Posts tagged: William S. Burroughs
Photo by Beth Kanter
I wrote about Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s new book The Distraction Addiction for TechCrunch:
“The purpose of technology is not to confuse the brain but to serve the body,” William S. Burroughs once said in a Nike commercial, of all places. But things haven’t worked out that way, at least not for most of us. Our technologies are designed to maximize shareholder profit, and if that means distracting, confusing or aggregating the end-user, then so be it.
But another path is possible, argues Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his new book The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul.
He calls the idea “contemplative computing.”
Contemplative computing, Pang writes, is something you do, not something you buy or download. He does mention a few useful-sounding applications, such as Freedom, which will block your Internet connection for a set period of time, and full-screen text editors like WriteRoom and OmmWriter (my personal favorite is FocusWriter).
These tools, along with applications like RescueTime and SelfControl, are great — but they’re meant to treat the symptoms of a digital environment designed to distract you. Pang points out that OmmWriter was, ironically, designed by an online ad agency to help keep its copywriters from being distracted.
Also: Watch for Pang on the next Mindful Cyborgs podcast!
Elijah Brubaker is the writer and artist of Reich, a biography of Wilhelm Reich in comic form. Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychotherapist known for his theory of character analysis. He fled Nazi Germany in 1938 and came to the U.S. where became obsessed with orgone, which he claimed was a universal energy. He also began developing technology based on orgone, including the orgone accumulator, which he believed could cure cancer, and the cloudbuster, which he believed could make it rain. He was eventually arrested for medical fraud and died in prison.
This interview was filmed back in 2008 for Technoccult TV, but the audio and video were too corrupted for release. I managed to transcribe most of the interview, so here it is at long last.
Klint Finley: So you do a comic about Wilhelm Reich, were you involved in Reichian therapy before you started the comic?
Elijah Brubaker: No, I wasn’t involved in the therapy at all. I had read about Reich kind of anecdotally through William Burroughs. And he just seemed like this cool crazy guy, and he’s a great thing to talk about to your friends who don’t know about him. I just like to talk about esoteric bullshit at parties. My interest kind of grew after I read several biographies of him and I started looking at him as more of a person, so my interest comes from the compassionate part of it now. It started as “Ha ha ha, there’s this crazy quack” Now I feel like I’m a crazy quack too.
That really shows in the comic. You don’t vilify him or idolize him. It’s a really human portrayal of him. I think it’s generally sympathetic towards him, was that your intent?
Yeah, just today I was reading the back of a biography of Ayn Rand. And there was a pull quote on the back that said that the people who lionize her and demonize her equally do a disservice by dehumanizing her. That’s how I feel with Reich, he’s such a controversial figure that people don’t really look at him as human anymore, he’s just this series of events that happened or a series of ideas. They either agree or disagree and everyone has a strong opinion about it, but it’s not coming from a very humanistic point of view I guess.
How long did it take you to research it before you started on the comic?
I did strict research for about a year, and then I said “I’ve just got to get something on paper.”
Were your reference materials particularly difficult to find?
Yeah, at first. This book, Wilhelm Reich vs. USA, was pretty hard to find. I actually found it at the library, and I kept checking it out and checking it out and finally found it at Powell’s. I don’t read German. I would like to find some of the papers that he wrote that are only in German, but that would be sort of pointless right now.
Do you do any original research, like interviews with family members or people who knew him?
I wish I could. No. I started out thinking this was going to be a much smaller project. I would still like to travel around and find whoever I could to talk about it now. Originally I thought this would be a way for me to practice cartooning, essentially, of telling a true story in the most truthful way that I thought I could.
Did you expect it to be so long?
Well, I deal better with long works. So yeah, I thought it would be like 300 pages, but I didn’t think that I would have a publisher. I thought I would print like 100 copies and give out to friends.
Have you heard from any Reich experts who has taken issue with any of your portrayals?
Not that has taken issue, but I recently got an e-mail from a person that was at a conference on orgone and pulled out my comic and showed it to everyone. Everyone was really skeptical but semi-supportive.
The e-mail was essentially “Please don’t think mess this up. Graphic novels are a big deal these days and you have the potential to do our work some harm if you portray this in the wrong light. No pressure though!”
Well, it’s one of the most flattering things written about him, so it seems like it could do his work a lot of good.
Well, it’s still early in his career, I’m sort of interested in how people feel about how I deal with some of his more controversial views, his ideas on aliens and what not.
So you haven’t gone through any of the therapy at all, just as research even?
Seen an orgone accumulator?
Yeah, I’ve seen an orgone accumulator, but they weren’t… I don’t know if anyone builds them professionally any more, but the person who owned it was the person who built it.
Are there any ideas of his that you’ve come to accept now, or that have affected you?
Well, since starting working on the book I think about sex in a lot less uptight way. I can actually talk about things in an open matter, where before it was like “teehee, he said the word erection.” I’m still a pretty uptight guy, I’m not going to talk about free love or anything like that.
Other than just freeing of my own language, I don’t think I’ve really adopted any of his teachings or whatever you want to call it.
I’m not exactly part of the anti-psychiatry movement or anything like that. But I’ve never been to therapy and I’m not looking to.
So you found out about Reich through William S. Burroughs — how did you find out about Burroughs?
