Tom Cruise and scientology

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The subject of scientology is inextricably tangled up with that of celebrities. This is not an accident of circumstance. L Ron Hubbard actively sought and exhorted his followers to diligently seek the support and endorsement of people he called “opinion leaders”. That is, people who hold sway over public opinion or the opinions of other influential people, because they are famous or popular or have a reputation in academia or the media that can be exploited to augment the credibility of his cult long-con. Eventually, the empty promises and moving goalposts of Dianetics processes, and the religious footing that Ron took up in order to escape the scrutiny of experts and government agencies, drove away all the opinion leaders in any field where credibility and reputation matters — which left him with only celebrities and the very wealthy to exploit in this fashion.

Many people who are watchers and critics of the cult tend to shy away from the celebrity aspect because they feel it lowers the story to a tabloid level. I think this is a mistake, and it is important to instead look at which stories draw the most interest from the general public. It is always the celebrity stories that get a lot of eyes on them; in America the public loves celebrity gossip and feeling like they know why “those big stars are not as great as they think they are”. This is familiar and appealing fodder for the public, unlike most stories about scientology and its outrageous abuse and exploitation. The bizarre details in the story of the cult of scientology can be so unfamiliar and out of context in daily life as to be repugnant and cause people to turn away — until they are connected with a celebrity. With that backdrop, the same bizarre details become salacious and fascinating. To put it another way: more people have learned about scientology and its disturbing practices via the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes divorce story, than ever learned anything from the Debbie Cook story, which I considered a much bigger and more momentous scientology story by far. Debbie Cook testified in court and had inside knowledge of the billion-dollar reservoir of cash that the cult has on hand, among other things. There was very little interest from the media in this story. The reticence to risk scientology’s infamous cadre of attorneys still held strong sway over much of American media at that time.

It was not until the story of Tom’s divorce from Katie broke, and people began to openly declare that she was leaving to protect her child from scientology, that the media grew more courageous about covering the bizarre story of the cult. When they do so, it is still most often presented in the context of celebrities. Leah Remini’s noisy exit from the cult and open criticism of their oppressive practices did so much to expand that coverage. Now, people are far more familiar with the details that watchers and critics have known all along. Disconnection, and sec checks, and the Sea Org. This is the power of a celebrity tag on a story that is really about an evil cult. This is why I think it is a mistake to eschew the celebrity angle, if you actually want to get through to the same people who might be swayed to join the cult because Tom Cruise says it is great. If we critics and watchers ignore this factor, we can be sure that the cult does not, and they are then free to define the narrative about scientology celebrities. In an information war, it is never a good idea to cede that kind of territory to your adversary.

Further, these celebrities deserve to be called out and held under the spotlight as promoters of the “tech”, so that they can then answer for the abuse and exploitation that is part and parcel of that “tech”, and how they look away and allow their questions to be dismissed or silenced. Leah Remini in particular has pointed up this particular question about celebrities in scientology, with their blithe endorsements of it as something that has enhanced their lives. Are we to believe that Leah is the only one who noticed that their ecclesiastical leader was no longer making appearances with his wife, and seemed to have an inappropriately cozy relationship with his assistant? It is a lot more likely that she is the only one who had the courage to go ahead and ask an unwelcome question and not settle for being told to shut up, and that she was the only one with the integrity to then walk away from an organization that apparently does not allow freedom of thought or freedom of association, despite promising the ultimate liberation. Even Tom Cruise, who is apparently the most valorous scientologist ever, has never had that kind of “confront” when it comes to his religion and its leader.

