Ll. Ron Hubbard was an interesting person. His early adulthood was a bit chaotic, with some travel and then some success as a writer for what were known as the pulps: magazines printed on cheap paper where writers who weren’t good enough for the high class magazines got published. Hubbard wrote a variety of things, but probably more fantasy and science fiction than anything else.
That was during the 1930s. During World War II he joined the Navy, but didn’t have much of a career. He also hung around Jack Parsons, who was working on rockets. practiced magic, and was associated with Aleister Crowley, notorious as a magician. Hubbard’s first son later said that his father practiced black magic and abortion, and that his later career was based on black magic. He may have been biased, though.
Hubbard was reputed to have said he’d like to start a religion, because that was where the money was. Whether he said it sincerely or not, that’s what he eventually did, first writing the book Dianetics, then using that as the basis for founding the Church of Scientology.
The name Scientology seems to indicate that what’s taught there is based on science, but it’s not. I think Hubbard came up with at least one technique that could be helpful to people in the concept of engrams. These were the traumas that people experience, and everything associated with them that would bring the pain back to a person. The technique was to get the person to talk about the problems while connected to a device called the E-meter (something akin to a lie-detector), to reexperience the problems as much as possible, and to continue doing that until the emotion surrounding the trauma was dissipated. When one had done this with all traumas, one became Clear, in Hubbard’s terminology.
That’s not so different from psychoanalysis, which is odd, because Hubbard considered psychiatrists to be evil. I suspect some projection there. Others accused him of paranoia, and called his organization schizophrenic, though I don’t think Hubbard himself could be called schizophrenic in any usual sense. Paranoid, yes, and rather sadistic too, but not out of touch with reality in that way.
He may have come up with some useful techniques, but I don’t have to like what he did with them. He built an organization that shunned the outside world, in which he could do anything he wanted, and one of the things he liked to do was punish people.
Some of the people were members of his organization. Many of them did hard work for little or nothing, with Hubbard and the in-group reaping the benefits. He wasn’t too nice to children either. When he was busily sailing on his own ship here and there, he punished a four year old boy by locking him in a dangerous part of the ship for two days. Surely that’s excessive, esepcially for a child that age.
He also punished any outsider who didn’t think highly of Scientology. One woman who wrote an expose of the group was harassed by multiple lawsuites for a number of years.
So he may have had some real insights and abilities, but he used them almost exclusively for money and power. The author of the book I recently read said that one couldn’t simply call him a fraud, because he obsessively spent time working out his doctrine, while also strengthening his organization to make it invulnerable. A lot of people got hurt during that time, some of them who had been friends and people he’d depended on for many years. But most of the extensions of his basic ideas came out of his imagination, rather than any scientifically rigorous experimentation.
Contrast that with Robert de Ropp’s Warrior’s Way, an autobiography in which he comments on a number of outstanding people he met or knew of. For de Ropp, one can either be a warrior or a slave. A warrior need not be a soldier, or even violent. He or she faces each problem met squarely and honestly, though, and thereby acquires freedom. It’s much easier to be a slave, to lie to one’s self and others, follow the crowd, and simply exist, rather than really living.
De Ropp had a rather chaotic childhood, beginning in a fairly privileged family in England, until his mother died. Then his father, who cared little for him, sent him to his family estate in Lithuania, where he lived with the peasants, and learned the survival skills that they knew. Peasants always know how to survive, but always live near the edge too. If the weather one year isn’t conducive to agriculture, survival will be difficult through the winter.
He then got sent to Australia, was unable to do anything there, but managed to contact some of his mother’s relatives in England and return there for an education. He became a scientist, and so was able to support himself pretty well. But he said that he wasn’t totally a scientist, and named several of his other selves: the Magician, the Missionary, the Cynic, the Domestic Oaf, etc. These different selves often conflicted until he learned to keep them more or less balanced. He also, as a young man, was attracted (through his Magician) to mysteries, and met a number of people who claimed to and tried to teach them.
P.D. Ouspensky was the first of these teachers. He had studied with George Gurdjieff, then set himself up as a teacher, trying to teach the same things Gurdjieff did, but without Gurdjieff’s experience or knowledge. Still, he was a remarkable man. Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard were others interested in teaching and helping humans to improve, whom de Ropp knew slightly from this period.
De Ropp learned a certain amount, but wasn’t immediately able to apply it very well, and struggled in his personal life. He eventually left England after World War II for America to continue scientific work there, as well as to continue his interest in the human struggle for improvement. He had his share of difficulties and tragedies, but survived.