You know, I can’t really remember. I think Naked Lunch was a book that my brother had in his apartment, just because it was a strange book and my brother likes strange stuff so he kept it around to show his friends. So one day I stopped by his apartment and didn’t have anything to read so I just picked it up. It’s not a narrative in any sense of the word, it’s almost just a collection of jokes or something. But I really gravitated towards it because everything I had read was just straight forward plot stories, and this had no plot and was just dirty and gross and was this guy’s entire brain smashed up. Ever since then I’ve looked for artists that do a similar thing, where it’s just self-expression whether you like it or not. I can’t say that my stuff is even close to that, but I hope that I’ve learned a little bit from that type of sensibility.
That actually makes sense looking at your work, that it would have been influenced by Burroughs, just the psychological aspect of it.
Right. I also like his unapologetic paranoia, because I’ve always felt a certain amount of “they’re out to get me.”
You have a really distinct style, how long did it take you to develop that, where did it come from?
I’ve always had an interest in that 20s era Weimar German Expressionism sort of stuff. And just through looking at George Grosz and Otto Dix and stuff like that, and trying to see what they were doing. I just sort of stole ideas from this person and that person.
You’re also working on a biographical comic on serial killer Billy Gohl. Why was his story so interesting?
I’ve always liked the idea of a serial killer as a boogey-man sort of thing. And Billy Gohl, there’s no movie about him, he’s not in popular consciousness yet.
His story is interesting to me, because he was accused of a hell of a lot more murders than he actually took part in. He was a braggart and a loud mouth. He said he cannibalized a man in the mountains one year.
Gray’s Harbor, Washington at the time was this rough port town where people would go missing all the time. The Christian population of the time looked down on the fact that he had a bar. Fights would break out there and they’d blame Billy Gohl.
He was made a representative of the sailor’s union and he was responsible for watching sailors’ belongings while they were out at sea. If they didn’t come back he was in charge of distributing the goods however he saw fit. Finding the families and everything. Chances were he’d usually just keep it. So his stories were “Oh this sailor I didn’t like, I just killed him and took his stuff.”
And people would show up floating in the bay. I think there was one year where the was just a little under 200 people found floating in the bay, and they referred to them the “floater fleet.” And Billy Gohl was eventually accused of every single murder that happened there, thousands of people over the time that he was living in Gray’s Harbor.
He was eventually convicted of two murders, one of which the court decided he didn’t even actually pull the trigger, he just convinced the other guy to pull the trigger. I don’t know how the legal wrangling were over that.
I think it’s a cautionary tale about how being a loud mouth and talking what a terrible person that you can be. Eventually you’re going to try to prove that and you’ll find your justice.
What’s your favorite work of your own?
Reich is the thing that I’m most proud of. I think the stories in Papercutter are a little bit more aligned with my sensibilities, I think I’m having more fun with those stories, but I think Reich is a more fulfilling story.
Klint Finley: How’s the new TOPI going? What’s the status?
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Actually, it’s rather gratifying. You’ve probably been to the Ning. And there’s that world map at the front which shows where there are active people and it’s almost obliterated the world map at this point. So whilst the activities are still somewhat limited, and directionless to an extent, what it does demonstrate to us is that there is still a serious appetite, curiosity, need for some of the ideas that we put into hibernation for a while from the TOPY with a Y. There was always the plan to have T-O-P-I, the One True Topi Tribe. That was always part of the strategy from the very beginning. But the first decade of T-O-P-Y, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, was… not the kindergarten exactly…. but that was sort of a filtering process to reconvene the idea of magic in a contemporary, demystified way in public culture. And that was almost too successful and we actually ended up in exile as a result of the threat that was perceived by the British establishment.
Ironically, they attacked us when we had already said that we were going to disband that version and become nomadic. The last thing we sent out to people was printed on what you send wedding invitations on, it was gold embossed card and it just said “Changed Priorities Ahead, TOPY Nomads.” Which was actually a sign, a street sign. We were driving along the road coming back from looking for a big house, a community headquarters in the north of England and there were road works going on and there was this big sign that just said “Changed Priorities Ahead.” And it was one of those moments where we went “That’s exactly what we were hoping to do.”
So the intended idea there was that we were closed down, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, in the hope that those who had really started to comprehend on their own, in their own way, what we were trying to say - which was to bring people around to using an intuitive personalized version of magic - to get those individuals to understand that we were a non-hierarchal, non-Masonic, post-“museum of magic” network.
In other words, a lot of people did their 23 sigils and then they would sometimes write and then say “What happens now?” and we would just say “That’s it. You don’t get a prize. You don’t get a new instruction. You don’t suddenly have a special title. If you’ve not figured out how to really discover and express your true desires by now then you’re never going to get it. Most people did understand that but there were some that expected a prize and were disappointed.
So we had reached the point of dismembering it and deconstructing the ten year project and the next step was to find a location to then go into the One True Topi Tribe. We looked at an old hotel in the north of England, we looked at the farm in a place called Arbor Low in Yorkshire, which actually had a stone circle on the grounds of the farm, which is where we used to have the TOPY Global Annual Meetings over a long weekend and we would camp out and we would do rituals outside in the stone circle. It is a beautiful place. So we were seriously looking at different locations. And then we, meaning myself and my family, decided to go to Nepal to do some research and to work with Tibetan Buddhist monks that we had come to know. And then come back and built the One True Topi Tribe but as you know that got interrupted by the British government.
