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Saturday, August 1, 2020


When I was a boy, I was a great fan of science fiction. In those days (the 1940s) the two leading monthly science fiction magazines – both little pulp jobs – were Galaxy and Astounding Science Fiction. I was a fan of the latter – it was, in fact, the location of my first publication, a letter defending Aristotelian logic against the proponents of non-– A – and for a while I subscribed. One month, an issue showed up with an article in it by one of the leading science fiction writers, L. Ron Hubbard, about a subject to which he gave the name Dianetics. It was a kooky piece, a cross between quasi – Freudian psychology and the then quite new subject of computers, and I thought it was a spoof but next month part two appeared and I realized that Hubbard was serious. Dianetics was supposed to be a super modern version of psychoanalysis that had the great virtue of taking much less time and being much cheaper. Its principal claim was that it could activate the 90% or more of the brain that most of us waste by making each of us "clear."

Dianetics became all the rage, especially in California where everything new or nutty seemed to go to flourish and people who took the title of Dianetic Auditors made some big bucks for a bit. Then Dianetics got into trouble with the feds who said that Dianetic Auditors were practicing medicine without a license. Hubbard's first move was to retreat to a ship off the California coast beyond the 12 mile limit and therefore out of reach of federal agents but then he must have read the United States Constitution and noticed that there was protection for even such strange religions as Catholicism so Dianetics became transformed from psychotherapy into the religion of Scientology.

I don't know. As between a fan of Scientology and a corporate liberal, I think I might have to go with L. Ron Hubbard. Apparently it will be another two weeks before we find out who gets the nod.


s. wallerstein said...

I've only known one Scientologist. That was in the Bay Area in the 70's.

Before joining the cult, he was a hippie on welfare and food stamps, who spent most of his time complaining about his life.

After a few months of Scientology, he began to buy up slum properties and rent them out at outrageous rates. He then went to law school in order to acquire a legal basis for his slum empire, which grew and grew as he got richer and richer.

I haven't seen him since the 70's, but another friend kept in touch with him until 9-11. Shortly after that event, they (both are Jewish) were talking and the slum-lord remarked, "this will be great for the Jews", meaning that Israel will now have a pretext to kick ass in the Muslim world. That was the end of their friendship.

As far as I can see, Scientology turned off whatever superego or moral conscience this guy had (if he had one in the first place) and gave him "permission" to become an utterly amoral greedy being.

jeffrey g kessen said...

As far as I can tell, Scientology is not the only religion that gives people "permission" to become amoral greedy people---Randian-style capitalism comes to mind (I know, too entirely predictable a Comment. I might better have mentioned Mormonism).

Anonymous said...

"As far as I can see, Scientology turned off whatever superego or moral conscience this guy had (if he had one in the first place) and gave him "permission" to become an utterly amoral greedy being."

Maybe it was just his Judaism.

s. wallerstein said...


Maybe you can explain why I shouldn't consider your comment above to be anti-semitic.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 7:02pm:

You are reading a blog by a retired, Jewish philosophy professor. And I believe many (but not all) of this blog's readers and commentators are Jewish as well. Overall, Jews, including wealthy Jews, tend to strongly support social programs and the social safety net. Obviously, this blog has a strongly leftist perspective that reflects Marxism, Democratic Socialism, and FDR liberalism.

So your suggestion that Judaism gives Jewish people “permission” to become utterly amoral, greedy people, is false.

Are there greedy, amoral people who happen to be Jewish? Yes. Consider Bernie Madoff and Ayn Rand.

Are all Jewish people greedy and amoral? Obviously not. Consider Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Karl Marx, and Spinoza.

Are the majority of Jewish people greedy and amoral? No. Again, Jews tend to strongly support social programs and the social safety net.

Does Judaism encourage you to become amoral and greedy? No.

So it's foolish to blame Judaism for someone's amoral, rapacious behavior. Similarly, it would be foolish to blame Protestantism or Christianity for a WASP's amoral, rapacious behavior. Donald Trump is a Presbyterian but we do not blame Presbyterianism for his behavior.

David Zimmerman said...

Shame on you, most recent Anonymous,

s. wallerstein said...

David Zimmerman,

I'm missing something, I believe, but why "shame on you" directed to the most recent Anonymous?

