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What Motivated L. Ron Hubbard? Historian Jon Atack Follows the Clues

HubbardNavyJon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and on Saturdays he’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.

Jon, last week you took on the shared reality that props up Scientology’s cosmology. But what about L. Ron Hubbard himself? Did he share in that reality? This time, you said you wanted to tackle Hubbard’s original motivations for creating a worldwide movement. What have you found out?

JON: In the 1952 book Scientology: 8.80, Hubbard described his goal in these words: “My purpose is to bring a barbarism out of the mud it thinks conceived it and to form, here on Earth, a civilization based on human understanding, not violence. That’s a big purpose. A broad field. A star-high goal.”

Long before this, he wrote a fascinating letter to his first wife, which has since been copyrighted on behalf of his estate.

THE BUNKER: It may be copyrighted, but you made sure a healthy portion of it was quoted in Russell Miller’s book, Bare-Faced Messiah.

JON: Before I get to the letter, I wanted to relate an anecdote to help put this subject — Hubbard’s motivation — into some further context.


THE BUNKER: Please do.

JON: In 1986, I spent a month in Palo Alto, interviewing various luminaries, including David Mayo and Sarge Gerbode. David was not the only Class XII at the Advanced Ability Center.

THE BUNKER: The AAC was Mayo’s splinter group that delivered high-level auditing outside the church itself, something Scientology fought vigorously.

JON: Indeed. Mayo was not the only auditor there to have counseled the Source and Founder of Scientology, the Great OT, Ron Hubbard in all his glory. But, while David was open to questions, the other Class XII at the Advanced Ability Center treated me with silent contempt, refusing to utter a single word in my presence. That Class XII was Paulette Mahurin, formerly Ausley and, even more formerly, Cohen. At the time, I thought she took issue with my skeptical attitude about the vaunted Tech, and my expressed concern that OT III has been known to induce psychosis, but I was wrong, as I discovered when I returned to the Bay, in 1988.

The friend I was staying with took me over to see Ron Neuman, fabled collector of Hubbardabilia (and thoroughly decent bloke). Ron had lent his over-sized house to a wedding party, which by the time we arrived was verging on the raucous. I sat in the melee, a little disorientated, and a woman sat across the room, glared at me before inveighing against me. I had not recognized Paulette with her new perm. The silent disdain had given way to rage. She accused me of being “stoned” (as if!), and, rather loudly, so that the whole crowd might hear, told me that I was simply pandering to Hubbard’s will. I was making him famous. And I should be ashamed of myself.

I’d already written A Piece of Blue Sky and helped Russell Miller with his fine biography of Hubbard, so I knew enough to know that she was right about Hubbard’s wishes. But while she was exporting Hubbard’s mind-melting methodology, I was simply putting Hubbard’s devious story into the record. I don’t believe that it benefits him one way or the other. Paulette seemed to think that Hubbard would somehow acquire arcane power, though continued to spread his virus far and wide. She seemed to believe that the Tech should continue, but without reference to its compiler. I had no remaining faith in the Tech, but I felt that Hubbard’s story was both utterly fascinating and highly significant to the understanding of narcissistic sociopaths and those upon whom they prey.

The Dev-OTs believe that Hubbard was a selfless humanitarian, who sacrificed his health in noble pursuit of the liberation of mankind. Contrary to his pronouncements, Hubbard desperately needed praise, admiration, and sympathy, and his goal was not really “star high.” As he put it succinctly in his self-affirmations, just months before introducing Dianetics to an unsuspecting world, “Men are your slaves.” But enslaving humanity wasn’t his goal, either (though he did pretty well, leaving tens of thousands of zealous worshipers, who will harass critics viciously without the slightest twinge of conscience). Hubbard’s motivation was far more simple than that.

Scientology begins in 1938, when Hubbard wrote his first text, “Excalibur,” which remains buried in the archive. He later claimed that he had died while under anaesthetic during a dental procedure. (Whatever else this incident did, it certainly put him off dentists. His teeth would later rot in his head, such was his phobia.) While dead, he was offered a “smorgasbord” of knowledge, which he claimed to have distilled into “Excalibur.” Here he first put forward his famous tautology that the purpose of existence is, well, to exist. This sounds much better if you say “to survive,” but it boils down to the same thing. He would later lead his followers to believe that “Excalibur” was so dangerous that three people went mad from reading it (various Hubbard lectures are almost suicidally tedious, but that isn’t what he meant). As is so often the case with Hubbard’s statements, this is just hyperbole, with no basis in fact. Followers believe that Hubbard here discovered the immortality of the spirit, but there is a letter from the same year (misdated 1939 by the Scientologists, in the copyright filing), which is likely the most important single statement in the whole Hubbard canon.

The letter is addressed to his first wife, Polly, whom he called “Skipper.” First of all, he gives a rather melancholic explanation for his discovery of the principle “Survive!,” saying: “Living is a pretty grim joke, but a joke just the same. The entire function of man is to survive. Not ‘for what’ but just to survive.” He added: “It’s a big joke, this living. God was feeling sardonic the day He created the Universe. So its [sic] rather up to at least one man every few centuries to pop up and come just as close to making Him swallow his [sic] laughter as possible.”

As for immortality, Hubbard is entirely unconvinced of the survival of the soul, spirit, or thetan: “Personal immortality is only to be gained through the printed word, barred note or painted canvas or hard grabite [sic — presumably he meant “granite”]. Note the word “only.”

A 26-year-old Hubbard laid out his aim in life: “Foolishly perhaps, but determined none the less, I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form even if all the books are destroyed. That goal is the real goal as far as I am concerned. Things which stand too consistently in its way make me nervous. It’s a pretty big job. In a hundred years Roosevelt will have been forgotten — which gives some idea of the magnitude of my attempt. And all this boils and froths inside my head and I’m miserable when I am blocked.”

Hubbard added that he was going to “make Napoleon look like a punk” in comparison to the fame he would come to enjoy.

So, “Excalibur” was not about spiritual immortality, or spiritual anything. Hubbard felt that he had made contact with some underlying force in the universe, and that he was the only person ever so to do, but he wanted to exploit that force not for the good of the world (which finds no mention anywhere in this five-page letter), but to “smash” his name into history.

Believers will say that Hubbard changed his mind, but at the very end of his life, there is a telling confirmation of his “only goal.” When Hubbard dropped his body, almost fifty years later, he had failed to spend $648 million of the monies he’d extracted from the Dev-OTs. A paltry million went to the wife who had endured prison to protect him, far less to his surviving children. But half a billion dollars went to the Church of Spiritual Technology, which lists as its corporate purpose, “To perpetuate the name L. Ron Hubbard.” Not the “technology,” just the name, please note.

I still disagree with Paulette Mahurin. I really don’t care if I make Hubbard more famous by pointing out his malignant and hypocritical life. Surely, biographers of Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan are serving humanity by exploring these deviant personalities. In years to come, I imagine that parents will warn their children, “If you’re naughty, L. Ron Hubbard will come and audit you until you become his slave.” I believe that it is best to understand evil, rather than to pull up the blankets and ignore it. Hubbard gives us fascinating insights into the self-obsessed narcissist, which could even lead to a society that no longer promotes such behavior. A society, where, as Hubbard put it, honest people have rights, too.


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Posted by Tony Ortega on August 26, 2013 at 07:00

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