The American Mercury
By Willard Beecher and Calder Willingham
In May of last year, from the modest little town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, came a voice that promised complete salvation for mankind on this earth. That in itself is nothing new, but this particular voice was a powerful roar, worth at least a footnote in any account of our troubled age. It was the voice of a man by the name of L. Ron Hubbard. Until this moment, Hubbard had been known as a writer of science fiction fantasies. But now, after fifteen years of intense study, he had created Dianetics, a new science of the mind.
The person has not been born who can accuse L. Ron Hubbard of false modesty. The opening sentence of his book, which was a best-seller for many weeks, has been quoted before, but it can be quoted again. Let the reader laugh and shake his head, or chill to the implications that can be drawn from the success of a work that begins in such a manner as this: "The creation of Dianetics is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire, and superior to his invention of the wheel and the arch." Why is fire more important than Dianetics, you are tempted to ask, but of course Hubbard doesn't actually say that fire is better, it's just comparable.
Specifically, what did Hubbard promise? It can be summed up readily. His new science of the mind, Dianetics, was a sure cure for everyone's mental ills. And not only was it a sure thing: the treatment was also delightfully simple. It didn't take a lot of money, or prolonged training. Any two people willing to study the master's book for a few days and work together in the prescribed manner could be saved.
If one followed the Dianetics code carefully, one would end up a Clear. Once a Clear, there would be no more complexes, anxieties, or fears. Anxiety being virtually universal today, it was to be expected that such a proposition would have universal appeal.
The interesting thing is the raiment with which Hubbard has clothed his proposition, and this raiment we will soon consider, after noting once again that the proposition is absolute. There are no qualifications. No buts and ifs. None whatever. Let us hypothesize a hopeless schizophrene, drifting moodily off the Jersey coast in a sun-kissed orange crate. -- No matter! Dianetics can take care of this character, and get him back on dry land. "Dianetics is an exact science," proclaims the voice, "and its application is on the order of, but simpler than, engineering. . . . The Clear, the goal of Dianetic Therapy, can be created from psychotic, neurotic, deranged, criminal or normal people if they have organically sound nervous systems." Mary Baker Eddy at her best never spoke of such complete salvation this side of the grave, and other saviors, by comparison, are vending buggy whips in a motor age.
The news of Dianetics was first brought to the world through the pages of Astounding Science Fiction, a pulp magazine devoted to fantastic stories based on (more or less) scientific knowledge. The editor of this magazine was completely convinced of the cosmic import of Dianetics, yet he felt constrained to announce, in an introductory editorial, that Dianetics is "not a hoax, joke, or anything but a direct, clear statement of a totally new thesis." But perhaps some readers would have wondered, even despite this, were it not for Hubbard's total self-assurance.
However, let us pause. When Jesus was alive, people often asked each other, "What good can come out of Nazareth?" Time has proved that Nazareth and Bethlehem have done very well by the human race, so why couldn't Elizabeth, New Jersey, and a pulp magazine be the humble origin of another great teacher? How could Hubbard be so sure, it might be asked, unless he has absolute proof of the validity of his claims? After all, fifteen years of work have gone into the discovery of this new science of the mind. Tests have been made on several hundred people, psychotics included, and the new science has been sanctioned by a member of the medical profession, a Dr. Joseph A. Winters.
In any case, science fiction readers (the original nucleus of the present-day Dianetics cult) were convinced immediately, and the stampede to Elizabeth was in full gallop even before the book itself came out. The eager faithful rushed out to place orders for the book weeks ahead of publication date, and then when it did appear they spread the word around with passion and fervor. "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health" became a best-seller overnight. What happened then is now history.
Like a prairie fire fanned by a high wind, the new science of the mind leapt west as far as P.O. Box 5261, Honolulu, as revealed in the "Dianetics Auditor's Bulletin" of July-August, 1950. Dianetics became the rage in Hollywood; the masterwork can still be found on the leather-covered upholstery of fish-tail Cadillac convertibles.
