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Monday, November 28, 2022

'Natural Law' online reading group, Week One

Welcome to the online reading group for Natural Law: Or Don’t Put A Rubber On Your Willy And Other Writings From A Natural Outlaw, published by Hilaritas Press. It is written by Robert Anton Wilson; the anthology is edited by Chad Nelson. 

The original long essay, Natural Law: Or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy, was published as a short book in 1987 by Loompanics Unlimited.  The Hilaritas Press book Natural Law: Or Don’t Put A Rubber On Your Willy And Other Writings From A Natural Outlaw reprints the original essay but adds 12 additional pieces: nine essays, an interview and a work of short fiction. All 12 additions were selected by Chad Nelson. 

In this reading group, we are covering the Hilaritas Press book. The format is the same as other online reading groups on this website: There will be a blog post, written by me or by a guest blogger, and everyone else is invited to post in the comments. The comments for this blog are moderated, as otherwise Google is apparently happy to let in all sorts of vile spam, but as a rule I approve legitimate comments.

New entries for the online reading group will be posted weekly. Today's entry covers the material in the front of the book, before Robert Anton Wilson's words begin, including John Higgs' piece on Maybe Day and Chad's introduction.

A note on the available texts: As a rule Hilaritas Press books are published as trade paperbacks and as ebooks, but unfortunately in the case of Natural Law, there have been some stubborn glitches. There is still no Kindle, and when I bought an ePub from Barnes and Noble, the text was messed up when I tried to read it with the Nook app on my phone. Barnes and Noble wound up refunding my money; I was able to verify that the text works at the Barnes and Noble website, but I wanted to be able to read it on my smartphone. I cannot say whether the ebook works on an actual Nook ebook reader, or whether the book works on Kobo, etc. Rasa has promised me an update on the ebook situation when he has news, and I'll post any news promptly on this blog. For now, your best option may be the paperback. 

Here are a few annotations:

Cover: The cover is credited to Amoeba, i.e. Scott McPherson, who has done all of the covers for the Hilaritas Press editions of Robert Anton Wilson's work. The cover puns on the Zen koan, "Who is the master who makes the grass green?" mentioned in Wilson's writings, including in this passage in the Natural Law essay:

Every perception is a gamble, in which we see part, not all, (to see all requires omniscience) and “fill in” or project a convincing hologram out of minimal clues. We all intuitively know the obvious and correct answer to the Zen koan, “Who is the Master who makes the grass green?”

But the cover also is an attempt to make the book attractive to the general reader, as opposed to people who are already fans of Wilson; see this blog post for more information. 

After the title page and after the page with the usual publication information, such as the ISBN and copyright notice, there's a photo of Robert Anton Wilson, taken by Duncan Harvey in January 1986 at Chelsea Old Town Hall in London, England, when Wilson was in town for a talk.

The story behind the photo (and the other photos of Wilson taken by Mr. Harvey) is interesting; Mr. Harvey was on assignment for a magazine, but the magazine went out of business and Mr. Harvey was not paid; he was able to sell some of his work to Wilson's British agent.

In 2014, during the Cosmic Trigger play and festival in London, (i.e., the Daisy Campbell adaptation of Wilson's first Cosmic Trigger book, available as a book from Hilaritas,) Harvey handed writer John Higgs a thumb drive with a bunch of photos from that 1986 shoot, digitized from photos the photographer found in his attic; Higgs mentioned the incident in a blog post that included some of the photos, and the photo that John identified as his favorite is the one used in the book. 

John also emailed me at the time to give me access to the photos and suggested I interview Duncan Harvey, and I did, and you can read the interview and see more of the photos. 

A couple of pages later, we come to the "Warning: The Attorney General has determined that this book may be hazardous to your dogma" page, which echoes similar statements at the front of other Robert Anton Wilson books, such as TSOG.

Then we come to the first four lines of a poem by A.E. Housman, "The Laws of God, The Laws of Man," full poem here. (This is also the poem with the lines, "I, a stranger and afraid/In a world I never made.") The poem is appropriate to discussing the purported "natural law" that Wilson takes on in his essay, and the citation shows off Wilson's wide reading. And if you check out the whole poem, it fits well with Wilson's emphasis on intellectual freedom. Housman (1859-1936) was a famous poet and a noted scholar of the classics and professor of Latin. 

