One Hand Clapping

One Hand Clapping
by Paul Morantz
(c) May 2011

As the new decade commenced, Synanon City in West Marin continued to grow. In 1970 the 1,500 acre Horace Maggetti Ranch –renamed the Home Ranch–off of the Marshall-Petaluma Road which narrowly winds traffic free though the green lumps of West Marin overflowing with grazing cattle and sheep and an occasional red tail hawk. The land filled with beautiful pastures, tall trees and a sometimes rolling fog drifting in from the ocean was acquired for $250,000. Separated two miles by the William Barboni ranch from it’s original purchase in 1964, the new acquisition had several big barns and a large 15-room New England home built in 1863 complete with a widow’s walk atop the roof. Dederich moved there and it became the Home Place. Dormitories, classrooms, barns and other buildings sprung up. Entrance signs to the property now said, “Synanon School, Department of Ecology and Agriculture.” The school was supervised by Garrett’s wife, CBS Dorothy Salant, cousin of CBS News chief Richard Salant, who had donated over a million dollars to Synanon. The plans were to build on 69 acres a $15 million communal city for 20,000 members by l973.

Dederich drove around his new paradise on his new black Honda motor bike. He called the territory the Tip of the Synanon Arrow. The neighboring town to the west, Marhsall, a tiny farming community, watched as wheelbarrows and pick-up trucks went back and forth across their new neighbor’s land, single story masonry cottages with red tile roofs springing forth, all the time the sounds of concrete mixers, hammers, picks and saws. Some of the new buildings were non-conventionally molded after visitor Buckminister Fuller. Polished wooden floors, tightly kept blanketed bunk beds and hung photos of Chuck and Betty were in clear view as doors were kept open to prove honesty and banish privacy .

The townsfolk looked on with both astonishment and apprehension. But the reasons oddly were more the opposite of those that had angered Santa Monica. There, a rich populous city feared the gathering of poor criminal/addicts. Marshall, on the other hand, had a total population of only 50. Tomales had 400. Other towns spread out forming West Marina were equally sparse. Under existing ordinances there was no limit on the amount of land occupants as long as residents were engaged in agriculture. Locals, hearing of Dederich’s talk of a Synanon City, feared being overrun. Most were rugged individualists, struggling farmers, fisherman, boat repairers and small businessmen trying to eke a living and they were weary of the wealth of their new neighbor. With 9 million in real estate down south Synanon was now officially Santa Monica’s largest land owner. Over 20,000 American corporations were donors, five of them in the Fortune 500. Locals saw Hustlers in vans, tractors, trailers and flatbed trucks hauling in free auto parts, building materials, food, electronics, all donated to “save a life.” To the townsmen Synanon was like a spoiled rich kid flaunting wealth and influence. They didn’t like it that the newcomers were secretive. And worse, Synanon paid no taxes.

Dederich in turn looked at his neighbors and thought they were wasteful. Each farm had machinery duplicative of the others rather than live in a way in which each shared and waste was prevented. The farmers, he said, mistakenly worked alone, in competition with the other, working themselves to exhaustion, exploiting their pastures.

To make his point Dederich invented Zen-pong. A version of ping-pong wherein the idea was not to defeat the opponent but to hit balls softly making it easier for the other to return, extending the game. Dederich and Garrett played Zen-pong together nearly every day after lunch. Garrett had become the new Gray Thompson, declaring Dederich to all as the most intelligent, funny, capable and loving human being on this earth.


The population reached 1,483, including 150 children and 50 squares.

Two prominent PhD’s joined in 1970. One was Dr. Elizabeth Missakian, who had spent three years in Puerto Rico jungles researching monkeys before stumbling into Synanon’s Puerto Rico House and becoming a game player. Missakian became a Synanon resident in New York and was given a $130,000 federal grant, most of which she handed over to Synanon, to do studies on the Foundation. At last a federal grant. Missakian was also working on a book to be called The Free Child. She married an ex-Vietnam doper and eventually became the Foundation’s first woman president.

Dr. Linda Burke was a psychology graduate from the University of Texas and desired to study the development of Synanon children born uniquely nurtured communally in Synanon. She said she “couldn’t see raising children any other way.”

Synanon had and was making more important friends. Ted Dibble, a 9-year heroin addict from Brooklyn who had entered in 1962, going from armed robbery to the head of ADGAP, gave a lecture on drug abuse to Oakland Police Academy.

In Santa Monica there were now 3,500 game club members, each paying $10 a month, with a waiting list of 500 more. One moved up on the list not based on time but by demonstration. The live-in population boomed to 1,400.