After the war he visited the farm where Ouspensky had spent the war in America. He wasn’t particularly welcomed there, and became resentful, wanting to tell people off. But when he went to the farm to do that he had a sudden vision of himself as he was, warts and all, and realized that any wrong any of the people there might have done to him was insignificant. Suddenly the Prayer of the Heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” sounded in his heart, as distinct from his head, and he saw more clearly than he ever had. He was asked to apologize and say he was wrong, and did so, seeing that he had been, and that he might as well apologize–it didn’t matter, compared with what he was then seeing.
Later he was able to briefly meet George Gurdjieff, and was tremendously impressed with him. Gurdjieff was by then near the end of his life, and de Ropp sensed a great sadness in him, and despite his power and wisdom, felt there was something wrong in where he was. He said of Gurdjieff that he embodied no fewer than four archetypes: the Magus, the Emperor, the Hierophant and the Hanged Man. It’s rare, says de Ropp, to meet any person embodying even ONE archetype, let alone four. But the more a person advances, the higher he climbs, and the more power he obtains, the more he is subjected to temptations that ordinary people can’t even imagine. Even the most enlightened can make mistakes. Perhaps Gudjieff had. Alan Watts later said there was too much Yang in what he did, referring to the Chinese concept of Yang and Yin. Yang is the active principle, Yin the passive.
Gurdjieff had certainly struggled. When he had set up his Institute for the Harmonic Development of Man in France he had spent time directing what went on there, and then much time in Paris making money to support his project. His physical health wasn’t good to begin with, having had three almost fatal bullet wounds, as well as a number of diseases that had turned chronic. When he failed to get enough sleep his health got worse, and he drove into a tree at 90 kilometers an hour (having fallen asleep while driving) and almost died again. The aftermath of that accident had decided him to pursue writing as a way of conveying his knowledge rather than direct teaching, though he still hoped to do that on a large scale. He never managed to do so again, though, and died just as it seemed possible that he could. De Ropp comments that Gurdjieff knew how to control his body, so that he could possibly have lived much longer, but either he lost its balance, or his body had become too damaged to continue longer (he had another serious auto accident about a year before he died). Another writer says that Gurdjieff died of cancer, and had said that cancer and heart disease come usually from a life of conflict–something he had imposed on himself as a teaching method, among other things.
Hubbard never had the knowledge that Gurdjieff had. He was a conman as much as anything else. But his efforts were a lot more successful than Gurdjieff’s, perhaps because he didn’t try to be ethical, as Gurdjieff was. He promised personal power to people (Gurdjieff did too), but in a more familiar form, with a little mysticim tossed in for attraction.
To enhance his power he kept many Scientology members isolated, so they had no access to any other viewpoint. This, however, didn’t apply to his famous members. He concentrated on converting show business people fairly early, with John Travolta and Tom Cruise as possibly the most famous. They got catered to. Ordinary members didn’t.
After de Ropp had been in the USA for awhile, he moved his family to California, and met a number of spiritual leaders of one sort or another, at least in passing. He was at a meeting in which Timothy Leary talked about his ideas about what he wanted to accomplish. De Ropp thought Leary was courting martyrdom through too much publicity, and said so. Leary, whose hearing wasn’t good, turned off his hearing aid. De Ropp’s prophecy came true, as Leary’s career became tragedy mixed with farce.
De Ropp was excited about Carlos Casteneda’s books, and tried unsuccessfully to meet him. He found Casteneda to be an archetype too: the Trickster, with possibly his most successful trick having been to receive a degree from UCLA for a book of fiction. Casteneda’s wife later wrote about him, saying that he seemed to have accomplished what he had wanted (he had left her a number of years earlier), but that he didn’t seem to be very happy with what he’d achieved.
Another acquaintence was Alan Watts, who extolled what he called the “Watercourse Way”, or going with the flow, as people called it in the sixties. He wasn’t terribly happy either, in his later years, and drank too much, injuring his health and dying relatively young.
J.G. Bennett, one of Gurdjieff’s students, was another acquaintence; a very intelligent and energetic man. Too energetic, de Ropp thought. He took on too many large projects and spread himself too thin at an advanced age with uncertain health. He wasn’t young when he died, but could have lived longer and accomplished more.
On the surface, Hubbard was more successful than most of these, but I can’t esteem his achievements very highly. Maybe his techniques have helped people, but the organization he built to control his movement was totalitarian, and made mostly for the acquistion of money and power. And like most hierarchical organizations, there was plenty of jealousy, rivalry and infighting at the top. How was that supposed to help people?
Hubbard’s success is probably best characterized as being a cult leader. He seems to have been charismatic, was certainly imaginative, and adept at getting people to do his bidding. Such people aren’t all that unusual. I need mention no other cult leaders who have come to highly publicized bad ends. Too bad that he confined his efforts to such an area, when he could have done something better.