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Jon Atack: Do Scientology’s training routines turn you into a sociopath?

Jack_NicholsonJon 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 on Saturdays 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.

Jon, last week’s piece about Scientology’s thousand-yard stare really kicked up some great comments. You wanted to address something that came up in that conversation?

JON: It was very gratifiying to see a debate following one of my posts. When it came to last week’s TR-0 piece (which I called “Confront versus compassion” when I sent it to Tony), I was extremely gratified. My smug little ego swelled noticeably for several seconds.

Michael Leonard Tilse makes the extraordinarily valid point that TR-0 made him feel like a sociopath. And feeling comes just before acting like a sociopath, something that we have all witnessed in Scientology on a fairly regular basis. In the background to my various posts, I’ve been working on a paper about recovery. I came back to the fray, because I was startled at how many people simply stick in the Scientology valence (if you’ll excuse me for using one of the many redefinitions that Hubbard adopted and abandoned along the way).

Psychiatrist and staunch Hubbard critic Dr Louis Jolyon West wrote about ‘pseudo-identities,’ and my other good friend, Steve Hassan, explains the creation of a new identity in the cult member in his seminal Combatting Cult Mind Control (and pick up his more recent Freedom of Mind). Back in the days when I exit-counselled Scientologists, I was surprised to see just how individuals shifted in personality during an intervention, as they moved away from the implanted Scientology pseudo-identity. One young graduate exclaimed that his skin had turned from grey back to a healthy pink the day after the intervention, and this is not an unusual experience, when the conditioning lifts and the pseudo-identity is reintegrated into the complete personality.

In an insightful study, Dr. Flavil Yeakley showed that members of the Boston Church of Christ differed markedly from members of other Christian congregations in that members of the BCC exhibited very similar, group-specific personalities. So, where all sixteen personality types (in the Myers-Briggs system) were found in other Christian groups, all members of the Boston Church of Christ shared very similar profiles. Yeakley called this effect ‘cloning’.


A perverse aspect of this process is that the members become more like the cult’s creator. Hubbard fits the profile of a narcissistic sociopath (for that matter, so do most leaders of dangerous cults, but they wouldn’t be dangerous otherwise). His narcissism is readily demonstrated: He left $648 million, all of it collected from Scientology, yet complained that money was being wasted on toilet tissue for Sea Org staff. While he lived in opulent luxury, with Savile Row shirts and a 2,000-piece camera collection, along with a collection of black swans, bulls and his own race track, Sea Org members live in abject poverty, as they have since the inception of this slave force.

And, as the various commentators on the blog say, Scientology leads to dissociation from normal behaviour. Scientologists become pushy, confrontational and generally odious, especially those involved in the ‘elite’ Sea Org. This behaviour is a consequence of Scientology. Members are ‘indoctrinated’ and ‘processed’, to use Hubbard’s own ironic expressions.

The TRs convey some of the benefits of meditation. I learned Zen meditation — zazen — in a monastery before I met Scientology, so I knew that TR-0 was no more than a method of meditation. In the Indian tradition, when two people contemplate each other, it is called tratak (which I realize might be rendered TR-Atack. I must trademark it, immediately!). To suggest that TRs might be employed in a non-coercive environment is simply to say that meditation can be useful.

ScientologyMythbustingI do have one friend who has spent decades ruing the day that he did TR-0 Bullbait, because the dissociation from emotional reaction became fixed. While this is helpful in confrontational situations, it has left him emotionally bereft, and robbed him of a normal emotional life. So, I would caution against the use of powerful hypnotic techniques, without an equally powerful understanding of hypnosis. I would also urge an understanding of hypnosis from the outside, rather than plunging into Neuro-Linguistic Programing, and allowing another pseudo-identity to be created.

Dr Milton Erickson remains the fount of hypnotic wisdom, rather than the many texts on parlour hypnosis which gave hypnosis such a bad name (though the books recommended by Hubbard are revealing, especially Wolfe and Rosenthal’s Hypnotism Comes of Age. I cannot overstate the importance of the material in my own ancient paper “Never Believe a Hypnotist,” which finally showed me the profound significance of hypnosis to any understanding of Scientology.

