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Blogging Dianetics, Part 3: The Meaning of Life!

DianeticsStandardWelcome to our ongoing project, where we blog a 1950 first edition of Scientology’s bible, Dianetics, with the help of ex-Scientologist, Bay Area lawyer, and writer Vance Woodward. Go here for the first post in the series.

Last week, L. Ron Hubbard explained that there’s a superman inside each one of us that he calls a “clear,” and his “dianetic therapy” is going to help us retrieve a clear’s super abilities — vivid technicolor recall of our memories, enhanced intelligence, imperviousness to ailments, and good eyesight — by ridding us of our “aberrations.” (In the introduction to the book he tells us this should take about 20 hours of exercises to make us go clear.)

Now, in the third chapter of the book (and the second full chapter), “The Goal of Man,” Hubbard says that he’s unlocked the secret of our existence. What is the purpose of our lives on Earth? His answer is simply one word: “SURVIVE!”

“It is not a new thought that Man is surviving. It is a new thought that Man is motivated only by survival,” he writes.

Vance, we’ve had the impression that Scientologists, even today, consider this some kind of genius insight by Hubbard. But Hubbard was writing nearly a century after a guy named Charles Darwin published his book On The Origin of Species and figured out that competition for survival is what fueled natural selection and biological evolution. Can you help us understand why Hubbard’s idea is considered so revolutionary by church members?

VANCE: Certainly most people, before they get into Scientology, would have heard of natural selection and would have a rough idea of what it’s about. However, many of them might not have boiled the notion down to a single sentence, much less a single word.


For the layman, it can be tough to describe natural selection in a few words. So for some of them, Hubbard’s formulation might seem like a revelation. And it’s not really clear in this context what is causing that imperative. Is it evolutionary pressure or a disembodied agent, a soul, or God? Ron just describes it as an axiomatic imperative. (Fast forwarding, we know that Ron will take the avenue that generated the most revenue.)

So, SURVIVE! is easily digested. That makes many people feel like they understand something. And it leaves open the door for future “discoveries.” I’d say Ron had a profitable insight.

THE BUNKER: Hubbard then marvels at the way animals have adapted in order to survive, and in particular, he singles out the “survival value” of “the hinges of the clam shell.”

For some reason, that clam-hinge really stuck in Hubbard’s mind. In a later book, he will claim that memories of being a clam have come down to us from the mists of time — our immortal souls, or “thetans,” took up residence in animals such as clams before humans arose, and somewhere deep in us remains that memory. Which is why, Hubbard claimed, our jaw muscles might tense up as our clam-memory reasserts itself in periods of stress.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with details from future books. (For now, we’ll just point out that this rather amazing assertion by Hubbard is why one of the most successful critical websites about Scientology is named “Operation Clambake” and why some critics refer to church members as “clams.”)

Vance, before we go further, in recent years, were individual Scientologists you worked with still convinced that Hubbard was a “nuclear physicist,” a physician, a PhD, and the other things that were shown to be more of his tall tales? Did they read passages like this convinced that Hubbard really knew what he was talking about?

VANCE: These days the church makes no widespread claim that Hubbard was any sort of academic. But the marketers can and do paint different pictures to suit the contexts and here’s how. In university, Hubbard took a class titled, in his words, “atomic and molecular phenomena.” (I’m a physicist; I was in one of the first-ever classes on particle physics.) On at least one occasion, LRH flatly stated that he flunked out of university. (I’m an artistic, rebellious, adventuring free-thinking genius, not a soulless Dilbert.) Later, he got himself a degree-mill Ph.D. (I’m an authority, respected by serious minds.) Later still, he turned in all of his “degrees and honors” in disgust of unstated disgusting things. (I wash my hands of these corrupt institutions and vested interests because I’m a scientist of integrity … and vigor.)

Just to put things into context, this is a guy who in the 1950s and 1960s was still referring to galaxies as gu-LACK-sees and “island universes”! I mean, ding-dong!

These days, some Scientologists might mumble something about Hubbard being a physicist, but only if they think they won’t get too much skepticism in response. Nobody talks about him as though he had any legit degrees, and his paper-mill diplomas aren’t acknowledged. Basically, the modern rendition is that Hubbard fell way outside the box (everybody agrees on that point), that he was simply above academics, in the manner of a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, uh, Adam Sandler, etc. (not that the explicit comparison is ever made). That’s the Hubbard being presented today, inside the Church.

THE BUNKER: The next thing Hubbard does is insert an illustration he calls a “Descriptic Graph of Survival,” and it deserves a close look.

