4 Cyberculturalists

RU Sirius, Howard Rheingold, Robert Anton Wilson

These three philosophers have steadfastly clung to their youthful ideals, and keep infecting society with unease, prodding our consciousness and asking “Why?” Despite their clear vision of society’s shortcomings, they’re all so enamoured of life, and endeavour to deliver their jibes with a dose of humour.

RU Sirius invented cyberculture with the most outrageous magazine of the 90s, Mondo 2000. Our photographer had popped round to take some Hello!-style pics of Sirius relaxing at home. “It looked exactly like that place in Silence of the Lambs where that psycho tortures the girls. Except without the well. Eerie,” he told me. Unsurprising, really, as Sirius is a 45-year-old who specialises in delivering a surreal take on reality and trying to offend people whenever he can. In 1996 he told journalist Jon Lebkowsky, “Give me a million dollars and I’ll bring you major cultural and political change within four years. I want to be bigger than Satan.”

Apart from being a megalomaniac, he’s a renowned prankster and veteran of the San Francisco Bay cyberpunk scene who is a former editor in chief of trend-setting magazine Mondo 2000 (forerunner of Wired), has been featured in a Time cover story, guested on Phil Donohue, and says he lusts after teenage girls. Oh, and he’s also been in a virtual reality rock band, Mondo Vanilli. Sirius has been described as a “head on the Mt Rushmore of cyberculture”, “overindulged brat”, “bohemian hustler who makes Aleister Crowley look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, “long-haired leprechaun”, and a “wildly entertaining fellow”.

Mondo began in 1989, and Sirius recently guest-edited two issues. The magazine’s style is irreverent, ridiculous and science “factional”. In the early days, its revolutionary design made it practically unreadable, with a fluorescent cut-and-paste aesthetic. Even the editorial had a prankster quality to it, and was often incomprehensible and rambled on about unreal futuristic concepts that had the media phoning up for further meaningless details. At its peak in 1993, it had a circulation of 100,000 copies and an incredibly successful book, Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide To The New Edge, that reached number one in the “alternative” bestseller lists.

Sirius had worked on several newsletters promoting subjects such as time travel and experimental mail-order designer drugs (peyote, ketamine, DMT, MMDA, 2CB, 2CE) which had not yet been outlawed, but finally he realised that computers and digital enhancements could make a large impact on society. Mondo 2000 began running articles by William Gibson, hacker stories, conspiracy theories, Internet viruses and cutting-edge technology. They stole artistic ideas and images, stories and called it “appropriation”. The magazine promoted the hacker ethic and began posting to the WELL, the hip San Franciscan on-line chat room. “The Mondo years, 1989 to 1993, were way fun, but they were also pretty stressful. I don’t remember much about the early days. To know what it was like you’d have to read Alice In Wonderland and the collected works of Kafka as though they were business manuals,” Sirius recalls. “The period when we were doing the psychedelic magazine High Frontiers [1984 to 1988], was in many ways more fun and less stressful. And more enlightened. There’s nothing quite like frequent doses of psychedelic drugs to keep a person happy and healthy, when one knows how to handle them properly. Still, I’d rather watch Ren and Stimpy on caffeine than experience virtual reality on smart drugs. ”

He’s co-authored three books: Design For The Dying with acid guru Dr Timothy Leary,  Cyberpunk Handbook: the Real Cyberpunk Fakebook and How to Mutate And Take Over The World (a tongue-in-cheek guide on how to conduct a guerrilla war against censorship of the Internet), both written with Mondo colleague, St Jude. He also contributes to Wired, bOING bOING, Esquire, Time and Omni. Now Sirius is planning to send-up the media at his new site, Revolting. “Revolting will be a meta-tabloid. Sort of like Weekly World News on Acid,” Sirius exhorts. “Tune in for startling revelations about Bill Clinton’s acid-taking days, Hillary naked, a game called Six Degrees of Paranoia, the Authentic Secret Diary of A Heaven’s Gate Cult Member, and much more.”

