The Battle of the Thames

Back in the Summer of 2016, on June 15th, a naval engagement took place on the Thames. Boats left Ramsgate at 3am and Southend at 6am, heading towards Tower Bridge. Other vessels came from Brixham, Berwick, and Faversham, even some from Scotland. The fleet was prevented passing the Thames Barrier by the Harbour Master, who only allowed through four large boats and eight smaller ones, leaving about twenty behind. By the afternoon the fleet had reached central London, led by Edwardian, a “luxurious river cruiser”, where they were ambushed.

The admiral of the fishing fleet was Nigel Farage, leading boats assembled by Fishing for Leave. Leading the counter-demonstrators on a ‘party boat’ was Bob Geldof. His boat had a large sound system and kept playing a thirty second snippet of classic song ‘The In Crowd’. Again and again. Among the other vessels in this group were ones captained by Charlotte Church and Rachel Johnson, sister to Leave politician Boris.

On his flagship, Farage’s discussions with journalists were drowned out by Geldof, who attacked the UKIP politician’s record, accusing him of being a fraud. He pointed out that when Farage was on the European Parliament Fishing Committee, he attended one out of 43 meetings.

Farage was unimpressed with Geldof’s response to the fishermen. “It’s just insulting to these people. Some of these lads have come from the north of Scotland, communities… where we have seen tens of thousands of jobs lost and a way of life destroyed, and they come here to make their protest and be heard, and they get a multimillionaire laughing at them.”

And, to be fair, Geldof was not the best placed person to be leading the Remain fleet, given his interesting and complicated tax affairs . And raising two fingers at the fishermen and telling them to ‘fuck off’ was not a good look.  A group of activists left Geldof’s boat because of this, with one saying “these fishermen were working-class people with genuine issues and we didn’t think they should be erased by Bob Geldof”

The police did their best to prevent an actual battle. Water cannons were sprayed by the fishermen at their opposition. And Geldof’s boat came under direct attack. In the Guardian’s account of the battle, they wrote “Richard Eves, a fisherman from Leigh-on-Sea, decided to launch a boarding raid on Geldof’s boat using his rusty trawler Wayward Lad… ‘We threatened to ram them first and then they let us on,’ he said afterwards. ‘They shit themselves. I was angry.’”

The Vice magazine article on this is a work of genius, and includes reports of “a spy boat, a secret In boat in with the Out flotilla, which will do a heel-turn somewhere around the Thames Barrier and unfurl “In” banners in amongst the Out fisherman

The engagement is most remarkable for how shambolic it was. The sight of two rival groups shouting at one another, while not really engaging was representative of the whole Brexit campaign. Arron Bank was on the Edwardian and described the event as “Traflagar meets wacky races”. According to his book, Bad Boys of Brexit, he bankrolled the Leave Fleet to the cost of 10,000 a boat, or 250,000 for a fleet of 70.

A map even appeared on social media, showing the battle:

According to Maria Pretzler, the image was based on a diagram of the Battle of Lowestoft.

One of the jokes abut the post-referendum period is that a lot of people have suddenly become experts on customs unions. These were barely discussed in the run up to the referendum. No, we had more important things to be talking about.

Who needs fake news when the real news is so poor?

Does Operation Mindfuck need Operation Mindfix?

I wrote a little yesterday about Operation Mindfuck, a Discordian disinformation campaign with good intentions. As John Higgs described it, “The aim of Operation Mindfuck was to lead people into such a heightened sense of bewilderment and confusion that their rigid beliefs would shatter and be replaced by some form of enlightenment.” The main technique used for this was contradictory stories being placed in the media.

Nowadays, we live in a media environment filled with contradictory stories. The same event can be spun in different ways according to the views of each side. The response of many people to this is to retreat further back into their own prejudices. Psychological experiments have shown that even retractions of lies do not help:

Colleen Seifert, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, found that even retracted information—that we acknowledge has been retracted—can continue to influence our judgments and decisions… This means that when the New York Times, or any other publication, runs a headline like “Trump Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People Voted Illegally,’” it perversely reinforces the very claim it means to debunk.

(It’s interesting that certain groups are pre-disposed to reject disinformation. One of the teens in Veles, who ran fake news sites for the 2016 US election, didn’t bother making stories for Sanders supporters: “They don’t believe anything. The post must have proof for them to believe it.”)

Operation Mindfuck appears to have run aground. This playful strategy for making the world a better place seems to have no place in a world where disinformation is common.