So we went into hibernation and then Thee Psychick Bible got published. And during the next few months after that was published, we started to get lots and lots of e-mails and letters and meet people at concerts and events. They were saying, “We really want to know more about this. Why is isn’t it still going on?”
In between, there was The Process and Transmedia, wasn’t there? 
There was, yeah. There was the Transmedia. That was just an ad-hoc bridging phase. It was kind of a separate topic, but basically as you probably know we’ve been interested in The Process since the sixties and collecting lots of documents and books and so on. I eventually got to know Timothy Wyllie and Father Malachi McCormick and some of the founders. And it always was part of my culture engineering side to reinsert The Process into public culture but rehabilitated to get rid of Ed Sanders’ destructive, dishonest propaganda used to discourage people from really looking into The Process.
So one thing we’ve often done with Austin Osman Spare in the original TOPY, and with piercing and tattooing with Modern Primitives and then with that website with The Process. We inserted things that we think were both useful and needed to be reassessed and reevaluated in popular culture because they had become relevant again or more relevant than ever. So we shared things that we find inspiring and said “This is really inspiring to us and it’s changing our ways of perceiving things, you might want to really check this out.” So that’s been very effective as an ongoing process of culture engineering. So that was really what that part was about. It was to just prepare the ground for the books that came out.
The original, Love, Sex, Fear, Death book that came out from Feral House, that was originally going to be by myself and Benjamin Tischer, who runs Invisible Exports gallery. The original structure was going to be reprinting all the key magazines in full color and then a long essay and then interviews with the key founding members that we had done. At the time that we were assembling all the materials, Feral House changed the basic structure and handed it off to Timothy Wyllie. And so it became two books basically- the Timothy Wyllie anecdotal version and then the follow-up one with the facsimiles. We didn’t mind because the whole point was just to get that material out there again. However it actually happened isn’t so important as long as we could re-launch the information back into the culture.
So while we were doing that, we were always testing the ground and observing. Thee Psychick Bible really revealed a whole new generation of people who are incredibly curious and really hungry for more information about the original TOPY and wanting to actually find a way to apply that to their lives again. But, of course, we have an old TOPY proverb: “Never return to the previous character.” And so there’s no point to us in doing TOPY (with a Y) again and the ultimate point of the next step was always to do the Tribe. Because when people say “What’s the Psychick Cross?” we say “That’s how you recognize people who are your people, your chosen family people who at least on some level have similar interests or you can communicate with more easily than Joe Public.”
And all my life, the ultimate project has always been to set up experimental communities that create their own mythology, their own rituals, their own techniques for mind expansion, for maximizing whatever potential they have in whichever form, and leaving that behind as a legacy, some kind of work or alternative way of living. Not as a “running away into the countryside and being a farmer” hippie thing, but something that’s normal, practical. And the state of the economy and the state of the world as it is at the moment tends to suggest to us that there’s an inevitable collapse. That the economic system that we’re living in is fatally flawed. It’s based on the idea of infinite consumption and infinite growth. But if you have a limited amount of resources, even if you count the planet as one of the resources, there is a point where there’s no more. We can’t consume forever. There’s actually a natural limit.
The way things are set up is to treat things that are scarce as if they aren’t scarce and things that are scarce as if they aren’t. So energy, for example, we treat as though it’s not scarce at all. And individual labor like people are not scarce at all. There’s plenty of people but we sort of treat people as if they were scarce in certain ways. 
Well, in terms of western capitalism, the powers that be, as far as we’re concerned and we’ve written about it in Psychick Bible that they think of human beings just as a resource like the cows or sheep, whatever. And in the industrial revolution, it suited the people who control societies and economies to have a more educated, healthier workforce. So in the west you’ve got more education, better healthcare, better housing and so on, because they needed strong, healthy people to work in the factories.
As we got more technological, they’ve ended up with all these workers who they need less and less of. So now human beings are actually a redundant factor using up food, air, energy and everything else and they don’t really need us anymore. And if they could get away with just erasing us, they would. The people who are at the top of the pyramid of power and in control of economies are ruthless. It would not bother them at all to reduce the population to whatever they need because they see themselves as a separate set of species, and in a sense they are. We see it more in the west because it was started in England with the royal family, the aristocracy. We even say they’re “Blue Bloods,” a separate species, a more divinely touched species, chosen by god. But in fact they’re gangsters. Most of them get in that position by murdering rivals which is like the mafia.
So, anyway, we were sitting back and we were looking at the world outside and Lady Jaye actually said in the early 2000s “The economy is going to really suddenly crash really hard.” And at the time we did have some shares- and she said, “You’ve got to get rid of those shares.” So we sold them and within two or three weeks everybody lost all that money, when everybody’s shares became worthless for a while. That had made us really start thinking about it more and we thought, well, when it goes, if you’re living in a city, who’s going to be better prepared to survive? Hells Angels, Bloods and Crips and gangs, even survivalist fanatical Christians because they’ve already got loyalty to a group. They’ve got basic core belief. They’re prepared to protect themselves and fight for themselves. They’re more mobile and more paranoid so they’re more able to provide it. People who just live in their apartments in the suburbs and do their 9 to 5 jobs are going to be devastated literally and physically.
