What Did L Ron Hubbard Learn From The Failure of Dianetics?

failureIt’s said that venture capitalists are unwilling to finance entrepreneurs who do not have a failed business or two under their belts. These clients will already have made the obvious mistakes, and will not fall into those traps again.

The same can be true for would-be gurus, and L Ron Hubbard’s career is a good example of this.

I have followed the early development of dianetics in a series of posts which examine the first articles written on the subject by Hubbard. These appeared in the popular pulp magazine “Astounding Science Fiction, where they were strongly promoted by “Astounding’s” legendary editor John W Campbell.

After the publication of Hubbard’s book, “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health in May 1950”, there was a brief (and lucrative) fad for dianetic therapy. This resulted in the creation of an substantial organisation, the “Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation”.

The narrative the Church of Scientology would like you to believe is that Dianetics was an immediate and enduring success and, as Hubbard refined his ideas, it gradually gave way to a more advanced version – Scientology.

In fact,  the “Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation” collapsed into bankruptcy after only a few years trading and Hubbard temporarily lost the copyright to his creation. Scientology only emerged because he used his contacts to ‘acquire’ the valuable mailing lists of the “Hubbard Dianetics Foundation” and started over.

In this post, I will describe some of the mistakes Hubbard made when he created  dianetics, and how he corrected these with Scientology, giving rise to an organisation that was completely different in  number of crucial aspects.

Dianetics: A Modern Fad of Short Duration

dianetics bookScientologists recently celebrated the 65th anniversary of the publication of Hubbard’s book “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health,”

They present it as the beginning of a movement which went from strength to strength and culminated in the ‘Technology’ disseminated by the Church of Scientology. In actual fact:

  • The “Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation” ended its brief independent life in bankruptcy
  • Almost all of the prominent supporters who contributed to the early success of dianetics had already become disillusioned and left (one even wrote a critical book)
  • No evidence was ever produced to support the claims made for dianetic therapy (e.g. that it could enable the practitioner to correct faulty eyesight, develop a perfect memory,  improve their IQ, cure 70% of physical ailments and all mental problems)
  • Hubbard temporarily lost the copyright to his own creation . Even after he bought it back with the money had had made from Scientology, he presented dianetics as having been superseded by his new creation.

Those critics who maintain that Hubbard was some kind of a master of psychological manipulation should also ponder the  fact that, although dianetics was enthusiastically promoted in the pages of “Astounding”, the organisation based upon it had a very short life which ended in abject failure.

Failure… and a New Opportunity?

Fads_and_Fallacies_in_the_Name_of_ScienceI propose that the  bankruptcy of the dianetics institutes was, in the long run, a stroke of luck for Hubbard.

Dianetics was not the only fringe belief system that was circulating during the 1950s. There were, in fact, a great many of them, and dianetics was not alone in claiming scientific status. Some of the most prominent of these are described in Martin Gardner’s excellent book “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science“.

Like dianetics, the overwhelming majority failed to make the transition from a small group in personal contact with their guru to a self-sustaining ‘religious’ organisation. Consequently, their membership remained small, and the group dissolved with the death or defection of the guru.

If dianetics had not collapsed, Hubbard:

  • Would not have been forced to face up to the mistakes he made – mistakes that had to be avoided if he was to create and control a self-sustaining ‘religious’ organisation
  • Might have ‘kept the faith’ for the rest of his life, and become the leader of a small group of ‘true believers’, striving to recapture the brief glory their early days

When dianetics collapsed, Hubbard was forced to try again, with the benefit of experience and create a significantly different organisation.

Why Did Dianetics Fail (For Both Hubbard and the Public)?

painted into a cornerFundamentally, there were two fatal flaws, one from the point of  view of the public and the other from Hubbard’s perspective.

The public had embraced dianetics because Hubbard promised that, if they bought his book, they would learn how to achieve miracles. When these failed to materialise, he had nothing more to offer. He had painted himself into a corner, and people lost interest.

Hubbard had created dianetics in order to accumulate money and power for himself. To achieve these aims he had to gain absolute control over the organisation based upon it. However, he had over-emphasised the supposedly scientific nature of dianetics.

Science is a collaborative activity and he found himself sidelined by the democratic nature of the”Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation”and especially by the expectation (which he had created) that other ‘researchers’ would make contributions. Hubbard’s need for absolute power would not allow him to tolerate this position.

