‘He was madcap, but never told a frivolous untruth; he was a kind of benign Loki figure for thousands of readers’ – John Clute on RAW
Friday 23rd July 2021 was, for me (and many others), a big celebration of Robert Anton Wilson’s life and works, thanks to Bobby Campbell’s inspired Maybe Day project and the diversely talented people who contributed to it. If you haven’t already perused the wealth of Maybe Day material – writing, art, video, etc – I urge you to do so (you can navigate it here).
My own modest contribution – a piece titled ‘RAW provocations’ – can be found in New Trajectories #2 – the 119-page zine which functions as the impressive centrepiece for Maybe Day. The full PDF file (approx 132 megabytes!) of New Trajectories is here.
RAW relevance – a few notes
The main issue for me remains: RAW’s relevance and importance for these (and likely near futures’) agitated times. That might seem more obvious with some aspects of his ‘oeuvre’ than others. I’m interested in looking at those areas where it seems – at first – less obvious (or even “out of step”).
Bob W. once commented about political correctness, and how he was “for” it, in its basic undogmatic form. That quote stuck in my mind, and I searched everywhere, but, alas, couldn’t find it. I did find an alternative quote (from Cosmic Trigger III) that says something similar – and that’s what I included in my New Trajectories essay.
If you’ve read my piece and you’re wondering how I link “political correctness” (in its “positive” sense, a la RAW’s lost quote) with the Whorf-Korzybski hypothesis, then I’d direct you to Encyclopædia Britannica’s useful entry on “PC”. Here are a few lines from it:
‘Linguistically, the practice of what is called “political correctness” seems to be rooted in a desire to eliminate exclusion of various identity groups based on language usage. According to the Sapir-Whorf, or Whorfian, hypothesis, our perception of reality is determined by our thought processes, which are influenced by the language we use. In this way language shapes our reality…’Encyclopædia Britannica, ‘Political correctness’ entry
The entry notes that the PC concept “has been discussed, disputed, criticized, and satirized by commentators from across the political spectrum”, and identifies three very different critiques of political correctness. Firstly, the derisive use of the term “PC” to ridicule the very notion that altering language usage can change public perceptions. Secondly, the view that PC represents a “curtailment of freedom of speech”. And, thirdly, that it creates a perception of offensive language where none exists (ie hypersensitivity – the “snowflake” insult).
RAW’s critique of “the P.C. cult” seems slightly different. He appears more concerned that dogmatic forms of PC generate their own group hatreds – as in Nietzsche’s “Those who do battle with monsters must take care that they do not thereby become a monster”. His “logic/semantics of groups” argument shows us – via Whorf and Korzybski – how this happens, and why we might not see it happening (see my New Trajectories article for more details).
‘The Weathermen went on chanting, and I realized, in a shock like a Joycean epiphany, that when opposition to violence becomes hatred of violence it immediately gestates its own violence.’RAW, The Sixties: a flashback, Magical Blend, #32, Oct. 1991
The virtue of all, not just of the “obedient”
As you’ve probably seen, a quote attributed to Robert Anton Wilson (“The obedient always think of themselves as virtuous, rather than cowardly”) has been used as a meme to ridicule people who follow science-based Covid advice.
Of course, that has little to do with RAW. You might just as well characterise the meme-posting itself as obedience. Or the following of any advice, no matter how sound.
A more interesting quote, to me – and one worth pondering often – is RAW’s remark(s) about how we each tend to see ourselves as virtuous, but then forget to allow for this almost universal psychological tendency when we think about “the other side”. After all, we’re a benevolent affinity group, but they’re a nefarious bloody conspiracy!
I think it can help to recall this perspective when certain people or issues seem “radioactive” to us. An extension of this appears in RAW’s recommendation to read the literature of the “other side” – to try to get into the head-space of, say, a Conservative publication for a few hours (if you lean towards left/liberal politics), or vice versa. Don’t worry, you’re not likely to turn into a “Centrist” or become otherwise corrupted. (See the ‘Exercizes’ section of chapter six in Prometheus Rising, for example).
(This issue became more lucid for me when I wrote about political and media framing from a cognitive linguistics POV – following the work of Lakoff et al. Political “sides”, in that thesis, arise from our identifying with completely different moral hierarchies. But each side tends to see the other as simply “immoral”, not allowing for the fact that the other sees themselves as uniquely virtuous. Virtue just gets modelled/framed differently – and usually “unconsciously”.)
‘The attempt to remove moral choice from the realm of humanity and place it in a “spooky” or Platonic superhuman realm, thus, has historically usually been allied with political conservatism and reaction.’RAW, Natural Law