But Dederich felt Synanon was becoming stagnant. There were too many copycat drug rehabs run by former Synanites; the 60’s spawned too many communes. He wanted attention–for Synanon to be again in the limelight. Synanon, he said, could be like Athens, Greece which existed on even less land yet influenced western culture for centuries. A single city could demonstrate a new way of doing things. Synanon would be that city. It would prove a crime free life based on trust was possible. Those who said it couldn’t be done, he said, were the same people that said trying to cure dope fiends was a hopeless endeavor.

Dederich had smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years. In a game he was told by a Synanon physician that he would die if he didn’t quit. Dederich’s reaction at the time was the same as it had been when a doctor once told him he had to quit drinking for the same reason. He lit up and blew smoke in the doctor’s face.

But Reid Kimball was dying from emphysema and the doctor had warned Dederich he was on the brink of developing a lung condition. Dederich did not want to die. And, of course, if he was going to give up cigarettes then everyone must. It wasn’t just the idea of misery loving company, but the belief that his behavior was always the best role model for all to follow. Slowly he realized this was the way; the thing he was looking for.

Synanites were entitled to a packet of 20 cigarettes a month and 1,200 of the 1,500 residents were smokers. Synanon was spending $250,000 a year on cigarettes making it the Foundation’s biggest expense item. Although on the horizon there was a cigarette company ready to start donating enough cigarettes to meet current needs Dederich directed Garrett to send the tobacco company a no thank you letter. By observing Kimball, Dederich could foresee the high future medical cost of caring for a population traveling a similar path. He said, “People do not have the right to smoke and get sick and force someone to take care of them. If we are to believe the medical journals, smoking is at the heart of inconveniencing and fatal diseases. So for some free soul to clutch his cigarette and cough himself to death and have to be treated in a final lingering illness… We don’t have a right to do that.”

On May 11th, 1970, Dederich announced that there was now a new rule to go along with those against violence and use of drugs/alcohol. No one in Synanon would be allowed to smoke. To sell the idea Dederich spoke of the decay of society being linked to the decay of the environment. Synanon had been and would always be an ecological community dedicated to reducing pollution. Smoking was a bad demonstration for children, but a mass rejection of nicotine would be a display for the entire world. The sound of one hand clapping he stated was the speaking of truth without action. By taking this notion forward both hands would be coming together. Synanon could not be an advanced society and smoke too.

By the next day smoking had stopped at the Academy in Tomales Bay and the movement spread south to Santa Monica. But the new rule did not take as easily as Dederich had expected. Some people stashed butts in trash cans, under plants and in back alleys, like they did with drugs in the old days before the Night of the Great Cop Out. Security guards tracked trails of smoke into closets. Even Betty was caught once in the bathroom. Some people carried mouthwash and cologne to cover the odor. Coffee use tripled and people chewed on toothpicks. Many became anxious and put on weight, some had bouts of anger and/or depression. One member lamented what would happen if Dederich decided to give up sex. Special nicotine games were held but in the first month 100 people split, including famed jazz musician Art Pepper.1 Twenty split on a single day.

The PR Dept. released the news and soon Synanon and Dederich were darlings of the media again. Dederich had taken a bold step that was really ahead of its time, as it would not be until the ’80s that society would catch up and take a similar stance. Dederich also made a firsthand observation of a truth that other professionals would conclude decades later. Dederich told the press:

“In my own personal experience I’ve had the opportunity to observe… I guess I’ve watched more people kick the drug habit than anyone else in history and watch them stay off. I’ve had enormous experience in watching people shake off drugs and attempt to stay off booze. I used to be an alcoholic myself and I know something about that. But I’ve never seen such human torture or experience such anguish as I saw this year watching people giving up smoking… In my opinion, nicotine causes a deeper dependency on a gut level for more people than any other drug.”

In becoming Skinner’s Frazier Dederich was indeed designing a better and healthier environment, putting Synanon out front in the race to the 21st Century. While this new direction’s goals could not be faulted, the methods of implementation may have frightened Skinner’s Professor Castle. The community was not given the choice, but an edict to obey or leave.