The Lessons To Be Learned from the Collapse of Dianetics

There are crucial differences between dianetics (which collapsed) and Scientology (which still endures to this day). These are the  result of the lessons Hubbard learned from his experience with dianetics.

The most prominent lessons are:

  1. Don’t reveal everything up front
  2. Don’t allow others to take control from you
  3. Don’t expose your organisation to legal liability
  4. Don’t submit your claims to the scrutiny of outsiders

Lesson 1 – Don’t Reveal Everything Up Front

NY free dianeticsThe claims and the ‘theory’ of dianetics were openly published in the form of a book. Hubbard claimed that this was all you needed to learn to perform ‘dianetic therapy’ for yourself, and to pass it on to others.

Having sold the book, the only way for Hubbard to monetise his creation was sell his supposed expert status. Although the “Hubbard Dianetics Institutes”were formed to conduct ‘research’ into dianetics, they also charged to train people to deliver dianetic therapy and sold tickets to ‘lectures’ by the founder.

However, people took Hubbard at his word (that dianetics was a science which could be learned from his book). They formed independent dianetics groups. On of the first of these was formed in New York City and began advertising in “Astounding” at the same time as the ‘official’ organisation.

Its headline “YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY ONE CENT FOR DIANETIC THERAPY” must have infuriated Hubbard, but he had nobody to blame for this but himself.

From Hubbard’s point of view, every independent group represented:

  • A loss of control over his creation
  • A potential rival
  • Lost income

Click to open a larger version in a new tab.
Click on the ‘magnifying glass’ to inspect details.

Scientology is the exact opposite of dianetics in this respect. While Hubbard widely publicised the ‘theory’ and practice of dianetics, Scientology’s doctrines and practices are kept absolutely secret until the initiate has paid for them.

This secrecy is even maintained after the initiate has paid –  believers must not even discuss their content with other Scientologists on the same level.

Scientologists are not allowed to own copies of their training material – especially the eight ‘Operating Thetan’ (OT) levels. These are kept under lock and key in the limited number of Scientology facilities which deliver them. Because copies of the ‘teaching materials’ for the OT levels have been leaked online, critics of Scientology are probably more familiar with the Church of Scientology’s most ‘advanced’ teachings than its members are.

As member of a group where there is so much secrecy, it’s easy for Scientologists to feel that you are the only one for whom Scientology is not working – and to keep signing up for more in the hope that it will all come right in the next one. The carrot is always just out of reach.

Also, unlike dianetics there is always another ‘course’ for Scientologists to enrol in which promises new revelations and new ‘powers’ to aspire to (see the image left).

Hubbard constantly created new material, to insure that no member would ever complete their training in Scientology and stop paying -like a computer game which introduces new levels every time you near the end.  This lifelong effort left today’s Church of Scientology with a bewilderingly complicated series of courses that can keep people occupied for many years and cost them substantial sums of money.

Lesson 2 – Don’t Allow Others to Take Control From You

peer reviewHubbard boasted in the title of his book that dianetics was a “[..] modern science of mental health”. Unfortunately for him, the point about science is that information about a theory is made available to all and anyone who can understand it, and do the experiments, can test it and either falsify it or improve upon it.

The people who joined the “Hubbard Dianetic Institutes” expected to be part of a collaborative effort in which anyone who had appropriate ‘training’ could participate. Hubbard’s status in his own organisation could have been eclipsed at any time, when:

  • Honest workers found his wild claims to be false.
  • Workers who were more motivated by wishful thinking than reality claimed to have made ‘discoveries’. Hubbard would :
    • Have to share the glory with them
    • Be unable to control the direction of their future ‘research’ to his advantage
  • A charismatic and ambitious ‘researcher’  attracted a following

Also, as noted above, Hubbard had no practical means to prevent independent groups taking his ideas and developing them in their own way. If dianetics was truly a science, it was open to all.

In stark contrast to dianetics, independent ‘research’ is absolutely forbidden in Scientology. Once again, they represent polar opposites.

in Scientology Hubbard’s ‘research findings’ are the last, infallible Hubb quillword on every subject which he touched upon and Hubbard himself is presented (often through articles written by himself, under a pseudonym) as a universal genius with the common touch – the only person even capable of making this kind of ‘discovery’.

