Think back. Think waaay back (if you can) to Wilhelm Reich, once the science darling of the Establishment, with a single, simple idea that governed everything:
The spiritual hysteria that Reich inspired in the America of the 1940s and early ’50s is as hard to explain now as the madness that 1920s crowds felt hearing Bix Beiderbecke play the cornet, especially when you consider that most Reichians were supposed to be educated skeptics and cultural critics. Even—or especially—intellectuals are not immune to America’s chronic and recurring religious revivals in their various forms.Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Dwight Macdonald, J.D. Salinger, Paul Goodman, William Burroughs and other bohemian culture heroes were among his followers: examples of what Lionel Trilling unsettlingly called “the moral urgency, the sense of crisis and the concern with personal salvation that mark the existence of American intellectuals.” Reich won a particular following among intellectuals, artists and cultural spokesmen who were looking for a new revo
ution after becoming disillusioned with communism.
– Henry Allen, “Thinking Inside the Box: Why some of America’s most prominent minds fell for the wildly eccentric ideas of Wilhelm Reich,”The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2011
Reich was the prophet of the “apocalyptic orgasm.” No, really. And did any big brain get suspicious on account of his
claim to have explained everything with his discovery of the very ur-stuff of the universe, called “orgone,” in a pot of beef stew, among other places.
Like any good cosmic Darwinist, he saw how his theory explained everything. And anything it didn’t explain most likely didn’t exist.
And his legacy?
More than half a century after his death, Reich still lures believers. Amazon lists more than 100 books on or by Reich. (I stopped counting.) There’s the American College of Orgonomy, founded by a Reich disciple, and the Institute for Orgonomic Science. The Orgoneblasters site promises that it will use orgone to protect you against aliens, in the spirit of Reich in Arizona.
No. Not like Newton. Not like … the average small town hero.
Does his legacy prophesy that of evolutionary psychology? Channel your inner ape for $100? Easy, simple, we understand you?
Hat tip: Five Feet of Fury