Monday, September 19, 2016

Masters of Sleep - Chapter Ten - Fun Times in Balmy Springs

And now we're back to the part of the book that it feels like Hubbard was most interested in writing, his exposé on the horrors of psychology and mental health.  Palmer is stuck in a small, padded room, bored out of his mind while Dr. Dyhard asks him simple questions like how many fingers he's holding up and what time does his watch indicate.  The psychologist is disappointed that Palmer keeps getting the answers right - how's he going to talk Alice into paying for a big, expensive procedure if there's nothing wrong with the patient?

All his reputable colleagues had adopted Dianetics sometime since and were prospering.  Dyhard had never prospered.  Too thoroughly bad a surgeon to remain in the A.M.A., he had taken up neurosurgery and from this had degenerated into country work and was almost outlawed for his belief that socialized medicine should be adopted by his brethren.  They, feeling that Dyhard's type could not support a personal practice and must therefore lean on the state, spoke to Dyhard on professional occasions only.  But Dyhard was somehow not averse to maintaining his own side practice whenever he could get a patient and had therefore short-circuited Jan from the state institution to Balmy Springs, where, with skill, he could run up a considerable bill.

While we're no strangers to Hubbard's hate towards the mental health industry at this point, it is remarkable how different this early "satire" is from his final work.  In Masters of Sleep, the destructive quack psychologists are a small minority, diehards like... Dyhard, who clings to backwards and barbaric procedures like lobotomies while his colleagues embrace the enlightenment of Dianetics and become wealthy and successful and handsome and great in bed and so forth.  Hubbard's optimistic and operating under the assumption that his revolutionary new self-improvement program will transform the world for the better.  But fast forward thirty years to Mission Earth and Hubbard casts all psychologists as irredeemably evil perverts and murderers out to do as much harm as possible, who know that their talk about man being a soulless animal is nothing but lies, but keep spreading this false gospel anyway.

Guess that's what happens when the "experts" dismiss your work as a pseudoscience instead of embracing the truth.

Anyway, Palmer's so bored that he's got an elbow on the table and his chin propped up in his hand, but he slips and bangs his head.  And with this sudden blow comes some curious sensations - he thinks he sees a lantern swinging overhead, and can feel a ship moving beneath him, and can smell the sea salt on the air.  It only lasts for a moment, but afterward Palmer feels for the nth time that "he was somewhere else," and "the feeling that he was strong was stronger."  In other words, head trauma has knocked some Tiger into him.  Between this and Tiger getting Palmer-ish last chapter without the Two-World Diamond in his possession, I'm starting to question why the stupid rock is necessary to the plot.  Beyond providing a Deus Ex Machina to solve Tiger's problems, I mean.

So when Dyhard does the finger question again, Tiger-Palmer replies "six," and when asked the time says it's "Twenty-six bells!" before telling the psychologist to scram and demanding a meal.  Dyhard is delighted at these signs of a persecution complex, conversion of the auto-erotic libido, and so forth.  The doctor flees before Tiger gets violent, only to return with the owner of the facility, a Mr. Sharpington, who is eager to agree with Dyhard's diagnosis.

"There he is," said Dyhard.  "See that scowl?  All classic paranoid schizophrenics have that scowl.  All of them."

"Hmmm, yes," said Sharpington, hoping that Dyhard wouldn't kill this patient on the operating table.  Patients were getting scarce since Dianetics.  Only the electric shock and surgical failures of the yesterdays were taken to private and public institutions now and this Palmer was worth two hundred a week for the time he was here.  Of course, on the brighter side, if whatever neurosurgery Dyhard tried came out with the usual lack of success, Palmer would be here for the rest of his life, a zombie without will or coordination, a drooling thing which would have to be fed like a baby and wear diapers.

So Sharpington just "Hmm, yes"es and "Indeed so"es as Dyhard blathers on, and they schedule an operation for tomorrow, so long as Sharpie gets his 10%.  They leave, and Palmer finally gets his meal, though he has to eat it with a guy in the next cell constantly jumping around and screaming.  When he asks a guard about it he explains no, normally people get all quiet after their lobotomy, that guy just "ain't got good sense or gratitude."  Palmer attempts to bribe the guard to send a message to his wife, telling her to bring that diamond he had to him for a cool thousand dollars, but the guard isn't willing to take an IOU after getting burned in the past, and since Palmer doesn't have any cash on him, no dice.

