TN Read-Along #13: Inside Scientology Discussion Thread
William Poundstone is pretty good with a low-pH zinger. In Bigger Secrets, a book I've reread a hundred times thanks primarily to Poundstone's "…seriously?" prose, he gives this account of Scientology's handling of Hubbard's death:
Finally in 1986, the Scientology organization conceded that Hubbard was permanently indisposed. The word death was studiously avoided, but we were given to understand that Hubbard "no longer had need of the encumbrance of the physical identity we have known as L. Ron Hubbard," in the words of Scientology President Heber Jentzsch. (60-61)
So far, Inside Scientology is offering a similar experience: the sense, in prose, of a chef uncovering a dish, then standing back from it silently while it steams.
As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I'm listening to the book, so the experience is a bit different — starting with the fact that I consume it primarily in the car, so all the eye-rolling I do at L. Ron Hubbard's made-up words and kookoopants conceptions of our collective past (…a…mollusk? world? REALLY, NUTBAR?!), and Scientologists' credulity thereof, has nearly sent me off the road several times.
I haven't finished it yet — as of this writing, I've gotten to the part where that Jeff guy is trying to dodge the draft by taking over Scientology's graphic-design "org." So far, though, I've been impressed that what the introduction promised — as balanced a look as possible at the history and workings of Scientology — is pretty much delivered, not least because the even-toned presentation makes much of the man and his teachings look that much more ridiculous. (There is one spot where she stops just short of adding an acerbic "…for ONCE" to a sentence about how Hubbard did not write to the FBI to complain about something or other as he had 23,193 times in the past. Heh.) The narrator, Stephen Hoye, has an "I don't make the news, folks; I just report it" delivery that creates smug delight around each variation on the theme of "research failed to substantiate Hubbard's grandiose claims" — of which there are many. Hoye's rendition of the lead-up to the Saturday Evening Post's story on the Church, then Hubbard's childlike reaction to the author's contemptuous hit job (and the snippets from the hit job itself), is immensely entertaining. I also like the patronizing micro-pause he takes before each time he says "LRH." Because: barf.
I admire Hubbard's construction of the organization. He was clearly a megalomaniac, but the explanation of how the special terminology — how words no longer mean what they mean to "suppressive persons" — both makes converts feel special and privileged and effectively estranges them from outsiders is concisely insightful, and Hubbard's ability to capitalize on certain sore spots and anxieties, while not used for good in my opinion, is in fact an "ability." Reitman's refusal to break the authorial wall and wail "THIS IS THE SMURFIEST THING I EVER HEARD — 'A GIANT CLAM,' FOR FUCK'S SAKE" is really quite heroic, as I screamed that very thing to myself in the car last night about ten times and I doubt I could have resisted doing so in Reitman's shoes. (I have also screamed things like "MARRY SOMEONE YOUR OWN AGE, YOU BIGAMOUS DEADBEAT-DAD HOG FART" and "WHY DON'T YOU 'INTREPIDLY EXPLORE' A BEEHIVE, YOU LYING WEIRDO" and "PLEASE LEARN CRITICAL THINKING, NINETEEN-SIXTIES TWENTYSOMETHINGS, JESUS H. CHRIST.")
It's informative, it's obviously meticulously researched, and it's creeping me right out that searching for it on Google pops Scientology's own website up first. Nice SEO, thetans.
What about you guys? How's the writing from a reading (vs. listening) standpoint? Any disgusted muttering occasioned by the word "Dianeticists"? Anyone else giggle at the part where Hubbard is all, "Dear Navy, I wish to inform you that blah blah leaving the state, as surely you will give many shits about my whereabouts at all times," and the Navy was like, "Whatever, dude. Take care"?
Speaking of that, one last snippet from Poundstone on Hubbard's d'oh-stinguished naval career:
Off Oregon, Hubbard's ship engaged what they thought was a Japanese submarine. The navy thinks it was just a log. Hubbard's ship next sailed down the coast and opened fire on Mexico. Since we weren't at war with Mexico, the navy thought this was a dumb idea. Hubbard was discharged for arthritis and bursitis. (60)
Reitman differs in that Hubbard was apparently released because of his ulcers, and also for being a pain in the ass, but still. Hee.
Tags: books Janet Reitman Kookoo Crazypantses shut up hippies shut up L. Ron Hubbard Stephen Hoye The TN Read-Along William Poundstone