Engineering Consent — why do people stay in scientology’s “Hole”?

20130101-112932.jpg

aerial view of Scientology’s “Hole”

One of the most troublesome aspects of the scientology cult, and cults in general, is that participation is apparently voluntary. People sign up of their own free will, and they remain a part of these groups by their own choice. In discussions about scientology’s ersatz executive prison on their Int Base, widely known as “the Hole”, the point is often made that a raid or rescue effort would be pointless. Most, if not all, of the church execs being confined there would tell any investigating authority that it is their choice to be there. There are accounts of some people being physically removed to the Hole by force, but there are also accounts of people who decided to leave and successfully pushed through the cult’s resistance to get out. It is hard to explain how that qualifies as forced confinement.

This being so, then what is the problem? This is a question often raised by those with little information on the subject, and by cult apologists as well. If people have consented to the way they are being treated, can we really call it abuse or a violation of their dignity? Is there anything to criticize in scientology, when we are talking about consenting adults who have chosen to be a part of that organization, or to exercise their parental rights to bring their children into it? In fact, what the hell are all you cult critics getting so wound up about? What could be so bad? Maybe you just don’t like scientology, or new religions, or maybe you are one of those suckers who got taken and now you are holding a grudge and that’s why you make these ridiculous claims about “dangerous cults”.

These are legitimate questions, I suppose. But they are rooted in certain incorrect assumptions about human psychology and behavior. More troubling, to me, they reflect a lack of compassion and concern for other people when they are suffering by their own hand, as it were. Laying aside the question of children and young adults who are abandoned to or coerced into the cult; we must respect the fact that consenting adults can be misled, preyed upon, and defrauded. As a society, we have laws against fraud and so on, that make it clear we do not wish to live in a “dog-eat-dog” environment where predators and con-men bear no responsibility so long as they get the consent of their victims. We have declared a collective intent to protect each other and ourselves from such wrongs; through the legal system, as well as on a human level through the sharing of information, observations, and warnings.

Dismissing cults as voluntary and their victims as weak-minded or gullible is part of a comforting mindset, which allows us to believe that we could never fall victim to such a thing, because we would never consent to be exploited or preyed upon. But this attitude fails to account for the reality of human nature. In reality, our thinking and decisions are not as self-directed as we wish to believe. There are many aspects of our own minds which are necessarily unconscious, and perhaps unexplored. There are many ways and opportunities to manipulate a person’s thinking, and to leave them believing beyond a doubt that their ideas and choices are their own. This information is widely available, from authors and others who often have developed methods to take advantage of this aspect of human nature. Anyone who wishes to thrive in advertising, or in prison, or as a con-artist, or as a guru, must master these methods of manipulation, and they do.

If we are ignorant of the reality of human vulnerabilty to mental manipulation, it only makes it easier for these folks to do what they do. When we say, “that could never happen to me, my mind is my own”, the manipulators are the first ones to agree. “Yeeeesss… that’s right. No reason to examine the matter further.” Ignorance and arrogance are a very dangerous combination, and a boon to manipulative predators. With these thoughts in mind, I want to share part of a paper I came across some time ago on the Ross Institute website. It addresses psychotherapy cults, and co-counseling in particular. The part I wish to share is a section titled “The Engineering of Consent”. It is an excellent exploration of the subject, and I hope you find it informative.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

The following is an excerpt from:
“Group influence and the psychology of cultism within Re-evaluation Counselling: a critique”

By Dr. Dennis Tourish and Pauline Irving

The entire paper, including references, can be found here.

The engineering of consent

Consent or agreement with a certain theoretical orientation, freely given, implies that people retain the right to ask questions, examine alternative sources of information and review their initial commitment to the organisation concerned. What can be termed the engineering of consent threatens all these basic knowledge and action levels, undermining the right to withdraw consent and leave. Agreement is extracted through pressure, the right to question leaders is withheld, alternative sources of information are absent or ridiculed and people are systematically pressurised into escalating their level of involvement.

What has been termed ‘mind control’ operates by taking such aspects of social influence and exaggerating them to the extent that people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour are manipulated to the greater gain of the manipulator, at the expense of the person being influenced (Zimbardo and Anderson, 1993). Clearly, most human interaction consists of attempts to influence the cognitions and behaviour of others, while interaction within a positive reference group is inherently inclined to encourage the development of shared norms and behaviours (Turner, 1991). However, cults are characterised by attempts to close down choice, restrict information flow, discourage the expression of dissent, focus group norms along narrowly prescribed lines, exaggerate participants’ sense of commitment by extracting public statements of loyalty (often after participation in faintly humiliating rituals) and dominate the normal thinking process of affected individuals (Hassan, 1988). Conway and Siegelman (1992) describe the communication techniques of American cult leaders as follows:

“Most rely on the use-and abuse- of information: on deceptive and distorted language, artfully designed suggestion and intense emotional experience, crippling tactics aggravated by physical exhaustion and isolation.” (p.86).

