One of the characters in the movie “Field of Dreams” wanted the School Board to ban certain unsavory books. Her opponent (Berkeley-educated of course) accused her of having somehow missed the 1960s – she had two ‘50s back to back and had then moved right into the ‘70s.
Many people (perhaps most of all, those too young to remember) share a certain nostalgia for the ‘60s as they would like them to have been – a decade of groovy antiestablishmentarianism, cool anti-materialism, far-out social and personal experimentalism, and heavy idealistic crusadism on behalf of peace, civil rights, free speech, free sex, free meals, and cheap thrills.
Just as every age has its state of mind, so it must its heroes have. For heroes personify the signs and myths, the slogans and headlines, the goals, hopes, frustrations, means, ears, and ends of any given time. Heroes: the flags and badges of history.
It is indeed ironic then that a group of post-adolescent baby-boomers as self-consciously antitraditionally individualistic and now-centered as the Sixties Generation had among its chief ideological paradigmers three figures who had done their main intellectual “thing” before most of the Aquarian Age’s epitome hippies, yippies, and “you-bet-your-bippy” TV freaks had even been born.
Wilhelm Reich was their guru of Sex, Immanuel Velikovsky their herald of Catastrophe, and L. Ron Hubbard their prophet of Self-Perfection. Each sought to clothe his essentially religious message in a secular open-sesame of twentieth-century scientism. But while Reich and Velikovsky could never quite disguise their un-American origins, Hubbard was Yankee true-blue rags-to-riches. While Reich and Velikovsky could only wear their prison stripes and martyr’s shrouds, Hubbard managed to array himself in the rich pontificals of his own denomination.
Reich and Velikovsky were born in the last decade of the last century, in the last years of Europe’s last fin-de-siecle empires. Biographically their lives moved sequentially in parallel or at perpendicular. Reich was Austrian Galician; Velikovsky, two years older, a Russian Zionist. In order to study medicine, Reich moved to Vienna after the empire-shattering First World War; there he converted to Freudiansim by 1920 and Marxism by ’27, but, for all his pains in trying to unite these two essentially incompatible ideologies, he was formally and institutionally expelled from both in 1933-34. Velikovsky received a Moscow medical degree, but in the wake of Bolsheviki confiscation policies, he moved to postwar Berlin and mandate Palestine, and then to Vienna, briefly, just prior to Reich’s disgrace, where he studied psychoanalysis under Wilhelm Stekel, Freud’s first disciple and second apostate. Reich migrated to America, proclaimed a new libido-based biology, and built his fateful little black boxes. Two years after Reich, in 1941 Velikovsky also crossed over to the Brave New World and began devising his Great Cosmic Billiard Game.
In an effort to cure diseases such as cancer and the psychic plague which gives birth to dictatorships, Reich divined his biophysical energy science called Sex-Economy. In short order, he discovered orgastic potency, the orgasm reflex, vegetotherapy, and orgone radiation. Orgone energy pervades the entire universe and is responsible for the creation and maintenance of life; matter comes into existence through the superimposition of two orgone energy streams; on a microscopic level it governs the division of cells and eggs; on a macrocosmic level it is manifested as galactic systems, the aurora borealis, hurricanes, and gravity. Psychic health depends upon orgastic potency, the ability to engage fully in sexual activity. Though inhibitions dam up bioelectrical energy and lead to irrationality, for 6,000 years puritani-patriarchal tyranny progressively instilled moral regulations that limit the free expression of our orgasm reflex, the natural physiological release of sexual stimulation. Through vegetotherapy, not only the repressed psychic character structure but also the resulting muscular rigidifications (“armorings”) themselves are dissolved, freeing people to lead more constructive, healthier lives. But vegetotherapy by itself is not enough: religion, government, tradition, and unfree institutions of all kinds must be overturned. Reich even evolved an Orgonic interpretation of Christianity, with God being an anthropomorphic projection of man’s awareness of the Cosmic Orgone Ocean and Jesus a manifestation of the ultimate genital character.