Or the Mormons. They are really well-situated for a collapse. They have an international structure, so that if all the Mormons in one city are displaced there are other places they can go. They have physical buildings. They have savings. They have food supply. It’s like their whole religion is built around being ready to take over if there’s a collapse.
We were in England and our car broke down and we got picked up by a breakdown truck and the driver happened to also be a fire inspector, he was moonlighting. So we were chatting and he said “They’ve just finished building a brand new Mormon temple in that town.” And we said, “Oh, yeah, the Mormons are a little bit strange.” And he said, “Strange? I’m the fire inspector so I had to go and inspect it to see if it would pass all the tests and be allowed to be open.” So he went in and he checked the temple and they said, “Do you want to go downstairs and check the offices?” and he said, “Oh, sure.” So they went downstairs underneath the temple and there were all these cubicles and people in there with computers and they were all basically collecting the names of people who were dead, anybody, because you know, they’re trying to save everybody by baptizing them.
And so we looked at them and then he said, “Everything is fine and safe.” And they said, “You don’t want to see the rest?” And he said, “The rest?” He said, “Yeah, there’s another 5 floors going down.” So he went down and there was a huge reservoir of fresh water. And as you say there was a huge floor just for food and supplies and then there were all these schools and meeting halls and then lots of places. Basically all the Mormon temples have bunkers underneath them because there’s no need for planning permission when they go down. Some of them have ten different levels and, as you said so rightly, those are there so they could order their people and swarm in and go below ground and wait to have a crisis. One has to assume that they have weapons too.
So they’re thinking ahead. And so that makes you think what about everyone else? Is there an alternative way for people like us, the misfits, bohemians, the radical thinkers, people who ultimately are social problem solvers in the long term? Most of the real solutions to perception, reality and magical descriptions of the way that we are or what we may become, the creation side of beingness. What about us? Can we come up with something that’s non-destructive and non-violent but also an alternative way of living? And what would it be? What would it look like? Obviously you have to start to share resources.
And so we began thinking about setting up the One True Topi Tribe, initially as a discussion group and say, is it possible, and if it’s possible, what would it look like? What are you prepared to give? What are you prepared to surrender? And how much do you really want to survive, or even if there’s not that much of a crisis, how much do you really want to change your behavior and the way you do life? How real is your hunger for real change and for evolution and for new thinking? And what would that look like?
Of course, for myself, we’ve lived in communes and community situations almost all my life, tended to do collaborations in groups and networks, rather than do the divined inspired individual which is to me not that interesting. And that’s always been the ultimate plan, to find a way to set up a community, more of a village than a commune, but a community based on creation, magic, revelation and the exploration of unlimited visions of reality, consciousness, everything.
Is this connected to the idea of the cut-up? I know that a lot of your work, almost everything, kind of comes back to the Gysin/Burroughs cut-up method. So how does that apply to TOPI?
Well, one of the basic questions that the original TOPY was designed to address was in order for the human species to truly evolve we have to change our behavior. And the question is, is it ever going to be possible to change our innate behavior? Because at the moment we, as a species, we are at a primitive larval state of consciousness. And one of the things we often say is, how could there ever have been a second war? If there’s a war the first time, it’s novel and people don’t understand what the results are going to be, but surely when you’ve seen people maimed, decimated, crippled, wounded, grieving, everything destroyed, children lying dead and crippled… surely we would never ever let that happen again. It would be just too horrendous, too vile, to ever, ever let that happen again. And yet as a species, thousands of years later, almost everybody is at war in one way or another. New York communities, nations, belief systems and religions are still locked in this idea that one person’s opinions can be forced on another by violence. And that’s a really sad, pathetic state of affairs. So the first question was, can we possibly change? And if we can, how?
Burroughs said to me right at the beginning in ‘71, almost as a sort of a test: “What I want you to think about, Gen: is it possible to short circuit control?” But somehow in my mind that got switched to: “is it possible to short circuit our behavior?” And then we look back and we thought, where does it come from? In the earliest prehistoric, or should I say preastoric because it’s neutral- in the earliest preastoric times human beings were just struggling to survive like any other animals. And so the male of the species was, in the DNA, this aggressive gene, an aspect that was about survival and it makes sense when everything - the environment, the weather, the predators - everything is about getting into survival, that, yes, we need to have an aggressive program in our behavior.
And it’s because of that that we’re still here, that we’ve managed to take control or have an effect on the physical environment whereas in the beginning we had not mastered the environment. Now, to some extent, we’ve mastered our environment and we’ve created some credible post technological, digital, futuristic environment worldwide. But we haven’t bothered to apply the same kind of research and resources to changing the way we think and behave. We’re out of whack. We still have this primitive, violent program genetically rooted inside us and yet we’ve changed the environment so that we can go into space, we can look at atoms and particles, do all these amazing things. But we’ve not valid as a species, as a whole, to even really apply the same resources to developing ourselves.
And one of the things about Tibet that fascinated us was that something like 70% of the population meditated for thousands of years in order to look at perception of consciousness. And that seemed to have got far enough along in their mapping of other dimensions outside and inside time to be able to drop the human body, the container of their mind, their consciousness and still retain a sense of individuated self in an immaterial space so much so that they can reincarnate in another body and remember who they were to some degree. The Dalai Lamas, as you probably know, had to go through this test when they found there were lots of items that belonged to the previous Dalai Lamas and mixed it with the ones that didn’t belong to that Dalai Lamas and the child has to pick out only the ones that were his before. Otherwise they’re not the Dalai Lama. And that, plus having met certain Tibetan masters, has convinced us that it is possible to transcend mortality and return.
