The ARC triangle is a fundamental cornerstone of Scientology philosophy. Represented by one of the two interlocked triangles in the Scientology symbol, L. Ron Hubbard devised the relationship between affinity, reality and communication very early on in the days of the Dianetics boom of 1950. It became one of the most easily explained and talked about principles of Dianetics and Scientology and is cited extensively throughout Hubbard’s counselling techniques. It’s so convincing, that even years after leaving Scientology, former members swear by its accuracy and workability. What is the ARC triangle, why is it so important to Scientology and can it really be used to explain and control interpersonal relationships and even life itself? Let’s take a closer look.
Throughout history, especially in philosophy, mysticism and religion, there have been many uses of triads, or three elements which act in concert or are related in some fashion. Hubbard loved the occult and mysticism. We know from his private writings and his activities with Jack Parsons in the mid 1940s as well as statements he made in the early 1950s about Aleister Crowley, tarot cards and supernatural phenomenon, that Hubbard had more than a passing knowledge of the occult. He literally referred to Aleister Crowley as his good friend, even though there is no evidence the two men ever met or even corresponded. But one doesn’t have to dive deep into the Necronomicon to find examples of triads. There are Plato’s Truth, Goodness and Beauty. There is Christianity’s Father, Son and Holy Ghost otherwise known as the Holy Trinity. And of course we have time expressed as a Beginning, a Middle and an End which equates to the cycle of living manifested as Birth, Life and Death. Human beings definitely like to look at things in groups of three.
The triangle, being a three-pointed object, lends itself symbolically to represent these triads. The triangle has had thousands of different uses over time, including secret symbology such as when the alchemists used an upright and inverted triangle to represent fire and water, then put a bar through these to further represent air and earth. The triangle itself represented the three planes of existence – the physical plane (our body), the mental plane (our mind) and the astral plane (our spirit or soul). There’s a lot of other meaning assigned to triangles in mysticism as well, including the idea that triangles can be gateways to other places or that they can be used to manifest or create things.
Hubbard used triangles throughout Dianetics and Scientology. In fact, the symbol he created for Dianetics was a four-banded triangle and he referred to the fact that the word Dianetics itself begins with a Greek delta which is depicted as a triangle. There’s some evidence that Hubbard may have been influenced by earlier writings when developing the elements of affinity, reality and communication into a trianglular mechanism. For example, there are similarities between Aleister Crowley’s work on something called the Naples Arrangement and some of the foundational principles of Scientology such as The Factors and the elements of the ARC triangle itself. This is purely speculation and I couldn’t positively connect these dots, so I’m mentioning them but I’m not asserting that Hubbard definitely copied these. Specifically, when writing about the Naples Arrangement in The Book of Thoth, Crowley actually references the Vedanta system and says:
“In the Hindu analysis of existence the Rishis (sages) postulate three qualities: Sat, the Essence of Being itself; Chit, Thought, or Intellection; and Ananda (usually translated Bliss), the pleasure experienced by Being in the course of events. This ecstasy is evidently the exciting cause of the mobility of existence.” (Aleister Crowley, The Book of Thoth)
Hubbard liked to talk about the Vedas in his own lectures and it well could be that these elements of Being, Thought and Bliss may have been re-written into Affinity, Reality and Communication. Given that Hubbard related ARC not only to understanding but said that they make up life itself, it seems more than a coincidence that these two things are so closely related. Let’s go back to the beginning and look at the very first things Hubbard said about ARC.
Back in his first lectures on how to do auditing in June of 1950, Hubbard spoke about the importance of a Dianetics counsellor’s affinity for his patient, or preclear. He said:
“We are dealing with a quantity which is unknown — the quantity of affinity. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be used, because we can observe some of its manifestations. One of those manifestations is this incredible fact that one human being can sit down and be interested enough in another human being who is lying down, and because the first human being is there and asking the second human being to do things, they are then done.” (A Talk with Two Co-Auditing Teams – 21 June 1950)
Through the lectures of June, Hubbard also talked a lot about a preclear’s sense of reality. But it was in early August that he gave his first lecture on all three of these elements together, titled “Relation of Affinity, Communication and Reality.” As he would continue to do throughout his lectures for many years, the first thing Hubbard did was categorically state that all earlier efforts by philosophers and scientists to figure out the nature of these things was an abominable failure and he then asserted that he had figured these things out in a way that was simple and workable.
