Wilhelm Reich in Hell
As every schoolchild once knew – back in the reactionary days when schoolchildren were expected to know something — the U.S. Constitution ordains that there shall be “no laws” abridging freedom of speech or of the press. There is considerable internal evidence in the Constitution, and external evidence in the other writings of the authors of the Constitution, to support the contention that the creators of the Republic were versatile in their handling of language and very precise in their usage. One would assume that when they wrote “no laws” they meant “no laws.” Nonetheless, the U.S. Supreme Court sits every year and determines, in various cases, if certain laws abridging freedom of speech and of the press are or are not in violation of the Constitution. As the late justice Hugo Black said sardonically on one occasion, the majority opinion of the Court appears to be that “no laws” means “some laws.”
Like Justice Black, I am a plain blunt man and not sophisticated enough to understand the recondite arguments by which the Supreme Court has arrived at the opinion that “no laws” means “some laws.” Justice Black said that his problem was that he was a simple farm-boy and “no laws” in English seemed to him to mean “no laws.” I’m not sure what my problem is, but I also have the naive view that “no laws” means “no laws.”
It was with some horror, and considerable indignation, then, that I reacted to the news, in 1957, that the U.S. Government had seized all the scientific books and papers of Dr. Wilhelm Reich and burned them in an incinerator in New York City. This was only twelve years after the U.S. had fought a prolonged and bitter war against Nazi Germany and I had been raised on anti-Nazi propaganda in which the Nazi “crime against freedom” in burning books had been stressed as much as their crimes against humanity in killing people. I was astounded and flabbergasted that the U.S. government was imitating its former enemy to the extent of actually burning scientific papers it found heretical.
One result of all such Inquisitorial behavior, which Inquisitors never seem to expect even though it is historically predictable, is that some people get curious about books they are forbidden to read. I spent a lot of time, in 1957-58, hunting for people who owned copies of Dr. Reich’s books and doing exactly what the Inquisitors had wished to prevent me from doing — reading the verboten books and forming my own judgement on the validity or lack of validity in Dr. Reich’s various theories…..
Let us consider the U.S. Congress for a moment. I have chosen this body, not with the satirical intent of exhibiting a Horrible Example and not with the Platonic intent of showing an Ideal Form, but with the empirical intent of looking at how persuasion actually operates in the normal world of ordinary experience.
A new bill is before Congress, and to avoid any prejudice on my part or the reader’s, we will assume that this is a bill to distim the frammisgoshes. Since we know nothing about the frammisgoshes and cannot guess what effect distimming will have on them, we can consider this case with some objectivity.
Some Congressentities (I am trying to avoid the human chauvinism of writing “Congresspersons”) will vote to distim the frammisgoshes because they have been bribed with money or with more intangible rewards. This is sad, but we all know it happens on occasion. For convenience, we will call this Argument by Self-Interest; it has the form
The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because you will profit from it
Outside Congress, many people make important decisions on this basis. Although there is a great deal of “sincere” racism and sexism in the United States, there can be little doubt that the most outrageous racist and sexist institutions exist because certain persons are making a profit out of them; nobody who can pay Black or female workers half the salaries of white males is very eager to listen to arguments that conflict with this very potent Argument by Self-Interest.
Presumably, there would be hearings on an issue as important as the frammisgoshes and various interested parties would give testimony. Perhaps the Archbishop of Chicago, the Chief Rabbi of Los Angeles and the Celestial Yap of Cleveland will inform the legislators what the Catholic God, the Jewish God and Yog the Almighty think about distimming the frammisgoshes. In one sense, this is the classic form of Argument by Authority:
The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because various well-known deities and divinities say so
Outside Congress, we also find many persons making decisions on this basis. Falwell hates homosexuals, for example, because the Old Testament god is on record for disliking that group.
Cynics will say that, since deities and divinities do not appear in person, this is not only Argument by Authority but also Argument by Imposture:
The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because certain witnesses declare that they have been informed that various deities and divinities have that opinion
In fact, there is also Argument by Intimidation involved here, since the Archbishop, Chief Rabbi and Celestial Yap control several million voters; so such testimony also includes Argument by Self-Interest:
The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because you will lose the next election if they aren’t distimmed
There will probably be expert legal testimony as well, and this amounts to Argument by Precedent:
The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because a frammisgosh is like a farble and distimming is like gosketing and our ancestors always gosketed the farbles
Again, many people decide matters that way outside Congress as well as inside. The doctrine of eminent domain, which allows the government to steal anything it wants, is regarded with repugnance by most people, but lawyers say it is legal and proper, because government has been stealing things for a long time.