Sirius discussed the importance of guerrilla tactics on the Net to preserve freedom of information in his book How To Mutate And Take Over The World and he’s planning to use some of these at Revolting. “The big problem with freedom of communication on the Web is excessive copyright and trademark protection. Bianca’s Smut Shack, for instance, is being sued by Radio Shack for using the word `Shack’. The absurdity of this is apparent but Radio Shack wins because they have the lawyers. Wired has trademarked the term `Digital Revolution’. One of the guerrilla actions we’ll be doing is violating trademark, copyright and libel laws in 24-hour spurts. We’ll put something up like an ad that says `REVOLTING! the Wired Home of the Digital Revolution’, but we’ll have it down within 24 hours. By the time we get the cease and desist letters, we’ll have ceased and desisted.”

He says guerrilla tactics are not yet needed to preserve freedom on the Internet, unless a high degree of government censorship is implemented. “To combat censorship, underground groups might form Temporary Autonomous Zones, areas for free speech protected by encryption. Also, since it’s easy to gain anonymous access to the Net, freedom ranters could appear on heavily censored lists spewing obscenities. They might find ways to make it difficult to remove their posts. Media guerrillas have to be great entertainers. If you pirate a TV station, it has to be a fun event so everyone’s waiting for the next broadcast.

“I’m a free speech absolutist. I’ve had an infestation of Nazis on the Mutate Project’s public forums. I didn’t censor them. Criticise them, ignore them, make fun of them, admire their closet homosexual impulses. And of course, I’m in favour of *killing* Nazis. But I’m against censoring them.”

RU has had such an eclectic career – after reading his extensive on-line biography, I shortcutted to several questions.

You’re a renowned trendspotter. What’s going to happen?

“People will grow bored with communicating about the technology of communication, and will start actually communicating. That doesn’t mean a lovefest. That means the spontaneous, unexpurgated, uncensored expression of layers of human perversity heretofore unexpressed.”

At Mondo, the staff often breached copyright and stole images and re-worked them. Will you do this at Revolting?

“Appropriation must continue, particularly when making media collages. It’s an appropriate response to our world. We’re in an era where it’s easy to copy informational stuff, either to have it for yourself, share with friends, or remake it. Unless we want Big Brother in everybody’s home and on everybody’s desktop, we need to accept the fact that stuff that’s easy to copy will get copied. The whole situation around information as property isn’t resolvable under the current social system that requires artists and software writers to make money. It’s just one more contradiction that’s leading to the breakdown of the current configuration.”

What was it like being on the Phil Donohue show as editor-in-chief of Mondo 2000? And the cover story in Time?

“Well, it’s no big deal to be on the Phil Donohue show. All you have to do is have sex with your sister involving mallomars, high heel shoes, and toad urine. And besides, I had flu the day I went on. So it was a drag. The story in Time was pretty exciting. But I’ll tell you what. Among Mondo fans, I heard more comments about the Mondo 2000 parody that was in bOING bOING, a small 10,000 circulation zine, than I did about the Time article. Mondoids don’t read Time.”

Have you ever had jackbooted motherfuckers kicking down your door, or has your paranoia been unfounded?

“I was a Yippie during the 70s, so paranoia is a kind of casual drug for me. I did have jackbooted motherfuckers kicking down my door but they were looking for my friend, not me.”

Have you ever had an experience of online love?

“I’ve never really connected for sex via a computer. I’ve had a few written masturbatory exchanges but found them less satisfactory than jacking off to photos of silicone-enhanced bimbos in Club International. The masturbatory exchanges are unsatisfactory because they never get actualised in real space. The girls always chickenshit out. Girls… ahem… women… love to take me to third base, generally speaking. Am I still in fucking high school or what!!?”

Do you think the Web will retain its alternative culture once it has reached the masses?

“The Web, and worldwide youth culture in general, isn’t involved with alternative culture or mainstream culture anymore. I think it’s tribalised. It involves *subcultures*. The Web by its nature increases this tendency. Where there used to be a few TV channels, Top 40 radio, the mainstream entertainment industry, and the politicians dominating the attentions of the masses, now there’s billions of possible signals to choose from. Once the quality of video and audio become competitive on the Web, people will be dealing with millions of broadcasters. The generations raised under those conditions won’t even know what consensus reality *is!*”

What will happen to Luddites who can’t come to grips with new technology?

“Ummm, depending on how things go, they’ll either die or they won’t have to work. Mondo 2000 and Wired are responsible for the romanticisation of technologies that were counterintuitive and aren’t completely finished. Before Mondo, people would see things such as virtual reality and be astounded. Now they complain because it doesn’t give them instant gratification.”