Consequently, Hubbard became know among Scientologists as ‘Source’ – the truth was only to be found in his writings and these could not be changed or improved upon in any way (except by himself).

At this point, new ‘discoveries’ in Scientology became indistinguishable from  religious revelation.

Potential rivals could now be discredited and removed from the organisation on the word of the founder. This innovation did not prevent the formation of independent groups – but it did enable Hubbard to order the resources of the Church of Scientology to be used to harass and suppress them by any means necessary.

Defending the purity of Hubbard’s ‘research’ (doctrine) against the variants that groups which split off from Scientology (heretics – or ‘squirrels’ in Scientology-speak) was now considered vital to its mission to save the world.

To back this up, Hubbard introduced new doctrines which made any action which stated that any action which served, “the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics” to be ‘ethical’. Since he had also announced that Scientology was on a mission to save the world, this boiled down to a very old excuse for bad behaviour –  ‘the ends justify the means’.

unkempt hubbardIn this way Hubbard insured that he retained absolute personal power over Scientology. However, in doing so he also introduced a serious flaw into Scientology itself.

Hubbard did not (could not?) plan for his own death. No formal means of transferring power to a new leader was ever put into place. Since he ruthlessly neutralised any Scientologists who might represent a threat to his control, there could never be a obvious popular candidate, either.

As it happens, Hubbard was forced to go into hiding at the end of his life to avoid arrest. At the same time, his mental and physical powers were declining. The people he appointed as his ‘gatekeepers’ had a perfect opportunity to learn how to operate the levers of power within Scientology and to position themselves to seize control when he died. This is how the present leader, David Miscavige rose to power after Hubbard’s death.

Since this transfer of power was in the nature of a palace coup, it did not go as smoothly as a legitimate, planned, transition might have done. As the new regime asserted its power, many Scientologists left the organisation, and the ranks of Independent Scientologists swelled.

Since consolidating his power, Miscavige has followed Hubbard’s lead. There is still no official mechanism for an orderly transfer of power in the Church of Scientology, and Miscavige has also neutralised anyone in the organisation that might possibly represent a threat to his power.

The difference is that, under Miscavige, the public image of the Church of Scientology has fallen to an all-time low, membership has declined and recruitment collapsed. When Miscavige dies or become incapacitated, the ensuing power struggle will probably break the organisation.

Creating a self-sustaining ‘religious’ organisation is not as straightforward as it seems.

Lesson 3  – Don’t Expose Your Organisation to Legal Liability

Hubbard had initially submitted his work on dianetics to a number of academic journals in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Not only were these submissions rejected, but there were a great many hostile reviews of his book were written by psychologists and psychiatrists.

Also, those professions brought prosecutions against the dianetics institutes (and, later, Scientology). In his book “The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion” Hugh Urban (pg 62) records that:

Hubbard’s followers across the United States were arrested for practising medicine without licences. Thus, in January 1951 The New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners accused the Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation Inc. of operating a school for the treatment of disease without a license.

The medical claims associated with dianetics were attracting serious legal liability. If dianetics had not collapsed when it did, it might have been beaten down by legal action.

Scientology started life claiming to be a ‘science’ but it was soon transformed into “an applied religious philosophy” and then became a ‘religion’, after Hubbard incorporated it as the Church of Scientology.

Hubbard stated that, whilst dianetics treated the body, Scientology treated the soul (the immortal, non-corporeal ‘Thetan’ which Scientologists believe represent their true self). This change in emphasis enabled Hubbard to escape the responsibilities due to those who made medical claims by transforming practices which certainly appear to be medical treatments into religious practices and matters of faith.


However, some of the practices of Scientology remain dangerous close to medical practices. A case in point is the “Purification Rundown” (known to Scientologists as the “Purif”). This is a ‘detoxification’ regime based on the false premise that drugs are stored in the body’s fat reserves, and have permanent deleterious effects. Hubbard invented a procedure which was supposed to remove these (non-existent) ‘drug deposits’ which involved taking overdoses of vitamins and minerals and spending long periods taking gruelling sauna sessions.

The ‘purif’ is scientific and medical nonsense. It is also potentially dangerous, as it typically requires participants to ingest many times the recommended intake of niacin which can cause liver damage. As a medical procedure undertaken by unqualified individuals it would be illegal. As a religious practice it is permissible.