So if they can do that, by sheer force of will and hundreds of years of focused meditation, what would we be able to do as a species if we devoted all those resources that go into war and weapons and useless things? If that was applied just to developing the consciousness of everybody. And why do we think that they attacked the psychedelic Sixties so strongly? Because it was- the moment when millions of people worldwide were suddenly trying to invade and explore other realms of consciousness, no matter how much it was like a bull in a china shop compared to a Tibetan monk, they were still breaking through ideas of reality and ideas of invitation.
So what you say then is TOPI is about cutting up behavior and cutting consciousness or am I just going too far with that idea?
GPO: No no no, it is. Because when we were doing COUM transmissions actions, we started doing them on our own, the solo one, and found that we would go into trans states and would do things occasionally like drink poison and cut myself and it would heal without a scar and start speaking in tongues and have an out-of-body experiences. We also ended up in hospital a couple of times in intensive care because we didn’t know how to repeat it in a safe way. It was very random. Sometimes the combination of sound, physical discipline and stress would trigger an amazing alteration of consciousness but sometimes it wouldn’t. We didn’t know how to make it happen when we needed to. And that’s when we stopped doing COUM because we thought this is getting really interesting but also very dangerous. We need to go back and think about this. Who might know more about these things that have been happening? Shamanic cultures. We started to look into Native American shaman and Siberian shaman and go and travel to the jungles, illegally, of Burma. We started to try and get more information about those states.
At the very least we thought more of the problems in the west especially is that inevitably a certain small ratio of human beings are born everywhere who are innately shamanic, innately magical or mystical. And in some cultures like Tibet, like certain, to me, much more sophisticated cultures, like Native Americans or the Hopi or whoever- If somebody demonstrates the potential to gift of shamanism they’re immediately taken to the wise people, and they’re told how to be safe, how to control these gifts and how to even expand these gifts and also how to share them in a positive way. And sometimes people are born who are conduits for this amazing shamanic energy but they don’t even realize people, we would say people like Brian Jones or Jimi Hendrix, people in popular culture who are so tuned to universe but completely clueless about how to protect themselves from this incredible energy and that’s what burns them out and destroys them. And it must happen everywhere even to people who just live in ordinary suburban families everywhere at random. So there are people all over the world who are intuitively and naturally gifted with the potential to be shamanic, healing, mystical people and there’s no one to help them and there’s not somewhere to go and be trained and have it explained and have a safe place to discover and explore these gifts.
And so that was another aspect of the TOPI. Let’s make a place. Let’s find these people. Let’s just say, do you feel a bit like this, like we do? Are you confused? Are you isolated? Does the status quo seem stupid, bigoted, hypocritical and not giving you the pictures that you’re seeing in terms of reality? Here is a place that will give you some encouragement and share what we know and you can share with us. And maybe that way we can all move forward a little bit. And then with ritual we, wanted it to be just a cut-up. Because if behavior is, if you like, genetic on a certain deep level, how would you break up something that’s ingrained, something that’s been inside our DNA thousands and thousands of years? And that’s where Burroughs and Gysin gave us the clue, which is DNA is a recording and behavior is locked into DNA, as well as society.
So, if it’s a recording, how could you cut up that recording and how could you cut up behavior? By cutting it up, by making random associations, by breaking the linearity, the logic, the continuum, and by breaking it up, reassembling it in apparently random ways, that breaks down all the expectations that we usually fall foul of and gives you the chance and space to maybe see, as Burroughs used to say about cut-ups: “Let’s see what it really says.”
And so, we saw magical ritual as a cut-up of behavior. That’s why we didn’t want a “museum of magic” of doing the banishing rituals and naming the names and all this Egyptian stuff. What’s actually happening here that’s- the names and all the languages and all the frippery and all this baroque nonsense. What are we actually seeing here that in a sigil, the orgasm, opens up the deeper mind and the other minds so at one moment they are all open and interconnected and you can post a message in it. You can call it magical, you can call it neurolinguistic programming, whatever you want to call it. But it works, and that’s all that matters. Or it seems to work a lot more than it should.
So that’s where we started to apply the cut-up and breaking expectation, breaking the linearity over and over and over to create new spaces, new collisions, new perceptions that you couldn’t get to any other way because we’re so trained by language, culture, society, family, education, economy. We’re so trained and so sucked in to this material solid established form of living and life and being and the hardest thing of all is to break it, truly break it.
Let me ask you, because I know you know more about Tibetan society than I do. I honestly don’t know that much but I’ve been led to believe that there was still a pretty significant element of control in Tibetan society on the part of the Lamas over the rest of society.
So how do you protect against that? Because you’ve been having somebody who’s dedicating, you know, huge parts of their lives towards meditation and theoretically being compassionate but then they still have these patterns of control? 
You still have that, it’s very much like the Roman Catholic Church on one level. This whole hierarchy and this whole bureaucracy and it becomes this really ponderous massive edifice with thousands of years of scrolls and interpretations and documents and subgroups and cults and teachers and so on. Of course. And that’s why with TOPY we wanted to just strip away all their names and all the idea of of ownership of ideas and ways of breaking down behavior. Our basic philosophy is look for what’s useful and use it but don’t get sucked into the game.
