Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Battlefield Earth and Scientology

So I’ve written half-baked essays looking at Battlefield Earth as a narrative and as science fiction, but now it’s time to address the thirty-foot, fluorescent elephant tapdancing on the kitchen table – how Scientology fits in to the book.

I must issue a warning – I am no expert on Scientology. I do not have any official documents or first-hand accounts of the group’s beliefs, because I’m not willing to pay them money to hear about thetans. My knowledge has been pieced together from Wikipedia, that South Park episode, and other random sources. But I’ve never been one to let my lack of qualifications get in the way, so let’s dive in, shall we?

The most obvious thing to talk about is psychology. It is hard to overstate the enmity Hubbard felt for the field of mental health – he listed them as the number one threat to Scientology, followed by the media organizations that were fronts for psychiatrists, then the political figures involved in health and education who were also connected to psychology, and finally the bankers and financers trying to undermine Scientology who were, again, members of boards of psychiatrists. According to Hubbard, psychologists themselves had:

…the power to (1) take a fancy to a woman (2) lead her to take wild treatment as a joke (3) drug and shock her to temporary insanity (4) incarnate [sic] her (5) use her sexually (6) sterilise her to prevent conception (7) kill her by a brain operation to prevent disclosure. And all with no fear of reprisal. Yet it is rape and murder

So it’s no surprise that Hubbard named Battlefield Earth's alien bad guys the "Psychlos," who were controlled by a cabal of charlatan physicians called the "catrists" who exhibit many of the traits listed above. They represent a worst-case scenario for Hubbard, in which psychiatrists manage to take over the minds of an entire civilization, in order to… well, I’m not sure what the catrists were getting out of it. They probably did it all just for the evil of controlling others’ brains. I haven’t heard anything about the cabal of psychiatrists that controls the world wanting to reshape society around mining, so it's unlikely they did it just for the money.

And really, we get most of the book’s villains from Hubbard’s conspiracy theories. We have Arsebogger the corrupt and slanderous journalist, and a whole race of avaricious, soulless bankers subservient to the Psychlos and by extension the catrists. We’re told how the catrists were involved in the indoctrination of young Psychlos, and how the catrists used the ruse of medical treatment to implant their mind-control devices. The only thing missing is a psychiatrist-controlled politician, but instead of having Brown Limper become corrupted by an ancient psychology textbook, Hubbard decided to throw in Hitler.

Battlefield Earth, where if you oppose Jonnie you’re either an evil psychologist, one of their puppets, or a Nazi. Or a cannibalistic child molester from a mongrel African tribe.

Of course, I’m not sure how much an eternal opposition to psychiatrists is part of modern Scientologist teachings, so it’s time to look deeper. Back in the chapters concerning Jonnie's recovery from his injuries sustained halting the gas drone, I mentioned Dianetics, Scientology's precursor. Dianetics is all about discovering the subconscious triggers that are making you near-sighted/leukemic/gay, then defeating them with the power of positive thinking. This developed from Hubbard's story (that conflicts with medical and service records) about being left crippled and blind after his service in the Navy during WWII, but curing himself through sheer heroic willpower, much like how Jonnie recovers from brain damage thanks to his awesomeness.

But that is a minor detail, a mere lead-up to the link between Battlefield Earth and one of Scientology's most notorious beliefs. So it's time to talk about thetans, and tell the always-entertaining Xenu story.

Those subconscious triggers I mentioned a paragraph ago that cause all your mental and physical maladies? They come from memories, and I mean all your memories - childhood, pre-natal, past lives, and past alien lives. Y'see, 75 trillion years ago an alien overlord named Xenu solved his empire's overpopulation problem by collaborating with, you guessed it, psychiatrists. Under the pretense of tax inspections, he shipped billions of aliens to Earth, secured them at the bases of volcanos, and then used H-bombs to cause eruptions. As if that wasn't enough, Xenu had these aliens' souls captured and subjected to over a month of intense 3D movies in order to thoroughly scramble their minds. These wayward alien souls, called thetans, were left to wander Earth until getting lodged in human bodies, where they make your life miserable unless you pay Scientology for spiritual healing.

If I've done the math right, it takes about a $157,000 investment before a Scientologist is deemed ready to learn this terrible truth. According to Hubbard, an unprepared mind who learns about Xenu is struck with a triggered bout of pneumonia, so apologies in advance if my blog sends you to the hospital.

So what do thetans have to do with Battlefield Earth? The catrist mind-control implants, of course! True, it’s a case of aliens messing up other aliens, but the implants remain an evil influence that Jonnie and his heroes are able to learn a way to counteract and extract, just like Scientologists can remove thetans with e-meters. And really, the Psychlos in general can be thought of as a thetan analogue. The catrists, through the Psychlo empire proper, were able to change the way the other galactic powers thought and behaved, at least until Jonnie "removed" them and showed everyone the right path. And I'm sure you could make a case for how contact with the Psychlos and thus the catrists by proxy was able to corrupt the Brigantes and Brown Limper.

But when you get down to it, the biggest Scientologist influence on Battlefield Earth is the story itself. It’s a form of wish fulfillment for Hubbard, a way to rewrite reality to better suit him. Consider - a man is ostracized by his neighbors for his nontraditionalist thought, and goes off in search of enlightenment. He makes some terrible discoveries about a great catastrophe in Earth's past, and how humans are in thrall to alien forces. Through his brilliance and charisma, the man is able to convert others to his side and lead them to defeat these overlords, which include a monstrous order of psychologists who hold millions in thrall. Even though corrupt human governments side against him, the hero is proven right, and leads his followers to a golden age of peace and prosperity, becoming the most wealthy and revered person on the planet.

So remember when I mentioned how Jonnie had all those Marty Stu traits, and in early book art bore a resemblance to Hubbard? Yep, Battlefield Earth is a self-insert fanfic... well, okay, maybe not. It's an original setting, not an established work.

Doesn't make it less scary, though. In Battlefield Earth, Hubbard is wholeheartedly in favor of Psychlo genocide, touts them as the bane of all life, and has characters explain that ever since those dastardly catrists took over the Psychlos, killing them is more an act of mercy than murder. If the Psychlos are how Hubbard thinks of real-life psychiatrists, is he advocating the violent death of every psychologist on the planet? Does he think of those "controlled" by psychologists as less than human, fair targets for the war to save mankind's soul?

Very cult-like, where a small clique of like-minded individuals is encouraged to see every outsider as a sub-human enemy. Very disturbing.

From all this, you might be wondering if Battlefield Earth is an attempt to quietly convert others to Hubbard's way of thinking, to inspire a burning hatred of psychiatrists and prepare them to follow a Jonnie-like figure. The answer is far less subtle: Battlefield Earth was indeed written to get people into Dianetics and Scientology, but not through themes, but through corporate synergy. The book reached the top of The New York Times' bestseller thanks to obedient Scientologists buying it in bulk, returning the unopened boxes of books, and buying them again. With one Hubbard book at the top of the charts, sales of Dianetics improved just from people checking out what else he'd written. Battlefield Earth wasn't really a book intended to be read, which explains a whole lot.

Manipulation of sales figures aside, I guess Battlefield Earth could have been an attempt to indoctrinate as well, but it's just as possible that Hubbard couldn't not write a story about evil psychologists. The only way to know for sure would be to read his other books, to see if Mission Earth has sinister psychiatrists manipulating everything behind the scenes.

...Oh goodie.

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