Who will be God?

by Paul Morantz
( c) may 2011

In February of l974 in s tape recorded and printed speech, “Chuck Derdeich Talks on Rearing Children,” Dederich publicly acknowledged what they were doing with children was an experiment. But he explained the word “experiment” did not mean a departure from something successful. As an example of the unsuccessful he spoke of his own upbringing and his failure as a parent.

“Now we’re doing something different in Synanon,” he said. “We’re doing something that enrages the rest of the population. One thing you know that I have always used as a rule of thumb is whenever I do something that enrages the rest of the population, I know I am on the right track.

“Modern education is pretty much a failure. It is not a very good deal. It doesn’t work very well. And cultural evolution and physiological evolution — — isn’t so wonderful. It isn’t always guided perfectly by the hand of God. It produces specialized forms that can’t live very well unless the environment conditions are just one very definite and certain way. And the notions of bringing up children based on that gut level implications that the way the neighbor down the road raises his kids is the right way, and that we are somehow experimenting and we don’t know what the hell we are doing, is something dangerous.

“The way I was raised was a mindless experiment. I was raised the way I was raised because my mother was raised that way, and that went on all way back to generations. Our parents did not know what they hell were doing. They didn’t.

“The way I grew up…its ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. I never got to find out about my potential at anytime in my entire life. What potential I did find out, what kind of endurance did I have…I found out late in life when it was very difficult for me to do. I was raised in that class of people. I didn’t know kids who were graceful at doing all these things…who could dive off a 10 foot tower, do a front or back flip off a low board.

“Because of a very funny kind of life, my daughter was raised primarily by Betty and by the whole Synanon community. Most of her male contacts were with other men, not with me because I was kind of untouchable as I was the Chief. And it affected her somehow. I’m not very physically affectionately with children. I left my boy when he was just a youngster — seven years old–now he has turned up in Synanon. There is a real physical affinity with children.

“I like to think that we rear children rather than educate them. I think the children, probably like other animals, will do a much better job educate themselves if we devote our efforts to monkeying around with the environment. I think concentrating on the children is the problem. I think we should concentrate on the environment, the appliances and the junk they play with, the air, the water, their view, the furniture, all that kind stuff, and let the kids alone. Let the kids find their way around and through and over what we provide for them.

“In the average American home, a kid cannot practice how to get along in the world until he is grown and away from his mother’s apron strings. Our kids are, I think, learning to making their own deals right away.”

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating in this respect. Our values have produced a world today that is on the verge of being ruined for human habitation. The cruelty and the inhumanity, the fact that most of a sit around fat, sassy and greasy within a mile of the most God-awful ghetto that God ever produced. That is the result of the way our parents raised us.”

“They should not fear change, he said. “The first automobile wasn’t as good as a horse and buggy yet today large trucks were hauling 15 to 100 tons of earth from place to place and they were building great cities with them. “Really, to be human — — it would seem to me — — one must be aware that he can change things, and then he must do it. So that’s what we’re doing.”

He was also doing this as a favor to women, to give them the same challenges facing them as men have. In creating their competence they would maintain their desirability. But they can’t, he said, have their cake and eat it, too. “The big slavery of women in modern life is that they are tied to that one child for eighteen years. What Synanon has done for women is to release them from that kind of bondage.

“As you get to be my age, and particularly in my position where I have an overview, I get most of my kicks looking and watching and seeing things. As women lose youthful charm, women can become more attractive — even sexually — because of the air of confidence. They know what they are doing.

Now children were being put through physical camps. “After 90 days they are going to be the best kids in the whole place physically and physical excellence is important to children much more than it is to adults. They’re going to know how to punch, too; they are going to know how to do as they are told. They won’t be sissies and babies…10 weeks ago the kids were crying and sobbing from running 100 yards and now they run 5 and 6 miles a day. The fact is that we allowed that and we permitted them to grow up in that way. Their imprinting is changing completely. It just might be that we have a hell of a good deal going.