Similarly, lies or even “being economical with the truth” appear designed to recruit people through a process of extracting commitment and then forcing a decision. For example, RC initially offers low cost, peer group counselling. The full extent of the group’s organisation and programme is not immediately made clear. Nevertheless, a commitment to some form of counselling activity is obtained, and sounds on first hearing much more acceptable than joining a crusade to save the world. A person is likely to imagine that they have delayed a decision to make such a total commitment, perhaps indefinitely. However, they soon find their initial levels of activity rising: “come to one more class,” “attend one more workshop,” “read an extra pamphlet this week.” Whether they have consciously decided anything becomes irrelevant: a real commitment has been made to the organisation. They may then find that their attitudes are changing to come in line with escalating levels of commitment, and will eventually reach such an intense pitch that a formal decision (if it needs to be made at all) is only a small final step – a classic demonstration of cognitive dissonance theory (Turner, 1991). The manipulation of this process is, of course, a hallmark of salesmanship in general, whether the products are second hand cars, encyclopedias or global salvation.

Temerlin and Temerlin (1982) list a number of characteristics which they argue are common to psychotherapy cults, and which in terms of the above discussion can be construed as mechanisms for engineering consent. Summarised briefly, the following are the suggested main criteria for the identification of psychotherapy cults:

1. Charismatic leader figure, with authoritarian and narcissistic tendencies;

2. Idealising of leader by followers. Frequently the leader is hailed as a ‘genius’, and is at least considered the supreme exponent of the group ideology;

3. Followers regard their belief system as superior to all others, and a more rational investigation of alternatives or the empirical verification of key concepts is discouraged.

4. Followers frequently join group at time of exaggerated stress in their own lives, when confidence in their own independent judgment is likely to be low.

5. The therapist becomes the central focus of follower’s life. The group concerned absorbs increasing time, energy and commitment.

6. The group becomes cohesive. Illusions emerge of superiority to other groups. In particular, much of its energy is focused on idolatry of leader.

7. The group becomes suspicious of other groups. Links with others are discouraged, ensuring that ideas which do not originate within the group are ‘translated’ for the group’s benefit by leader figure.

It is clear that these processes are particularly applicable to organisations which depend largely on group based activities. There is considerable evidence to suggest that group attitudes are inherently likely to be more extreme than individual attitudes (Moscovici and Personnaz, 1969). Janis and Mann (1977) have established that groups also have a tendency to develop illusions of invulnerability, an exaggerated sense of optimism, and stereotypical images of other groups, while silencing dissent in their own ranks, compelling members to suppress their own feelings of doubt in order to conform, and develop illusions of unanimity (since outward expressions of dissent are curtailed).

Many organisations and groups are aware of these processes, see them as problems which impair objective decision making and take steps to counteract their influence (Moscovici and Doise, 1994). Cult organisations, on the other hand, sustain and exaggerate them, since by definition their existence requires uniformly slavish behaviour on the part of members. The problem is compounded because it seems that even as individuals we have a tendency to exaggerate the correctness of our own decisions, mislabel the behavior of others and imagine that our judgements are more soundly based than they actually are (Sutherland, 1992). This tendency can be manipulated in the context of group membership, to give people an exaggerated sense of the group’s uniqueness and level of insight into the problems which society faces. In contrast, it has been shown (Hirokawa and Pace, 1983) that better quality decisions are reached by thorough examination of options and the setting of rigorous criteria for decisions, alongside systematic examination of the validity of assumptions, opinions, inferences, facts and alternative choices. It is precisely this iconoclastic approach which cultist organisations discourage. Thus, if we follow a group which reproduces the habits outlined by Temerlin and Temerlin (1982), our capacity for independent judgement is seriously impaired, our attitudes will develop along lines prescribed by the leader of the group rather than what logic, observation or personal experience might dictate, we find ourselves deprived of sufficient information to choose between a variety of options and it is possible for the leaders of the group to engage in behaviours which to an outsider can only be described as abusive.

If you want more, the Ross website is a good place to start, with lots to read and plenty of links. Information is power, and there is always more to be learned.

Watchers, keep watching!

The Value of the Past; or, Lost In Liminal Space With Commander Sisko

20121230-151720.jpg

Photo — The amazing Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko

As food for thought, and as a meditation for the New Year, I offer my thoughts on the significance of the past, with some reflections on LRH and Star Trek: DS9 in the mix. Enjoy, and I wish you joy and blessings in the New Year!

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Liminal. I have a friend who is very fond of that word. “I am in a liminal space, in terms of where my life is headed right now.” I heard him say this many times a few years back, when his life was in flux. What does it mean? “Liminal” means “on a boundary or border”. Another way to say it might be in between, or “border-ish”, to borrow a term from Stephen King. Psychologically, to be in a liminal space, like my friend, generally means to be in transition. Crossing over from one place, stage, or state of being, to another. The liminal space is that place which is both, and neither. The place where the old is dying, and the new is being born, and neither process has reached fruition yet.