The heightened perception of meditative states is an ‘altered state’ as one commentator says. Such states are jibed about in The Book of E-Meter Drills, where the ‘preclear originations’ list has many commonplace statements by the subjects of hypnosis. Hubbard was well aware of this, because, as he often boasted, he was a highly experienced hypnotist (he lists it as his main hobby on the dustcover of his novel Triton, for instance). ‘The colors in the room are brighter’; ‘I feel like I’m floating’; ‘the room feels bigger’ – these are all statements of the distorted perception brought on by hypnoid states, and experienced by preclears.

The only topic where I tend to agree with Hubbard is hypnosis. However, as his own explanations prove, Dianetics and Scientology are actually forms of hypnosis. As he said, hypnosis “reduces self-determinism by interposing the commands of another below the analytical level of an individual’s mind … It is the sort of control mechanism in which an authoritarian individual, cult, or ideology delight. People who indulge in hypnotism may, only very occasionally, be interested in experimentation upon the human mind … Genuine experimental hypnotism, strictly in the laboratory and never in the parlour, and done wholly in the knowledge that one is reducing the efficiency of the human being on whom one is experimenting and may do him permanent damage, and the use of hypnotism by a surgeon … should end the extension of hypnotism into the society. Submission to being hypnotized is analogous to being raped, with the exception that the individual can, generally, recover from being raped. To any clear-thinking human who believes in the value of people as human beings, there is something gruesomely obscene about hypnotism. The interjection of unseen controls below the level of consciousness cannot benefit but can only pervert the mind … The individual who would permit himself to be hypnotized is, frankly, a fool … It was thought by hypnotists that the mere remembering of … suggestions would relieve them, and that the power of the suggestion died out with time. These two ideas do not happen to be true.” (Science of Survival, Book II, p.220f; see also pp.225f).

Curiously, this is where Hubbard cancelled the original ‘Book One’ technique: “a pre-clear after he closes his eyes will begin to flutter his eyelids. This a symptom of the very lightest level of hypnotic trance.” (Science of Survival, Book II, p.227). This admitted hypnotic technique was reintroduced (flickering eyelids and all) with the Book One course, in the late 1970s (“When the preclear’s eyes close and you notice his eyelids flicker, finish counting…”). I’m sticking with Hubbard’s protestation that hypnosis can be very dangerous and should be used with tremendous caution.

It is surprising that so few Dev-OTs take Hubbard’s instruction about hypnosis. The auditor “must be prepared to use hypnotism, he must know how it works, what he should do to make it function, how to regress a person in hypnotism and so on…” (Research & Discovery volume 1, p.307, original, uncensored version).

My favourite Hubbard statement about hypnosis is this (see if you can apply it to Hubbard, just for fun): “In altitude teaching, somebody is a ‘great authority.’ He is probably teaching some subject that is far more complex than it should be. He has become defensive down through the years, and this is a sort of protective coating that he puts up, along with the idea that the subject will always be a little better known by him than by anybody else and that there are things to know in this subject which he really wouldn’t let anybody else in on. This is altitude instruction.” Hubbard adds that “Any time anybody gets enough altitude he can be called a hypnotic operator, and what he says will act as hypnotic suggestion. Hypnotism is a difference in levels of altitude.” (Research & Discovery volume 4, p.324, original, uncensored edition) And this is exactly how Hubbard’s teachings are accepted without proper scrutiny, because his claims of expertise and authority are not questioned. Given his many failings as a human being, this is quite startling.

