If you can read this you are now a pope
January 11, 2012 12:16 PM   Subscribe

"You should view the world as a conspiracy run by a very closely-knit group of nearly omnipotent people, and you should think of those people as yourself and your friends." On this day 5 years ago Robert Anton Wilson died. Maybe.

Robert Anton Wilson was born in Brooklyn on January 18, 1932 (One week from today will mark the 80th anniversary of his birth). Known as Bob to friends and family, Pope Bob to fellow Discordians and members of the Church of the Sub Genius, and RAW to his fans, Wilson wrote more than 30 books and hundreds of published articles.

As a young boy Wilson contracted polio and was treated with the controversial "Sister Kenny" method. Wilson attributed the curing of his polio to the Kenny method physical therapy, which the medical establishment at the time considered ineffective and fraudulent. This early experience with alternative, non-government-sanctioned approaches would have a profound effect on Bob's life trajectory.

As a young man Wilson read Alfred Korzybski's Science and Sanity. Korzybski's critique of language caught on with Wilson and he extolled the virtues of E-prime in particular and General Semantics in general throughout his life (his book Quantum Psychology is largely an experiment in writing in E-prime).

Wilson described his six years as an associate editor at Playboy magazine as the happiest years of his corporate existence: "The only reason I quit was that I was approaching 40 and suddenly realized I didn't want to die as an editor. I wanted to be a full-time writer no matter what the risks involved."

RAW's best-known work may be the Illuminatus! Trilogy that he co-authored with Playboy colleague Robert Shea. First published in 1975 and now considered an underground classic of science-fiction and a countercultural hallmark, the fnord trilogy is a hallucinatory odyssey and satirical send-up of conspiracy theories and the flower power movement of the late 1960s, among many other things. Selections from the audiobook version: Introduction; JFK assassination.

On July 23 1973 Wilson had an experience that left him with "the impression that I was being contacted by some sort of advanced intellect from the system of the double star Sirius." Wilson writes about this experience in detail in Cosmic Trigger. RAW's description of the incident and its effects has similarities with Phillip K. Dick's experience that he sought to understand in his Exegesis. PKD referred to the experience as 2-3-74, the date it began. Anyone oblivious to the synchronicity should reacquaint themselves with the 23 enigma and RAW's connection to it. There is a reference to RAW in Dick's novel VALIS. RAW appears in the documentary The Gospel According to Phillip K. Dick.

From Cosmic Trigger: "VALIS is a novel which broadly hints that it is more than a novel -- that it is an actual account of Phil Dick's own experience with some form of "Higher Intelligence." In fact, VALIS is only slightly fictionalized; the actual events on which it is based are recounted in a long interview Phil gave shortly before his death (see Philip K. Dick: The Last Testament, by Gregg Rickman.) The parallels with my own experience are numerous -- but so are the differences. If the same source was beaming ideas to both Phil and me, the messages got our individual flavors mixed into them as we decoded the signals.

I met Phil Dick on two or three occasions and corresponded with him a bit. My impression was that he was worried that his experience was a temporary insanity and was trying to figure out if I was nutty, too. I'm not sure if he ever decided."

In 2003 the mayor of Santa Cruz, CA proclaimed July 23 to be Robert Anton Wilson Day. In 2005 alt-weekly Metro Santa Cruz published an excellent feature article on Bob's life and work.

When asked about his political views Wilson described himself as a Libertarian, "but that's only because most people don't know what anarchist means." In 2006 Bob ran for the governorship of California as a member of his own political party, the Guns and Dope Party. (YT about the party) Also in 2006 a feature length documentary about RAW entitled Maybe Logic was released (doc on youtube) (for purchase) (transcript).

More than sixty years after Bob's polio was cured by the Sister Kenny method he began exhibiting symptoms of post-polio syndrome. Paul Krassner, Wilson's friend and publisher of Realist magazine (that RAW contributed to had a regular column called "negative thinking"), posted on HuffPo that RAW was on his death bed. Douglas Rushkoff later reported on his blog that RAW was in dire financial straits and unable to pay his rent. Users on Slashdot, BoingBoing and elsewhere responded. The resulting show of support exceeded all expectations and moved Wilson to write, "You have all reminded me that despite George W. Bush and all his cohorts, there is still a lot of beautiful kindness in the world." RAW's final blog entry ended by saying: "Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd." RAW died at home in Capitola, CA on 01/11/2007.

