Scientology: What is it?
This is not as straightforward a question as might be imagined. One possible answer is An exercise in literary Hypnosis.
Pardon! I hear you cry, well let me explain why I think this.
Hubbard did have a reputation among those who knew him as kind of amateur stage hypnotist, so this partly led me to wonder about the following.
Dianetics was the pseudo-scientific self help system L. Ron Hubbard created in 1950 before creating Scientology in 1953 One of my conundrums, concerning Dianetics has always been: why was a book that was so poorly evidenced, initially taken so seriously?
Although it was quickly debunked, Hubbard even Managed to get a Doctor named Joseph Augustus Winter, M.D. to write an introduction to the book. Though it was this at first enthusiastic Doctor who in less than a year wrote the first critical book on Dianetics. The support of Dr Winter I feel was instrumental in readers initially taking Dianetics seriously. I don’t think it was the whole story however. Reading the book again; from an older, wiser and more critical perspective; it seems to me Hubbard was actually expecting rather odd things of his readers. He is quite explicit about how he expects his readers to approach what he has to say and although at first sight they seem entirely reasonable, on a second look there does seem to be something strange going on.
At the beginning of Dianetics, Hubbard gives a section the odd heading ‘HOW TO READ THIS BOOK’ In which he uses approximately a thousand words to not only ‘sell’ the book to the reader. But also dictate how it is read. Although I was very young when I read this for the first time, I remember thinking very clearly, that I would read it how I liked.
At the head of paragraph seven, Hubbard Writes, “This volume has made no effort to use resounding or thunderous phrases, frowning polysyllables or professorial detachment.” Which for me, firstly made me laugh because it so clearly contradicts itself, Secondly it made me wonder: why was he was telling me this?
In the third to last Paragraph of this sales pitch Hubbard says,
“It is suggested that you read straight on through. By the time you get into the appendix, you should have an excellent command of the subject. The book is arranged that way. Every fact related to Dianetics therapy is stated in several ways and is introduced again and again. In this way, the important facts have been pointed up to your attention. When you have finished the book you can come back to the beginning and look through it and study what you think you need to know.”
Again at the time I remember thinking something along the lines of ‘ I’ll do as I like’ (Such is the attitude of the early adolescent, with the burgeoning arrival hormones.) On reading it today, I find myself wondering what this section of the book is trying to achieve, and it dawned on me that it was an invitation to abandon critical thinking.
Hubbard is pushing his reader to avoid critically evaluating what she or he is reading as they read, to just accept what is offered by him. Well I read the book, laughed a lot put it next to my copy of the Koran, the Bible, and John Allegro’s book on the Dead sea scrolls and forgot about it for the most part.
Later in life, somewhat annoyed at the treatment dished out by Tommy Davis to John Sweeny, in the Panorama Documentaries I began researching Dianetics in greater detail In the introduction to Dianetics 55, Hubbard’s approach has changed. In a section headed in 36 point type, he says.
In reading this book, be very certain you never go past a word you do not fully understand. The only reason a person gives up a study or becomes confused or unable to learn is because he or she has gone past a word that was not understood.
The confusion or inability to grasp or learn comes AFTER a word the person did not have defined and understood. It may not only be the new and unusual words you have to look up. Some commonly used words can often be misdefined(Sic) and so cause confusion.
This datum about not going past an undefined word is the most important fact in the whole subject of study. Every subject you have taken up and abandoned had its words which you failed to get defined.
Therefore, in studying this book be very, very certain you never go past a word you do not fully understand. If the material becomes confusing or you can’t seem to grasp it, there will be a word just earlier that you have not understood. Don’t go any further, but go back to BEFORE you got into trouble, find the misunderstood word and get it defined.
At first reading this seems diametrically opposite to his advice in the earlier work, and superficially at least seems like good advice. Somehow though, reading it I felt the same disquiet as I had with comparable section in Dianetics, partly I think I still resent being told by an author how to read their book, (So perhaps it was not just the adolescent earlier) but also I felt that something else was going on.
Again after some thought I realised that this was not so different to the advice in the earlier book. It was if anything a more honed approach. In this case Hubbard is still drawing attention away from a critical evaluation of the text. In this case he points the reader at thinking about the meaning of individual words, which inevitable draws the reader away from critically evaluating the overall meaning of the text.
Interestingly in the last paragraph on page 62 of Dianetics 55 Hubbard introduces the idea of Duplication, which he then expounds on, making great play that the only effective communication is where the message received matches exactly the message sent.
This is interesting because it promotes firstly that the message the speaker or writer intends to send is the only message, that should be received by the listener or reader, other interpretations represent a failure to ‘duplicate’ and as far as Hubbard seems to be concerned, invalid no matter what.
This echos the language of Newspeak in George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare ‘1984’ where the number of words is limited, as is their dictionary meaning, with new words introduced to further restrict meaning, so that only the texts of ‘IngSoc’ but also the thoughts of ’IngSoc’ are not just the acceptable ones, they are the only possible ones. ‘Crimethink’ is impossible. Demanding that there be only one possible meaning for a text shows a lot of similarities to this.
To see how absurd Hubbard’s assertion becomes, I would suggest that you glance at your e-mail spam folder, where most of us usually find an e-mail beginning something like:
From Mr Mohammed hazan
Dear Good Friend,
How are you together with your family members? I think all is well. Despite the fact that I did not know you in person or have i seen you before but due to the reliable revelation, I decided to share this lucrative opportunity with you, I have no other choice, so kindly consider this message as vital, believing that sooner or later we will be multi millionaires, First and foremost, I have to introduce myself to you.
And so on.
The intended message is fairly obvious, and these days the underlying message is also fairly clear, unless they have absolutely no experience with the internet of course.
Superficially, Hi I want to be your friend, I have lots of money for you.
Hidden message, Send me lots of money please and you will never hear from me again.
This is not too far from what Hubbard attempts to do, although to be fair he is somewhat more sophisticated about it.
Hubbard’s Superficial message is, I’m trying to help you understand.
His hidden message is, Understand only the meaning I intend, do not notice other meanings, do not critically evaluate what I am saying or assess the possible implications of it. Or as one of the responses this post got on alt.religion.scientology, from a regular poster to the group username of Kat said: ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.’
This sounds so much like hypnosis in print that, it is for this reason that I would strongly argue that Scientology is a form of literary Hypnosis.