Bozo Sapiens Blog - Scientology: Belonging

Lulu Belle


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Scientology: Belonging

You don’t need me to tell you about Scientology: you either know nothing about it (in which case I suggest that you stay that way), or you know so much that I'm unlikely to change your mind. You, do, though, need me to tell you about Robber’s Cave.

In 1954, twenty-two 11-year-olds headed off for summer camp at Robber’s Cave State Park near Wilburton, Oklahoma. They were not to know that they were actually experimental subjects, nor that the counselors were psychology graduate students and the kindly janitor was really the lead professor, Muzafer Sherif. All they knew was that they were going to meet a bunch of new kids and that it might be fun or it might not.

Sherif divided the campers randomly into two groups, initially kept well apart from each other. They chose their own group names (one was the Eagles, the other the Rattlers), designed their group flags, and went out on activities within their units; they made friends. At that point, the researchers arranged a series of games between the groups, with desirable prizes. Almost immediately, a bad-tempered rivalry arose between Rattlers and Eagles; there were accusations of cheating, surreptitious shoving, refusal to eat together. Things escalated when the Eagles burned the Rattlers’ flag and the Rattlers raided the Eagles’ cabin, stealing their prizes. Shared pleasurable events, like cookouts, failed bring the groups together: these simply became an occasion for more posturing, insults, and food-throwing.

The point is that humans are compulsive tribe-joiners; even when chosen at random, we naturally believe our bunch is the best. Moreover, we don’t just feel loyalty to a group, we feel loyalty against others; we easily come to believe that outsiders are morally inferior and inherently inimical to us, the chosen ones. Of course we throw Jell-o at them – they were just about to do it to us.

L. Ron Hubbard, the struggling science fiction writer whose Church of Scientology in California was founded on this date, also in 1954, had an almost limitless appetite for loyalty: “All men are your slaves,” appears in one of his notebooks; in another, “You can be merciless whenever your will is crossed and you have the right to be merciless.” Driven by hopes of “smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form,” he was, in the late 1940s, oppressed by a sense of failure, by money and marital troubles, and by suicidal thoughts. At the same time, he knew he had talents: a relentless capacity to turn out prose, a knack for hypnotism, and a power to impose his personality on others – charming, inspiring, and bullying weaker natures into an unquestioning devotion. He lacked only a vehicle: he tried black magic in the manner of Aleister Crowley; he tried the pseudo-science of “dianetics” (which, though a publishing success, left him open to the scorn of real scientists) – and then he hit on it: a religion. The same “path to mental health” that he claimed to have discovered could be now a matter of faith, not reason – which is how most people prefer to believe things, anyway.

Scientology has many aspects that make it almost the perfect tribe. It isolates and objectifies the self-doubts of those who come to it, and offers a structured (if very expensive) way to overcome them. It has a different phrase, structure, and procedure for everything: Hubbard spent the last 36 years of his life in the tireless production of new jargon and arcana. The life of “staff members” becomes fully absorbed by their membership: as one said, “my social activities, my spiritual growth, my involvement in the community, the camaraderie, the parties — the church integrates itself into all aspects of your life.” There are uniforms, compounds, celebrities – and what better faith for an actor, with that profession’s deep insecurities, than one advocating that all affluence is deserved through one’s own hard-bought mental superiority? Best of all, there is the excitement of permanent hatreds and battles: with psychiatry, the IRS, “renegade” members, journalists – all subject to Hubbard’s doctrine of Fair Game, in which enemies “may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” The Rattlers and Eagles would have signed up immediately.

True, the creed itself is… well, it’s drivel, all Galactic Confederacies and Black Thetan Goals. Asimov or Heinlein could have come up with a far better back-story; in literary terms, the beliefs of Scientology are down there in Doc Savage: Man of Bronze territory. But beliefs are immaterial: the Masons were Solomon’s temple builders, the Mormons draw their creed from golden plates found in a hill in upper New York state. Many otherwise reasonable modern Jews, Catholics, and Muslims agonize over whether deer count as cattle or beasts, whether communion given in the hand confers grace, and whether a devout man may use a urinal. And as for the money-making, pyramid-scheme qualities of Scientology – neither Pat Robertson nor the papacy is poor.

Muzaffer Sherif found that the only way to reconcile his feuding clans was to give them shared tasks and shared threats: carrying in supplies, repairing a “vandalized” water supply. This highlights our problem with all cults and clubs, sects and secret societies – as long as their shared work is reserved to them, and we outsiders are the shared threat, we shall always be taken for enemies. Keep a close eye on your prizes.

Anakin Skywalker

Patron with Honors
Very interesting stuff.

I started reading psychology experments like this one shortly after I left staff, and it was a large factor in my decision to leave. After reading one particular book, I actually told another scientologists (whilst I still regarded myself as one), that I thought scientology was a cult. It was a very weird time for me: on the one hand I knew it was a cult, and on the other hand I believed that is was my only route to salvation. I'm glad that I dealt with that "cognitive dissonance" by fully realizing that scientology IS a cult, and cannot give me any freedom, but only enslave me further.