Bob's passing was marked by obituaries in the New York Times, the Fortean Times, the Guardian, and Metafilter, among others.

To mark the fifth anniversary of Bob's passing BoingBoing is currently observing RAW week.

The official RAW site has a comprehensive links page. Deoxy.org has a page dedicated to RAW with links to many interviews with Wilson and other resources.

RAW on youtube:

On Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher to discuss LSD and his friend Tim Leary.

The Eye in the Triangle: A two hour talk held at a Santa Cruz bookstore.

Clips from DisInfoCon (DVD): On the Federal reserve, on belief systems (BS).

The Universe Contains a Maybe: Hour-long talk from Bob's later years.

The Secrets of Power: RAW's stand-up comedy performance (Pts. 2, 3, 4)

"Unearthed" interview with Tom Ross from 1991 (Pt. 1 of 3).

Everything is Under Control: Interview with Scott Appel from May 1998. (Pt. 2) (Years earlier Appel and RAW regularly appeared together on Santa Cruz public access TV to discuss and decipher The Prisoner, but all recordings of those sessions appear to have been removed from the web)

RAW and Timothy Leary at the 1991 Bridge Psychedelic Conference.

Radio interview about his book The New Inquisition.

Interview on KBHK San Francisco

Clip from "Hour of Slack" with Ivan Stang (mp3 of full interview)

Bob on the blue previously:

The last days of Robert Anton Wilson

Alan Moore pays tribute to RAW

Illuminatus! Trilogy

Maybe Logic Academy

The Science of Godmanship

Reasonable thoughts on Operation Iraqi Freedom

Thoughts on the War on Terror from 2001

I dreamed I called D.A.F. de Sade on the phone and asked him, "Jesus told me that he and you agree on at least one thing and it explains freedom. What is that one thing?"

"Quite simple," he replied, "don't be afraid of the Cross. The fear of death is the beginning of slavery."
posted by mediated self (27 comments total) 118 users marked this as a favorite
Is this post really necessary?

I mean, is the five-year anniversary of a cult writer's death really a reason for an FPP?

Tongue firmly planted in cheek here -- this is a fantastic post that you clearly put a lot of work into. I know what I'm doing when I get home.
posted by gauche at 12:19 PM on January 11, 2012

This is absolutely fantastic fnord and I can't wait to dig in when I get home from work.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:22 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:23 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hail Eris!
posted by Mister_A at 12:27 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Increasingly obscure references to in-jokes from his books!
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:38 PM on January 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

I grew up Evangelical Christian. Around when I was eight years old, my parents decided to "explain sex" to me by giving me a James Dobson book. At about the same time I had to do a book report for my third grade class, and, after some browsing through the local library picked Wilson's Shroedinger's Cat Trilogy (the original unedited one), on the basis that I liked both Sci-Fi and Satire.

Learning about sex from James Dobson and Robert Anton Wilson makes for a very confusing childhood.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 12:44 PM on January 11, 2012 [15 favorites]

Hail Eris, Full of Grace
Holy Queen of Outer Space

Thanks, this is a great post.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:48 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I never looked at my Teddy Ruxbin doll the same way.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 12:54 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your time-travel algorithm messed up, "Best Post Month" was last month. You'll just have to immanentize your iPad psychokinetically like the rest of us.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:58 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Or tap on a piece of orange lucite and pretend like Captain Piccard.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:59 PM on January 11, 2012

posted by Splunge at 1:02 PM on January 11, 2012

I can't tell you how psyched I was when I learned that I went to the same high school (Brooklyn Tech) and college (Brooklyn Polytech, not NYU) as RAW.

Fantastic post. We miss you, guy.
posted by griphus at 1:18 PM on January 11, 2012

I loved the Hour of Slack on WREK, but ultimately preferred Discordianism to the Church of the Subgenius.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:28 PM on January 11, 2012

In 2003 the mayor of Santa Cruz, CA proclaimed July 23 to be Robert Anton Wilson Day.

