Social Control in Scientology, by Bob Penny  -- prevToCnext

An Example of Word Games: The Word Control

The effectiveness of cult manipulation would suffer if it was perceived and understood. Something cannot be my deepest understanding of myself if it obviously is some group's attempt to control or own me.

Understanding of the manipulations is prevented by group-think definitions which assure me that manipulation is not something I should notice, not something about which I should be wary, i.e., not an alarm, in the sense of Goffman's discussion, in Relations in Public, of normal appearances.

Normal Appearances
"When the world immediately around the individual portends nothing out of the ordinary, when the world appears to allow him to continue his routines (being indifferent to his designs and neither a major help nor a major hindrance), we can say that he will sense that appearances are `natural' or `normal.' ... Wariness is handled as a side-involvement; one might say that he can `take things at face value,' the unstated implication being that he can predict from what he sees what it is that is likely to come about, and this is not alarming. And when special attentiveness is required, as when humans cross a busy intersection or unpack eggs, it will be understood that this special effort is restricted to a brief period of time."
Goffman's discussion of alarms is more involved, but generally the term refers to signs that something is up other than what first appears, and that it may not be safe to take things at face value. An alarm might be the knock on the door or another person's expression of surprise or fright. It could be the absence of some expected event. Various kinds of all-clear signals communicate the absence of cause for alarm, even though the situation as seen by someone else might be ambiguous.

Much of Goffman's discussion concerns the ways in which alarms (or all-clear's) can be false or manipulated, as indicated by the phrase "acting natural" and by various techniques of criminals and confidence men.

Scientology makes totalistic control of group members appear normal by making control central to the ideology and experience of the group, defined as a good thing to which one would object only if aberrated. The suggested image is of driving a car, where one necessarily is controlling the car and does so either well or poorly. This image is generalized to social groups, and used to justify an extraordinary degree of control of members by the group.

The concept of loyal opposition has no place. Any resistance to control or difference in viewpoint is handled as error and/or opposition to the group itself. Thus one's career within the group functions as a kind of obedience training which one is supposed to internalize and affirm.

We are familiar with team sports, traffic regulations, and cooperative action such as getting out a bulk mailing. We accept controls which are limited in time and space to specific circumstances, of clear utility, voluntarily accepted and clearly delineated. It is understandable how that could be like controlling a car well or poorly.

These obvious kinds of control are apparent and highly visible in Scientology organizations, which operate on a military model complete with uniforms, ranks, musters and orders of the day.

These are highly enough visible to serve as misdirection away from less easily identified kinds of control (various demands for total commitment) which are without limit and thus not at all like driving a car or getting out the bulk mail.

Suppose I do not quite understand what the registrar (salesman) is doing, but I can see that he is trying to control me in some way. Well, that is a good thing, isn't it? He is part of my group. I am not supposed to object. I would not want to let go of the steering wheel of a car. I had better write him a check right now.

This is misdirection in the stage magician's sense. What is hidden are the actual mechanics by which agreement and conformity are inculcated and enforced -- how and why I came to agree.

Most people have limited skills in identifying and handling covert control mechanisms. An inchoate sense of something wrong with this is hard for the amateur proselyte to defend against the professional registrar who makes the most of the proselyte's faulty grasp of the tricks played on him.

Under such pressure, the proselyte may do the best he can to understand and articulate his discomfort. His amateur best may not be good enough.

He may seize, for example, upon the militaristic, authoritarian organization, which is highly visible, and object to that.

But that is a red herring, a misdirection. His objection was probably not really to uniforms and orders, and so can be talked down. And having accepted Scientology's private concept of control, he cannot say that he objects to control -- because he would not let go of the steering wheel of a car. He cannot even say that his objection is to totalistic control, as opposed to specific and limited control, because any instance is always specific and can be justified somehow. The forest can be obscured by looking at a tree.

In the heat of a face-to-face sales cycle, which may not even look like a sales cycle, the target of such trickery can be thrown seriously off-balance. The militaristic red herring is just one example of a ploy. There are countless other sophistries the con (confidence man) could use to throw the mark (the con's target) off-balance and sell the desired understanding of control.

