The Meaning of Alan Watts in 2020: A Conversation with Mark Watts

Mark Watts talks about the timeliness of his father’s work on the heels of his latest release, Just So.

Photo by Getty Images/Anna_Isaeva.

From the editor:

Just So: Money, Materialism, and the Ineffable, Intelligent Universe, (Sounds True, 2020) is the latest book from philosopher Alan Watts. With its release, we were able to speak with Mark Watts, who has been transcribing and editing his father’s work for many years. Read an excerpt from Just So here: “Wiggles, Seriousness, and the Fear of Pleasure.”

Utne Reader: Given that the source content for Just So was recorded decades ago, what kind of updates were necessary to acclimate the book for the world of 2020? Did you encounter any notable challenges? Similarly, do you feel that the messages of the book are readily applicable to specific contemporary issues? 

Mark Watts: Inevitably in transcribing vintage recordings like these, one comes across colloquialisms and historic references that have become dated. An early example is found in the section on Ecological Awareness (p.34) where at the start my father referenced a law that was “recently” passed to ban burning of the flag in the 60s. However, his message, which is that we can make a pious fuss about the symbols for the country while we are destroying those things for which the symbols stand—and the country itself—is more than ever relevant, and will not be lost on anyone looking at the American landscape today. So although historic in origins, the actual message and core intent is as timely today as ever.

In his day, father was in many ways a visionary, and what he saw and spoke about was considered socially and politically radical, and yet many of his observations have become common sense today. We talk about going with the flow, and working with a situation, which he talks about in the idea of ‘wu wei’ or ‘without forcing,’ the sensitivity to see through a situation and find the path that will be effective with minimal disruption.

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