L Ron Hubbard – Dianetics (1950)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in this blog. Not due to a lack of progress, but merely a lack of time to catalogue the process. As a result, I have a lot of book write-ups to catch up on.

First among these is Hubbard’s Dianetics; the book at the heart of the Scientology. Hubbard was followed keenly by Burroughs throughout the 1960s and, despite his only being an active member of Scientology for three years (1967-1970), its techniques informed his thinking throughout his life.

In dianetic terms, Burroughs reached Clear stage, and was only a couple of courses away from reaching Operating Thetan.

The relationship between Burroughs and Scientology has been most thoroughly analysed by David Wills in his book-length study Scientologist! (2013). Burroughs own thought on the subject are collected largely in the book Ali’s Smile/Naked Scientology (1971).

“Ali’s Smile”, the fiction half of the half-fiction, half-polemical book, features an old English gentleman who, having gone through all the publicly-available literature on Scientology, demands his manservant “bring me the documents!”

Burroughs clearly knew what he was talking about, as Dianetics, despite being touted as “the Bible of Scientology”, is, on first read, a very incomplete document as regards the religion, and represents, in fact, a fascinating insight into Hubbard’s work prior to heading up the cult.

Dianetics, to give it its due, is no more a work of confidence trickery than the works of Freud, or of another of Burroughs’ heroes, Reich (whose work clearly influences Hubbard). Here, prior to the “Church” status, Hubbard seems genuinely to be seeking a new therapeutic method – one that’s more pragmatic, or at least in theory, than either the Freudian talking cures or psychiatric brain pills.

Dianetics explains Hubbard’s central concept: the engram. Human minds exist in two parts, he argues, the pre-rational animal mind and the civilised mind. When the body is placed under extreme stress, the civilised mind is set aside and the animal mind takes over. Fight or flight.

The stress embeds the moment in the mind as an “engram”. These are then repressed, in a Freudian manner, and, when the subject is faced by similar situations, or situations that bear enough of a relation to the traumatic experience, it “activates the engram” and they act irrationally: either with fury, despair, megalomania or deception.

Hubbard believes that all of society’s woes are caused by irrational human actions. Such irrationality is caused by engrams. The only way to “clear” someone of their engrams is to “run” the memories over and over until the e-meter (a stress detector) ceases to read any response.

Dianetic analysis therefore entails running memory after memory, all the way back to the womb, until they’ve all been removed and made “Clear”.

This, in a nutshell, is dianetics.

But of course it’s not that simple. Hubbard is full of strange ideas, and the fact that nobody in what was then the Institute of Dianetics, and was later Scientology, could ever question him essentially raises these weird ideas to the level of dogma.

One belief, for example, is that almost every woman attempts to abort her baby, and many abortions fail, with the surviving baby left “riddled with engrams” by the process. One cited case “remembered” his mother attempting to abort him over five hundred times.

For someone like Hubbard who often encouraged his followers to abandon their family, turning an analysand against their mother would be a useful practice. The fact that Burroughs never “remembers” his mother attempting to abort him, despite what must have been continued pressure to do so, indicates the strength of his relationship with her.

He does, however, recall two cases of childhood abuse. One, featuring his nanny and her boyfriend, is largely agreed to be authentic, and reads as such. An earlier case, however, where he believes a nurse he had when he was a baby used to fellate him (something he describes rather flippantly as “a typical old story”, as if it happens to everyone) might, in fact, have been inspired by Hubbard, or one of his followers.

Hubbard describes a nurse sexually abusing a child in maternity ward, “remembered” by one of his subjects under dianetic analysis. The description is eerily reminiscent of Burroughs’ own. A similar event also appears in Mailer’s Ancient Evenings; providing Burroughs with another source on which to draw for what was likely a screen memory.

Clears are also given super powers by Hubbard. They live for centuries. Never get sick. Run faster, feel better, and are better lovers than non-clears (or RPs, “repressive persons”). This section is written in the snake oil manner that we know was tremendously effective in winning over Burroughs.

Clears also have no “mental voices”. They think in images and feelings; having mastered their animal minds that also think in this way. Engrams are essentially mental hieroglyphs.

Burroughs, follower of Korzybski, was hugely approving of these ideas, and we can see them carrying through his work in the cut-ups theories, The Book of Breeething, and his later work theorising about the soul after death.

Not mentioned in this book are the “deep track” past life memories, of which Burroughs had one (committing a murder in ancient Egypt), nor the more infamous aspect of Scientology – aliens, space travel and Lord Xenu. Nor are “Sec Checks”, the infamous Scientology Sea Org interrogations, mentioned in here.

To get the full picture it’s clear I’ll have to read Inside Scientology – the book Burroughs recommended for those, like his gentleman in “Ali’s Smile”, are searching for “the documents”.

Reading the book has really helped me to understand Burroughs’ mindset, especially as to his literary technique of “running” particular scenes over and over. The sane kernel of Scientology is also clear to me now, making the author’s relationship to it easier to understand.