Sunday, March 13, 2016

Birthday: “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. You get rich founding a religion.”

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (1911-1986)
Author, religious prophet, photographer, composer, scientist, therapist, explorer, navigator, philosopher, poet, artist, humanitarian, adventurer, soldier, scout, musician and many other things besides

A dumpy man with a receding hairline and a taste for serial adultery and nautical caps, L. Ron Hubbard seemed ill-called as religious leaders go. And as religious leaders, go, he went. At his death in 1986, church leaders announced Hubbard, having found his 74 year-old-body a drag on his research, had left it behind to continue his work on another planet.

The son of a Navy officer, Hubbard acquired a taste for life at sea that never left and could never be over-indulged or excessively gilded. He traveled in Asia some- far less than he claimed- while his father was stationed on Guam in the 1930s, picking up all the Yellow Peril, Fu Manchu prejudices of the age:
He remained unimpressed with China and the Chinese, writing: "A Chinaman can not live up to a thing, he always drags it down." He characterized the sights of Beijing as "rubberneck stations" for tourists and described the palaces of the Forbidden City as "very trashy-looking" and "not worth mentioning". He was impressed by the Great Wall of China near Beijing, but concluded of the Chinese: "They smell of all the baths they didn't take. The trouble with China is, there are too many chinks here."
Unable to get into the Naval Academy, Hubbard studied two years at George Washington University, from which he later claimed to have not only gotten an engineering degree but to have been in the first American university class on nuclear physics. His GWU transcript shows he took a class in “atomic and molecular phenomena” and got an F.

There was nothing the young Hubbard could not master because he simply declared he had done so. He claimed to be the youngest Eagle Scout in America in 1924. He organized several ill-fated nautical expeditions in the 1930s, yacht trips he charged his friends to attend and that usually ended in failure and demands for reimbursement.

Prospecting for gold in Central America in the Thirties, he claimed he was an executive for the American Red Cross, supervising hurricane relief operations; during a stint in Hollywood, he wrote scripts for serials and claimed to have written a number of John Ford westerns, including 1939’s Stagecoach.

In between bouts of bettering humanity, Hubbard made a decent living as a magazine writer in the 1930s. That meant he was, in fact, the best sci fi and western pulp writer in the world, paid immense sums for his work, which made it odd, to some, that by the decade’s end he and his wife were living with- and off-relatives near the Bremerton Navy Yard in Washington state.

The fact is, he wasn’t very good, even by pulp standards, but he was prolific. He could turn out 100,000 words a month, and once he segued into the mass production of religious texts, he ordered an IBM Selectric on which keys were added for common words like “and”, “but” and “the” and wrote on long rolls of paper to avoid the wasted time feeding individual sheets into the carriage represented.

He conned his way into the famous Explorer’s Club in 1940 on the strength of a planned Alaskan Radio Experimental Expedition up the Inner Passage; it was a vacation jaunt with his wife on a borrowed schooner; the kids were parked with relatives. Came the war, and Hubbard managed to fool Congressman Warren Magnuson- who later rose to eminence in the US Senate- to recommend him for an officer’s appointment in the Navy.

Hubbard’s War was, in his mind, a phantasmagoria of derring-do and unrecognized merit. He claimed he sailed into a Japanese base and walked around, undetected, for three days, because when you come into port without a flag, one boat looks just like another and so no one saw him.

He briefly helmed two anti-sub boats on the West Coast. He was yanked from the first after claiming he’d sunk or damaged two Japanese submarines the Navy found never existed. Hubbard said the Navy covered up his heroism to prevent panic on the mainland.

In his next command, Hubbard shot up one of the Coronado Islands in Mexico, thinking it was American and uninhabited. He spent the last months of the war in hospital, being treated for injuries that included eye damage from either the flash of a large caliber gun or a bomb and being machine-gunned in the back. The Navy records show he had a duodenal ulcer.

