Wilson began his career as an editor at "Playboy," and is credited with helping to steer their anti-censorship editorial attitude. He has since worked as a futurist, novelist, playwright, poet, lecturer and stand-up comic. Among his more than 30 books, perhaps the best known is "The Illuminatus! Trilogy" (which he co-authored with Robert Shea). Wilson also has an award winning website at: http://www.rawilson.com/
We spoke to Wilson by phone in order to get his expert views for this special issue on the nature of conspiracies and the way they work in the real world. While he quite prudently tells us that much of what is called conspiracy is often simple nuttiness, Wilson also strikes a few chords of sinister realism that give insight into why the American public is often so certain that someone somewhere really is conspiring against them.
Q. I did want to tell you I enjoyed the book very much.
Wilson: Thank you.
Q. You have an excellent sense of humor that keeps a person engaged and so forth.
Wilson: Without a sense of humor, life is utterly unbearable on this barbaric planet.
Q. Yeah, I know what you're saying. In your introduction, you quote a poll that says three out of four people believe the government is engaged in at least some kinds of conspiracies. Then you go on to say the government also mistrusts the people it governs. So would you expound on that vicious circle here?
Wilson: Yes. The people mistrust the government for a variety of reasons: some of them psychological, some of them sociological. We'll come to that later. For the present, we'll just say that one of the reasons is that the government has been caught repeatedly telling outrageous lies, under both Republican and Democratic administrations going back to the 1950s. And as a matter of fact you can find some pretty outrageous lies even earlier than that. Eventually, recognition of this does dawn on a large percentage of the population.
Q. Then you went on to say that the government also mistrusts us.
Wilson: The government has no idea who we are. This is what I call the burden of omniscience. The government is supposed to know everything, but the power they have guarantees that they generally know nothing. They never hear anything that doesn't suit their prejudices because nobody dares to tell them. The top echelon of the government has so much incredible power that everybody is terrified of it. So nobody ever tells it the truth. They tell whatever they think will keep them from getting mad at them. So the people at the very top are told flattering lies filtered through several layers of flattering liars who've been lied to by those below them. The opinions of the citizens never get through at all.
I have been conducting workshops on neuro-linguistics and general semantics for a long time, decades. And I frequently ask audiences, has anybody ever told the complete and utter truth without reservations to anybody from the government? Nobody ever puts up their hand. Nobody claims to be that trusting and docile and submissive. Everybody lies a little or hides a little when dealing with the government. People lie as much as they think is necessary to survive, to go on living without getting this beast on top of them. The government is armed and dangerous.
And so the government has no idea who we are or what we want. So they distrust us profoundly, because every time they write laws they think we're going to like, we don't like them. And so they're continually running into opposition from us. And they don't think we have any right to meddle in our own affairs anyway, to begin with, because they're supposed to be the governors. We're only supposed to be the subjects or the serfs. The Constitution says they're our servants, but none of them believe it. They think they're our Masters, and they act that way.
Q. You also talk about the government's response to its own inability to trust us is to create further oppressions which then amplifies the mistrust of the people, and it becomes like a vicious circle.
Wilson: The more they spy on us, the more paranoid more people become about them. When they spy on our very innards, our bladder and urine, we're beyond the stage of the Gestapo or KGB; we're in the realm of Kafka. And the more paranoid people become, the more they're likely to resort to hostile gestures like the Oklahoma City bombing, for instance. And something even worse than that may be coming down the pike. Most people in this country don't trust the government, are terrified of it and kind of wish it would go away. And the government, accordingly, doesn't trust us. As Bertold Brecht once said, "Why don't they find another people and go govern them?"
But they can't find another people to go govern. They insist on trying to govern us even while they don't trust us. So they're spying on us more and more to see if we're plotting to get rid of them. I think most of us would like to get rid of them, but only a few nuts think it's possible or can be achieved by dynamite, but the government thinks we're all potential bombers. They know we hate them. They know most of us don't even bother voting, for instance. They just don't know when our passive disgust might turn into violent revolution. That's not totally irrational; we don't know how many Timothy McVeighs there are among us.