To protects itself from these liabilities, Scientology makes shrewd use of contracts containing legal disclaimers. The Scientology front group, Narconon sells drug rehabilitation services, but provides clients with ‘training’ that is indistinguishable from Scientology courses.

Clients who required to sigh a disclaimer which absolves the organisation of any and all responsibility.

enanced disclaimer

Anyone who undertakes a Scientology course is required to sign a legal contract which includes global disclaimers of the same character. To be a Scientologist at all, you are required to sign away your legal rights.

Dianetics made very definite claims that it would soon supersede psychiatry and most of medical science. Scientology takes great pains to deny that it makes any objective claims whatsoever. It is difficult to trust the teachings of an organisation which shows so little faith in itself.

Lesson 4 – Don’t Submit Your Claims to the Scrutiny of Outsiders

Dianetics was falsifiable. It made very definite, objectively testable, claims. For example, who ‘cleared’ their ‘engrams’ were supposed to able to:

  • Develop a perfect memory
  • Become significantly more intelligent and capable
  • Correct their defective eyesight
  • Grow new teeth Be free from more than 70% of physical ailments  and all mental illnesses

Two experiments undertaken with the cooperation of the Hubbard Dianetics Institute yielded results that must have been deeply disappointing to the true believers who, to their credit, cooperated with outside investigators in good faith.

In  1953, Harvey Jay Fisher submitted volunteers to standardisedFischer_ Dianetic Therapy_ An Experimental Evaluation tests assessing their intelligence, personality and mathematical ability. They then undertook a course of dianetic processing, after which the tests were repeated. No differences were found. He scrupulously documented this in his his Phd thesis. No before and after evidence has ever been presented for the  propositions that dianetics can correct faulty eyesight, grow new teeth, or any of the wilder claims.

also, in the 1959 issue of the Psychological Newsletter Fox, Davis and Lebovitz questioned the very basis of dianetics.

Hubbard stated that when people are rendered unconscious, they nevertheless retain a perfect memory of what they experience.  However, their rational ‘analytical mind’ ceases to function and their irrational ‘reactive mind’ takes over. It misunderstands what it hears, resulting in ‘engrams’.

engramsFor example, a man is beaten unconscious by an assailant who (rather melodramatically) shouts out “take that” when he strikes.  The victim’s reactive mind records this phrase, but misunderstands it as an instruction. As a result of this ‘engram’ he becomes a kleptomaniac.

Dianetic processing is supposed to bring the offending engram to consciousness. Here, the rational analytical mind can examine it and see that it is a mistake. Then the recording” loses its power. This is an  idea which owes a great deal to Freudian psychoanalysis.

Fox, Davis and Lebovitz rendered volunteers unconscious with sodium pentathol and then played a recording of a 35-word extract from a physics textbook to them. Next, they invited dianetic practitioners to recover the content of that recording from the ‘perfect memory trace’ supposedly stored in the subject’s reactive minds.

The dianetics people tried to recover the content of the recording for many months. After 31 hours of intensive auditing they had failed utterly. They confidently submitted many suggestions – but these came nowhere near the original phrases.

In both cases, the dianetics practitioners are to be commended for submitting their beliefs to a fair test. However, their failure invalidated a foundational claim of dianetics. If people do not, in fact, ‘record’ memory traces when unconscious, then none of the  claims of dianetics make any sense.

Once again, the approach of Scientology is the polar opposite to dianetics. Hubbard insured that no outsider would even be aware of Scientology’s teachings, let alone be allowed to test the claims made for them.

He did this by using the following three tactics:

  1. The creation of ‘Study Tech’
  2. The practice of demonising the opposition
  3. Replacing definite claims with nebulous ones

1- ‘Study Tech’

Scientology’s disdain for criticism is partly justified by another doctrine which ‘Source’ introduced into Scientology – ‘study tech’ – which holds that there are only three reasons why people fail to learn.

They have:

  1. clay demoNot approached the subject ‘on gradient’ – in other words, they have not learned simple concepts before moving on to the more advanced ones – have tried to run before they could walk
  2. Passed over a ‘misunderstood word’ which has resulted in their failing to understand everything that have read from that point on
  3. Have not ‘added mass’ – that is, put their knowledge into practice by manipulating physical objects. Scientologists are often required to demonstrate their understanding of course material by making models of the concepts they have been taught in clay (so called, “clay demos”) in order to ‘add mass’.

