...You might consider me "Guinea pig R" for Robert. And I'm using myself as a typical 20th century model as I'm trying to make sense out of the world around me.
CCN: So, you're defining yourself as normal?
RAW: No, just typical in the sense of being one of the damn good models around these days. I am typical in the sense that...a lot of people are on the same wave length as me. I get fan mail from people that are absolutely stunned that there's somebody else besides themselves who thinks this way. So, we're a minority, but there are a lot of us. On a planet this overcrowded, a minority can have a few million numbers.
CCN: So when you say "think this way," could you define that for me?
RAW: More scientific than religious. More open than dogmatic. More optimistic than pessimistic. More future oriented than past oriented. And more humorous than serious. I really dread serious people. Especially serious, dogmatic people. I regard them as sort of what Reich called the emotional plague. I regard them as very dangerous.
CCN: Well, I'm glad you mentioned Wilhelm Reich because aside from your references to Chicago, you also make a lot of references to Wilhelm Reich. Could you briefly describe who Wilhelm Reich was, what he did and why your interest in him? Did he present a good working model for you?
RAW: Well, Reich was a pupil of Freud. He was an M.D. from the University of Vienna which is pretty damn high qualifications. He was increasingly radical, and one of the turning points in his life occurred, I forget whether it was '31 or '32, one of those years just before Hitler came to power ... he got kicked out the Psychoanalytical Society for being too Marxist. And then he was kicked out to the Communist Party too for being too Freudian. He joined the Socialist Party and was kicked out for being too anarchistic, and then he had to flee Germany because he was Jewish.
And when he came to the United States, somebody filed a false report with the FBI that he was a Nazi agent which led to him being imprisoned for a period, not in prison, just held in custody until they investigated.
He had a great capacity to arouse irrational hatred obviously, and that's because his ideas were radical in the most extreme sense of the word "radical." His ideas have something to offend everybody, and he ended up becoming the only heretic in American history whose books were literally burned by the government.
Reich was not only thrown in prison, but they chopped up all the scientific equipment in his laboratory with axes and burned all of his books in an incinerator. Now that interests me as a civil liberties issue.
When I started studying Reich's works, I went through a period of enthusiasm, followed by a period of skepticism, followed by a period of just continued interest, but I think a lot of his ideas probably were sound. A lot probably were unsound. And, I'm not a Reichian in the sense of somebody who thinks he was the greatest scientist who ever lived and discovered the basic secrets of psychology, physics and everything else, all in one lifetime. But I think he has enough sound ideas that his unpopular ideas deserve further investigation.
CCN: Unpopular ideas such as about sexuality and the energy of sex, "orgone"?
RAW: Well, first of all...I don't believe in any more this idea that sexually repressive religions are the main cause of sadism. There are plenty of sexually open societies that have had a lot of sadists in them, so I think Reich was oversimplifying there.
The Orgone Theory I'm still open-minded about, especially because recently there was a Ph.D. dissertation accepted at a German university where they did a double-blind study of the orgone accumulator, and nobody knew who was in the accumulators and who was in the inactive boxes, and yet the people in the accumulators did report the results that Reich said they should feel -- tingling mildly erotic sensations and a rise in temperature.
That interests me.
I don't know why somebody in this country doesn't have the balls to do an experiment like that. In this country the establishment says he was a nut, period, and they won't repeat his results. People who do repeat his results tend to confirm him, although none of them have done a real hard, double-blind study. But if they confirm him, they get known as Reichians and dismissed as nuts themselves, and I think there's an awful lot of prejudice there.
CCN: Yeah, no doubt. And you have a background in psychology? You have a doctorate I understand?
RAW: From an alternative university approved by the state of California. Now, California has four ratings from approved down to authorized. Authorized is the fourth. I forget the two in the middle. Approved is the highest they give. So it's not a diploma, though. It was approved by the state but it's not quite orthodox. It's an alternative university.
CCN: Tell me a little bit about your play, Wilhelm Reich in Hell.
RAW: Well, in a sense...it's about Reich. It's about the controversy surrounding him. It's also about my own doubts and confusions, and it's in two parts. There's a long introduction because Bernard Shaw said, "People don't buy plays unless they have long introductions." And it worked. People bought Shaw's plays, and they usually don't buy plays in book form.
So I wrote a long, funny introduction like Shaw always wrote for his plays. And in the introduction I fight with the people who say Reich was a nut and they won't repeat his experiments because it would just be a waste of time. That's rhetoric where I'm defending Reich's right to be heard. The play is what is poetry. Yeats said we make rhetoric out of our quarrel with others and poetry out of our quarrel with ourselves.
The play is my own doubt, questioning, how much was sound and how much was crazy in Reich?
I'm never sure. I keep changing my mind.
So the play dramatizes my own doubts and questions. When did he go crazy? How crazy did he go? I'm not at all sure about that.
CCN: He died in prison?
CCN: In the United States?
CCN: The charge that he was convicted of ...?
RAW: Contempt of court.
He was forbidden to use the orgone accumulator any more, and he defied the court deliberately, to dramatize his libertarian position that a court has no right to say that certain lines of scientific research are illegitimate.
That's the same thing Leary went to jail for, except they had a better rationalization. Namely, one half of one marijuana cigarette. But the judge who sentenced Leary did denounce him for his dangerous ideas. So, it was basically, Leary and Reich have very similar cases. Except, believe it or not, Reich aroused even more fury and prejudice because, like I said, they burned his books and they didn't burn Leary's books.
CCN: ... Why do you think that was? Reich is known, at least by myself, as somebody who is mainly what you would call a sex researcher, and Leary was exploring the effects of LSD and psycho actives, let's say.
Why is it that the drugs only landed Leary in prison, but the sex basically killed Reich?
RAW: Well, I think one reason is that Reich ran athwart of the courts in the '50s when the McCarthy era was ending, but the atmosphere was still there, and things were a little more extreme, a little more fanatical, then than they were when Leary ran athwart of the system.
But still Leary was originally sentenced to 37 years, which is pretty heavy for scientific dissent, especially in a country with the First Amendment which is supposed to guarantee freedom of speech.
The sexual apsect of Reich's work, well, that would push people's buttons. I mean, look at Madonna. All you've got to do is come up with something that challenges orthodox sexual ideas and everybody goes off the handle, both the left wing and the right wing.
Who hates Madonna more -- the Feminists or the Fundamentalists?
Challenge sexual fascism or the traditional Judeo-Christian code as it's called and all hell breaks loose. Everybody is down on your case. And they were all down on Reich, everybody from the extreme left to the extreme right.
CCN: When you say orthodox sexual ideas, the first thing that comes to my mind is that we don't really have any these days.
RAW: Well, we had more back in the '50's. There was more of a consensus than there is now.
If Reich were alive today, I think he'd have much less trouble publishing and discussing his ideas. He was just publishing half a century too early.
But today, Reich would probably sound conservative.