In the conservative East, Dianetics Auditors set up their shingles (still up, at the last report) on Park Avenue. Hubbard dashed madly from coast to coast giving demonstrations, very much like the General who heard the bugle blow, and mounted his horse and rode wildly in all directions. In fact, Hubbard has been so busy that he has had no time to become a clear himself.
Exactly what was it that aroused such enthusiasm in sophisticated America? Why did people listen? What happened? No one could hope to do justice to the scope of such questions without writing a historical analysis of our times, but a description of this new "science of the mind" can be given, and a few criticisms can be made of it. A year has passed, and the time is ripe for a summing up.
"The mind," says L. Ron Hubbard, "is an inherently perfect calculator," and it is only when the "exterior world gets 'interior' and causes 'aberrations' that we get into the human difficulties so familiar to all of us." In short psychological troubles are not our responsibility at all; neurosis is a cinder in the eye of the mind.
Hubbard compares the human mind to a new invention known as the Electric Brain or Electronic Calculator. This machine can make the most abstruse calculations without error, granted there are no "soldered-in cross circuits" or "held down numbers." The machine can make errors only if the mechanism itself breaks down.
What other psychological practitioners might call "the conscious mind" or "awareness," Hubbard calls "the Analytical Mind." Every perception observed in a lifetime is to be found in "the memory banks" of the mind. Hubbard insists that "there is no inaccuracy in these banks." These memory-banks have a recording of every scrap of our past experience. The recordings are a kind of superior motion picture film, with sound, color, sight or visualization, and tactile and olfactory sensibilities. Thus far, there is no place for an aberration to exist. God is in his heaven and all is right with the human mind.
But the serpent, according to Hubbard, is contained, or rather, coiled up, in the word "unconsciousness." All aberrations of the mind are the result of things that get "soldered into" the mind when it is "not conscious." The source of these soldered-in contacts is pain. Now, pain is a vulgar four-letter word in Dianetics, rather than a biological plus to aid survival. The perfect calculator never misses a trick, sees all and remembers all -- until a little smidgin of pain comes along, and then, like an overload of electric current on a flat iron, the Analytical Mind blows a fuse and kicks out of circuit. Thus a human being can be compared to a badly wired rooming house where the lights are always going out.
Now, what happens when the lights go out? Nature has provided for that emergency, says Hubbard. The Reactive Mind takes over at such moments. The Reactive Mind behaves much like a device that will answer the telephone when no one is at home. It is a tape-recorder plugged into the circuit. Any nonsense babbled into the phone is faithfully given back when the owner returns. The first whiff of pain, the circuit of the Reactive Mind "solders in" on the Analytical Mind and henceforth louses up the broadcast, and this is what all our troubles come from.
The reader must bear with us if we mix metaphors or invent a few of our own. That is the way of Dianetics. It is a very metaphorical science, and unless your imagination has a two-way stretch, you cannot possibly understand it. And don't let common sense get in your way, either. One of the things that you must accept is that the recordings in the Reactive bank go back as far as twenty-four hours after conception. But some disciples recall memories twenty-four hours before conception! (This has all kinds of dramatic possibilities, not the least of which would be a memoir entitled, "My Struggle to Fertilize Myself.")
Pain-memories, the root of all evil in Dianetics, are called engrams. This is what us neurotics are broadcasting. Now let's look into this. According to Hubbard, virtually every pregnant woman has hoped for, or attempted, an abortion at some time or another. This causes the poor, defenseless foetus to writhe in shame and agony. His humiliation is at the apex if, after birth, he is called "Junior" after the father, and every nasty crack his mother made about the old man during pregnancy is recorded by Junior's Reactive Mind. The poor foetus thinks his mother is talking about him, instead of Pop, and as a result of this natural misunderstanding is "pained" into unconsciousness and kicks off out of circuit. It is quite a shock to the poor little fellow, and therefore, is it surprising that, when he grows up, he doesn't have sense enough to pound sand in a rat-hole? That is, unless he has been exposed to Dianetic therapy.