The upside of TRs can be a moment of clarity, and a possible release of anxiety and inhibition. The downside is the loss of individuality and a new openness to suggestions from Hubbard. TR-0 is often the first step in a process that will induce sociopathic unconcern. Perhaps the most important element of this systematic exploitative persuasion is the erosion of compassion. Scientology is to “make the able more able,” so ignores anyone who is disabled, whether physically or mentally (unless there is some PR benefit to the cult, of course, as with the charm of any calculating sociopath). They are ‘victims’ who have ‘pulled it in,’ so are not worthy of help. At worst, they are ‘degraded beings.’ So, where decent religion speaks of compassion and charity, Scientology aims at grabbing the most it can get from its members, and giving nothing without ‘exchange’ (“If I have not charity, I am nothing” according to St Paul. “Free service, free fall” according to Hubbard).

Compassion is not a term used in Scientology (my paper, “Scientology: The Church of Hate” has plenty of material about this). Instead, we have the anodyne term ‘affinity’, which is simply attraction with love carefully excluded. Sympathy, which is synonymous with compassion, is to be avoided, at all costs. Indeed, Hubbard mistakenly terms it an emotion, and sticks it at a low point on his ‘tone scale.’ Scientologists are taught to have ‘no sympathy’ with the injured, which is to say, against the tenets of every significant religion and humanistic philosophy, that compassion is outlawed. And this is exactly the sociopathic state that TR-0 can and often does induce. One second generation member recently told me that as a child she was given a stony stare if she hurt herself, because ‘no sympathy’ is supposedly helpful. How utterly cruel!

At the end of the spectrum of thought reform, as described by Robert Jay Lifton, comes ‘dispensing of existence.’ When the individual becomes so taken up be a belief system, opponents are seen as vermin (‘squirrels’ in Hubspeak) to be disposed of. Their humanity is denied. A former Investigation Aide at OSA told me, just yesterday, that I was subjected to more harassment than any other non-US critic, so I know very well that ‘dispensing of existence’ is an essential aspect of the Tech. Until your mirror neurons are readjusted, and you can use the word ‘victim’ with kindness, instead of contempt, you should be very worried that you have been robbed of your own humanity and that a pseudo-identity (or ‘valence’) has been grafted onto your existing personality. Of course, if such an identity had been grafted onto you, there would be absolutely no way of knowing. And, thanks to all who contributed, again for showing that we ex-members can sometimes think our way out of the bag!


SAGE the Scientology superhero!

Angry Gay Pope sent us a great item last night. He and Karen de la Carriere have been talking to Ginger Sugerman for an upcoming video, and Ginger was sharing stories about her mother, Barbara Ayash, who founded a Scientology front group, the Concerned Businessmen’s Association of America. The CBAA promoted the heck out of L. Ron Hubbard’s slim little 1981 volume of pilfered bromides, The Way to Happiness.

Barbara even created a comic book in 1986 to promote the booklet. It starred the superhero “SAGE,” which stood for “set a good example.” How wholesome!

As Pope explains, “Media the church creates is funny enough, even though it’s overslick and overdone. But media the members of Scientology create is funny because it’s often so pathetic. This is one of those things.”

SAGE: A Scientology comic book

We can hardly wait for your close readings of this important historical artifact.


Carla Moxon saves the world!

Wow, we’re grateful to our old friend Jeff Jacobsen for spotting this little gem. It’s Carla Moxon, wife of Scientology lawyer Kendrick Moxon. Both of them were members of Scientology’s original intelligence corps, the Guardian’s Office, and were both named unindicted co-conspirators in “Operation Snow White,” Scientology’s infiltration of federal offices between 1973 and 1977 which ended up in criminal convictions for eleven top church officials. Carla has apparently been hanging out with the Toastmasters in Hollywood, and last year told this amazing tale about, well, we’ll let her explain…


Finally, we’ve been so busy this week we somehow forgot to commemorate yesterday as 28 years since the day L. Ron Hubbard decided to drop his body and continue his “researches,” as David Miscavige put it a few days later at the Hollywood Palladium. We recently found this scandalous annotated version of that event, and all we can say about the subtitles put on that video is that the person who made it in 2009 was a very naughty genius.

Hip, hip, hooray!


Posted by Tony Ortega on January 25, 2014 at 07:00

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