Birth. The solstices, New Years Eve. The end of the 13th b’ak’tun in the Mayan calendar. Death. These are collective experiences of the liminal. Birthdays, weddings, graduations, changing jobs, leaving a church, divorce, illness, death. These are personal experiences of the liminal. When we find ourselves in a liminal space, we are called — in ways both big and small, subtle and profound — to lay the old to rest, as we begin to perceive what is newly emerging in our lives and make space for that to grow.

What does it mean, to lay the old to rest? “The past is past”; “water under the bridge”; “baggage”. Clichés which make it clear that in our culture we presume that the past is useless, a burden to be left behind. Carrying “baggage” means we are holding on to past experiences in a way that creates a burden in the present, and a barrier to the future. Putting the past behind you is presumed to equate with opening the way for new — and better — things to come. There is truth in this idea, but a problem arises when we carry it too far. It is important that we do not end up seeking an escape from our past and the impact of our experiences, in the belief that this will somehow make us whole.

My training as a healer includes extensive education in a field known as Somatic Psychology. Body-centered psychotherapy, and Dance/Movement therapy are the modalities I practiced when I was a therapist. This included a great deal of training in trauma issues, and pre- and peri-natal experiences. One of the foundational precepts of my training was that the way we have dealt with the pain, injuries, and overwhelming experiences of the past has a direct bearing on our ability to function and thrive in the present. Conversely, our way of being in the moment — movement, posture, breath, our blind spots, strengths and limitations, and habits of thinking — offers a great deal of information about our past experiences and how we have coped with them. Especially when we are not conscious of the memory, or of it’s true impact on us.

Scientology watchers will see that there are certainly parallels with scientology in my training. Naropa, where I was trained, and it’s associated programs such as Windhorse and Friendship House, have been a good place for some very troubled ex-scis to land, because of this parallel. The past is incredibly important in traveling the “bridge to total freedom”. Auditing is essentially a process of calling up (or mocking up) memories, fleshing them out in detail, and then applying a type of emotional extinction technique to eliminate the ostensible impact of the past in the present. However, Hubbard did not invent any of these concepts. Pre- and peri-natal memory, memory retrieval and extinction, and trauma disorder theory did not come from the “Source”.

In my experience, for ex-scientologists, researching the origin of these concepts and how they evolved can be a valuable part of shedding the cult programming. (It is not the topic here, but I will offer some links at the end for those who are interested.) Hubbard co-opted these ideas and twisted them to his own ends, and part of that was to convince people that past is pathology. Instead of regarding our personal history as a source of information and fodder for growth, he portrayed it as something to manipulate or shed — using his “tech”, for a small fee. This was, of course, an important element in keeping his “church” profitable. Everyone has a past, no one is conscious of the whole thing.

The past can serve as a kind of catch-all, where we can put the blame for everything that is wrong now. LRH sold the seductive idea that we can somehow return to some native state of infinite potential and calm, if only we can “unmark” ourselves by erasing the past — or certain select parts of it. The presumption being that the lingering impact of our past experiences and choices, in this life, can only be what keeps us stuck in our confused and limited state. In scientology, auditing serves to free us from this inherently limiting impact of our past. When we reach the limits of our past in this lifetime, we delve into past lives and their impact. Eventually, we confront that impact as an external, invading parasitic force, known as body thetans. The past is literally a pathogen, and must be sloughed off in the name of “survival”. Of course, this is easy to interpret as a projection of Hubbard’s own unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions and choices, and their lingering impact.

Hubbard seems to have created an entire system designed to negate the reality of his own unpleasant past — by erasing what he could with lies and processing, and diminishing the importance of the rest by inventing a context of billions of years. A context in which the span of one lifetime, and certainly one act within that lifetime, is utterly insignificant. The core identity becomes an abstraction, a “thetan” that has experienced everything and is limited by nothing — an empty assertion describing something that has no meaningful way of manifesting within our human experience, with it’s inevitable messiness, limitations and confusion. There is nothing you (as a thetan) don’t already know, and nothing ever to correct or apologize for, because the “whole track” renders it all unimportant. There is nothing you cannot do or be, no human limitation or obligation you are subject to. This is an incredibly corrosive ideology, which demands that you renounce your humanity — the part of you that can be deeply affected by your experience, and carry that impact forward into the next experience, as well as feel compassion and empathy for the limitations of others. It is a recipe for dissociation, even psychosis, and sociopathic behavior.

It is also a reflection of a cherished conceit in our western culture. Whatever the agenda — planetary clearing, self-actualization, total enlightenment, etc. In America, we are very fond of the idea of “reinventing” ourselves in the name of moving forward. We firmly believe in the promise of “starting over”, of beginning a “new chapter” in our lives. We “wipe the slate clean”, “cut all ties with the past”, or “find closure”, so we can “keep it moving”. We are even willing to embrace disaster or catastrophic loss, by focusing on how it provides us a “new beginning”. We will kill a relationship or partnership that is still viable, but in need of nurturing — “let it burn” — so we can find a new happiness sprouting from the ashes. Or so we say.

