In the last few posts, we have examined Hubbard’s project in the 1980’s to establish his literary reputation with two new works of fiction – a long novel, titled “Battlefield Earth” and a 1.2 million word series (eventually published by the Church of Scientology in no less than ten volumes) called “Mission Earth”.
Hubbard not only wrote these books, but tried to promote them (and revive his career as a fiction writer) by arranging for previously unpublished short stories and interviews to appear in books, newspapers and magazines.
I thought it would be would interesting to compare Hubbard’s approach to promoting this project with the way he handled the publication and promotion of “Dianetics” thirty years previously.
When you do so, it becomes clear that the L Ron Hubbard of the 1980’s was a pale, ineffective shadow of his younger self.
What’s more, it seems that the people who had been tasked with managing the Scientology empire on his behalf were taking advantage of Hubbard’s failing health and literary obsession to distract him while they positioned themselves to seize power after his death.
Hubbard in 1950 – The Creator of a 20th century Cargo Cult
While he was never a first rate author (his fiction was hardly ever republished in book form until the Church of Scientology began to do so) he earned a commercially valuable reputation as someone who could produce publishable copy at short notice. He evidently understood not only his his target audience but also the requirements (and quirks) of the editors who bought his submissions.
The Second World War had stimulated a rapid advance in science and technology. Readers of pulp SF had seen apparent miracles – notably the utterly unexpected incineration of Japanese cities by a single nuclear weapon in 1945. In peace, people hoped that the advance of human knowledge would now transform their world for the better and, if they were lucky, provide with an opportunity to improve themselves.
Magazines like “Astounding Science Fiction” (the leading SF pulp of the time) appealed to these feelings with stories which typically combined technological optimism with a mild seasoning of power fantasy.
Hubbard’s reputation in the publishing business enabled him not only to sell a curious book called “Dianetics” to Hermitage house, but also to persuade John W Campbell (the legendary editor of “Astounding Science Fiction”) to enthusiastically promote it in the pages of his magazine.
“Dianetics” appealed to the same people who liked pulp SF stories – and for the same reasons. it was a power fantasy which represented itself as a real scientific discovery, promising access to past lives, an enhanced IQ, total recall, improved eyesight and the ability to grow new teeth.
The claims he made for “Dianetics” were, of course, all completely false. However, to many people in this period (especially SF fans) they seemed no more incredible than the proposition that a single bomb could devastate an city.
Thanks to its free promotion in “Astounding”, “Dianetics” enjoyed a commercial and popular success It sold first to SF fans and then (unexpectedly) found a mainstream audience. Hubbard launched himself upon a new career as the guru of Dianetics (and then Scientology).
His efforts culminated in the creation and expansion of the The Church of Scientology, which became a reflection of Hubbard’s pathological personality.
For years, Hubbard remained actively involved with his customers. He continues to write books. He organised ‘congresses’ where his followers gathered, and paid to see him lecturing and demonstrating . He promoted books, events and associated ‘merchandise’ (such as the new e’-meter in his own periodicals (e.g. “The Journal of Scientology” and “Ability Magazine“)
All this had been kick-started with nothing more than a moderate skill at fantasy writing and the exploitation of contacts in “Astounding Science Fiction”.
Hubbard in 1980 – Consumed by his Own Creation
In 1967, fearing arrest, L Ron Hubbard founded a private navy (The “Sea Org”) and sailed the world.
The master of a ship at sea has extraordinary power. As if this was not enough, L Ron Hubbard was both ‘commodore’ and ‘religious leader’ to crews chosen from his most committed believers – a toxic social situation. There are many accounts of the abuses which Hubbard heaped upon his crew (for example, the practice of ‘overboarding’) which caused both physical and psychological trauma.
‘Officers’ of the Sea Org (who dress in faux naval uniforms, and assume similar ‘ranks’) gradually assumed de facto control of Scientology and established ‘land bases’. Hubbard secretly controlled The Church of Scientology at a distance by issuing Sea Org ‘officers’ with secret orders, and insuring that they had to authority to carry them out.
When Hubbard returned to the USA the years had not been kind. He feared arrest, and went into hiding. His drug use, injuries he suffered in a motorcycle accident and his aversion to doctors and dentists, had taken a terrible toll on his mind and body.
While Hubbard was in hiding, the Sea Org became his only source of information about the situation in the the Church of Scientology. They could manipulate him into issuing whatever orders suited them, to settle scores or advance their own positions.
Hubbard was never deposed – he was of greater value as an impotent figurehead. During his physical decline his ‘loyal officers’ began to position themselves to take power after his death.
30 Years Later – Can Ron Promote His New Books?
In the 1980s Hubbard completed a long novel (“Battlefield Earth”) and a huge 1.2 million word story (“Mission Earth”) which had to be divided into 10 volumes by his chosen editor.
