Saturday, May 9, 2020

New: Panel Discussion/Debate - Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Sheaffer, and Ivan Stang (1991).

I have recently posted to YouTube a panel discussion/debate I did with the late Robert Anton Wilson, well-known science fiction author and longtime gadfly to the skeptics; and Ivan Stang, founder of the satiric religion, the Church of the Subgenius, whose deity Bob promises to give you "slack." (Wilson was fondly known as "Pope Bob" in that Church.)  This panel took place at Phenomicon, Atlanta, Georgia, in November, 1991. 

Stang, Wilson, Sheaffer

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007) was the author of many popular books, including The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Schr├Âdinger's Cat Trilogy, and Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. He also wrote plays: Wilhelm Reich in Hell (Wilson believed Reich to be a victim of Inquisitorial zeal by the Establishment), and his plays Cosmic Trigger and Illuminatus were adapted from his books. Wilson served as an associate editor of Playboy Magazine from 1965 to 1971, where he edited the Playboy Forum letters section. He was friends with Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Alan Watts, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.

While Wilson often wrote about conspiracies and conspiracy theories, he was not exactly a believer in them. He used them as examples of different ways of thinking, different "reality tunnels," and he obviously appreciated them for their humorous angles. But neither was he a complete disbeliever in such conspiracies, either. He claimed to be a "skeptic," but for him this meant being as skeptical of science as of pseudoscience. A believer in many far-out things, he wrote a book proclaiming the skeptics' group CSICOP to be a "New Inquisition" (which I reviewed in the Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1989). He referred to skepticism as "Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science."  Wilson's hatred of James "The Amazing" Randi ran deep and profound, even though I'm pretty sure they never met.

I had been pretty much the only skeptic to engage Wilson and his rather absurd criticisms, which were nonetheless widely read and cited by his supporters. My review of Wilson's attack on CSICOP, The New Inquisition, will provide some background on our disputes. Wilson proclaims himself to be a "guerrila ontologist," and on the panel we discuss what that means, and whether or not that makes him a "terrorist"? ­čśĆ  From my review:
Should you catch Wilson in an embarrassing howler, he just laughs at you, hinting that the part you object to was not supposed to be taken seriously. Apparently Wilson operates on the principle that all claims should be treated as equals, whether prosaic or bizarre, and that only the dogmatic discriminate against something merely because it makes no sense. If you doubt literal rains of frogs, or sightings of a centaur, it is only because you are blinded by the conventions of your "reality tunnel." Tune in, turn on, and believe all manner of things; you might even see a "man with warty green skin and pointy ears, dancing," as Wilson did on the day following one of his "trips" on peyote.

Wilson had something of a rockstar quality to his followers. Stang has posted a related video of Wilson preaching about "Bob" at this same conference, which shows the atmosphere, and the adulation Willson inspired in certain cirtcles. Search YouTube, and you will find a great deal of Robert Anton Wilson there.

Since none of the other skeptics bothered to engage Wilson or his criticisms, I naturally became the target of his accusations of closed-mindedness. In Cosmic Trigger II (1991), Wilson wrote,
A man from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal [meaning me] recently complained that when he tells people some things in my book are batshit crazy, they tell him he lacks a sense of humor. I fear somebody in the CIA is also going to have that problem, because the CIA reality-tunnel is as rigid and paranoid as that of CSICOP (p. 234).
Wilson often used the example of the CIA as the pinnacle of establishment closed-mindedness. But the irony here is, we now know that the CIA, and other Defense Department agencies, secretly experimented with ESP and Remote Viewing in a big way. The CIA funded the testing of Uri Geller at SRI, with Kit Green, now prominent in UFOlogy because of his involvement with Bigelow, AATIP, and the Skinwalker Ranch, as the CIA's "handler" for the Geller contract (see Phenomena by Annie Jacobsen for an in-depth account from now-declassified documents of how the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSA dived into such woo).

And this one, too. I think he wanted me
to denounce it!

Wilson sent me his latest book, in 1990.

Remember this nonsense? Ivan Stang invented it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep your comments relevant, and keep them civil! That means no personal attacks will be allowed, by anyone, on anyone. Commenters are welcome to disagree with me, or with other comments, but state your arguments using logic, and with a civil tone. Comments in violation of these rules will be deleted, and offenders banned.

Comments should be in English, although quotes from foreign-language sources are fine as long as they're relevant, and you explain them. Anonymous postings are not permitted. If you don't want to use your real name, then make up a name for yourself, and use it consistently.