Sunday, April 09, 2006


Despite the electromagnetic fascination that cults of the 1970s have always held for me, I somehow missed, entirely, Synanon. But yesterday Trev and I visited the grounds of its former headquarters, now the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall, north of Pt. Reyes. The grounds are actually state parkland with public trails and a spectacular view of Tomales Bay. In 1912 the land was purchased by the Marconi Telegraph Company as a wireless telegraph station, later acquired by RCA and then sold several more times before coming into Synanon's hands.

Synanon started as a rehabilitation program for drug and alchohol addicts, an alternative to Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous which emphasized self-reliance as opposed to reliance on a higher power. The Synanon prayer includes lines like "Let me understand rather than be understood," which I rather like. But Synanon itself then became a church; there was the usual partner-swapping and brutally honest encounter groups (known as Games), and then, as always in these stories, the time arrived to amass weapons. They never killed anyone but they did leave a rattlesnake in the mailbox of a lawyer who'd sued them. The Point Reyes Light reporters who exposed the operations received Pulitzers.

You can still see the dormant antennas from the Marconi days, and one imagines the Games and halluncinatory "Dissipations" and the paranoia growing on the silent, occult hum of radio waves.

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