About affinity, he said:
“What we mean by affinity is that cohesive force which holds together the universe, not so much the force which blows it apart, but the force which holds it together…. Man living with man can feel affinity. He lives in a community of men. They called it in the past ‘love.’ Love is a very sloppy word. Love is something they use to sell movies with. It is a much overused and misunderstood word. When we use the word affinity, we can include both brands of love without any slightest hesitation.” (Affinity, Reality, Communication – 16 August 1950)
About reality, he said:
“We agree there is a table. We can’t be completely certain that there is a table for you and I to agree on, but we do know that we have agreed there is one. So we say, ‘Fine, there’s a table,’ and here, then, is something we have come into agreement about, which is reality.” (Affinity, Reality, Communication – 16 August 1950)
About communication, he said:
“So I know this table is here because of these perceptic channels, and you know you are here by your kinesthetic sense, tactile, and weight sense. The whole thing compares and you get a picture of location. And so we have communication.” (Affinity, Reality, Communication – 16 August 1950)
And he connected these dots into a triangle in this same lecture by saying this:
“One is in complete affinity when he is in complete communication with what he perceives to be a complete reality. That would be a 100 percent triangle and the moments in which they can exist are very short, or practically nonexistent.
“The only way a person’s sense of reality can be reduced and is reduced is by an interruption or by a magnification of communication. And that could only really be done by a breaking of affinity, which could only result in an interruption of reality, which would result in an interruption of communication, which would interrupt reality, which would automatically interrupt affinity. We hit one, we can’t help but hit the other two. We are working with a triangle. There is something just back of these things that I am almost scared to look at because it is practically the back end of the problem.” (Affinity, Reality, Communication – 16 August 1950)
By September, Hubbard was referring to this triad as the ARC triangle. By November, Hubbard had apparently overcome his fear of looking at what was at the back end of this, because he started talking in earnest about a new idea involving the terms “theta” meaning thought or life, and “MEST” an acronym meaning “matter, energy, space and time” and used to refer to the physical universe or objects within it. He compared and contrasted these things and formed an idea which he soon called the “Theta-MEST theory.” As Hubbard later described it, the Theta-MEST theory is the “idea that there was a universe and that there was thought: theta without wave-length, without mass, without time, without position in space; this was life. And that was impinged upon something else called the physical universe, which was a mechanical entity which did things in a peculiar way, and these two things together, theta-MEST interacting, gave us life forms.”
It was at this point in November of 1950 that Hubbard first started floating not only this idea, but the concept of past lives and that a person will live again and again. As with his usual hyperbole, Hubbard actually said this:
“We haven’t had time to look up some of the confirmations thoroughly enough, but there is just a little bit more evidence in favor of immortality and the individuality of the human soul than there is against it. The more returns that come in from research, the more it tends over into this — not from any religious data whatsoever, or any religious conviction; it’s just solid scientific results. And it seems to be turning up more and more the point that an individual is a continuum of life and activity, regardless of his own body.” (Spectrums of Logic and Emotion – 21 November 1950)
Of course, as I ‘ve covered earlier in this series, this whole theory of “theta” is something Hubbard never did prove or offer anything other than subjective evidence of, meaning no evidence at all. There must have been some very positive responses to all this, though, because this talk about ARC and the theta-MEST theory led quickly to the development of the Emotional Tone Scale. We’ll be talking about that in another video; for now we’re just going to focus on ARC and say that emotions, according to Hubbard, are mainly a manifestation of affinity. These three ideas – ARC, theta-MEST and the Tone Scale, were developed in the heydey of Dianetics and became the pillars upon which all of Scientology would come to rest.
So now that we see when and what Hubbard developed early on, let’s jump forward to when the ARC triangle was presented in a fairly final format in a book Hubbard wrote in 1956 specifically to summarize Scientology basics for English and non-Enlish speakers, called Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought. An entire chapter is devoted to the ARC triangle and in it, Hubbard wrote:
“There is a triangle of considerable importance in Scientology, and an ability to use it gives a much greater understanding of life.
“The A-R-C TRIANGLE is the keystone of living associations. This triangle is the common denominator to all of life’s activities.
“The first corner of the triangle is called AFFINITY.
“The basic definition of affinity is ‘the consideration of distance, whether good or bad.’ The most basic function of complete affinity would be the ability to occupy the same space as something else. The word affinity is here used to mean ‘love, liking or any other emotional attitude.’ Affinity is conceived in Scientology to be something of many facets. Affinity is a variable quality. Affinity is here used as a word with the context ‘degree of liking.'”
“The second corner of the triangle is REALITY.
“Reality could be defined as ‘that which appears to be.’ Reality is fundamentally agreement. What we agree to be real is real.
“The third corner of the triangle is COMMUNICATION.
“In understanding the composition of human relations in this universe, communication is more important than the other two corners of the triangle. Communication is the solvent for all things (it dissolves all things).
“The interrelationship of the triangle becomes apparent at once when one asks, ‘Have you ever tried to talk to an angry man?’ Without a high degree of liking and without some basis of agreement, there is no communication. Without communication and some basis of emotional response, there can be no reality. Without some basis for agreement and communication, there can be no affinity. Thus we call these three things a triangle. Unless we have two corners of a triangle, there cannot be a third corner. Desiring any corner of the triangle, one must include the other two.
“A-R-C are UNDERSTANDING.
“If you would continue a strong and able communication with someone, there must be some basis for agreement, there must be some liking for the person and then communication can exist.