(It’s worth saying that Operation Mindfuck is very different to propaganda. Most political lies are made with the aim of furthering a particular goal, rather than undermining belief. However, as discussed yesterday, there are politicians using nihilistic strategies very similar to this).

In January 2017, John Higgs wrote a blog post entitled For Robert Anton Wilson’s Birthday – some words on Operation Mindfix . This discussed the idea that “if  you take the long term, pragmatic view, it could be that the use of Operation Mindfuck techniques in this way are, essentially, a trap.

Higgs compared the state of modern politics to Robert Anton Wilson’s concept of Chapel Perilous, but saw some optimistic developments coming. The designer Amoeba (who worked on the graphics for Cosmic Trigger) had used the hashtag #operationmindfix while suggesting people take more care about what they post. Higgs wrote that “Operation Mindfuck is over for Discordians because it is unnecessary in the post-2016 world. From now on, the ongoing work can be considered part of Operation Mindfix

Daisy Campbell spoke about Operation Mindfix in the Mysterium book, released in October 2017: “Operation Mindfuck failed. Perhaps it’s time to implement operation Mindfix and bring a little objectivity back.

Another response to Project Mindfix came from Dolly Turing. They questioned the idea of fixing minds, and said that to equate fake news and operation mindfuck “completely seems to miss so many layers of possibility, imagination and dimensionality. The most expansive and terrifying and exciting parts of these things… and the silliest and most fun ones.

The question is, if Operation Mindfuck is insufficient in the current climate, what does come next? As Cat Vincent tweeted way back in October 2016, “The Right basically stole Operation Mindfuck from us, weaponised postmodernism. The Discordian response is evolving…

The John Higgs post has some other suggestions beyond Operation Mindfix.

It needs the coming together of people in the real world, because empathy is rarely found online… It understands that social media can be used for finding those who chime with us but that there is no point in using it to shout at the different… It involves the virtuous circle of people being inspired by people being inspired. It centres of [sic] the understanding that meaning exists, but it needs to be self-generated.

In the year-and-a-half since that post was written, the response seems to have evolved beyond Operation Mindfix to something new. And events such as this weekend’s Catch 23 are a part of that, a chance for people to come together in the real world.

More on Discordianism

I’ve been writing a series of posts about discordianism which will be the background to the this pamphlet on Brexit and hiking. The first part, Thatcher in the Rye, is available online.

The Tragic Success of Operation Mindfuck

With  Discordianism, Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill wanted to spread confusion. They created an overtly self-contradicting ‘religion’, with the aim of amusing people while making them question their assumptions. The ideas spread during the sixties, mainly through underground media and the mail, writing about new anarchist systems and inventing conspiracy theories.

One idea they spread was that of the Illuminati. This was a secret society, based on a real organisation founded in 1776 to spread enlightenment ideals. Contrary to historical accounts, it was claimed the group had continued in secret to the present day. This idea has become a major part of modern culture, appearing in the works of Dan Brown, hip-hop etc.

Among the early Discordians were Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea, who were working as editors at Playboy Magazine. They were drawn into the movement through various odd pieces of mail, which they replied to. Wilson began messing with his readers by publishing as many of these often contradictory stories as he could.

Wilson says he did not consider this a prank or hoax but “guerrilla ontology”.  He became increasingly exasperated with the fixed views on both the right and left of politics and wanted people to question the information they received, and to stop seeing their beliefs as inherently true. This ongoing mission of disinformation, of anti-propaganda, was named Operation Mindfuck. As John Higgs put it in an article for Darklore Magazine “The aim of Operation Mindfuck was to lead people into such a heightened sense of bewilderment and confusion that their rigid beliefs would shatter and be replaced by some form of enlightenment.”

Over time, the operation grew, with Wilson and his associates beginning to receive letters from outside their group (as far as they could tell –  although they were becoming sceptical of everything).

Now, almost 50 years later, it appears as if Operation Mindfuck is present all around us. We are deluged with contradictory information. Both sides in the recent referendum marshalled statistics, facts and arguments to show how their side was correct. Without a decent amount of political and economic knowledge, there was no way to pick them apart. Rumours were reported as news, and those reports became news elsewhere. Truth became devalued in an era of fake news.