Somehow Hubbard left the service with an honorable discharge and way more medals than Navy records showed (the discharge was, in fact, true). He claimed to have cured himself based on knowledge he picked up, in an episode straight out of the comic strip Terry and the Pirates:
Scientology accounts say that Hubbard "made his way deep into Manchuria's Western Hills and beyond — to break bread with Mongolian bandits, share campfires with Siberian shamans and befriend the last in the line of magicians from the court of Kublai Khan".
Tacking on some mystic wisdom he’d picked up from Pacific Northwest Indians, Hubbard produced the still-unpublished Bible of his thought, Excalibur, in 1938. His moment of clarity, when it all came together, was when he died for eight minutes and all was revealed before he was sent back.

Few, if any, other dental patients’ experiences under nitrous oxide were ever reported so vividly.

Hubbard stayed in California after the war, leaving his wife and kids in Washington. He moved in with a Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist called Parsons who was an occultist follower of the English witchcraft scammer Aleister Crowley and an even more obscure cult in which he sought to conduct sex rituals with a pliant woman willing to play the Whore of Babylon. Together they would produce the antichrist. Parsons kept a domed sacrarium in his backyard for the services. Hubbard’s role was to chant mystical runes and keep Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead running on the victrola while the couple coupled.

Not only did no antichrist issue, but Hubbard stole the girl and later conned Parsons in a yacht sales deal. The girl became the second Mrs Hubbard, unbeknown to the first, still up in Bremerton.

Hard up, Hubbard was soon arrested for petty theft in LA, an incident he recast as field work for his medicomental methodologies, so valued by LAPD they hired him as a consultant. He made the rounds of asylums and sanatoria, curing ulcers arthritis and asthma, and when he realized he was onto something, rolled out his magnum opus, the book Dianetics, in 1950.

Hubbard's theory- no, wait, fact! he’d proved it!- was that humans are hobbled by memories of past bad deeds and misfortunes. Going through a seemingly endless series of audits- self-examinations with a trainer- would “clear” those memories cookies and fragmented disc spaces and leave one with a clean mental hard drive, a higher IQ, and a wholesome view of things. Supermen, they’d be, and never catch cold.

Dianetics was poorly received by the press and the scientific and medical professions. The American Psychological Association criticized Hubbard's claims as "not supported by empirical evidence". Scientific American said that Hubbard's book contained "more promises and less evidence per page than any publication since the invention of printing", while The New Republic called it a "bold and immodest mixture of complete nonsense and perfectly reasonable common sense, taken from long acknowledged findings and disguised and distorted by a crazy, newly invented terminology". Some of Hubbard's fellow science fiction writers also criticized it; Isaac Asimov considered it "gibberish" while Jack Williamson called it "a lunatic revision of Freudian psychology".

Several famous individuals became involved with Dianetics. Aldous Huxley received auditing from Hubbard himself; the poet Jean Toomer and the science fiction writers Theodore Sturgeon and A. E. van Vogt became trained Dianetics auditors. Van Vogt temporarily abandoned writing and became the head of the newly established Los Angeles branch of the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation. Other branches were established in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Honolulu.

Although Dianetics was not cheap, a great many people were nonetheless willing to pay; van Vogt later recalled "doing little but tear open envelopes and pull out $500 checks from people who wanted to take an auditor's course". Financial controls were lax. Hubbard himself withdrew large sums with no explanation of what he was doing with it. On one occasion, van Vogt saw Hubbard taking a lump sum of $56,000 (half a mil today) out of the Los Angeles Foundation's proceeds. One of Hubbard's employees, Helen O'Brien, commented that at the Elizabeth, N.J. branch of the Foundation, the books showed that "a month's income of $90,000 is listed, with only $20,000 accounted for"Hubbard believed that Scientology was being infiltrated by saboteurs and spies and introduced "security checking" to identify those he termed "potential trouble sources" and "suppressive persons". Members of the Church of Scientology were interrogated with the aid of E-meters and were asked questions such as "Have you ever practiced homosexuality?" and "Have you ever had unkind thoughts about L. Ron Hubbard?" For a time, Scientologists were even interrogated about crimes committed in past lives: "Have you ever destroyed a culture?" "Did you come to Earth for evil purposes?" "Have you ever zapped anyone?"

The trouble with a growing movement is you need satraps and paper pushers, and Hubbard only wanted worshipers. As his underlings came up with their own riffs on Dianetics, Hubbard grew querulous. By 1954, he had banished some and split with others. Worse yet, the money was dropping off, and sharply.

