First, A Personal Update
I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything and before I get into the main subject of my article, I thought I’d give a little personal perspective on what I’ve been up to that’s kept me away.
Like TV shows in each new season, characters come back a little older and a little wiser from the lessons of the previous season and are usually refreshed and ready to take on the new challenges offered by the show’s writers.
Two years ago, I left the Sea Organization. It was almost a year ago that I was declared a Suppressive Person by that group for speaking out publicly against them. I really had no choice after I discovered the depths of their lies and abuses against not only the general public but their own parishioners. No one can or should sit idly by when they find out that those who they trust and even called friends are in fact working flat-out to lie, swindle and destroy others.
Having come through this proverbial crucible and come out far better for it despite the personal losses and betrayals, I recently went and changed everything up again. I moved from Minneosta to Colorado and have started fresh, with a whole new set of friends, a new place to live and a totally new line of work that is 100% up my alley. So in every sense of the word, this is a new season for me.
I recently wrote about some of the changes that I’ve experienced since leaving Scientology behind (here) and I can honestly say that those were just the beginning. Getting out from under the yoke of Scientology’s influence has been just like getting out of prison in every sense of the word – physically, mentally and emotionally. Despite what L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige and his cronies would have you believe, the psychological damage Scientology causes is not “all in your head.” It’s real and it’s tangible and when you are no longer under its influence, the world becomes a much brighter, happier place to live in. If you are an introspective, thinking person such as myself, you try to take note of all of these changes but after a while it becomes a kind of avalanche and you just have to ride it to wherever it’s taking you.
In my case, as my interests have expanded and my viewpoint has gone far beyond “salvaging this sector of the universe” I’ve come to think less and less about Scientology. Not that I’m wholly inactive on the subject, as I am working on a new video about Hubbard’s illogical “logic system” and I have recorded some voice-over narrations of another person’s anti-Scientology web presentations. In general, though, Scientology is becoming a very small part of my life.
The desire to help my fellow man and “do good” has not waned one iota, though, and I have spent quite some time gaining a new perspective on how to go about those things. It’s a much bigger job than Hubbard would have you believe. People are far more complicated than Hubbard’s simplistic explanations provide for and the world is an almost infinite series of wheels within wheels, every one of us turning them in our own directions for our own needs. Conspiracy minded people like to think that there is some kind of master plan afoot by sinister forces trying to bend everyone to their will, but I don’t think it’s quite that black-and-white.
However, in looking into this I did realize one thing about Scientology that I thought was worth commenting on. As will sometimes happen to writers, I found in doing research on this that the subject has already been touched upon quite brilliantly by Jeff Hawkins (here). It’s funny how parallel lines of thought can cross totally independently. To give credit where credit is due, I wanted to first mention Jeff’s article and encourage anyone who hasn’t read it to please check it out. There is also a great follow-up to Jeff’s article by AnonLover (here).
Now let me give some of my own thoughts on this.
“Acts of evil often done among an organization, done with little or no sympathy and a lack of humanity due to its repeated process, like a system, or a daily job.” – Urban Online Dictionary
Anyone at all familiar with the abuses of Scientology is going to immediately be able to see how the term “institutional evil” applies to the Church of Scientology as an organization.
I actually got to thinking about this after the first episode of this season’s The Walking Dead. It featured as bad guys a group that was practicing cannibalism in a sort of industrialized manner with a whole factory line setup, inventory kept in little notebooks and the people involved treated their individual jobs in the process as a sort of daily grind, just business as usual without thought given to what they were actually doing. It had become so commonplace and so usual, that the inherent evil of it just passed them by.
What struck me as to its parallels with totalitarian movements, such as Scientology, was the way in which regular people who had no psychopathic tendencies or mental problems could be conditioned into doing truly horrific things. The parallels with concentration camp workers is obvious, but there are so many other examples that it practically overwhelms you when you start looking into it. Look at the United States’ policy on torturing possible terrorist suspects, even if they are US citizens. Most Americans see no real problem with this, if they are even aware it’s going on. It doesn’t seem to bother them in their daily life and while many might say that it’s bad, many others will offer up heart-felt excuses as to why it’s necessary or justified. It is only when you sit someone down individually and actually show them someone being tortured that the evil of those acts take on some degree of reality.
So often the question is asked, especially by ex-Scientologists such as myself, “How did I fall for that? What is wrong with me that I ended up doing those things?” And of course there is nothing wrong with you. The system is setup to indoctrinate you gradually into thinking differently. Whether you want to call that hypnotism or brainwashing or mental implanting doesn’t really matter so much as the fact that you have a system which leads you from one state of mind into a different state of mind. It’s designed to do that. According to research done on mass movements, a high intelligence is no defense against such a system either, since a higher intelligence usually only helps a person justify the non-optimum changes in their thinking and behavior as they move from one set of values to a different set.
Psychological experiments such as the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Shock Experiment have shown, albeit not conclusively, that it is very easy for us to seek unfair advantage or gain over those we perceive as less powerful than ourselves, and conversely to acquiesce to authority even if that means violating our own moral codes or compromising our principles. It’s not pleasant to know that about ourselves, but I believe that with that knowledge we have a fighting chance of doing something positive to change it. On the other hand, if we refuse to acknowledge that we have a dark side, we are only feeding the ignorance and allowing that kind of thing to continue.