This has not gone entirely well. As John Higgs wrote about the results of Operation Mindfuck in January 2017, “the ideas behind Operation Mindfuck have since become a tool for those with a lust for political power, most blatantly Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov”. John linked to a short Adam Curtis film looking at Surkov’s career:

A Russian politician, Surkov came from the world of avant garde art to use the ideas of conceptual art in politics. He would sponsor various different groups and organisations, some of which were working directly against him. He then revealed this was happening, “a strategy of power that keeps any opposition hopelessly confused“. Like the Discordians, Surkov didn’t aim to put forward any particular worldview, rather to bewilder and confuse his opposition. As the economist magazine described it:

As the political mastermind for Vladimir Putin for most of the 2000s, Mr Surkov engineered a system of make-believe that worked devilishly well in the real world. Russia was a land of imitation political parties, stage-managed media and fake social movements, undergirded by the post-modern sense that nothing was genuine.

Operation Mindfuck began as a playful and active response to the world. Now it has been taken to its logical extreme in an increasingly dystopian world. Which raised the question: what next?

Disinformation in Macedonia

Veles, Macedonia, August 2016

Nobody had planned for this to happen.

Veles is a Macedonian town with a population of 40,000. It has a few small nightclubs and, in the summer of 2016, young people were partying hard. The local teens had discovered this one weird trick for making money with little effort; more money than they made going to high school, that’s for sure. The clubs could barely keep up with the demand for vodka bottles and ice buckets. Some young people bought champagne, despite not liking the drink, spraying $100 bottles of Moet about the room.

Back in the 1960s, the Discordians came up with a scheme called Project Mindfuck. The idea was to use disinformation for good. Confronted with crazy ideas, people would see how flimsy was the basis for most of their beliefs. To this end, stories about the Illuminati were planted in the underground press. The problem is that, rather than the misinformation providing a revelation of reality’s true nature, people often believed what they read.

As the 2016 US election approached, the world became aware of incendiary and inaccurate news reports distributed online, particularly via Facebook. Many of these stories linked back to small WordPress blogs, a disproportionate number amount of these coming from Veles. But the sites’ owners were not propagandists. They had simply discovered that posting particular stories brought in clicks. It started with a single locally-run website called healthyfoodhouse.com which provided diet advice – not necessarily medically proven, but the sort of thing that gets shared on the web. Then other people realised the potential of politics. The articles were copied from other sites and links to the blogs shared via social media. The stories didn’t even need to be true. Lies spread faster than any retractions and they bought in clicks, even from people who didn’t believe them.

Few people in Veles cared if Trump won or not, the election merely a way of generating clicks and making money. As Wired points out, the average wage in Veles was about $371 a month, and one person claims to have made $16,000 from two pro-trump sites in 4 months. Another claimed to have brought in $27,000 in their best month. A local nightclub organised special nights to coincide with Google’s monthly payment schedule.

This isn’t even lies in the usual sense. It’s not even bullshit in the definition used by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt: “The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter doesn’t care if what they say is true or false, but rather only cares whether or not their listener is persuaded.” There’s no desire for persuasion here. It’s just information for people to click on.

As the election approached, President Obama would apparently talk obsessively about a Buzzfeed article on what was happening in Veles. Journalists visited the town, trying to figure out how this backwater might have turned a US election. Nobody explained why it had happened here of all places.

There was no real intention behind the Veles mindfuck campaign. It just worked with a system. Writers are paid by advertisers when people click on ads; social media distributes content people like. Online news platforms had already established the best ways of persuading people to click on ads, how to craft irresistible headlines. Of course someone was going to do this. It was legal, it seemed ethically harmless, and the companies involved were willing to pay out, taking their cut along the way.

We’re living in a world out of the science-fiction of the 90s. It’s noticeable how William Gibson went from writing his futuristic Sprawl trilogy, with cyberspace and neural inputs, to a post-millennium trilogy which was set pretty much in the present day, while still maintaining the same feel. But the dangers of this new world are unpredictable.

James Bridle’s recent book, New Dark Age talks about the weirdness of how these systems are working on Youtube. Software generates potentially-lucrative titles for videos based on popular keywords; then human actors in content farms act them out. These have become increasingly weird and disturbing, and nobody seems to be stopping it.

On November 24th 2016, after the US election, Google pulled the advertising on many of the fake news sites. The gold rush in Veles was over – what Google gives it can as easily take away. Some of the teens had bought sports cars, but the more sensible ones invested in real estate. There would be fewer parties.

The problem is that we live in an information monoculture, and there is no mechanism for stopping these feedback loops. Some of these have had recent unforeseen effects including lynch mobs and sectarian violence. But the system continues to work to produce revenue, the sites becoming more addictive. As early Facebook employee Jeff Hammberbacher put it: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

Project Mindfuck had a goal, just like any disinformation mission. In Veles, people were simply acting out the incentives provided by the network. There was no other aim than arbitraging attention via social media to make cash appear out of nowhere. John Higgs, inspired by the designer Amoeba talked about the need for a project Mindfix. The question is, what shape this can take.