Next comes Chad Nelson's "Acknowledgements," which includes Victor Koman, a libertarian science fiction writer and the publisher of, which sells books by Koman and by Samuel Edward Konkin III, who put out the publication in which the "Natural Law" essay first appeared. See the website for a list of the issues of "New Libertarian" magazine which include articles by Wilson. The website also offers copies of Koman's Prometheus Award winning novels and a Christmas book for children, The Legend of Anarcho Claus,  that explains Agorism, the libertarian philosophy espoused by Konkin. 

After the Table of Contents, we get John Higgs' piece, "Happy Maybe Day," published in the Guardian newspaper on July 23, 2009. I think John does a masterful job of explaining model agnosticism without lapsing into jargon or cliches -- there's no reference, for example, to "reality tunnels." Notice how John subtly alludes to "the map is not the territory."

And then we get Chad Nelson's introduction, which also discusses model agnosticism and which explains the criteria he used in choosing the pieces for the book that supplement the title essay: "While the additional entries in this volume represent, for me, the best of Wilson's aggravated case of agnosticism and tie in nicely with Natural Law, or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy, I realize that they are also simply some of my personal favorites which I am grateful will now see the light of day, thanks to the good folks at Hilaritas Press," he writes. 

Next week will be the first of two blog entries on the Natural Law essay. 


Eric Wagner said...

I find it interesting that the copyright page doesn't include the 1987 date for the original short book.

Eric Wagner said...

Bob Wilson loved Victor Koman's novel "The Jehovah Contract." I did too.

I would love to see a breakdown of the readings for the whole book so I can keep up. Thank you.

Rasa said...

First off, I'd like to thank whoever updated the book's Wikipedia page to include a note about the new Hilaritas Press edition!

Hilaritas Press never had a copy of the 1987 printing. We were working off of the Breakout Productions 1999 edition. I know there are for sale books with the same cover that supposedly are the Loompanics 1987 edition, but I never saw that book. I wonder if anyone has a copy of that. I'd love to see the front matter page.

Loompanics went out of business, and even Breakout Productions seems to not exist any longer. Both companies had the same address, so we assumed they just came out with a new edition and put it under their new name. No idea why they didn't note an earlier edition in the 1999 front matter page.

As for the ebook issues... that's a real mystery. We have been working with our distributor, Ingram, who has been in contact with Barnes & Noble. B&N had a suggestion for what they thought the problem might be – they think there is a coding issue, but both N&N and Ingram were mystified because we use the same file for all the ebook vendors, and when that file is simply uploaded to the B&N app, it works fine, but for some reason they have yet to figure out, when a buyer downloads the file from B&N, it displays strangely. In any case, I recently edited the file to take into account the coding issue. B&N does not yet have the new file, but I'm hoping that might solve the issue.

I'd say that if you have the B&N ebook, try reading it on your computer, tablet or smartphone by looking at it on the B&N website's ebook reader. Strangely, the book looks fine there. We, meaning Hilaritas Press and Ingram, think the issue is with the B&N app, but B&N has been slow in responding.

As for the Kindle edition, that is purely a problem with Amazon. Amazon has a copyright team for print books, and they approved the title, but they also have a copyright team for Kindle editions, and they claim that Breakout Productions holds the copyright, and the essay has been widely distributed online, so they think we can't claim the copyright. We are trying to go above their heads and get a new copyright for our new edition from the US Copyright Office. The person we are in contact there happens to know RAW and really likes his work, but even with that help, they have been extremely slow in getting us the new copyright. As soon as we get that, however, we expect that Kindle will let us publish. Kinda a nightmare altogether.

As for Chad, we have enormous thanks for his work on this new edition. The additional writings offer a lot of different perspectives, all under the heading of Model Agnosticism. Especially in these days, understanding how we each have our own models of reality has to be a helpful concept in sorting out all of our social and political differences.

Chad said...

