Monday, June 21, 2010

Cluster Criticism of a Scientology video pt.3

The Interpretation

Analysis of the clusters in the Introduction to Dianetics video indicates that Dianetics offers a religious conversion experience through a commitment to rational self-determination, free from any concepts of atonement. Since Scientology presents itself as a religion, and because Dianetics is the process that initiates the religious journey prescribed by Scientology, the life-change that Dianetics proposes is fairly categorized in terms of religious conversion. What emerges from an analysis of the key terms and clusters of the Dianetics video which describe this conversion experience is a religious world view consisting of three component parts.

First, examination of the key term abberated along with the terms, concepts, and images which are associated with it, indicates that because humans are not strictly free moral agents, they are not therefore morally culpable for their depraved actions. Though the reactive-analytical mind dialectic, which forms the context of the conversion experience, bears formal characteristics reminiscent of a dualistic, Manichean view of reality with forces of good and evil vying against one another for supremacy, Dianetics nowhere construes these opposing cerebral states and their attendant behaviors in terms of moral categories. In fact, not only does it stop short of assigning moral culpability for moral transgressions while under the control of the reactive mind, it relieves the individual of all moral culpability by making individuals victims of immaterial and impersonal forces. This perspective is promoted and reinforced in multiple ways. Since engrams encoded upon the reactive minds of passive human subjects before birth are the catalysts for immoral behaviors consisting in abusive acts against other persons and their property, individuals lack free will. Further, characterizing the reactions of the reactive mind as stimulus responses has the effect of suppressing the rational volition of a human agent which is a necessary condition of culpability. Finally, by implying that the aberrated state is not one of freedom but bondage to irrational forces, Dianetics makes it clear that human action in the abberated state is not self-determined, and therefore free from accountability. Given this construction of the human predicament in the abberated condition, it is reasonable to conclude that individuals are not morally culpable for their actions.

Second, the first point builds the foundation for and leads to the subsequent point, that Dianetics proposes a religious experience that is free from any concept of atonement. This is already suggested by the fact that human agents acting out under the control of the reactive mind are not morally culpable for their actions since they have no free will. The logic is pat: no freedom, then no accountability; therefore, it is unnecessary to speak of placation or redemption since it would be illogical and unreasonable for a divine being to take offense at human action which was not rationally self-determined. Beyond that, the whole concept of “clearing” stands opposed to the concept of conversion through a redemptive act of atonement. The concept of conversion through confronting and permanently clearing a painful engram in order to deliver full control to the analytic mind without any expression of contrition, acts of expiation, or retribution, implies a worldview where there is no conscience, no overarching moral principles, or a divine being who is repulsed by immoral acts (Fromm, p.2). It is the scheme of Dianetics that engrams are the cause of depravity, and they are not atoned for, they are to simply be eradicated.