Dederich used again his same tried and true methods previously employed to get people off drugs and to commit to his visions. The game forced confessions to chipping and smoking violators were punished, scrubbing floors and toilets, donning signs saying, “I’m an infant who can’t give up his medicine. Please help me.” The games got volatile and in one a head was shaved. The guilt over desire to smoke spread and as if to vanquish it others volunteered to have heads shaved and soon men’s hair fell everywhere like in a dog grooming shop. Word of the phenomena reached the Founder at the Powerhouse. He strutted with pride. His followers bonding together to show the world. Stewdents boarded jitneys to Oakland and SM to sponsor head shaving parties to support the nicotine band. People who resisted were shunned, eating alone in dining rooms until they gave in. Instead of being told to show teeth and fuzz it was to praise Chuck or go somewhere else. Garrett said, “Abandon all and follow Chuck.” Dederich and Garrett ridiculed Eric Hoffer, the known critic of true believers. Garrett said, “It was better to believe, to have a cause to devote oneself to, to get it harm’s way.” Dederich added, “Just trust, you can’t get hurt in Synanon.”

In games addicts, now wearing ceremonial mobius loops when playing, were reminded that they were character disorders and at any moment could revert to their old behavior. Each tell was to tell his dirty rotten story and squares were pushed to find their own to be equal to the addicts. Dederich, Garrett stated, was a being of divine origin for creating the game and that all Synanon shall play the game “until death do us part.”

But creeping in like a barely visible mist was the slow eradication of the in the game and out of game dichotomy. It wasn’t just game talk anymore, one had to follow the way the wind was blowing. One had to hop aboard or get lost.

Dederich enjoyed the new publicity but told the media he had doubts the rest of society had the intellect to follow. He sadly reminisced that once in his naivety he thought when he discovered a cure for addicts “the world would beat a path to our door. Instead, we were attacked by public agencies and I was put in jail for running a hospital out of zone.”


In 1970 clinical psychologist John Enright, who was a non-resident game player for two years, wrote a chapter on Synanon for the book Community Psychology and Mental Health (Chandler Pub.) and another the next year for the book Encounter: Confrontation in Self and Interpersonal Awareness (MacMillan). He wrote Synanon was a family that led people to growth and the game was a powerful novel technique that freed people to be honest about themselves.

Executives at the General Motors Plant in the Bay Area began playing the game to break down impasses in employer-employee relationships.

But other views appeared in 1970. H. M. Ruitenbeek in the book The New Group Therapies criticized Synanon and the human potential movement as irresponsible. The use of non-trained persons leading attacks could cause psychotic episodes (as would happen with Terri Raines), particularly in a borderline psychotic who could not be so diagnosed by the non-professionals whom Dederich held in such high esteem. Carl Rogers in On Encounter Groups (Harper and Row) called the game “repelling” and complained of the “dogma” and “unrelenting attack.” But Rogers would later support similar usage at the Center For Feeling Therapy.

The most interesting 1970 article was published by Psychoanalytic Review and written by T. Sarbin and N. Adler: “Self -reconstitution processes: a preliminary report.”

Sarbin-Adler coined the terms “Conduct Reorganization” to reference methods of personality conversion that can take place in psychotherapy, military boot camps, religions and “Synanon.” The authors cited Lifton’s “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” as well as a speech of Charles Dederich.

The authors noted in these conversion processes the use of “nonrationalistic components” such as fear, breakdown, needs, isolation, rituals, dancing, fasting, drug trips, staring, closing the eyes, meditation, singing, dancing, hyperventilation and prayer. Such ritual behavior concentrates the subject on the objects, goals and means of conversion and prepares the actor for the stripping of his past status. The conversion, through symbolic death and rebirth, creates new concepts and sources of information from which a person will make a decision regarding action.

The first step, said Sarbin-Adler, is an organized and planned physical and/or psychological assault (symbolic death) on the individual creating confusion about self and beliefs. The authors noted the use of degradation and humiliation and as an example cited the “Synanon haircut.” As Chinese brainwashing differentiated earlier false confessions from the ultimate accepted confession, Synanon, they wrote, exposes what it believes as false confessions as well. It cited Synanon’s “Night of the Great Copout” where addicts were compelled to break their prior code and squeal as a repudiation of prior self.

The next step is a ritualized surrendering ceremony. After reaching rock bottom one renounces their prior self and avoids the humiliation and degradation through rebirth into group acceptance. The third step is the re-education process. The group provides role models and identifies conditions that demand compliance under the scrutiny of those with the power to enforce proper behavior.

The authors also noted the frequent presence of a trigger of “high-value stimulus” creating an ecstatic feeling, most effective if occurring at the transition point from death to rebirth. Sarbin-Adler concluded that the methods used in the programs they studied varied from Lifton “only in degree.”


