This is the first post in a new series of blog posts on things I think every Scientologist, ex Scientologist and Scientology watcher should hear.
It's going to attempt to be a fresh starting point for anyone interested in Scientology or really any information on influence and how it affects human beings.
Starting off I think we should deal with some things that are bound to come up sooner or later and take them head on.
We are all going to have disagreements with each other from time to time and I expect this series to be no exception. In fact I hope you disagree with me and reserve the right to keep right on disagreeing the entire time I exist. There is an important reason for this.
Dissent is essential for discovering and even perceiving the truth. Even incompetent dissent.
Second, there is value at looking at the best arguments for and against a position or idea, even arguments you might never agree with.
In On Liberty John Stuart Mill took on this issue:
Jon Atack used this quote from John Stuart Mill to describe how to take on the complex and intentionally unclear ideas in Scientology.
“There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument; but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person whose judgement is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct.”John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, published in 1859
Here's an expanded excerpt to consider.
"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, published in 1859
"Why is it, then, that there is on the whole a preponderance among mankind of rational opinions and rational conduct? If there really is this preponderance--which there must be, unless human affairs are, and have always been, in an almost desperate state--it is owing to a quality of the human mind, the source of everything respectable in man, either as an intellectual or as a moral being, namely, that his errors are corrigible. He is capable of rectifying his mistakes by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion, to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. "
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, published in 1859
Mill was clever and correct. In fact research in social psychology strongly supports his views. Good relevant evidence has been found in my opinion.
In the book Sway The Irresistible Pull Of Irrational Behavior authors (and brothers) Ori Brafman ( MBA Stanford Business School) and Rom Brafman (PhD Psychology) described experiments on dissent.
Solomon Asch did one of the most famous experiments in social psychology. In one experiment a subject was told they were being tested for visual acuity. They were placed in a group with several other people. The group was shown three straight lines of greatly varying lengths and a fourth line and asked which of the three lines the new one matched. The lines were intentionally different enough that the answer was meant to be obvious.
But there was a hidden element, as there usually is in a social psychology experiment, every person except one was an actor. The actors were all instructed to give the same answer before the actual subject responded. They all gave the same wrong answer.
Now there were several rounds of being presented lines and answering. And when everyone else gave the same obviously wrong answer 75% of subjects ALSO gave that answer in at least one of the rounds.
Asch found unanimity gave the experiment its full persuasive power. It's hard to be a lone dissenting voice.
He did something I have found people often do with good experiments. He repeated it with a slight variation to test an idea. He had the same set up with one crucial alteration: he had one actor give the right answer while the others gave the same wrong answer.
He found that having even one person give the true and easily observable answer made it so the test subjects felt free and confident enough to also give the correct answer, almost every single time.
The authors wrote, "The really interesting thing, though, is that the dissenting actor didn't even need to give the correct response; all it took to break the sway was for someone to give an answer that was different from the majority." (Page 155 Sway)
To really drive home this point with evidence another clever experiment is described. Psychologist Vernon Allen conducted it.
In this one a subject was asked to do a self-assessment survey alone. After five minutes a researcher knocked on the door and asked the subject to share the room due to a lack of space.
The new subject was of course an actor. The new subject had special extra, extra thick glasses intentionally designed to give the impression of him being nearly blind without them. Super coke bottle glasses.
To step it up a notch the researcher and actor even had a script. The actor said, "Excuse me, but does this test require long-distance vision ?" The researcher confirmed it and the subject responded, "I have very limited eyesight" and "I can only see up-close objects."
They even acted out a scene of the researcher asking the coke bottles wearing actor to read an easily legible sign on the wall. The actor of course acted out straining and finding the sign impossible to make out to drive home the point that he was practically blind over long distances.
The researcher explained that he needed five people for the testing apparatus to work, so it was okay for the nearly blind seeming subject to, "Just sit in anyway, since you won't be able to see the questions, answer any way you want; randomly, maybe. I won't record your answers."
But even with the coke bottle glasses and blind as a bat routine the actor was able to affect conformity significantly. 97% of participants conformed when agreement was unanimous but it dropped to 64% with the coke bottles wearing actor even if he gave an incorrect answer as long as it was different from the majority.
That is astounding. Having three people give an incorrect answer can be countered for 33% of people even with an obviously incorrect answer from an obviously unreliable source !
It's truly worth considering. Imagine yourself being like 97% of us and conforming with the crowd in denying what you see before your eyes, but that one out of three of us actually will see and acknowledge the truth if anyone, no matter how unlikely or wrong or obviously unqualified simply disagrees and breaks the unanimous opinion.
I think dissenting views shouldn't just be accepted or even suggested for important decisions that time permits careful consideration of but frankly should be required !
And looking at Mill's ideas makes me think the dissenting views should be the absolute best prepared and presented versions of those views possible. Put every effort into giving them the opportunity to be actually well thought out and persuasive so they take real effort to refute.
I believe that we as humans have to as John Stuart Mill described bring ideas forward to fully understand them and the arguments for and against them as well.
More evidence that dissent is actually useful is described in Sway regarding a fascinating unforseen result of a study. The study was conducted by David Kantor, a Boston-based family therapist who was trying to see how schizophrenia manifested itself in families. He had cameras set up in people's homes then poured through hours of footage of regular family life. He didn't learn much about schizophrenia but found a useful pattern that occurred over and over in family after family.