Do you think the Net will break down fragile national barriers, thus causing a World War 3-scale backlash?

“Yes. I can easily imagine several waves of violence induced by the panic caused by the invasion of the global media village on various fundamentalist cultures, particularly Moslem and Christian. We already see this with the militias in the US. The fact that the existing governance of the global village, the so-called New World Order of the mega-corporations and their downsized, lapdog, pseudo-democratic nation states is a total scam intensifies the probability of bloody and reactionary revolutions.”

Should we try to give everyone universal access?

“I’m in favour of ‘free’. Wherever possible, move stuff out of the market, but keep it away from the bureaucratic collective. Just give away modems. Yes. For the price of one major Hollywood movie.”

You’re interested in changing the human organism with replaceable parts, nanotechnology, increasing intelligence with add-ons and other extropian stuff – what would be your favourite “enhancement”?

“A 14″ penis that can be switched to erection on any occasion.”

Why do you often use obscene language?

“Opposition to `degenerate’ art and impure, obscene forms of communication were central tenets of Nazism and Stalinism. So, the right to be obscene and disgusting is very important. It’s absolutely ludicrous to type s*** and f*** instead of the actual words, when everybody knows what the actual words are. That the letters `hit’ and `uck’ provoke defensive action DEFINES the term “superstitious savages!”

How’s your post-scarcity info-com era political statement going? Please explain your quote: “Zero sum economics could be obsolete in cybernetic culture and a new economy could be based around complexity theory”?

“I need about three months of isolation to compose a larger statement.  Briefly, the economic presumptions of today are based around supply and demand, and scarcity. Cybernetic methods of information control and production make this obsolete. Just look at the Web. Supply isn’t the issue. Attention is the issue. On a worldwide scale, we’re not in a simple system that can be modelled according to straightforward linear mathematical processes that have to be “zeroed out”. We’re in a highly complex system that should be mapped out by complexity theory.

What happens when we’re able to actually double the real wealth in the world in the course of a few years? All the economists will be screaming about inflation. The solution? Easy. Shoot the economists!”

What could make society better than it is now? What would that society be like?

“The end of scarcity. The current levels of antagonism, paranoia, and dis-ease will be vastly moderated when people aren’t forced into a position where they’ll do *anything* for money. I’m not talking about socialism. I’m talking about a situation where it’s more practical to give wealth away than it is to hoard it.”

Do you really think big business will kill the poor?

“Step by step. In America, we just sentenced a few million people to the streets last year. The homeless that are out there now are already thoroughly dehumanised. People don’t want to know about it. Torture in America’s concentration camps known as the prison/industrial complex is the source of humor for late night television comedy.”

What should we do to avoid being killed?

“Individually? Get rich! Collectively? Understand how the money scam is being played and don’t buy into the slave mentality of the work ethic. An international revolt would have to be targeted against the owners of the multinational corporations. Make it so it’s more uncomfortable for them to kill by neglect than to transform into a post-scarcity economy.”

Do you think electronic democracy could ever work, or would there be too much legalese for citizens to plough through before they could vote?

“US congresspeople don’t have the slightest fucking idea what *they’re* voting for either. They’re all drooling idiots from information overload. I think electronic democracy is of limited value. Things change so fast and are so complex that the governmental solution is to have as few rules as possible and enforce them well. No matter what we do, the increasing chaos wrought by technical revolution is going to be a fucking nightmare unless we eliminate scarcity. To do that, we need to reorganise our systems of economic accounting and value and accelerate the evolution of production technologies, like nanotechnology.”

What about privacy – do you use encryption software?

“Nahhh. I’m a show off. A public loudmouth. Why would I want to encrypt anything? I don’t give a fuck if Mitnick [renowned hacker] is reading my mail.”

Whatever happened to his virtual reality band?

“Mondo Vanilli has become MV Inc – The Artists Formerly Known As Mondo Vanilli. We met Trent Rexznor at a party at the ol’ Sharon Tate death mansion in Beverly Hills in 1993. We gave him a demo tape that he liked and he offered us a record deal. We never completed an agreement but we did get $90,000 to record IOU Babe. Then we were dumped from the record company, along with 50 per cent of their other artists.