Some called the 70’s the Decade of Disillusionment but for me 1970 was a good year. My law school basketball team, the Bailors, filled with guys like me who bloomed athletically later in life (I had only played “B” basketball in high school) had gone undefeated winning the intramural crown at USC. We beat teams that had guys that had been All-City. One opponent had Bob Klein at Center, who had battled against Kareem Abdul Jabbar as USC’s freshman center and later had a fine pro football career as a tight end with the Los Angeles Rams and the San Diego Charges. Winning the title was the highlight of my life at the time. Especially as I made the game winning lay up in the title game.

But public anger over the Viet Nam war erupted to a new level in the spring when President Nixon extended the fight into Cambodia. On May 2, students protesting the invasion began rioting on the Kent State campus in Ohio. They set fire to the school’s ROTC building and then cut fire truck hoses to ensure it burned down. The state’s governor ordered a curfew and sent in 800 National Guardsmen. The students, wearing black arm bands, countered with “Pigs off campus” signs. Many guardsmen didn’t want to be there, themselves opposing the war. But they were pounded with chants, curses, and worse, stones. Both sides became polarized. On May 4, surrounded on a grassy hilltop, gas-masked guardsmen were ordered to toss tear-gas at the students. But this was a generation that had become accommodated to such action, already an unsuccessful regular occurrence in the 60’s to thwart Cal Berkeley anti-war demonstrations. Brave students picked up the canisters and threw them back. On further orders, the soldiers marched forward. The crowd dispersed, then regathered. Under a hail of stones the guardsmen retreated. When they reached the hilltop again suddenly many turned and in a span of 13 seconds, 28 guardsmen fired between 61 and 67 rounds wounding 13 students, killing 4.

Five hundred colleges shut down in honor of the dead and an estimated 4 million students protested in some form. The USC Law School canceled final exams. My law school class–myself included–with our own black arm bands marched in protest through downtown Los Angeles to City Hall. At the urging of a politically conscious girlfriend I also took part in a “write a letter to the draft board” campaign. The idea was that the board would have to spend so much time answering letters they would have no time to draft. To impress her I wrote: “Dear Draft Board, I am having a hard time figuring out my number in the draft lottery. Could you help me out? I can’t seem to remember my birth date, but I am an Aquarius.”

I then left the country for the summer, experiencing my rites of passage to adulthood by being on my own for the first time, hitchhiking through Europe with a backpack, concluding by attending the famous Isle of White rock concert in which Jimmy Hendrix last performed. This would be as close as I would ever get to being a hippie. During this vagabond excursion, camping out on a beach in Androssen, Scotland, waiting for a morning ferry to Ireland, I observed my first border collie, a beautiful black and white dog dashing though ocean waves with two kids while smiling parents looked on.

When I returned my mother greeted me at the airport with bad news. My grandmother had died, my dog Troy had been hit by a car and had a broken leg, my father was recovering from a heart attack and my draft board (in response to my letter) was demanding proof that I was ever in the reserves or it would draft me. I spotted my girlfriend, Bonnie Lockrem, at the airport to meet another guy getting off the same plane.

With all that and being bombarded by law professors at the new semester start I dropped out for a week and went to San Diego. I had no idea then that Synanon had opened a house there for the second time nor would it have had any importance to me if I had. When I returned I straightened things out with my draft board but they didn’t think my letter was funny, not even when I told them I was not really an Aquarius but a Leo.

I rarely went to class my last year. Once I showed up and for doing so I got a standing ovation from my classmates. It wasn’t so much that I hated class as it was that I was confident by then of my understanding of the materials and cases I was reading. In some of the classes I didn’t attend I got the second highest score on final exams. The classes I went to were those in which the professors had more to offer than going over case books.

Most of my time was happily spent hanging with friends in the Grill or sitting by Tommy Trojan watching the girls go by in the age of mini-skirts and hot pants. I knew these were the wonder years. Once, me and a class-basketball teammate, Mike Wool, pulled a joke on Professor Richard Epstein. I found an alligator lizard on campus and we put it in an official USC envelope addressed to him and marked it “urgent.” Epstein was loved by his students. A skinny guy with thick glasses, he wasn’t far removed himself from his own student days. He loved to throw chalk at us and we threw it back. He was a jittery type. Once he drew laughter by falling flat on his face while lecturing by accidentally sticking his foot in a wastepaper basket as he paced. Mike and I handed him the envelope, saying the office asked us to deliver it immediately, in front of his first year tort class. We didn’t see the reptile jump out, by then we were running down the stairs, but we heard the class laughter as did others far across campus. Everyone took it in good fun. I had no idea then that eight years later I would be praying none of my classmates remembered it.