Is this really true? Is the secret of happiness and well-being contained in our ability to sever ourselves from what is past, or to manipulate and control its impact? No, experience has taught me that this is a kind of escapism. It is the product of a deeply dysfunctional value system that revolves around denial and abdicating responsibility for the impact of our actions and choices. It is a way of compensating when our functioning creates a result we dont wish to deal with. It is Mark McGuire, sitting in front of a congress investigating performance-enhancing drugs and talking about how he does not want to dwell on the past, as a way to avoid simply saying what he did and when. It is the government, refusing to investigate clear evidence of heinous war profiteering by American defense contractors in Iraq, because it is too painful and divisive to look at and we need to move on. It is L Ron Hubbard, ditching his wife and taking to the high seas on a grandiose mission to save mankind, in order to evade responsibility and avoid scrutiny for his dishonest actions and false promises.

The true value of the past is revealed when we confront it head on, and own it as a part of who we are today. This is how we keep moving forward on whatever path is formed by our life circumstances. Think of it this way: our experiences are the ground on which we walk, and our habitual response or applied training and wisdom are the way we walk that path. The impact of the past exists as a charge or momentum in our movement. Attempting to deny that impact collapses that charge and has the paradoxical effect of keeping us stuck in those past experiences. If we have done something wrong, our feelings of remorse and responsibility are what drive us to make amends. When we have been hurt or suffered a loss, our pain and anger can propel us to seek justice or find some way to make our loss meaningful. When we acknowledge our past and the emotional impact it has had on us, emotion becomes a momentum, propelling us forward.

Which brings me to an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that explores these ideas in an elegant fashion. The title is “Emissary”, and it is available on DVD, Netflix streaming, iTunes, etc. (season 1, episode 1). In this, the premiere episode of this series, we are introduced to some great characters in a difficult situation, where they must live in the aftermath of a very ugly past. In particular, there is Commander Sisko, the “captain” in this series. He is a Starfleet officer, a war veteran, and a father, who lost his wife years earlier under terrible circumstances, in the midst of battle. He has never dealt with this traumatic loss, and is a very bitter and tortured man because of it. Now, he finds himself stationed on a distant post, in a turbulent area, with a young child; he is unhappy, and he is contemplating a “clean break” with the past.

Before he can do that, however, he has a mission to carry out. In the process, he finds himself dealing with spiritual matters, and strange artifacts that give him a vision of his painful past. Ultimately, Sisko is led to an encounter with entities known as “the Prophets”; aliens who live in a “wormhole”, outside our space-time continuum. In the process of making “first contact” with these aliens, Sisko finds he must explain such basic concepts as time, death, and love. His communication with these aliens is entirely telepathic, and they use people and images from his own memory as a medium and context for the conversation. Thus, Sisko finds himself talking to his late wife, his child, and others from his past as he attempts to explain. Revisiting key moments in his past, the Prophets probe him for understanding of the nature of his existence. Linear time is a very strange concept to them, and Sisko attempts to explain how we leave the past behind and move towards the future. He even attempts to use baseball as a metaphor, as seen in this clip.

Yet, they keep returning to the traumatic moment in time when Sisko lost his wife, and the prophets ask, “if all you say is true, then why do you exist HERE?” Confronted with her body, Sisko asks “why do you keep bringing me here?” The prophets reply, “we do not bring you here, YOU bring US here. You exist here.”. At first, Sisko does not understand. When he finally stops, and really looks at where he is, he breaks down and finally grieves his loss. The Prophets help him realize that the nature of his existence is NOT linear. The past is always with us, and how we relate to it is a part of our existence in any moment. (see the clip here, the first 1:30 of this video)

I highly recommend this episode, and the entire series. Sisko’s journey is a remarkable one, from the perspective of trauma and healing, and the role of spirituality and destiny in our lives. There are other equally compelling characters, and each one has a past they must confront and learn from. Major Kira Nerys, a former guerilla fighter on an occupied planet, who must learn how to cope with peace and freedom. Jadzia Dax, who has a unique physiology as a “joined” being, a young woman with a very ancient parasite inside her, sharing her consciousness and seven lifetimes of memories. Odo, the “shapeshifter”, who has no idea what he is or where he comes from. Deep Space Nine is all about reconciling the past and coping with an unforseen future. It is dark, and contemplative, and ironic. It is my favorite Star Trek series. I hope you check it out, and allow it to inspire some reflection on the meaning and value of the past, as we move into a New Year.

Peace.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Some informative links; explore them!

An article on memory extinction, including a basic definition:
“Memory extinction is a process in which a conditioned response gradually diminishes over time as an animal learns to uncouple a response from a stimulus”

-Memory extinction research at Scientific American

-Pre- and peri-natal psychology article on Wikipedia

-Pre-natal memory research at Scientific American

-Another therapeutic approach using Pre-natal and early memory

Somatic Psychology article on wikipedia

-An overview of the origins of somatic psych

Loaded Words

20121118-134819.jpg

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The power of language, and what we commonly refer to as “loaded words”. What does that term mean? There are many definitions of the word “load”, incuding the most obvious one in this context: “To charge with additional meanings, implications, or emotional import”. This is what most people mean when they say a word or question is loaded. But when we look at the way we use language, another meaning becomes obvious. Words function as weapons, and they can certainly be loaded — in the ballistic sense of inserting an explosive charge.

