‘Til The Funding Runs Out

In Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus trilogy, the Anthony Quinn-lookalike, Discordian anarchist pirate/lawyer Hagbard Celine (try to fit that on a business card) follows three laws in accordance to his personal philosophy. The first two overlap eerily well with Foucault’s writings, especially considering that the Illuminatus books were published two years before Discipline and Punish.

Celine’s First Law is that ‘public security is the chief cause of public insecurity’. He uses the example of Soviet Russia, wherein the recursive levels of secret policing and rampant paranoia essentially devoured itself. Everybody spies on everybody ‘until the funding runs out’, and a fear of subversive artists dominates despite the fact that they could do little to no more harm than the average citizen in reality. The notion that everybody is being watched means nobody can trust anybody else, and the uncertainty is the greatest fear therein – when is one alone? When is one safe? The fact that the panopticon only requires that inmates think they are being observed, when they may or may not be, is naturally conducive to this state of mind, and this example serves to elaborate on the terms that Foucault established in his view of Bentham’s prison.

Celine’s Second Law relates to the concepts of truth and power. To Foucault, the two fuel each other. Truth informs power, which when exercised creates truth. Celine’s definition is somewhat different: ‘truth is only possible in a non-threatening situation’. As an anarchist, Celine uses a counterpoint to this as an argument against hierarchy, stating that there is always the subtle pressure to tell one’s boss what they want to hear to avoid a loss of security. His example is the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover’s obsession with Communist infiltration led the organization to focus on hunting the Red Menace despite the very low threat it posed compared to, say, organized crime (which Hoover didn’t believe existed on a national scale). Agents who disagreed were at best declined promotions, or at worst branded Communists themselves and fired/blacklisted. The two views of truth seem to mirror each other in a way – Foucault’s belief is that truth is tied to power, and Celine’s is that truth is estranged from power (that said, their definitions of the term are not necessarily identical).

The main thrust of this analysis is that these ideas come from the same place, the Cold War climate that informed Foucault’s writings and The Illuminatus. The former analyses the statements while the latter parodies them. Between the two of them, both works serve the purpose of fleshing out the paranoia and uncertainty therein, with cold logic on one hand and utter absurdity on the other.

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