"My function is to raise the possibility, 'Hey, you know, some of this stuff might be bullshit.'" -- Robert Anton Wilson
I like to think of myself as a believing skeptic, someone who relishes in the ideas, the imagery, the arguments, the theories, and the literature of the occult and the paranormal, but accepts little of it as valid in a phenomenal sense. I love that small publishers such as Ouroboros Press and Fulgar Limited put out beautiful magical texts and that many current underground and avant garde musicians incorporate occult ideas into their work. But beyond its power as a method for art and imaging, I recognize much of the occult as woo. On the other hand, I accept that the human imagination is something magical, and very powerful and that we know little about human consciousness except how malleable it really is. It's a precarious position, however, and I often need to remind myself of smarter, more articulate thinkers who shared these views.
So it is with great respect and admiration that I celebrate the life of Robert Anton Wilson during this memorial week by remembering that he was the great believing skeptic, someone for whom the collection and curating of all that is weird was his life's work, who reminded us always to question everything, while recognizing that we should never stop exploring. I sure wish RAW was alive today, especially at a time when there is something like a real Occult Revival going on, from the psychedelic explorers who see 2012 as a great trans formative event, to the huge increase in the membership of organization like the O.T.O. and Freemasonry, and by extension a whole load of conspiracy theories. RAW warned against any idea, group, or person that claims knowledge of the "Real" Universe, echoing Umberto Eco who wrote in Foucault's Pendulum we should be mindful of turning metaphysics in mechanics.
In an essay for the Journal of Cognitive Liberties, Wilson explained how it is through self-hypnosis that we create these "Real" universes, and because they are so beautifully and perfectly solipsistically rendered, we are, sadly, often incapable of having any critical, or agnostic relationship to these models. Sometimes, through meditation or the use of certain, *ahem*, psychoactive substances, we can get to what Buddhism describes as an observer state. We can see the "Real" as merely a kind of consciousness that we have deeply inherited. Wilson writes, "In the 'Real' Universe we are re-active mechanists; in the experienced world, we are creators, and The "Real" Universe is just another of our creations -- a dangerous one, with a tendency to hypnotize us."
It's troubling when the counterculture, often the only voices that rise against fundamentalism of all stripes, succumbs to the same kind of mechanistic thinking. The apocalyptic tenor that is part of the psychedelic subculture's obsession with 2012, for example, starts to sound like those evangelical Christians who use a convoluted kind of gematria to come up with specific dates and times for the rapture. Things like 2012 have the potential to function as useful metaphors for describing the need for cultural and economic transformations. When these ideas become "Real" they are incapable of producing any real call to change, or any kind of art or expression that really matters. Wilson writes, "Once again, it appears that the materialist model of mechanical consciousness covers some but not all experience, and it excludes precisely that part of experience which makes us human, esthetic, moral and responsible beings."
Agnosticism, even more than atheism or theism, is, for RAW, the authentic ethical position.