Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and he’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.
Once again, Jon is taking on Scientology’s most basic beliefs and putting them under a microscope. This week, he has some thoughts for us about how Scientologists internalize L. Ron Hubbard’s toxic policies of Disconnection and Fair Game.
JON: And we’ll do even better and start out with a quote from the Dalai Lama: “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness.”
If you had been subjected to mind control, how would you know? This is a question that my eminent friend Steve Hassan has long asked members of destructive cults. Mind control is invisible to the victim. Otherwise, it would not be mind control. Hubbard echoes this with the statement that if you knew what was wrong with you, it wouldn’t be wrong, but fails to explain his own system of implanting.
The late, great Margaret Singer pointed out that exploitative persuasion works simply because we are so confident of our resistance to it. Many years ago, I ended an interview with a former executive of the ruling Watchdog Committee, and he effusively told me that the great thing about our experience was that we would never be fooled again. I stopped him, then and there, by explaining that what I had realized is that I am very gullible, so I need to be careful about what I believe, and especially careful about taking anything on trust — from the multiverse to the reality of engrams.
I have no sense of invulnerability, even after studying exploitative persuasion for almost thirty years. The leading expert Robert Cialdini points out in his essential Influence that he is a “patsy,” which is what compels his interest in the subject. Those who are most convinced of their invulnerability are the easiest to influence. Among the most damaging Scientology implants are the “only one” and “know best” beliefs, which lead to smug self-satisfaction, which precludes self-observation and makes Scientologists deployable agents of the cult, immune to reason or morality.
Scientology is a system of thought reform. It addicts adherents, so that they become willing to sacrifice everything to it, in the hope of supernatural powers and the risible belief that they will otherwise lose their immortality. While boasting of their liberation, members become ever more dependent. Phobias are induced against any other belief system, and, most of all, against the scientific exploration of the mind. While pretending to be scientific, Dianetics and Scientology have produced not a single proof of their many exaggerated claims. No proof that cancer can be cured, that IQ can be raised or that paranormal powers can be achieved. Indeed, the only study conducted by Hubbard, in 1951, failed to recover a single “engram.” He speaks of the use of “pain drug hypnosis” in this attempt in Science of Survival.
As it is, Scientology induces a “reactive mind.” Adherents become incapable of analysing problems, instead resorting to “thought terminating cliches” (in the words of Robert Jay Lifton). Rather than considering evidence, they will spout slogans. The engrams that populate this reactive mind are Hubbard’s own notions: “The way out is the way through,” “the speed of the particle flow alone determines the power,” “what you fear you become,” “absolutes are unobtainable,” “make it go right.” On and on, these unconsidered maxims pour forth, until no original thought is possible, because it would be “unethical” to disagree with the Great OT, and he has pronounced on almost every subject from running an intergalactic organization to cleaning windows. Suffice it to say that experience shows that smearing printers’ ink from newspapers onto glass is not an effective cleaning method. So much for the Technology.
Hubbard made broad, generalized claims that do not survive scrutiny. For instance, we are told that “sickness is of course the result of engram chains in restimulation” (Handling Illness in Scientology), which fails to explain his own continuing ill health after he was supposedly “Clear” or his dependence in his final days on the psychiatric drug Vistaril. It also sets aside our knowledge of viruses, bacteria, and prions. (See also Medical Claims in Scientology.)
“The only reason a person gives up a study or becomes confused or unable to learn is because he or she has gone past a word that was not understood.” But those of use familiar with the “Study Tech” know that there are other reasons, and that this “broad generality” is not true. Scientology is replete with contradictions and imperatives. It all adds up to “Ron-determinism” rather than the independence of thought claimed by Hubbard for his “processing” and “indoctrination.”
The most invidious practices at the heart of this mind control system are Disconnection and Fair Game. Sadly, both continue to be practiced automatically by former members. When I interviewed the “world’s first real Clear,” John McMaster, he described his arguments with Hubbard over the introduction of the Suppressive Person doctrine. He exhorted Hubbard to withdraw Disconnection, because it showed fear of SPs and a failure to “confront.” He repeatedly asked Hubbard to develop “tech” that would handle SPs, rather than simply cringing in fear and running away. But the purpose of Disconnection, as with so much else in Scientology, is hidden. It is not to protect Scientologists, but to keep them from hearing criticism of Hubbard. But didn’t Hubbard say, “A being is as alive as he can communicate?”