Velikovsky conceived a much more dramatic scenario. In his analysis, our solar system has undergone a series of cosmic catastrophes involving close encounters and actual crashes among planetary objects. Within human memory, the Earth had been a satellite of Saturn, which had formed a trinary with the sun and Jupiter until Saturn underwent fission and entered a nova state. Flooded with watery debris from its former primary, the Earth was moved into a solar orbit, while Jupiter absorbed other Saturnian matter and lost its internal stability. To regain its cosmic balance, Jupiter expelled an Earth-sized comet, which periodically intercepted the terrestrial path. Around 1500 BC the Earth and that comet, Typhon, nearly collided. The Earth was overturned in its rotation and its revolution, mountains arose, volcanoes erupted, earthquakes and floods devastated all regions, Bronze Age civilizations were universally destroyed, and mankind was permanently traumatized. Wars, the worship of planetary gods, sacrifice, anomie, and psychological distress of all sorts are the upshot of the global catastrophes, due to psychic scotoma – an inability to correctly process obvious information. Meanwhile, diverted from its old Earth-threatening orbit, Typhon continued to run amuck, dislodging Mars and repeatedly drivng it onto the terrestrial freeway in the 8th century BC. The last series of Martian interactions led to a stable circularization of Typhon’s track, and today the former comet cruises peacefully through the heavens as the planet Venus. To rid suffering mankind of the multivarious Venus-induced plagues, and to prevent the possibility of nuclear self-annihilation caused by our fixated compulsion to relive the past, Velikovsky suggested putting the entire human race on the psychiatrist’s couch so we could learn to face the painful truth; healing our scotoma would have efficacious results in every sphere of human activity. For him, his was the only interpretation of the Old Testament that provided both historic and scientific explanations for the ills of humankind.
As their systems matured, both iconoclastic absolutists sought the Princeton imprimatur of relativity idol Albert Einstein, known sometimes to champion humble unorthodoxies; but both quests ended in failure. Einstein was at first intrigued by Reich’s theories but rejected them as invalid after conducting some preliminary experiments on his own. He thought planetary juggling was preposterous until some of Velikovsky’s predictions – such as the unexpected discovery of Jovian radio waves – began materialing, causing Einstein to have a change of heart. But his promises to help Velikovsky came to naught: the revered Nobelist died before he could undertake the task, with Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collison” at his bedside, open and annotated.
Inevitably both maverick immigrants were burned with the quackery iron. In 1950, even as Velikovsky’s first book was branded number-one on the best-seller lists, bushwacking academics forced his publisher, Macmillan, to dump its only big-sale success that year. Velikovsky spent the remaining three decades of his life seeking vindication for this insult. The official sanctions against Reich were even more drastic than the suppression of his thought: Jailed for postal-marketing his black-box Orgone Energy Accumulators, he died in the Lewisburg federal penitentiary in 1957. The hamhanded persecution and censorship which officialdom meted out to the unorthodox ideas of Reich and Velikovsky undoubtedly helped give their cause both stature and credibility among disaffected elements of the Sixties generation, for whom nothing succeeded like failure.
Except of course success. Hubbard was a Nebraskan who grew up in Montana and traveled further west to cultivate the esoteric mysteries of Los Angeles cultists, Sioux and Goldi and Kayan shamans, medicine men from Manchuria to North Borneo, and even a Hindu who could hypnotize cats. Then he studied math and science at George Washington University and Princeton, became an engineer, explorer, and nuclear physicist, with expertise in photography, art, poetry, and philosophy, who published more than 15 million words of science and other fiction before World War Two. Extensively decorated as a commander of corvettes during the war, twice pronounced dead, he was crippled and blinded. But his own research into bio-physics, which he had begun in 1938, led him to complete recovery by 1949. Reclassified for full combat duty, he resigned his commission due to his repugnance of modern war. In 1950, one month after Velikovsky’s “World in Collision,” Hubbard’s anti-Freudian “Dianetics” was published; but whereas Velikovsky’s tome was forced out of publication despite its best-seller status, Hubbard’s colonized the number-one spot vacated by the catastrophist. Eventually, he became the most-published, most-translated author in the world, and the most-published author of audio books. Buyoyed by his financial windfall – and, profiting from Reich’s mistakes, keeping the Feds off his back by carefully insisting that the Hubbard Electrometer “does nothing. It is not intended or effective for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease, or for the improvement of health or any bodily function” and even that his book was “presented … as a record of observations and research into the human mind and spirit, and not as a statement of claims made by the author” – Hubbard went on to new successes; by July, 1951, in Phoenix, Arizona, after isolating, describing, and handling the human spirit itself, he began to elevate his mental science into the worldwide Church of Scientology, a new-wave LA cult which claimed more members than all other mental-health organizations combined. Through 258 axioms, his church promised to prevent insanity-criminality-and-war, raise IQs, cure disease, improve fertility, and make people more merciful, more tolerant, and less critical. It also accepted the existence of psycho-occult phenomena much beloved in the Age of the White Rabbit: out-of-body experiences, telepathy, the value of nonobjective intuition, the transmigration of souls, multi-planed reality, and so on. Taking his cue from the Buddha, whom he modestly recognized as a non-scientific precursor, Hubbard insisted that, fundamentally, Reality is that which appears to be; whatever we agree to is real. Once a consensual contract is reached the prerequisites of a universe are achieved. Nevertheless, sensing that his main appeal was to more conservative nonconformists than the sexcrazed Reichians or the apocalyptic Velikovskians, he craftily divided the universe of drives into eight dynamics, ranging from self to infinity: Scientology’s domain embraced only the first seven, but they all had to be mastered before anyone could discover the eighth, the God Dynamic.