Random thoughts on this week's material:

1) amoeba's cover design is indeed brilliant, and so are Pelorian Digital's "grass widgets" throughout.
2) RAW's warning clause should probably be taken more literally in today's age of easily-offended, litigious, blame-game culture. There are surely some who might attempt to hold the author and publisher accountable for wrong ideas.
3) Victor K. was wonderful to correspond with. I never asked him where he came down on the natural law debate. But I'm going to check in on that now that it's on my mind. Stay tuned.
4) If I were writing the editor's intro today, its tone would be different. Less critical of so-called Right Men. I have a bad habit of deriving joy from poking authoritarians. I realize that approach is one of the things that keeps them in business, and me irritated ("Without Aneris, no Eris."). The better approach, it seems now, could be summarized by a quote from the book's final essay: "Love and fear cannot co-exist at the same time in the same mind...If you make yourself love something, it can't frighten you. If you make yourself love everything, nothing can frighten you."

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Eric, the plan is to spend two weeks on the title essay, next week and the week after that, and then a week on each chapter after that. But I hate to get too locked in -- if I feel I should linger for another week on a piece, I will. Is that helpful?

Eric Wagner said...

Rasa, I just sent you a picture of the copyright page of the 1986 edition of Natural Law.

Tom, that reading schedule sounds great.

Oz Fritz said...

The new Hilaritas edition of Natural Law presents well. The green grassy cover recalls a rhizome, for me. Love the photo with a warning on the door behind which lurks a smiling RAW. 415 = "The Voice of the Chief Seer" by Gematria.

Also love that it begins on a celebratory mood with the whimsical Happy Maybe Day piece by Higgs. The new Introduction by Chad excellently sets the scene backed with some strong quotes by RAW. The first one, "there is joy ineffable in freedom from fixed ideas" recalls the Nietzsche/Deleuze project to reverse Platonism. It makes sense to include RAW's impressions of reading Nietzsche. Nietzsche had the perspectivist view as well.

I agree with RAW's basic position, life is more accurately measured in probabilities. I don't see beliefs as a dialectic between certain and uncertain.

Today the big TV screen at the gym flashed in huge letters "LIFE IS UNCERTAIN." The insurance company making that ad seemed certain about that.

Spookah said...

One of the problems with Right Men isn't so much that they're adamant they're Right, but rather that they might tend to increasingly and ominously loom over the general discourse and try their best to make anyone with a different viewpoint an "outlaw" indeed. I find it somehow ironic that agnosticism would be deemed "weak tea" (as a Brian Jonestown Massacre aficionado, I prefer the expression "tepid peppermint") since in our age and time of high polarization, it might be one of the most radical stance to adopt. Thus making this new Hilaritas edition as relevant and necessary as ever.

The more I think about the cover art, the more I like it. Apart from the wink to the classic Zen koan and the sneaky way to try and get at "the wellness mob", I find that it might also allude to the kind of grass that RAW and sombunall of us like to consume for recreational, medicinal or ritual purposes. This kind has been unnaturally outlawed, and I would argue that one has to be totally out of touch with any sensible reality to seriously think that A PLANT could be made illegal. Will mountains or clouds be forbidden, next?
Another way to read this cover art could be that, contrary to the popular saying, sticking to one's own belief system basically means believing that the grass is always greener on our side of the fence. Model Agnosticism says instead that the grass has countless shades of green and that most can be worth considering, without having to settle for one.
As John Higgs says, "what idiot put the fence there in the first place, and exactly who benefits from leaving it up?"

Big thanks to Chad Nelson for aknowledging the vital role of Tom Jackson's blog in keeping the RAW community together, ever studying.

Chad said...

Spookah- the grass is reminiscent to me too of the connection between Maybe Logic philosophy and pot.

I don’t think I’d ever have embraced these ideas so thoroughly, or even grasped them well, without it he aid of pot. Pot was clearly a keyingredient for RAW too. I love that Hakim Bey’s RAW obit called pot (and whiskey) his “bardic fuel.”

For me, Maybe Logic is in large part a feeling/intuition, and one that’s felt more deeply when stoned.

One of the great lines from RAW in this book is the end to the last interview where he tells Cliff Walker, “You’ve got great grass up here [in Portland].” Only he could conclude such a profound interview with a line like that.

Spookah said...

Tom, about the scheduling for the main essay, are you thinking of spending the first week on the (more or less) first half, and then the second week on the rest, or rather two weeks discussing the whole thing?
I started to read it and find it to be pretty dense, so wondering which approach could be more beneficial for the reading group. Thank you.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Spookah, Two weeks discussing the whole thing; I thought I would write the entry for Monday and then have Chad write the next one, so we could have two points of view. (Chad has agreed to do this.)