THE CHALLENGE

     Given all Dianetics represented as a truly popular challenge to a mental health monopoly and given, too, how thoroughly L. Ron Hubbard had decried the methods of that monopoly – electroconvulsive therapy, psychosurgery and massive sedation – the clash was probably inevitable. If the story has been told, the general sequence bears retelling. In the second week of May 1950, a classically clandestine effort was mounted to incorporate the subject into a United States naval program remembered today as project Chatter. A linear descendant of Nazi experimentation at the Dachau concentration camp, the project involved the forceful altering of human behavior to expressly political ends. Precisely how Dianetics was to be employed remains unclear. But presuming one possessed the means of liberating human thought, then, perforce, one would also possess a means to the opposite, i.e., “to make men more suggestible.” In either case, LRH naturally and categorically refused. In reply, a Dr. George N. Raines, then chief psychiatrist of the navy’s medical institute at Bethesda, Maryland, instructed colleagues to condemn Dianetics as quackery – or as Raines specifically phrased it, he wished Dianetics to be broadly decried as, “the bunk.”

     Much more could be said: how a crypto-psychiatric community employed federal security agencies to infiltrate the first Foundations; how interlinked publications – Time and Life, for example – were directed to undermine public enthusiasm for Dianetics; how an agent of the American Psychological Association attempted to force L. Ron Hubbard into a twin-engine aircraft at the Cloverfield airstrip in Santa Monica and transport him to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas for extended and severe psychiatric “treatment.” Then again, there is all one might say on the larger sociopolitical issues, and all Dianetics represented to a military-industrial complex bent on what has been euphemistically described as, “mass indoctrination for national security.”

     But rather more to the immediate point, are the issues raised in Ron’s reply to pop psychologist Rollo May, and his “Challenge to Psychiatrists.” As a word on the first, the Rollo May review of Dianetics was typical of psychological/psychiatric criticism of the day. Notwithstanding the fact May had never actually examined Dianetics, he effectively also proclaimed it “the bunk” in accordance with George Raines party line. Meanwhile, tiring of the ping-pong match, LRH threw down the gauntlet with his crucial Challenge.

     Although neither the Menningers in particular, nor psychiatry in general, issued a formal response, American Psychiatric Association records are filled with memoranda on just how that challenge might be quietly and delicately sidestepped. Then, too, and as we shall see, there was yet more discussion on how Dianetics might be permanently buried for the nominal sum, six thousand dollars.