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Daydream believer

Updated: Apr 21

Standard drill: L Ron Hubbard’s father was an orphan who became a low-rent journalist, he had a reputation for ropey stories; eventually, he joined the navy and put a blot on his career record because he ran up unpaid debts across the country. Meanwhile, Hubbard’s grandfather was a man who loved to tell tall tales and said that he wanted his descendants to go on the stage. Guess who Hubbard took after…?

It is difficult to say that Hubbard was a liar, for the simple reason that Hubbard was the type to believe his own bullshit—rather like a second-hand car salesman. We can tell this was so because one time Hubbard related to a fellow sci-fi writer his adventures in the Marines, as a deep-sea fisherman, as a record-breaking glider pilot, as an Amazonian explorer, and so on. “Gee Ron, that means you must be 84 years old,” said his fellow hack. The youthful Hubbard paused in incomprehension and then his companion told him he had totted up the years Hubbard spent in each adventurous occupation and reached “84”. Hubbard exploded in rage.

This indicates that Hubbard really believed his own phantasies—people who lie in a calculated way hedge and evade, people who tell the truth explode in anger if you say they lie. “What do mean I’m a liar who killed my son?! I. did. not. kill. my. son.” Guilty people say: “He was definitely uninjured when I saw him next to the swimming pool.” Kinda odd and unnatural logic you’re running there, sir…kinda sounds like you’re building plausible deniability, hiding time and action and place (he was dead a quarter of an hour after he left the pool, in the summerhouse). Hubbard responded like a man who told the truth because for him his yarn was the truth—he could not separate reality from fantasy, and this was his great strength.

Hubbard loved the sea, just like his father; and, just like a real fisherman, Hubbard loved a good yarn—Scientology is a ripping yarn, Hubbard’s greatest fishing story. You know how fishermen are: when you first hear the story they caught the biggest sea bass in all the time they have fished, the water was slightly choppy; two years later it was the biggest sea bass in regional records, the sea was stormy; and a decade later it was the biggest sea bass since world records began, the sea was hurricane strength. Hubbard was like this about everything in his life from adolescence onwards; even in childhood he constructed yarns—he just imagined himself as a cross between Tarzan, Conan, and Buck Rogers and lived his own reality.

Hubbard would struggle to get away with this today because we have smartphones; he was the type to meet you and then casually mention that he was a world-champion glider pilot—back in the 1940s there was no easy way to check unless you schlepped to some library, and Hubbard spoke with such conviction (for him it was real) that it must be true. Doubtless a modern Hubbard would find some other outlet for his talents, perhaps he would run a Twitter account where he would pretend to be a Ukrainian orphan besieged and terrified in Mariupol. In reality, it is very easy to lie to people, not least because most people do not want to rock the boat and cause a scene—especially if the person you challenge screams and shouts in protest.

Next time you take an Uber and fall into conversation with the driver just casually say you work as a lawyer when he asks, chat mundanely away with a slight air that you are holding something back, and then when everything is placid burst out: “Actually, my firm is sending me to LA to work on a deal with Tom Cruise. That’s why I ordered this cab. I don’t usually, but this is different. It’s a salary negotiation. I can’t believe it!” Watch their eyebrows rise in delight in the rearview mirror: “Wow, mate. Wow. That’s...” Then they chuckle to themselves and give a little grin—touched by the fairy dust. Go on, try—what’s the harm? You might even start your own religion…

Hubbard was a prolific fantasist, but he was also sloppy; he made his name in pulp sci-fi simply because he sold his adolescent imagination—yet he was rarely careful in spelling; and his practical activities—starting with an ill-fated seaborne Caribbean college “expedition”—usually ended in disaster. He was a narcissist with low conscientiousness: one time he bought a music system on hire-purchase even though he had no money to pay for it; his wife complained but Hubbard explained that it would take the store at least six months to repossess it and they could enjoy it in the meantime (shades of his father’s irresponsibility with money). Hubbard was a short-termist; after all, lies are just laziness—an attempt to avoid the inevitable repercussions from actions, to avoid responsibility.

As a pulp writer Hubbard was indulged by his fellow writers—they were all fantasists to various degrees, after all. “Ron had a busy war,” observed a mordant Robert Heinlein when a newly demobbed Hubbard related, as you can imagine, how he pretty much singlehandedly won the war (in reality he was found unfit to command a vessel and was involved in multiple scrapes). Post-war, Hubbard devoted himself to an attempt to wring maximum disability pension from the US Navy—his elaborate and invented illnesses disappeared when he wanted to credit Dianetics with his miraculous recovery.