He believed that he repeat the success of “Dianetics”, and turn these news book into international best-sellers, too.
He ordered some of his unpublished fiction to be placed in magazines, and had postal interviews written for him (which contained plugs for his new books.
- A very brief short story (occupying only two pages, including the half-page illustration) “The Were-human”. This appeared in 1981, in another SF magazine called “The Fantasy Book” – a semi-professional publication which only lasted for 23 issues.
- Another old, unpublished, short story (“He Found God”) appeared in 1982, in a magazine called “Meta SF”. This was edited by a Scientologist and exclusively containing stories by Scientologists. This publication had a tiny circulation and the magazine only survived for one issue (you can download “He Found God” here, and judge Hubbard’s story-telling skill for yourself).
- A 1983 postal interview with “The Rocky Mountain News”. Again, this was produced by Hubbard’s ghost writer. While the interview was published it appeared alongside material highly critical of Scientology. It was subsequently republished by the Church of Scientology, for postal distribution to members, without the critical comment.
- A 1987 postal interview supposedly with L Ron Hubbard in a book called “The Dream Makers“. This consisted of interviews with prominent SF writers. ‘L Ron Hubbard’ submitted to a postal interview about his pulp fiction career and tried to plug his new books. However, in an introduction, the author of “Dream Makers” expressed doubt that Hubbard had written it – and obviously suspected it had been provided by a ghost-writer called Robert Vaughn Young. Additional evidence that emerged in subsequent years suggests he was almost certainly right.
Hubbard really seemed to believe that his old stories were so good, and his interviews so compelling, that they would create enough interest in his fiction to propel it into the best-seller lists. However this material had only appeared in tiny, specialised, publications (and two of them were accompanied by a very critical commentary).
Also, science fiction has moved on in 30 years. Even SF fans had lost interest in Hubbard’s pulp fiction – the general public (if they were aware of him at all) saw him only as a rich eccentric recluse in the style of Howard Hughes.
Hubbard’s strategy to promote his new fiction made no impact at all. How could the man who done such a remarkable job of promoting “Dianetics” 30-years earlier fail so badly?
The answer is that Hubbard was working through the Sea Org. They arranged the publications listed above – and likely presented them as having reached a large readership. They handled the critical material that appeared in “The Rocky Mountain News” by reprinting the interview, and leaving the editorial out. Hubbard probably only saw the ‘sanitised’ version
Hubbard believed his strategy was working because he had spent the last 30 years surrounded by worshippers. He had lost the ability to honestly assess his own abilities, and nobody dared tell him the truth. Instead, thee Sea Org presented him with glossy magazines – and took other measures in secret.
“Battlefield Earth” and “Mission Earth” did achieve best-seller status. However, this was because:
- Scientologists were ordered to buy several copies.
- Scientology’s publishing wing identified the bookshops whose were sampled for best-seller lists, and sent people there to buy multiple copies. It is likely that these measures were taken without Hubbard’s knowledge, just so they could present his promotional strategy as a success to rival that of “Dianetics” – a practice which continues.
- The Sea Org spent huge sums of money on advertising.
The Sea Org lied to Hubbard. They exploited his vanity in order to make themselves look good, and to distract him from the administration of the Church of Scientology. This gave them an opportunity to position themselves to seize power upon his death.
This theory is supported by the nature of “Mission Earth”. Not only is it a terrible ‘book’ (critical reviews were uniformly derisory) it is 1.2 million words long – so long that it had to be divided into 10 volumes for publication.
Hubbard worked obsessively to produce a low-quality product which he believed (without any reasonable cause) was a work of genius – this is almost diagnostic of mental illness. However, while he pounded away on a manual typewriter for day after day after day, he was not taking an interest in the operation of the Church of Scientology, and his minders were happy.
The Curse of the Guru
Hubbard died in 1986, before the last volumes of “Mission Earth” (and the ‘interview’ in “Dream Makers”) were published. One of his more ruthless and well-placed Sea Org minders, (David Miscavige) seized power. Chances are Miscavige had ruled from behind the throne for some time.
History began to repeat itself.
In 1950, L Ron Hubbard succeeded in making “Dianetics” a best-seller. After Thirty years as an ‘infallible guru’, later he could not do the same for his new fiction. He was a spent force.
David Miscavige seized power over the Church of Scientology in 1986. After 30 years of power, his grasp on reality is now as tenuous as Hubbard’s was – and for the same reasons. Membership of the Church is crashing, while Miscavige concentrates on irrelevant policy (like the persecution of former lieutenant Marty Rathburn, and the purchase of “Ideal Orgs”).
It seems that it is only a matter of time before gurus and dictators lose their perspective (and their minds) in this way.