This is what the KLF is about

“This is what the KLF is about – also known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu -furthermore known as the JAMMs”

Listening to Last Train to Transcentral back in 1991, I had no idea what the lyrics were going on about; but this was obviously not a regular dance track. But I didn’t have the clues to interpret it, didn’t know to read the NME rather than pop magazines. It would be a little while longer before I was given a copy of the KLF annual and started to figure things out. And a little after that I read the GURPs: Illuminati book and had a clearer explanation of Illuminatus! and discordianism.

The band were a mass of pseudonyms and aliases. The two main members, King Boy D and Rockman Rock were actually Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. They’d even had a massive number one record with Doctorin’ the Tardis as the Timelords in 1988. The following year they published a book, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), which laid bare the secrets of the music industry. Few people followed it all the way through, but one example was what wikipedia refers to as an “Austrian Eurotrash band”, Edelweiss, who sold 5 million copies of Bring Me Edelweiss. Do not listen to this track as it will stick in your head forever.

In 1991 the KLF were the biggest-selling singles act in the world. They performed at the Brits in 1992 with Extreme Noise Terror, firing machine gun blanks at the crowd. In May 1992, deleted their entire back catalogue. They then tried to subvert the art world, including an attempt to sabotage the Turner Prize. Then they burned a million quid before signing a contract preventing them from talking about the incident for 23 years. This is not your average pop band.

(While burning a million quid is the more obviously nihilistic act, deleting the back catalogue and disbanding the group probably cost them more money in the long run).

I loved the KLF. At university, someone had the older records, introducing me to 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?). At 18, wandering through a newly opened HMV at Lakeside in Essex, I found a copy of Chill Out. I don’t know how they’d stocked that record shop, but I found a load of rarities on the racks, things that I’d been hunting for years. Chill Out is an ambient record, a 45 minute journey across America, with different sounds fading in-and-out, and still one of my favourite albums. It’s now easy to find online.

In December 2012, twenty years after the KLF disbanded, I read John Higg’s book The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds. I’d read his first book, a biography of Timothy Leary, and was excited to read his take on one of my favourite bands. But, rather than tell a simple story about record sales and Top of the Pops appearances, Higgs took a path through the magical and counter-cultural networks linked by Cauty and Drummond.

Last year, the contract Cauty and Drummond signed, banning them from talking about the KLF, finally expired. While the JAMMs returned last year with the Welcome to the Dark ages event and the novel 2023, and there was some discussion of the burning money, the KLF has never really returned. I like the idea of keeping the legend intact, and the strange shapes that legend has taken over the last few years.

A brief introduction to Discordianism

What is discordianism? It’s a joke described as a religion; or possibly a religion disguised a joke. It was first revealed in the Principia Discordia, written by ‘Malaclypse the Younger’ and ‘Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst’, the first edition of which was published in a tiny print run in 1963 .

The Principia Discordia is a spoof of religion texts. Inside are divine revelations, joke parables, bureaucratic forms, and outright contradictions. Members are explicitly encouraged to form schisms and cabals, and everyone is a pope (including you). Saints of the religion include Emperor Norton, the only ever Emperor of the United States. Reading it cover-to-cover can be a little wearing – not all of it works, and some has dated – but it has inspired many people over the years.

There is a coherent mythology too, based upon the Greek Goddess Eris, who suffered ‘the original snub’. When Peleus and Thetis got married, Eris was not invited due to her reputation for causing trouble. Which she did anyway, throwing a golden apple into the crowd. It was engraved ‘Kallisti’, ‘to the prettiest’, and ignited a row between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite which ultimately led to the Trojan war.

The first edition of the Principia Discordia was printed on Jim Garrison’s photocopier. Garrison was a lead investigator into the Kennedy assassination, later played by Kevin Costner in Oliver Stone’s JFK. There is another Kennedy link because Kerry Thornley, one of the book’s authors, wrote a novel about Lee Harvey Oswald before the Kennedy assassination. This manuscript was subpoenaed by the Warren Commission, investigating Kennedy’s death.