There will also be scientific evidence heard on such a socially important decision as frammisgoshes. Ideally, in accord with scientific method, this will take the form of Argument by Evidence:
The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because in 186 studies, 66.34 percent of all frammisgoshes found undistimmed were also suffering from hangnail, poor school attendance and abuse of controlled substances
With what some will regard as incredible optimism, I assume that some Congressentities will examine this evidence and form their own opinions of whether the statistical techniques used really “prove” the conclusions alleged. With what some will regard as dark cynicism, I also assume that some Congressentities will not bother with that at all but will accept what they heard as another form of Argument by Authority:
The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because 186 scientists say so
Again, outside of Congress many people make decisions on the basis of scientific evidence, either because they understand it, or because they think it is another form of Argument by Authority and they are conditioned to accept whatever Authority tells them. That’s why there are so many nuclear plants around these days.
There is also the Argument by Logic. This can sometimes be combined with scientific experiments and if the two mesh we have a “fit” of theory with fact and scientists are delighted. Pure Argument by Logic, however, does not require this experimental backup and only demands that the conclusions be reached by the game-rules of an abstract symbol system. In our hypothetical case, some witness might inform Congress:
All mome raths need to be distimmed
All frammisgoshes are mome raths.
Therefore, all frammisgoshes need to be distimmed.
This method of logic can lead to some remarkable results, and Lewis Carroll once employed it to demonstrate that some dowagers are thistles. It is for that reason that Pure Logic is in rather low repute in scientific circles thes days and a scientific proof is regarded as requiring not only logical coherence but experimental, sensory-sensual or instrumental verification in the space-time world of ordinary perception.
There is also the method of argument ad hominem, which consists of variations on “The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because the people who deny this are all sons of bitches.” This is a favorite form of argument with demagogues and hysterics but it has no validity. E.g., even if it were proven that Darwin was a child molester or Einstein an axe-murderer, this one would not disprove their scientific theories which still have to be judged on empirical evidence.
The Argument of guilt-by-association is the Argument ad hominem one step removed and even more obviously invalid. This is the position which holds “the frammisgoshes should be distimmed because the leader of the anti-distimmation movement was seen at a saloon in 1957 where known Communists and Satanists were also drinking.”
There do not appear to be any other methods of argument ever invented; what seem to be other methods generally turn out to be variations on these basic forms. For instance, “You better believe it or God or Allah or Yog or some other deity will throw you in Hell” is a combination of Argument by Self Interest and Argument by Intimidation. “You better believe it (or pretend to believe it) or you’ll lose your job” is a secular equivalent of this combination of Self-Interest and Intimidation.
Einstein’s equations are Argument by (Mathematical) Logic; the empirical confirmations of Relativity are Argument by Experiment; and the agreement of the two is a typical example of the synthesis of logical validity and sensory-sensual experience that science always seeks to find.
I believe that everything admirable in the modern world results form the use of Argument by Experiment together with Argument by Logic (without making an Idol of either), whereas everything heinous and terrible results from the persistence of the older habits of Arguments by Authority, Intimidation, Self-Interest and Legal Precedent, or the various forms of calling the other side sons of bitches. This logical-experimental bias in my thinking is as old-fashioned and almost quaint as my Jeffersonian notion that “no laws” means “no laws,” and I realize that I sound like a reactionary to those New Age people who much prefer Authority (if it comes from the East), Intimidation (if it is called the politics of confrontation) and Self Interest (if it is called getting in touch with your real feelings)……
Excerpt from Act I
(The scene: Wilhelm Reich is on trial in Hell. The trial looks in all respects like a 3-ring circus, complete with jugglers, acrobats, fire-eaters, etc. The prosecuting attorneys are the Marquis de Sade and Count von Sacher-Masoch, both of whom are dressed as clowns. The Ringmaster (Satan) presides as judge.
Early on in the trial, Dr. Reich introduced as evidence a Computer which continually monitors the growth of the worldwide nuclear weapons stockpile. The Computer emits an ear-splitting whistle every time there is an increment in firepower equivalent to the original Hiroshima bomb…..)
SADE: Why did you rebel against Freud?
REICH: (slowly) I rebelled against Freud because he was a coward.
The Computer whistles again.
SADE: A coward? The man who challenged all the taboos of his age?
REICH:He back-tracked, he evaded, he weaseled. He would not say flatly what his theories all implied.
The Computer whistles again.
SADE: (shouting over whistle) You mean he did not share your Utopian fantasies.
REICH:Look at the photos of him; look at that jaw.
The Computer whistles again.
REICH:Look at his expression, those clenched teeth. He was holding back — and I tell you, all of you, that is why he got cancer of the jaw finally. He wouldn’t speak what he knew. He held it in, behind those clenched teeth, until it killed him.
SADE: And what is the truth Freud dared not speak?
REICH:Everybody knows it by now. Look at the crime news on TV —
Computer whistles again.
REICH:or go into the emergency clinics and talk to the rape victims. Talk to the battered wives and the abused children. Our whole species is mad, emotionally plagued. We have been mad so long that every attempt to break out of the Trap just unleashes unconscious rage and increases the violence.
Computer whistles again.
REICH:We all know we’re in the Trap, but nobody knows how to get out of it. We attack each other thinking that’s the way out.