The experience was such a bummer. We’re planning to transform ourselves as a Web Event band, doing special multimedia “performances”.

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Next up is Howard Rheingold, one of the most outspoken, famous and prolific members of the digerati. He posts chirpy emails and behaves like a flamboyant, cheerful hippy. One of his daily updates begins: “Hallelujah and shehechiyanu, I’m sitting on the lawn barefoot, laptop atop lap, once again, yeeeeeeHA!” His thoughts on the meaning of life are:  “I don’t know who or what assigned me a planet where the sky is blue and the air is breathable, water is a liquid, food grows on trees, but I want to take the opportunity to say a big Thank You!” Rheingold’s a youthful 49 and has written umpteen books about virtual communities and technology, including the best-sellers Virtual Reality and The Virtual Community. He was a psychology student in the early 70s, but decided to become a writer and started out with a typewriter, “staring at a blank page all day long”. He discovered the Web in 1993 and now writes an internationally-syndicated column, Tomorrow, which has a weekly print readership of tens of millions.

Rheingold’s also on the board of Directors of the highly-regarded on-line community, the WELL, was founding Executive Editor of HotWired, Wired’s on-line publication, and is a leading anti-censorship and privacy activist. But while he promotes the fellowship which can be generated in virtual communities, this doesn’t mean he views the future uncritically through rose-tinted glasses.

“You can’t make a causal connection between the Internet and dislocation in the world,” he says thoughtfully. “But technology has disrupted traditional social organisations in the world over thousands of years and is a contribution to tribal conflict and wars. The concept of a nation state, like Great Britain, holds tribal conflict in check for a while. However, when nations fall apart, as in the case of Yugoslavia, there’s trouble. When traditional ways of living change, a lot of people get angry; they feel they’re losing control of their lives, their families and values. They’d do anything to get back to the `good ol’ days’, and if that means having to kill a million people to do that, they will. This happens.

“The telephone has contributed to this sort of instability. Technology can help us operate in a business and government sense, in smaller units. This breakdown into smaller units could be bloody. In the US, many citizens are armed, and there are lots of nutty cults. So, basically, I’m fearful about what might happen over the next 20 years. If that goes smoothly, the next 50 years could be really interesting.”

He says the Net could become an important “democratising medium”. “If the Net remains free for people to communicate, then it will make a huge difference. But if only a few companies control access to the Internet and censor this information, then we’ve lost an important social opportunity. With the Net, every computer connected up is potentially a printing press, a radio station, a broadcaster. Sure, you don’t have the same power as Murdoch, but we have a voice and now we can talk to each other.”

He says a major problem we have to overcome is our passive habit of being glued to the telly. “The great advantage of television is that it moves people emotionally and lets them see how others live on the other side of the world. The bad aspects are that you can’t talk back to it, and only a small number of people can create ideas which are seen by millions of people sitting silently. Average US households spend about seven hours a day in front of the television set. We’re a nation of zombies. This isn’t healthy, particularly in a political sense. In the US, the money to buy TV time has become the most important part of an election.”

Commenting on a UK politician’s comment that the Internet would “never replace the institution of parliament”, Rheingold says: “Well, that’s alright for him – he can talk to the Prime Minister whenever he wants. To the old guard, wealth and power depends on control of the old forms of media. Anyway, there’s a big difference between voting and communicating. People might just want to use the Net to freely voice their opinions to politicians – to just be heard.”

To promote the democratisation of the Net, Rheingold set up a multi-media content company, Electric Minds Inc, with Yahoo’s founding vice-president of sales and marketing, Randy Haykin, to pioneer the Social Web. It’s a must-visit site if you’re interested in chat and the effects of technology, as it has exemplary walk-through demonstrations of how to use chat rooms and basic netiquette, combined with knowledgeable tips from “old timers”. “Electric Minds blends editorial, business, and design to give a revolutionary approach to integrated content and community,” Rheingold says. “We started this site because we were sick of seeing the mass media portray the Net in the wrong way. They’re not showing the stories of how thousands of people have had their lives enriched.

“The Web should will become more of a social medium, not just a publishing medium. Electric Minds is based on the BBS or Usenet model, instead of chat. And the topics stay up there – they don’t disappear on a daily basis.”