The Principia has all the things a religion needs, such as a symbol, in this case the Sacred Chao:

There are some great pieces of writing, such as a passage Thornley referred to as he was dying:

And so it is that we, as men, do not exist until we do; and then it is that we play with our world of existent things, and order and disorder them, and so it shall be that Non-existence shall take us back from Existence, and that nameless Spirituality shall return to Void, like a tired child home from a very wild circus.

My personal favourite bit is the discordian game of sink (click on the image at the bottom of the post to open it in a new browser window)

The book has had a strange ongoing life. It inspired the Illuminatus! trilogy, which was then made into a play by Ken Campbell, and provided the background mythology for the KLF. These tangled strands have re-emerged recently with a strange movement growing in the UK.

Finding A New Route through Psychogeography

I was delighted to be asked to talk at the Sunday Assembly. And possibly a little flattered at the invitation, which meant I said yes more eagerly than I should have done, particularly when the subject was something as contentious as ‘psychogeography’.

I’ve given talks on this before, at the Catalyst Club and White Night, and they were well received. But I didn’t want to give that same talk again. One issue was the slightly unfashionable reputation psychogeography has developed, such that many practitioners disavow the term. I also hated the idea of another talk where a middle-aged man explains things, with slides, about things other men have done. So I decided to take a different route through psychogeography that I normally would.

I’ve had a number of friends who’ve talked about representation in art to me, particularly Kate Shields. I wondered if I could give the talk without hitting the usual litany of names – Guy deBord – Iain Sinclair – Richard Long. What if I gave the talk without saying any men’s names, focusing on art by women? My aim with this was not virtue signalling – but I needed to find a way to make this subject fresh for me.

At first I worried that this constraint would ruin the talk – where would I find the resources to do this? But then there was Amy Sharrock’s response to Iain Sinclair saying there were no women doing art around walking: “male artists and curators have a responsibility from their positions of power to do better research, as do we all.”

And that research was not so difficult. There are many women who have done art relating to walking, and books such as Walking and Mapping by O’Rouke have even done the work of collecting these. Tina Richardson’s recent book about contemporary British psychogeography has some other examples. And there are some excellent papers on women walking artists by Dee Heddon and Cathy Turner.

The talk soon opened out. The subject felt more excited, no longer carrying about that air of male dampness and bad fry ups that had emerged. As Morag Rose has written “An uncomfortable undercurrent of misogyny and colonialism lurks within much psychogeography and has since its inception”. There was more than enough material to produce a 15-minute talk, and Morag Rose’s vision of psychogeography provides a more compelling framework for introducing psychogeography than the incomplete experiments of the Situationist International.

Diagram by Morag Rose

In giving the talk, I didn’t want to discuss this common lack of focus on female psychogeographers. Noting the imbalance would simply reinforce the idea that women’s work was secondary. Anyone googling the subject will quickly find the male figures; but I wanted to show a different view of the subject for anyone seeing it for the first time.

I don’t know if it worked, or if not mattered – or even if this approach to the subject was perhaps patronising or rude. Possibly it should not have been a man giving this talk. But I enjoyed taking this subject in what was, for me, a new direction. I’ve revitalised my interest in the subject and produced a talk I’m very happy with – even if it was a lot more effort than regurgitating the same talk I did in 2011.

Speaking at the Brighton Sunday Assembly on June 24th

This Sunday, June 24th, I’ll be speaking about ‘Psychogeography’ at the Brighton Sunday Assembly. The event is free and starts at 11am, at St Andrew’s Church on Waterloo Street, Hove (opposite the Southern Belle pub, formerly the Iron Duke).

The Sunday Assembly is “a worldwide network of non-religious gatherings which aims to uplift and inspire through readings, talks, silent contemplation and classic pop songs”.

There will be a food-bank collection at the main entrance for “any in-date, non-perishable food and toiletries that you can spare (ie. tins, packets, jars and bottles)“. After the service there is free tea and cake.

Being asked to give a talk about psychogeography is interesting as many practitioners take issue with the subject as it’s normally defined. I’ve tried to find a different way through things than the usual Guy deBord to Iain Sinclair route. Hopefully, I’ve made the subject seem fresh and avoided the usual cliches.

(Not that there’s anything wrong with Iain Sinclair, obviously; but even he has been pushing back against the psychogeography label recently)

Eris: Why I need more chaos in my life

Sometimes, people ask me for advice about hiking or travelling. I’m not an expert, but all they want to know is how to get started. And I explain that the most difficult part of any journey is committing to going. You pick a date, you book transport, then you set off. It might not work out, but as long as you go, you’ll learn something and it will be easier next time.