With that attempt at escape thwarted, Palmer can only sit in his little padded room and worry.  First he wonders whether he's already been "treated" and that's why he feels like he's lost something important, then he spends some time listening to a neighbor endlessly repeating "I'm caught, I'm trapped!  Let me out!  Let me out!"  How can such a thing happen to a man in the United States, how can someone have his rights stripped away by a doctor's diagnosis and a relative's consent, even criminals are subject to a trial before being punished, etc.

Needless break in the paragraphs, then another page denouncing psychology and neurosurgery.  Forgive me for not being very interested in this stuff, it's just that, well we've seen it all before.  After going through Mission Earth, it's hard to be engaged by this comparatively-restrained rant.  Nazis aren't mentioned even once!  How am I supposed to concentrate on Palmer/Hubbard's fearful questions of what happens to a soul after a lobotomy when the author doesn't try to tie the procedure to a global conspiracy trying to wipe out the human race?

Okay, real talk - there's actually a key difference between Masters of Sleep's anti-psychology rants and Mission Earth's, and it's not just in how much spittle is flying out of Hubbard's mouth.  Masters of Sleep is somewhat timely.  If my minutes of Wikipedia research have left me properly informed, this story came out when public opinion was starting to turn against stuff like lobotomies as a cure for various behavioral ills.  So when Palmer unsuccessfully tries to pick the locks of his cell-
And as he stood there a stretcher was wheeled by.  On it was a young girl.  Blood had spilled and caked from her swollen eyes.  Her temples had been scorched by electrodes.  Her mouth was slack and one arm dangled rigidly.  A transorbital leukotomy, on its way to a cell, a woman, made a zombie forever, her analytical mind torn to shreds, ruined beyond repair.

Jan became sick at his stomach.

-the passage might be part of a movement that was accomplishing something positive, convincing readers that such procedures should be, if not banned outright, then reserved for very special cases, and not to be undertaken lightly.  Also, it's much more effective, when you're trying to expose the evils of psychology, to portray something that actually happens instead of casting psychologists as people who are trying to kill their patients, or who would be delighted if a doctor made a snake appear out of a patient's skull, all after some thirty years of advancement in the fields of neurosurgery and mental health.

So what I'm saying is that in this one chapter of Masters of Sleep, Hubbard might done more than in all ten books of Mission Earth.  Give the man a round of applause, everyone!

We wrap up the chapter by ditching Palmer and checking on Alice.  She's got her girlfriends over, who are chatting about how the labor unions ought to be machine-gunned, or how their cousin got electroshock once and now she doesn't complain about her husband's drinking, or anything for that matter.  Alice just repeats what Dr. Dyhard said about her husband being scheduled for "a little operation.  A minor thing," that will nevertheless cost ten thousand dollars, but at least it will make Palmer better-adjusted.  I'm still annoyed that Alice went from someone who questioned authority figures and turned on her crooked boss to someone who implicitly trusts someone trying to charge her thousands of dollars for a medical procedure without telling her too much about what he'll be doing.  But I guess that girl on the stretcher isn't the only character to have gotten her brains scrambled.

The only significant development in the non-Palmer section is that The Swede Girl and Chan Davies the ex-lumberjack are there too, and Davies learns from Alice that she's recovered Palmer's belongings from the police, and then learns from his girlfriend that it's being kept in a safe behind a picture frame.  So he decides to head to town to meet up with some skilled associates of his.

And there we have it, the set-up for the final four chapters of the book.  In Genie World, Tiger's meager fleet of free men is due to be attacked by an enemy armada, while in Human World, Palmer's got mere hours to live before his higher brain functions get shut down by steel and electrodes.  And the deciding factor will be the Two World Diamond, coveted by a dirty commie and carelessly guarded by Palmer's worse-than-useless wife.  It's a race against time to see which half of our protagonist can get his hands on the thing everybody wants and magic all his problems away in an unsatisfying and anti-climactic fashion.

Feels weird to have a Hubbard chapter that spent so much time condemning psychology without mentioning homosexuality.  I mean, why didn't Dr. Dyhard try to turn Palmer gay?  There's already a moment where our protagonist admits that the constantly-muttering guy in the cell across the hall "had not been bad-looking," so there might be some latent homosexuality to build upon.  What happened in the thirty years between Masters of Sleep and Mission Earth to add promoting gayness to psychology's sinister agenda?

Back to Chapter Nine

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