Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fear - Chapter 6, Part 2 - Elementary

After breakfast, Lowry hits the university and goes to his classroom.  Now he's had a very trying past couple of days, and by all rights he ought to be taking some time for rest and recuperation, but he's set on holding class as normal.  Is it because he's passionate about imparting his knowledge upon fresh young minds, and guiding his pupils as they delve into their studies?

It was good to be in such a familiar place, good to stand up here on the platform and watch the students pass the door in the hall.  Presently they would come in here and he would begin to drone along on the subject of ancient beliefs in ancient civilizations and perhaps, after all, everything was right with the world.

Nah.  Dude just likes his routine, and wants to drone when he normally drones.  I have a feeling Professor Lowry's departure from Atworthy's College isn't going to greatly affect its performance.  Might offer room for improvement, in fact.

Unfortunately, Lowry's attempt to sink into the comfort of his rut is foiled when he sees a mysterious message waiting for him on the chalkboard: "You are the Entity.  Wait for us in your office."  The writing is similar to that on the note he couldn't quite read from last night, save for the fact that, you know, he can read it.  Spooked, Lowry's able to wipe the words from the board with some hard scrubbing, but then "first word, second word, letter by letter with slow cadence, appeared once more."  That's some stubborn chalk.

Lowry gets a-trembling, but as students are starting to enter, he decides to ignore the message and hope they do too, or else consider it something from the previous class.  He sees a girl in a new dress who is "being casual," a boy trying to act manly in front of his girlfriend, but there's no recognition, no names attached to his students, no connection with them.  He certainly doesn't try to chat, ask how their homework is going, if they've thought about grad school or a career path, anything like that.  Lowry's here to recite a script in front of an interchangeable classroom of eighteen-to-twenty-somethings.

Well, maybe I'm being unfair.  Maybe Lowry is a warm and loving professor when he doesn't have malaria or hallucinations bedeviling him.  At any rate, once the bell rings, Lowry deploys his lecture.

Only long habit and much reading from the book carried him through.  Now and then, during the hour, his own words came into his consciousness for a moment and he seemed to be talking rationally enough.  The students were making notes and dozing and whispering and chewing gum--it was a normal enough class, and obviously they saw nothing wrong.

Or maybe a sickened Lowry trying to hide a nervous breakdown is indistinguishable from a healthy Lowry teaching a normal class.

He goes on about how ancient doctors in China continued to engage in rituals and superstition even as medicine advanced, feeling some relief that he's able to do so as if nothing was wrong, while his students ignore him to stare out of doors and windows at the lovely morning outside the classroom walls... but when Lowry gets to a part in the script where he's supposed to joke about a primitive claiming to be cured by a witch doctor's drumming to save his hearing, he finds himself unable to tell it, and then he stumbles when talking about man's tendency to attribute the unseen and unknown to fiendish influences.

Lowry reflects on the mystery that medicine drums did seem to cure people, or how the power of faith healing leads to piles of unneeded crutches in church.  "And now that people had turned from the church to a wholly materialistic culture, was it not odd that worldly affairs were so bloody and grim?"  A surprising sentiment - I assumed Hubbard's gripes about materialism came from the lead-up to the age of Reaganomics, but even in the wholesome days of fascism and empire he was complaining about consumerism.

And then the professor suddenly realizes he's been thinking out loud.

For a moment no longer than an expressive pause would be, he studied his class. Young minds, ready and waiting to be fed anything that any man of repute might wish to feed them, sponges for the half-truths and outright lies and propaganda called education, material to be molded into any shape that their superiors might select. How did he know if he had ever taught truth?

This is an alarming statement coming from an educator of many years.

He did not even know if the dissemination of democracy itself was error or right.

That is a really alarming statement considering what was going on in Europe during 1940.

These were the children of the next generation, on the sill of marriage and the legal war of business. Could he, with his background, ever tell them anything which might help them? He, who had been so sure for so many years that all was explainable via material science, he who now had wandered far add had seen things and talked to beings he had for years decried!-- could he say now what he had said so often before?

I guess he's abandoned the "unknown malaria complication" explanation entirely now.

Well, Lowry decides that he might as well go for broke, considering that twelve hours ago he was following the ghost of a priest up a vertical cliff in search of a lost hat, and he still has that persistent floater lurking on the fringes of his vision.  So we get a five page diatribe about the modern world's relationship with the unknown and supernatural.

Lowry starts off by explaining science's mission as "clear[ing] fear from the minds of men by telling men that there is nothing of which he must be afraid lust because he cannot see the actual cause," but admits that now he isn't sure of anything.  After all, "Man has always known that his lot upon this earth is misery, and he has, until a split second ago in geological time, understood that there must be beings beyond his ken who take peculiar delight in torturing him."  He reminds his students that many among them keep good luck charms, or have superstitions about not bragging about their health for fear of inviting illness, and all of them would find a ghost to be frightened of if placed in a supposedly haunted house at midnight.

"As a question only, let me ask, might it not be possible that all of us possess a latent sense which, in our modern scurry, has lapsed in its development?  Might not our own ancestors, acute to the primitive dangers, exposed to the wind and the dark, have given attention to the individual development of that sense?  And because we have neglected to individually heighten our own perceptions, are we now "blind" to extra-material agencies?  And might we not, at any moment, experience a sudden rebirth of that sense and, as vividly as in a lightning flash, see those things which jealously menace our existences?  If we could but see, for ever so brief a period, the supernatural, we would then begin to understand the complexities which beset man.  But if we experienced that rebirth and then told of what we saw, might we not be dubbed "mad?"  What of the visions of the saints?

Now, reading this book, and knowing what we do nearly seventy-five years later, makes it easy for us to backtrack from the ending of Hubbard's biography and find things that foreshadow it, and since we know what to look for our findings might not be accurate, it's a prejudiced investigation.

But this looks very much like the seeds of Scientology.  Not necessarily the hate-on for Freudian psychology or government authorities, but the idea that people have become blind to the truth about themselves and the world around them, but can be made aware of this truth (through a modified ohmeter that has not been subjected to clinical trials), and reconnect with ancient knowledge to gain an understanding of the supernatural elements that surround mankind and influence their very souls. 

"As children, all of us felt the phantoms of the dark.  Might not that sense be less latent in a child whose mind is not yet dulled by the excess burden of facts and facts and more facts?  Are there not men in this world today who have converse with the supernatural, but who cannot demonstrate or explain and be believed because of the lack in others of that peculiar sense?

And here's where the defensive, "it doesn't make sense to you because your mind is still closed" element comes in.

"I am giving you something on which to ponder.  You have listened patiently to me for long weeks and you have filled notebooks with scraps of ethnology.  I have not once, in all that time until now caused you to think one thought or ponder one question.  There is the bell.  Think over what I have said." 

James Lowry, the college professor who doesn't need his students to think.

It's now that half of the students start to wonder whether Professor Lowry is ill, but the rest think this is all another of Lowry's "well-known jokes" - and really, he seems to be the guy who keeps his students laughing, right?  Lowry stays behind, busying himself with his notes as he avoids both eye contact with the people leaving, and the message on the chalkboard behind him: "You are the Entity.  Wait for us in your office."  End chapter.

Well.  That was enlightening, wasn't it?  We didn't discover squat about what's going on, but we learned that nothing of value was lost when Lowry was given the sack.

Back to Chapter 6, part 1

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