On my first major hike, I walked from Winchester to Eastbourne along the South Downs way. I’d wanted to do it for twenty years or more, but never found the moment. I discussed it with an ex-, and was soon mired in complexity. If we were to slice it into the 12-mile sections they wanted, we’d be walking for 8-10 days. The whole thing was too complex to even begin.

That Autumn, single again, I decided I had to just do it. I found six free days, booked some accommodation and set off. I’d planned a lot, knew where I was staying and had checked off my equipment against suggested lists. But I was not able to plan all of it. Sorting out proper footwear was an expense and a complexity too far, so I set off in DMs. As a result, I murdered my feet, but I made the walk. Katharine joined me for a day, and I completed the journey with Dr. Rosy Carrick by my side. They were good days.

I’m very good at itineraries. Ask me to organise you a trip and I do a pretty good job. The only problem is the impossibility of scheduling in spontaneity or chaos. Deep down I fear being misplaced, even though the most powerful days of travel I’ve had are when I’m lost. The best trip I’ve ever made was a journey from Varanasi to Darjeeling, which turned into chaos. I was sick, sometimes scared, and stranded with my Dad in Patna. There are a handful of times in my life I would want to live again, and that is one of them.

Even knowing how life-affirming being lost turned out to be, I find it hard to let chaos in. One time I booked a trip to Morocco, wanting to relax for a few days before starting a new job. I decided not to open a guidebook until I got on the plane. After a few hours in Marrakesh I decided I couldn’t stand the city and booked a bus to Essaouira for the following day. I had three nights in the country, and that rushed trip to Essaouira was another great day of my life.

But planning spontaneity is difficult. How do you maintain an ordered, safe life while at the same time having just enough chaos and strangeness to keep things interesting? How do you let in chaos without it taking over?

How I Found Discordianism and What I Didn’t Do With It When I Found It

When I was about 16 years old, I was into role-playing games. While these are meant to be a social activity, I was more interested in them as a form of fiction. I loved reading rulebooks and sourcebooks, seeing how worlds hung together. I’d design campaigns that were never going to be played, and I don’t think that time was wasted.

I must have been 16 or so when a friend, Mark Smith, lent me a copy of the GURPS: Illuminati sourcebook. GURPS was a universal role-playing system, allowing different genres to mix. Want to know how a spy can fight a dinosaur? Or need to resolve combat between Bugs Bunny and a delta force operative? GURPS would help you with this. They even did a version of Bunnies and Burrows, the 1976 game based on Watership Down, noted as one of the first games allowing play as non-humans. (I wonder if anyone has ever done a Watership Down meets Lovecraft GURPS campaign? Maybe I should make some notes on that, even if I never intend to run it).

The Illuminatus sourcebook was a guide to conspiracy theories. It talked about men-in-black, the Illuminati and referred often to Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s books. It was one of those volumes that opens a gateway to a whole world of strangeness. I don’t have a copy to hand, but I bet I’ve read most of the bibliography in the time since. It also introduced me to Discordianism, a joke disguised as a religion (or possibly vice-versa).

GURPS: Illuminatus was published in 1992 by Steve Jackson Games (SJG). There are some interesting stories behind the book. For a start, I think there was an issue with the rights. Also, at the same time as this was worked on, SJG were raided by the FBI. This was caused by their work on a cyberpunk volume, which the authorities believed might help hackers. This was one of the events leading to the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Of course, SJG claimed that the FBI were really trying to suppress the Illuminatus book.

At 18, I found copies of the Illuminatus Trilogy at Sussex University’s Wednesday market. Those copies are long gone, abandoned between house moves, and I miss them, same as I miss my copy of the 1992 KLF annual. I found the Illuminatus trilogy confusing and difficult, but exciting too. I was aware this somehow crossed over weirdly with the KLF, who name-checked the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu on their 1992 UK #2 hit, Last Train to Transcentral. I tried to lend the book to a few friends who weren’t interested; four years later, they started raving about this amazing book they’d read, and had I heard of Illuminatus? I followed the threads of Discordianism on the web, printing out a copy of the central text, the Principia Discordia.

Discordianism and the Illuminatus Trilogy changed a lot of people’s lives, but it didn’t for me, just like the Invisibles never changed my life. That sort of weirdness was too far outside my normal, ordered life. But it was an entertaining thing to follow, even if nothing weird ever happens to me. Although that is starting to change. The UK’s Discordian revival is growing, and it’s linking together a lot of interesting people. Maybe, even now, it’s not too late for the Illuminatus Trilogy to change my life.