Wait a minute: I can't explain that. The half-hour thing, I mean. I'm used to New York being three hours "ahead" of us. Tokyo is something like 16 ahead, so presumably they Know Things that I don't. The inscrutable, Wise East, aye. I'm not really sure how I started off on this time zone crap when the title of this blogspew was supposedly about books and conspiracy "reading and patterns." Sorry.
Anyway, from where I stand/sit, from my relative inertial position and perspective, it's still April 23, or World Book Night, which, if I can trust Wikipedia, started around 1995 in London.
Buncha do-gooders tryna get more folks to read. Okay, I admit I'm a sympathizer...
April 23 - on or about - is also the day the demonic, horrible events in the 805 page tome Illuminatus! Trilogy begin. If you haven't read that book but are thinking about starting it: don't. It screws with your mind. It most definitely wrecked me forever. I'll never be the same. Others have said very similar things. I know it's "only" a novel, but at least half of it refers to actual historical events.
Many have admired the Book for its wry satirization of conspiracy thinking. I have adopted that point of view, if only for my own sanity.
There's been a long strain in academic discourse about books belonging to one long thread of previous books. All books are in some sense a response to previous books. I like this idea a lot, although I'm not totally sold on it being "correct."
There's some interesting fancy computer research being done on "macroanalysis" of texts based on an author's word choice, style, themes, and "overarching subject matter" that suggests some interesting things about relative "originality" and the influence of a previous author, whether a writer knew they were influenced or not. See, for example, HERE.
I've made very many guesses about the influences on Shea and Wilson in the writing of their damned Illuminatus!, but I'd like to see what some future computer algorithms say about Robert Anton Wilson's influences. He's openly stated about 30 or so; what would the computer say?
Anyway, the Illuminatus! cites innumerable books - mostly ones that "actually" exist in my own phenomenological/existential sensory-sensual world in space/time. Possibly yours, too.
And today's "real world" news feels like it's been influenced by the aforementioned book. Just a sampler:
- Tamerlan Tsarnaev was an Alex Jones fan. Maybe? Quite possibly. And let's not even address the insanely delicious irony, but I'm reminded of Shea and Wilson's "Tar Baby Principle" mentioned in Illuminatus!: You will become attached to what you attack. This idea always seemed a cousin to Buddhism's "you become what you behold." But wait a minute...
- Glenn Beck thinks that whatever imbecilic conspiracy theory his own pea-brain imagines, it must be accepted as true unless the government can prove it's wrong. The word "thinks" in the previous sentence should be taken ironically. Of course. This is ethics, law, and logical thinking straight from the Idiot's Fun House. Lemme see if I can get on Beck's wavelength here. <Ahem> Okay: Hey, Glenn Beck? I'm not so sure that the decent real Americans haven't not negated their "misunderestimation" of you. Now: prove me wrong, or you're Evil Incarnate and I'm the True Bestest Murrkin who truly loves his country, mom, the flag, a baby's smiling face, Betty-Sue's halter top, NASCAR, and hard cider on a sweltering Missouri summer night, etcetera! <the OG wept>
- It appears as if the paranoid Elvis impersonator from Mississippi who mailed Ricin to Obama may have been framed. This seems whacked enough to have been in Illuminatus! In case you haven't been following this story (i.e, you "have a life"), the Elvis impersonator who apparently did NOT send Ricin to the POTUS did think he was trying to expose a shadowy world of human organ harvesters. I am not making this jit up.
Professor Jennifer Whitson says, based on her research, that if we feel out of control, we will find patterns and connections and "see" things that aren't there; our brains so need to feel like things "make sense." See reportage on her findings HERE, HERE, and HERE. It's interesting stuff, and those who've read Kahneman will be familiar with this. But I'm not sure if it describes all conspiracy thought. That's far too rationalistic for me. Why? Because, well, Watergate really happened. There are conspiracy laws on the books and people go to prison for it all the time. Watergate really was a conspiracy. "Conspiracy" seems a huge semantic spook that needs some robust and fairly massive and creative intellectual work in order for us to be able to think more clearly about the concept. The idea that aliens from another planet or dimension have been controlling us for our entire history as a species ought not, it seems to me, be on an equal epistemic footing with the idea that the Neo-Cons lied Unistat into the Iraq War.
