RAW quote: disobedience was man’s original virtue

“Every fact of science was once damned. Every invention was considered impossible. Every discovery was a nervous shock to some orthodoxy. Every artistic innovation was denounced as fraud and folly. The entire web of culture and ‘progress,’ everything on earth that is man-made and not given to us by nature, is the concrete manifestation of some man’s refusal to bow to Authority. We would own no more, know no more, and be no more than the first apelike hominids if it were not for the rebellious, the recalcitrant, and the intransigent. As Oscar Wilde truly said, ‘Disobedience was man’s Original Virtue.”

― Robert Anton Wilson



    1. Ha ha.  Seriously though, Adam was happy to join Eve, and “man” is also short for “mankind”.  You could also be really technical and say that the pursuit of science and inventions hardy constitutes disobedience.  Heck, God even commands man to master the planet in the first chapter of the whole darn Bible.

      Speaking generally, I’m not sure that Oscar meant for his quote to be waved around with pride either.  Many other great minds have echoed it with a rather… dubious undertone.  One of my favorite examples:

      Calvin: “I read that scientists are trying to make computers that think. Isn’t that weird?? If computers can think, what will people be better at than machines?”
      Hobbes: “Irrational behavior.”
      Calvin: “Maybe they’ll invent a psychotic computer.”

    1. The Illuminatus! trilogy is a real trip. Not for everyone though…try reading the Principia Discordia first (not a RAW book), it’s online somewhere.

      1. I am beginning to see that there is more to RAW than I thought – the first people to recommend him to me were too fucked up with Aleister Crowley and drugs for me to take them too seriously. The Illuminatus Trilogy it will have to be then.

    2. I say just jump right in.  Start with Illuminatus!, his most popular work.  A good introduction to the world of RAW. 

  1. While I’ve enjoyed some of his work, the “Every this” and “Every that” assertions are patently ridiculous, and negate the impact of the piece.

  2. RAW is very interesting.   But you praise him, here, for explaining what Oscar Wilde meant.  RAW has said enough of value and interest that it wouldn’t be hard to praise him for something *he* actually originated.

    1. The first listing on page 1 of his BrainyQuotes page is a keeper: “A monopoly on the means of communication may define a ruling elite more precisely than the celebrated Marxian formula of monopoly in the means of production.”

      I’ve always wondered if it would be a viable legal move to argue that since encryption is considered a munition, that peer to peer citizen communication should be protected under the second amendment.

  3. Yes, however, everything idea that is damned does not prove out to be a fact of science, everything considered impossible is not an actual achievable invention, every “nervous shock to some orthodoxy” isn’t neccesarily a discovery of something real, and not everything denounced as fraud and folly is an artistic innovation – sometimes it’s just good old fraud and folly.

    Question authority, by all means, but question the questioners just as hard.

  4. I’d say the very nature of the universe is disobedience.  For instance, entropy.  For another instance closer to man, take Newton’s physics, supplanted by Einstein’s relativity, supplanted by quantum mechanics, now just about to be supplanted by modern QM.  The process itself is disobedient to the past.  Every atomic particle is disobedient to its immediate prior state.

    1. That doesn’t make any sense. The whole point of physical laws is conformity to the past. The world is understandable *because* it is obedient to prior states. If particles were not, science would be impossible.

      1. Or so you’d think.  But look at the evidence: we keep finding new ways to explain what we think are the same old behaviors.  Which leads me to believe the same old behaviors were never really predictable in the first place. States *seem* to give rise to later states, but are actually unpredictable.

        1. In physics we keep finding that the laws we use to describe the universe have a more limited application than previously thought – Einstein has not replaced Newton simply refined our understanding.

          1. I think the universe is changing itself around our understanding, to subvert us.  Like the magic elves moving the scenery each time we go from room to room.  If you can prove it otherwise, I am fully listening.

          2. @ awjt (not Wrekrob8)

            “If you can prove it otherwise, I am fully listening.” — That’s not how science, or even being rational and coherent, actually works.

        2. “States *seem* to give rise to later states, but are actually unpredictable.”

          No, they really are predictable. IF what you say were true nothing around you would work. Not your PC, not your car, *nothing*.

          You don’t actually know what “scientific explanation” means.

    2. Esoteric philosophies sometimes interpret the Fall as something like the Big Bang, where the perfection of the singularity is ruined in order to create the material universe.

  5. Common sense is the accumulated wisdom of the ages. It is also sometimes wrong, to be sure, but then sometimes today’s scientific consensus is proven wrong by tomorrow’s discovery. Understanding and respecting common sense is just as useful a path to knowledge as understanding and respecting the scientific method. They are not enemies, but complementary like your right hand and your left hand. I quote G.K. Chesterton, often called “the apostle of common sense” who said “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.” Also I point out that Rudyard Kipling had an excellent point when he talked about the triumph of “the gods of the copybook headings.”

    1. Ok, I’m stupid and/or ignorant.  WTF  *are* the gods of the copybook headings?  Is that something that it helps to be British, to understand?