The interested reader might look at John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, where the reasoning for paying attention to dissenting views is well explained, a century before Hubbard came on the scene with Disconnection. Once we consider our own views perfect, we will become intolerant and halt any progress in thinking. Under Hubbard’s terms, there can be no science, because the beauty of the scientific method is its insistence on constant checking and rechecking, on the right to question every existing hypothesis. Where religions tend to demand compliance (with the possible exception of Buddhism), science demands new thinking and better solutions. Bigoted dogmatism has no place in any scientific endeavour, least of all a supposed science of the mind.
Disconnection is both an act of war and an admission of defeat. It can only lead to disharmony in human relations, save where it is employed in the short term to protect from an abusive communicator. I left Scientology, when I was asked to disconnect from a friend. I explained that I would never allow my communication to be directed by any outside source, and that I am perfectly capable of defending myself against any verbal communication, using reason alone. You can imagine the look on the Saint Hill ethics officer’s face.
Fair Game is the single most invidious practice of Scientology. While I was a member, I had no awareness that it had ever existed. The use of the term had long been forbidden (“It causes bad public relations”). I had never seen Hubbard’s awful assertion in the Hubbard Communication Office Manual of Justice: “People attack Scientology; I never forget it, always even the score.” I knew nothing of the criminal and vindictive tactics of the Guardian Office, as directed by Hubbard. The truth is that this behavior is inculcated in members, whether they have ever heard of Fair Game or not. Luckily, I was never infected.
I spent a couple of years digging around in Cherokee history and mythology, while writing my light-hearted thriller, Voodoo Child (slight return). I was fascinated by one concept. In the eighteenth century, a Cherokee explained to the whites he met, “War is our beloved occupation.” But the Cherokee came to realize that their cult of the blood-feud was destructive and went through a remarkable civilizing transformation. They decided that revenge, the vendetta of the Sicilians, would always lead to disharmony and hatred, so they abandoned it. They gave up war and took up farming. In a single generation, they became one of the most civilized societies the world has ever seen.
I left Scientology because of Disconnection and Fair Game. I thought that the indies wanted a Scientology without the taint of such practices. I call this persistent enactment of Hubthink post-Scientology syndrome. Those implanted with Hubbard’s beliefs cannot help themselves. The implanted suggestions act below consciousness, like obsessive compulsive disorder (or like the hypnotic victim in Dianetics: MSMH, who removes his jacket when the hypnotists touches his tie, but justifies the act by claiming the temperature has risen). I have managed to help many people remedy this condition, but it is invisible to those suffering from it, so they never, never, never ask for help. Instead, they will tell you that they are in great shape (often as not taking another drag on the cigarette they just can’t quit). Such is the nature of denial.
Of course, there are many people out there who feel justified in causing havoc for those they dislike. When we feel wronged, there is an animal urge to seek retribution. Medieval churches often had murals of Hell, so that congregations could rejoice in the torments in store for those they hated. What a strange view of Heaven — a place of comfort from which you could enjoy the screams of the wicked, far below.
Peace in Northern Ireland has not come as an aspect of government’s ham-fisted interventions, but because the women of Northern Ireland decided to cross the barrier of prejudice and talk to one another. While the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa has not brought justice, it has at least prevented a blood bath. Vendetta is the fundamental cause of war: the willingness to victimize others and ignore their humanity. Our slow climb towards civilization is marked by the willingness to offer justice to all. Maybe we will get there one day.
In the meantime, for those seeking an understanding of the dreadful consequences of such behaviour, I highly recommend Aaron Beck’s masterful Prisoners of Hate.
THE BUNKER: Jon, we want to thank you for the amazing material you’ve shared with us over the last year. You let us know that you need to attend to other things and so we’ll only see your byline around here occasionally. We’re fortunate that you’ve been sending us stuff weekly, and you’ve really helped a lot of people get a better understanding of Scientology and Scientologists.