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William Irwin Thompson

Everybody had a bazooka in their pick-up truck - these guys were serious! It made New York look like a loving and caring place.(laughter)

Rebecca: And what was their problem?

Bill: Oh, they thought we were creating a one world planetary culture which was apologetics for the Rockefellers who together with the Council of Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission were going to create a nuclear war and create their world headquarters in Crestone, Colorado, and we were there as the shock troops. Real Robert Anton Wilson conspiracy stuff.

I tend to be more of a contemplative than a political activist, I’m not a new-left-radical. I’m obviously not a Republican, but I’m not a hands on protest marcher.

Rebecca: Tell us about your electronic stained-glass project.

Bill: It hasn’t happened yet because of the funding, but it was an attempt to put an embankment of liquid crystal displays on the wall of a the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and render the sub-visible and invisible realms, like the bacteria in the atmosphere, visible to people. At the same time there would be a mimetic level where programs would be stored in the computer as films.

There would be interactive arts where composers would compose music and the chaotic attractors of the interaction of your own breath would go through various software transforms. Using the technology developed by James Lovelock, the electron capture device, you could see the trace of your walking through the forest of the trees and your perfume interacting with it and it would play it back as music.

So it’s attempting to tell the story of the biosphere from the sub-visible level the way that stained glass told the story of the Bible to people who couldn’t read. It’s a nice collaborative process. Santiago Calatraca’s architecture designing the physical structure, Lovelock with his electron capture device and atmospheric chemistry, the bacteriology of Lynn Margulis and the botany of Paul and Julie Hankiewicz and the bioshelter concept of John Todd and the visual mathematics of Ralph Abraham.

David: What are you working on now?

Bill: I’m doing a series of talks in New York called tentatively Mind Jazz on Ancient Texts. The metaphor is that if you take Miles Davis and the song My Funny Valentine, I’m taking the Rig Veda or the Tao te Ching or the Baghavad Gita and I give a rap on it and just take off. My relationship to the text is like that of Miles to the song. You can hear the melodies coming back and you can sense that it’s still about the Rig Veda but it’s about a lot of other stuff too. It’s going from the homination of the primates to the planetization of humanity so it’s taking about six or seven years. So, I’m doing a lot of reading!

Rebecca: I’m interested about what you think of Virtual Reality.

Bill: I think the main problem with Virtual Reality is that it’s a toxic technology, a rape of your frontal lobes. I think it’s going to give people health effects like early Alzheimer’s. When I was a kid I used to go into shoe stores and stick my toes in x-ray machines. What seemed to be progress and groovy was actually giving people cancer.

I think that there’s going to be a lot of these extremely low-frequency vibrational fields which are bad for your immune system. When you have the glove on, what’s enabling the computer to read you is that you’re in a densely saturated magnetic field. Part of the meltdown of sexuality and the body is that we’re all pieces of meat in a Mulligan’s stew of planetary noise. The qualities and interactions that this is having on the immune system and physiology are just toxic to how the human body works.

The latest theory is that AIDS is a DNA disease and not an HIV viral infection. Every time we come into a new ecological niche in evolution, like the New World, there’s also new information that comes in the form of a disease. Now we’re into this post-biological electronic new world, and the fear is that the autonomy of the immune system is being eroded from the noise. If you add up quartz watches, microwave ovens, power lines, the wiring in the house and then you add in Virtual Reality - we’re playing Russian roulette with evolution. This is my intuitive feeling which I always trust. It’s just this wild, Irish druid radar.

David Spangler and I went in with totally good faith to the Human Technology Interface Lab in the University of Seattle and experimented with Virtual Reality. First of all I was put off by the hype and the politics. Everybody was saying, this is going to cure cancer and they were trying to get megabucks from the department of defense saying, this is the new cutting edge for the defense industries and medi-business.

Why, when we’ve seen time after time in the history of science the positive predictions of technology fall short? Thalidomide does this and the DDT does that. Why can’t they say, everything we are going to do will have side effects and a shadow side? They can’t because they’re fund-raising. If they even mention one tenth of one-percent of the problem, everybody’s going to be terrified of litigation and say this is the new John Mansville, and the industry will collapse before it’s even begun.

So, I took the trip and I thought the visual quality was pretty tacky, it was like being inside a Pac-Man game. Anyone who does T’ai Chi or any kind of yoga is a little more sensitive to the etheric sheath of the body, and I could feel a sort of violation and I didn’t like it.

David: You’ve said that every society that creates a class of people to protect them, ends up having to protect themselves from the protectors. How do you see that happening in America today?

Bill: That’s the first criticism of Plato’s Republic. How do you guard yourselves from the guardians? Who polices the multi-national corporation if its scale is beyond direct responsibility to the nation-state? We don’t really have laws to deal with that. Part of what we have to figure out is the relationship between the global economy and the global ecology - and the membrane between the two. China is just racing ahead to industrialize, but it’s really doubtful that they’ll have the water and the air to do it. There’s nobody to enforce controls over that.

Rebecca: So is it just down to individual responsibility now?

Bill: But it’s at a scale where individuals can only make a small difference. There’s no way of leveraging China to change. They’ve bought into the myth of progress and they want to have atom bombs and freeways and be just like us - or buy it from us and then compete with us which is the Chinese way. They get cement factories from the Soviet Union and five years later ask them, “would you like to buy any cement?”(laughter)

Rebecca: What do you predict for humanity in 100 years from now?

Bill: I think the catastrophe bifurcation we’ve been talking about is closer than that - I think it will happen in your generation. The UN has a list of problems that need immediate solution. It’s about 22,000 items. Just stop for a moment. Think of Rwanda, Bosnia, the biosphere, Chiapas, gangs and kids with uzies, the ozone hole and the greenhouse effect, low frequency electromagnetic fields that may cause cancer, air-borne viruses from deforestation that come to large cities, antibiotics no longer being effective.

Just add it all up and then imagine how much the human social unit is capable of responding to and dealing with it. It’s just too much. I think that that’s why some people get so frightened, especially if you don’t have a mystical base in your consciousness where you have this resource inside.

Rebecca: If you see humanity as the center of the show then it’s a lot more frightening too.

Bill: Yes. It’s also frightening if you’ve grown up with a growth economy and suddenly you’re not going to have it. I remember the first shock I had when I first came onto the New York streets as a writer in 1971. I was being interviewed by a black reporter for CBS radio. He got really angry and said, “you’re basically telling us that now that you whities have made it, it’s all over and we’re not going to have a chance to get our piece. We don’t want this talk of a new paradigm, new consciousness, mysticism, ecology, living lightly on the earth - fuck it! We want park avenue, we want stretch limos.” That’s basically the whole third world scene. I think we’re really committed and hurtling towards some major event. Maybe somebody sticking out their arm can make a slight detour of the planet but either way, we’re in for the ride.

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