Dianetics, Scientology’s technology, actually works—after a fashion. This is because Hubbard became mixed up with the rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons, who belonged to Aleister Crowley’s OTO and thought that he had found in Hubbard an ideal companion for Enochian magic; just as the Elizabethan occultist John Dee had a scribe, so Hubbard would be Parsons’s scribe.

As such, Hubbard was given a solid grounding in Crowley’s magic—a means by which to control and alter consciousness. Since Crowley’s magic works and provides the basis for Dianetics this means that Scientology “works”; it is not a total scam. However, you have to remember that, unlike the precise Crowley, Hubbard was a sloppy liar—so the product is similarly sloppy, unreliable, and unstable.

Parsons was completely taken in by Hubbard’s stories and began a magical ceremony called “the Babalon working” with Hubbard—unfortunately, since Hubbard was a total liar, the ceremony was ballsed up; if you read the transcript it is clear—if you know about Hubbard’s preoccupations—that Hubbard channeled his own fantasies and notions for Parsons to transcribe, passed off as messages from beyond the veil.

Hubbard then absconded with Parsons’s gf and a boat the two men had purchased for a joint business. Crowley, when informed, immediately pinned Hubbard as a typical conman. Parsons chased after Cap’n Ron and recovered his boat and (some) money after he conjured up a storm off Florida that forced Hubbard back to port. So ended their association, although Hubbard left with a magical trick or three.

Dianetics proved to be a hit because it arrived when psychoanalysis was at its height; yet psychoanalysis was very expensive—everyone talked about the couch, yet for the man on the street it was largely out of reach. Dianetics constitutes Do-It-Yourself psychoanalysis mixed with Crowleyite magic—buy the book and you are ready to go. Hubbard’s system appeared at just the moment when people wanted a cheap alternative to psychoanalysis—of course, the price has steadily increased since. Originally, Hubbard promoted Dianetics through the pages of the same fantasy and sci-fi magazines he had written for over the years—the original Dianetics crowd was a science-fiction crowd, nerdy.

When you look at Scientology, this makes sense: their uniforms, their offices, their “spiritual technology”, the name itself all recall those pulp science-fiction magazines with big bright covers that feature a scantily clad woman carried off by giant red ants—meanwhile, men in fishbowl helmets disgorge from a vivid red-and-yellow rocket in the background. This is Scientology world, and the religion’s theology—its Thetans and reincarnation—incorporates pulp science fiction, Theosophy, and Crowley’s magic to create a theodicy for the faithful.

Haunted by a compulsion to repeat, Hubbard returned at Scientology’s high point to his first ill-fated college expedition to the Caribbean—itself driven by a childhood fascination with pirates and buried treasure. Hubbard was determined to be Cap’n—Commodore, even; and so he purchased his own miniature fleet and set to sea to live off Scientology’s proceeds—doubtless he was also motivated by the fact that in international waters no one could prosecute him. And, for the good Freudians, his father was still in the navy and Ron had to outdo the old man in the same role.

I will skip over the various disasters and scams that Hubbard perpetrated in this period, but put it this way: Hubbard lied and lied and lied. He was completely remorseless in the way he used people; just as Tim Leary asked his wife to help bust him out of jail and then left her on the run for twenty years while he turned state’s witness, so Hubbard orchestrated an infiltration into the IRS and FBI to destroy files that undermined his lies—when the operation was busted he let his wife take the fall, then refused to speak to her.

Hubbard was a quantity man, not a quality man: when it came to his achievements in pulp fiction he measured his success by the word—and did so early in his career. He boasted about how many words he had written—somewhere near the seven million mark; although, of course, seven million words of bullshit still constitutes bullshit. Similarly, he would have money brought to him in suitcases to literally gloat over—he admitted to an associate at one point that all he cared about was money and power, that simple.

Hubbard’s terminal decline tells us a little about authoritarian elite circulation: Hubbard retreated to a secret location to hide from the FBI and he would only communicate with other people, even his wife, through a bevy of attractive girls called “messengers” who repeated his messages verbatim—they were totally devoted to him, listened to his yarns at his feet. As Hubbard declined it was from this group—the males around them—that the new leadership cadre emerged; eventually they took over Scientology, and even kicked Hubbard’s children out of various properties. David Miscavige, Scientology’s current leader, came from this group; a man formed from teenagehood by Hubbard, he even physically resembles him. Scientology is a religion founded by a selfish narcissistic compulsive liar with a ruthless lust for power, money, and girls—no wonder it found its niche…in Hollywood.

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