Hubbard, drawing on his experience as a pioneer of nuclear science, write a book in the bomb-crazed Fifties called All About Radiation, of a later edition of which Salon commented,
[It’s] a swell read, according to one Amazon reviewer who says “I understand radiation better and feel like I could survive an atomic explosion somewhere on the planet, if it wasn’t, of course, really close to me.” 
This became part of the creation myth of the Church of Scientology, which Hubbard opened in 1954. According to his revelations, an evil warlord from another galaxy, Xenu, kidnapped gazillions of alien life forms, hauled them to the young earth, staked them down near a range of volcanoes, and blew them up with H-bombs.

The dawn of television- and televangelism- left Hubbard convinced the big money lay in harnessing the implacable forces of a wrathful God by selling how to escape his wrath to endless future generations of gulls. As with every seeker, trapped in a hostile world of unbelievers, Hubbard’s way was fraught. When he found out his wife was having an affair (never mind his own serial exploits) he ratted her and her beau to the FBI as Communists (the FBI, in one of the first entries in what became a very large file, noted, “Seems mental”).

The creator of a religion could hardly be seen as a panderer, so Hubbard began rewriting his grandiose and improbable past. The sex rites in Parsons’ backyard became a secret mission for the Navy to investigate and break up voodoo cults.

He bought a PhD from a diploma mill and imposed a scheme for skimming a portion of church income, then retired to an English manor he bought from the Maharajah of Jaipur, there to dispense religious truths. The IRS challenged his nonprofit status, and the FDA clamped down on his curative devices and supplements.

Hubbard became convinced the forces of evil were converting to bring him down, and imposed new security measures on the faithful. Suppressive and disruptive personalities were to be shunned, even in one’s family. Members were encouraged to report each other's deviations from the norms. A security agency was set up to smear enemies and infiltrate government agencies thought to be after the church. He employed legions of lawyers in libel cases for decades.

In the 1960s, Hubbard invented the Sea Org, an elite corps of trusted Scientologists who signed billion-year service contracts and were permitted to serve under Hubbard on his ineptly-crewed yachts. This allowed the prophet to spend enough time in international waters to argue he was tax-exempt and to spent a lot of cost-free time between one palmy resort and another. As the US government leaned on him, the ports of Britain, Portugal, Greece and Venezuela were closed to him and several nations revoked recognition of Scientology as a religion.

The government data hacking and infiltration project got blown up in 1977. Hubbard was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the plan. His third wife and nine other church officials went to prison, and Hubbard went on the lam. A French court convicted him of fraud in absentia; he hid out in apartments in California, fearing deportation and served only by the inner sanctum of church aides, and roving the back roads of the Pacific Northwest in a luxury motor home. He encouraged rumors he had died, then undercut them with a mid-1980s return to sci fi. He published a thousand-page sleeping pill called Battlefield Earth, then followed up with a ten-volume series called Mission Earth.

He finally parked the motorhome on an estate in Creston, California where he spent millions building a house he never lived in, a horse racing track and watch towers. He issued three albums of Scientology jazz. Back at HQ, a coup deposed Hubbard's wife, and made her daughter personal maid to the new chief.

After Hubbard’s death, he became a disembodied, infinitely malleable figurehead for the church. Every Scientology facility has an office awaiting his return; a massive complex of offices and church facilities has been built in Clearwater, Florida. A cave in New Mexico holds all of Hubbard’s writings, inscribed on steel tablets housed in  titanium cases; the mountain above bears an incised church logo so large Xenu could spot it from outer space.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Hubbard as the world’s most prolific author, with 1,084 published works to his credit. After he shuffled off his mortal remains, his family fought over his vast estate. He disinherited several of his children; one changed his name and denounced his father. A great-grandson became a slam poet.

Among Scientology’s more famous current adherents is the actor Tom Cruise. Another, John Travolta, fought for years to bring Battlefield Earth to the world’s movie theaters. He saw it as the next Star Wars. When it came out in 2000, for the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Dianetics, critic Roger Ebert wrote watching it was
like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It's not merely bad; it's unpleasant in a hostile way. I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies.
And so it has come to be.

Hubbard left word, before he died, that he will return to earth as a political, not a religious, leader.

#LiteraryBirthdays #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte #LRonHubbard

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