SADE: What? That is the truth Freud dared not speak? I thought he said all that in Civilization and its Discontents.
REICH:He would not say there was a way out of the Trap — one way only —
SADE: Your way, of course.
REICH:The way I discovered, gradually, after many mistakes.
SADE: Which is?
REICH:Work on the breathing and the muscle tensions. And tell people frankly that there is no metaphysical Good and Evil in the human world any more than there is in the animal world or the chemical world or the physical world of gravity and mass.
SADE: Hedonistic materialism, in short. The permissive society.
REICH:Not permissiveness. Sanity. If a child is a nuisance, tell him so. Tell him his behavior is annoying. But never, never make a metaphysical moral issue out of it. Never, never say anything is sinful or wrong in a cosmic sense. Never pass on the lunacey, the Emotional Plague, that has come down to us from ages of superstition and barbarism.
SADE: A world without morals. Anarchy. That is what you mean?
REICH: It is not anarchy. It is what every person with an ounce of sanity knows. Nobody is to blame for anything. We are all in the mess together because our ancestors were mad and a mad society has passed on their repression from generation to generation.
SADE: And the things I did before I was brought here and cured? They were not Evil?
REICH: You enjoyed feeling Evil because it made you seem heroic. The humiliating truth, Marquis, is that you were merely ill.
SADE: And Hitler was merely ill?
REICH: That is the horror of the situation. We all know it by now, but we cannot remember. We repress it and go on blaming one another — we forget what we know, because remembering it means remembering that we are robots, too — that we have all been crippled in different ways by trying to live in the imaginary world of morals instead of the real world of nature.
SADE: So we just teach people how to breathe properly and relax their muscles and we will have Utopia?
REICH: No. I never said it was that easy. I said it was almost impossible, but we had to try, if there was to be any chance of survival at all. Removing the Emotional Plague is just like removing bubonic plague. It will take decades of work all over the world by thousands of specialists. But if we don’t try —
Computer whistles again.
REICH: We must understand that every moral idea is strictly a hallucination. It creates guilt which creates muscular tension, which creates rage. That leads to further armoring, to hold the rage in. That leads to all the psychosomatic illnesses that orthodox medicine can’t cure and to all the social pathologies around us. Rape. Child-beating. War.
Computer whistles again.
REICH: (excited, beginning to harangue) You compared me to Rousseau. Yes, in the Age of Reason, he had to recreate the myth of Eden again; he called it the Noble Savage. A hundred years later, Marx had to recreate it: he called it the primitive matriarchy, before private property. Eden is always recreated, because we know there is a natural grace and a natural way of life we have lost. We lost it through the invention of Good and Evil. As soon as we believed we were sinners, the Trap closed on us. We accepted the sin and punished ourselves. Or we projected the sin outward and punished scapegoats.
Computer whistles again.
REICH: (rage bursting through) Masochism or sadism — those were the only choices once we believed in Good and Evil, once we believed in Sin. We are animals. We are no more guilty than a dog, a cat, a horse, a chipmunk. Everybody has known it since Darwin. But we are still in the Trap.
SADE: You really hate the Morality that caused you to kill your parents.
REICH: It is causing the whole human race to kill its children! We cannot see what we are doing. We have been robbed blind by our damned Morality.
SADE turns away sharply.
SADE: Your Almightiness, the prosecution rests. We believe it is obvious, out of his own mouth, that the defendant is a menace to civilization as we know it.
REICH: Wait! Do you know why that moment in nature is so precious, that moment of peace and oneness?
RINGMASTER: The defendant will not speak at this time.
REICH: It is a moment beyond Good and Evil!
RINGMASTER: You can argue that later. Fifteen minute recess. Then we will hear the case for the defense. (He rises)
The Computer whistles three times rapidly.
MASOCH: All rise!
Houselights up. As audience starts to leave, REICH begins addressing them.
REICH: Listen to me a moment! That moment of peace, that moment in Nature, beyond Good and Evil — that is the essence of us. Our core. Our true selves. We normally never feel it because —
RINGMASTER: Clear the Court!
REICH: because our muscles hold it down. Our muscles are chronically tense, it is so chronic that we never notice it. We only notice the peace when on a rare moment the tension relaxes. What do you think the Drug Culture is all about? Relaxing the muscular armor, getting rid of that tension for a few hours, or a few moments.
ACROBATS go down into the audience and persuade people to leave. They are very polite, like well-trained policemen, and become very threatening (in a polite way) with those unwilling to leave while REICH is still talking.
REICH: We are diseased — dis-eased. We have lost touch with natural feeling. When the Life Force tries to break through the muscular armor, it gets deflected, I say, and comes out dis-eased and violent. That’s why all political revolutions fail. That’s why there are no political solutions. That’s why
RINGMASTER: Silence the defendant.
MASOCH and SADE “beat” REICH with bladders again and drag him offstage right.
REICH: (as he goes) You can’t feel naturally. You can’t see what you are doing, or what is being done around you. You are robots. Robots. All of you. All of you.