However, even Hubbard must have his time in the Wilderness. For decades he was mercilessly hounded by a vast conspiracy of psychiatric front groups that secretly controlled the world’s governments. The Internal Revenue Service ended his church’s tax exemption, and the Food and Drug Administration seized his radiation cures, his E—meters, and his therapeutic publications. In Australia he was accused of brainwashing, blackmail, and extortion, and his organization was banned. He countered by creating a Department of Government Affairs to force hostile agencies into complete compliance with his religion, as well as a Guardian’s Office to gather intelligence and conduct court battles. But, mainly, he conducted his operations from a fleet, the Sea Org, for eight years, until the UK, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Venezuela closed .their ports to his ships. In the 1970s he launched Operation Snow White to infiltrate 136 US government organizations (including the IRS, the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Coast Guard, and the National Institute of Mental Health), Interpol, foreign embassies, and private organizations such as the American Medical Association to purge unfavorable reports from their archives, replace them with false documents, and discredit or blackmail their personnel. When this plot finally fell through, Hubbard spent the remaining six years of his life in hiding, while still collecting at least $200 million dollars. Officially, he had decided to “drop his body” and continue his research on another planet.
Ronald Berman, an English professor at the University of California at San Diego, once commented on the New Left’s adulation of Reich: “ [Paul] Goodman and those others who speak for the Reichian artist refuse to allow that [books such as “Listen, Little Man!” and “The Function of the Orgasm”] are illegitimate; simply in the realm of myth and possibility they embolden the act of writing.… Goodman finds his theories on cancer plausible and others accept them as demonstrable…. Perhaps the fundamental rebellion of Reich was against the crippling process of thought itself. It is in thought, after all, that repression begins – a conception which makes the work of the revolutionaries much more lucid. [William] Burroughs’ method of composition, for example, consisting of random pages being stapled together, is a reichian gesture.”
With small changes, Berman’s comments on Reich could be adapted to his two fellow prophets as well. All three made their mark on the culture and literature of the century’s second trimester. Avant-garde composer Phillip Glass once wrote a musical piece on his reading of “Oedipus and Akhnaton” (whom Velikovsky had identified as the same historical personage) and poet Robert Bly claimed to have been deeply influenced by Velikovsky’s work. Upon occasion, Kurt Vonnegut seemed to channel Hubbard without naming him, especially in the later sections of “Mother Night” and throughout most of “Breakfast of Champions.”
Through much of the 1950s, however, the gospels of the Three Heretical Wise Men lay largely in limbo. Despite their considerable notoriety, none of them were taken particularly seriously during the Ike Decade. Reich was in jail, Velikovsky was ignored after his second book came out in 1952, and Hubbard was still quietly prospering. But with the Sixties came a Phoenix Effect: the gadflies to the over-thirty Cold warriors became psychedelic fireflies beckoning the young radicals.
