Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Natural Law online reading group, Week Two, the title essay

 A committee of five presents the first draft of the Declaration of Independence (John Trumbull painting). 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

So says the Declaration of Independence, which evokes natural law (i.e. in the previous paragraph it mentions "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God.") Natural law posits that there are "values intrinsic to human nature," as this Wikipedia article explains. These notions are what Robert Anton Wilson is taking on in his essay. 

I wonder if my American readers think it is "natural" to drive on the right side of the road, and my British readers think it is "natural" to drive on the left side? Here is something interesting: "In the UK and Australia, people tend to turn left when entering a building. In the US, they turn right. It’s important to remember if you’re booking a trade show booth." (Source, third item). 

A few annotations: 

Loompanics, Page 3. Boy, did this publisher push the envelope. "According to Gia Cosindas,, eBay, and Google refused to allow Loompanics to advertise on their sites, since some of the books' content violates their editorial guidelines. Specifically, Google wrote, "At this time, Google policy does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain 'the promotion of violence [and] drugs or drug paraphernalia."

New Libertarian, Page 3. The Samuel E. Konkin III magazine. For back issues, including the "Natural Law debate" issue, Vol. IV, No. 13, that Wilson cites, go here.  And I quite liked The Fractal Man, J. Neil Schuman's novel about Konkin.

Samuel Konkin III

"politics remains such a depressing paleolithic and murderous spectacle," page 9. See also Gene Healy on how politics makes everyone dumber. 

For a New Liberty, Page 10. For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto by Murray Rothbard, an anarcho-capitalist tract, was a big part of the libertarian surge in the 1970s. I had a hardcover copy, when I discovered libertarianism while in college from Illuminatus! and other sources, and it was very influential. I would guess that many serious libertarians have read it; I'd be surprised, for example, if Jesse Walker or Chad Nelson said they had not read it. Rothbard, by the way, was a strong peacenik, like RAW (he was a big influence on the late Justin Raimondo, the founder of, and that allows many of us to overlook his other sins. (In fact, Raimondo wrote a book about Rothbard.)

"all three at once," Page 17. This business about "the hide of the Easter Bunny" is really funny; did you catch that RAW also is making a joke about the doctrine of the Trinity? 

Simon Newcomb, Page 22 -- Simon Newcomb (1835-1909) was an accomplished mathematician and a very smart guy, but just as RAW mentions, he did argue that airplanes are not possible. (The Wikipedia article, buttressed by footnote 23, says that "When Newcomb heard about the Wrights' flight in 1908, he was quick to accept it," so in Wilson's terms he behaved like a scientist, not as a dogmatist: When he received new evidence he accepted that he was wrong. (I cannot resist repeating the famous saying of Arthur C. Clarke: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

Simon Newcomb

"Doubt everything. Find your own light." Page 23. This seems like a rather free translation. In What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, the last words are given as, "Transient are conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aim with diligence." The Fake Buddha Quotes website also wonders where this version of the the Buddha's last words came from. 

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Page 53. One of Robert Heinlein's most famous novels, published in 1966,  is a favorite of science fiction fans (it won the Best Novel Hugo) but also is a favorite of libertarians (it was the first novel to win the the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, from the Libertarian Futurist Society, in a tie with Atlas Shrugged (Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451 had to wait another year). I read it as a teenager and am overdue to read it again; Tyler Cowen re-read it in 2017 and found that despite his low expectations " it nonetheless holds up very well and in fact has aged gracefully."

Arthur Hlavaty, Page 56. The prominent science fiction fan and critic, read  his fanzines! And here are some top quotes, and here is a useful biography. Arthur also founded The Golden APA, which had both Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea as members, see my interesting interview with him about it. 

Arthur Hlavaty

"I am writing in defense of personal choice here (if you haven't guessed that already); I merely object to having personal choices proclaimed as new religious revelations which we all must share or be damned," Page 57. RAW's version of libertarianism, and also another comment on what he sees as the irony of debating natural law with libertarians. 

John 8:7, Page 63, the "admirable remark" which Wilson says "ought to be burned into the backside of every moralist, with a branding iron," is (in one translation), " So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

psittacine, Page 68, birds of the parrot family.

Next week: More on the Natural Law essay, featuring guest blogger Chad Nelson. 


Chad said...

Here is Ethics of Liberty in full. Rothbard’s case for natural law is on pp3-25.

Eric Wagner said...

Terrific post. I considered The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress my favorite book in tenth grade. I taught it to tenth grade English classes for years starting in 1999. At first it worked very well, but it worked less well each year. As its publication date receded into the past, it became harder for the students to imagine how the future seemed to Mr. Heinlein back when he wrote the book back in the sixties. Imagining a world with one giant computer and practically no small computers became harder for the students to get their heads around. I stopped using the novel in my tenth grade English classes, but I used it a few times in my high school science fiction classes. At first it worked well there with students who had chosen to take a science fiction elective, but by around 2017 it didn't seem to work as well, so I decided not to use it again. Of course, I haven't gotten a chance to teach a science fiction class since then.

supergee said...

