The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, January 19, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson, 1932 - 2007

When I read (via) that Robert Anton Wilson had died, I wasn't quite sure whether to believe it - which seems appropriate. It took the Clute obit to put it beyond doubt.

Recently I picked up the Illuminatus! trilogy again and was perplexed to find that I couldn't get into it. When I first read it, about thirty years ago, I couldn't put it down. I missed most of the jokes but I got the point. I closed the book half persuaded that the world was the occult battleground of vast, ancient conflicts between conspiracy theorists. Since then I've read bits and pieces of RAW's non-fiction, mainly the pamphlet Natural Law and the book Prometheus Rising. What stuck in my memory were two concepts: the reality tunnel, and the SNAFU principle. The 'reality tunnel' refers to the tendency to notice only what confirms our beliefs. The SNAFU principle points out that in a hierarchy, each person tends to tell their superior what the superior wants to hear, i.e. what confirms their beliefs. By the time information reaches the top of a hierarchy it may be degraded beyond recognition. These two ideas explain much that is otherwise incomprehensible. We tend to assume that, whatever else may be said about them, our leaders are better informed than we are. If RAW's insight is correct, they are likely to be far worse informed than the average citizen. (See? Suddenly, it all makes sense!)

RAW first learned his individualist anarchism from Laurence Labadie, son of Joseph Labadie, who worked with Benjamin Tucker, who in turn was inspired by Josiah Warren, who invented individualist anarchism after the collapse of a utopian community founded with the support of Robert Owen. I sometimes had an idle thought that if RAW had visited New Lanark he would have closed some cryptic circuit and immanentized the eschaton. We'll never know. He's gone, but his thought remains, the grin on Schrödinger's Cat.


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