That day was the premiere of Maybe Logic at the Rio in Santa Cruz. RAW was there, and the proclamation was read, and we gave him a standing ovation.

RAW's work remains an important part of my mental landscape.

Thanks, mediated self.
posted by Zed at 1:40 PM on January 11, 2012

I went to his memorial in Santa Cruz (some friends in the Bay Area invited me and, having read his books and been involved in the Discordian community on Usenet, I decided to fly over and go). The theme was an interesting mixture of mid-to-late-20th-century psychedelic techno-utopianism and folksy Irishness.

As for RAW being dead, I can vouch for there having been a wooden box there said to contain his ashes. Whether it actually did is fnord a subject for conspiratological speculation.
posted by acb at 3:13 PM on January 11, 2012

I remember being given a printout of the Principia Discordia at nerd camp. I stayed up till 3am reading it and understood it perfectly. I then went to sleep.

I woke up the next day having lost that enlightenment.

I adored the Illuminatus! Triology. The book was screwy, I didn't know what Ulysses was when I read it and I know I missed a great fnord number of references. But the ideas went through. Operation Mindfuck, A.A., Greyface as the Dealy Llama, etc.

Weirdly enough, the Principia and Illuminatus! were some of the things that lead my wandering high school mind to accept a truly objective reality, simply with filters on it for our perceptions. After all, if a woman can be three people and a goddess, well, that's just how we see her.

I tried reading some of his non-fiction, but could never get into it. I loved the absurdity, the philosophy, the utopianism, but always got waylaid by the magic.

And remember, if you can't see the fnord, it can't eat you.
posted by Hactar at 3:17 PM on January 11, 2012

Zed, I was there too, and shook his hand. He beamed at me as I said thank you. It feels like part of another lifetime now. But while I can't jive with all the a-causal stuff anymore, I like to think that his exuberant skepticism had a salubrious effect on my intellectual growth.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:42 PM on January 11, 2012

Learning about sex from James Dobson and Robert Anton Wilson makes for a very confusing childhood.

I'm glad it's not just me! I got into Schroedinger's cat when I was maybe ten or eleven, and man did it make things weird for a while. I got some proper sex ed eventually, but I think there was some residual linguistic damage, because was still just learning how to swear at the time and to this day I haven't ever really quite convinced myself that "Rhenquist" isn't a dirty word.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:47 PM on January 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Everyone should read at least the Illuminatus trilogy, simply because it will immunize you against a lot of bad craziness.
posted by fleetmouse at 4:05 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Excellent post!

When in college I read The Cosmic Trigger: Vol 1 and it truly changed the way I looked at the world, and changed how I think. It was really that profound. I skimmed through it a year or so ago and it wasn't the same, but that's probably because I've absorbed and learned those concepts from other sources in the meantime. But Cosmic Trigger was a real turning point in my thinking, and I bugged everyone I knew to READ THIS! I only wish I had read it earlier in high school.
posted by zardoz at 4:49 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I interviewed RAW for Deadline magazine back in 1991, and EST published an edited, cleaned-up transcript of the tape. It was far from the best interview I've ever done but RAW was charming, delightful, funny and full of unique insight. I wish I'd done him greater justice.
posted by Hogshead at 5:05 PM on January 11, 2012

I have to echo the sentiments of others here. Discovering RAW & Discordianism at 15 was like a light being turned on. I was obsessed for a while, & am still in debt to the man for all the writers & ideas he turned me on to.
posted by broken wheelchair at 5:08 PM on January 11, 2012

Metafilter: the messages got our individual flavors mixed into them as we decoded the signals.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:08 PM on January 11, 2012

posted by schyler523 at 6:16 PM on January 11, 2012

posted by swift at 6:46 AM on January 12, 2012

posted by Tom-B at 12:24 PM on January 14, 2012

Great post mediated self!

Link to wittgenstein's RAW askmefi
posted by bukvich at 10:53 AM on January 21, 2012

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