|Michael Joseph 390pp £12.95|
Another Dave Langford review.
This book emerged from legal toils in the heated aftermath of L. Ron Hubbard's baleful influence at Conspiracy '87. For those who hoped Scientology was growing out of its legendary litigiousness, fondness for harassment and fear of objective truth, the "mischievous and misconceived" (Mr Justice Vinelott) attempt to suppress Bare-Faced Messiah was sad confirmation that things get no better.
Russell Miller is an independent journalist who's worked awesomely hard to uncover the facts of Hubbard's extraordinary life. Using Armstrong's archive material and official records disclosed via the US Freedom of Information Act, Miller discovers the official biography to be sheer fantasy. By his own account, for example, L. Ron emerged from World War II "blinded with injured optic nerves, and lame". An insensitive naval hospital diagnosed "epigastric distress", which is not the same.
We're presented with facts and left to decide our opinion of a man whose bent for tall tales grew to compulsive lying, who routinely revenged himself on his wife and others by denouncing them to the FBI as Communists (no empty charge in the 1950s), and who soon went one better than that by building a repressive organization of his own.
Messiah bounces between horror and hilarity as, with time, Hubbard becomes ever more powerful and visibly dippy. His last major act before vanishing in 1980 was Operation Snow White, a failed Church attempt to infiltrate government departments and destroy the records Miller finds so damning. Hubbard's current wife was abandoned and left to take the rap....
Even more than the harrowing accounts of ex-Scientologists who tried to go against the Church, Miller's book leaves one with a profound distrust of anything Hubbard touched. Read Messiah to learn why, no matter how separate projects like "Writers of the Future" may be from the original source of the dollars, some of us shrink from association with that name ... as though invited to contribute to John Norman's Sci Fi Magazine.
"Truth," wrote Hubbard, "is what is true for you." H'mm.
|First published in Critical Wave 3, 1987.|
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(Lyle Stuart, 1987, 402pp, $20.00)
After the overdose of publicity for L. Ron Hubbard and all his works at last year's World SF Convention, I was curious enough to attempt some research into Hubbard's life and home-brewed religion. There's a plethora of material, invariably disturbing and almost always (the chief exceptions being Hubbard's 1950 Dianetics and its endless later accretions) strongly negative. Some notable contributions are Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952: the bemused author turned on his radio at three in the morning to hear John W. Campbell himself announcing "Mr Gardner is a liar!"), Paulette Cooper's The Scandal of Scientology (1971: this led to her being harassed and even framed for a crime by the Church of Scientology. Corydon quotes an FBI-seized report to the Church by an observer of Cooper: "She can't sleep again... she's talking suicide. Wouldn't this be great for Scientology!"), Robert Kaufman's Inside Scientology (1972: a particularly harrowing account of Hubbard's higher-level "processing" techniques and their effects on the author), Dr Christopher Evans's Cults of Unreason (1974: light-hearted and unusually fair-minded, this ended its Scientology coverage on a pious note of hope that things were becoming better and more liberal -- a hope not borne out by the obsessive legal harassment of the two 1987 books on Hubbard), and Stewart Lamont's Religion Inc. (1986: an informative though somewhat pedestrian overview).
In 1987 came Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah, whose laborious unearthing of much new material (either leaked or disclosed by the US Freedom of Information Act) must make it a standard reference work, and Corydon's and Hubbard's Messiah or Madman? Since he parted company with his father's organization, L. Ron Jr has been known as Ronald DeWolf; to avoid confusion I'll stick to Corydon's name, since he is evidently the principal writer.
Messiah or Madman? is best taken as a sort of partisan appendix to Miller's book. It brings us closer to the raw material: there are many lengthy statements from persons connected with Hubbard and Scientology. It offers startling glimpses of the Church from Corydon's privileged viewpoint as a fairly high-ranking insider (now, of course, anathematized). It conveys a personal attitude which amid the absolute blacks and whites of past controversy (fostered, it must be said, by Hubbard's manic refusal to allow any middle ground between total personal commitment to Hubbard and total ignominy) hasn't had much of an airing.
Corydon generally thinks that Hubbard was a bad man -- albeit one of enormous personal charisma -- who grew worse as his megalomania and paranoia were fed by the cult's success; that the Scientology organization has been corrupted, perhaps irremediably, by Hubbard's personality; but that, at least on the lower levels before the pulp-mysticism content and the "therapy" prices become absurd, the techniques have something of value to offer.