But hey, I'm biased. (And so are you.)
Does Whitson's work account for all "ritual" and "superstition" and "religion"? Maybe a lot of it, is my guess as of this date.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Society, everywhere, is in conspiracy against the manhood of each of its members." Let's be charitable and update his 19th century assumptions to include the fairer sex. What does Emerson mean here?
In Castaways of the Image Planet, Geoffrey O'Brien writes about Fritz Lang's Spies and the 20th century mindset and logic of paranoia and conspiracies: film, the bureaucratic state, the collage-like logic of images. Those who are fans of Lang's (like me!) know he saw Osama bin Laden and Goebbels figures long before those guys were doing their schtuff. (See his Dr. Mabuse films!) Is all the "news" about secret underground terror networks and the Deep State - secret networks that operate within and outside government agencies who cooperate (at times) in order to maintain the status quo - is all this really "new"?
Would it help to stop calling some ideas "conspiracies" and start thinking of them as "normal primate-mammalian politics"?
Or, yet another of many paths to take: conceptual blending? (More serious writers on conspiracy need to become thoroughly acquainted with this idea!)
So far, the best and most underrated book by academics that takes conspiracy theories seriously as a philosophical problem - a problem of epistemology - is Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate, ed. by David Coady. (Get it via your library: that's an insane price.) Robert Anton Wilson is mentioned in there. Such problems of demarcation lines vis a vis Karl Popper! And what about the pragmatic approach?
"Any epistemological elite, religious or secular, must develop a system of cognitive defenses to defend its claims against the outside criticisms, but also, very importantly, to assuage the doubts harbored by insiders..." - Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist, by Peter Berger, pp.36-37
An academic writer with a law degree, Mark Fenster, had a hit with Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power In American Culture. So much so that he's updated it for the post 9/11 era. He's the only academic I've read that seems to understand the philosophical aspects of deep play - the ludic aspects - in Wilson's work. When citizens feel like voting isn't enough to satisfy their need to participate in the power process, they resort to conspiracy narratives as a way to participate. And largely, they draw upon popular culture's narratives, and creatively tweak and combine. Some of it should give us much cause for alarm. With further and further connections and deeper, hidden orders uncovered, there's a quite-human neurobiological buzz of adrenaline...and "wonder and awe." And let's face it: delight. Conspiracies are exciting.
"Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with contempt from the follies of our predecessors...He is but a superficial thinker who would despise and refuse to hear of them merely because they are absurd." - Charles MacKay's 1852 ed. of Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
Professor Timothy Melley's Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America reminds us of Jennifer Whitson's thesis, but combines the multifarious ideas about mind control and surveillance and other aspects of "control" a citizen may feel is in the hands of Others. Melley's key term is "agency panic" and I think he was not drilling in a dry hole in that book.
"Or maybe it's the repetition. Maybe you've been looking at this stuff for so long that you've read all this into it. And talking with other people who've done the same thing." - Pattern Recognition, William Gibson, p.109
There are many other above-average, well-researched books on conspiracy thinking and paranoia. But I still see Robert Anton Wilson's oeuvre as an ideal Ground Zero for all that. Or rather: a Staging Area.
Yes, yes, yes! These books refer to other books, which refer to others ad inifinitum. Nice bibliographies. Reading about reading and interpretations about interpretations. Does something seem...missing there? Maybe?
Fiction about truth can be stranger than whatever "reality" seems. And the word is not the thing; the map is not the territory. The menu is not the meal.
Happy reading! (But you've been warned about the Illuminatus! Trilogy)
The opening 2 minutes and 17 seconds from Fritz Lang's 1928 film Spies: