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Gurus and the Snafu Principle | The Truth Is You

Gurus and the Snafu Principle


Robert Anton Wilson (affectionately known as RAW) is one of my favorite thinkers. In keeping with a tradition amongst my fellow fans of his work, I consider him my spiritual uncle.

Uncle Bob gave us several guidelines for effective thinking and the pursuit of free living. Collectively these are known as Wilson's Laws.

One of these laws is the Snafu Principle. (If you aren't familiar with the term, "snafu" is an acronym for: situation normal, all fucked up.) The principle is this - Communication is only possible between equals.

Uncle Bob, was a conspiracy theorist (among many other talents). In his examination of the behaviors of large organizations, such as secret societies, corporations, governments, and academic institutions, he found this block against clear communication. In any hierarchy, or ranking, or structure where different 'levels' of that hierarchy represent differing levels of power, or influence, clear communication is not possible. In any such organization, those on the higher rungs will corrupt communication in order to maintain their status. Those on the lower rungs will modify their communications in order to not fall lower, or incur the wrath of those above. This corruption of communicated signals of information, just like in any good run of the childhood game 'telephone', will distort more over time, and with the number of persons involved in a particular transmission.

The Snafu principle is very easy to see in any cursory study of political machinations. Whether it be the 'cloak & dagger' shenanigans of governmental relations, or the intra-departmental competition and conflict in any corporation where position is tied directly to monetary reward (and by extension, survival), this principle pops out at you.

Any transmission of information is subject to this phenomenon. A communication always begins with a thinker. A particular thinker may produce incredibly useful permutations of information and be moved to communicate those signals to others. As a sidebar; one of my personal favorite formulations of information theory holds that, "information wants to be free." Information, in it's nature, wants to spread as far and wide as possible, in an unobstructed way.

This leads to an interesting critical look at the guru/disciple relationship, as well as the traditional systems that preserve the teachings of dead thinkers. The schools of transmission for Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, neo-Platonism, Taoism, Vedanta, Judaism, all fall victim to the Snafu principle. If the theory holds, and I happen to think it does, then any such school of transmission must corrupt (to one degree, or another) the signals of the original thinkers of those schools, as well as any subsequent generations that develop, or add to, such branches of information. Unless you can access the original thinker of a particular school, you cannot avoid the snafu principle corrupting the communication of clear information. Even then, if the person who is the source is placed above you in a organization relationship, the Snafu will show up.

This principle gets particularly pronounced in the strong type of guru/disciple relationship, where the guru, the "bringer of light into the darkness", is held to be infallible. At the extreme end, any conflict between the guru's words and reality, is seen to be a fault in the disciple's understanding. Any challenge of the signals of the guru is condemned, and the disciple risks expulsion from the 'family' of followers. Once your identity becomes based on being a member of such a 'spiritual family', the threat of expulsion takes on proportions of a threat to life itself.

Among the Buddha's last words were reportedly an admonition to avoid the Snafu principle. He implored the bhiku's present, and by extension any of us who make use of his thinking, to work very hard to suss out our own salvation. To be lights unto ourselves. Ultimately any thinking signal you are working with will be worked on by the thinker that you are. At that point, you have the opportunity to prove out information for yourself, to take what works, and hold the rest as an interesting foot note. In the end, it comes down to you, and your relation to the truth. That is what will have the most impact for you. It's your job (if you want it) to work out what that 'truth' is, in any given instance.

Good luck! I find it a journey worth taking, and I am sure you will too!

I hope you found this piece useful (or at least entertaining). Please let me know what you think by dropping me a comment below. Peace!

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