We were in Kathmandu we just heard that Scotland Yard had raided our house and we couldn’t go back. We’d lost everything over night. We went into town and we used our American Express card and got all the money we could get on it which was $5,000 and then we went to see Samye Ling and through the interpreter he said, “Guess what, you’re an exile and now we’re exiles.” We laughed. And he had been talking a few days before this saying that his monastery which is right on the border of Tibet just inside Nepal and the Himalayas, that they were having real ecological problems because they had no electricity, so they were cutting down the trees in order to have heat, in order to cook. Especially in the winter which you can imagine are incredibly cold.
But there was a project that was being run by somebody, I don’t remember which groups or some aid organization, where they were supplying these small electric turbines which was basically just a big metal tube with a turbine in it, and because mountains are so high and all this watering, you basically just put this into a really fast flowing stream, guide the stream into it and it spins the turbine and makes enough electricity for a whole monastery to cook and heat and it’s not destroying anything, it’s just using the speed of water. And the cost of one of those is $5,000. And so having known that we’d lost everything we owned, we said, “Here’s $5,000 so that you can have your monastery without destroying anything else.”
Now some people would say that that was irrational and stupid to do because we also had two children. But what happened without anybody knowing that we had done that was we went back to the hotel we were staying at which was owned by Tibetans and without knowing anything they just said, “You can stay here as long as you want for free because we know you’ve done things for Tibetan people. We’ve been doing the same thing for the refugees all through the winter at our expense.” And then we went to the hotel room and we sat down and we looked across the room and we noticed this brown envelope, this suitcase, and we thought, oh yeah, when we left home about eight months ago we just put the mail in that envelope, threw in a suitcase, thinking we’ll read it later.
So for no conscious reason we just started to look through the envelope and amongst the bills and things was this postcard from Michael Horowitz and it said, “We were with Wynona,” - Wynona Ryder, is it was her father - he also looked after Timothy Leary’s archives. “We were at the Psychic TV concert and it was the most psychedelic thing we’ve seen since the Acid Test in ‘66.” Then it said, “If you ever need a refuge, call this number.” So we walked back into the center of Kathmandu to the one international phone, because at that time there were hardly any international phones, and we rang the number and said “Guess what, we need a refuge.” And Michael said “Come over, you can stay as long as you want.” So we then rang Wax Trax up, our record label at the time, and said “We need tickets one way to America.” And they bought them for us instead of giving us royalties. And then we got to San Francisco. We moved in to Wynona Ryder’s old bedroom.
Then a few days later in a phone call Michael said “Someone wants to talk to you.” And we picked up the phone and it was Timothy Leary and he said “Genesis, I’ve been through this. I was an exile and on the run too. They were trying to get to my archives. Just come to LA, stay with me. We’ll do something.” So we went to LA. He gave us his old car which was actually parked at Michael’s and we started doing lectures with Timothy Leary about oppression, exile and control and that’s how we started to make money and find an apartment. But that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t just thrown everything away.
So how do you know those moments or if that’s the right action to take? By the years of doing sigils and looking as deep as you can into your true motivations, what you really need. So many of us will say something but it is not really what we need to say, we do it in shorthand. There’s an example that we did with a Apache shaman and he told us he went around with certain people and said, “Tell me what you want, if you could have anything you want.” And one person said, “I want to go to America.” And he said, “Impossible. It will never happen.” “Why not?” And he said, “Well, where is America?” And he said, “Well, I meant I wanted to go to Las Vegas because I’ve always wanted to go in a casino and gamble.” And he said, “That you can do. But you can’t go to ‘America.’ You can’t stand on all of it at the same time.” And we do that so much with language and say just the tip of what we’re thinking instead of what we really want to say and that’s true in the way we behave, and in the way we even dialogue with our inner mind and with ourselves.
And so sigilizing and trying to strip away to the truth of what you want is one of the best disciplines of getting clearer and clearer to any given moment in terms of your response to things that happen. And so you’re always making choices that lead you towards your current final dream or next point that you want to reach.
And that’s why the more you can learn to have this ongoing critical self-dialog. “What do I really want?”” What I’m really saying here and learning through this exercise is cutting up logic and learning all different things coming at the same time and then selecting, sifting through and becoming more and more honest with yourSELF (self in capital letters) and becoming more and more in tune with that really specific you with no camouflage, no issues, no concerns with how you’re viewed by other people and how society views you et cetera, just exactly what it is that you really think and see and want to achieve. It sounds easy and it’s not. It’s not at all. And that’s why these different ways of approaching just stripping back that real desire that’s so important and so useful.
But by keeping and using cut-up in different forms you maintain an edge because the hardest thing is to stop yourself getting back into habits. You start to take it for granted. You’re doing quite well and you’re seeing quite well so that’s okay. You can’t ever by the time you got that you keep pushing and pushing yourself all the time, double checking.