Is it because he or she tried to reason with an obviously anti-semitic commentator when we shouldn't feed the trolls, as they say?

aall said...

Scientology has a huge physical presence in Los Angeles. What likely happened is a staffer tasked an intern to find out what this ask was about and come up with something nice to say. Happens all the time.

Around election time a few decades ago, I happened to be in a Buddhist Temple in Korea Town. There was a hub-bub and who is pressing the flesh? LA Mayor Tom Bradley. A few decades before that at election time, I was leaving Cantor's (a deli on Fairfax) and I bump into Jesse Unruh. Tom wasn't a Buddhist, Jesse wasn't Jewish, and I believe Bass is a baptist.

Anonymous said...

I’m Anonymous from 5:25pm, to whom David Zimmerman said, “Shame on you.” This makes no sense. I attempted a rational rebuttal of the first Anonymous’s comment, which suggested that Judaism may contribute to one becoming amoral and greedy. I pointed out certain facts about this blog, I noted that Jews (including wealthy ones) tend to strongly support social programs, and I gave numerous counter-examples of Jews who are/were neither amoral nor greedy. I forgot to mention Jesus, who was an extremely important Jew in world history.

Overall, my argument was trying to rationally undermine the anti-semitic comment. Yet I should feel shame?

If David was referring to the first Anonymous, then okay. If he was indeed referring to me for some unstated reason, then I’m baffled.

Are we never allowed to discuss Jews or Judaism, even if it is to rebut anti-semitism?

s. wallerstein said...

Anonymous from 8:00 PM,

I'm Jewish myself and I wondered why no one, until you showed up, bothered to try to counter what I saw as an blatantly anti-semitic remark from the first Anonymous. I even
forwarded the dialogue to my sister to get a second opinion and she agreed with me.

So I thank you for trying to rebut the anti-semitic comment.

When I think about it and search for analogies, for example, analogies with anti-black racism, I can see how your approach to rebuttal might touch the sensitivities of some Jews or people concerned about anti-semitism and about combating prejudice in general.

However, I can see that this is a very sensitive topic for many people and so rather than expand on my conjectures, just let me repeat my sincere gratitude for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Danny, I do not know enough about Mormonism to argue whether or not it encourages or permits people to become amoral and greedy. The same applies to Scientology.

However, I have read Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’ and numerous essays by her followers. Rand and her followers condemn all forms of collectivism, including communism, socialism, social democracy, FDR liberalism, the New Deal, the welfare state, progressive income taxes, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, corporate taxes, etc. The New Deal, welfare state, and said taxes are just instances of the “takers” (i.e. the bottom 90%) taking from the “makers” (i.e. the top 10% or 1% or 0.1%).

Overall, Randians (e.g. Allan Greenspan and Paul Ryan) tend to be hardcore libertarians who want to debilitate or destroy the welfare state. After all, they argue, the most modest version of a welfare state can be a slippery-slope to full-blown communism, Stalinism, gulags, famines, and mass murder. (The great irony is that the US has *massive* corporate welfare and socialism for the rich, e.g. the Federal Reserve currently spending $5 trillion or more propping up the stock market.)

Excluding his trade wars, the Trump administration’s economic polices have essentially been Randian, libertarian, laissez-faire.

So, yes, I think it’s fair to say that Randian-style capitalism leads to amoral, greedy (“greed is good”) behavior, which can eventually lead to the extreme, grotesque income and wealth inequality that we find in the US.

Anonymous said...

"You are welcome. I’m not Jewish but I admire Jewish intelligence and intellectual achievement. In any case, I think it’s absurd for people to state that Judaism inherently encourages amoral, rapacious behavior (i.e. that all/most Jews are amoral and greedy) when you have the majority of Jews strongly and vigorously supporting the social safety net and when you have Bernie Sanders busting his ass, screaming loudly, and raising the alarm about plutocracy, kleptocracy, and extreme income and wealth inequality."

But it's not absurd to make the same claim as to Scientology based on one anecdotal experience.

LFC said...

For what it's worth, I see nothing wrong, at least on a quick reading, with the comment of Anonymous @5:25 p.m. rebutting the first Anonymous.

I don't know much of anything about Scientology but I do know a certain amount about Judaism, and I read Anonymous @5:25 p.m. as correctly rebutting a rather absurd view of Judaism that one might perhaps expect to find in certain corners of the internet, but not here.