This is not the time to examine the flaws in ‘study tech’ in detail. The point is that it makes Scientology impossible to falsify, even in principle. Scientologists will ignore any objections on the grounds that the critic has failed to learn the  subject properly because they have made one or more of the errors which ‘study tech’ describes.

To reinforce this, Hubbard also declared that Scientology always works when properly applied. In other words, if Scientology training does not live up to the claims made for it, this is the fault of the student, not the Church of Scientology.

2 – Demonise the Opposition

industry of death exhibitionThis tactic works by the use of conspiracy theory, and insures that Scientologists are not even aware of criticism, because they automatically turn their  backs on any negative comment about Scientology.

Scientology even has a word for this kind of critical comment – “entheta”.

The early hostility to dianetics and Scientology expressed by psychologists and psychiatrists (which so infuriated Hubbard) supplied him with his chosen scapegoats.

According to the teachings of Scientology, all opposition to the Church is organised by ‘Psychs’, who are reincarnations of evil aliens, responsible for most of the evil on planet Earth. If you think this is incredible, please note that Scientology maintains an exhibition entitled “Psychiatry Industry of Death” which blames Psychiatrists for racism, school shootings, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and  the Nazi Holocaust (among other things).

3 – Replace Definite Claims With Nebulous Ones

As Scientologists ‘advance’ through their training, the definite promises made by dianetics (perfect eyesight, new teeth, total recall)  gradually morph into ‘benefits’ that only make sense in terms of Scientology. Scientologists boast of ‘achievements’ that are only meaningful to believers – for example they boast of achieving ‘greater certainty’ or ‘being at cause’.

That’s a long way from Hubbard’s promise that dianetics would soon cure cancer.


The Church of Scientology presents dianetics as a great success which went from strength to strength and was eventually superseded by the more advanced ‘technology’ of Scientology thank to the L Ron Hubbard’s ‘research’.

In actual  fact, dianetics was a failure. It disappointed both its clients and its guru – then collapsed into bankruptcy.  Hubbard learned from this failure, and his replacement – Scientology – is actually the polar opposite of dianetics in many ways.

The changed Hubbard made enabled him to exercise the absolute control over Scientology which he had failed to achieve over dianetics. Although dianetics and Scientology were unified when Hubbard recovered his copyright to the former, they are actually fundamentally different.

21 thoughts on “What Did L Ron Hubbard Learn From The Failure of Dianetics?

    • One of the reasons I write this blog is to organise my understanding of Scientology, and this monster has been bubbling under for some time as a result of the series “Dianetics in Astounding Science Fiction“.

      It seems to me that the way dianetics is presented by the Church of Scientology – as a roaring success which went from strength to strength – is completely false. It was actually a failure which had to be extensively modified before it brought Hubbard what he wanted – money and power over others.

      I hope it makes sense and isn’t too long, at over 3,000 words.

  1. Very good break down and great historical detail. Thanks. One minor typo in Lesson 3 , assuming you mean psychiatrists as well.
    “but there were a great many hostile reviews of his book were written by psychologists and psychologists.”

  2. That was an excellent article. Thank you.

    Have you read Hubbard’s 1955 ‘Manual on Dissemination of Material’? Although it contains a fair amount of rambling “fluff,” it also contains some of the main points on how to operate for Scientology, amongst these are the “religion angle,” deceptive use of “gradients,” the policy of “always attack,” and the barratrous use of lawsuits. Hubbard, indeed, was learning.

    Other possible resources include, Steven Hassan’s ‘Combatting Cult Mind Control’:

    Then there’s Hubbard’s ‘Brainwashing Manual’ of 1955, written covertly in an attempt to smear his critics as “Communists.” Ten years later, the Australian Anderson Commission (investigation into Scientology) described it as the “blueprint for Scientology.”

    Throughout Scientology’s history, Hubbard repeatedly used the old con man trick of presenting himself as his victim’s/follower’s “best friend,” and warning about bad things done by bad people, only to, then, turn around, and use those same ideas and methods on his, now, completely trusting and unsuspecting followers. Even during the 1950s, there were those who had noticed that Hubbard had warned about “authoritarianism” yet was authoritarian, and had warned about hypnotism, yet used hypnosis, etc.

