Social Control in Scientology, by Bob Penny  -- prevToC

About the Author

My background includes undergraduate and graduate study in anthropology and sociology, 1961-1970, at Brandeis University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of California at Davis.

By 1970 I had found fixing cars more rewarding than the life of professional academics, and I spent roughly a decade doing that. In 1973, at a time of change and confusion in my life, I encountered the Church of Scientology. Curious and otherwise at loose ends, I spent eleven months in L.A. studying that subject. I met the woman who was to become my wife and business partner. She learned of Scientology from me and got into it on her own before coming to Colorado to join me. She insisted that its viewpoints be the conceptual and normative basis of our life together.

As the 1970's ended I was writing computer software and, together with my wife, started a company to market and continue developing the product I had created. That company (sans wife) is still my work.

I had left L.A. with reservations, after such experiences as observing unattended babies crawling on urine-soaked carpets (at a place called the Cadet Org), and hearing recruiters clearly advocate breaking promises to friends, families, and employers ("we can handle that").

Most unsettling of all, however, was my observation that being a Scientologist required becoming a master of facile justifications of such things. I saw that the group think was expected to justify anything.

But I rationalized that any shared language could serve, at least as starting point, for communication between people committed to each other, that the bad parts were less important and would get sorted out, and the outcome would be beneficial. Thus hopefully, I set out sincerely to make my own best use of Scientology's conceptual framework.

I did not understand fanaticism or the abeyance of kindness and thought it can produce, or that the means for achieving desired ends would take such total precedence over the ends themselves. There was no backstage, no home to go home to (ref. Charles Schultz's Peanuts cartoon, "Home is where you'd rather be when you don't know the answers").

For me, that was a lonely and frustrating time of intellectual and social isolation, during which pursuit of alternatives per se violated norms of a group which now included my family. Obviously something was wrong, but there was no avenue to communicate, explore or handle it: any viewpoint other than Scientology tech was unacceptable. I got pretty weird, negative, uncommunicative, unpleasant and unhappy. I did not understand what was wrong or what to do about it. I stayed very busy writing software. I was in Scientology through 1986, becoming a Class IV Auditor and Case Supervisor. I did volunteer work for most of a year as a Case Supervisor but was never actually a staff member. My last formal connection was at the Church's base in Florida during 1986 when I reached the fairly high status they call "OT Level V." During that four-month stay, though I was there as participant, not observer, I could not help but observe how the magic tricks were done, i.e., the control mechanisms which produce "OTs" ("Operating Thetans") and other kinds of group members.

The long years of trying to be a valid group member had reduced themselves to absurdity. The thing was not worth being, in fact it was clearly destructive. The rationalizations and justifications crumbled away, leaving me to face many things which I had really known but long denied out of hope and misplaced loyalty.

I had no specific help or exit counseling. It was nearly three years before I found people who understood what I had been through. I would not recommend that others wait so long.

Scientology was not a beneficial experience for me. I avoid the word fraud because it connotes a deliberate and knowing deception which is rare among the misled, but I do believe the organizations practices are based on fraud. The "tech" is certainly fraudulent. But as regards most individual Scientologists, I suggest instead the word trip, in the sense of a self-justifying system of thought which, once entered, leads only into itself.

My words for the experience and for its effect on my life are distraction and misdirection, the latter in the stage magician's sense.

The group has countless reasons why to explain why it is not really a cult and why coercion and deception are really other than how they seem. But despite the sophistry, I suggest that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, etc. then the simplest and most obvious explanation at least deserves consideration.

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