Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One Ear, Low Tone

I came across this word for the first time in the latest batch of Wikileaked documents. Had me a MU! So off I went to the Scientology handbook, where I found this page of wonderful.

I learnt that obnosis means "observing the obvious", but with an n thrown in. The link above describes the training procedure for learning how to obnose. The first phase involves a bit of unlearning. People are encouraged to say what they can see and discouraged from making any kind of assumptions. So we have this gem:

A student starts to catch on and says, “Well, I can really see he’s got ears.”
-“All right, but from where you’re sitting can you see both ears right now as you’re looking at him?”
-“Well, no.”
-“Okay. What do you see?”
-“I see he’s got a left ear.”
The student realises what is expected of him; that he is to observe only what is immediately in front of him, without making any kind of deduction whatsoever. Now, let's try and spot where this gets into trouble.

The goal of such drilling is to get a student to the point where he can look at another person, or an object, and see exactly what is there. Not a deduction of what might be there from what he does see there. Just what is there, visible and plain to the eye. It’s so simple, it hurts.

You can get a good tip on chronic tone from what a person does with his eyes. At apathy, he will give the appearance of looking fixedly, for minutes on end, at a particular object. The only thing is, he doesn’t see it. He isn’t aware of the object at all. If you dropped a bag over his head, the focus of his eyes would probably remain the same.

That's right. The second phase in this training, having been taught to discard any kind of assumptions in what we observe, is to then learn a whole new set of assumptions; assumptions based on the Tone Scale1, itself an arbitrary hierarchy of mood and behaviour.

It's often been said that Scientology seeks to destroy a person's existing mental tool set and replace it with its own; that Hubbard tears down someone's identity and rebuilds it in his own image. This pattern is clearly demonstrated in the learning process of obnosis. We have a range of learned assumptions; Scientology gets you to unlearn them so that you can replace them with Hubbard's assumptions - obnosis has nothing to do with "observing the obvious" and everything to do with sticking the tone scale between the subject and the world at large.

1 The Beacon revels in the fact that the Tone Scale puts "sympathy" in at 0.9 and "no sympathy" in at 1.2; low tones both! And let's not forget that LRH believed everyone below 2.0 on the Tone Scale ought not have any civil rights.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mario Majorski Shooting

Running through the news coverage, the shooting of Mario Majorski seems a clear-cut case, that Majorski was mentally ill, that he posed a genuine threat to the security guards at the Celebrity Centre, and that the killing will likely be viewed as justified. That he was released from prison two weeks ago, and that his illness wasn't picked up at the time ought to garner the focus of the media above the Scientology connection.

Majorski was a church member, but it seems he left some time ago (see EDIT). His last dealings with the church on public record involved a law-suit against UCLA lecturer Dr. Louis J. West in 1993. He does not appear to have been well for some time - what led him to illness is too open to conjecture, certainly at this stage. Should a clearer picture of Majorski arise when the official ruling on the shooting is made later this week, I'll post again.

EDIT - Apparently Majorski was a practicing member of the Church as late as June 2004:

Tommy and or OSA Int intentionally omitted from consideration the fact that ASHO's Auditor Mag of June 2004 lists Mario Majorski amongst the people intending to come next for the Saint Hill Special Briefing Course training.

Chuck Beatty

I hope to confirm this soon.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Yvonne Schick for Senate?

I learn from Xenu Barb that Yvonne Schick is running for Senate as a Libertarian candidate. Yvonne Schick is a Scientologist. And should we care about that? The small-l libertarian in me says that, up to a point, the answer is no.

There is a coda to that, though. We, hopefully, assess our candidates based on a variety of attributes, and like it or not, belief figures in that. I wouldn't want to see a health minister that believed that vitamin C cured AIDS. I wouldn't want a prime minister that believed in the tooth fairy. But how do I measure that suitability of belief? Why, I measure it against my own beliefs! And in order for me to do that, I need to know what the candidate's beliefs are. Political ideologies are a form of belief, no more or less sacred than religious beliefs, and it would be an odd election indeed that ascribed someone's political beliefs the same level of privacy we often attach to their religious beliefs. This might seem unfair to some who view it as not being a matter for political debate, so here's the thing - if you think it unfair, disregard the information. It's all going to a vote any way, so let those who think it important vote the way they want, and we'll see who wins. The beauty of democracy.

So to clarify, my position is that no-one should be forbidden from candidacy based on their belief, but those beliefs should be open to scrutiny, because they are material to assessing a candidate's suitability. Many of Scientology's beliefs are quite deliberately hidden from public view; they claim that this is right and proper, and similar to many other religions. Whether or not that is the case is a debate for a different time. Yvonne Schick has completed OTIII. This suggests she may believe in Incident 2 and all that that entails. Let's ask her. I shan't insult any below OTIII Scientologist readers by repeating that oft-told tale, but it is important to state that it is a genuine part of Scientology literature, and shall surely stand between Yvonne Schick and a fair few votes.

(if you really want to know about OTIII, start at Wikipedia, then progress onto Scientology vs. Providers and Karin Spaink (1996), the legendary court case that saw CoS, in defending their copyright for OTIII, saw it entered onto the public record, making any future denial of its contents impossible)

Threatening Man Shot Dead by Scientology Armed Guard

The LA Times have more info on the deceased, suggesting that he was a former member of the Church. I'll post more details as they come to light.

Why Germany Bothered.

The German government recently announced that it was no longer looking to ban Scientology in Germany. This has been heralded by many a Scientologist as a victory for their church, despite the government also stating that both its Domestic Intelligence Services and its Office for the Protection of the Constitution will continue to monitor the organisation.

The reason the attempt to ban has been abandoned appears to be the large divide between what Scientology says and what it does. Germany's annual report on Human Rights described the organisation as "[seeking] to limit or rescind basic and human rights, such as the right to develop one's personality and the right to be treated equally." This is in no doubt based on the writings of Hubbard himself, who declared that Civil Liberties should be withdrawn from people who are 2 or lower on the tone scale (people suffering from grief, or fear, for instance). Hubbard also declared quite openly his political ambitions. In discussing a "clear" planet, he envisioned a society wherein local government would be run from Scientology orgs, where policies would be based entirely on Scientology principles. He describes democracy as a failed experiment. Germany has, in light of these writings, decided that, at its heart, Scientology is an unconstitutional organisation. Its attempt to ban the Church was in this context, and Germany has, due to its own history, charged itself with taking a very close rein on the organisations that practice within its borders.

But happily, Scientology does not practice what it preaches. Not outside Clearwater at least. Erhart Koertig, Berlin's top security official, said "This organization pursues goals — through its writings, its concept and its disrespect for minorities — that we cannot tolerate and that we consider in violation of the constitution. But they put very little of this into practice. The appraisal of the government at the moment is that [Scientology] is a lousy organization, but it is not an organization that we have to take a hammer to."

CoS might point to the number of Euros that have been spent in surveilling the organisation, only to shy away from putting a ban in place. I suspect that the German government has also seen wisdom in this; that there is little ground to be had in attempting to outlaw an organisation that is held in such low public regard to begin with. They are, in effect, saying that Scientology in Germany is so poorly organised that should they seek to put into practice those policies of Hubbard that are unconstitutional, they wouldn't be able to. Also, like it or not, Germany has to walk a tightrope between outlawing unconstitutional organisations and being seen to be unconstitutional in doing so - its own First Amendment paradox.

I suspect Germany's biggest mistake in pursuing the Church of Scientology is that it attempted to address the organisation's vision of a Scientology-run planet. A more effective approach would be to look at the church's recruitment methods and its practices; its fraudulent marketing, its dodgy employment policies, its medical claims. Al Capone went to prison for tax evasion...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Criminon worse than nothing!

I don't usually post in this manner, but thought I'd make an exception in this case. Many apologists and supporters of the Church of Scientology point to its drug and crime programs as evidence of the good that the Church does (confusingly, as a way of counterbalancing the bad that the Church does). Second Chance, offering Criminon in New Mexico, claims a 90% success rate, but appears to have a lower success rate than people not participating in the program.

The document mentioned can be found here.

The overall point of this is that many of the services that the Church of Scientology try to provide are services with measurable performance - Narconon, Crimonon, Scholastic Tech, the Purification Rundown. Because Scientology is always marketed as new and revolutionary (Dianetics is still "Modern Science" despite being over fifty years old. And not science.) they'll often get away with suggesting that the reason they don't have any research into efficacy is because they've not had the chance to do any yet. Leaving aside the fact that they are marketing techniques before establishing whether or not they work, they have had plenty of time, money and resources to put their theories to the test. When research has been carried out, the results have been hidden away or misrepresented.

Scientologists often claim that their religion is being victimised, that they should be free to believe in what they want. I agree that they should be free to. Emphasis on free. I also believe that where their organisation makes realworld, falsifiable claims, then those claims should be put to the test, and put to the test in an open and honest manner. If seeking out proof is unpalatable to Scientologists, then they ought only be offering their unproven services to other Scientologists, not trying to peddle it to all us spiritually-stunted, evidence-based fools in the Wog world.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Co$ and the Chemical Brain

The Church of Scientology, as any fule kno, thinks that all psychiatric drugs are bad. Quite where they draw the line on things like "what is a drug?" and "what is a psychiatric drug" is anyone's guess, but in the broad brushstrokes of their anti-psych rhetoric, they're all bad. As Juliette Lewis said recently, schizophrenics would be much better off forgoing their meds and getting themselves down to a petting zoo.

What amuses me is the reasons given. Invariably two simultaneous but contradictory positions are maintained. Firstly, they claim that psych drugs are based on "brain chemistry" and that this theory is flawed, that there is no evidence for it [sic]. Secondly, and here's the fun part, they claim that psych drugs have a detrimental effect on people. Drugs that operate on a person's brain chemistry can lead them to kill themselves, or shoot up their highschool. So in the first instance, brain chemistry does not exist, but in the second instance it does. Whenever you find yourself in a discussion about this with a Scientologist (flunk! You've let them derail the conversation!) ask them the all important question of how psych drugs effect behaviour.

Now I'm no fan of Big Pharma myself. It is true that mistakes happen, with varying degrees of culpability and intent - trials resulting in negative findings fail to get published, adverse reactions aren't picked up on, and so on. But Big Pharma is slowly getting better. Big Pharma creates self-regulatory bodies with real power to monitor the way that drugs are developed and marketed. There is an increasing momentum behind the ideas that are looking to address flaws in the clinical trial process (such as the trials that are registered but never published). Put simply, it is an evidence-based field, so anything that generates evidence will come out sooner or later, and there is a wealth of patients and practitioners out there who want the straight dope, pun intended, on their lotions and potions.

Big Pharma may not get it right all the time, but they stand a far better chance than the vitamin and dietary quacks who cling to their unmonitored products and wave massively flawed studies and even more flawed reasoning at media whorish enough to lend anyone with the remotest air of scientific authority fifteen minutes in which to flog their snake oil. One weak and yet to be repeated study into the effects of Omega 3 fish oils on kids suffering from ADHD becomes the foundation of sand on which is built an industry safe in the delusion that fish oil turns kids into placid brainiacs. One weak and yet to be repeated study into Narconon suggests that the rehab treatment aint that great, and so is buried away, far from the prying eyes of a public that have a genuine need to know.

But I digress. The cognitive dissonance at the heart of the Church's anti-psych stance stands as a crystalisation at the level of cognitive dissonance that exists throughout the organisation as a whole - the Orwellian double think that allows people to believe they are free, yet unquestioningly follow orders, write cheques, and fill out credit applications. And on the subject of the chemical brain, who says there's no evidence for it? It remains the strongest model we have of the way mood functions, and certainly a stronger model than the suggestion that we are controlled by memories lodged in each and every cell of our body. There is an excellent and balanced blog post on the subject here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Adapt and Survive

One of the things I enjoy about criticism of the Church of Scientology is that it forms a microcosm of most religions, as though Hubbard had engineered it as a model of religion so he could observe how it behaved in the world at large. He didn't; he just foolishly thought it would allow him to get rich through the application of little effort.

Much of the criticism of Hubbard's writing, that which doesn't hinge on its logical inconsistencies and occupation of bad or invented science, has focused on its bigotry - its position on homosexuals (should be cured or killed), on native South Africans (can't do anything with them, primitive, utterly materialistic), on Chinese ("the trouble with China is there are too many Chinese there"), and so on. Apologists say "well, he was a white middle-class guy in the 1950s, what do you expect?" To which one must reply "I expect him not to inflict his opinions on future generations by starting up a fraudulent organisation pedalling this bigotry as though it were inescapable gospel truth."

Last year David Miscavige oversaw the re-editing of many basic texts, against Scientology rules, and resold them all to Scientologists worldwide in an aggressive series of celebratory events. If you're curious about these new editions, you can get them for pennies on ebay. You might even be able to save on postage and packing by contacting local libraries, many of whom will have been sent unsolicited copies they'll be keen to get rid of.

This is the second time the tech has been changed since Hubbard's death, and crystalises the paradox of the sacred text. How can Truth cease being True over time? How can you change your sacred texts and still be the same religion? How can the new Truth be trusted if the old Truth has been swept away. Scientology adopts the George Orwell approach. The new Truth is actually the original Truth, kept from us by nasty nasty squirrels, which is not a trick they can go on pulling forever (twice is already pushing it) and when the continued financial success of the corporation relies not on the increasingly impossible task of new recruits, but of reselling the same stuff over and over to members who feel unable to leave.

But here is the dilemma, and it is a dilemma that is faced by many more orthodox religions. People pursue their own moral compasses - they have an ability to assess, based often on a few core principals and internal debate based on those principals, the rightness and wrongness of things. Often that compass will develop within religion and within a legal system. The law and religion will not necessarily see eye to eye all the time, but more to the point, that person's moral compass will not always marry up to what their religion tells them. These people then run the risk of disenfranchisement from that religion. If the dissonance is strong enough then the religion will cease to function well at all. If, for instance, a religion stipulates in its scripture that women are subservient to men, then in time, as sexual equality becomes the norm, people will consider this aspect of religion (often taken, rightly or wrongly, to be representative of the religion as a whole) and choose to leave, or at the very least to humour it without conviction. If this continues, over the course of a couple of generations the religion will flounder and fail - and attendance will drop. If the religion refuses to change its ways, it will not survive; it will return to the cult status it no doubt started as.

How that change takes place is problematic if the rules are laid down in scripture. Abrahamic religions are lucky (just about) in having a multi-translated ancient text to work from - open as it is to reinterpretation, translation errors and more. Hubbard's intentions, however, were to avoid schism. He mistakenly believed that the best way of avoiding schism was to ensure that everyone was clear on what was meant by everything he wrote. He wasn't especially good at this - his policies were frequently amended, something that has officially stopped since he died. Hubbard's words are carved in stone (well, etched in titanium, really) so can't be changed as readily. As a result, critics, perhaps a little unfairly, highlight Hubbard's bigotry, but also highlight the Church's attempts at changing its ways. The real root of this two-pronged attack is that CoS makes the claim that it is the purveyor of truth ("I only deal in facts" as Hubbard so memorably sang), but doesn't make very convincing arguments, especially when it starts changing its story about what that truth really is. The attack only seems unfair because it has been spawned by the cognitive dissonance at the heart of Scientology; the doublethink on which the cult thrives. As noted in the Purview, a CoS PR officer recently stated that touch assists are there as a means to heal on a spiritual and emotional level. For years touch assists have been marketed as a means of speeding recovery on a physical level; as it becomes clearer and clearer that no evidence for this will be forthcoming, the claims are being shifted to where evidence cannot exist - the spiritual plane (see Evolution of CAM). Soon those will be the only claims ever made about it, irrespective of what is written in the books right-thinking Scientologists ought to have pulped when they got their new, un-squirreled editions hot off the presses

As a footnote, it should be pointed out that Hubbard, for all his attempts, got his schism in the end. The unmovable position he made, first on Dianetics, and later on Scientology, created the Freezone, offering many people who like the belief system but not the Church, a way to the kind of freedom they'd initially imagined.