For these reasons, when you talk about scientology, at some point you absolutely should talk about Tom Cruise and other celebrities that have allowed their images and star power to be used by the COS for promotional purposes. The list of celebrities under the sway of the cult is really pretty short, mostly b-list and below, and many of them really don’t seem to be very actively involved in their “church” beyond making donations to the IAS. Tom Cruise is not one of those, however. Quite the opposite. Tom Cruise is the man who received the “Freedom Medal of Valor” from his leader and friend, David Miscavige. He was presented with that medal, ostensibly, for being such a powerful “disseminator” of scientology tech and ethics. Many within the Sea Org, however, felt that he was given the medal mostly for being a famous movie star that was best friends with the leader of the church. He certainly could not be portrayed as making more of a sacrifice or effort for his “religion” than any one of those SO members, Most of whom live on subsistence pay and are often called upon to break the law for their faith. Tom Cruise was not even asked to disconnect from his “suppressive” wife and child, as so many others have been told to do to their loved ones who leave the cult, much to their distress.

Tom Cruise is held up as the very emblem of what a scientologist can be. He attributes his success in his career to his practice of scientology, and feels it gives him extraordinary abilities and power to save the planet.  He conducts himself, as narcissists often do, with great charisma and solicitude, which leaves people glowing in his wake and wondering what his secret is. If they attribute that to his being a scientologist, then that will certainly lead some folks to the cult. There is no doubt that Tom is an excellent PR asset for David Miscavige. If it weren’t for Tom, Miscavige would have to be the face of the cult, and those crazy eyes and uncontrolled temper of his would drive people away, not reel them in. Tom boosts cult PR, and the cult boosts Tom’s ego, declaring him the number three “big being” in the history of this planet, and some sort of moral savior for mankind. What man who has spent his whole life playing action heroes and moral warriors could resist such an ego stroke? It is no surprise that Tom says such positive things about his cult. He knows that to do otherwise would cost him all the self-aggrandizement that he finds so irresistable. To question the behavior of David Miscavige, or the constant money grabs of the IAS, by the rules of the cult, would be counter to their ostensible intention of saving humanity. That would indicate that Tom had gone insane and needed to be shunned until he got sane again. He would no longer be the celebrated big being that deserves a shiny gold medal and to bask in the presence of the shining ecclesiatical light that is David Miscavige.

With that being said, would Tom ever leave the cult? That is the question that comes up frequently amongst scientology watchers and critics of the cult. It seems obvious to outside observers that his association with the cult, and his willful ignorance of the apparent exploitation and inurement that is going on, sometimes to his benefit, is costing him a great deal that seems to be good in his life. He has lost two marriages to his devotion to the cult. And now, his power as a movie star is fading, in part because of his association with an increasingly distasteful and disturbing story. When you add in the events and reporting surrounding his divorce from Katie Holmes it becomes even clearer that there is every reason to assume Tom feels an increasing internal imperative to leave the cult. The widely reported reason for Katie leaving Tom is that she wished to protect their daughter from the impending onset of her scientology “instruction”. That is, the drills and interrogations that scientology deems an appropriate way to initiate a child into awareness of themselves as a spiritual being — a “thetan”. This twist to the otherwise mundane story of yet another hollywood divorce, was the crucial element in allowing the media to put aside their fear of scientology’s legendary litigiousness. Tom’s religion became a fair topic for reporting, because it was apparently an element in the story of his divorce. It could not be characterized as bigotry or prurient interest in a highly personal matter. With Tony Ortega providing leadership to the media in the form of some well-written articles defining the stakes for Katie in terms of what was ahead for Suri in her father’s “church”, there was a sea change in reporting on the cult and its mad practices. That change persists to this day, and the media’s curiosity about the subject, and their willingness to milk it for all the sensationalist value possible, has lead to a very different environment for the cult in this decade.