Q. What about the idea of people needing some kind of conspiracy to justify their day-to-day misery? That something is lurking out there that's responsible for all their personal pain?
Wilson: That's what I call the "blame game." When you have problems, there are two approaches. One is to try to solve the problem. The other is to find somebody to blame for it so you don't have to go to all the trouble of solving the problem. And with humans being largely a bunch of lazy bums, the second solution is much more popular. Don't try to fix the problem, find somebody to blame for it. That is why there are so many totally nutty conspiracy theories floating around.
Q. How much credence do you lend to the idea that genuine aliens could be involved in some of these conspiracies in real-world-terms? Do aliens exist for you, and do you think they conspire with the government?
Wilson: I think the literal form of that model, brought forth by Bill Cooper and William Moore and others of that persuasion, is a wonderful metaphor, a great plot for a science-fiction story. But I can't take it literally. I just can't believe in it. The aliens in these scenarios come right out of bad 1950s science-fiction B-movies. I'd find it easier to believe in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the Easter Bunny.
On the other hand, the idea that there are forces we don't understand involved in some of the shenanigans on this planet does have a certain plausibility to it. The more you look into these things, the more you feel that there is a player on the other side. To quote Thomas Henry Huxley, the great agnostic—a guy who was an enemy of religion all his life—and yet in one passage in one of his essays, he says we're like people playing a chess game, where the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are the laws of nature we've discovered so far, but the player on the other side is still invisible. I classify UFOs and the paranormal in general and Fortean phenomena as acts of the player on the other side that we don't understand yet.
Q. What is your personal opinion of recovered memory therapy in the field of alien abduction? Is alien abduction any more likely to be true than Satanic Ritual Abuse or recovered memories of incest?
Wilson: I don't see why. I regard all hypnotically "recovered" memories with great suspicion. You'd need a hell of a lot of supporting evidence before I'd take them seriously. Under hypnosis, people will say whatever the hypnotist wants them to say. Especially if the hypnotist hypnotizes them every week for a long period of time.
Q. So in that regard, books like Whitley Strieber's "Communion" you don't lend a whole lot of credibility to then, right?
Wilson: Not literally. There may be some kind of phenomenon—maybe something as materialistic as fluctuations in the earth's gravitational and magnetic fields, as was suggested by Persinger, a behavioral scientist from Canada, who suggested that energy fluctuations cause brain wave changes which cause hallucinatory or psychedelic states. Maybe there is something like that going on.
Q. Like a psychological phenomenon apart from real aliens?
Wilson: Yeah. I'm inclined to think that a lot of the people are reporting as well as they can what they think they experience. But I find it very hard to take most of these things literally. It's like taking Mickey and Minnie Mouse literally when you go to Disneyland. Q. It's been proposed before that there may be some kind of newly discovered psychological or brain disorder that causes people to see these gray creatures with black eyes and so forth. Is that the kind of theory you'd be more inclined to—
Wilson: That is a little bit too pat for me. I just think that there are areas within the brain out of which visions come and they come in different families. And besides the little gray buggers, there is the beautiful women in blue, who appears to Catholic children as the Virgin Mary. It shows up in a lot of Protestant, atheist, Bhuddist and other UFO visions as the "woman from Venus" or from some distant star. She is the "Great Mother" of the ancients. A lot of these visionary experiences contain Jungian archetypes.
Q. So they therefore recur in all kinds of people?
Wilson: And all kinds of cultures.
