Vanity thought #1316. Scientology Part 2

Yesterday I got to the point where Ron Hubbard was hospitalized for treating ulcer during the war and completely made up his battle wounds. I called him a scumbag. In retrospect, it was uncalled for. Sure, the dude loved to boast and exaggerate but that is not a really big sin, I’ll get to that a bit later.

After the war there was a short period where LRH got involved with occultism. In the end, he stole the leader’s girlfriend and all his money and left him broke. The occultism itself described in wikipedia like so:

    Parsons used his “magical wand” to whip up a vortex of energy so the elemental would be summoned. Translated into plain English, Parsons jerked off in the name of spiritual advancement whilst Hubbard scanned the astral plane for signs and visions.

To be fair, this episode in LRH life is presented as a destruction of a dangerous cult and saving its innocent victims, which is one way to see it, sure. Eventually Hubbard married the girl and it was his second marriage while still not being divorced from the first wife but all paperwork was eventually completed. Not a big deal.

Then came dianetics and with it the beginning of Scientology itself.

From one of his friends Hubbard picked up something about Freudian philosophy and he took it up in the spirit of American entrepreneurship. He spruced Freudian methods with attractive sounding words and introduced some gadgetry to make it look and sound like a really advanced science. People, as usual in modern psychiatry, were still asked to recall difficult incidents from their lives so they could “let it go” but in dianetics the process was interactive and guided by an “auditor” who, instead of waiting for the patient to open up, would prod and push and record patient’s reactions as shown by an “e-meter”, a simple device to measure low voltage current running through the person, sort of a lie detector.

LRH developed special language around the whole process with memories called “engrams” stored in a “reactive mind”, the process called “auditing” which leads to the state of being “clear”. Somehow or other it worked and really caught on. Perhaps it was the convenience of it all coupled with attractive packaging and making benefits of standard psychiatric practices available to general masses that made it into success. The book sold like crazy and LRH made even more money lecturing and charging people for “auditing”. In the documentary they show maybe a hundred people being audited at once, all paying good money for each session. There was no limit on how many sessions one needed to become “clear” so money was flowing in. But, like any fad, it was soon over, actual psychiatrists were not impressed, and dianetics hit a dead end. LHR also mismanaged the situation by making dianetics an “open source” project and it inevitably got carried away.

That’s when LRH decided to take it to the next level, impose some discipline on his followers and provide them with an all around set of beliefs. He needed a church and the best part of it was that churches don’t pay taxes, something that was sounded in the documentary as a turning point in his life – when he realized that the best way to make money is to start a religion, and so he did.

A man was declared a spiritual being whose purpose in life is to assert control over the universe. Instead of a soul LHR used a new term “thetan”. The main difference is that thetans are omnipotent, they are like gods themselves, and Scientology is the way for them to restore their powers. The whole process is called a “bridge” and people start at the bottom and work their way up through a long series of steps. Auditing is one of the main practices but the stage of “clear” is not the ultimate yet, there are always more rungs on the ladder – they go for omnipotence, after all.

Organizationally, LRH set up standards to follow and adopted modern managerial methods. Branches were like franchises and they had to pay ten percent of their income to the center, various departments were called “orgs”, there was clear hierarchy and everybody knew his duties, had his progress charted, knew his immediate and long term goals and, most importantly, there was a system to milk as much money from congregation as possible, not squeezing it too hard and not letting people to get away without paying all they could afford.

It took LRH a decade to build the entire thing but it was progressing beautifully and became an international organization. It was at this time that Hubbard worked out a couple of principles that were of particular interest to film-makers. One was that Scientology should always present itself as a church, and another was that it should never be defensive: “Don’t ever defend, always attack.”

Whoever was perceived as a threat must be attacked first, and the best attack was filing lawsuits. They didn’t actually intend to win but harass their opponent until he gave up. Scientology was also supposed to be a closely knit community with zero tolerance for deviations. They have a term “suppressive person” to describe about two percent of the population that cannot be cured and must be avoided at all costs. Scientology members were prohibited from association with such undesirable elements and in dealing with them all gloves were off.

Thus Hubbard was not only nurturing but also very protective of his movement, or his cash cow – depending on perspective. In the sixties his church got a lot of grief from the US government and got sued for brainwashing, blackmail, extortion and all kinds of bad things. That made Hubbard only more protective and the church started cleansing its own ranks to make sure nothing untoward came out in public. People were pushed to admit to various thought crimes against the church and report on each other during audits. The “Guardian Office” was established to deal with external threats in an organized manner, but nothing really helped, the government wouldn’t budge and eventually LHR was forced to leave the US on a fleet of ships. Thus “Sea Org” was born.

He spent another decade sailing Mediterranean and North Atlantic. Officially, he relinquished managerial responsibilities but the church, of course, didn’t abandon him and sponsored all his travels. For the regular church members Sea Org was the ultimate salvation, a sort of a holy dhama or like our Rādhā Dāmodara Traveling Saṅkīrtana party of the seventies. LRH was busy perfecting church mythology and by the members it was seen as disclosing final revelations about the universe. Eventually, however, he ran out of places that would accept his ships, returned to the US and went into hiding.

So, what we can learn from that part of LRH biography is his uncanny ability to organize people and get them to do what he wanted. He always had charisma but in all his previous endeavors his general incompetence eventually ruined them. Scientology, however, was an unqualified success. Why? It’s a big question to answer, there could be books written about it.

What I want to focus, however, is Hubbard’s personality. He wasn’t a scumbag and he wasn’t even a fraud, he just loved to boast and he loved money, a fairly innocuous faults in the days of Hitler and Stalin and governments building nuclear bombs and testing them on people.

To me he looks like a prototype of Steve Jobs. He created ideas/products that people liked and then he used their attachments to monetize the hell out of them. The ideas weren’t particularly knew, they weren’t first and they weren’t best bang for the buck but they worked, people liked them, they were easy to use, they provided satisfaction, and people paid top money for them with great pleasure. Scientology provided the full ecosystem, strong self-identification, irrational allegiance to the brand and hostility towards outsiders and particularly towards its enemies. All the same things that we see in Apple and its fanboys nowadays, or at least the days when Steve Jobs was still alive.

There’s also a completely new language that outsiders couldn’t easily understand, which is immediately obvious to anyone picking up an Apple computer, they have special glossaries for that. But more on Scientology itself some other day.


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