INTRODUCTON (Importance of Synanon)

by Paul Morantz
(c) Sept. 2010

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”

Edmund Burke-Irish orator, philosopher, & politician
(1729 – 1797)

I write this book not so much from the perspective of a riveting legal story and intriguing trials; nor to emphasize my own personal experience, which at times were very dangerous to me and those close to me. I write it instead so that the lessons to be learned from Charles Dederich and Synanon will not be forgotten, and as a record that will aid in understanding of human behavior and control and the rise of Holy Wars.

Synanon used powerful tools–including coercive persuasion– to end drug addiction and the government let it proceed and develop without intervention or supervision, accepting Synanon’s statement that as the government had failed to combat drug addiction Synanon must be left to find its own way without interference. There were many experts who jumped to quickly on its bandwagon denouncing all warnings as coming from  “Bigots” yet at the same time there were those who would not recognize the Foundation’s benefits, rashly acting in a manner that left opened wounds and a budding paranoia. These are lessons to be learned but haven’t. There are reasons for licensing laws–protection against abuse– and the care of the ill and vulnerable should never be turned over to private persons without some guarantees of safety.

Many drug addicts are sociopaths, without a conscious regards for others, yet in a controlled environment like Synanon they obeyed the rules and lived good lives. But as sociopaths it was also easier for them to obey when the rules changed to what for them was a return to the good old days. But that dosen’t tell the story. Far too many in Synanon were good people who still followed when good became re-defined. This is a story of what can happen over time in a Third Sector—a self contained society cutting itself off from government involvement or rule, going its own way, believing in its own omnipotence.

In these pages I tell the story of Charles Dederich, including his “rosebud,”the rise of Synanon, the stories of lives it saved, then its horrors–those who it abused and attacked–and ultimately my long fight with the organization and several resulting landmark legal decisions. I attempt what no other book tried to do: explain why it all happened and what it teaches, using as a tool an explanation of what was learned in the studies of thought reform (brainwashing) used on Korean prisoners of war and the Chinese population following the Communist revolution. When I finally took the deposition of the Founder years of being surrounded only by loyal followers had taken away most of Dederich’s ability to see how those on the outside would view his reasoning. He also liked to talk; that was how he had run Synanon for 24 years. His testimony was candid, frank and revealing. I let the reader hear him tell it his way before each segment of the saga.

I apologize for the many pages, but it could have been three times as long. I have chosen the details to show how the benign can evolve into the malignant; how such growth can be propelled by the media and by government acting without true understanding or just not acting. Details of other groups appear so the reader may make his or her own comparisons and see parallels as to how groups, movements, religions, races, political parties and nations can grow to rationalize the most outrageous of crimes.

The history of Synanon is not unique in utopian societies. It is a pattern that has repeated itself throughout history and many so-called cults have survived its episodes of paranoia and terror to evolve back to the mainstream. Synanon ultimately fought to do so for a decade and fueled by genuine good people who sincerely wanted to do good things had it succeeded probably today would be one of society’s legitimate assets. But ultimately it could not live beyond its eruption. To gain back public confidence it would have to confess and that was something it could not do. In doing this book I learned how hard the many in Synanon tried to return the group to public-serving and I have some regret over my own role in its ultimate demise by aiding the tax case that led to its closure. However, on the same information then and not knowing which way the Foundation would go I would probably make the same decisions.

Perhaps Synanon’s greatest legacy was its validation of theory. All that happened was predicted before it was ever born. A cycle that has occurred prior, during, after and– as 9/11 made more clearer than ever–will unfortunately take place again repeatedly in the future, even maybe to the point of threatening our existence. A group of dependent followers, a totalistic environment, a sacred cause, fear of those within and those outside and a leader, Charles Dederich, who fit the then existing psychological profile of such leaders and did what the profile predicted he would do. The finality was inevitable. And Dederich’s words, Synanon is just a microism of the greater society may be too true.

And what of the Founder? The man many sought a Nobel Prize for. Was Charles Edwin Dederich, II another sociopathic cult leader or a true Jedi Knight–in search of Walden’s Pond–who along the way was seduced by the Dark Side? Procedures he invented have remained a model for the majority, if not all, live-in drug rehabilitation facilities today. He was the hero who went to jail so drug addicts could live clean in an upscale community. His work gave rise to a new genre of programs ending with non to designate some form of peer rehabilitation program. In the sixties, books, articles, documentaries, and a Columbia Pictures movie spoke of Synanons glory and hope. Life Magazine did a large photo retrospective. Many state and federal agencies saluted it. In Congress it was declared The Miracle on the Beach. Synanons experiments with social living were intended to be the first to guide human behavior into the 21st Century. Synanon’s creed was to be a community of scholars whereby everyone learns and no one is learned. What else can be man’s job here, if not to turn earth into a work of art, the jewel of the solar system,wrote Charles Dederich of Synanon’s goals.

Those who participated were bursting with enthusiasm to discover new ideas and spread the word of Synanons high ideals and morality. Synanon went from a small drug rehabilitation surviving by its members collecting Coke bottles on the beach and hustling stale sandwiches off catering trucks to a rich empire of beautiful and serene rural retreats in the Sierra Mountains in Tulare County and along the oceanside and countryside of Tomales Bay in Marin County. It became the richest and most successful communal organization in the world’s history with 33 million in assets in the mid l970’s.

It overcame prejudicial attacks to finally arrive in the mainstream of public acceptance, an institution most Americans looked upon with pride. It built its own school and sought educational innovations. But power can be an overwhelming aphrodisiac, particularly to a leader filled with deep childhood rooted insecurities. And all those early battles to survive left permanent scars. Synanon lost the ability to distinguish between prejudice and just criticism. Its arrogance required rejection of all outside suggestion. Ultimately Dederich instituted containment, all contacts and energies to remain within. It became a cradle-to-grave society. With these changes, the fate of the organization Dederich built on such lofty principles became sealed, its pages of history written in granite as it began its long spiraled journey into an Orwellian world. Without outside input and surrounded by yes-men, no checks or balances, any deviant thought could and did grow and spread like a cancer unchallenged. Ordered physical punishment of children, mass vasectomies, abortions and mate-swapping followed.

Synanon had by then possessed its own fleet of trucks and automobiles, hundreds of motorcycles, a mini-armada of 21 boats, a squadron of ten airplanes, even its own airstrip. Its members believed in Synanon’s superiority, yet feared its enemies and encroachment of spies, created their own words (synanese), sought isolation from outside contaminants and committed to its destiny. Synanon became a separate country within this country’s borders, seeking to have its own Embassy in Washington, D.C. Ultimately, it purchased an arsenal of high-powered weapons, developed its own security force and in an isolated concealed valley across its airfield called Depot Flats it set up camp to train the Imperial Marines.

Then it went to war.