    Perhaps the most glaring example of this is Hubbard warning about bad people (Russian Communists) trying to “assert and maintain dominion over thoughts and loyalties… through mental healing” in his “Russian” ‘Brainwashing Manual’. Brian Ambry’s ‘Brainwashing Manual Parallels in Scientology’ is a comprehensive look at this:


    Another lesson Hubbard learned was, of course, to use religious cloaking, and the Brennan affidavit/video on this is the best single attempt to explain this, of which I know:

    Thanks again for the wonderful article, and I hope these links work!

    • Thank you. The links work for me (an I will look at them later). Sorry about the delay in approving comments, but there’s only me here and I haven’t discovered the engram that is causing my ‘flu yet 😉

      Not having ever been in Scientology, this post was based on the background I have gathered from previous posts and a close examination of the issues of “Astounding” in which dianetics was discussed.

      All of the “rambling fluff” in Hubbard’s writing about dianetics and Scientology makes it an unrewarding read at the best of times. Approaching dianetics through the articles in “Astounding” puts the subject into a wider historical context which (I hope) makes it more engaging.

      Upon reflection, it seems that this shows that the limited success of dianetics was down to a traditional one-on-one confidence trick which Hubbard played on John W Campbell, the editor of “Astounding”. It was Campbell’s enthusiastic promotion brought about the subjects success. Hubbard had great good fortune in that:

      1) He had made a living writing stories for pulp magazines
      2) In the course of his fiction writing, he developed a relationship with Campbell who was notorious for embracing fringe ideas
      3) Campbell thought that dianetics was Nobel Prize material, and used all of the resources of his magazine to promote it.

      When dianetics took off, Hubbard tried to run with it, but failed because of the inherent flaws which I tried to describe in the post. He tried to fix these flaws in Scientology and partially succeeded. When he couldn’t he fell back on coercion, justified by new, self-serving doctrines of the kind that you describe in that 1955 ‘manual’.

      Somehow, Scientology held together – but that’s another story. My take on this will appear in a future post. My perspective is that the manipulative power of Scientology owes more to social pressure in a isolated situation than deliberately devised ‘mind control’. It relieves us of the question of how Hubbard (whose academic career, military service and writing were so risible) could also be some kind of master manipulator.

      PS: I have discussed Hubbard’s ‘Brainwashing Manual’in a previous post, which includes the full text.

  3. Hi, have some time now, so I thought I’d respond to your comment that, “The manipulative power of Scientology owes more to the social pressure in isolation then deliberately devised ‘mind control’.”

    IMO, the key is “gradients,” sneakily applied.

    Before the mind control step, comes the deception step.

    Many come in contact with Scientology without falling under its influence. However, a cult – to be successful – only needs a tiny fraction of those coming in contact to establish a membership.

    The “Layers of the Scientological Onion’ outline contained in ‘Brainwashing Manual Parallels’, shows how this is done with “easy gradients. I’ve known many (non staff/non Sea Org) “paying public” (who simply buy services) who have – while outside Scientology’s “social pressure in isolation,” nonetheless fall under its influence but, of course, they had that vulnerability in the first place.

    • I would say that those “paying public” were subject to social pressure in the org and, while they were in that situation, were isolated from other perspectives upon Scientology. Dissenting voices are not welcome there. They do, of course, re-enter mainstream society when they they leave the org – but, as long as they doing courses, the commitment required is naturally going to escalate (and with that, the degree of isolation).

      When I say ‘isolation’, I don’t mean being locked away in a Scientology compound (although there is that, too). I mean social isolation. When you join an org you are encouraged to spend more an more time there. Your are also encouraged to break off contact with outsiders (the PTS and SP doctrines formalise this) who will expose you to ‘entheta’. In areas where there are sufficient numbers of Scientologists, it’s possible even for public to soon find that there entire social circle consists of other believers.

      As for the ‘gradients’, I completely agree. We don’t sell our souls in one bargain, but through a long series of small compromises. This is demonstrated in an unsettling way by Stanley Milgram’s classic social psychology experiment and I drew parallels with Scientology in this post.

