Extracts from 'William Burroughs - El Hombre Invisible', a biography by Barry Miles, Virgin Books 1992. Miles is discussing Burroughs in 1966/67.
He was happy to talk at length to magazines such as Rolling Stone, then much more radical than it is today, in order to reach a wide audience of young people:
'The control machine is simply the machinery - police, education, etc. - used by a group in power to keep itself in power and extend its power. For example in a hunting society, which can only number about thirty, there's nothing that could be called a control machine in operation. They must function effectively as a hunting party in order to survive, so leadership is casual and you have no control machine. Now as soon as you get an agricultural society, particularly in rich land, you will tend to get inequality. That is, the advantage of slave labour then becomes apparent and you may have, as with the Mayans and Egyptians, workers and priests - in other words, stratification, repression, and you have a control machine. As I said, the ancient Mayan had almost a model control machine through which about one or two percent of the population controlled the others, without heavy weapons. The workers all had such weapons as were available, stone axes, spears, etc. So it was pure psychological control.'
Burroughs had tinkered round with Scientology since 1959, but in 1967 he at last decided to investigate it thoroughly and took a beginners' course at the London headquarters in the West End. In mid-January 1967, he took the two-month solo audit course at Scientology World Headquarters at Saint Hill Manor, an elegant eighteenth-century country house with mock-Norman additions, in East Grinstead, fifty miles south of London. He stayed at the Brambletie Hotel in East Grinstead, where he was convinced his room was haunted and started a ghost story about it.
Burroughs came to regard the E-Meter as a useful device for deconditioning, though he had growing doubts about some of the other Scientology technology, and grave reservations about their policy as an organisation. (He was later expelled from the Church for, among other crimes, running 'squirrel techniques' on himself instead of having an auditor ask the questions.) 'They have a great deal of very precise data on words and the effects produced by words - a real science of communication. But I feel that their presentation has often been deplorable and that as a science, a body of knowledge, it is definitely being vitiated by a dogmatic policy ...'
The E-Meter was a type of polygraph machine, a lie detector, though the Scientologists refused to acknowlege the fact. It was used to run down lists of questions and to identify unconscious blocks, or engrams, that the subject might have in certain areas. Engrams are words stored in the unconscious during periods of pain and anxiety and which still cause trouble which can be detected using the E-Meter and dealt with. Only when all the engrams had been erased was the subject pronounced 'clear', and able to go on to higher levels.
'Scientology was useful to me until it became a religion,' Burroughs said, 'and I have no use for religion. It's just another one of those control-addict trips and we can all do without those.'
His attitude to L. Ron Hubbard was sometimes detected by the auditors, who got a reading on the E-Meter at the mention of his name. 'Well, I just can't help being jealous of someone so perfect,' ad-libbed Bill and the auditor was satisfied. 'All that time I don't know how I managed to avoid getting a with-hold on hating Hubbard's big fat face,' said Burroughs. 'I would be sitting in a reception room and some shiny-faced new pre-clear would say, "What do you think of Ron's new directives?" and I'd say, "Oh, I'm sure Ron knows what he's doing, heh, heh!" '
Bill passed this course and became a 'clear'. The Scientologists were initially pleased to welcome such a distinguished name to their ranks, and publicised the fact that Burroughs had become a clear. Later, when he began to write a series of critical articles about them in Mayfair, they wished they had been more prudent.
After witnessing the police riot at the Chicago Convention in Chicago, in 1968, which he covered for Esquire magazine, Bill became more interested in the practical applications of his cut-up weapons: 'Deconditioning means the removal of all automatic reactions deriving from past conditioning ... all automatic reactions to Queen, Country, Pope, President, Generalissmo, Allah, Christ, Fidel Castro, The Communist Party, the CIA ... When automatic reactions are no longer operative you are in a position to make up your mind. Only the deconditioned would be allowed to vote in any thinking society and no hostess can be asked to put up with the man who has not been deconditioned there he is on about student anarchy and permissiveness such a bore. Very promising techniques now exist suitable for mass deconditioning and we'll all be less of a bore.'
The actual methods used to achieve this deconditioning were of course the subject of many of Burroughs's articles. He spoke at length about the use of tape recorders as a revolutionary tool: 'It's more of a cultural takeover, a way of altering the consciousness of people rather than a way of directly obtaining political control ... Simply by the use of tape recorders. As soon as you start recording situations and playing them back on the street you are creating a new reality. When you play back a street recording, people think they're hearing real street sounds and they're not. You're tampering with their actual reality.' He found that by making recordings in or near someone's premises, then playing them back and taking pictures, various sorts of trouble occurred. He immediately set out to exploit his discovery.
'I have frequently observed that this simple operation - making recordings and taking pictures of some location you wish to discommode or destroy, then playing the recording back and taking more pictures - will result in accident, fires, removals, especially the last. The target moves.' By 1972 Bill decided that his dissatisfaction with the Scientologists merited an attack on their headquarters. Bill carried out a tape and photo operation against the Scientology Centre at 37 Fitzroy Street, in London, and sure enough, in a couple of months they moved to 68 Tottenham Court Road. The operation he carried out there did not work and they still occupy the building.
By the summer of 1968 ... [Ian] had finally found Bill to be impossible to live with because of Bill's obsessive interest in Scientology. 'When he fixes me with that Operating Thetan stare I just can't stand it,' Ian said. 'I can't get out of the room fast enough.' As far as Ian was concerned, Bill was wasting his intelligence and his time on an utterly spurious movement. Bill claimed he was just investigating it, but as far as Ian could see, Bill was well and truly hooked.
Bill, meanwhile, had met John McMasters, the first ever 'clear' and the man who had set up the Church of Scientology with Hubbard. McMasters was a quiet-spoken, white-haired Englishman who presented himself as the victim of a power struggle, and who claimed that the Sea Org (Hubbard's actual command post, based on a yacht off Casablanca) were out to get him. As proof he showed Bill the bruises where he had been thrown out of bed by massive psychic forces entering his bedroom. The only time Bill showed real skepticism was over dinner one day at the Cucaracha Mexican restaurant on Greek Street in Soho. Bill gave the guitarist a pound to sing the usually banned verse of La Cucaracha, which is about marijuana smoking, and sang along. McMasters, who like Bill had had rather a lot to drink, leaned over and told Bill conspiratorially: 'Bill, did I ever tell you that in a past incarnation I was Rudolph Valentino?'
Bill pursed his lips and murmured, 'Really John? Most interesting.' None the less, with McMasters, he had the inventor of much of the Scientology technology as a teacher, and spent hours self-auditing with his E-Meter. By the time Bill was thrown out of Scientology he was in what they called 'a condition of treason'.