In February, a hustler contacted Dutch Boy Paint to score some gallons of paint. His “save a life” pitch so impressed National Land Industries, which owned Dutch Boy, that it ultimately donated to Synanon a warehouse a square block long in San Francisco Potreo Hill area. It was appraised at 1.4 million. Synanon immediately remade it into a residential facility and storage warehouse. The state’s governor, Ronald Reagan, along with Oakland’s Mayor John H. Reading, publicly congratulated Synanon for the restoration. Eight years later at my instignation it woul be under seige by the SF PD.

In the summer Detroit Mayor Roman Griss declared July 11-17 Synanon Week and urged all citizens to support the Foundation.

In October the drive continued for an eventual population increase in Synanon City. A new center was opened at 338 W, 84th St. in New York. The goal of Operation Synanon was to recruit 2000 drug addicts and ship them to California. Two hundred were recruited right away. Each had to get his own plane fare. Synanon argued New York should pay the airfare since if successful New York could save 70 million but the in New Jersey to recruit another 500.

I n December plans for a second Synanon City began with the purchase for $120,000 of 400 acres of land in Badger, a small mountain community located at an elevation of 3030′ by Highway 245 near the Highway 180 junction near Kings Canyon National park in the Sierra Mountains. It was part of Tulare County close to the city of Visalia which was about 185 miles north of Los Angeles, 220 miles south of San Francisco and 60 miles from Fresno. The city, like the towns of Marin, was based on agriculture, was founded in l852 and incorporated in 1874. Dederich liked the climate, warm and dry in the summer, mild in the winter with low humidity. He had a plaque erected on the land in honor of the late W.H. Bill Hart who originally homesteaded the property in l897.

A new sign went up over what was once the rich-patronized Pacific Coast Equestrian Riding School stating Anything less than changing the world is Mickey Mouse. 48 Synanon members arrived, 26 of high school age. Rod Mullen was now the director of education and the school was christened Camp Badger. School in Synanon was a privilege not a right. Kids were subject to the doctrine No work no eat. As in Marin, the emphasis of the school would not be courses like mathematics or English but how to grow organic vegetables and animal husbandry. Synanon prize livestock was entered in local fairs.

The standout student at Camp Badger was young Lance Kenton. His Synanon attitude made him a young role model. He had tremendous outdoors skills. Over the years he would become a legend in Synanon catching trout in streams with bare hands and doing the same on ground with rattlesnakes.

A London Times 1971 feature story on Synanon proclaimed it the United States largest and most successful commune. Yablonsky published on Synanon again, this time with the help of psychiatrist Curte Batiste. Their pro-Synanon piece in California Medicine acknowledged Synanon could produce fanatics but said the Foundation itself put them down, jokingly calling them Nazis. While they so wrote Dederich distributed an in-house recommendation list for reading and tape listening called How to become a Synanon Fanatic.

Hollywood discovered Synanon again. George Lucas used Synanites who had bald heads as extras in his first movie, sci-fi THX-38 and Robert Altman used them similarly in a film ironically titled California Split.

In July of 1971 Dr. Irvin D. Yalom, a psychiatrist at the Stanford medical school and Dr. Morton A. Lieberman from the University of Chicago department of Psychiatry published “Encounter Group Casualties” in the American Psychiatric Association Journal. For their study 209 university students entered 18 different encounter groups for a total of 30 hours each. Sixteen subjects were considered casualties, defined as enduring a significant negative outcome caused by the group participation. Most vulnerable were individuals with a low self-concept and unrealistically high expectations of change. The study found the most reliable method identifying casualties was to solicit the opinion of other group members; that the group leaders were not a valuable judge of casualty. Several casualties, as had victims of Chinese thought reform, had psychotic episodes. Some had become too disturbed to cooperate in post research. One participant committed suicide.

The groups causing almost one half of the casualties were the ones most directive, challenging, attacking and had charismatic leaders who were not shy in revealing their own feelings and values. These leaders focused upon individuals rather than the group and sought firm control over the participants. If a participant did not cry out, give testimonials or breakdown the leader increased the pressure. They treated everyone as having the same needs and having to accomplish the same thing. They also had a religious aura and this was determined to lead to their failure to discriminate between the needs of the various individuals but instead to imbue them all with the same value system. If a member resisted, the aggressive group leaders tended to accuse the member of being too infantile to take responsibility to change. Describing it as “unfreezing,” the term Schein coined for the Chinese methods of wiping away existing beliefs, they said the process applied to a person with pre-existing significant disturbance can easily lead to casualty. Negative results also were connected to rejection by the leaders, group pressure, input overload and failure to attain unrealistic goals.