael recommends seems like it would be very interesting; I read the interview Michael points to and I suggest checking it out. I don't agree with everything she says (I don't see the culture's problem as too much individualism, I think there is too little; I don't connect "individualism" with parroting Fox News or MSNBC 24-7, just like millions of others) but much of what she says seems spot on. Here's a bit I liked:

The Economist: Does the restrictive nature of political correctness inadvertently push people away from progressive politics?

Ms Nagle: No serious person can really deny that it does at this point, if they're being honest. Many people are attracted to progressive politics because they see that the world is unequal and unfair and they want better wages or education or healthcare. But they quickly find out that this isn't enough. In order to not be purged they have to learn an ever more elaborate and bizarre set of correct positions they must hold on a range of issues and they must continue to carefully and fearfully walk on eggshells to avoid the call-out.

No humour or intellectual exploration is any longer possible in that environment. Think of any progressive intellectual of any significance from the last century and try to imagine them surviving today. They’d just be purged. They’d have to dissent on some issue and it wouldn’t be tolerated.

Jesse said...

"I don't think there's anything to be proud of on either side. It's something that's just a fact! Like the color of your eyes. What's to be proud of?"

I always took that to be the point of his spiel about pride parades: that it is absurd to be proud of being either gay or straight. A standard individualist take. I don't find it offensive.

But I don't find it persuasive either. I always assumed the point of "gay pride" as a slogan was that people had previously treated homosexuality as something to be ashamed of, and this was a way of saying there need be no shame in it. If the organizers had called it the No Shame Parade, maybe RAW would have liked that better.

Bobby Campbell said...

Right on, MJ!

And just for clarification, I didn't mean to imply RAW thought of himself as infallible, but rather some of his goofy wide eyed fans (me!)

And RAW's comment on "straight pride" to you shows that he had good intentions in his heart about it, but also, that he misunderstood the point of "gay pride," which is a defiant stance against the very vocal voices that insist, and attempt to legislate as if, it is something to be very ashamed of indeed.

Straightness doesn't have this same problem, hence no need for pride.

Chapter 8 of Cosmic Trigger 3, "Pride and Prejudice", which is the piece referenced in my last comment, hinges entirely on this misunderstanding, and ends up a bit wonky because of it.

NBD, misunderstandings happen :))) Heck many of these escalating culture war issues are based on similar Three's Company style shenanigans, where people are unknowingly using 2 different definitions for the same term like a terrible who's on first routine*.

I swear, give me 10 minutes and you won't flinch at the concept of "white privilege," for example.

*This that balkanization of epistemology, made worse, of course, by those that do it intentionally because the division and confusion benefits them.

Maybe ironically, RAW closes the "pride and prejudice" chapter with the quote: "it is dangerous to understand new things too quickly."