“Original with Scientology (as are all these concepts), the A-R-C Triangle, understood, is an extremely useful tool or weapon in human relationships. For instance, amongst the A-R-C Triangle laws, a communication to be received must approximate the affinity level of the person to whom it is directed. As people descend the Tone Scale, they become more and more difficult to communicate with and things with which they will agree become more and more solid. Thus, we have friendly discourses high on the scale and war at the bottom. Where the affinity level is hate, the agreement is solid matter, and the communication…bullets.”
When learning about this in Scientology classes, students are made to come up with examples of how affinity, reality and communication work together and are usually easily able to do so. This kind of mechanism lends itself easily to confirmation bias, where one can easily model ARC as the reason why people get along and a break in some aspect of the ARC is supposed to be the cause of a disagreement or argument. Given a few examples of how this model could work, Scientologists are then easily convinced that Hubbard was a genius for discovering this and that the ARC triangle is clearly a universally applicable concept. I wonder if Hubbard had used the same mechanism but had substituted connection, rootedness and awe instead, saying that this would lead to peace, if Scientologists would just as easily come up with examples of how that could be that way. Or would they realize that was just crap? If we look a little closer at the ARC triangle, we can see examples where this doesn’t work as claimed.
For instance, affinity is defined as a degree of closeness, which of course when combined with some communication to find instances of shared reality, is supposed to create an understanding between the people who are sharing that affinity. Yet if you put me alone in a room with a serial killer, I don’t care how much talking we do or how many shared experiences we might find we have, I’m never going to feel safe near such a person. In other words, my affinity for this person is not going to go up no matter how much I communicate with him. A serial killer is, by definition, a person who hunts and kills human beings. To ever think that enough communication and enough reality is going to create a high level of affinity between us would be nothing short of delusional. And if you’re thinking of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, let me please bring you back to actual reality. Serial killers are not anything like the romanticized gentlemen you see in movies. Very few of them are charming, debonair or even very good looking and none of them are worth anyone’s compassion or understanding. They are cold blooded, brutal killers who are wholly unable to empathize or sympathize with other human beings. Do you think the ARC triangle works for them? That by being close to me, by finding things we agree on and by talking to one another, a serial killer’s ability to understand and empathize with me and the rest of the human race will change or improve? Do you think the ARC triangle could be used to cure a serial killer? I don’t.
Let’s look at another example from another angle. Hubbard says that communication is the universal solvent. It dissolves all things, meaning that if someone is upset or out of sorts, communication alone should be able to resolve those difficulties. Yet do the principles of ARC always work to bring calm and order to disordered, antagonistic or even war-like situations? I’ll tell you one area where it does not: the Middle East. For decades, due to innumerable and very complicated reasons, peace talks have gone on there seemingly without end. Outside dignitaries and even United States Presidents have stepped in to try to help this out using communication, yet all have failed to bring a lasting peace. If there was going to be a place where the laws of ARC would seem to be needed most, it would be the conflicts in the Middle East. If these prinicples actually worked, then that decades old conflict would have been resolved by now.
And finally, let’s talk about the most obvious exception to the ARC triangle, springing right from the mind of L. Ron Hubbard himself, and that is the Scientology policy of enforced disconnection. If a Scientologist in good standing disagrees with church executives or policies, then communication is not used to resolve the matter. Instead, the person finds themselves very rapidly blocked on social media from their Scientology contacts, they are kicked off any paid services they might be doing in the Church, an official proclamation is written warning other Scientologists that this person has committed crimes and high crimes by daring to disagree with the church and they are shunned by all Scientologists. Is this the ARC triangle in full and successful application?
If communication is the universal solvent and dissolves all disagreements and upsets, then wouldn’t it be incumbent on the Church officials to use their communication skills to dilineate and understand what the problems are and then use church policies to right any wrongs or correct any errors? Of course it would, in any world where common sense rules. But the world of Scientology is not ruled by common sense, it’s ruled by Hubbard’s egregious and destructive policy to “ruin utterly” anyone who is critical of Scientology. Freedom of speech and freedom of belief are principles Scientologists may give lip service to in their creed, but when the rubber meets the road, they are wholly unable to apply their most basic philosophical principles to resolve disagreements with church critics or outsiders. If the truth is on Scientology’s side and if they truly believed in the universal application of the ARC triangle to resolve interpersonal difficulties and relations, then you’d think they would be eager to get into communication with us critics and resolve our problems. That hypocrisy has been and will continue to be the Church of Scientology’s undoing.
The ARC triangle, like almost all of the basic principles of Scientology, looks good on paper, is easy enough to understand and use when things are going well and the waters aren’t too rough. But when a real test is necessary, when the going gets tough and shit gets real, you can count on the Scientologists to run and hide behind the safety of their locked doors and curtained windows in their empty churches. I might be more inclined to believe in the purity and workability of the ARC triangle if I saw Scientologists actually try to use it.