“I think all kids raised in Synanon should be raised as rich kids. They should be able to play a game of tennis, those with natural aptitude should play a good game. I think every boy and girl should learn how to hit a golf ball, to ride a horse, a bicycle, a motorcycle, to sail a boat. These kids will know how to run and to throw and everything else. Jesus Christ, every kid should be able to sing. Savages can sing. And they all should know how to draw. Dancing, certainly. Figures say kids spend three hours a day on their ass watching television. That’s unthinkable. The differences between the class of people who don’t enjoy the life experiences is contained in games and how they play. All animals play, and human beings are much more imaginative about their play.

“The appalling thing to me about Synanon is so many of the people in Synanon don’t know any kind of athletics very well. We got $20,000 worth of tennis courts. We don’t use them…In Synanon we are not growing up on concrete. They all grew up on concrete. Our kids don’t grow up on concrete.

Dederich put to rest the fears that the experiment would prevent true parent-relationships. “Children tend to be like their parents, because they walk like them, talk like them, look like them and everything else,” he said. “You won’t lose your children. That’s impossible in the great melee of kids in Synanon…Its natural for children to be fond of the parents, and there is a reason for it. There’s nothing mysterious about it. I just happens. You like people who look like you.”


Worried he didn’t have enough dope-fiends for the IRS Dederich found a new market—juvenile delinquents. He let juvenile probation officers and judges across the land know Synanon could rehabilitate them to. Like the fine job the army had done with his son, Chuck would change the wayward youth. He established the Punk Squad, a boot camp in Tomales Bay for juveniles between 10 and 18 where the newcomers, plus kids deemed disobedient, were routed out of bed at 5 AM to make their beds and stand by at intention for inspection before the morning run led by ex-football player Buddy Jones. The rest of the day was spent at hard work such as digging, building, and tree planting. All had their hair “clipped”. If they showed good Synanon character they could enter Synanon school or become apprentices. The concept was the forerunner of the future “scared straight” andbillion dollar industry of “wilderness camps” and programs for wayward youth. The latter lead to multiple deaths, imprisonment and torture of children allowed by duped parents. These programs were far worse than the punk squad as they were run by social path who turned over the care and treatment to teenagers who had themselves been abused and provided horrible living conditions. As bad as the punk squad would become, it was leased run by adults, who while going way past the money, had some limits. The industry that has followed when it comes to mistreatment, most apparently have none.

But punks were unlike the adult dope fiends who had been through enough and wanted something else. Many of the kids were defiant, arrogant and proud of their ways. “Act as if” didn’t work Dederich had grown too proud to accept their disrespect and too impatient for re-education to occur. He decided to teach them their bettors outright by making a bend in the rules against violence. A punk, he stated, could be hit. Knocked to the ground to get his attention. Dederich called it a return to an old-fashioned educational posture: “We knock a kid on his ass if it doesn’t behave properly. I was educated that way in a Jesuit high school. I think it did me a lot of good to have some great big son-of-a-bitch in a black nightgown occasionally put his nose right up to mine and growl, “Dederich, do you want to have your teeth rattled?”
The community, as always, mirrored Dederich’s attitude. Rod Mullen, who along with Jones, was in chagre, called them “wild animals” that needed “house breaking.” It wasn’t long before kids started escaping, taking their chances by running to neighborhood farmers for help even though they had been warned the farmers were likely to shoot them on sight.
Allowance of hitting was soon to spread to the entire minor community.


Dederich said that Synanon should be rich, that “the world can’t be changed from an orange crate in a Salvation Army dump.” In that vein Dan Garrett continued to work on the tax problem and on July 19, 1974 he submitted to Dederich, at his request, a document entitled “A Proposal to declare that Synanon is a Religion.”

Garrett pointed out that under the existing law for the two years, unrelated income of a religion is nontaxable and by being a religion Synanon would have this full exception until 1976. Even after 1976 when unrelated business income for religions may be taxable, he believed determination of what is related or unrelated is different for a religion than a charity and as a religion does not have to file an informational tax return is Synanon would not have to face an annual reporting to the IRS. The government’s ability to determine what was related to the religion would be severely hampered.