All three shared a contempt for authority. Reich, despite the fundamental differences in world view between historical materialism and psychoanalysis, had tried to reconcile Marxian and Freudian thought – even though nether side of the equation sought the acquaintance of the other, with the result that both camps excommunicated him. Nevertheless, in those heady days in Vienna, he made major contributions to social and analytic thought, only to challenge both structures later with his orgonic theory. On the one hand, while only implicitly dismissing class analysis as fundamentally wrongheaded, he publicly lashed out against Stalinist repression, “the smashing of Lenin’s social democracy, the development of dictatorship in the Soviet Union, and the abandonment of all principles of truth in sociological thinking.” On the ther, he was more vehement in his criticism of rival schismatics within psychoanalysis: Alfred Adler was only “a finalistic philosopher and social moralist,” and the fruit of his Individual Psychology “was a petty bourgeois community of reformers.” Carl Jung “ended up in the ‘collective unconscious’ and, therefore, in mysticism, which he later officially represented as a National Socialist;” Stekel, seeking quick cures, “had detached himself from Freud’s plow which, though slow, cultivated thoroughly,” and tried “to shoot at the unconscious with interpretations.” Freud himself erred by being too conservative: “He appeared to me to do a terrible injustice to his own works, and to feel the tragedy of this contradiction. When I disagreed with him and presented my arguments, he told me that either I was all wrong or that one day I would ‘have to bear the heavy burden of psychoanalysis all alone.’ Since I was not wrong his prophecy proved true.”
Hubbard, no less antiauthoritarian, was more vituperative still. He claimed that, during his researches, he had “tried, on the off-chance that they might be right, several schools of psychology – Jung, Adler. Even Freud. But not very seriously because over half the patients on the rolls had been given very extensive courses in psycho-analysis by experts, with no great results. The work of Pavlov was reviewed in case there something there. But men aren’t dogs…. I had been led up so many blind alleys by unthorough observation and careless work on the part of forerunners in this business that it was time to decide that it was much, much easier to construct a whole premise than it was to go needle-in-the-haystacking…. There were literally hundreds of these ‘why everybody knows that’ – which had no more foundation in experimentation or observation than a Roman omen.”
So Hubbard proceeded to dismantle all the work in dynamic psychiatry up to his own time. The concept of the unconscious was one of the first to go. The “unconscious mind” is always conscious according to dianetic principles, making “modern psychology look like Tarawa after the marines had landed.” Constant consciousness was “about as easy to prove as the statement that when an apple is held three feet in the air and let fall, it drops, conditions being normal.”
But Velikovsky was the most sweeping iconoclast of them all. He never met a discipline he ever liked. However, except in his last (posthumous) book, “Mankind in Amnesia,” in which he finally stooped to invective (“By 1913 Freud had parted with Jung, who tended to mystcism, and with Adler, who tended to socialism.” Jung was “a Verrazano who saw the stream and failed to penetrate it, but registered his discovery.” Freud “lacked the final insight,” supplied of course by Velikoksky), he was ordinarily content to leave the name-calling to his detractors while he arrayed his ideas and “facts” to disprove almost everything commonly held for the past few centuries. As he himself informed readers on the first page of his magnum opus, if Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were sacrosanct, his seas were a heresy. The astrophysicists were wrong to follow blindly Newton, who had explicated his theories long before there was any idea of electromagnetism, which Velikovsky insisted was the cause of gravity itself; even Einstein erred in not taking electromagnetism into account. Darwin had begun as a catastropist, as his “Beagle” journal shows, but had abandoned his “correct” orientation under the influence of geologist Charles Lyell’s uniformitarianism. Basing their chronologies on the Hellenistic antisemite Manetho, the egyptologists had erred in their dating by some eight centuries, had confused the royal identities, and had even jumbled the dynastic order. The propounders of biblical Higher Criticism, Aristotle, Maimonides, Baruch Spinosa, Karl Marx, Franz Boas, J. B. S. Haldane – virtually every establishment expert in ancient history, physics, astronomy, psychology, anthropololgy, geology, and most other ologies was found wanting when subjected to Velikovsky’s penetrating gaze.
Despite his wide-ranging research and his voluminous footnotes, Velikovsky managed to dress his heresies in a plain language that was easy for his nonexpert audience to understand. Perhaps because he came to English in his late forties, his virtue as a writer was his insistence on “simple words, short sentences, abhorrence of clichés and avoidance of any newly invented terms; no exclamations, no italics, no sarcasm” Reich, on the other hand, as both heir to two highly jargonistic traditions and originator of his own discipline, adopted a “Scientific Chocktaw” that was as precious as it was complex. Hubbard, stylistically, fell somewhere in the middle. Writing in a breezy, undocumented manner, he avoided Velikovskian erudition and Reichian pedantry, but, as the Founder of a Science, felt compelled to employ neologisms of his own making: “I turned some adjectives into nouns, scrambled a few syllables and tried to get as far as possible from the focus of infection: Authority.” And so it was that he was able to concoct a linguistic formula that almost perfectly exemplified the Sixties mode of expression, as in: “The game of life demands that one assume a beingness in order to accomplish a doingness in the direction of havingness.” Translated into English, that meant people had to have an identity in order to reach their goals. Neither Tom Wolfe (“The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby”) nor Charles A. Reich (“The Greening of America”) ever quite managed to master Sixties PopSpeak as eloquently as Hubbard.
