Monday, September 15, 2014
Review of L. Ron. Hubbard's Dianetics: The Original Thesis
I read this book in conjunction with interviews I am conducting for Awakenings: Felt Benefit In Personal Values (www.awakeningsproject.wix.com/awakenings). In addition to reading Original Thesis, I have met with staff at a Scientology church, have undergone an Oxford Capacity Assessment (“Free Personality Test”) at their site, and I look forward to interviewing a few Scientologists for my research soon.
First, let me establish something. There is no denying that Hubbard was a genius. I know he’s derided by many who don’t take his religion or methodology seriously, and vilified by those who consider his ideas a grave threat against humankind or a specific belief system, but that doesn’t discount the fact that his prodigious literary output and complex ideology are tremendously orchestrated and deeply ramified into a very well thought-out system. I have no doubt he was an extremely informed person, and he wrote intelligently and assiduously in order for people to take him seriously as a religious Czar. He desperately wanted people to think of his work as scientific, though it mostly strikes one as innovative, and I believe that it was his innovation that brought him his enormous success. He clearly created more than he relayed, and if his Scientology is scientific—in the sense of being verified by other leading scientists or presenting hypotheses that are testable for definite verification—then science is in some serious trouble.
But as it stands, I think Hubbard did the right thing in declaring his Scientology—a label probably intended to evoke respect for dispassionate research and reportage, which it is not—a ‘religion.’ Religions require faith, and Scientology most certainly requires a LOT of faith, but religion does something very specific that science doesn’t do: it speaks to what a person wants, and provides a sense of direction and meaning for one’s life that is based on an emotional connection with the content of that faith. Science more closely deals with impersonal data, calculation, and ‘detached’ intellection; religion more closely deals with passion, instinct, and volition. I personally think that both science and religion are pursuits of every human being in varying degrees, though many systems of behavior or thought often represent more one function than the other; therefore both are legit. So, Scientology as a religion is not a bad thing in all cases, although the idea of a ‘new religion’ is humorous in most people’s mind as an absurdity or an anachronism.
I can’t really speak to the type of person Hubbard was because I haven’t done enough research—even though he might strike one as a slime-ball in his interviews, and I haven’t interacted enough with his metaphysics which account for the origin and destination of life, though I generally distrust its extremes; but I do think the practical results of his Dianetics seems to have done a lot of good for many, and has been reported to have transformed individuals and communities for the better (http://www.scientology.org/how-we-help/volunteer-ministers.html). For all its oddities and possible snares for authority-seeking types of individuals, its results are still impressive, considering alone the massive amount of followers it has attained over the years.
Hubbard cooked up something novel, expansive, and fully planned to last. It’s clearly a knock-off of psychoanalysis with a few new tricks and a religion’s-worth of cleverly minted and repurposed terms, but it looks like something different on the surface, and for those who don’t know yet what they believe in, it certainly offers something substantial. You’ll sooner reach the bottom of most world religions combined, with regard to their central texts, than you will the total, staggering volume of Hubbard’s works alone which include written and audio recordings on a wide range of topics including literacy, mental health, personality assessment, metaphysics, business administration, and addiction. Reading through his works would truly amount to a lifetime reading plan for most people, which introduces a fairly serious risk to the naïve in commencing the perpetual chain of obligatory reading material which is sure to end in an extremely provincial understanding of the world through the exclusivity of reading habits that is required to commit to finish Hubbard’s nearly interminable opus. In other words, if someone starts down that road and later decides it’s not the right path, they may find it’s a long way back; so I imagine most would rather just keep their head down and keep reading, whether it still seems cogent or not—it’s better than starting over.
Dianetics [Dia—“through”, nous—“soul”]: The Original Thesis begins with the primary axioms on which Hubbard founded his practices. The first axiom, which is the primary drive of humanity, is: “Survive!” This he calls the “Dynamic” which is divided into multiple expressions, or “dynamics”, which include self, one’s life-partner and family, one’s social groups, the extended community/nation/world; and in later books he further includes non-human categories of animal, the physical world, the spiritual world, and finally, infinity. Hubbard teaches that for each person these drives to survive and expand the support network for one’s survival derail when attempting to navigate traumatic experiences which create an unhealthy dependence on the ‘reactive mind’, and so the original Dynamic must be reinstated by a rigorous and guided process of placing the more highly evolved and sophisticated analytical mind back in charge through a psycho-therapeutic operation called auditing.
Auditing is the cooperative effort of an auditor and a participant to go back (‘return’) to birth (‘the basic’) and prenatal memories to neutralize the harmful and unconscious reactions to negative memories (‘engrams’) in the ‘reactive mind’. These engrams are memories of dangers which continue to influence an individual, but which no longer represent real threats. The primary goal of auditing is to prompt the ‘pre-clear’ (the participant who cannot access clear analytical reasoning) to remember trauma in the womb and to bring them to desensitize themselves to those experiences through overexposure. “What,” might you ask, “could be a prenatal memory that is traumatic?” Well, that would be the attempted abortions that nearly every baby boomer has experienced, according to Hubbard. To be fair, he does state that there may be other postpartum trauma that impairs an adult and causes ‘dramatizations’ or outbursts which hamstring their functions, health, and happiness in later life; but he is very adamant on the point that the primary engrams to be disarmed are those caused by prenatal abortion attempts and birth itself. The auditing process is an intense and closely guided therapy session of reactivating those fetal memories in order to neutralize them.
