L.Ron Hubbard produced Dianetics and Scientology and the Church of Scientology. As with every single human being, he had success and failure. These articles will consider him both as a success and as a failure. Firstly:
What did L. Ron Hubbard principally fail at?
The history of Scientology includes at least one activity of outstanding success: much of the technology, including the discipline of its application, along with some of the organizing necessary to maintain and deliver it. Accompanying this powerful achievement is a monumental failure: the collapse of the Scientology organization’s unity in the early 1980’s and its continued descent into autocracy, elitism, and isolation. Hubbard was responsible for all of this; he had some people helping him in his errors and some who saw error but were not capable of managing it. He had plenty of people happy to support him in applying the technology correctly; in my opinion, had he steadfastly respected the dedication, trust, and love they gave him, there would have been no gross failure. Hubbard, in fact, could have had much of the world at his feet. For some reason, he preferred having much of the world at his throat.
Hubbard began by creating Dianetics and then Scientology with the intention of helping people live better and happier lives in accordance with who and what they really are; he brought that work to a peak of effectiveness; this achieved, he went on to violate the ethical and other tenets of his own philosophy. In the end, he turned his life’s work over to the organization he’d built up, the collected corporate bodies known generally as The Church of Scientology. Like its parent, that organization seems to have learnt little or nothing from his errors. Human opinion, where it concerns itself with the man, looks down on everything to do with him, feasting on the worst of his behaviours and of what it hears about the organization he left behind. But is this by any means all there is to L. Ron Hubbard? Does the totality of what he left behind consist only of a bad name and a mistrusted organization? Not at all. He gave the world a gift splendid enough to change life on earth forever. Sadly, he could not set up his offering to prosper and flourish as it thoroughly deserved.
Within this story of momentous achievement and rather sordid failure to follow it through is Hubbard’s missed opportunity of universal significance – missed unless some blessed spark will ignite a review and honest re-evaluation, carrying the best of the man’s work back into its rightful sphere as a source of helpful tools humankind can use. What could humanity use these tools to do? To help people resolve urgent planetary problems and then help them become happier with themselves and in their living of life with each other. “Scientology,” he once said, truthfully, and forgot, fatefully, “is the game in which everybody wins.”
Alas, not only did Hubbard not follow through on what he had done, he disrespected his own philosophy as he aged. His descent into relative irrelevance has tempted many into treating his best work with the same disdain with which they view, or think they view, his unworthy actions. But we humans often assert strongly that what we choose to see of a prominent person’s activity is unacceptable – as if he might be the only human being ever to misbehave; we’re then quick to conclude that everything about the man, his life, and his work is disgusting. Is this always rational? Michelangelo, they say, didn’t take off his boots for months at a time. Notice how immense crowds of people rush away from the Sistine Chapel, from Saint Peter’s, Rome, and from all his other works, disgusted by the footy stink that still pervades them.
Hubbard’s misbehaving went a lot further than the not-washing of feet. He hurt a lot of people by promising to help them resolve their problems but instead giving them other and often greater problems including the pain of humiliation and betrayal. He began the practice of “disconnection” that led to the splitting up of families. He tacitly encouraged or at least allowed the salespeople to promise results they could not deliver, and to pull from customers money they could not afford or might not have. He habitually bullied his staff and his organizations; he imposed what could be described as slave labour on loyal followers. He was addicted as a boss to periods of (as it were) spraying staff with gasoline and then throwing lit matches about; he thus could prove himself the only one able to put out the blaze – which he would blame on the staff. We dismiss Michelangelo’s feet when we open ourselves to the marvels he left us; a sense of proportion makes them trivial. Hubbard left us some marvelous work but enforced on us his weakness, his self-torture. This we can’t and don’t overlook although we might in time come to learn from his mistakes. He was generous with his mistakes.
Next, we’ll look at what might be of value in what Hubbard produced.