At age seventy, postwar science fiction has reached what we euphemistically call senior citizenship. Some of its peers--some parts of postwar culture--have died or are in decline. Why shouldn't science fiction share that fate? Take the example of flying saucers. After the war, from 1947 into the 1960s, flying saucers were a potent myth and a worldwide craze. Everyone knew what flying saucers were, a sizable number of people believed that they came from outer space, and many had actually seen them. That all went into decline in the 1960s and '70s--with the issuing of the Condon report in 1968, after the last big flap in 1973, with the passing of the first generation of aficionados. Science fiction helped to sustain the myth, but in the end flying saucers came crashing down the way the Martian ships in The War of the Worlds (1953) crashed. Now we know that flying saucers came from science fiction and not from other worlds. They served their purpose in their time, but that time has passed and people have moved on.
Born in 1947, the myth of flying saucers is now nearing its allotted age of three score and ten. We shouldn't be surprised at its decline or death. But what of the other real-life belief system that came out of 1940s science fiction? Dianetics is now sixty-five years old, Scientology a little younger. (1) Those misbegotten twins, born a few years apart, have lasted longer than a belief in flying saucers, but of late they have been displaying signs of decline as well. Every week and even several times a week since the showing of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (on March 29, 2015), there have been stories about Scientology under fire or under threat. L. Ron Hubbard would not have tolerated such a thing, but then times have changed. The genie is out of the bottle and won't be put back in again. Like Yogi Berra, I don't like to make predictions, especially about the future, but I can foresee a time when Scientology will go the way of the flying saucers (or for that matter the Soviet Union). That can be attributable to lots of things, but what if Scientology, like flying saucers and other parts of postwar culture, is simply running its course, eventually to meet its natural end?
As a belief system, the religion of flying saucers is not hierarchical or authoritarian. You can pretty much do what you want and believe what you want about those fantastic spinning disks from outer space. Scientology is different. In fact, Scientology is a totalitarian organization, headed by an absolute and arbitrary ruler and held together by applications of force and the firm faith of the True Believer. As we have learned from history, an absolute ruler cannot afford to loosen his grip, for that spells the end of him and his regime. But a totalitarian system also depends upon ignorance and fear. Once the people are no longer ignorant--once they know something of the outside world, can communicate with it, and can escape from the system that holds them prisoner--the system cracks. Once they are no longer afraid, the system falls apart. Since Going Clear, Scientologists can see that others are criticizing, resisting, dissenting, escaping, returning to normal lives (if such a thing is possible for them). They can see that Scientology doesn't seem to have enough fingers to plug all the leaks. How much longer will it be before they go over the wall, the way East Germans went over the wall in 1989? How much longer before they wake up from history?
To be continued . . .
(1) Science fiction may be a belief system as well. I'll have more to say on that topic later in this series.
Original text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley