Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Complex: John Duignan, Nicola Tallant

In 1985, in Stuttgart, a twenty-one-year-old John Duignan, as a means to fund Scientology services, signed up to the local org staff. Twenty-one years later, he engaged in a cloak-and-dagger game on the streets of Birmingham, misdirecting OSA, the Church of Scientology's intelligence agency, so that he might flee to family in Ireland and rebuild his shattered life. In 2008, to a backdrop of Anonymous protests and high-profile defections, Duignan co-authored The Complex with Sunday World journalist Nicola Tallant.

On the verge of release, and with tedious predictability, the book was withdrawn from a variety of online outlets. One of the church members Duignan named had threatened a libel lawsuit, and The Complex is now chiefly only available through Amazon-affiliated booksellers or the Irish bookshop Eason. Church of Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw issued a statement, as is her wont, employing that familiar Scientology brand of not-lying. Duignan refers to a girl named Alice who, while on RPF, drank cleaning fluid and threw herself from one of the buildings in Saint Hill. The suicide attempt failed, but left Alice invalided. Prouw went on record stating "no one has ever committed suicide at the facility where Mr. Duignan worked in the UK" - denying a claim that Duignan hadn't actually made. With yet more predictability, the attempt to quash the distribution of The Complex has only served to fuel the interest in the book's contents.

Duignan's exposé does not limit itself to discussing what happened from the day he took the Oxford Capacity Test but instead takes a chapter out to outline everything that brought him over the threshold of that Stuttgart org. This courageous confessional serves two purposes, explaining what it was in Duignan's make-up that made him a mark for the organisation, and undermining any leverage the Church may yet hold courtesy of his case notes, the copious details of anything he may have discussed during his auditing sessions.

Duignan embraced life in the Sea Org, making his way from his initial training up to the heights of Deputy Flag Banking Officer for Org Resources and Exchange in Birmingham. Unlike many who find themselves in the organisation, Duignan was able to determine where he most wanted to be, what posts were best suited to him, and how to ensure his stats, the weekly results by which each member of CoS staff is judged, remained on the up and up. There is a palpable joy to Duignan's accounts of his times of success, though these shift over time from a sense of achievement to a sense of survival over adversity, of raising church funds to cover payments of legal damages, or turning around press releases within an impossibly short space of time.

As much as the book tells the story of Duignan's career as a member of Sea Org, it also serves as a history of the Church as it transformed itself under the leadership of Miscavige. Whereas CoS was no picnic under Hubbard, it became darker and more paranoid still following his demise. Miscavige rose to power following a coup against Pat Broeker, and impressed upon the organisation a far more totalitarian regime than existed before. Perhaps due to the shadiness of his own rise, Miscavige's leadership was characterised by purges and punishment. Whole levels of management were replaced. The base at Hemet has reportedly become a ghost town, with few people in the Church willing to be posted there, and fewer still able to survive the increasingly insane demands placed on them by their church leader. It is telling indeed that Duignan describes being held at Saint Hill in a room that once was given over to watch equipment (walky-talkies and the like) but had been turned into a cell where those undergoing ethics were to write out their confessions; Hubbard's outward-facing paranoia, raging against the psychs and the government, making way for Miscavige's inward-facing paranoia.

It was not Miscavige's tightening fist that led to Duignan's emergence from the cult mentality, however, but the organisations ongoing romance with celebrity. Duignan was able to get over the various injustices he had suffered for his alleged out-ethics, but not the disproportionate rewards that Cruise et al received when hard-working Sea Org members continued to live in cramped conditions on a diet of rice and beans. This crack was widened further following Duignan's access to the unfiltered internet (in order to sell goods on Ebay, where Duignan encountered e-meters and more) and with it an unfiltered view of the Church and its history. When Duignan took the courage to read, in Hubbard's own writing, the OTIII materials, he knew his life with the Church was over.

But Duignan does not end his story with his life on the run in Birmingham and his mad dash to Douglas. He also writes about his ongoing recovery; the counselling, the difficult successes, the community of ex-scientologists, and the slow but sure rebuilding of his life outside the Church. This is a vital part of anyone's Scientology story, an offer of hope to those stuck in an organisation that too often uses fear of the "wog" world to keep people trapped.

The power Duignan's story holds is because it is just that, an unflinching account of one person's own psychological journey through Hubbard's mad mad world. It's a great look not just at the church, but the personal motivations of those who find themselves employed by it. There are a few minor factual errors here and there (the occasional street name; Hubbard, while "researching" the OT levels, is described as popping "greens and reds" rather than the traditional "pinks and greys") but they do not detract from what seems to be an open and honest account of a man who was both victim and perpetrator of a powerful, fraudulent organisation.

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