Q. Have you heard any interesting conspiracy theories about the deaths of Linda McCartney or Frank Sinatra?
Wilson: Not yet. The last interesting set of conspiracy theories was when Princess Di died. I heard one about Sonny Bono. There is a claim that the logging companies all got letters right after the Kennedy kid got killed by a tree, too. All the big logging companies got letters saying "We're going to kill one celebrity a month until you stop logging." And it was signed, "The Trees." (laughs)
Q. That's the kind of humorous thing you tend to note a lot in your own work. Wilson: Well, if I was a tree, I'd feel that way.
Q. Unfairly victimized?
Q. You say at the end of the book that you wish all the conspiracies you had written about were as easy to dismiss as the Zionist Occupied Government conspiracy. What conspiracies do you have a hard time dismissing? What are the top two or three that seem possible to you?
Wilson: The Multi-Conspiracy Model, which I heard from Timothy Leary and later from the District Attorney of, I think, Santa Barbara. This theory holds that any town, once it gets beyond being a one-horse town out of the Westerns—any town that has a bank and a grocery and a lot of real estate and a lot of people, even before it becomes a big city—there are always a minimum of 24 gangs fighting over who's going to dominate the town and own most of the real estate and make most of the profits. So they're all conspiring against one another.
When you get up to the size of a whole state, there are 24 bigger conspiracies, or 30 maybe. When you get up to the nations, there are God knows how many of them. They're all conspiring and they're all willing to break the law whenever it's in their interest. They're all very deceptive.
Roberto Calvi, who was one of the bankers in one of the biggest conspiracies, the P2 conspiracy in Italy, often said, "Read ‘The Godfather.' That shows you how the world really works." In other words, all power groups act fundamentally like the Mafia. And the Mafia is not a monolithic conspiracy. It is a conspiracy or secret society that hangs together part of the time and makes war on itself part of the time.
Q. So you're talking then about a multiple conspiracy that's mostly directed at making money?
Wilson: Exactly. I think that there are multiple conspiracies and occasionally five or six of them will join together to make a Mega-Conspiracy for a given period of time to accomplish a given result. But I don't see any evidence that they've all worked together since the dawn of time to the present. Mostly they've been fighting with one another.
Q. What about the Illuminati stuff?
Wilson: Well, there are many, many versions of the Illuminati theory. But the predominate one is that they were free-thinkers, atheists, libertarians, and trying to create the kind of government we once had under the Constitution in this country. I think that kind of government is about the best the human race has come up with so far. Whatever is wrong with the Constitution, it's better than the system we have now. So if the Illuminati exist, I'm on their side. I certainly don't want to go back to the Catholic/medieval world or the Islamic/Oriental despotism or the Stone Age or anything like that.
Q. Along those same lines, what do you think of Nostradamus or the Book of Revelation? Are any of those "antichrist-centered" conspiracies reality-based to you? Wilson: I've lived through several "ends-of-the-world," particularly the ones "predicted by Nostradamus." However, since you can get any meaning you want out of Nostradamus, I don't think you should even say "predicted by Nostradamus." I would say "predicted by people who thought they could interpret Nostradamus." I remember one about ten years ago when I was living in Los Angeles; all Southern California was supposed to fall off into the Pacific and we were all supposed to get killed. And "The Santa Monica Outlook," an evening newspaper, had a great headline that night: "If You're Reading This, Nostradamus Was Wrong Again."
Well, I don't know how wrong Nostradamus is, but the people who interpret him are usually wrong. Maybe we just haven't learned to interpret him yet. I'm inclined to think his poems don't make any sense at all. They're like Lewis Carroll, exercises in pleasant nonsense. "He thought he saw a rattlesnake who questioned him in Greek. He looked again and saw it was the middle of next week." I'm sure you could find some political interpretation of that if you tried hard enough.
Q. So Revelation you group pretty much the same, right? It's a matter of how it's interpreted?
Wilson: It sounds to me like the author ate some bad mushrooms.
Q. Okay. I consider that an adequate response I guess. Do you feel there's anything new to say about Heaven's Gate?
Wilson: I do workshops on this, and in "Everything Is Under Control," I condensed it all into about two pages. Timothy Leary and I worked out a theory of how brainwashing operates.