      Also, we agree on the point that a ‘cult’ only needs to attract a tiny percentage of those it approaches to prosper. Also, the best evidence suggests that 90% of recruits leave within two years, so there is a significant turnover. One of the reasons that Scientology is in such dire straits at the moment is that the bad PR it is receiving has damaged its ability to recruit. Not only is membership shrinking as a result, but they are no longer attracting the competent outsiders they once did. Instead they concentrate on retaining second and third-generation members who have received no meaningful education.

      I think that the pressures inherent in the social situation of a Scientologist is what keeps members under control and that much of this evolved, rather than having been planned by Hubbard – but that’s another (future) post.

  4. “Your psychology is advanced and true and wonderful. It hypnotizes people. It predicts their emotions, for you are their ruler.” L. Ron Hubbard, from his (written to himself) 1946/1947 ‘Affirmations’.

    IMO, Scientology evolved, was somewhat modified by circumstances, and it was also, essentially, planned.

    Well in advance, Hubbard knew what he wanted, and he had an idea of how he was going to establish his own mini kingdom.

    PS. You’ve probably already seen it, but just in case you haven’t, here’s a video of James Randi from the 1999 CULTinfo Conference. It begins with an enthusiastic Scientologist attempting to “disseminate” (as they say) Dianetics to Randi. Afterwards, the person (a non Scientologist), who had accidentally videoed that attempted “dissemination,” talked with Randi about the ‘Trap Door Spiders,” a club of Science Fiction writer of which he, Hubbard, John Campbell, and others, were members.

    Speaking of Hubbard, Randi says, “In my opinion, Hubbard was an evil man, and a willfully evil man. He knew what he was doing.”

    • Hubbard certainly thought he knew what he was doing, and presented himself as someone who know what he was doing. He was, also, evidently wilfully evil and casually cruel.

      However, there is a fundamental problem with taking him at his word on the subject of the creation of Scientology.

      If you look at any aspect of his life – his academic career, his military service, his writing… this was a intellectually superficial man. In “All About Radiation” he can’t even grasp the difference between a source of radiation and radiation itself. His other books are full of schoolboy howlers, too – e.g. the appearance of non-existent Piltdown Man in “A History of Man”. Many of Scientology’s early doctrines were, famously, recorded by him while he was under the influence of drugs.

      As your quote from the ‘affirmations’ shows, he seemed to think he could achieve the things he aspired to (literally) by magic – of only he believed hard enough, what he wanted would come about. We usually learn, at a very early age, that this doesn’t work.

      How did such a man succeed in creating an organisation like Scientology? However it happened, his intentions were only a small part of the story. There must have been other factors that elevated Scientology above the many other fringe groups, headed by ‘gurus’ with similar aims, which failed.

      My proposal is that Scientology ‘gelled’ for reasons that Hubbard was unaware of, and incapable of understanding. He took the credit, or course, but his boasts were wrong and often completely incoherent. He wasn’t a bystander… it was his actions that brought the crucial institutions into being – but he was not a mastermind who understood why it worked, either.

      Why do critics trust Hubbard’s word about the creation of Scientology when they (rightly) doubt every one of his other statements? Perhaps it’s simpler to be able to blame a hate figure for the nasty entity that is Scientology than to struggle to understand the complexity of its real origin.

      I’m still working this out. It’s going to be a mega post.

      PS Randi and Hubbard were guests of the Trap Door Spiders – not members. Randi was modestly happy to have been invited to appear. Hubbard likely exaggerated his involvement (as he did everything).

    • What I mean is that Hubbard believed he was some kind of universal genius (which he evidently was not).
      Some critics credit him with being a mastermind of ‘mind control’, and I think this is wrong, too.

      Scientology is incredibly controlling and manipulative – but Hubbard’s intention formed only part of it – the rest happened as a result of processes beyond his control or understanding.

  5. My Google+ account seems to be working again, so I’ll write a little more.

    Hubbard’s preferred methodology was hypnosis and psychological manipulation, not magic. He placed “OT” and “magical thinking” on display for Scientologists, but, behind the scenes, was very down to earth and practical. For example, when he developed a spying network, he didn’t use “OTs” to spy psychically, rather he used conventional – materialistic – means to spy.

    • When new religious movements began to proliferate in the 1950’s people were looking for an accessible explanation that assigned blame to the movement itself. ‘Brainwashing’ and hypnosis were in the news at the time, and were adopted by the burgeoning anti-cult movements.