It is also a very different media environment for Tom Cruise. Where he used to be able to effectively control the conduct of interviews with him, with his publicist dictating to reporters and media outlets that the topic of his religion is off limits, now he must simply avoid most media outlets and speak only to those known for sticking to softballs and celebrity ass-kissing. If Tom were to open himself up to the kind of media junket most movie stars do to promote a movie, he would soon find himself being asked some uncomfortable questions about his religion, his marriages, and his behavior. He would find that he is not the universally beloved action hero that he once was to the average movie-goer. Tom would be confronted with the hierarchy of public affection, as it applies to the story of his divorce from Katie Holmes. In the eyes of the public, the child is always number one — she is young, lovely, well-behaved and doted on by her mother. Katie comes next in terms of affection, because of this. Katie kept quiet through the entire divorce process, leaving the public to decide for themselves what her motives were in leaving. As details emerged concerning the steps she felt it necessary to take to get out of her marriage — the disposable phone, the cover story about developing a script about a single mom, etc — the media and the public began to form an impression of her as a woman who stood up and said no to an unhealthy situation imposed on her and her daughter by Tom Cruise. The stories fed to the media about how shocked and hurt he was, and how cold-hearted Katie was for dropping a surprise divorce on him, never took root. People had not forgotten how Tom had treated his ex-wife Nicole, and he got no sympathy on the whole “ambush divorce” angle. This is when it became clear that his standing in the eyes of the public was degrading, steeply. Tom came in last in the competition for public affection, and that will be his position from now on. No matter what he says or does, unless Katie were to trash her image and Suri turned into a brat, he will remain at the bottom of the list.

The important question is, what is Tom’s personal hierarchy of affection? Tom has made it clear that David Miscavige is his personal hero, and presumably he believes David should be an object of even greater applause and adulation than Tom himself. However, it is also clear that Tom loves being a star, he loves the public affection he receives, and he loves being the hero in the movies he makes. Even Miscavige himself has emphasized the importance of Tom’s celebrity as his means for dissemination to “billions of people on this planet”. When he is confronted with a situation where one is pitted against the other, he is put in a double bind. He is caught between two competing investments, psychologically. Being a devout and sincere scientologist as defined by his best friend David Miscavige, and being a beloved celebrity who is spoken about with respect and admiration. If these two are at odds, that dichotomy can create a real ego crisis for him. It begs the question; which is more fundamental to maintaining his ego intact — being a good scientologist, or being beloved and respected by the public? In considering the answer to this question, it is important to remember that he sought celebrity before he ever heard of scientology and often refers to scientology’s value in his life in terms of how he imagines it has enhanced his career as a movie star. This suggests that being a movie star is the real bottom line for Tom.

Tom Cruise must eventually realize that he is stuck on a false dichotomy. When he realizes that there is a way to remain a “good scientologist”, while also rescuing his beloved celebrity status from the corrosive effect of David Miscavige and his abusive behavior and remaining popular and respected by the public, that would be a turning point. He could come off as brave, and strong enough to admit he was “misguided”. Tom could announce he is disaffected with growing corruption in the hierarchy of his church and unanswered questions about it.  Then, heroically walk away and declare himself an independent scientologist, courageously reclaiming his right to practice his faith on his terms regardless of any authority. He could even claim that it took losing Katie to wake him up, thereby reclaiming some public sympathy in that situation. This would be the move of a powerful, big being, who is in fact free and fully in possession of himself. That is the irony of Tom’s situation, joined at the hip to David Miscavige, and dependent on his validation, while Miscavige puffs him up as the most powerful and free being in the world, and has control of his entire life. Tom’s career choices, marriages, relationships with his exes and his children, and especially his money, are subject to the “ethics” dictated by scientology, via David Miscavige. Being under the thumb of another man doesn’t support the assertion that Tom is a heroic and powerful being. It would be surprising if this has not already occurred to him.

It really comes down to one question — how much has David Miscavige persuaded Tom of the necessity of his leadership and influence? How much does Tom conflate the power of his religious beliefs with the leader of his religion? That’s hard to say. Tom keeps quiet about Miscavige most of the time, and in any case he is an actor capable of projecting any emotion with conviction. He could persuasively pretend to suck up to important people in his sleep, I’m sure. He has seemingly been persuaded that being a good scientologist means absolute unswerving dedication to the agenda and ego of Miscavige. If Tom should change his mind about that, then it would be a simple matter for him to become an independent scientologist, if that is what he wants, and to reclaim the good will of the public and his standing as a go-to guy for big box office returns. This is true to some degree for any celebrity scientologist. Whatever secrets the cult may hold over their heads, culled from recorded auditing sessions, would cause far less damage to their image and career than a continued association with an allegedly abusive and psychotic cult leader. Here’s hoping that all the celebrities who have been shilling for the cult can wake up, and walk away for good.