Rheingold is proud of the six months he spent as executive editor of HotWired, which he describes as “pioneering the medium of e-zines”. “It was the first big successful magazine and it created the banner ad. But I wanted it to be less like a daily magazine and more like a community, which is what I’ve done with Electric Minds.

“It’s about people having intelligent conversations about technology and how it affects them. The audience are contributors, and as we interact together, maybe we can create something which eventually turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts. The level of discourse has been high and people are responding well to our model and are treating each other civilly. We have 30,000 registered users from all over the world, including Beijing, Africa and Sydney. Most of the conversations are in English, but there are some in Spanish, Italian and French.”

Rheingold has spent hours on-line over the last 10 years, he has actively helped build and observed close virtual communities. “During the time I’ve been on-line, a couple of friends have announced they’d been diagnosed with cancer or some other illness and were dying,” Rheingold recalls. “And many on-line friends said goodbye and sent messages during their final few months. Some of them visited the person on their deathbed. And sometimes on-line friends have meant that a person has not died alone. I’ve been to three funerals of on-line friends and at each of these the number of people from the virtual community outnumbered the real-life friends. If you’ve ever been to one of these funerals, you’d realise there is a reality to an on-line community. I’ve also been to three weddings of people who’d met on-line. And there are many instances of people who are sick or have lost their jobs and the on-line community passes the hat around, sends money or just keeps you company. There was a teenager who’d been on-line for a while and his mother ran into some financial misfortune and he was unable to go to a good, private school, so there’s some fund-raising going on to help him. That’s ultimately what virtual community is all about – it inspires you to turn the computer off and do something in real life.

“These sorts of friendships are absolutely satisfying. When I started out as a writer in 1982, I didn’t realise my vocation was similar to being in solitary confinement. By getting on to BBSs, I made friends who are just as legitimate as those I’ve made face to face.”

Rheingold says that many of us feel more alienated today in modern society, in contrast to towns where our grandparents may have known their neighbours. “Communicating on-line can offer many people that root feeling of connecting with other people again. The difference between a virtual community and a real-life community is that you can turn your computer off.

“Though, you have to be aware there are limits to communicating via the Net. The main pitfall is that you miss the kinds of nuance and tone of voice used when speaking. This makes it easy to mistake a nice person for someone nasty, and vice-versa.”

Another drawback is that you have to learn how to put up with irritating people who become entrenched community members. “Dealing with difficult people is a learnt skill, and others can help you out. You need to be patient, avoid jumping to conclusions and learn how to moderate your emotional reactions when you’ve had a bad experience.”

Once you’re wired up, jacked in and virtual realitied out, you’re ready to “leave your body to rush into cyberspace”. But here, Rheingold draws the line. “Is this the dawn of the post-human era? I hope not. You shouldn’t be spending too much time staring at the tube – you have to get out in the fresh air and spend some time with your partner and kids. It’s easy to be entranced by the information overload. But we have to learn new coping strategies and discover the point where we need to step back and just turn the damn thing off.”

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Robert Anton Wilson [died 2007] is a famous science fiction and conspiracy author, futurist, standup comic, punk singer and used to be an editor at Playboy.

Blade Runner author Philip K. Dick said: “Wilson managed to reverse every mental polarity in me, as if I had been pulled through infinity. I was astonished and delighted.” Which isn’t surprising. Robert Anton Wilson, 65, is best known as the coauthor, with Robert Shea, of the underground conspiracy classic The Illuminatus! Trilogy, which won the 1986 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. Otherwise, he’s a humorous philosopher who engages in “Operation Mind Fuck”, a challenging approach that infects all of his diverse projects. Busy Bob is a futurist, author, stand-up comic, who gives seminars at New Age centres and was friends with acid guru Timothy Leary and famous gay author and wife killer William Burroughs. Wilson has made a comedy record (Secrets of Power) and punk rock record (The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy). His other writings include Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy, called “the most scientific of all science fiction novels,” by New Scientist, and several nonfiction works of futurist psychology and guerilla ontology, such as Prometheus Rising and The New Inquisition. His novel Illuminatus! was adapted as a 10-hour science fiction rock epic and performed under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the National Theatre, where Wilson appeared in a brief cameo role. He was also an editor at Playboy magazine .