He defends the possibility of being able to consciously return to fetal memories by reasoning that the human brain is recording events and storing experiential data at all stages of its development, even during its unconscious moments. It seems logical that everything sensed by the brain is at least partially recorded in life, but the few objections I have to his ideology would be, 1) a baby’s brain is still developing and continues to do so into adulthood along with its sensory, mnemonic, and interpretive functioning which serves and constructs a sense of what we call ‘consciousness’ and can’t be expected to construct meaning and record data to fit into discrete categories that can be sequentially accessed later for clear interpretation by an individual or an auditor, 2) a baby’s brain is as selective about what it records and how it records as is the adult’s, so it seems nonsense to suppose it indiscriminately records everything that happens to it in anything but shorthand or extremely fragmented hieroglyphics suitable to early stage of growth, 3) if conscious returns to unconscious impressions were always possible, it would imply that all sensory recordings on the physical plane during an adult’s sleep could be later reconstructed just as easily, like air currents or sounds during REM cycles, and 4) if conscious returns to birth and pre-birth could be reached, why wouldn’t reaching them be an experience far more common than it seems to be now? If Hubbard is right, then everyone who existed before 1950 should be categorized as a pre-clear, which is roughly a billion-billion people (give or take a few billion Neolithic homo sapiens) who were intellectually impaired and lost in the non-Hubbardian darkness.
I do tend to give some credence to what I consider to be scientifically conducted experiments and peer-reviewed research in recreating alleged birth trauma and helping individuals to cope through exposure to what is believed to be perinatal memory of sorts (see the work of Stanislav Grof and Christopher Bache). Probably this amounts to more of a sympathy and admiration for the courage to both develop beta therapeutic techniques which might be helpful to people, and to stand with their new ideas against the tsunami of scientific evidence that might seem at times to fly in their face. However, though the concepts of Dianetics intrigue me, I think it is at bottom mostly neologistic craftiness and shifty formalism. But still, I don’t think Scientology is all bad, or better yet, I don’t believe it is all bad for all people. It is my belief that Hubbard to some extent probably had the good of others in mind. Reading over his principles and methods I get the feeling he may have been working miracles among the disturbed, and who knows, his most faithful adherents may have been the breeding grounds for psychopathy, and I don’t mean that in a hateful way. Even his subtle reminders throughout his works that those who have been ‘cleared’ of mental ‘aberration’ would no longer be obsessively introverted (“introversion is not natural nor is it necessary to the creation of anything”) might be a signal that his focus was on the compulsive type whom he probably even had to ward off from an over-interest in even his own ideas (“so long as he is interested in his own reactive mind [one of the fundamental principles of Dianetics and auditing], he has engrams [corrupted thought]”).
All decriers of what is widely considered eccentric religious belief like Scientology have to ask themselves if they are sincerely ready to know what the world would be like without religion. If all religions of the world were turned upside-down and shaken, what neuroses/psychoses would fall back into general society without the guardrails and/or systematic suppression of superstition, shaming dogma, unquestioned authority, and congregational pressure to conform? Speaking for myself, I’d be afraid of what would shake out. Especially out of the Scientology domain. And yet, I truly hope that those who are ready to become “prey to a freedom that is no longer chained-up” would find the courage they need to break out.
So, it seems to me that there is some value in Dianetics as a self-help tool. Even coming to terms with shock of the ‘exile’ of existence in general—through the emotional bath of a phantasmagoric and semi-hypnotic, free-associative exploration of the themes of pain, birth, thought, memory, dreams, and primal reflexes through the contrived rigors of auditing—appears to be beneficial to some degree, and quite possibly the whole success of Dianetics hangs on this the catharsis and relational support of auditing. Considering for a moment the sole impact of the first axiom of Dianetics which lays out one’s primal and primary function of “Survive!”, Dianetics initially appears valid; and moving a few steps further it continues to ring true in explanations about how the survival of self grows more ‘dynamic’, healthy, and happy when it includes the welfare and survival of others and one’s environment. This survival of self and others is the basic message of Scientologists’ oft-distributed book, The Way To Happiness by Hubbard, which is an extremely simplistic, bordering-on-banal, code of ethics that monotonously pecks into one’s head the message: “Your survival and wellbeing must include the survival and wellbeing of others or you’re not going to thrive.” Who can argue that these seem positive and sensible messages for our world? Of course, good ideas often are the Trojan Horses for incubating bad ideas, but that’s sort-of-but-maybe-not-really beside the point.
I realize I am attempting to sum up a religion, and it must be remembered that I only read Dianetics: The Original Thesis containing Hubbard’s tiny germ of original thought which I understand was greatly revised, expanded, complicated, tangled, transmogrified, and ruptured into Dianetics: The Modern Science Of Mental Health. Well anyway, for what it’s worth, Dianetics at its rudimentary core, distinct from its later expressions and Scientology framework, gets my vote to stay around as long as it can. Until it ruins some poor bastard. In which case, thumbs down.
And also (this is probably as good a time as any to say this) the film The Master, which intentionally parallels the life of L. Ron Hubbard, is brilliant. R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Oh, and Hubbard too.