Excerpt from “The Light at the End of the Reality Tunnel” by Douglas Rushkoff, from Arthur No. 25/Winter 02006 (Originally published in Arthur No. 25/Winter 02006)
...I’ll admit, the event both inspired and disturbed me. Sure, the assembled crowd was varied and eager. But the conversation itself was too competitive, no matter how I intended otherwise. All I meant to show was that we each have our own reality tunnels – and that no matter how spectacularly “real” something may appear, especially on super-strong shamanic entheogens, it’s just one metaphor for whatever it is that might really be going on. None of us knows what happens when we die, whether there’s anything or anyone else “out there,” or whether the connections we seem to perceive all around us are conspiring or coincidental.
Daniel tended to dismiss my points he disagreed with as “thoughts,” to which I finally snapped that “everything we’re saying is just thoughts, buddy.” I leave it to you to choose who of us is more Zen, but my lasting impression of the conversation was that we didn’t quite transcend the zero-sum game as I had imagined we would. It was still just two white guys with microphones, competing for mindshare and the marketshare that goes along with it...
Then came word from a truer pioneer of mind and cosmos than either of us, Robert Anton Wilson: his post-polio syndrome had gotten worse, and the attendant medical bills combined with some trouble with the IRS had tapped him out. He was three days away from not being able to make his rent.
Say what? Robert Anton Wilson, author of Cosmic Trigger and Prometheus Rising, the guy who put the number 23 on the map, and delightfully upgraded the minds of thousands if not millions, forever, could no longer support himself? For those who may be unfamiliar with his work, Wilson is the man who put the many insights of Sixties into perspective. By approaching the seeming interconnectedness of everything with a grain of salt and two grains of humor, he’s helped to demonstrate the value of seeing one’s own reality tunnel for what it is: a limited take on a much greater whole. Rather than getting lost in any particular tunnel (or, worse, pushing it on other people) the object of the game was to learn to move between them.
On learning of his predicament, I felt an anger welling up. I refused to be a member of a generation that could allow an author and philosopher of his caliber to die penniless in a state hospital, so I dashed out a blog post... Thanks to a link from BoingBoing.net, we raised over $68,000 dollars in just the first couple of days, along with a few hundred heartfelt testimonials in the comments section.
...For even if we use the raw logic of the market, Bob is simply being paid back for the value he created. Those of us who are contributing to Robert Anton Wilson now are still, in effect, paying residuals on what we got from him. We’ve all bought plenty of twenty-dollar books—but few have been worth as much to us as Bob’s. The works generated value for us over time, and we see fit to share this wealth in the form of cash energy with the person who created it for us. This is not the order of a free market economy, but of what might better be called a free market ecology.
...By refusing to let Robert Anton Wilson die penniless, we—as a culture, or at least part of a culture—are caring for a certain kind of thinking and activity, even if this is after the fact. By doing so, we not only acknowledge to Robert Anton Wilson the tremendous contributions he made to our lives, but we have the opportunity to reaffirm the same thing to ourselves. Like college alumni who reinforce their own positive feelings about their alma maters when they make donations to keep the institution going, we publicly affirm the value of Bob’s legacy —thus making it more valuable or at least less dismissible for a society bent on recontextualizing the Sixties, psychedelia and mental adventurousness as an embarrassing phase.
Just look at the recent spate of articles accompanying the tenth anniversary of Timothy Leary’s death, as well as Bob Greenfield’s recent biography. These writers are all-too ready to condemn Leary for his undeniably self-centered personality, but all-too reluctant to acknowledge his even more powerfully compassionate, activist nature that spurred him to sacrifice pretty much everything for his vision of an intelligent human species that needn’t destroy itself. It’s as if embracing our inner “hope fiend” is as uncool today as, I dunno, believing that anyone who sets pen to paper or text to a blog is doing it for an ulterior, profit-based motive.
...Those of us dedicated to keeping Robert Anton Wilson’s flesh and finale as dignified as possible are rewarding a great writer for never selling out. But this ethos must not end with the passage of this individual, however heroic—not when he’s given us so many of the tools required to turn this society’s notion of value inside-out. If we’ve learned anything through all this, it’s that the universe we’re creating together needn’t be one where no good deed is left unpunished.