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Robert Anton Wilson RIP 1932-2007

Robert Anton Wilson, January 18, 1932 - January 11, 2007

Al Barger

Robert Anton Wilson, "Occupation: Mind Fucker" - The great and legendary novelist and philosopher Robert Anton Wilson has finally slipped this mortal coil, as was announced on his official and new blogger site. Pretty much his last official professional act was to start a blog from his deathbed in December 2006. A survivor of childhood polio, he passed after a long illness on Thursday, January 11, 2007 - a week short of a 75th birthday.

His best-known work was the Illuminatus! trilogy from the 1970s, a perhaps only partly fictionalized synthesis of every kind of conspiracy theory Wilson and co-author Sheas could mash together. Some of it seemed clearly ridiculous and impossible, some of it probably true. It was high comedy and a grand apocryphal history.My favorite books of Wilson's though were the historical Illuminatus novels he wrote later, prequels telling the stories of the ancestors of the modern Illuminati characters during the time of the French and American revolutions. Sigismundo Celine, the star child, had all kinds of lovely adventures with Freemasons, magicians, the Marquis de Sade, priests and dungeons and what not.

He managed to turn all kinds of paranoia and conspiracy theories into great fun, kind of a Dr. Strangelove strategy of transubstantiating darkness into light. He was very conscious of wanting to carefully put the most optimistic interpretation of events that he could reasonably justify. You'd likely come away from a RAW book suspecting that there really is significant truth to a lot of even the cheesier conspiracy theories.

But Wilson was especially important as a "guerilla ontologist," as he sometimes described himself, or as he listed himself last month in his official Blogger profile, "Occupation: Mind Fucker." He was really good at illuminating the ways in which our primitive mammalian biology tends to limit and actively subvert our best higher, more rational intentions. Thus, he's been very useful to me in sorting the wheat from the chaff in the pronouncements of alpha males both physical and spiritual - politicians and priests alike. His guerilla ontology of being baroquely skeptical of even - especially - his own epistemological ability is for one thing the most precise counterargument to the surety of Ayn Rand's "objectivism." It's also a pretty sure prescription for basic humility.

Naturally, Wilson was best pals with his colleague Timothy Leary. In fact, the best introduction to Robert Anton Wilson for new readers would probably be Prometheus Rising, a non-fiction examination of human developmental psychology based on Tim Leary's 8-Circuit model of human consciousness. Wilson uses that as a framework for creatively synthesizing such psychological ideas as Maslow's hierarchy and the Milgram experiments with classic religious beliefs and practices, Patty Hearst, UFOs, the Miracle of Fatima and all kinds of groovy stuff. You could consider this particular book maybe the best, most nearly straightforward codification of the intellectual framework upon which his fictional works are strung.

I had the pleasure of visiting and drinking with Mr. Wilson casually for a couple hours over a couple of days at a conference in New York City 10 years ago. As a connoisseur of fine conspiracies, I was pleased to give him a Kentucky moonshiner variant on some of this. That is, I got to detail some of the finer points of my late grandfather's riffs on the close ties between the Democratic Party in America with the communists and the Catholic Church, whom Brown Barger strongly suspected were in cahoots. Good times there, laughing at the silly hillbilly conspiracy theory. Of course, just last week the Pope had to cut loose a high priest in their Polish organization after it came out he was in cahoots with the communist government during the Cold War. Wheels within wheels.

Anyhow, Brother Bob has slipped this mortal coil. One might guess that Tim Leary greeted him with a dose, and they're trippin' like fat rats and bouncing off the stars.

His personal consciousness might not be here to continue enjoying it, but in his mortal time Robert Anton Wilson put his own distinct twist into the DNA of our collective intellect that will far outlive his weak fleshly body. He may be dead and gone, but he'll probably always be one of the top voices I hear in my head.