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Still Watching…

“Clairvoyance”. Digital sketch, by the author, 2014

Venusia Blog is back!

We have been dormant here for more than a year. Cult-watching is not my only vocation, or even my primary one. I am an artist and I have been happily occupied learning a new medium — digital painting. I am also a mom, and a wife, and daughter, and a friend — these things have happily occupied my time as well. So much so that I simply could not justify dedicating the time necessary for writing blog posts that would be worth reading. I have maintained the blog, tracking comments, etc. So far, the posts I have written have aged well — I still think they are worth your time, and I encourage any new visitors to read them all. I was content to let those posts stand, while life kept me busy in other ways.

But, I have not forgotten about the cult known as scientology, and the evil they continue to do in the world. Everyday I check in with the Underground Bunker, Tony Ortega’s blog on scientology current events, practices and policies, and wild and wooly history. I have read several books, and written several articles that are ready for posting in the near future, and I have a lot to share with all of you on the subject of scientology, and other subjects seemingly related and unrelated. There is plenty to write about on the subject of the COS. What a year the cult has had! So many court cases are pending against Narconon. And scientology brought back the legendary retinue of lawyers when Monique Rathbun filed suit against several “church” entities, seeking relief from the relentless harassment she has suffered simply because the cult leader David Miscavige is mad at her husband, Marty.

There are a lot of things for us to talk about and look at in the ongoing saga of this abusive cult. I am looking forward to spending the summer sharing the ride with all of you good folks out there.

Peace.

 

 

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

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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

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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?

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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

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, a great novel with cult themes.

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Japanese author Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite writers. His book about the Aum Shinrikyo cult and the Sarin gas attacks in Tokyo is an excellent and thorough exploration of the topic. The book, Underground, consists of two collections of interviews — with the victims of the Sarin attack, and with former and then-current members of Aum. It also includes an essay about cults and a society’s reaction to them. I highly recommend it.

His latest novel is entitled 1Q84, and it is of interest to scientology watchers because the plot revolves around a cult. One that bears some similarities to the COS, as well as Aum Shinrikyo. The story begins with Aomame, a young woman with an unusual occupation as an assassin for a just cause; and also Tengo, a young man who finds himself involved in a scheme to sell a strange teenage girl called Fuka-Eri as the “next big thing” among Japanese writers. Their stories intersect when Aomame crosses over into an alternate timeline, and in the course of her work for a woman known only as “the Dowager”, she is tasked with gaining access to the reclusive leader of a strange religious group.

Through his entanglements with the young writer, Tengo also finds himself confronting the reality of this strange group and their bizarre rituals. Rituals that involve improper relations with underage girls, and “little people” from another world. As well as punishments involving isolation and manual labor, or even confinement in a small space, and prominent leaders who have gone missing or died under questionable circumstances.

Eventually, Tengo’s own childhood memories, as well as circumstances beyond his control, drive him to a long-anticipated reunion with Aomame. She has carried the vivid memory of a brief childhood bond with Tengo, but never let herself hope to see him again. Fate draws them together, and when they are both hounded by a cult “enforcer”, she leads him to escape.

It is a strange and remarkable story, like all of Murakami’s fiction. The cult angle makes it particularly interesting for scientology watchers. You will find many moments of recognition. But be warned, Murakami is not for everyone! This is a long novel, translated from the Japanese, and it is just as bizarre and nebulous as any of Murakami’s stories. So if you are annoyed by a slow pace or stories without tidy answers, you may prefer to read a synopsis. However, if you like surreal stories, with complex storylines and amazing imagery and characters — you will enjoy this novel. I recommend it!

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Another review from IndieBound.

And one from the NY Review of Books.

An interesting article from The Atlantic, about the process of translating this novel.

Someone’s Watching…

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

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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.]