Social Control in Scientology, by Bob Penny  -- prevToCnext

Shared Self-Deceptions

You hear about mind control in cults, but what is it and how does it work? It is not the same as brainwashing and we know that torture, at least of the physical variety, is not involved. There are no scars on the bodies and you can't see the ones on the minds.

Manipulation of group agreements is the key. A manipulated social environment is created in which, to be loyal to one's friends, one must believe the most amazing things and perform actions which, in real life, would be beneath contempt.

Cults (not just Scientology) create a social milieu which gradually and covertly seduces good people into agreeing among themselves on self-deceptions, so they come to believe themselves an elite in unique possession of the only right answers. The real result is dependence on the group and vulnerability to its control and exploitation.

For example, to act in good faith, we who were Scientologists had to believe there was a good result to what we were doing. But immense pressure is put on any evaluation of result by the environment of selling and gung ho, by our own complicity and participation, by our disposition to grant benefit of the doubt, to cooperate, to be willing, enthusiastic, and loyal. Spiritual growth is what was promised, thus precluding any determination of result except subjectively by the influenced group member himself. What, then, can we say about result?

First the obvious: that even if there was any validity to the claims made, this hothouse of social pressure would be the last place to expect any kind of objective perception, evaluation, understanding, or verification of results. What kind of science can work only within the confines of a closed group that actively suppresses nonconforming viewpoints while demanding and rewarding gung ho agreement?

A kind of insanity is visible in the peculiar group-think ways of evaluating or not evaluating information (like Ron said so) that we accepted and sold to each other. If there was demonstrable result, why would all the hype and controlled information be needed?

The hype is needed, of course, to allow us to share belief in a result. The process can be summarized in four steps -- small steps at first, but larger and larger each time around until the person gradually assimilates the group-think.

  1. Sell him something. The person is told that if you do X you will get better. It is standard practice to promise anything (without actually promising anything), and whatever the person can be made to admit to wanting (called his ruin) becomes the excuse for getting him into this process.
  2. Whip up gung-ho. Group members manifest their friendliness, concern and hope for the person. They make very clear that they want him to get better and they are very sure that participation in Scientology will do it. The expectations are set in place so that not to get better would be a betrayal of one's friends.
  3. The person does X. While engaged in the action, he has special status. He is adulated for being "on purpose," and carefully not disturbed or "enturbulated." He is clearly an important person. He may also be told how much better he is looking, and how apparent the change is. A social expectation of result is built for the particular case at hand.
  4. The person agrees that he is better. As a good group member, he will find some way to creatively play his part, to justify the time and money he has spent, avoid embarrassment, and not let his friends down.

With all this weight of authority and expectation, merely focusing attention on an area of life may "rattle the cage" and give an impression that something has happened. Add the feelings of relief and solidarity after completing something important and sharing a success with one's friends. The notorious unreliability of subjective perception is not considered, nor are there methods to control bias and ascertain the actual substance of the experience. Instead, the resulting mental state is exploited uncritically in whatever way will best fit doctrine and make everyone agree that it worked.

At that high moment, the person quickly attests in writing that he got an appropriate result from the service and is satisfied. He must do this to complete the service, or he is "handled" further at his own expense until he does. No gun is held to the person's head so the success story may be said to be freely given. The cost of remedial handling provides additional motive for everything to be all right.

After I say that everything is all right, my agreement is taken as proof that what you are doing is OK. Your success provides the same rationale for me. By uncritical acceptance of influenced, unreliable data, we deceive ourselves and keep the circle closed. If everything was not all right, one's status in the group would be jeopardized. An enemy of the group, or "Suppressive Person," is said not to have case gain. Success stories, attestations, and gung-ho agreement are evidence that one has "case gain" and so is a valid group member.

Case gain requires no substantiation beyond the person's attestation and other evidences of loyalty. As long as the supposed benefit is attributed to Scientology and does not contradict doctrine, the person is free to claim whatever he wants to believe about himself and dare anyone else to contradict his personal delusions (it is a crime to invalidate a Scientologist's case or gains). When personal delusion is reinforced by doctrine, the result can be impaired self-knowledge, obstructed ability to deal with real situations, and a danger to the person's mental health.

Such is the quality of material which forms the basis for Scientology's claim of results. A legal case for fraud would be difficult, because the person said in writing that he got what he was supposed to have gotten. And it is difficult to go back on representations made voluntarily. One must defend the delusions or risk facing the terrifying loss of control of one's life which has occurred. There are numerous motives to find ways to actually believe that one has experienced case gain.

The payoff is whatever psychic benefit the individual derives from belonging -- the appearances of community and caring, certainty, allies, defense against others in life, and evasion of the real challenges of growth.

Given such motives, the individual may well not care how the apparent benefit was obtained or what it cost, just as the high is everything to the drug addict. He has found where to get it. Alternatives are irrelevant. I have even heard, "So what if it is a placebo...."

Never mind that truly needed help may be foregone in favor of the immediate fix. Life goals may be abandoned or redefined as the true cost of participation becomes manifest. In this pressure-cooker of agreement and gung-ho, the benefit may be illusory but the person can no longer tell the difference.

As the cult member continues to deny his dependence, or to rationalize it as ethical and beneficial, employers, parents and concerned others must protect themselves as best they can. An obvious concern is the situation of children living in such an environment, whose welfare is subject to the parent's need to believe and to belong.

"TRs" (Training Routines)

Many of us considered TRs to be innocuous; yet we were aware they were part of something destructive, and didn't know how to sort out the connection. I had fun doing TRs too. Chanting, meditation, TRs, hypnosis, physical exhaustion, a good back rub -- these are all conditions that subjectively feel mellow and lucid while actually they heighten suggestibility and reduce critical awareness. We all have our more sharp and less sharp moments.

The feeling of lucidity produced by TRs, meditation, drugs, etc. is merely a subjective state. The group tells you how to think about that state, such as "you are more in present time." The suggestion is that you are less suggestible and you buy it because you are in a highly suggestible state. Other cults sell meditation or Jesus the same way.

The cult environment systematically exploits these less-sharp moments. In a Scientology courseroom, for example, the student is surrounded with the cult's pressure and loaded language. He might be receptive even without TRs. Maybe he's tired or lonely. TRs are just one more device to enforce agreement and compliance. At least they're more fun than ethics.

Many of us have trouble enough recognizing and accepting our feelings even without any "help" from Scientology. To practice suppressing our feelings and substituting group-mandated responses in their place, all within this context of group pressure and heightened suggestibility, is destructive indeed. The next step is the success story where one talks about having more reality on the first dynamic and coming to understand that one's real self wants only to serve the cult.

Such understanding makes it much easier to send your kids to the Cadet Org and "disconnect" from your "suppressive" mother or spouse.

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