- Interview

A mystery without a solution:
Robert Anton Wilson

by Jesse Hicks

The Illuminatus! Trilogy seems to keep finding new generations of fans since its publication. How would you describe it to someone who's yet to read it, and what do you think explains its enduring appeal?

I like to call it guerilla ontology. If people look blank, I explain that it's a Zen riddle in the form of a detective story. In other words, a mystery without a solution. What keeps it in print? I imagine that every generation a few clear-thinking people discover that the governments that rule us just do not make sense rationally. And then they hear about this weird book that knocks down every attempt at a reasonable explanation of how this planet operates and proves 1001 ways that only insanity does explain it. Incidentally, as if to prove this, sales have improved every year since George Bush got appointed president. Sanity cannot fathom such a sinister joke, but Illuminatus buffs can.

How does the world of Illuminatus! compare to the "real" world these days? Do we live in a Wilsonian satire?

I'd like to think so. The only alternative would hold that we live in a Kafka allegory. Since my "paranoia" contains more humor than his, I appeal to a less morbid audience.

Kafka's "There is hope, but not for us," definitely appeals to a darker sense of humor. How do you maintain a sense of optimism?

Pessimism seems to me a luxury I can't afford. For instance, at age four, I became crippled with polio for the first time, and got cured, or mostly cured, by the Kenny method. Pessimism just would not have helped at any stage in my therapy. We don't walk on our legs but on our will, as the Sufis say.

At 69, the damaged muscles quit on me and I got crippled a second time. Once again, pessimism and whining would not have helped.

My second partial cure proceeded nicely for four years -- until last month, when I suddenly landed on the floor and stayed there conscious but unable to move a muscle, for 30 hours before my daughter found me and called an ambulance.

Pessimism has great value if you want the praise of New York intellectuals, but I prefer to fight my battles rather than whine about them. I'll probably never get reviewed in the bon ton literary journals, but I might get into the Guinness Book of World Records as the first man to learn to walk four times.

You mentioned the Kenny Method for polio treatment. How did your early encounter with an "unorthodox" cure lead you to question "orthodoxy"?

Well, I grew up with hard evidence -- every step I took -- that the Kenny method worked, while all the Experts continued to denounce her as a quack and a charlatan. That did not encourage ardent faith in Experts....

And did that lead into Maybe Logic?

Partially, but it could have led to a single heresy -- the Kenny method -- in a brain otherwise still confined to dogmatism.

I know many people like that-- they believe in one unorthodox idea, but remain stuck in either/or logic. Maybe Logic came from reading some scientific radicals [John von Neumann, Anatole Rapoport and Alfred Korzybski], plus some Buddhists.

That includes von Neumann's three-valued logic [true, false, maybe], Rappoport's four-valued logic [true, false, indeterminate, meaningless], Korzybski's multi-valued logic [degrees of probability] and also Mahayana Buddhist paradoxical logic [it "is" A; it "is" not A; it "is" both A and not A; it "is" neither A nor not A]. But, as an extraordinarily stupid fellow, I can't use such systems until I reduce them to terms a simple mind like mine can handle, so I just preach that we'd all think and act more sanely if we had to use "maybe" a lot more often. Can you imagine a world with Jerry Falwell hollering "Maybe Jesus 'was' the son of God and maybe he hates Gay people as much as I do" -- or every tower in Islam resounding with "There 'is' no God except maybe Allah and maybe Mohammed is his prophet"?

How does Quantum Psychology offer a counter-viewpoint to that kind of anxious grasping at what you've called "fictional certainties"?

Quantum Psych offers a variety of linguistic reforms that condition the mind against premature closure. Some of these techniques come from General Semantics, some from Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and some from Buddhism. These techniques used consistently over a period of fifty years have made me, I dare say, a lot less stupid and a lot less frightened than my condition in the 1950s. Those not as dumb as me can learn even faster.

What do you think explains the current resurgence of "faith-based" worldviews?

The robber barons imported "cheap labor" from Europe in the late 19th Century. In other words, they flooded us with an ocean of ignorant and superstitious people, who could not understand research-based organizations but formed an ideal market for faith-based con artists.

Do you see any deeper explanation behind it, other than faith-based worldviews being the dominant mode of thinking for those currently in power?

The acceleration factor in information systems [documented by Korzybski and Shannon] means that social changes happen faster and faster every generation. People not trained in Maybe Logic feel more and more confused, which leads to anxiety, which means they'll swallow any line of hogwash if it promises some certitude in a world they can't understand.

How does the Guns and Dope Party fit in to American politics?

Our platform has 3 major planks:

1. Free access to guns for those who want them; no guns forced on those who don't want them [Quakers,Amish, pacifists etc.] 2. Free access to drugs for those who want them; no drugs forced on those who don't want them [Christian Scientists, homeopaths, Natural hygienists etc.] 3. Equal rights for ostriches. For further details see http://www.gunsanddope.com/

Does it seem to you that other countries have more fully embraced ideas present in Quantum Psychology than has America ?

I would not claim that, but the civilized world in general has shown much less hostility to research-based groups and has no Bush-style revival of faith-based groups.

What do you see for the future, in the short term? In the long term?

In the short term, more power by faith-based organizations. In the long term, the eventual triumph of research-based organizations. Inquisitions, whether by popes or presidents, only slow progress in limited areas. They never stop it. Stem-cell research, for instance, still moves along rapidly, overseas in the civilized world.

In Reality is What You Can Get Away With, you wrote, "The right wing will have nightmares in the late '90s that will make the 62 Satanism panics of 1982-1993 seem sedate by comparison." How much of the current political environment would you attribute to the inevitable right-wing response to that nightmare, and how much to "Future Shock" in general?

"Future shock" started with the first stone axe, but due to the acceleration factor, it discombobulates more people every decade. When the civilized world, where research-based organizations will soon start curing everything with stem cells, our faith-based organizations will want the U.S. to declare war on damn near everybody.

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