Garret wrote of additional benefits: “The last point which occurs to me is that we would eliminate a number of silly questions such as ‘when due they graduate?’ Nobody graduates’ from a religion. It is possible to split or become an apostate. Graduating from religion, however, is a concept that very few people would even entertain. Insofar as obedience is concerned, it is always crucial to the practice of one’s religion that one obeys the tenants of the faith.

Dederich liked the idea. He had the Harvard boys to develop it–Howard Garfield, the boy legal genius and divinity student, and Steve Simon who had researched Synanon’s history. It wouldn’t be hard to back up. Didn’t Guy Endore struggle with it in his book in the 60’s? Maillet just two years ago made the analogy. And didn’t they worship by gaming in a Stew Temple. They had holidays, The Night of The Great Cop Out, Mad Dog Saturday. Their own version of Passover with bent spoons. It wasn’t such a big leap to go from a small “r” religion to a big “R” religion. It was really all done with words. Game loops were now religious sashes. They could be whatever suited them best at the moment. They could flip the religious box. No one had to give up any religious affiliations. Synanon was an add-on religion. It wasn’t centered on a story of God and creation. But about the worship of the spirit of man and a religious dedication to his betterment.

In August of 1974 the Board unanimously proclaimed Synanon a religion and Synanon III was born. In the eagerness to do so forgotten was the question handwritten on the bottom of Garrett’s religious proposal:
“Who will be God?”


As had occurred with drinking and smoking, doctors warned Dederich of the health hazards of his excessive weight. He liked the idea of dieting and exercise as it was something he had never done. Although he clearly had strong forearms, he had never been an athlete, a Grey Thompson. And what he did to improve himself was always what was best for all.

Several years had now passed without a new notion and now with rumors spreading members gathered anxiously in the Shed on an August Friday night. At 9 p.m. the lights lowered, the drums echoed and the Synanon Video Department cameras clicked to record. Two women Ph D.’s entered the stage dressed as nurses, each carrying a candle. The audience howled and then applauded as next Dederich followed lying on a stretcher carried by white gowned attendants, three of which were Synanon doctors. When the cheering stopped, Dederich jumped off and walked to the microphone dressed in yellow tennis shoes, shorts, a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses. One arm was in a sling and one knee encased in an ace bandage. Struggling, he limped to a microphone.

“You’re not going to believe this, but I got in this shape after only 28 days of aerobics.” When the crowd stopped laughing Dederich imposed the new rule. “Thou shalt be physically fit, thou shalt exercise….We are going to add to the toughening of our emotional muscles, you know, we exercise those all the time in the game, by exercising our physical muscles.

“Since doing Aerobics I don’t require much sleep, thinking is clearer and I have a tremendous feeling of well-being. It’s been 20 years since I ran with both feet off the ground at the same time. Felt so good dam tore the ligaments right off my knee.”

Again they all laughed as if a cue light above had gone off.

“Since we quit smoking,” he continued, “I had the notion we would be a healthy community but very people do anything athletic here. We have only about 7 tennis players, the courts go unused, the horses unridden, there are no ball teams.”

Garrett, Dederich stated, had showed him aerobics, and after just two weeks he felt energetic and awake. He flashed a book on aerobics by Kenneth Cooper, M.D. As Frank Rehak struck up his band Dederich began running in-place. Then he cupped imaginary breasts saying “This is how Betty does it.”

When CED finished, a physician took over and gave details. Everyone was to report in the morning and learn running in-place 12 minutes a day to be done six days a week. This was the new cardinal rule, it all happening in just one week after Dederich decided it would.

Aerobics was the latest Synanon obsession, long before it would emerge as the craze in the outside world. The next morning each took a mile and-a half field test. By Sunday the whole community from kids to grandparents were jogging in place–huff and puff–under Dederich’s watchful eye as the band played on. Aerobic areas were set up in each facility with formats and full length mirrors. Aerobic charts, posters, badges and hundreds of copies of Cooper’s book circulated. Sales teams performed in their road rooms. Those who slacked were dealt with in the game. Dederich loved to observe the game pressure. People were squeezed in or squeezed out and both made Synanon stronger.

By the time of the next 7.6 mile Francisco race 200 Synanon residents, old and young, entered. And the Synanon basketball team had become good enough to play an exhibition game with a team from the San Francisco 49ers.