My personal suspicion is that it might be a case of "all that was new in it was false, and all that was true in it was old". Corydon himself notes Hubbard's never-acknowledged debts to abreaction therapy and that dear old guru Korzybski. The simple question-and-answer fundamentals of Dianetic/Scientological "auditing" remind one of the key to success in any alternative therapy, be it never so daft: cheer the patient up with a good dose of that undivided personal attention which overworked "orthodox medicine" can't spare, and the temporary psychological boost can induce convincing sensations of improvement....
The increasingly weirder and more misogynistic assertions in Dianetics tell us -- as Corydon observes -- little about the secrets of the human mind but all too much about Hubbard's own fixations, in particular concerning abortion. Abortion run riot was going to be the downfall of Western civilization. "Anyone attempting an abortion is committing an act against the whole society," Hubbard wrote in 1951, and in 1952 added an enthusiastic footnote about the psychokinetic abilities of Scientology "clears": "Pregnancies that were as much as three months advanced have been terminated this way. Isn't this fascinating?"
Fun though it is to pick one's way through Hubbard's excesses, atrocities and self-contradictions, the task is too easy. Some of the deranged material quoted here helps supplement Miller's altogether more even-toned and better-written book; Miller mentions that the FBI filed Hubbard as "a mental case", but Corydon shows us the kind of letter Hubbard was sending to the FBI at the time (mid-50s):
About two or three o'clock in the morning my apartment was entered. I was knocked out, had a needle thrust into my heart to give it a jet of air to produce a coronary thrombosis and was given an electric shock with a 110 volt current. All this is very blurred to me. I had no witnesses.
While Miller's work deserves to be a standard reference, Corydon's is simultaneously a mine of eccentrically organized research material for the next Hubbard thesis to be written, and disturbingly redolent of disinherited DeWolf/Hubbard's seeming resentment and spite . Some of the first-person accounts are horrific, describing rituals of humiliation and degradation at Hubbard's orders which go beyond anything reported in previous exposés. Others -- in particular the tales of repeated attempts to buy up a country as the base for the world Scientological takeover -- are blackly though sometimes unconsciously funny.
Hubbard never managed to buy a country, but what could his organization buy? In 1969 his "Office Policy" suggested that "one should attack with the end in view of taking over the whole field of mental health." There is a certain irony in the reflection that after grandiose plans to run entire countries and professions, a portion of the Hubbard millions eventually went to buy fame in the tiny SF field where he first achieved a measure of success.
SF fans have always wondered how the dreadful Battlefield Earth got on to the best-seller lists. Corydon drops a hint in passing, while describing the trials of running one of the Scientology franchises to which (seemingly because their semi-independent success threatened his total control and sovereignty) Hubbard was becoming hostile....
We were ordered to sell 1000 copies of Hubbard's recently released science-fiction novel Battlefield Earth "before Thursday" or I would be kicked out as mission holder.
The Hubbard publicity splurge at the 1987 World SF Convention backfired badly -- attendees felt obscurely threatened by the wall-to-wall coverage of Hubbard projects -- but, SF fans and writers traditionally being stubborn individualists, several went against what could easily be seen as a tide of hysteria. The opposing viewpoints, as they were eventually articulated, were more or less as follows:
(a) Hubbard is dead; "his" Scientology organization has no connection with the publishing firms New Era (UK) and Bridge (USA) which now market his SF; the Hubbard funding is irrelevant to the worthy aim of the "L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future" contest which rewards promising new authors; we should swallow our prejudices.
(b) Hubbard's organization lives on; the "independent" houses which produce his SF and the "Writers of the Future" anthologies also publish works like Dianetics (and nothing, apparently, by other authors); all Hubbard's companies, Corydon implies, were (and are?) puppets, centrally controlled and staffed by a Scientological elite no matter how independent they might seem; the spin-off of "good works" serves the purpose of keeping Hubbard's name constantly in the public eye and thus helps promote a cult which remains inextricably identified with its founder; learning what we have from books like Miller's and Corydon's, we should be wary of giving even indirect aid to an organization (as distinct from a therapy) as pernicious and repressive as Scientology appears to be.
Corydon's reports from deep inside the Church of Scientology have tilted me a little further towards (b) ... but not to the extent of any pejorative "we should" or "we must". This is a matter for individual decision, individual responsibility. And I must confess there's an irrational element present too. I'm unlikely ever to be invited aboard, but even if the possibility of promoting dubious cults were proven false, I'd personally balk at association with any project flaunting the name of L. Ron Hubbard. It would be too like appearing in something called John Norman's Sci-Fi Magazine.
Read Corydon's jerky, episodic book if you want to explore the strange byways of Hubbard's life -- but read Miller first.
|First published in Foundation 42, 1988.|
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