I think this was the first time I was mentioned in an actual book. He was right of course. I still feel that the material world is a snare, but now I know that says more about me than about it.

supergee said...

Rothbard may have been the most conservative libertarian ever, and he wound up as Buchanan fodder. Still, he got two things spectacularly right:

1. He was the first male I ever encountered (back in the 60s) saying that there is no such thing as “dressing provocatively” and it does not excuse rape.

2. Egalitarianism is a revolt against nature.

Oz Fritz said...

I'm about halfway through the main essay. For me, it seems to pick up steam as it rolls along as well as getting funnier and funnier. Academic style polemics (if we can call this essay that) normally fails to hold my interest but RAW's writing engages my attention. Some of it sounds downright poetic or musical, for instance the last paragraph on p. 45 ending on p. 46. I wondered if the whole essay might be analogous to a musical symphony with all the point/counterpoint and the various melodies (lines of thought) weaving throughout.

My initial impression of the argument sees RAW as trying to bring his adversaries out of the clouds of abstraction down to the practical concerns of everyday life. "Like theologians, they seem almost deliberately to avoid any statement concrete enough to be subject to such testing." (p. 39)

RAW uses the word "idols" in the same way Nietzsche does in his book Twilght of the Idols which RAW quotes from. He refutes Platonism with the "Ideal Platonic Horseshit" recurring motif.

The quote from Einstein on p. 15 shows that context plays a deciding role re certainty v. uncertainty. RAW will elaborate upon that point.

After quoting Konkin on p. 33, RAW says he would have given that statement at least another five or six exclamation points. To me, this indicates, maybe, that RAW picks up on the passion put into the words by Konkin. This affirms my confirmation bias that the state of consciousness of the writer (or musician in the case of music) can go into the work if strong enough; it gets recorded, as it were, into the piece.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I appreciate everyone's comments.

@Chad that's a valuable document that provides context.

@Eric, I plan to re-read "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" soon and will post my comments. I wonder what RAW thought of that particular Heinlein novel?

@Oz I'm glad you mentioned the funny bits, because one of the things I like about the "Natural Law" essay is that it's very funny in places. I have seen attempts to explain Platonism and ideal forms elsewhere; I love the "ideal Platonic Horseshit."

Chad said...

Supergee: Rothbard got one (very big) additional thing right, IMO:

In War, Peace, and the State, his analysis of war as legalized violence/murder by criminal gangs (governments).

This makes him a very peculiar conservative, as I’m not sure this position has been held with any consistency except by those on the “New Left” (not to be confused with today’s left, which seems mostly at peace with war). And by anarchists.

Chad said...

I do also consider Rothbard conservative, lest you think I was sarcastically disputing that notion. Just a weird, antistate, antiwar one. Even his time as a self-proclaimed leftist seemed to have more to do with alliance building, and the left being more inclined toward liberty for that time.

supergee said...

OK, Rothbard got three things right, and that third is a big one. I always liked that about Justin Raimondo too.

Spookah said...

page 5: "A hypnotist tells you that now you are going away from this room, far away, and now you are in a lovely green field, and it's a warm summer day, and the sun is all over your body..."
Now I also see the cover art as a metaphor for the self-induced trance we put ourselves in. Although when we let ourselves be programmed rather than meta-pragramming, it can easily look like not such a nice warm summer day out there...

I particularly liked RAW criticism of Konkin's criticism of RAW on p.61, where he says that he "certainly cannot rebut; but that is only because [he] cannot understand a word of it." When I encounter texts or paragraphs such as that one from Konkin, I tend to first feel sadly limited in my mental abilities. It can be good to also consider the possibility that perhaps it might just be very badly written by an author whose ideas aren't very clear. Some people seem very talented when it comes to write stuffs that appear deep, complex and authoritative, but that actually simply don't make any sense.

About the John Fowles parable at the end, although I do not claim to "know beyond doubt what is correct", it seems to me that the whole dilemma is based on a fallacy. The Nazis are forcing Conchis to make a choice he does not want to have to make, there is no real freedom in this. Feeling guilty for choosing one solution over the other would mean falling for the Nazis' emotional bullying. Ultimately, the ones doing the killings are the only guilty people there.
Kind of like the figure of the abusive father who, while beating up his family, is all like "see what YOU are making me do?" Or, to stay within the Natural Law text, the Pope is the one being uncomfortable about rubbers on willies, not "God".
One has to own their own feelings, and the responsibility for their own behavior.

Thank you Tom Jackson for letting us know what a psittacine is.