      1. “Copybooks” were notebooks in which students used to practice their penmanship. At the top of each page there’d be printed some maxim (chosen for its presumed effect on the student’s moral development), and the student would have to copy it over and over down the page. 

      1. I think they also mean, “And I think it should be obvious to others on the basis of our common knowledge and shared cultural history.”

        It is an expression of the belief that there is a short inferential distance between what is known in common to all (or commonly believed by all) and some particular conclusion.

        1. Common sense tells me if sense were common there would be no disagreements. In America  republicans and democrats share cultural history but they disagree on nearly everything.  There is disagreement even within each party. There is no common knowledge or shared cultural experience.  We all experience and interpret reality differently and what you call fact and sensible is often fiction and ridiculous to another. Yet if you examine small pockets of culture you will find sense and knowledge that is common within that culture.  Or is it that members within those cultures are simply taught that X is common sense and Y is common knowledge and out of a sense of wanting to belong members of the culture subscribe to what they are taught to believe. If so then yes, perhaps disobedience is man’s first virtue but then why do adults rebuke young people for driving recklessly. Why is that kind of disobedience  not considered a virtue?  Well ask a teenager who wrecks a car why he was driving 100 mph in a 30 mph zone and he/she will often respond that they didn’t know or they didn’t think anything harmful would result.  Adults have witnessed the effects of speeding so to them it’s common sense to obey the speed limit.  Teenagers haven’t witnessed what adults have witnessed so they don’t understand all the reasons why accidents happen. Again, what makes sense depends on one’s personal experience even within a culture.

          1. Just because someone claims a thing is “common sense” does not make them correct. Nor is common sense universal; there is frequently an outgroup to which the sense is not common. This does not undermine the principle; it simply highlights that reasoning depends on observations and premises as well as deductions. That acceleration is the second time derivative of motion is trivially obvious common sense at a physics conference, not so much in a kindergarten classroom, even though in principle the kindergarteners have more than enough data to make the deduction.

            Though we do not all share the same premises, we do all share a great deal of history and observations. We are subject to the same physical and chemical laws. Our minds are constructed in much the same way, so that we nearly always share premises like “care for your relatives” and “enjoy the company of friends” and “fight back against insults and offenses.” We look back on the same world history- Not just Roosevelt and Lincoln but Locke and Confucius and Buddha and Christ and Mohammad and Alexander the Great… we share quite a bit, so much that we don’t even notice it- we tend to focus more on differences.

  6. Both orthodoxy and challenges to orthodoxy are the result of efforts by people just like us. Our greatest truths come from mostly ignorant, often fallible hairless apes… and, personally, I feel fine with that.

  7. “noen
    That doesn’t make any sense. The whole point of physical laws is conformity to the past. The world is understandable *because* it is obedient to prior states. If particles were not, science would be impossible.”

    My limited understanding of Quantum mechanics is that, quite often, the current state of particles is NOT directly related to prior states.  I. E.,  “they” can predict the LIKELIHOOD of future states from current ones.  But, it ain’t a billiard ball universe where, if you know the current state of everything in it, you can predict with certainty any future state.  Remember Einstein, who couldn’t accept that god played dice with the universe.  And,  Bohr told him to stop telling god what to do.

    About that, it seems to mean that there is absolutely no reason at all why an electron will be over here, instead of over there. I have a very hard time letting go of the idea that there’s a reason for everything, so I always amend that, in my mind to, “no known reason”.

    1. I would remind you that this is something physicists still aren’t sure about. It seems to me that many worlds would settle the problem of collapse, decoherence, and measurement quite concisely. The different parts of the wavefunction (the various pure states) move apart in configuration space, reducing the strength with which they interact, such that we end up only observing one part, and this naturally happens faster for large systems than small ones.

    2. On a macro scale it is a billiard ball universe and the fact that you can even use the billiard ball analogy proves it.  An engineer can tell you how much a bridge will expand/contract  for a given temperature change.  Artillery officers can tell you where a projectile will land given the current state (projectile weight, wind speed and direction, muzzle velocity, elevation, etc.) of a cannon.  If he misses a target it’s usually because one of the parameters in the trajectory calculation was incorrect ( too much/too little powder, wind changed, etc.). I know that if I heat a closed, non-expandable container of gas to a certain temperature it’s pressure will rise to a predictable level.  On a micro level, nobody can predict the velocity or kinetic energy of any any given molecule/atom of gas but the average state of all the atoms/molecules *can* be predicted. Predictability in some realms, not so much in others.

  8. That quote is from Wilde’s 1891 essay, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” written after he’d decided to become an anarchist for awhile. “High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.” Radical individualism, the anarchist as aesthete. All very lofty.

  9. Great, yes, fine, but there comes a point when disobedience, or just disagreeing with established orthodoxy, no longer makes sense. For example there are many people who will jump straight to this defense when they present their perpetual motion machine, or reasons why vaccines are poison.

    1. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. – Carl Sagan

      1. They laughed at  Rudolph. All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. Giuliani too.

  10. Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. – Oscar Wilde

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