Futurist Spreads Her Message of Unlimited Human Potential

Times Staff Writer

When she was 21, Barbara Marx Hubbard challenged one of her father's friends, then-President Dwight Eisenhower, to explain the purpose of power. She stared into his electric blue eyes, he into her searching brown ones. Then he responded, "I don't know."

The intellectual daughter of a tycoon toy maker, Hubbard was seeking the meaning of life. What do you do when you have enough things? Enough power? If Eisenhower didn't know, she would have to find out herself.

Today, a small band of supporters believes that Hubbard, a futurist with a spiritual bent, has an answer in the message of positive human potential she has been spreading the past 14 years. She has spoken at the U.S. Army War College, the Georgia State Legislature, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Johns Hopkins University and to national business and religious groups. And last year--unnoticed by many--she addressed the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco as a candidate for the vice presidential nomination.

But Hubbard, now 55 and a resident of Irvine, describes herself as a "premature person," someone ahead of her time. "I've been a prophet of potential," said the silver-haired grandmother, leaning forward in a chair in her modestly furnished town house. "I came in with a vision of the potential of the human race before the question about its long-range future was in people's minds."

"Failure" and "disappointment" are not in Hubbard's vocabulary. Summing up her yearlong, grass-roots campaign for vice president, she said, "I was like a laser beam: in and out so fast, I wasn't seen."

Her "Campaign for a Positive Future," based on the ideas of Abraham Maslow, Teilhard de Chardin and Buckminster Fuller, called for a Peace Room instead of a War Room in the White House and an Office of the Future under the vice president. The office was to identify innovative breakthroughs in solving worldwide problems, bring innovators together and publicize positive news.

The vice presidential campaign succeeded in raising about $200,000 but ended $35,000 in debt. Faye Beuby, one of Hubbard's campaign managers, said the campaign at tracted thousands of "dentists, doctors and lawyers" as well as "grown-up flower children" who set up 90 Positive Future Centers across the country to, as Hubbard puts it, "communicate holistic values politically."

"She represented a hope that hadn't been there before," said John Scherer, a management consultant who set up a center in Spokane, Wash. Many of the 200 loosely organized members of the Positive Future Center in Spokane are now active in local environmental issues, he said.

But others mistakenly connected Hubbard with Karl Marx or L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology. The major media paid scant attention to her.

'Shocked' Party Regulars

Nevertheless, without any political experience, Hubbard, a former Republican, managed to persuade 202 Democratic delegates at the national convention to sign a petition that would permit her name to be placed in nomination and allow her to speak. Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros were also seeking the vice presidential nomination but didn't make it as far as Hubbard.

Beuby said mainstream Democrats were "shocked" that Hubbard managed to gather the necessary 200 signatures to be nominated. At the end of her 18-minute speech, televised nationally along with the rest of the convention by C-Span cable network, she pledged her delegates' votes to Geraldine Ferraro.

It is not unusual for "idea" candidates to receive a nomination in order to make a statement, said Oregon's Democratic Party Chair Dick Celsi, who nominated Hubbard for the vice presidential ticket. He said he liked her visionary message and believed she should have an opportunity to speak. However, most delegates were unaffected, he said.

Hubbard says she is naturally timid. If so, she has overcome timidity in a spectacular way. Once described as "beyond chutzpah," her talks often include 15 billion years of history, starting with the Big Bang theory of creation, covering cellular development and ending up in intergalactic space, with a call for earthlings to shape their own future. In the past 14 years, she has, among other things:

- Asked NASA to give her a leftover Apollo spacecraft for a citizens' mission to the moon.

- Sponsored 25 interdisciplinary conventions (called Syncons for "synergistic convergence") that brought together leading specialists to share problem-solving ideas.

- Written an autobiography and a 1,600-page evolutionary interpretation of the New Testament.

Earnest and wide-eyed, she calls herself a "volunteer on planet Earth," driven by "God, the source" and a "deep, deep love of the creation of human potential."

The product of a "Jewish-agnostic" upbringing, Hubbard is the oldest of four children from the first marriage of the late Louis Marx, a self-made multimillionaire who was one of the first to mass-produce toys using plastic. She was a romantic and philosophical child, discussing Plato at age 9, recalled her sister Patricia Ellsberg, wife of activist Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers case, who is now working with the nuclear freeze movement.