Loaded words are words with explosive potential, or the potential to wound others. People often use loaded words or ask loaded questions as a way of waging verbal combat. In the world of blogs and comments, this is what “trolls” do. Loaded words and questions are a good way of provoking a desired reaction in others. Sexist, racist, or homophobic terms, polarizing political statements, religious judgements, personal insults, and so on. Words become ammunition, and slinging them accurately, to have the desired impact, is the point. Trolls do this as sport, with no concern for the power of language to inflict lasting damage. Think of it as a kind of target practice, aiming to provoke.

However, it is possible to use loaded words with a constructive intent. Sometimes it is even necessary. For example, in the course of waging an information war against a greedy and destructive organization. One that is doing grievous harm to people while manipulating language to hide their practices. As a scientology watcher, I find myself sometimes using loaded words in my comments and observations. When you enter the arena of belief, psychology, and the promise of spiritual growth, there is a lot of explosive potential. I try to choose my words very carefully, and there are a couple of loaded words that I use deliberately in discussions on scientology. I would like to talk a bit about those words: “cult”, and “evil”. As well as one other word I have come to recognize (thanks to Derek Bloch’s comments) as quite loaded for scientologists, “responsibility”. I am not aiming to establish definitive meanings for these words, but rather just to acknowledge their explosive potential and when it might be used for a positive purpose.

Let’s start with the word I use most often — “cult”. This is an important word for scientology watchers. One that some writers on the subject avoid using, for various reasons. I have heard many persuasive arguments against using this word. Including the simple fact that it is a loaded word, and thus can be a barrier to constructive conversation. The argument that resonates most for me is the idea that it simply reduces the victims of such groups to caricatures — robots or “kool-aid drinkers” who are too mindless to avoid their fate. When people hear that word “cult”, according to this argument, they just stop caring.

I get that. Some people will just turn away from the whole subject because it is so weird and foreign. It seems the natural human impulse is to turn away from what makes us uncomfortable. But I think it is a mistake to deal with this response by avoiding the word. A cult is a very specific type of group dynamic. There are varying definitions, but there is a point where these definitions converge — a cult is generally not a group that people want to join. No one signs up for a group that calls itself a cult. This makes the word itself a very valuable red flag. You can steer people away from a group that is doing harm by calling that group a “cult”. The word itself is ammunition in the battle against abuse by such groups. My primary objective in using the word is to indicate a danger in joining the group in question. If it feels like a bit of a slap, so much the better to get your attention.

Yes, some people are insulted when the term is applied to their group. It is true that it belittles an affinity group or belief system to call it a cult. That is the point. When I apply the word “cult” to a group, I want to reduce it’s value in the perception of others. When I use this word in reference to scientology, I intend to make sure the person I am speaking with does not seriously consider joining up as an option. When I say, “scientology is a cult and a scam”, I am saying “no matter how benign or appealing it seems, stay away”. Perhaps those who are offended by the word will be inspired to look more deeply at the reasons why some feel it is appropriate, or even necessary.

Moving on, let’s talk about a word that I use infrequently and usually with some caution: “evil”. I am generally reluctant to use the word because it is a strong word, but not clearly defined. So it tends to confuse matters more than it clarifies. But I have learned it is helpful to distinguish evil actions and evil intentions. I am reluctant to talk about evil in terms of intentions, or the internal character of a person or thing. I have no problem with talking about evil in terms of actions, or the impact someone has on others.

The word “evil” has certain religious and moral connotations. In religious discussions, the word is used as a statement on the essential nature of a person or thing. Evil things must be avoided or eradicated, because the very substance of them is corrupt or decayed, from a moralistic point of view. In the tribal sense, outsiders and their foreign aesthetics and values are often regarded as evil, because they evoke fear and confusion. In either case, labeling a thing as an evil makes it fair game for elimination, without remorse or hesitation.

So the word can be used to manipulate perception, and control group behavior. Many ugly examples of human behavior in history came to pass when someone sold people on a particular idea of evil, identified that evil in others, and then called for the elimination of that evil. Our sense of what qualifies as evil can be irrational, based in a visceral response to the unknown the identified “outsider”. It’s impact is atavistic, because in our modern conceit we feel we are beyond such simplistic dualities as good and evil. We don’t have practical criteria rooted in our modern lives. This only makes it that much more powerful as a trigger, as leverage in a manipulative process.

To avoid such abuse, a pragmatic approach is very important in confronting evil. A focus on actions and impact, as opposed to intentions or essential nature. It is very easy to make that distinction between intentions and actions as a scientology watcher, when you see accounts from the victims or witnesses of their worst practices. There are really too many horrors to enumerate in the history of scientology, but here’s a story, from Jesse Prince on a.r.s., that can stand for all:

“It was the summer of 1992 and I was desperately trying to leave the Int base any way I could. I was living with others who were also trying to leave. We were all kept in an old house known as the Old Gilman House, or OGH, which also served as the ‘isolation house’ for physically ill Sea Org members.