In addition to their curmudgeonly qualities, Hubbard, Velikovsky, and Reich shared one other characteristic that enhanced their appeal to the Baby-Boomers, who were, after all, the first generaton of the Atomic Age. All three saw their mission as saving mankind from nuclear annihilation. For Hubbard the key to survival was enhanced mentality, for Velikovsky it was the cathartic release of suppressed memories, for Reich it was unrestrained primitive genitality.
Perhaps because the technology of contraception had arrived before suitable slogans of the sexual revolution had been prepared, Reich was the first to be co-opted by the new revolutionaries. Open premarital cohabitation, miniskirtism, bisexual full frontal nudity in movies and magazines, the jettisoning of in-loco-parentis responsibilities on campus, the demystification of homosexuality and teenage virginity, wife swapping, swinging singledom, and multipartner carnality pocked the face of the American landscape. And liberating the libido entailed unfettering the four-letter words in books, movies, plays, and political protests. In the mathematics of the neo-Reichian “New Morality,” permissiveness equaled promiscuity. The sex act was performed in the name of Wilhelm Reich, who, after all, had exhorted , “Just tell the patients to have sexual intercourse if they live abstinently, tell them to masturbate, and everything will be just right!” But his acolytes did not heed the next sentence: ”It was in this way that analysts attempted to misinterpret my theory of genitality.” And that was only one of the ironies that involved the old Marxist-Leninist, since much of the new sexual revolution phenomena and paraphernalia was manipulated by the Madison Avenue masterminds who realized that prostitution was the first (and lasting) profession only because sex is the ultimate consumer good: “She has it, you buy it, she still has it,” like any good fusion breeder reactor.
At first Velikovsky fared less well on the marketplace. Catastrophism, by its very nature, is more obsolescent than obscenity. Unless one is in the fallout trade it’s hard to invest in doomsday. Nevertheless, to a generation that expected an atomic age apocalypse Velikovsky appealed to their nihilistic nightmares. A round of serendipitous discoveries in space bulloxed the experts and seemed to legitimize his scheme. Velikovsky discussion groups began mushrooming on campuses. Velikovskian journals were inaugurated, and the mainstream science journals resumed their sniping and nitpicking. Soon Velikovsky’s books, though bristling with footnotes and peppered with quotations from Homer and Isaiah to Darwin and other moderns, came out in paperback. And the Master himself not only resumed his writing but began to lecture. To SRO crowds at Princeton, at Harvard, at NASA facilities and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the white haired septuagenarian confronted his establishment critics like an apolitical Bernie Sanders. Despite age and diabetes, and despite his impenetrable Russian accent, he unfailingly flailed his foes as he excoriated academe for all its past misdeeds. An avenging Samson of catastrophe, in the name of science he threatened to pull down the walls of the Temple of Science itself and uproot its foundations.
(And after the Sixties zeitgeist gave up the ghost, Velikovsky’s message was unobtrusively picked up by some Creationists, despite his own protests against their Protestant fundamentalism. But the Creationists were a response to the Seventies, and thus as irrelevant to this paper as in most other aspects.)
Through all the hoopla and paranoia that enveloped him, Hubbard grew his organization. His church established a Hubbard College of Scientology in Sussex, England, as well as scores of centers around the world. In the US, recruitment efforts were largely aimed at young creative souls in the entertainment industry, who gained a reputation for advancing the careers of younger co-religionists . In competition with the Jesus freaks and Moonies, Hare Krishnas and Transcendental Meditationists, and disciples of the Maharaj Ji, the Scientologists campaigned mightily and effectively for the minds and dollars of the discontented. Hubbard’s books and pamphlets continued to do a brisk business, selling some 28 million copies in 17 languages (“Dianetics” alone accounted for over a third). His discourses were taped or transcribed and sold to the eager credophiles of the pot-headed class of sixty-something-or-other.
The heydays of all three may have passed, but their spirits linger. Though their heresies have never gone mainstream, their lives and intellectual challenges continue to inspire many acolytes around the world. Although their cults may have been artifacts of the 1950s, their continued relevance was a product of the 1960s mix of ernest seriousness and high intellectual foolishness.