JED McKENNA IS THE AUTHOR of a series of books about enlightenment. The books are fiction and “Jed McKenna” is a pseudonym.
Many people think Jed McKenna’s true identity is a mystery, but this isn’t true. His birth name has been a matter of public record for nearly twenty years. It’s Peder Sweeney. For reasons I’ll explain below, it’s virtually certain that he is the same Peder Sweeney who:
was born on September 26, 1961;
was named Peder Remmington Sweeney (the double m’s are not a typo);
went to Barrington High School in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago;
attended Northwestern Military and Naval Academy in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (his dad was an Army ranger in World War II);
went to William Rainey Harper College in Illinois;
wrote articles for his college newspaper that are similar in striking ways to the Jed McKenna books;
lived in Fairfield, Iowa, which was the center of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the US;
was marketing director and writer at Thaddeus Computing, publisher of The HP Palmtop Paper, a magazine for users of a handheld personal computer;
now lives in North Carolina with his wife of many years;
now calls himself Peter Johnson.
How do we know all this? Let’s start with his name. We know Jed McKenna’s real name because when he registered the copyrights for his first two books, he certified to the US government under penalty of law that his real name was “Peder Sweeney” and that “Jed McKenna” was his pseudonym. You can see this for yourself on the US government’s database of copyright registrations.
These copyright registrations are proof that the first two Jed McKenna books were written by a man named Peder Sweeney. Once we see the registrations, we know this for sure, for a fact, and we also know for sure that McKenna isn’t anyone else such as Adyashanti or August Turak. Many people don’t recognize that the copyright registrations are proof because they don’t know enough about copyrights. Later on in this article, in the section called But… but… but… I’ll try to explain why the registrations are proof but for now, I’ll go on describing what we know.
The copyright registrations tell us that Jed McKenna’s real name is Peder Sweeney, but how do we know he’s the Peder Sweeney I described above, whose life I researched by reading about him on public websites?
Four kinds of information tell us they are the same man. First, according to public records, only one person named Peder Sweeney has lived in the US in modern times. I base this statement on a thorough Internet search that included more than a dozen ancestry and public records websites (ancestry.com, familysearch.com, whitepages,com, truepeoplesearch.com, etc.).
Second, the Peder Sweeney who can be found on the web, wrote for his college newspaper. The articles are online (see link below). Some of them bear striking similarities to the Jed McKenna books.
Third, there are a number of circumstantial parallels. For example, the Peder who can be found on the web, worked as director of marketing of a publishing company. This would help explain why the Peder who owns Wisefool Press has been extraordinarily successful at marketing his books through a company he created himself. Very few people succeed at this.
Another example: As Neal Allen points out in comments below, “McKenna mentions in one of his books the importance to him of the obscure title How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. Adler lectured at Harper College in April 1983, when Sweeney was a student there.” Adler was one of the chief evangelists of the mid-20th-century great books movement, and Jed loves great books.
Fourth, the public-records websites contain information about the Peder who is on the web (for instance, former addresses) that matches the copyright registrations. I'll show an example in a moment.
Given these facts, I think it’s certain that Jed McKenna is the same man as the one I described above. It’s not certain in the way a mathematical proof is certain, but for practical purposes there can’t be any real doubt.
How do we connect Peder Sweeney with Peter Johnson in North Carolina? One way is through his wife. (I won’t print her name here, since unlike her husband she has done nothing to make herself a public figure.) She and Peder lived together in Iowa in the 1990s when he still called himself Peder Sweeney. According to public records, she now lives in North Carolina with her husband who at various times has called himself Peter Johnson, Peter Sweeney, and Peder Sweeney. In other words, they stayed married all these years but he changed his name, or at least sometimes uses a different name.
We can confirm everything we said so far with these two pictures:
THERE ARE PEOPLE on the Internet who think Jed’s real name is a mystery. There is even a website devoted to solving this non-existent mystery. How can people believe this when in fact the author certified his true name publicly in official legal documents under penalty of law?