Q. I remember reading that. You can convince someone of anything if you feed them regularly.
Wilson: And hold them prisoner and keep breaking down their ego and mock their previous belief system. Next, reward them as the old mechanical ego disappears and a new mechanical ego begins to appear. Then they start using the jargon of the group and then begin to believe it. Their old Belief System (B.S.) will vanish and your B.S. will take its place.
Q. How about the movie "Wag the Dog"? Did you see that movie?
Wilson: That is the one about the Gulf War? I haven't seen it yet, but oddly enough I read the novel it is based on, "American Hero," which is reviewed in my book. I thought it was very plausible. I thought it made more sense than the war did.
Q. Do you think Hollywood and Washington are conspiring either for or against each other? One thing they always say about "Wag the Dog" is that there is synchronicity between the movie and the real events happening in Clinton's situation at the time. Wilson: But Clinton didn't go to war with Iraq though.
Q. I know, but there was still the sexual scandal overtones. In fact, the young girl that the President is accused of molesting in the movie wears a blue beret identical to the one Monica Lewenksi wore in those photographs where the President leans forward and embraces her.
Wilson: (laughs) Well, I'll tell you, the movie seems to be a combination of what happened in the novel, in which George Bush started a war to goose up his popularity without any sexual scandals to motivate him, and the sexual scandals of the Clinton administration, which came after the book was written. So it is another example of the astonishing way in which writers, using their imagination, take something that happened already and embroider on it and describe something that is going to happen later also. Writers often write about things they don't know and only later they find out they were doing that.
When I first wrote that Beethoven was a member of the Illuminati, that was a joke. Then I read a biography of Beethoven that made it seem extremely likely.
Q. But when you have cases like that of synchronicity between a novel or a movie and real events, is that something they can in any way do consciously or deliberately?
Wilson: No, you've just got to, as William Faulkner said, "trust the demon." That means trust whatever it is that drives you to create fiction, to write creatively—trust it and see what comes out. It is always astonishing when you find out that the demon knows more than you know. Norman Mailer calls it the "navigator in the unconscious." You don't have to call it a demon. Faulkner just liked to be Gothic.
Q. They taught us the same thing in a fiction class at college. The best stuff just kind of wells up from the unconscious of its own will.
Wilson: That is the modern jargon for it. I actually prefer Faulkner's poetic language, because the writing process does have a spooky side, which psychological models seem to ignore. But everybody uses the metaphors that work for them.
Q. It is said that Clinton's current sex scandals are the result of a right-wing conspiracy against him. Do you think there \is any truth to that idea?
Wilson: Some. But there is also the media frenzy for scandal. The President's sex life used to be taboo, but the taboo has broken down. Like all taboos, as soon as it is broken down, you get a period of kind of anarchistic chaos where there are no rules at all. Eventually a new set of rules will have to be established. Meanwhile, I wouldn't run for President. I wouldn't run for dogcatcher. I don't want anybody going over my life the way the lives of politicians get examined these days.
Q. My reaction was that I couldn't believe my ears half the time. You're sitting there watching the evening news and they're talking about the President's semen stains.
Wilson: (laughs) It is like he's a suspect on "NYPD Blue." Everybody in Washington knew about Kennedy's sexual romps, but they couldn't print it. Now it's open season on politicians.
Q. Well, is there anything else you'd like to add about the new book? Are there any questions I haven't asked or some kind of final statement you'd like to make? Wilson: Yeah. I would say human beings are governed by their belief systems. You achieve freedom when you detach from your belief systems and are willing to change them. I abbreviate belief systems B.S., as I did above. It is an abbreviation I got from a friend of mine, David Brown. And so my two major rules are "Don't believe totally and completely in anybody's B.S." and especially "Don't believe totally or completely in your own B.S."
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