Robert Anton Wilson on “National Security” and the Empedoclean Knot Infinite Regress

prometheusFrom Robert Anton Wilson’sPrometheus Rising“:

Every authoritarian structure can be visualized as a pyramid with an eye on top. This is the typical flow-chart of any government, any corporation, any army, any bureaucracy, any mammalian pack. On each rung, participants bear a nescience  in relation to those above them. That is, they must be very, very careful that the natural sensory activities of being conscious organisms – the acts of seeing, hearing, smelling, drawing inferences from perceptions, etc. – are in accord with the reality-tunnel of those above them. This is absolutely vital; pack status (and “job security”) depends on it. It is much less important – a luxury that can be easily discarded – that these perceptions be in accord with objective fact.

For instance, in the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, the agent had to develop a capacity to see godless communists everywhere. Any agent whose perceptions indicated that there were actually very few godless communists in this country at that time would experience cognitive dissonance – his or her reality-tunnel was at variance with the “official” reality-tunnel of the pyramid. To talk about such perceptions at all would be to invite suspicions of eccentricity, intellectual wiseactreing or of being oneself a godless communist.

As Paul Watzlawick notes, that which is objectively oppressed soon becomes subjectively repressed (unthinkable). Nobody likes to feel like a coward and a liar constantly. It is easier to cease to notice where the official tunnel-reality differs from existential fact. Thus SNAFU accelerates and rigiditus bureaucraticus sets in – the last state before all brain activity ceases and the pyramid is clinically dead as an intellectual entity.

We also propose that “national security” is another semantic spook, an Empedoclean knot; that the search for national security is the chief cause of national insecurity and a potent anti-intellegence mechanism.

As Leary writes:

Secrecy is the original sin. Fig lead in the Garden of Eden. The basic crime against love… The purpose of  life is to receive, synthesize, and transmit energy. Communication fusion is the goal of life. Any star can tell you that. Communication is love. Secrecy, withholding the signal, hoarding, hiding, covering up the light is motivated by shame and fear.

As so often happens, the right wing is half right for the wrong reasons. Thy say primly: if you have done nothing wrong, you have no fear of being bugged. Exactly. But the logic goes both ways. Then FBI files, CIA dossiers, White House conversations should open up to all. Let everything hang open. Let government be totally visible. The last, the very last people to hide their actions should be the police and the government.

What my eminent colleague states so poetically can be stated more functionally as follows:

Every secret police agency must be monitored by an elite corps or secret-police-of-the-second-order. This is because of (a) infilitration of the secret police, for purpose of subversion, will always be a prime goal of both internal subversives and hostile foreign power, and (b) secret police agencies acquire fantastic capacities to blackmail and intimidate others, in and out of government. Stalin executed three chiefs of the secret police in a row because of this danger. As Nixon so wistfully said in a Watergate transcript.

Well, Hoover performed. He would have fought. That was the point. He would have defied a few people. He would have scared them to death. He had a file on everybody.

securityThus, those who employ secret police agencies must monitor them, to be sure they are not acquiring too much power.

Here a sinister infinite regress enters the game. Any elite second order police must be, also, subject to infiltration, or to acquiring “too much power” in the opinion of its masters. And so it, too, must be monitired, by a secret-police-of-the-third-order.

In brief, once a government has n orders of secret police spying on each other, all are potentially suspect, and to be safe, a secret police of order n plus 1 must be created. And so on, forever.

In practice of course, this cannot regress to mathematical infinity, but only to the point where every citizen is spying on every other citizen or until finding runs out.

National Security, in practice, must always fall short of the logically Empedoclean infinite regress it requires for perfect “security.” In the gap between the ideal of “One Nation under surveillance with wire taps and urine tests for all.” and the strictly limited real situation of finite resources and finite funding, there is ample encouragement for paranoias of all sorts to flourish, both among the citizens and among the police.

Thus, the USSR after 62 years of Marxist secret police games reached the point where the alpha males were terrified of painters and poets.

secret policeIn spying-and-hiding transactions, worry leads to more worry and suspicion leads to more suspicion. The very act of participating, however unwillingly, in the secret police game – even as victim, or citizen being monitored – will eventually produce all the classic symptoms of clinical paranoia.

The agent knows who he is spying on, but he never knows who is spying on him. Could it be his wife, his mistress, his secretary, the newsboy, the Good Humor man?

If there is a secret police at all, in any nation, every branch and department of government, and institutions which are not even admitted parts of government, becomes suspect in the eyes of the cautious and intelligent people as a possible front for, or tunnel to, the secret police. That is, the more shrewd will recognize that something bearing the label of HEW or even International Silicon and Pencil might actually be the CIA or NSA in disguise.

In such a deception network, conspiracy theories proliferate. Rumor is necessary, it has to be found, when people cannot find “official” news sources that can be trusted to tell that them what is really going on. The present author, having worked in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the legalized-pot movement and other dissident causes, has repeatedly been approached by friend A with dire warnings that friend B is almost certainly a secret police agent, only to be told later and independently by friend C that friend A is a secret police agent. It requires delicate neurolological know-how to keep one’s sense of humor in the secret police matrix.

The more omnipresent the secret police, the more likely it is the intelligent men and women will regard the government with fear and loathing.

The government, on discovering that growing numbers of citizens regard it with fear and loathing, will increase the size and powers of the secret police, to protect itself. The infinite regress again appears.

The shock of discovering that most of the power in the world is held by ignorant and greedy people can really bum you out at first; but after you’ve lived with it a few decades, it becomes, like cancer and other plagues, just another problem that we will solve eventually if we keep working at it.”~ Robert Anton Wilson

3 Responses to “Robert Anton Wilson on “National Security” and the Empedoclean Knot Infinite Regress”

  1. November 19, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Nice post & nice blog. I love both.

  2. July 10, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    This is an exact reproduction from chapter 16 of the book. You don’t really make that clear.

  3. July 10, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I am a terrible person. Please forgive.

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Johnny Peepers

----> is a socio-pathetic degenerate with a penchant for cheap booze, ruphy-laden broads, and dim sum soup.


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