It’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
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?
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)?
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:
- Don’t reveal everything up front
- Don’t allow others to take control from you
- Don’t expose your organisation to legal liability
- Don’t submit your claims to the scrutiny of outsiders
Lesson 1 – Don’t Reveal Everything Up Front
The 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
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
Hubbard 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 word 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’.
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.
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 standardised 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’.
For 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:
- The creation of ‘Study Tech’
- The practice of demonising the opposition
- 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.
- Not 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
- Passed over a ‘misunderstood word’ which has resulted in their failing to understand everything that have read from that point on
- 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
This 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.