With such an extensive career to cover, I cut to a few nosy questions.

When did you begin using the Net?

“I started using a computer about 12 years ago. It’s such a great invention and has millions of advantages for writers. I like to play the Japanese game, Go, which arouses my competitive streak, but the machine always beats me. I have a standard setup with a CD-ROM player. I got on the Web three years ago and almost stopped writing for months – I enjoy looking at sites. I don’t experience information overload – it keeps on growing and that’s great. When I’ve finished the conspiracy encyclopedia I’m going to take a month’s break before I start my next book and I’m going to spend the whole time surfing the Net.”

How much time do you spend each week on the Net?

“Maybe an hour a day in researching my next book, an encyclopedia of conspiracy theories. On Sundays I may spend one or two more hours surfing for entertainment. I use email about 20 minutes to an hour a day, keeping up with various business matters and a few friendships with about 10 people who don’t live near me. E-mail means we write more frequently, with the latest joke and new URLs. The rest of a typical computer day is spent writing. In the evenings I look at Seinfeld re-runs and listen to music to rest my eyes.

What are your favourite sites?

“The Sub Genius (http://sunsite.unc.edu/subgenius/) because they change it more often than anybody else I know. I also like to keep in touch with the Republic of Texas (http://www.republic-of-texas.com). The sites I read to keep up with the areas that most interest me are the Institute of General Semantics (http://www.general-semantics.org/ – which advocates “a willingness to continuously test, examine, evaluate, and change our assumptions and behavior based on our observations”), the Fully Informed Jury Association (http://nowscape.com/fija/fija_us.htm ) and Leary.com (http://www.leary.com). Of all the anti-government rebels around, the Republic of Texas has the most intelligent site. The federal government now has almost as much power as Nazi Germany,and it’s all unconstitutional. The latest absurdity is urine testing, in which they pry into the bladder of the citizen. If even one’s bladder is not private property safe from State invasion, the idea of personal liberty has become a cruel joke. Nowadays supreme power has become centralised in the federal government to an extent that almost suggests a totalitarian state.”

Do you think the Net will change the world?

“The Net has realised futurists Marshal Macluhan and Buckie Fuller’s predictions, in the 60s, of a global village. Cyberspace is a global village and I’ve had emails from friends around the world. Not all of Fuller’s predictions were right, though – he forecast a Star Trek-ish transporter by the 1960s, but that hasn’t happened.”

Will intellectual property lose its market value on the Net?

“That worries me, though I also have a successful career as a speaker. I have post-polio syndrome and it’s not too bad now, but cramped airline seats and travel make it worse. Still, I’m in great shape for a 65-year-old. I’m hoping I’ll be able to use video-conferencing for my lectures and still get the fee. Otherwise, the airlines will have to make their chairs more comfortable to compete with conferencing over the Net.”

How did the rumour originate that you are dead and why does it persist?

“It was started by some joker at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991. It persists because after many people claimed to have seen me and heard me at lectures, the rumour began that the CIA killed and replaced me with a robot or android that imitates my style of thought and speech and I was programmed not to know the difference. Since that cannot be refuted, by definition, I’ve learned to live with the idea. Like Schroedinger’s Cat I’m dead in some eigenstates, alive in others and float in a maybe state for those who’ve read von Neumann.”

What is Timothy Leary doing now?

“He’s in a `maybe’ state. According to the mass media, he had a fight with the cryonics people and his head wasn’t preserved after all. According to the film, “Timothy Leary’s Dead,” his head was preserved — you can see the whole grisly operation on screen. If you believe this, the alleged quarrel with the cryonicists was a mask to prevent the government interfering with Tim’s de-and-re-animation plans. Worse yet, three people have received email from him, or seemingly from him, since his death, and I’m one of them. Mine arrived a month afterwards, from Leary.com, where all his mail used to come from, and he informed me he was `doing fine’ on the other side but it wasn’t what he expected — `too crowded’, he said. There’s a lot of different realities going around these days.”

What was William Burroughs really like?

“In person, he looked like an undertaker. He had a brilliant, intellectual prose style and I was certainly influenced by it.”

What’s the most bizarre conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard?

