Robert Anton Wilson died yesterday. You might not have ever heard of him and that’s a damn shame. If it wasn’t for Robert, there wouldn’t be an Erotiterrorist much less a Shon Richards. He taught me that skill we don’t like to teach children and that’s the ability to think for yourself. He was a skeptic, a believer and a damn fine man all at the same time.
I was seventeen and being a geek, I spend a lot of my time at my friend Andy’s house playing computer games on his Apple IIe. We played a lot of war games where one player would do his moves, and the other player would have to look away and not see everything the first player was doing. To pass the time, I would read books during Andy’s turn. I’d raid his bookshelf and worm my way through the Dragonlance books or some shit.
One day I noticed a book that looked a bit different from his usual fantasy books. It was book one of the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, ‘The Earth Will Shake’. I picked it up and Andy freaked.
“Don’t read that!” he said.
“Why not?” My porn sense was tingling. A forbidden book?
A wave of emotion came over him. “It’s . . .wrong. I should burn it and then go to the book store and buy every copy and burn it too.”
Holy shit. “Why?”
Andy stuttered. “It’s just wrong. It lies.”
Of course I started reading it. The story was a simple one that blew my mind. Sigismundo Celine is a teenager in the mid 1700’s who has a crisis of faith. He finds out his family are Free Masons, which is punishable by ex-communication and death by the Vatican. He then finds out that they are not quite Free Masons and for that matter, the Catholic Church might not be the holiest of people themselves. Conspiracies unfold and fall on top of one another at a rapid speed until Sigismundo doesn’t know up from down. The Church, his government, and his own family just keep lying to him for their own needs until he finally snaps and runs off.
That seems simple to you but to my teenage mind, it was life altering. Maybe it was because I grew up in a military town surrounded by conservatives and Baptists, but it had never really occurred to me that people in charge could lie to you. I knew people in authority hated porn, but I thought it was pretty cool and I was struggling with my guilt over my sex drive. In the middle of this struggle comes a book that asks one simple question- Can you really trust the people who obsess the most about controlling you?
I read other books by R.A.W. and they didn’t disappoint. The ‘Illuminatus’ trilogy with Robert Shea was one fucking hard series of books to read but I could feel my mind reformatting with each page. The ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’ trilogy was brilliant, Cosmic Trigger was profound and so on and so on. Although the books concern themselves with great reaching secret world conspiracies, they were never intended to be taken as fact. They were written to teach critical skeptical thinking in a very entertaining way. The goal of every book was to break you out of the assumptions of morality and perception and to start fucking paying attention and thinking for yourself. They didn’t preach a way to think as much as they gave you the tools to listen to your own heart.
It’s this ability to question that helped me get over my guilt over enjoying porn. It helped me reject Christianity which always rang false to me and allowed me to explore and find Buddhism. It helped me look at the fiction my parents and family created to justify why they abused me or allowed others to abuse me and recognize it for what it was- miserable excuses created by miserable people. It helped me approach my own interests so I could write and talk about the things that make me happy.
Years later, now that R.A.W. has moved on, I think back on why Andy freaked out so much. A military kid, he married his high school sweetheart and has been working a job he despises for ten years because it’s what was expected of him. He’s in a special Hell that he could have seen coming decades in advance. I think Andy hated that book because it dared him to ask himself if he was going to be happy if he stayed on the track he was on.
Robert, where ever you are now, thank you. I am a better person for having read your work.
5 Responses to “In Memory of Robert Anton Wilson”
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That is an incredibly inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it.
Which of his books would you suggest as a starting point?
Thank you for sharing this. A friend turned me on to RAW and Thornley’s Principia Discordia just as I was leaving high school, and that and the Illuminatus Trilogy got me through the dropout months and my first semester of college.
It’s a shame he’s gone.
I am terribly sorry to hear of his passing, his work also had an impact on me growing up as well. Although not in exactly the same way as you, my critical thinking and life questioning stemmed mostly from Harlan Ellison and many others to numerous to mention. Luckily for us, something did it and snapped us out. And for that we are blessed.
Wordslut- Funny enough, I think the book I started with was the best to start with. It was most like a normal novel in that it had a plot with a easy likable character. Some of the other books work in as many as eight flashbacks at a time.
Sabrina- Ha, I sometimes feel like Illuminatus was my college.
Art- He’s one of the few authors I appreciate more as I get older, kinda odd how that works out.
Yes it is, but I have also found that different things affect me differently in different ages. Some books that I read when I was younger have a completely different meaning to me now. Which is actually very cool, I suppose that is maturity and life experience talking. Hmmm.