Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Value of Mission Earth

I'm against banning books.  I'll happily miss out on outlawing a bad book for good reasons if it means I never have to worry about someone banning a good book for bad reasons.  Nevertheless, I'm sympathetic to the people of Dalton, GA, who in 1991 tried to get Mission Earth out of their public library due to "repeated passages involving chronic masochism, child abuse, homosexuality, necromancy, bloody murder, and other things that are anti-social, perverted, and anti-everything."  Well, not to say I agree that references to homosexuality make a book unsuited for public consumption.  Or that books that contain child abuse or violence should be banned.  Also, I think they meant necrophilia when they said necromancy.  And sadism instead of masochism, Gris got tortured a bit but didn't enjoy it.  Oh, and the people of Dalton, GA didn't specify the copious amounts of rape as an issue, that's kind of an odd oversight.  Wouldn't want to suggest that consensual gay sex is more problematic than non-consensual straight sex, eh? 

Getting distracted.  Point is, Mission Earth has little value as a work of literature.  The characters, the plot, the setting, everything that an author constructs when he or she writes a book, this book's author did badly.  It's a satire in that it attacks, mocks or slanders what the author dislikes, but for all the things the book is against it offers very little to fill that void - no spirituality to replace the soullessness of psychiatry, no culture to replace 1980's materialism.  The author has his good characters decry all the carnality and viciousness of the bad guys, but prefers to write from the villains' viewpoint and frequently puts the story on hold to revel in such perversions and violence.  The books' depictions of gender, sexual preference, and ethnicity are at best antiquated, and the methods the heroes use to accomplish their mission are worryingly authoritarian.  The overall message of Mission Earth is little more than a long list of all the things the author finds wrong with our planet and a hope that it will meet a grisly end, as delivered by Monte Pennwell's "Ode to Earth."

In short, Mission Earth sucks and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they just had to experience its awfulness firsthand, or were out of toilet paper.  There is nothing it does that another work out there doesn't do better... with one exception.

See, just because a book is a godawful, disgusting mess doesn't mean that it doesn't have value.  A book may fail to tell a story, but it can still tell you plenty of things about the person who wrote it.  And that is why Mission Earth is so important: it isn't a biography written by someone else based on facts, "facts," and conjecture, an attempt to construct a character based on how the world reacted to them, but a conduit into the mind of L. Ron Hubbard.

Through Mission Earth, we can see what Hubbard thought was wrong with the world, and how he thought we could fix it, which in this case is "psychology" and "banning psychology."  We can see what he considered heroic and what he felt was villainous, and the considerable overlap between the two.  We can see his sense of humor, which seems a pretty unsophisticated mix of people tripping on things, people getting food smeared on their faces, and names that are bad sex puns.  We can see his simultaneous abhorrence and fascination with sexual deviancy, more than we probably want to, in fact.  We see the world through his eyes and listen to his thoughts.

...To an extent.  It's important to remember that fiction writers regularly create worlds that they know do not exist, and that an author can write a rape scene because it fits the story, not because they enjoy a good rape.  The people who make action movies may not necessarily condone killing dozens of guys as a way to solve a problem.  Sometimes a creator doesn't even want to include things, but is talked into it by his or her editor or publisher.

Luckily, in this case Hubbard was quite insistent that his work was satirical, and had a guaranteed sales base that rendered him immune to criticism, so Mission Earth can be read as a more accurate gauge of his thinking than, say, Battlefield Earth.  On that note, the number of repeated motifs from his previous work - psychiatry as the cause of a society's downfall, a dismissive attitude towards government, racist undertones and sociopathic heroes - reinforces the notion that Mission Earth reflects the author's views.

Now of course we could do something similar with the works of Orson Scott Card, gleaning his stance on homosexuality or military service from Ender's Game and the like, but that isn't as significant.  Firstly because Card isn't shy when it comes to vocalizing his views, and more importantly because he didn't found his own religion.  Mission Earth therefore provides a tantalizing glimpse into the mind of a spiritual leader.  And it's disturbing.

If you had heard none of the controversy, accusations, and documented crimes surrounding Scientology, and were approaching the movement with a completely open mind, if you read Mission Earth first, would you take another step further?  Would you be interested in the spiritual advice of someone who gave us thousands of pages of Soltan Gris scheming, murdering and raping?  Would you accept lectures on ethics from a man who had his heroes mind control those who opposed them?  Would you want to hear how the universe works from a guy who thought Nazi psychologists used PR to take over America?  Would you be instructed on how to do good from someone who seems to only understand evil?

It's sort of like finding a primitive novel that Jesus wrote in his mid-20s that turned out to be mostly sex, violence, and accusations that the Roman Empire was secretly controlled by atheist Abyssinian apothecaries.  Yeah, you might brush it off as a phase or something, or say that just because someone wrote execrable literature doesn't mean that they can't be touched by the divine when they give a sermon.  But it's hard to reconcile stuff like "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" with "you're a virgin too?  Great, I'll rape you even harder!"  Especially if Jesus was writing such garbage while he was preaching.

Maybe it's a good thing that we know so little about some of our prophets and messiahs, that we rely on second- or third-hand sources for information about the likes of Jesus or Buddha.  If we found out that they wrote like L. Ron Hubbard, we might be more reluctant to follow them, to believe that someone so wearily worldly could lead us to paradise.

So no, I don't think Mission Earth should be banned.  It's pretty disgusting in a lot of ways, but you can find worse on the internet, so it's not like the book should be singled out as a threat to public decency.  For all of its flaws, it's instructive, as both an example of how not to do literature and as a look into the mind of its author.  I think it belongs on the same shelf as Hubbard's other works, so that anyone about to leaf through Dianetics can experience Mission Earth first, and then decide whether they want to read the rest of the author's material.  And whether this guy's organization is deserving of their revenue.

My hunch is that not many Scientologists read Mission Earth before they converted.


Back to Salvaging Mission Earth

2 comments:

  1. I've said before that anyone thinking of becoming a Scientologist should be forced to read Mission Earth, at gunpoint if necessary. Then again, you mentioned 'Dianetics', which is arguably even more horrible with its long accounts of women unsuccessfully attempting DIY abortions. Something Ron thought was 'very common'.

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  2. I think the necromancy is referring to Gunsalmo's Satanic funeral scene.

    I admire your fortitude on getting through these. The longest book I ever finished was Journey to the West, which is 1,014 pages. The other longest book I tried to read was Shogun, another thousand page book. I enjoyed what was going on in the plot, but due to the long chapters and tiny font I stopped about 300 pages into it. Those are both masterpieces and I couldn't even finish Shogun. Mission Earth is two times longer than both of them combined and it's really, really bad. That's not even counting that you read the 1,000+ page novelization of Battlefield Earth first. You deserve some kind of medal. Nay, that's too cheap. You deserve a hypnohelmet to reprogram scientologists out of their delusions (or if you don't like krak's methods, use it to teach yourself French like that episode of Dexter's lab).

    Your conclusion of it's value is well put. It's the reason I'm also fascinated with the works of Christian Weston Chandler, Gloria Tesch, Stephanie Meyer, Kenneth Eng, Christopher Paolini, and Robert Stanek. The stuff they put on paper is so insane it makes you wonder what kind of person wrote their books and what made them think the way they do. They're all bizarre trips into a unique individual's crazy fantasy world. I wouldn't be reading these blogs if Hubbard's mindset wasn't morbidly intriguing. He was a wacky fanfic writer who lived and died before the information age of online critics and commentaries and he somehow garnered a cult following that's a full-fledged religion (something not even Meyer can live up to, but I heard Cullenism might be a thing).

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