The human mind can find reasons to believe anything, absolutely anything, even when it’s obviously untrue. Many people are attracted to such ideas. Sometimes they pride themselves on believing things that contradict obvious facts. It makes them feel superior to other people. From time to time whole countries and societies put themselves in thrall to such untrue ideas.
In the case of Jed McKenna, the way people maintain their belief in the false idea that his real name is secret, is by claiming that Jed lied when he put Peder Sweeney’s name on the registrations. He did this, they say, in order to conceal his true identity.
This is an example of an idea that sounds plausible only to people who know very little about it. To people who work professionally with copyrights in the publishing industry, as I do, this idea is obviously ridiculous. I’ll try to explain why.
The purpose of copyright registrations is to create evidence of ownership of intellectual property for use in legal matters such as contracts, wills, and lawsuits. They have no other purpose. For example, when lawsuits arise concerning ownership of books, authors use copyright registrations to demonstrate to judges, “This book is mine. Here’s the registration to prove it.”
Putting a false name on a copyright registration would be like putting somebody else’s name on the deed of your house, except it would be even stupider because it would be a violation of the law and would invalidate the registration.
If Jed McKenna really did that, he jeopardized his ability to leave the books to his wife or children in his will; jeopardized his ability to sign a contract with a publisher; jeopardized his ability to take legal action against infringers.
Nobody who is knowledgeable about publishing and business would do such a thing, and Jed McKenna — call him what you will — is very knowledgeable about business and publishing.
People who think Jed’s identity is a mystery have an answer to what I just wrote. They claim that Jed was forced to write the real name of a friend on the registration because the government required him to write a real name in addition to his pseudonym, and he wanted to hide his identity.
No. Jed wasn’t forced. This is another example of something that sounds plausible only to people who know nothing about it. The US government doesn’t require authors to write a real name on copyright registration forms. Pseudonyms are sufficient. Jed could have written just “Jed McKenna” and left it at that. He added “Peder Sweeney” voluntarily because the whole purpose of the registrations, from his own point of view, was to establish legally the fact that he owns the books, and to do that he had to write his real name.
Let’s look at one more argument made by people who want to believe that Jed’s identity is secret. Some of them say, “Jed McKenna has always been very careful to hide his true identity, so there’s no way he would have put his true name on the registrations.” This argument is an example of a logical fallacy called “assuming the conclusion.” It’s a kind of circular reasoning.
PEOPLE WHO INSIST that Jed’s identity is secret, even though it’s not secret and has never been secret, remind me a little of Captain Ahab in one of Jed’s favorite books, Moby Dick. What the whale was to Ahab, the mystery is to them. But there’s a difference: Ahab wanted to kill his whale; these people want to keep theirs alive.
Text copyright © 2020–21 Elena Gutierrez. Illustration by Rockwell Kent from Moby Dick, Lakeside Press, 1930, copyright © 1930 R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company. First photo of Peder Sweeney from 1977 yearbook, Barrington High School, Barrington, Illinois, published without a copyright notice. Second photo of Peder Sweeney from 1979 yearbook, Northwestern Military and Naval Academy (Critique ’79), published without a copyright notice.
Elena Gutierrez has written occasionally for this website since it began.
By Jed McKenna
Like the famous Don Juan books by Carlos Castaneda, this book is a novel that people sometimes mistakenly take as non-fiction. The narrator claims to be a TV-watching, bike-riding American guru with a mordant sense of humor for whom nothing is holy because nothing is real — nothing except truth. The book consists mainly of him telling us about the conversations he has had with his students.
From this brief description the book may sound boring and even dishonest but we like it and recommend it because (1) the author is a splendid writer, (2) the book contains a certain amount of truth, and (3) it’s extremely entertaining. We should add that the book also says some untrue things.
“Jed McKenna” is a pseudonym. Many people think the author’s identity is secret. There are even websites devoted to solving the “mystery” of his true identity. Actually the author has never hidden his identity and his real name is a matter of public record. To learn more about this, see Who is Jed McKenna?.
This page was first published on April 14, 2020, last revised on July 13, 2021, and last republished on July 13, 2021.