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Honesty in Scientology: Jefferson Hawkins Helps Us With Another Ethical Quandary

What are your crimes?

What are your crimes?

Jefferson Hawkins was once the top marketing executive for the Church of Scientology and helped it reach its greatest extent with the famous “volcano” TV ads in the 1980s. He’s told his tale of getting into and out of the church with his excellent books Counterfeit Dreams and Leaving Scientology, and he’s helping us understand the upside-down world of Scientology “ethics.”

Last week you eased us into the dynamics as we continued to read into Introduction to Scientology Ethics. What’s next for us, Jefferson?

JEFFERSON: This week we’re looking at Chapter 2, innocently titled “Honesty,” which introduces some of the main concepts of Scientology Ethics: overts, withholds and motivators.

THE BUNKER: Let’s define those terms for the newcomers.

JEFFERSON: This is part of the specialized language of Scientology. Fortunately, the chapter begins by providing a list of definitions. An “overt,” we are told, is “a harmful act or a transgression against the moral code of a group.” That’s pretty straightforward. And “withhold” is “an overt act that the person committed that he or she is not talking about.”


“Motivator” is a bit trickier. It is defined as “an act received by the person or individual causing injury, reduction or degradation of his beingness, person, associations or dynamics.” That’s a complicated way to say “a harmful act done to you.” This is the idea of “pulling it in.” In Scientology, harmful acts against oneself are “pulled in” by the individual to justify his or her own overts. Hubbard states it this way:

…when a person commits an overt, he will then believe he’s got to have a motivator or that he has had a motivator. For instance, if he hits somebody, he will tell you immediately that he has been hit by the person, even when he has not been.

This is a key concept in Scientology. If someone starts complaining about something, or claiming he has been harmed by something, then they are regarded as a “victim,” as “motivatorish” and are asked “what did you do to pull that in” or “do you have a similar overt of your own.” It’s immediately turned around on them.

There’s one last term that is key: “justification.” This is redefined as follows:

A social mechanism a person uses when he has committed an overt act and withheld it. It is a means by which a person can relieve himself of consciousness of having done an overt act by trying to lessen the overt. This is done by finding fault or displacing blame.

In other words, if you are finding fault, criticizing, or blaming others, you are justifying your own crimes. This lays the groundwork for concepts that will be brought up throughout this chapter. If something bad happens to you, it’s your own fault — you “pulled it in.” If you are complaining about things, or if you get sick or injured, it’s just motivators brought about by your own overts. If you are finding fault or blaming others, it’s your own overts.

THE BUNKER: So if someone complains about, say, conditions in The Hole or on the RPF, then it’s just their own overts talking.

JEFFERSON: Exactly. And you start to see the use of this as a control mechanism. The answer to anyone being critical or complaining or getting sick or injured is always to get them into a Security Check and “find out what their overts are.” The whole next section of this chapter, in fact, called “Honesty and Case Gain,” is an exhortation to get into session and confess all of your overts and withholds. If you don’t, the chapter warns, you won’t get any “case gain” and your progress up “the Bridge” will be barred. And this is how they get Scientologists to confess their innermost secrets. Before each of the “OT Levels,” for instance, one has to get an “Eligibility Sec Check” and confess everything.

THE BUNKER: The Church is critical of us — does that mean they have overts against us?

JEFFERSON: Ha, ha. No, this is one of those principles that somehow doesn’t apply when you are talking about Hubbard, or the Church, or Miscavige. Hubbard was very critical of psychiatrists and medicos, but no one even thinks it was because he had overts. And Miscavige is critical of nearly everyone — but of course has no overts.

THE BUNKER: So do you think the purpose of all this confessing is to get material they can later use to control the person?

JEFFERSON: Certainly it’s been used that way. But remember that confession in itself is a stock tactic in mind control. Robert Jay Lifton, in his brilliant book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, says this:

The totalist confession…is an act of symbolic self-surrender, the expression of the merging of individual and environment…

The assumption underlying total exposure…is the environment’s claim to total ownership of each individual self within it. Private ownership of the mind and its products — of imagination or of memory — becomes highly immoral.

So I think even more important than “getting the goods” on its members is the idea of complete self-surrender, the collapsing of any personal space and the merging of the individual with the group. “You have no personal space. Your thoughts belong to the group.” And, as Lifton points out, this culture of confession begins to generate new secrets (or “withholds” as a Scientologist would say) primarily concerned with resentments and doubts about the movement itself. And of course these doubts and resentments are handled the same way — more personal confessions.

The last few years I was at the Int Base, virtually the only auditing anyone was getting was Sec Checks. And it had even devolved into these cult-like group confession sessions.

THE BUNKER: One of the sections of this chapter is called “Blow-Offs.” So the urge to leave Scientology, or “blow,” is also caused by overts and withholds?

JEFFERSON: As you might expect, the system addresses anything that might cause an individual to question, challenge, or even depart the group. This section is really an amazing bit of writing. Hubbard convinces us that the only reason a person wants to leave a group is because of their overts and withholds. People leave because of their own overts and withholds. That is the hard-bound rule.

Of course, being Hubbard, he offers no research to support this; he simply proclaims that this is the way it is, period. But if you think about it for a few minutes, it’s a ridiculous assertion.

People leave groups or jobs or anything else for many reasons — boredom, the chance of a better job or a better life elsewhere. Sometimes people leave because they are being mistreated or oppressed. I don’t think anyone would be so heartless as to state that an abused woman was leaving her husband because of “her overts against him” or that refugees were leaving a country because of “their overts against the regime.” Yet here is Hubbard, stating it as unalterable fact.

It’s an effective way to keep people in line. One can imagine the North Korean government announcing “All those who attempt to escape are traitors with crimes against the State!” It’s also a good self-policing mechanism. The minute you find yourself thinking “I want to leave this group,” your next thought is “I must have overts to think such a thing.” And if you should ever tell anyone “I want to leave,” the immediate response is “what are your crimes?” The person is immediately introverted, whether by themselves or by others.

The rest of the chapter expands on these themes. Confessing is good; you should confess your overts and withholds often; if you find yourself thinking critical thoughts or wanting to leave, write up more overts and withholds. And all of this is, of course, “for your own good.” The last section, interestingly, is a detailed instruction sheet giving the exact format and procedure of “writing up your O/Ws.”

THE BUNKER: We’re sure our readers will find that useful! But seriously, do you think confessing one’s sins can be therapeutic at all?

JEFFERSON: Sure. This is how Hubbard justifies it and how Scientologists justify it. To me, there is a big difference between confessing one’s sins privately, whether to an auditor or a priest, and being required to confess them publicly, with your sins written down, put on file, and able to be accessed and used by Church executives. Scientologists often point to Catholic confession as a comparable practice. Well, it’s not comparable. In Catholicism, your sins are not written down or recorded or kept on file, and you are not sent to the confessional if you criticize the Church or want to leave. That’s the difference, to me, between a therapy and a control system.


More Jeff Hawkins!

Karen de la Carriere experiments with a new type of video interview in this talk with Jefferson Hawkins…



Posted by Tony Ortega on October 31, 2013 at 07:00

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