It is these baser impulses which allow organizational evil to take root and grow in the first place. Hubbard used to blatantly talk about how easy people are to manipulate (and even hypnotize) and expressly stated that the only reason that Scientology could get away with controlling people was because it was doing so for a good purpose. When someone accepts and agrees with just that one statement, they let their guard down and allow themselves to be controlled and manipulated because they are convinced that, just this once, it’s for a good purpose. So down the garden path they are led. This is why critical thinking and constant evaluation and re-evaluation of one’s beliefs and “facts” is so important.
An important comment was made by Matt Weiner in a NY Times article on the subject of institutional evil: “The culpability of the whole is greater than the sum of the culpabilities of the parts.”
An organization’s true purpose can sometimes be masked or cloaked by a more benign stated purpose which, in fact, has little or nothing to do with what the organization is really all about. I daresay this is likely more common that many people may think. With Scientology, a very strong case can be made that the design of the organization and the way in which it was run behind the scenes was mainly to create wealth for its founder and eventually to shield him from the inevitable justice actions which ensued. There is almost no debate that this is the current purpose of the organization, Hubbard’s role of “Founder” now turned into Miscavige’s role as “ecclesiastical leader”. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who looks that Miscavige is running the organization for the sole purpose of making money and satisfying his personal desire for power over others.
I don’t think that anyone who has committed crimes or violated people’s human rights (myself included) should just get a free pass because they were working for a bad organization. The Nuremberg trials following World War II taught a valuable lesson about individual responsibility even in the face of overwhelming pressure, and how each of us must be responsible for the things we have done. A person must be willing to stand up to the consequences of their actions and deal with them.
Yet at the same time, we can certainly understand that not all bad behavior is inspired by bad intentions and temper our harsh judgments accordingly. There are few I find more annoying than those who sit in judgement on others who do not understand where those others have been or what the circumstances were surrounding their behavior. What’s the point of punishing someone for their past crimes or bad deeds, if not to motivate them to willingly and knowingly change their behavior for the better? Ex-Scientologists who have come out of their trance and who know they have done wrong certainly don’t need anyone harshly judging them, because believe me, they are quite likely doing a magnificent job of harshly judging themselves.
Of course, it’s quite a different situation for those who know they are doing wrong and who continue to do it anyway. Those types certainly exist in any mass movement. In fact, one can see many examples in the case of Scientology where people with truly psychotic tendencies, serious anger management issues and other mental problems use the Scientology structure to their own advantage to whet their appetites on those they can gain power or control over. The problem with institutional evil is that it caters to such personalities.
An Optimistic Alternative
It is overwhelming to try to deal with a broad organization by ourselves. However, institutional evil is not inevitable or undefeatable. Regular people, unheroic in their day-to-day life, have risen to the occasion time and time again to blow the whistle on these kinds of corrupt systems. This is the subject of intense study, such as in Phillip Zimbardo’s book, The Lucifer Effect. While many of us may look at these large bureaucracies or military-industrial complexes and think that we are powerless against such forces, that stance has been disproven by history. Life-long heroes such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and the like have achieved almost god-like status for their continued stands against global atrocities and brutality. Yet how about people like Peter Buxtun, Perry Fellwock or Joe Darby? You likely have never heard of them, yet they played their own role on the global stage and through their actions have influenced thousands if not millions of people’s lives for the better.
Peter Buxtun was responsible for exposing the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
While Edward Snowden has been geting a lot of well-earned praise for his efforts to expose NSA surveillance abuses over the past couple of years, the only reason anyone even knows that the NSA exists is due to Perry Fellwock blowing the whistle about its existence and its covert surveillance programs back in 1971.
Joe Darby was the one who first alerted the US military command in 2004 to prisoner abuses in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
If you think that Scientology is the only organization that practices Fair Gaming against whistleblowers or human rights abuses against its own members, I’d advise you to read about these heroic individuals and what they had to endure in getting the truth out.
However, my point is not that it’s difficult to stand up to institutional evil. My point is that it is possible to do so and that potential is in every one of us. Certainly those of us who have publicly spoken out about Scientology have taken risks. Some have had to endure great hardship to do so, while others such as myself have not. Considering what I had seen or heard was done to whistleblowers who came before me, I was more than a little hesitant to speak out. I don’t consider myself particularly heroic, and I don’t think Peter or Perry or Joe did either in their respective fields.
Right now we are seeing the End of Days for the Church of Scientology. Its collapse is not just inevitable but is actually happening right before our very eyes. Sometimes we may lose sight of this in the day-to-day ups and downs of the battles that are going on, but if you step back and compare where it is at now to where it was at even ten years ago, the contraction is so obvious that it’s not even debatable.
I believe that we all have it in us to fight back against institutional evil, in whatever guise or form it takes in our lives. If you know about it, you have it in you to do something about it. Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. None of us can know beforehand what all the consequences will be of our actions. That shouldn’t stop us from acting.
Be bold. Speak your mind. You don’t need anyone’s permission and there’s really no reason to wait. The more who speak out now against Scientology, the faster will be its decline, the faster we will see an end to disconnected families, the faster we will see justice for those at the top who are committing real crimes on a daily basis.