I am planning s series of serious posts on the contemporary relevance of Anarchism, but while that is gestating, I thought I would amuse myself [and you, perhaps] with a stroll down memory lane.
When I was in high school, in the late 40's [yes, Virginia, the 1940's, just after WW II, or, as Archie Bunker would say, The Big One], I was a rabid science fiction fan. I loved all the big authors -- A. E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, and L. Ron Hubbard. Their stories appeared in a number of pocket pulpy magazines, roughly the size of the Reader's Digest, the two most popular of which were Galaxy and Astounding Science Fiction. I subscribed to Astounding Scdience Fiction, which was actually the venue of my very first publication -- a letter written as a sixteen year old Harvard Freshman scoffing at the notion of "non-Aristotelian logic," or Non-A, which was then very popular among science fiction afficionados. [I was also a member of The Baker Street Irregulars, a fan club of Sherlock Holmes devotees, also with its own magazine, but that is another story.]
One month, my copy of Astounding arrived, with a big non-fiction article by L. Ron Hubbard called "Dianetics." I started to read it, and immediately decided that it was a brilliant send-up of Freudian psychoanalysis and the theories of artificial intelligence then gaining currency as a consequence of the work of Alan Turing, Norbert Weiner, and others. [Since I spent two and a half years in analysis as a teenager and had hopes of becoming a mathematician, I had a certain investment in both schools of thought.]
Hubbard's article set forth a theory that struck me as sheer inspired nonsense. Here it is in a nutshell: The mind is a computer with an enormous untapped capacity for logical deduction and mathematical ca;culation. Almost all of this capacity is blocked by scars or traumas from early life, to which Hubbard gave the wonderfully scientific name "engrams." By working one's way backward through one's mental history, one could locate each of these engrams and bring them to consciousness, thus Clearing them from the mind and releasing the blocked potential. With the help of someone who would sit and listen to one's backward tracings -- an Auditor -- one could eventually become a Clear, at which point one would have seemingly superhuman powers of ratiocination. One would then be fully rational and thus happy.
Hubbard called this pastiche of pseudoscience Dianetics, a name that brilliantly captured both the hypermodern panache of the new field of artificial intelligence and the then very great medical authority of psychoanalysis.
I laughed my way through the article, and turned to the serious business of reading that month's fiction.
Little did I know! The next month, my copy of Astounding arrived, with the second half of Hubbard's screed, and I realized with a sinking sensation that he was serious.
In the next few years, Dianetics caught on like crazy, with California naturally as its most fertile territory. Dianetic Auditors hung out their shingles and started to collect big bucks for what they promised would be a shorter and far better path to happiness than ordinary psychoanalysis. Stories surfaced of patients who had managed to bring to consciousness, and thus to Clear, traumas from the second year of life, the first year of life, even the birth process itself. Not to be outdone, other Dianetics patients claimed to remember life in the womb. One even claimed to recall the mad swim upstream of schools of sperm on their way to the egg. Hubbard was getting very rich.
Then disaster struck. The Feds got wind of what was going on, and started charging Dianetic Auditors with practicing medicine without a license. Hubbard's elaborate scam seemed threatened with an early death.
It was at this point that Hubbard showed himself to be an authentic genius and a true American original. Having retreated to a ship more than twelve miles off the California coast [and hence beyond the reach of the authorities], he now announced that Dianetics had morphed into The Church of Scientology. As a religion, it was protected by the First Amendement, and its teachings, which were, after all, no crazier than those of Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism, or The Church of Latter Day Saints, could legally be preached and promulgated by anyone presenting himself or herself as an initiate of the faith.
Now, as an atheist, I am in principle an equal opportunity unbeliever when it comes to religions, but I must confess that in the matter of faith, I actually think that though all faiths are equal, some, like the pigs in Animal Farm, are more equal than others. Scientology is about as patently crackpot as any cure for baldness or penile insufficiency to be found in the back pages of scrimy magazines.
But don't let Tom Cruise know that I said so.