One of the things that really started me on this path was being in the Exploding Galaxy in 1969 and it was a very rigorous psychological commune. There were no walls. You couldn’t sleep in the same place two nights running. You couldn’t wear the same things two days running. You shouldn’t have your hair the same two days running. You shouldn’t eat the same two days running. Anybody could stop you at any moment in the day and just say, “Stop, how come that’s the same as it was yesterday? Why haven’t you learned to do something different? Why do you use a knife and fork?” And so on. And so you’d be pushed constantly to rethink, am I doing this because it’s the right way, the clearest way, the quickest way, the most effective way, or am I being a bit lazy or am I just doing it because this is the way I’ve always done it? And that was a really deep grounding that we kept ever since. And we added the tool of the cut-ups to it. But the basic motivation, the central way of being, is the determined rejection of habit.
See Phil Farber’s interview with Gen from 1996 for more information.
 By this I was referring to value of scrip or alternative currencies that are based on human input during financial crisis, not suggesting that people should be paid less.
 See Friendly Feudalism by Michael Parenti.
Special thanks to Fiacre O’Duinn for helping to arrange this interview.
Photo by Bart Nagel
David Pescovitz (aka Pesco) is an editor of Boing Boing, research director with the Institute for the Future, and editor-at-large for MAKE. Perhaps the most mysterious of the Boingers, Pesco joined me by instant message to talk about his lifelong interest in the weird and wonderful.
Klint Finley: How did you get involved with Boing Boing? Were you a contributor to the original magazine?
David Pescovitz: I read Boing Boing when I was in college in the early 1990s. When I moved to San Francisco in 1993 and started working at Wired, I met Mark because he had just started as an editor there. Mark took me downstairs to meet his wife Carla Sinclair who was running the ‘zine out of a basement office. We quickly became very close friends and I started writing for the print ‘zine. From there, we took it online and the long strange trip continued. Back then, the print ‘zine had maybe 10,000 readers if that. Now the blog has 5 million.
A journalist once asked Timothy Leary what people should do after they “turn on.” Tim said, “Find the others.” Every day, I feel incredibly fortunate that Boing Boing helps me do that.
I’ve noticed that most of the time there’s something about the occult on Boing Boing, it’s posted by you. Sometimes Mark, but mostly you. How did you get interested in the occult? What attracted you to it?
Well, I’ve been interested in weird phenomena and fringe ideas since I was a child. I was always looking up Bigfoot, UFOs, and telekinesis at the library. Now, I realize of course that the Occult doesn’t necessarily connect to those things, and those things don’t necessarily connect to each other. But in my head at least it’s all related as a curiosity about the strange.
Yeah, I think that’s how it starts for a lot of people. It was exactly the same way for me.
Much later, I discovered Robert Anton Wilson and Cosmic Trigger became a port of entry for me. Or maybe a “port of exit.”
Are you now, or have you ever been, a practicing magician or are you just interested in the history, the culture, etc.?
The latter. I find the history, the “characters,” and the aesthetic to be fascinating. I guess I’m a bit of a poseur in that regard.
It reminds me of something that Rudy Rucker once said about the psychedelic side of the early cyberculture. He said he liked reading about people’s drug trips, and hearing what they learned, but didn’t have much interest in taking drugs himself.
That’s how I am now, actually. I tried a lot of magical experiments over the years, but now I’m mostly interested in history and how ideas from the occult have ended up penetrating science and other areas.
Exactly! The historical connections between science, technology, art, and the occult are fascinating. In many ways, it seems that people were using different metaphors to describe the same amazing, wonderful things.
I could be wrong, but it seems like occult related posts on BB have actually increased over the past couple years - you had Mitch Horowitz guest blog there, for instance. Has this raised any eyebrows, elicited any significant negative response?
My interest in the subject, in any subject, ebbs and flows, probably based in part on the people I encounter in the “real world.” And perhaps it’s been flowing again recently.
Boing Boing is a group blog, and we have as many opinions as we do contributors. We usually don’t discuss what any of us are going to post about, and we certainly don’t judge what each other may be interested in at the moment. The only filter I need to have when determining whether to post something is if it’s interesting to me.
Now, we also post a great deal about traditional science on Boing Boing. And are often critical about organized religion. So some commenters who may be Rationalists or Skeptics (note the capitals) might experience a disconnect when a post about James Randi is followed a few days later by an essay by my friend Jacques Vallee. But in my opinion, that perceived dissonance is part of Boing Boing’s magic. Or rather, magick. ; )
As my friend Jody Radzik of Guruphiliac pointed out to me, Boing Boing as a whole appeals to the full spectrum of “geekdom.” And that spectrum includes scientists, conspiracy theorists, hardcore rationalists, diehard skeptics, New Agers, Forteans, paranormal investigators, cryptozoologists, etc. And I appreciate that diversity!
And while there may not be enough evidence, in my opinion, to support a far-out idea that someone is presenting on Boing Boing, I still enjoy pausing for a moment and saying “What if?”
What is the most far-out, fringe or incredible idea that you think might actually be correct?
From the very first time I encountered Jacques Vallee’s idea that we’re living in a Control System, and also read similar ideas from John Keel, Hans Moravec, Rudy Rucker, and others, I’ve always gone back to that notion whenever I want to blow my own mind.And this was decades before The Matrix.
Could you elaborate on that idea?
In recent years, mathematicians, phlosophers, and physicists like Nick Bostrom, Ed Fredkin, Stephen Wolfram, Seth Lloyd, and others have explored the idea that we’re living in a simulation or that the universe is a quantum computer.
