Failures as people: millions of Americans felt that this description fit them to a T. Seeking a solution, any solution, they eagerly forked over their cash to any huckster who promised release, the quicker and more effortlessly the better: therapies like “bioenergetics” (“The Revolutionary Therapy That Uses the Language of the Body to Heal the Problems of the Mind”); Primal Scream (which held that when patients shrieked in a therapist’s office, childhood trauma could be reexperienced, then released; John Lennon and James Earl Jones were fans); or Transcendental Meditation, which promised that deliverance could come if you merely closed your eyes and chanted a mantra (the “TM” organization sold personal mantras, each supposedly “unique,” to hundreds of thousands of devotees). Or “religions” like the Church Universal and Triumphant, or the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, or “Scientology”—this last one invented by a science fiction writer, reportedly on a bet. Devotees paid cash to be “audited” by practitioners who claimed the power—if, naturally, you paid for enough sessions—to remove “trauma patterns” accreted over the 75 million years that had passed since Xenu, tyrant of the Galactic Confederacy, deposited billions of people on earth next to volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs inside those volcanos, thus scattering harming “body thetans” to attach to the souls of the living, which once unlatched allowed practitioners to cross the “bridge to total freedom” and “unlimited creativity.” Another religion, the story had it, promised “perfect knowledge”—though its adherents’ public meeting was held up several hours because none of them knew how to run the movie projector. Gallup reported that six million Americans had tried TM, five million had twisted themselves into yoga poses, and two million had sampled some sort of Oriental religion. And hundreds of thousands of Americans in eleven cities had plunked down $250 for the privilege being screamed at as “assholes.” “est”—Erhard Seminars Training, named after the only-in-America hustler who invented it, Werner Erhard, originally Jack Rosenberg, a former used-car and encyclopedia salesman who had tried and failed to join the Marines (this was not incidental) at the age of seventeen, and experienced a spiritual rebirth one morning while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge (“I realized that I knew nothing. . . . In the next instant—after I realized that I knew nothing—I realized that I knew everything”)—promised “to transform one’s ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself,” all that in just sixty hours, courtesy of a for-profit corporation whose president had been general manager of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of California and a former member of the Harvard Business School faculty. A

Rick Perlstein Quotes