The mark winds up confused, with no ground to stand on, questioning or denying his own perceptions and judgment. Then he can be sold the idea that his confusion is something wrong with him (an aberration about control) which will be fixed by further participation in Scientology.

I Say BLUE; I Dare You To Say GREEN

I used control as an example, to show how it is possible to grab the meaning of a word which, in the context of actual life within the group, likely would become an alarm and nucleus for other interpretation of the activity which occurs. Wariness is averted by a preemptive definition (in this case, of control) which dictates the non-alarming way in which observed phenomena are to be understood.

The effect is: "I say blue. I dare you to say green."

Likewise, a Scientologist is defined as one who is using the technology of Scientology to improve conditions. Therefore you are not to think of Scientologists as persons who have become proficient at invalidating non-group values, or who have learned not to ask certain kinds of questions -- meanings which might credibly be constructed from observation of what occurs within the group. They dare you to say green.

In another example, one learns that an auditor is one who applies Scientology processes to help people, that auditors are valuable people, that such a profession exists. None of this is demonstrated factually, upon any evidence beyond group data. It is part of the group's everybody knows and the new proselyte is made to feel inadequate because he does not know. He hurries to learn the right words and attitudes. He does not ask questions about the emperor's clothes. They dare you to say green.

Such preemptive definitions work by using social pressure to bypass ordinary standards of evidence and evaluation. They bypass any need to make a case for the truth or sense of what is being communicated. The preemptive definition is just how it is. The group dares you to say otherwise. You are the new kid on the block, cooperative and polite, so you don't make trouble (and God help you if you actually are a kid).

The preemptive definition establishes a socially obligatory normal appearance, a way of seeing things which other experience must be made to fit. If you question or disagree (or say green) then you get the big chill. Force is not wanted because it calls attention to itself.

Usually the chill is accomplished with condescending disapproval, pity for your inability to understand, a moment of embarrassed silence, or some other in-passing action which is made to seem normal and no occasion for questioning your surroundings. Your awkward questions or other viewpoints will eventually and somehow be rationalized into insignificance. In a totalist context, preemptive definitions can be used thus to systematically bypass and then destroy (replace) existing values and orientation. A person ordinarily has a sense of himself and the world which gives him access to a plurality of sources of value and meaning. No one group or set of definitions is ordinarily able to achieve total dominance and control of the person's thought and action. Family, profession, interest groups and friends comprise the resources ("support groups") by which a person balances each area of life against others and achieves a mixture which is satisfying and workable for him, difficult though such balance may be in practice.

If this multiplicity of areas of value, resources and support is destroyed, the individual becomes relatively helpless, vulnerable and adrift. If that multiplicity is replaced by a single totalistic source of the values and resources of life, then the individual becomes extraordinarily dependent on that one source and vulnerable to its control. A totalistic group seeks such control by undermining, invalidating and subordinating all areas of life apart from itself. That is what cults do.

A typical cult rationale for this manipulation is some version of you're either totally with us or totally against us (saved or damned) so put your money where your mouth is. The non-group world is depicted as sinful, evil, wrong, incompetent or insane, and the group as the only opportunity for survival, salvation or success.

Though persons so indoctrinated may continue to act in the world but not of it, their cognitive universe and values have become captive to a single totalistic group -- a position which undermines the person's very ability to think, to judge, to differentiate, to know. Thus over time, it comes to seem more and more reasonable to invalidate any non-group attachments or values and to live wholly within the bubble.

In an environment (supposedly) of truth, hope, help, and trust, the person thus disoriented can be sold, over time, a systematic inversion of values. Insanity becomes sanity, betrayal becomes integrity, meanness becomes ethics, obedience becomes freedom, slavishness becomes independence, a destructive cult becomes the good of mankind, the group becomes the only truth and the highest purpose.

Soon there is nowhere else to go. Other people are evil and do not make sense. It's crazy out there.

The trap is complete.

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