Now, I don’t pretend to understand the physics or math underlying these theories, and I recognize that they are just theories and difficult to prove, but the very fact that so many brilliant people from a variety of disciplines are seriously asking these questions delights me to no end.
You’re the lowest profile of the Boingers. You don’t have any books that you’re promoting on the site, or anything like that. Do you have any books or anything like that coming out?
I don’t have any books in-the-works at the moment. I’ve written several proposals over the years, but was burned out on the ideas by the time I finished the outline. To me, that’s a good sign I haven’t found the right topic yet.
Also, I’m happily busy with my other work outside of Boing Boing, as a research director at Institute for the Future.
The Institute for the Future just finished up its 10 year forecast, correct?
IFTF does a 10 Year Forecast every year. Each year, my colleagues look at the technological and societal trends — from demographics to disease, sustainability to science — most likely to have a large impact on the way we live.
I’m not directly involved in IFTF’s Ten Year Forecast research program, as my work is more focused in the Technology Horizons program.
Are there any interesting trends you’re researching now that you can tell us about?
Actually, my research in the last year or so is related to what we just discussed about life in a “control system.”
My colleagues and I were exploring what a world might look like if “everything is programmable.” As we have access to more data about ourselves and our environment than ever before.
Sensor networks, bio-monitors, pervasive computers, and a host of other new technologies have given us unprecedented insight into the chaos and patterns underlying our world. Once we understand what the data means, we can act on it. We live in a control system and are developing new techniques — from social software to gene therapies to geoengineering — to tweak the dials and see the results in real-time.
And so we’re using genetic engineering to reprogram DNA, drugs to reprogram our brains, digital media to reprogram our social networks, etc.
Above: Pesco with a Dreamachine
So instead of a control system controlled externally, we’re building a control system of our own design?
To some degree. More that it seems useful as a metaphor, to look at the world through a computational lens. And that metaphor raises huge questions and dilemmas, of course.
How do you make sure it’s not just an elite group that knows how to do the programming? What unintended consequences might emerge when you start fiddling with the knobs of reality?
That reminds me of Burroughs’s idea of the Reality Studio, which reminds me that you’re a fan of Burroughs - would you say his thinking has influenced your own, or do you just find him interesting?
Indeed, Burroughs and Brion Gysin both had a big impact on me. Burroughs’s notion of Control and finding ways to derail it are tremendously provocative. And I think their work with cut-ups predated much of the language of media used by MTV, Madison Avenue, and even the hyperlinked Web.
And as a futurist, I have to love this Burroughs quote: “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”
Burroughs also had a terrific sense of humor, of course.
I have art by both Burroughs and Gysin hanging above my desk and it inspires me every day.
Whenever I start to feel a bit too complacent I end up thinking of Burroughs’s writings about control. That usually fires me up a bit.
He was a master at shifting your perception with just a single sentence.
Vale of RE/Search Publishing once told me that Burroughs advised him to always look up a lot when you’re wandering around a city. It’s amazing the things you can see by just looking in non-obvious places.
Pesco on The World as a Wunderkammer at TEDx SoMa
Photographer Peter Ross has been allowed to photograph William Burroughs’s stuff from a New York apartment he once lived in.
William Burroughs lived for many years in the former locker room of an 1880s YMCA, on the Bowery in New York City. The almost windowless space was known as The Bunker. When he died in 1997, his friend and mine, John Giorno, kept the apartment intact, with many of Burroughs’s possessions sitting as they were. Part of the space is now used for Buddhist teachings, and the apartment is a wonderful mix of Buddhist wall hangings and pillows and carpets and Burroughs’ personal furniture and collections.
The surprising thing is that this place exists. He lived out his final days in Lawrence, KS. Did he also keep an apartment in NYC?
WB: I was thinking of the concentration of mass energy that you get in a pop concert, and if that were, say, channeled in some magical way…a stairway too heaven…it could become quite actual.
JP: Yes, I know. One is so aware of the energies that you are going for, and you could so easily….I mean, for instance, the other night we played in the Philadelphia Spectrum, which really is a black hole as a concert hall….The security there is the most ugly of anywhere in the States. I saw this incident happen and I was almost physically sick. In fact, if I hadn’t been playing the guitar I was playing it would’ve been over somebody’s head. It was a double-neck, which is irreplaceable, really, unless you wait another nine months for them to make another one at Gibson’s.
Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, And a search for the elusive stairway to heaven originally published in Crawdaddy Magazine, June 1975.
A Guardian article about Gysin by P Orridge
To me, Gysin was the source of the energy we associate with the most radical experiments of the Beats. He was the real source of the ideas; other people just applied them. That was a really important shift in my appreciation of the Beatnik phenomenon. From that moment I was hooked, fascinated and impressed by each layer of Gysin I discovered. As I peeled things away over the years, I was never disappointed. There was never an end to it. He was the only person I’ve met whom I would unquestioningly call a genius.
I hadn’t seen this Burroughs site before. Here’s an excerpt from Nova Express:
Fastest brains preserved forever - Only form of immortality open to the Insect People of Minraud - An intricate bureaucracy wired to the control brains directs all movement through telepathic misdirection and camouflage -The partisans make recordings ahead in time and leave the recordings to be picked up by control stations while they are free for a few seconds to organize underground activities - Largely the underground is made up of adventurers who intend to outthink and displace the history of Minraud - Purges are constant
(via Dr. Menlo).