Aided by Wealth

Money is one reason Hubbard can afford to follow her dream, suggested her sister. Marx once gave her $25,000 for her citizens-to-the-moon project and $100,000 to help finance the Syncons. Hubbard acknowledges she is a millionaire but said her inheritance is tied up in Marline Resources, a New York oil company owned by her brother Louis Marx Jr. However, she helped finance the Syncons with her own money and said she loaned her vice presidential campaign $70,000.

A cum laude graduate in political science from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, she is now divorced from Earl Hubbard, a New York artist. For two decades, she said, she played a supportive role to her husband, raising their five children in the Connecticut countryside. Meanwhile, she devoured books on psychology, cosmology and science.

Friends thought she was neurotic, she said, following what she describes as a mystical experience in which she knew her purpose was to tell mankind it was "one body being born into the universe." Then she wrote to Jonas Salk, who, she said, "freed me to be myself" by affirming her purpose. He encouraged her to create a Theater of Humanity at his Salk Institute, then under construction in La Jolla. (Plans were made, but the theater never materialized.)

Her autobiography, "The Hunger of Eve: A Woman's Odyssey Toward the Future," candidly tells of a passionate, but platonic and unrequited love affair with Salk which, according to Hubbard, began over lunch with him saying, "Barbara, I need you. You and I are scooped out of the same genetic material" and ended some years later at another lunch when, oblivious to her misery, he casually mentioned he had fallen in love with "some woman" (Francoise Gilot, an artist whom Salk later married).

Later, Hubbard lived for 12 years with John Whiteside, former chief of the Air Force Information Office at Cape Canaveral.

Along the way she cultivated supporters from the rich, powerful and intellectual, including Maslow and Fuller, Norman Cousins, Sargent Shriver, government officials such as former NASA administrator Thomas Paine and businessmen such as Bon Ami Co. President Gordon Beaham, who funded a 13-part television special called "Potentials," an interview program hosted by Hubbard.

According to Edward Cornish, president of the World Future Society and editor of The Futurist magazine, Hubbard represents an "important and generally neglected aspect of futurism: the element of values of human destiny." However, some of the more scientific futurists find her questions too mystical or insubstantial, he said.

Her campaign advisers suggested that when addressing mainstream audiences, she cut back on spiritual phrases and futurist jargon such as "systems crisis" (breakdown of traditional values), "quantum transformation" (the leap into the coming new condition), "aligned intention" (harmonious relationships), and "critical mass" (the number of people required to spark cultural change).

Changed His Career

"Sometimes it's hard for people to deal with her on a day-to-day level because she's always thinking about larger things than balancing your checkbook," said Alan Ladwig, manager of NASA's space flight participant program. Ladwig said he changed his career direction from business to the space field after attending Hubbard's "Mankind in the Universe" conference in 1970 as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University. He recalled that many people were amused by her notion that people could fulfill their potential through the space program. "But here it is 14 years later, and we're flying citizens in the shuttle," he said. (The process of selecting a teacher for the first citizen space shuttle flight, set for 1986, is now under way.)

Ladwig chaired Hubbard's first Syncon, a conference in which 300 participants sat in walled-off sections of a circle 100 feet in diameter, according to their disciplines, and talked over their needs, resources and priorities, he said. As the conference progressed, the walls came down and the government officials, scientists, psychologists and artists mingled, sharing ideas. It was an "uplifting experience" that inspired many people to take their lives in new directions, Ladwig said.

Seven Syncons were sponsored by the Jamaican government; one was held in Los Angeles for members of rival gangs in Watts, Hubbard said. In 1972, she and White-side traveled to Yugoslavia at the request of then-Yugoslav ambassador to the United Nations Lazar Moisov, who wanted his country to host an international Syncon for "every antagonistic group we could find," Hubbard recalled. But then, she said, Tito "closed down on free speech," and the project came to an end.

Since Whiteside died two years ago, Hubbard has spent much of her time on the road.

She is still searching. What she asks herself now is: "How does a visionary penetrate the material world?"

'Overcome Separateness'

"The requirement now is to limit the inspirational outreach in order to ground the ideas," she says. While she is creating a lecture series for the Church of Religious Science in Huntington Beach and a summer program at Mount Shasta, she is also starting a business, Co-Creation Inc., to market her books, tapes and lecture services.

In her lifetime, Hubbard firmly believes, she will see "humanity overcome separateness on a mass level," communication with life on other planets, a new generation of more intelligent people and a space habitat. With typical optimism, she says she is sure to be selected eventually to go on a space shuttle.

But she said she won't run for vice president again.

"Someone else might carry her idea further," said The Futurist's Cornish. "But without having the idea, without promoting it, the idea would never be realized."

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