The graph is a series of horizontal lines spread apart at increasing intervals which are labeled as “zones” of “potential immortality.” Over this odd grid, he’s obviously hand-drawn some squiggly lines that represent an individual’s survival potential over time, and then that of “his children” and “their children.”

The sort of obvious point of the chart seems to be: you are healthy, you have kids, you decline, you die. Your kids have kids, their health declines, and they die.

But again, Hubbard wants us to think this is a revolutionary concept: we feel pleasure when we are living, he says, as if this has never occurred to anyone, and it’s painful that we die. Immortality, he adds, would be the ultimate pleasure.

Hubbard was as immortal as the rest of us. He died in 1986 a few weeks short of his 75th birthday.

But he’s not done with his graph. Even though it’s quite clear that he drew his “zones” in a completely arbitrary way, he wants to assign them some kind of real value. The closer you are to immortality, and the farther from death, the more pleasure you feel. How much pleasure?

“Very unprecise but nevertheless descriptive names have been assigned to these zones….These zones can be used as a tone scale by which a state of mind can be graded. Just above death, which is 0, would be the lowest mental apathy or lowest level of physical life, 0.1. A Tone 1, where the body is fighting physical pain or illness or where the being is fighting in anger, could be graded from 1.0, which would be resentment or hostility, through Tone 1.5, which would be a screaming rage, to a 1.9 which would be merely a quarrelsome inclination. From Tone 2.0 to Tone 3.0 there would be an increasing interest in existence, and so forth.”

You see what he did there, Vance. He took a trite observation — we’re happier when we feel better, we’re miserable when we’re dying — and assigned some completely arbitrary gradations of it (Zone 3 to Zone 0), and then made a further remove to what he is beginning to call a “tone scale.”‘

In later books the Tone Scale becomes quite exact, and to Scientologists a very real measurement of human emotion. There’s nothing arbitrary about it, no guesswork involved. Someone who is Tone 1.1, for example, is considered to be “covertly hostile” — in other words, someone not to be trusted. Homosexuals, Hubbard will say, are 1.1, and must be moved up the tone scale (cured, in other words) in order to “handle” their homosexuality.

Did it occur to Scientologists that something as rigid as the Tone Scale started out this way, as Hubbard musing about mortality and assigning completely arbitrary values to a person’s state of mind?

VANCE: In a word, no. You’ve spotted what I think is a fundamental problem with how Scientologists interact with the subject. We have here one guy’s description of how reality plays out. He claims later in the book that in therapy patients will go through the succession of tone levels more or less as outlined by the scale. Uh, Okay. I guess. Usually, we (or at least I) think of emotions as being multidimensional, like taste and smell. They’re very hard to display on a two-dimensional chart, much less a one-dimensional scale. But he says he’s done it based on observation. Whatever. The scale may be accurate; it may not be. It’s something to evaluate. The real problem is exactly what you said. Scientologists are well-trained to take all of Hubbard’s thought-farts as absolute, objective fact, to be “understood” (“clear your misunderstood words”), not to be questioned, not seriously, not at all. Yikes! There is a wee paradox because, when you first enter, you read Hubbard’s views about how you must evaluate truth for yourself, apply what you learn, and discard information that you find wrong. (This stuff rocks! Give me more.) But fairly quickly you learn that those heuristics only apply to non-LRH teachings, or at least you learn to keep your mouth shut.

THE BUNKER: The rest of the chapter is just a mess. He’s riffing on the idea of a person’s current state being tied in with how well he’s addressing his “survival” instinct, and he’s going around in circles. We can’t get much out of it.

VANCE: Hey, bro. Jeez. I’d say that this about as good as it gets for Hubbard. If you think this is bad, you better remove any hard objects from the vicinity before you continue reading.

I reckon we shouldn’t poo-poo him too harshly for saying obvious stuff. We all have one or two obvious things that we could help noticing. Throughout my time in Scientology I continuously noted that much of what the man wrote was obvious, but I thought of that as a good thing. I thought, Jeez now that I know this it seems so obvious!

But like you said, it’s messed up that he’s presenting this stuff as scientific discoveries when it’s really all just one guy’s (derivative) idea.

THE BUNKER: Well, the important thing is that we survived it. (Sorry.) And next week, it’s on to the dynamics!

Blogging Dianetics, part 1: The opening sentence!
Blogging Dianetics, part 2: The State of Clear!
Blogging Dianetics, part 4: Dynamically speaking


Posted by Tony Ortega on January 18, 2013 at 07:20

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