September 23, 2004

Cosmic Trigger II

I'm digging through the book collection today, trying to tidy up, and I ran across an old favorite in the stacks. Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger II: Down To Earth is a fairly wild ride chronicling human gullibility, crime, mysticism, the doubling of information, and conspiracies. This passage, excerpted from an interview with ROC magazine, seemed relevant. But also, an entertaining break from the non-stop gloom of the news:

ROC: In all your research, have you ever come close to believing in the One Big Conspiracy that controls everything?

WILSON: Never. There are three basic attitudes toward the universe: atheism, polytheism and monotheism. Metaphorically, you can apply these views to history also. Atheist history says it all happened by accident, polytheism says it happened as the clash of rival forces, and monotheism says it happened because of one dominant intelligence. I don't believe everything happens by accident, so atheism is out for me. On the other hand, I agree with H.L. Mencken, who said he wasn't a monotheist because the world looked to him like it was designed by a committee. The world would make some kind of sense if there was one group of "insiders" who really run everything. Since the world oxviously doesn't make any sense, there is no such group. There are just rival coalitions trying tobecome thegroup that runs the world, which is probably just as hopeless as trying to become God and "run" the universe. These Apes of God all get defeated in the end by what I call the Snafu Principle.

ROC: What's that?

WILSON: In the power game, the more successful you become, the more motive people have for lying to you. They lie to flatter you, to avoid contradicting your prejudices, to keep their jobs, to tell you what you want to hear, etc. Have you ever told the truth, the whole truth, to anybody from the government?

It's the same in any authoritarian organization, be it an army, a corporation or a patriarchal family. People say what those in power above them want to hear. In the big power struggles, the most successful conspiracy of the decade becomes the stupidest conspiracy of the next decade, because it never hears what might offend its self-image. Communication is only possible between equals. The power game creates total communication jam and everybody near the top drifts slowly but inexorably into a kind of schizoid fantasy. Then they get replaced by younger, hungrier predators who are not successful enough yet to frighten everybody into lying to them, and hence have at least a partial knowledge of what the hell is really going on.

...But I also write about conpiracies because conspiracies exist. The KGB once set up a bank in San Jose, California, to monitor computer corporations and see who might be in financial hot water and willing to sell U.S. military technology for a suitable bribe. They even had profiles of financial irregularities to identify which executives had expensive mistresses, which had cocaine habits, and so on. That's true, it really happened, but it sounds like one of my plots, doesn't it? And it's typical, rather than unique. Half the citizens of California are conspiring to get enough marijuana for next Saturday's party, and the U.S. government is conspiring to prevent them from doing that. The arts-and-literature world is a constant warfare between rival conspiracies, which call themselves "schools of art" or "schools of literature" or "affinity groups" -- but each "school" or "affinity group" looks like a damned self-serving conspiracy to those outside it. Corporations continually get caught buying Congressentities (I am trying to avoid the human chauvanism of saying "Congresspersons") or fixing prices or lying to the public about safety issues or even paying for CIA covert operations. The Vatican conspires to make the Western world Catholic again, or at least make us obey Catholic laws, and the Freemasons plot to keep us Protestant. The Arabs, whenever they stop conspiring against each other, get together and conspire to take some of the power away from the Western "imperialists." Washington, the lethal crown of world power, is such a hotbed of rival conspiracies that Henry Kissinger once said, "Anybody here who isn't paranoid must be crazy." In a world like this, the liberal dogma that no conspiracies ever effect history is on all fours with the Flat Earth theory or trying to cure cancer with the hair of the seventh son of a seventh son.

ROC: If conspiracy is more than a convenient literary metaphor to you, how many conspiracies do you think really exist?

WILSON: At minimum, two. Whenever any coalition gets enough power to seem to be "in control" of any hunk of land, another gang starts plotting to unseat them. Conspiracy, as Pro. Carl Oglesby once said, is "the normal continuation of normal politics by normal means." The maximum number of conspiracies is something I wouldn't try to guess, but it seems to have been steadily increasing in the last 200 years, just as population and information and technology have increased.

ROC: You seem serious about this, and yet in all of your books, you carry this multiple conpiracy theme to the point where it becomes absurd. Why?

WILSON: In my own way, I am some sort of realist. I only carry this theme, or any theme, to the degree of absurdity that precisely corresponds to the madness of the world that I read about in the newspapers.

ROC: But your are satirizing conspiracy buffs part of the time.

WILSON: I am satirizing everybody part of the time. I am also satirizing myself, and the techniques I use to obliterate the line between "reality" and "fantasy." Every kind of novel is a species of magic trick and a close relative of the con-game. As somebody said, art is lies that look like truth. A so-called "realistic" Leonaldo-style painting, or pre-modernist painting, is two-dimensional object that almost convinces you it's three dimensional. It was only after modern art appeared that we could see how magical and weird that kind of "realism" is. Every affinity group looks like a conspiracy from outside. Every conspiracy thinks of itself as an affinity group, and only becomes a true conspiracy in the legal sense when it creates "lies that look like truth" -- when it becomes magic, or a con-game, or a cognate of the art tricks that look like "realism." Where does fraud leave off and art or entertainment begin?

...If I said "game" instead of "conspiracy" throughout this interview, many sociologists would say I'm just popularizing their analysis of how society works. My novels look like melodramas part of the time and then switch over and look like black comedies, but isn't that true of politics also? If you believe somebody's war propaganda, the world is pure melodrama -- the good guys versus the bad guys. If you start doubting all propaganda, the world becomes black comedy -- "a darkling plain /swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight /where ignorant armies clash by night," i.e., a more violent and ugly version of the Three Stooges. I can't see things from every possible perspective, but I try to see them from enough kinky new angles that my books never degenerate into war propaganda for any of the ignorant armies that go on clashing by night.

This excerpt reproduced solely for educational purposes, and I strongly encourage readers who enjoyed it to purchase Cosmic Trigger II: Down To Earth by Robert Anton Wilson, c. 1991. It's a fun book, full of weird facts, out-there theories, and amusing speculations.

Posted by natasha at September 23, 2004 10:12 PM | Entertainment | Technorati links |

How do you feel about the "Skull and Bones" aspect of the election?

Posted by: mitch p. at September 24, 2004 06:49 PM