“My favourite is that Princess Diana was descended from the French dynasty, the Merovingians [supposedly descended from extraterrestials or Jesus] and the Vatican was responsible for her death because it’s trying to wipe out the Merovingians. It’s so absurd.”

Have you ever been surprised by a bizarre consirpacy theory that’s turned out to be true?

“Yes! And it was actually one I made up myself. During the 60s there was a book about the Beatles that claimed they were hypnotising teenagers and convincing them to become Communists. It was ridiculous, so I did a parody of it, claiming that Beethoven was an Illuminati agent. A few years later, I discovered he’d had many Illuminati friends, and the Illuminati had commissioned his first major work, The Emperor Joseph Cantata. There’s no proof that he was an Illuminati member, but he had a lot of dealings with them. It really freaked me out.”

Do you believe in UFOs and the paranormal?

“I’m the American CEO of the CSICON, the Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal. We hold that nobody can ever produce a person, place or thing that is totally normal in all respects, or even average. Nobody has yet shown us a normal sunset, an average dog, an ordinary Beethoven symphony or anything that doesn’t have something weird and unique about it. The normalists believe in abstract mathematical fictions (spooks.)”

Why have so many people seen UFOs and ghosts since the 1960s?

“The use of recreational drugs during the past three decades has broken down imprinted circuiting and people are perceiving events in new ways. Also, an awful lot of people just want to see a ghost or UFO to brigthen up their lives and make them feel special.”

What really happened at Roswell?

“One of my rules of semantic hygiene is not to have strong opinions on subjects I don’t know a lot about. I admit to skepticism about a lot of the `evidence’ of a crashed spaceship. Just remember that my kind of skepticism does not equal the dogmatic denial of a group like CSICOP (http://www.csicop.org/about/), The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which claims it encourages the critical investigation of the paranormal from a responsible and scientific point of view.”

You have innumerable different talents – which job do you like best?

“I like having many careers. At one point I was writing for several years and it was like being in solitary confinement. That’s why I like to travel once a month now. Last month I appeared in a German movie, as myself. Variety is important.”

Do you think you’ve ever been investigated by the FBI or CIA?

“Not that I know of. Still, I’ve crossed the Atlantic many times and the State Department has never approached me to do a “little job for the government”.  They often ask tourists to do small jobs, like take a photo of a building. It all seems innocent, but when you have thousands of people doing that, the information adds up. Since I’ve never been asked, I think my file has been marked “untrustworthy”.

You once said: “the greater the willy, the greater the divinity within”. What does this mean?

“This theory came about when I was travelling around Europe and noticed that the more important pagan gods, such as Dionysis, had larger phallusses.

The Catholic Church is greatly influenced by paganism, so I think this means the Pope needs to have a great big willy to be a holy person. That’s why selecting a Pope is such a big secret – they all lay their wangs out on the table. It’s like casting the lead in a porn movie.”

Have your irreverent comments, such as the Papal selection theory, attracted the wrath of many detractors?

“I’m very unpopular with the politically correct. Anyone who’s bigoted or has rigid ideation sets. Racism, violence – I think all of these conditions are due to faulty brain chemistry and will eventually be curable with medication. LSD should be legalised – that’s a promising area of research, particularly in the area of psychology. Unfortunately, it can also be damaging. Patients should be able to make a judgement about medications, involving themselves, a physician and a philosopher in residence.”

You’ve spoken at dozens of New Age conferences. How do they react to your irreverent ideas?

“If you make fun of something you can usually get away with it. I haven’t experienced any overt hostility – a few have walked out with sour looks, but I haven’t been denounced for heresy. Most New Ageists support the exploration of different ideas; they’re not dogmatic.”

What was it like working as an editor at Playboy for six years during the 70s?

“Not as glamorous as everyone thought. The salaries were better than most other publications, though one editor quit to go to Reader’s Digest  because they paid even more. We were invited to Hugh Hefner’s mansion once a week to watch a movie – not porn – and have a great free meal. The bunnies used to be there and a few of the editors had affairs with them, but I didn’t. There certainly weren’t any orgies when I was there, or drugs. After I left, Hefner got busted for drugs, but he never went to jail. It’s only lower-class people who end up in jail. There’s no middle-class people on death row. If you’ve got money you can avoid imprisonment.”

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