Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Raw Shark Conjecture

One of the risks of writing about the Church of Scientology is that, due in equal parts to the bizarre beliefs and the level of secrecy in the organisation, it becomes too easy to take yourself off on flights of fanciful supposition. Also, you start taking the things you have learnt about CoS and apply it to other entities. You begin to recognise in many different places similar mechanisms and techniques being used and abused. With all this in mind, The Beacon offers up this extended diversion.

In 2007 Steven Hall had published his novel The Raw Shark Texts, a surreal fantasy thriller in which one Eric Sanderson is being hunted down by a "conceptual shark" that has been slowly eating away at Sanderson's memory. But this creature is the least of his troubles. He is also being pursued by Mycroft Ward, another equally unlikely entity. Here, from the book, is Ward's story.

The old man announced - to family, to friends, and to several newspapers - that he had decided not to die, not from this illness, not from anything, not ever. He claimed he didn't have time for death and would instead "unshackle himself from the multitudinous failings of the corporeal harness and progress forward ad infinitum."


The old man's death the following spring was marked only by a number of small obituaries and a few pithy editorials (one of which compared him to King Canute). Within a fewmonths, interest in Mycroft Ward had grumbled itself away into the aether. The planet smirkd, and moved on.
What the planet didn't hear about, what only a select group of people have ever known, is this: Ward succeeded in his plan. At least, he succeeded after a fashion.


The system he devised was so down-to-earth and logical an accountant might have invented it. First, through the use of thousands of questions and tests, War succeeded in reproducing a very rough copy of his personality on paper. Then, through "the applied arts of mesmerism and suggestion" Ward successfully imprinted this personality onto another person.


"The arrangement" was a greater success than Ward could ever have hoped for. Members of the Ward family initially challenged the validity of this young man twho had appeared from nowhere, claimed to be a distant relative and walked away with everything the old man owned. But on meeting "Mycroft Ward the Younger", even the most stubborn and money-fixated of the cousines conceded that the two men must be erlated - while there was little physical resemblance, their mannerisms , attitudes and opinions were so similar there could be no doubt of a blood connection. Mycroft Ward's self had successfully survived the death of his body. He was young again at the dawn of a new century.


Throughout the early half of the 1920s, Ward modified the original personality recording template significantly. He added new systems and techniques to refine the collected personality data, developed tests which would capture newly acquired knowledge and opinion, and created an all important procedure whereby knowledge could be gathered from two minds, standardised with minimum loss of information, then transferred back, realigning both minds into a single unified self.
Ward also amended his new personality recorder to instil an increased desire for self-preservation. And it was with this one single action, as sensible as it may have seemed to him in the bloody aftermath of World War One, that Ward doomed himself and cast a long, black shadow over all of our futures.

Ward, in his effort to survive death, copies himself amongst an increasing number of beings, becoming somewhat beaten out of shape, of course - a corrupted self-serving entity that has little or nothing to do with the 19th century eccentric.

I can't help but find a parallel between Hall's creation and Hubbard's. Hubbard once wrote "I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form." The belief system he created suggests we are all immortal beings, that we have lives past and future. He seems obssessed with immortality.

It is possible, then, to read Scientology in terms of an attempt to create a Ward-like "agreement" with which a person gives up their own personality in order to host another. Even the language lends itself to this. Scientology speaks of clearing someone of their reactive mind, but we are reactive beings - we learn through reaction, we make decisions through reaction, our personalities are founded in reaction, we are products, mainly, of our past. Going clear then, to my mind, is an attempt to relinquish the effect that past events have on our personality, a wiping clean of the slate.

And what gets put on the slate after that? Hubbard's tech, based on Hubbard's "research", every bit of which as Hubbard-engraved as those titanium sheets the Church are presumably in the process of melting down. When you look at the idolatory of Hubbard, the level to which his identity, image and personality is sustained throughout the organisation, it comes worryingly close to Mycroft Ward.

I'm not suggesting that, in any real sense, Hubbard is a fully sentient entity spread out across the High OTs, (though if you fancy pursuing this notion further I'd recommend I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter) but there is certainly a vague notion of a conscious attempt at posthumous survival to be found in the authoritarian aspects of the Church, in the tech that betrays Hubbard's own paranoias, in the strict instructions, training routines, in mythology that form allegories to support Hubbard's own prejudices. Even the image of body-clusters is sickeningly suggestive of elements of Hubbards own personality, badly copied simulations running on someone else's hardware.

If this seems too outlandish a notion still, think of it merely in terms of Hubbard's intentions. Such an ambition certainly doesn't seem beneath him, and the idolatory of Hubbard by its members would allow for such an ambition to be shared amongst them. If you need further evidence of this, check out these screengrabs a reader has kindly supplied. They're from a leaked 2007 OT summit video and are, as ever, published in lines with Fair Use exemption.

But if we step back from the looking glass world for a moment, and keep our feet firmly on the ground, what we know we do have is an organisation made in the image of a man, an organisation that tells people how to think, an organisation that will always put itself before its individual members. Co$ has a survival dynamic all its own, and it is worth looking at where it places you in relation to that dynamic.

1 comment:

  1. I hope I can remember to obtain that book before I forget about it. It sounds right up my alley.


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