He discovered four roles people take turns assuming in families. We may assume these roles in other groups as well. It's an interesting hypothesis.
The roles are 1) the initiator, someone that comes up with an idea or starts am activity. 2) the blocker, someone that brings up reasons to not do the idea or fears if they do it or negative potential consequences.
In Sway the authors wrote, "Of course, it's easy to think of blockers as pure curmudgeons. But as we'll soon see, they play a vital role in maintaining balance within a group." (Page 158)
Initiators and blockers inevitably disagree and then 3) supporters come in. They take a side and go with the intention of the initiator or blocker. If the initiator wants to go to the movies and the blocker thinks they should not the supporter will either encourage going or not going, very clear. Last is 4) the observer, they watch and try to not take sides.
The initiators and blockers naturally bump heads. In polite discourse they disagree, in less polite situations they argue or even fight.
Initiators in this hypothesis have lots of ideas and are willing to do things, or at least come up with ideas or decisions for others. Blockers are cautious and less optimistic.
Many groups seek people with ideas, confidence and the qualities initiators hold. Groups also avoid blockers. I have even heard of people that see the key to success is to steer clear of people who are negative or unsuccessful, in some ways describing blockers as too down.
But a blocker has the tendency to give the dissenting view, even if they are wrong everything we have seen up to now should tell us we want and need to hear dissenting views. Too many yes men can inspire false or unjustified confidence.
Some managers to prevent conformity influencing the evaluations of executives and advisors instruct a group of staff to take a written proposal for a project, go home, read it and write a one page response with your impression and opinion. Don't discuss this with each other in forming your opinion.
Come back tomorrow and each of you in turn can read your response. This way we won't influence the statements of each other. Additionally if they are considering going forth another assignment is used. The staff are instructed to separately come up with a hypothetical situation. They are supposed to imagine six months in the future and that the project has failed. They are supposed to write a post mortem, an analysis of what went wrong, how and why.
By each separately brainstorming the potential failure of the project they each play the role of blocker and bring their intelligence, imagination and knowledge to the topic of what could fail. In this way potential weaknesses or obstacles can be considered.
A person with knowledge of aspects of the project that could be difficult might alert others in the meeting who could realize many things. A person could realize the project is illegal, or could realize the problems in one area will make the project unfeasible in how it impacts another area or could foresee an obstacle and practical solution to it from their expertise which if it hadn't been implemented from the beginning would result in certain failure.
The possibilities are many and give the group a better chance of using the knowledge of each other as they interact. The whole group, whether they are aware of it or not has more knowledge of potential factors that could create success and factors that could create failure.
So, what the heck does all this have to do with Scientology ? Well, in Scientology dissent is actually discouraged so strongly it is effectively criminalized.
In Scientology conformity to the group norms and obedience to authority intersect through high control to as Margaret Singer described take over all or nearly all of a cult member's decision making, her definition of a cult is a group that does this.
After spending decades with behavior and even thoughts and emotions shaped to conform and obey in Scientology ex Scientologists face a significant challenge. Tolerating dissent was forbidden and unthinkable in Scientology, so moving to being tolerant or even respectful and considerate regarding differing views, ideas and lifestyles is entirely foreign to Scientology. It's not only absent, it's policed ruthlessly and treated as degraded and abberated.
Coming from that background to discovering that embracing and requiring dissent for the full and competent use of reason is a monumental task to put it mildly. But I feel a necessary one, not only for the best reason possible but even for adequate decision making and evaluation of ideas. It's also important for people regarding social interaction.
The members of the ex Scientology community often have challenges in accepting differing opinions, as in Scientology Hubbard's ideas regulated nearly everything and now David Miscavige leads the rigid caste system and in the Sea Org and Scientology hierarchy rank determines who is seen as correct, no need to tolerate dissent because it's not permitted.
Out in the real world different individuals hold different opinions and are free to express them. Scientology didn't prepare us for this.
As Hubbard didn't tolerate opposing or just differing views so too does the cult made in his image.
It's particularly difficult often for members raised in Scientology who don't have a pre cult identity to fall back on.
They have to find who they are in a different way. Many succeed and it is not impossible.
But imagine, if you will, always from birth being taught Hubbard was always right and any disagreements were always wrong and having that as the guiding principle for your whole life so thoroughly you never question it and neither does anyone else around you, at least not anyone you consider wise or sane.
I have found on occasion some people raised in Scientology have tremendous challenges in accepting even slight disagreements regarding minor issues. You can express respect and agreement regarding dozens of issues but point out a slight disagreement and witness an ex Scientologist raised from birth become defensive, and even belligerent and petulant.
They experience uncertainty and confusion in situations in which disagreement is expected to be tolerated. The induction of cognitive dissonance - a feeling of discomfort and confusion and anxiety brought on by contradictory ideas, feelings or behavior - is unbearable to someone who formerly resolved all contradictions by simply submitting to the authorities Scientology provided. That was the stable datum to resolve doubt and silence dissent and ease the emotional discomfort of cognitive dissonance.
With that stripped away the ex Scientologist is pushed into unknown and uncomfortable territory. But I think learning how the discomfort is created and that facing dissent and understanding dissonance is better than living in submission to the will of Hubbard and Miscavige.
It's a lesson we all could benefit from in my opinion, whether we were in Scientology or not.