“A Sea Org member of ten years plus, Diane Morrison, who was approximately 30 years old, had been diagnosed with cancer. Scientology is paranoid about X-rays and gamma rays, and they refused to let Diane get chemotherapy. The two Scientology doctors, one was LRH’s personal physician, prescribed a course of vitamin therapy and auditing to cure Diane’s cancer.

“Finally, one of the doctors told her to let go so she could just die. Diane stopped eating and drinking after that, and she turned into a walking skeleton. She was in constant pain and would moan and scream day and night. Her husband, Shawn Morrison, drove her, screaming and moaning, to his mother’s house where she was laid under an air conditioner. Diane died within two days. She did not die of cancer. She died of starvation. Shawn was upset because he had to miss post time to drive Diane to his mother’s house.” {-source here}

Reading that, it becomes clear that what matters is not the beliefs or group identity of the people involved, but rather their actions. No one would argue that this is a tale of good deeds done by a good group of people. Most people would agree that the doctor, especially, did an evil thing. Believing in scientology and embracing the “tech” of LRH is not evil. But encouraging someone to kill themselves because they can’t be cured with vitamins, in order to preserve your beliefs; that is evil. A woman with potentially treatable cancer dying of starvation because she was told it was her only salvation — that is evil.

Whatever you believe, if you are inflicting suffering on others, depriving them of their well-being, sowing the seeds of this behavior in others and/or providing the means for them to do it, that is the cause for concern. These are the concrete elements of evil. The word is useful, for the purpose of designating as a society when one has crossed the boundary from narcissism to actively harming others. Be selfish or foolish in any way you must, but not at the expense of the life and liberty of others. If you cross that line, we as a society have a responsibility to stop you.

Which brings me to the final word I want to discuss today: responsibility. If you are not familiar with Derek Bloch’s story, you should be. He is an ex-sea org member, abandoned to the cult by his parents when he was a child. Shunned by most everyone he knew and loved in the cult when he told the truth about himself and his experience. If you have any doubt that the COS deserves the label of an evil cult, Derek’s story will convince you. But he got out, and has become an eloquent and powerful voice testifying to the impact of LRH’s tech on the mind and heart of a human being.

I have learned a lot from him, and in particular, I have learned that for scientologists, “responsibility” is a very loaded word. It is a word that is often used as a weapon, as a way to push your buttons attached to being a “good scientologist”, or the idealism that lead you to embrace the cult in the first place. Ethics correction often involves being verbally harangued about your responsibility, in a way that is designed to lead you to capitulate to the demands being made on you. Admit your crimes! Report on your loved ones! Give us the money! Once you recognize that you are responsible for your own problems, and for suppressing others, and for not clearing the planet, you have lost your sense of self and it is very easy for others to drive you to do things you otherwise would not.

Of course, it is not only scientologists that are vulnerable to this word. Responsibility is a confusing subject for most people, and another easy lever for manipulation. Madison avenue understands this, and many advertisements targeting parents will play on this weakness: “responsible parents use our product/service, why don’t you?” Politicians often exploit our desire to evade responsibility, by offering scapegoats or volunteering to run things for us. An effective tactic, because the word can be a heavy weight on the psyche, one we would rather not be reminded of.

Again, a pragmatic approach, as opposed to a moralistic one, is helpful. When responsibility is a moral burden, one that reveals the flaws in your character or judgement that you must answer for, it is an uncomfortable thing to be avoided. People will go a long way to avoid answering for actions of which they feel ashamed. But when responsibility is literally about the ability to respond, to make a difference or mitigate suffering or harm, it is empowering and desirable. Confronting others or ourselves on matters of responsibility should be about what we have done, and can do about a situation. This approach is the one most likely to motivate others to act in ways that make a positive difference. Isn’t that the point?

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Interesting sources:

on cults

Excellent panel discussion on BBC Big Question: Religion or Cult?

Steve Hassan mind control info site

Cult definition on Wikipedia

on evil:

Wikipedia definition of evil

General thoughts on the subject

From a criminal-case perspective

On the power of language:

Korzybski on language and perception

Bob Wilson on language and hypnosis

A very old Bob Wilson on language and liberation

Someone’s Watching…

20121030-215615.jpg

Yes, it’s hard to see, but don’t look away. Horrible things happen when no one is watching.

***********************************************

Let’s talk about Jonestown.

If we are going to talk about cults, and their deadly exploitation of the human need for meaning and hope, we have to talk about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. In many ways, their story is our cultural emblem of what a cult is. The phrase “drink the kool-aid” emerged from this sad case, although it is not accurate. First of all, it was “Flavor-aid” in that vat, and a large percentage of the victims didn’t drink it. Some were injected, in the back, with cyanide. Some were forced at gunpoint to take the poison. There were around 300 children and babies that had no choice. They were fed the poison by their parents (who had some reason to hope it was all a drill or loyalty test, and not really poison) or by Jones’ enforcers. Those babies died screaming in pain.