As for the swipe against Mormonism, my sense is that that was unwarranted in this particular context (which is not to say that other aspects of Mormonism are beyond criticism by any means). But I'm reluctant to get into this discussion further so I'll leave it at that.

LFC said...

Just a brief postscript. There are different varieties of Judaism, as there are of all the major religions, but a lot of the basic emphasis in Jewish thought has to do with trying to improve or "heal" the world. One can find similar emphases in the tradition of Catholic social thought and also in certain strains of Protestantism (and Islam and other religions as well), but in Judaism it's quite central. (That doesn't mean it influences the behavior or politics of *all* Jews, but it does suggest something about the basic orientation of the religion when it comes to political and social issues. That still leaves room for inconsistencies and contradictions, of which there are probably a fair number.) This is to be distinguished from the more strictly theological and doctrinal positions, which personally I don't care much about. Well, frankly, really don't care about, period.

Anonymous said...

Bass ain't a Scientologist.

David Zimmerman said...

I actually meant the "second most recent Anonymous," the Anonymous who made the obviously anti-semitic suggestion.

Am I the only one who finds these "Anonymous" posting annoying?
Why can't people take responsibility for their posts?

Eric C said...

S. Wallerstein, you're right. Ignore the trolls and they usually just go away.

Eric C said...

A few kind words about Scientology in the past don't have to be the end of Bass' chances of being selected.

Jerry Brown's and Willie Brown's political careers weren't destroyed by their having said very favorable things about Rev Jim Jones and his People's Temple movement before Jones fled to Guyana in the late 1970s.

Willie Brown went on to become speaker of the California Assembly in 1980, serving in that role for many years before later becoming mayor of SF. (Incidentally, Willie was a mentor to, and boyfriend of, one of the others said to be high on Biden's shortlist, Kamala Harris.) Jerry Brown's hopes to win the White House in 1980 were doomed by Ted Kennedy's entrance as the more likely Democrat to stand any chance of beating the incumbent; but AFAIK, nobody was focusing on Jerry Brown's past associations with Jim Jones when they discussed Brown's shortcomings as a 1980 presidential candidate. And no serious commentators brought up his past with Jim Jones when he won the first of two more terms as governor in 2010.

Of course, we've got a very different media landscape today. There was no Twitter or Fox News media empire back in the 1980s, and there wasn't a 24-hour news cycle then, either. Jim Jones and his People's Temple also hadn't been the butt of jokes and a source of nationwide controversy for quite as long as Scientology has now been.

If Team Biden do end up deep-sixing Bass over her remarks about Scientologists, it wouldn't be the first time in modern presidential electoral politics that a candidate's affiliation with or remarks about a religious group sparked major controversy. Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians were lukewarm about Romney's candidacy from the start because of his Mormon faith. Jesse Jackson had to denounce Rev Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam for his long history of blatantly anti-semitic language. Obama, (in)famously, denounced the "offending sermons about America" that reporters had dug up from his pastor of 20 years, Rev Jeremiah Wright; and after several weeks of relentless attacks from political opponents and media figures, Obama resigned from the church. Even Jimmy Carter had to publicly dissociate himself from his Plains, Georgia Baptist church, where he was a deacon and occasionally taught Sunday school classes, for its policy of refusing to admit Blacks as congregants. (After winning the 1976 election, Carter completely abandoned that church and helped create a new church that was open to racial integration.)

If anything, I think Bass' silly attempts to walk back what she said about Fidel Castro on his death in 2016 should be more of a threat to her being taken seriously as a candidate.

She now claims that when she wrote "the passing of the Comandante en Jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba," she was unaware(!) of how despised Castro is by many Cuban refugees and their families. She told Chris Wallace: "I absolutely would have not put that statement out [today] and I will tell you that after talking to my colleagues who represent the state of Florida, raised those concerns with me, lesson learned, would not do that again for sure." How can someone being considered for VP--especially considering Biden's age--not have known how inflammatory the topic of Castro would be, when she'd been in Congress for 6 years at that point and Obama had made normalizing relations with Cuba a top priority for his administration? An absolute minimum requirement for being fit to serve in the WH is being able to lie convincingly.