How can anyone hope to become a Clear, and be released of all such soldered-in currents, especially pre-natal humiliations, if they get soldered in when we're unconscious with pain? This is where the Dianetics un-soldering iron comes into the picture. Hubbard found that if you employ "Dianetic Reverie," you can get into the Reactive Mind easily. Two people must work together, one acting as "Auditor" to the other. The subject lies down. The Auditor does not speak to him at all; his remarks and questions are directed to a File Clerk, who is in charge of the filing system in the Reactive Mind. All engrams are recorded on a time track, and the file clerk runs back and forth along this track lickity-split, picking off any engram demanded of him by the Auditor.
The Auditor commands the file clerk to bring up an engram associated with a painful experience in the subject's past. Then the subject is ordered to re-experience the situation with sound effects. This is done over and over again, until all the pain has "boiled off." At that happy moment, the file clerk grabs the hot, smoking engram off the griddle, and re-files it in the Analytical Mind. Then, mirabile dictu, it will never cause trouble again!
Very neat. The only catch is that each and every engram must be dug up one at a time and "boiled off" or smoked on the griddle for a while before the subject can become that flawless type known as Clear. The most important engram to be reached is the very first one, which is called Basic-Basic. Once Basic-Basic is re-filed, then all subsequent engrams are more easily unlocked and re-filed. First you go down the time track to Basic-Basic, then you turn around and come back to the present, and then back down the track, and so on.
How do people behave in Dianetic Reverie? Hubbard insists that Dianetic Reverie is not a hypnotic trance, but the same thing as being awake with one's eyes closed. The individual is supposed to be fully aware of what he's doing, and if he chooses he can come out of it whenever he wishes. Actually, Dianetic Reverie may or may not be a degree of hypnosis, depending on what we mean by that word, but it is surely allied with a very strong will-to-believe on the part of the patient. The individual is urged to read the book repeatedly before his first session; if he is sufficiently impressed by Hubbard's jargon, even one reading is enough to make visions of sugar plums dance through his head. To the convinced soul, it is perfectly natural that the first Dianetic session would be as exciting as the night before Christmas in an Orphan's Home. Every pore is open to suggestion. This is an established capacity of the human mind, and in such a state, the patient, suffused with the glow of the assurances he has gotten out of the book, harkens to the probing of the Auditor, and lo, he "discovers" just those phenomena that he is expected to find. It has been happening in Africa for many years with gourds and masks.
Hubbard's book assures us that no one can "erase his engrams" until he has gone back to Basic-Basic -- that first experience of pain after conception. All subsequent aberrations are, in effect, chain-linked to this. Since Basic-Basic is pre-natal, the individual must manage to foment within himself sensations and experiences from this period of development. Suggested "terrifying experiences" are: (1) the times when Mother cheated on Father with the ice man, (2) attempted abortions via a knitting needle, and (3) the dreadful rumbling of gas in Mother's intestines. According to Hubbard, no matter how horrifying the ice man is, and no matter how fearful and eldritch the thunderous rumbles of gas, the sheer ultimate in pain and insult stems from Ma's unsuccessful attempts to abort Junior with a knitting needle. The reader may not believe it, but practically every person who undergoes Dianetic therapy recaptures at some time or other the memory of an attempted abortion with a knitting needle.
Now before bidding the reader and Dianetics farewell, let us peer briefly at a Dianetics Session in action. Naturally, the behavior of an individual during reverie can only vary with the degree of suggestibility, if we are correct in assuming that a three-month old foetus can't distinguish between Pa and the delivery boy. But some patients re-live their harrowing foetal experiences without much melodrama. Others, however, let us say the more uncritical and suggestible individuals, dramatize their painful experiences with a passion that would put Bernhardt to shame. If you could roll together the agony of suspense in the "Perils of Pauline," the tragedy of "Oedipus Rex," the fury of Madame Defarge at the guillotine, and the horror of chains clanking in a damp, dark cellar, still you would be far removed from such a scene.