I now realize, that is the first thing I want to do here: honor the victims of the Jonestown Massacre, by dispelling the trite myth that they all shuffled to their doom like programmed zombies. Or the comforting idea that they were simply so gullible and stupid or needy that they just swallowed everything they were given — crazy cult beliefs, Flavor-aid, abuse, whatever. This is so far from the truth, and demeaning to the dead, it makes me angry. It is important to know the whole story about Jonestown. It illuminates something about how we as a society can intervene effectively to prevent such tragedies in the future, just by paying attention.

Jim Jones had the same bizarre charisma that all cult leaders have. The stories you hear about him are the same as all the others: Charlie Manson, L Ron Hubbard, Shoko Asahara, David Koresh, Adi Da, JohnRoger, etc. Every one of these monsters was/is a “shape-shifter”, in a sense. They could pour their enormous charisma into the form most pleasing to their target audience, leaving an overwhelmingly positive impression. They could also be overwhelming in their contempt, or in their rage, when confronted with criticism. So much so that they could stop any real self-scrutiny within the group before it even began.

It is of the utmost importance to understand the power of such charisma. If you have ever met a real “star”, or someone with what we call “starpower” — that is a similar experience. If you have never interacted with someone that has great charisma, it can be hard to understand the kind of “pull” such a person can have on others. It is subtle and non-verbal; perhaps involving what is commonly referred to as chemistry, or energetics. Non-verbal elements of human behavior are outside the domain of rationality, so long as they are not recognised or understood. This means that we in our rational culture are generally unprepared to deal with them, until we learn enough about them.

Most people never learn that much about it, so when they encounter a person with that bizarre charisma, they take the experience at face value. Instead of recognizing the “master” as powerfully charismatic, and thus someone to be wary of, they are simply amazed at the impact such a person has on them and others. Meeting someone with true charisma is intoxicating, for anyone. In that intoxicated state, people are easily influenced and programmed. Jim Jones was extremely skilled at this. He was an absolute master at the cult long-con, until he went crazy with paranoia from his addiction to speed.

Jones started out with the usual minister scam of faith healing, but he was more thorough than most con-men. He used common tricks like sleight-of-hand and planted cases, but he also drugged people to mislead them or control them. He had loyal followers dig through trash and call relatives of new members under a false pretext, to get information that would make his “healing” more believable. (Sound familiar, scientology watchers?). He was a convincing performer — to this day, there are former members who believe he actually removed cancer from people and whatnot. Now that is persuasion!

Jones cultivated the usual facade of charity and hospitality to lure in new members and gain support from the community. But behind that facade, he was frighteningly effective at reading the politics of his time and playing them to his benefit. Racial disenfranchisement and segregation were matters of great concern. Jones made a cozy niche for himself by exploiting the pain and suffering around those issues. Those who were struggling for equality were shown an ideal community where people of all colors would be respected as peers. Black people saw the promise of relief from the pressure of discrimination. White people saw the promise of relief from the guilt and unease of living in a society that is unjust in their favor.

He also played into the trauma of the disenfranchised, filling them with fear that they would be targeted for challenging “the system” so effectively. As Jones’ addiction and paranoia increased, he did everything possible to sell his congregation on the idea that they were under seige. Even going so far as to fake being shot, so he could miraculously recover, and reap the benefits of being a “risen martyr”. He scared the shit out of his followers, a great way to bond a group together and foster blind loyalty.

These canny ploys reaped numerous benefits for Jim Jones. He had the fierce loyalty of many people who were “helped” by the temple and saw it as a safe harbor. More importantly, he had the deference of local officials whose campaigns benefitted from Jones’ support, who were reluctant to be seen as obstructing someone perceived to be doing so much to help poor blacks and elderly folks. So when reports of abuse and sexual shenanigans and harassment of ex-members surfaced in San Francisco, folks who had used Jones to get ahead in local politics, like Harvey Milk, just refused to pursue them.

When ex-members and concerned relatives spoke about the paranoia and violence and rehearsals of mass suicide, and Jones calling himself God while trampling on the bible — before the Jonestown massacre — no one wanted to take them seriously. This is why Jonestown happened, not because people in the cult were too weak to say no — but because no one was listening. When people did listen, they vastly underestimated the real danger. By the time authorities were willing to take a hard look at the abuse, it was too late. The willful ignorance of the community and larger society is all the shelter any crazy cult leader needs to bring about horrible tragedy. That is why being a watcher is important.

“The price of freedom is vigilance.” That idea is often quoted to justify war-mongering and reactionary foreign policy. I have always seen a different meaning there. There are many kinds of freedom, and cults take away freedom of a kind that can’t be reclaimed by force. For instance, in discussions about freeing prisoners from scientology’s Hole on their Int. Base in Hemet, people sometimes suggest sending in the police. Then the point is made that this would do no good, because the prisoners would deny they are being held against their will. These people lack a freedom of the mind, one they can reclaim only through a willingness to look, and see things for what they are.

