A newsletter of former Scientologists, the inFormer, published a Gary Larson cartoon which shows a couple driving along a dark road surrounded by giant mutant vegetation and ants. The caption says: "Something's wrong here, Harriet... This is starting to look less and less like the Road to Total Freedom."
That cartoon describes very well the last several of my 13 years in Scientology and the process by which I was finally able to escape from what was by far the most destructive and debilitating influence that my life has encountered.
The clues were there all along, so it is no surprise that the experience finally reduced itself to absurdity. The wonder is that I wasted 13 years of my life and more than $100,000 before learning to handle the false loyalties and other tricks in which I was enmeshed for so long. Clearly, something was going on that my basic "street education" had not prepared me to deal with. Rationalizations such as, "it's the best thing we've got," and "at least it's moving in the right direction" (neither of which is true) helped perpetuate the stasis. Even afterwards, it was hard to avoid rationalizations like "but I learned a lot," or "the organization sucks but the tech is good" which were attempts to minimize and not really face the harm which had occurred and from which I had yet to recover. The habits of self-censorship, loaded language, avoidance of contrary data, and other thought-stopping mechanisms took a long time to go away if, indeed, they are gone even now.
I was intensely curious how such a bizarre situation had come to be. Coming to understand it was a part (only a part) of my recovery. The articles here are derived from my notes, compiled slowly as thoughts occurred to me over a four-year period after getting out of the cult.
If you are looking for a systematic discussion of "mind control" or suggestions for helping loved ones in a cult, I recommend that you read Steve Hassan's book, Combatting Cult Mind Control, Park Street Press, 1988.
If you want a description and history of the Scientology organizations, read John Atack's A Piece of Blue Sky, Carol Publishing Group, 1990.
If you want a feel for life in the Scientology environment, read Margery Wakefield's The Road to Xenu.
The material I present here is none of those things. I have tried to step back from the narrative detail that Ms. Wakefield presents, to look at the underlying pattern and structure of Scientology's manipulation and abuse of otherwise free people. By printing both works in the same volume, we provide an immediate juxtaposition of the specific and the general, the trees and the forest, so the reader can refer back and forth between Wakefield's specific narrative and my more general characterizations of similar experience. I believe this juxtaposition provides a more complete description of how cult entrapment actually occurs and what it consists of.
These models of social manipulation, which I have drawn from my own experience, may be most recognizable to others with direct cult experience (any cult, really -- my contacts with ex-members of various groups show the ploys and traps to be quite similar from one cult to another), so the primary use of this material may be in exit counseling.
But it is possible too, I would hope, that these models may sensitize any reader to recognize them if such types of experience occur in his or her own life. Recognizing these patterns may make the reader less vulnerable to cult recruitment in the first place. It is my strong belief that there is a lot more mileage in education and prevention before the fact, than in trying to get people out of cults once they are in.
Our "street smarts" must expand to cover the new dangers created by the growth and increased sophistication and power of destructive cults (and gangs, hate groups, etc.). This is an educational endeavor, a kind of consumer awareness education.
As Wakefield shows, Scientology creates a specialized environment within which anything can be made to seem true or reasonable or ethical. It is this insane environment, not any flaw in the individual person, which accounts for the apparently insane behavior which she and many others have described, just as similarly perverted environments trap otherwise good people in lynchings, gang behavior, Nazism, and other social ills.
How does it work? The mechanisms of cult entrapment are not hard to understand, once you look at them. But there are many things in our social environment we take for granted and do not look at, any more than we look at the air we breathe.
There is no one answer. A person is not hypnotized or brainwashed suddenly one day and a slave thereafter. It is a process of social learning, like any other except with demented content. It occurs gradually over time.
In the following series of twelve short articles, we will look at some of the ways in which this happens, and attempt to sensitize the reader to some of the pressures which can force a person into cult servitude. It remains for each person to recognize such mechanisms as they may occur in his or her own life.