      I simply don’t think they were ever a very good fit, and psychology has changed a lot since those days. It’s time for an update.

      A lot of the practical things that Hubbard did were effective. However, they do not constitute a complete explanation for the durability of Scientology as an organisation. There was more going on than Hubbard intended or understood. He was a shrewd con man – but that was not enough.

      As for ‘magical thinking’ – I think Hubbard did think this way, and tried to institutionalise it in Scientology.

  6. Well, looks like two short posts have made it through. I’ll try one more brief post.

    Look forward to your upcoming – eventual – mega post. Any feedback you wish to provide re. the material I’ve provided would be welcome.

    • I’ll try…

      PS – I’ve changed my settings – anyone with a previously approved comment (and you have several) should now be able to post a comment without having to wait for me to approve it before it appears.

  7. I’ve never seen Hubbard seriously described as a master mind of mind control by any critics.

    One of the links I provided used the word “brainwashing” because that word is in the title of a booklet written by Hubbard.

    I don’t know how much behind the scenes written instruction from Hubbard you have seen, but there’s zero magical thinking in any of it. I’m not referring to the “OT levels” (which are advertised confidential writings) but to not advertised (“secret”) confidential writings.

    • But it’s a commonplace statement in critical circles that Scientology is a well-designed means of ‘brainwashing’, and it is implied that Hubbard intentionally created Scientology that way.

      I believe that this is partly true. His motives certainly included gaining money and power for himself and as a well-practiced face-to-face con artist he had no qualms about manipulating others (in fact, this seems to be the only way he could function, socially). This implies that he was solely responsible for the extraordinary manipulative power of Scientology. I think this gives him too much credit, and there were other influences at play here, of which he was unaware.

      I concede on your second point. That booklet was partly Hubbard’s attempt to turn aside the accusations of ‘Brainwashing‘ made against him by the early anti-cult movement. I didn’t mean to imply that you subscribed to that theory.

      I also (partially) concede that Hubbard’s ‘behind the scenes’ instructions were pragmatic and designed to ruthlessly gain and maintain power. However, the practical stuff that is often quoted is embedded in, and justified by, magical claims. As you say, there is no meaningful basis for Hubbard’s claims that (for example) OT powers exist, or that Scientologists are are saving humanity. They are an amalgam of wishful thinking and fantasy (aka magic). They are, pragmatically, used to encourage followers not only to recruit but also to behave badly in order to so because the ends justify the means. The pragmatism depends on the magical thinking.

      It’s an interesting question whether actually believed his own fantasies – whether he thought Scientology was true – or was a self-aware con-man. I incline to the belief that Hubbard was a solipsist who truly believed whatever he said when he said it. He thought that his will (thetan-like) could ‘handle’ reality. That’s magical thinking.

      • Just as an aside perhaps, I just watched an interview with Alan Moore, the comic writer who mentions the origins of a lot of magic in the written word. Even the word “spell” is derived form this origin. If one definition or purpose of “magic” is an attempt to define or “frame” reality in a certain way to work towards a particular goal then it occurs to me that the endless mountain of words that LRH produced , the neologisms, the definitions, the processes etc are a kind of attempt to reframe reality for Scientologists as part of the manipulation and make it deliberate esoteric and opaque to outsiders. eg Declaring someone a “suppressive person” is like casting a spell. yet publicly denying the policy exists in practice.

        • According to the academic Hugh Urban, Scientology owes a lot to the attitudes that Hubbard acquired in his dealings with Jack Parsons – which involved the serious practice of ritual magic. Urban is fascinated by the functions of secrecy in religious groups one of which is bring about exactly the socially constructed perspective (in which Scientologists see themselves to be possessed of special, secret knowledge and great power – just like magicians) which you describe.

          One might legitimately question how sincere his belief was (he was certainly planning on fleecing Parson’s and eventually absconded with not only his the man’s money, but also his girlfriend) but Parson’s particular brand of thaumaturgy seems to have harmonised with Hubbard’s Narcissistic attitude that he should be able to be or have anything he wanted as long as he wanted it enough.

          I believe that alchemists made their writings deliberately obscure so that those who were not members of the in-group would have difficulty following their ‘recipes’ and that this deliberate occlusion was one of the origins of the term ‘occult’ as applied to magical practices.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s