There are many kinds of vigilance, but they all involve watching out for potential danger or harm by looking carefully. Very simply: our freedoms are taken from us when we refuse to look at what is really happening. We must be willing to watch, willing to see what is wrong or corrupt, and willing to name it to ourselves and each other. That is the best tactic to avoid being exploited or trapped in a bad situation. Or for someone who is in such a situation to get out, and stay out. Watchers, keep watching!

Some interesting sources:

•Read — A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres. An excellent book with a strong emphasis on the humanity of this story.

•Watch — The Final Report: Jonestown. A good short (45 min) docu from Nat Geo, summarizes evidence released in bits and pieces over the years.

•Blog — Jonestown Apologists Alert. Written by the son of one of the reporters who exposed Jim Jones, and who was targeted by his followers; this blog ain’t hearing no apologist bullshit!

•Listen — the actual recording of what Jim Jones said to his followers leading up to their deaths. [Warning, this is disturbing. But I feel it is important to hear the scare tactics and lies he used to coerce them. As well as people arguing for survival.]

It All Started With Charlie Manson…

Image

20121023-203613.jpg

Why am I a scientology watcher?

There are a couple of motivations — a moral one and an intellectual one. I have discussed my moral impetus in other places. It is simply abhorrent to me to see people’s spiritual hunger exploited and perverted — which is what cults do. I have my reasons for that, but those are deeper waters than I wish to take you into right now. Right now, I want to share a bit of my intellectual mindset as a sci-watcher. Someone who has never been in the cult, but is nonetheless compelled to speak out against it. Why do I care about this, out of all the wrongs in the world?

I have been fascinated by psychology and abnormal human behavior since I was a very small child. If you find that hard to believe, you probably don’t know me. People who know me, know that I am a mutant freak and always have been. I was born scary-smart, and when I entered kindergarten I already knew how to read and write and had a huge appetite for learning. I was tested and labeled and whatnot — a true wonder kid.

My elementary school was THE case (literally) for educational inequality and busing in my city. Busing began when I was 6 years old and it had many implications for a kid like me. I was educated at a time when an extremely gifted little black girl like me was a golden opportunity for all the progressive white teachers around me. Not to indict their motives; it WAS the times. In any case, I was encouraged to indulge every intellectual curiosity.

“Abnormal” psychology was one of my areas of curiosity. I saw the Jonestown images as a child, and the made-for-TV movie. I took it as evidence that people can be fooled into ANYTHING, once something in particular goes wrong. This was typical human nature, in my view; so many examples in history of people following a leader on a crazy or evil mission.

I was far more interested in the “Manson Family”. I saw that TV movie too, and I guess that piqued my interest. But mostly, I was born on the day of the murders, and I always felt marked somehow by that fact. I read as much as possible about the case. (I know far more about those murders than a healthy person should.) It led to an intense curiosity about the strange extremes of human behavior, and why and how people are led to those extremes. Jim Jones was much easier to understand, as a typical authority figure — a minister. No surprise he was able and willing to abuse that authority. Charlie was a homeless, dirty drifter who had spent years in prison. He was no authority on anything other than cons. Yet, he managed to seduce wealthy famous people, strong and capable young men, and sheltered suburban daughters. He enticed some of them to murder. WTF?

My curiosity has always been, what makes people do such things? What is the dynamic between cult master and cult member, that facilitates shocking breaches in general human mores against murder, graft, sexual abuse, and so on? There are a lot of opinions, a lot of facile explanations available in the marketplace of ideas. After years of undergrad and graduate study in psychology, I have encountered most of them. But none that satisfy me. For me, it remains an open question: why and how do people get involved with cults?

Scientology caught my attention in the eighties, and I have watched it ever since. Although I kind of turned away after they bought out CAN, and it seemed they were gaining legitimacy with their celebrity schills. After the apparent progress made by critics in the eighties that seemed to promise an end in sight, that was just too hard to watch. Still, my familiarity with the crazy things that actually happen to people in cults was very helpful in my later work. I just didn’t have the time or desire to keep up with their latest shenanigans.

With scientology in particular, there was a dearth of information, or people willing to talk about it, for a long time after the Time magazine article and subsequent lawsuit. Other cults were mostly ignored, except by the tabloids. There wasn’t much for cult-watchers to see during those dark days of the early nineties. The flowering of the Internet has changed all of that. It is so easy to watch scientology now, and boy is it fun to watch! It remains fascinating to me in a way no other cult can be. It is a current affair, the crazy is not all in the past the way it is with other cults. When you know it is happening NOW, it is much more compelling. You can even communicate with the people involved directly, get information straight from the source.

Of course, finding Tony Ortega’s blog at the Village Voice really renewed my interest. What a surprising and wide-open window into the fascinating phenomenon of scientology’s practices and impact. This is a man who knows his subject, and is committed to reporting on it as thoroughly as possible. Watching this thing unfold in real time is an amazing experience. Then, soon after I began following Tony’s blog, the comments began to function as an extension of the stories. That is the part that got me hooked. Being able to participate in and influence the discussion about this whole topic, in a public forum, is deeply gratifying. All my reading and study, and personal experience, can actually be of service in a small way.

So, now you know more about why I care about the topic of scientology. It all started with Charlie Manson…