As the patient approaches the traumatic engram, convulsive seizures begin to pick at his muscles like invisible birds on a scrap heap. These unrelated twitchings somehow merge together into spasms that cause the legs and arms to toss at random, hither and yon. Soon the whole body is caught in a violent contraction. It becomes a writhing foetus, with knees and chin together, rolling from side to side in desperation, in order to escape the invisible stabs of the knitting needle. The poor beset thing whimpers like a puppy, and sudden bursts of energy erupt into violent movements, as the body lunges here and there and the deadly knitting needle strikes its mark again and again. Then finally the whimpering turns into wild sobbing, and now at last . . . there is Hope.
The Auditor, meanwhile, sits beside the patient with a detached air. The exhibition doesn't faze him in the least. His job is to see that the subject runs through this drama over and over again, until boredom becomes a greater pain than the original one. At this point, the subject usually laughs hilariously. Then the Auditor can assume that the engram will cause no more trouble; it has been removed.
Some subjects go into their acts with such fervor that even the most blase Auditor cannot take it at one sitting. At such times, the Auditor decides to bring the subject up for air. At a simple command from the Auditor, the erstwhile tragedian puts aside the act, just as a child parks the gum under the top of the dinner table. He sits up, and at this point it is customary for him and the Auditor to smoke a cigarette together. As they grind out the butts, each goes back to work. The transition from sobriety to high-pitched emotion makes one feel he can't even trust his own banker. These sessions are usually two hours long. By that time, even the engrams are bored, and the file clerk has fallen arches from running along the time track.
Is there any reason to believe that this ritual will do any good? The answer is yes, and no. People in deep psychological distress suffer most from a feeling of terror at being cut off from life; human relationships appear to them impossible and frightening. The close relationship between the two people who "audit" each other can become a bridge from the isolated person to the outside world. The person gets encouragement from another, no matter what kind, and thus achieves a feeling of connectedness with other people, and consequently succeeds where he has previously failed. At the root of all neurosis, and all neurotic symptoms, is social isolation (Alcoholics Anonymous operates unknowingly but nevertheless effectively on this premise.)
Whether Dianetics, on the other hand, can do serious damage, is doubtful but not proven. Recently, The New York Daily News reported a murder-suicide of a Dianetics "professor" and his wife. She was a divorced woman. After the marriage, be began to pine for the child of her first marriage, and she attempted suicide several times, Her new husband took her to psychiatrists, but they didn't help her. So he studied Dianetics, and became her auditor. It seemed that she was improving, but one day she bought a gun and killed him and herself. All that can really be said about this is that neither psychiatry nor Dianetics helped these unfortunate people, and that in this case, Dianetics did not measure up to the promises of its frenetic founder.
As for Hubbard himself, his wife has sued him for divorce, and it may be that there is a grain or two of truth in her charges. She has accused him of bigamy, cruelty, and "systematic torture," and also of being a "paranoid schizophrenic."
One further point can be considered: the question of psychosomatic illness. Hubbard says flatly that "Dianetics will help the reader to eliminate any psychosomatic illness." No psychiatrist is encouraged or flattered if a patient gives up a psychosomatic symptom after the first visit. These manifestations are only the organs of the body revealing the distress of the soul. If the patient happens to feel that the psychiatrist is a capable fellow upon whom he can safely lean, he relaxes and decides to allow the psychiatrist to carry his responsibilities for him. He then rewards his therapist by swiftly recovering from the symptom. But when he finds later on that he will have to carry his own burden and finally resolve his own conflict, he retaliates against the "cruel" therapist by reviving the old symptom and perhaps two or three others.
Psychotherapy is a wild bird that has not been caged by any technique to date, not even by Dianetics. Thus far, there is no reason to believe that Dianetics has approached Hubbard's wild assertions, or that it ever will. As one thoughtful critic says, "All that is good about it is not new, and all that is new about it is not good." This has been said before, but it is still a mouthful, especially when applied to Dianetics. Dianetics is actually a sort of hasty pudding made up of ideas taken bald-faced from Freudian psychology, Cybernetics, engineering in general, and flavored liberally with a Chutney sauce of pseudo-scientific verbiage, analogy, metaphor, and the cliches of science fiction fantasy itself. It looks as if those epochal inventions, the wheel and the arch, are in no danger.
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