Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger tells the story of his experiments with reality. It’s a classic, filled with mad, beautiful ideas, and was adapted for the stage by Daisy Campbell, helping to accelerate the UK Discordian revival.
Wilson subsequently expanded Cosmic Trigger into a trilogy. Volume 2 is an unconventional autobiography, exploring the influences that made Wilson who he was. Volume 3 contains some personal passages – notably one where Wilson responds to an inaccurate announcement of his death, as well as a moving chapter on the death of his collaborator, Bob Shea. But most of the book is taken up with shorter, less personal articles on things that interested Wilson in the mid-90s.
There are two different approaches taken by Wilson fans. There are the Discordians, who enjoy the crazed speculation and philosophy. And then there are the libertarians, who respond to the politics.
Traces of the visionary Wilson remain in Cosmic Trigger 3, but there are also some unpleasant passages where Wilson attacks feminism and political correctness. He comes across as a regular gammon, even saying at one point, that he feels “tempted to start a Straight Pride movement”, or talking about how feminism oppresses men.
One of Wilson’s great ideas was that of reality tunnels – how we need to be aware of how our views are constrained. He urged his readers to experiment with taking on new ways of viewing the world, eradicating any pull toward dogmatism. Wilson finds himself trapped in a reality tunnel, where he sees another group (in his case, feminists) as dogmatic, and therefore himself becomes dogmatic in response to them.
At one point Wilson says, “I cannot imagine a first-rate artist or scientist who could possibly qualify as Politically Correct, since P.C., like all dogma, creates an information-impoverished environment and art and science always seek information enrichment.”
This lack of imagination feels like a failure in Wilson. I’d argue that the struggle towards diversity over the quarter-century since Cosmic Trigger 3 was published has produced a richer information environment, with many different views entering the mainstream. I’d like to think that Wilson would have loved exogenders and trans-pride, that he would have been thrilled by the increased visibility of translated science fiction. Cosmic Trigger 3 shows Wilson trapped in his own politics, and the weirdness suffers for that.If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list