Before addressing the third component it is necessary to challenge that clearing is not really a religious conversion experience after all, rather it is a state of positive mental health induced by purely Freudian, psycho-therapeutic means, and is therefore fundamentally areligious. On the surface such a charge might appear to have some merit, after all, Hubbard himself acknowledges a profound influence of Freud upon his thinking. This is influence is evident in Hubbard’s view of the mind as consisting of the analytic, reactive, and somatic components, which is a rough parallel to Freud’s id, ego, and superego. Further, his insistence that unconscious mental processes are the cause of maladaptive behaviors clearly echoes Freudian thought (McCall, 2006). However, to draw a conclusion by focusing only on the formal parallels would be to miss the critical and essential points of difference between Hubbard’s science of Dianetics and Freud’s psychotherapy. For starters, Freud’s model of mental health was based upon self-understanding, as Fromm explains, “Freud's aim was to help the patient to understand the complexity of his mind, and his therapy was based on the concept that by understanding one's self one can free one's self from the bondage to irrational forces which cause unhappiness and mental illness (1950, p.1). Other significant differences between Freudian theory and methodology are apparent, not the least of which is that for Freud, the latent impulses which cause antisocial behavior are self-imposed psychological constructs which are confronted and discarded through greater self-understanding, while Dianetics explains that these subconscious catalytic impulses are physically etched upon the brain. Additionally, the manner of dealing with these subconscious impulses are entirely different. On the scheme of Dianetics, the subconscious is addressed and not through a therapeutic process of seeking self-understanding, but through following the prescribed auditing process of merely confronting engrams and running them through the filter of the rational analytic mind to discharge them of their power. Beside that consideration is another, which is that Hubbard was openly critical and even hostile toward Freud’s theory and method of psychotherapy because it was expressly anti-religious as McCall (2006) explains, “Hubbard reacted strongly to this position of psychoanalysis, saying ‘Only those who believe, as do psychiatrists and psychologists, that man is a soulless animal or who wish for their own reasons to keep man unhappy and oppressed are in conflict with Scientology’’’ (p.443). A final difference of note is that, auditing, which is the spiritual technology leading the way to the condition of clear, can be conducted not by a licensed therapist, but rather, only by an officially ordained Scientology clergy member, which of itself, characterizes the experience as expressly religious. These considerations taken as a whole, answer the charge, at least on Scientology’s manner or reckoning, that the religious experience offered by Dianetics is areligous psychotherapy.

Third, analysis of the key terms and clusters of Dianetics indicates a religious experience that is actualized by means of a commitment to rational self-determination. The path to clear is openly professed to be a self-determined effort to make use of spiritual “technology” where the individual is translated into a transcendent state characterized by rational self-control activated by the dominance of the analytic mind. At a superficial level it might appear that the state of clear proposed by Dianetics is an updated, albeit Western, version of the Budhist concept of bodhi, which is a state of intellectual and ethical perfection. Of course, the parallels are not accidental as Hubbard openly admitted to connecting his own religious ideology with Budhism. In fact, he even went so far as “proclaiming himself Maitreya,” a Budhist messiah figure who was prophesied to have a prosperous future rule over a prosperous city, in his poetic work entitled, The Hymn of Asia (Kent, 1996). The problem with reading Scientology as an updated form of Budhism is that the appearances of similarity are deceptive not substantive. Much of the evidence Hubbard offers to substantiate his claim to be the messianic Budha, including the claims that the messiah would appear in the West, have red hair, or that he would appear in a time of turmoil, are completely fabricated, as Kent (1996) says, “Almost none of the attributions that he (or his "editors") make to the figure are accurate” (p.29). Add to that the fact that the paths proposed by Budhism and Dianetics to achieve the state of bodhi, share almost nothing in common, as Kent again observes, “Scientology's system claims to work by eliminating the effects of traumatic events (or engrams), while traditional Buddhism asserts that practitioners can achieve its spiritual goal by combining moral discipline with methods of concentration” (p.32).

This comparison between Dianetics and Budhism is instructive on a couple of levels. Not only does it expose the distortions and untruths embedded in Scientology’s claims, it also provides further evidence for the claim being advanced which is that Dianetics offers a religious conversion experience through rational self-determination. In spite of Dianetics cloaking itself in some of the rhetorical and conceptual garb of Budhism, and Eastern religion more broadly, analysis of its terms and concepts discloses the fact that Dianetics privileges the intellect, granting it a hegemonic, god like status in the individual quest for enlightenment/conversion, while it provides no role for the moral, contemplative, and ascetic disciplines which are so central to the Budhist quest of reaching nirvana (Kent, 1996). In summary, after analyzing the various alternative models for understanding the process of reaching the clear, it is evident that Dianetics proposes a religious conversion experience that is actualized by means of a commitment to rational self-determination which bears no essential parallel to Budhist religious concepts.

In Conclusion

All that remains now, is to briefly discuss what the previous analysis of the cerebral operations discussed in the Dianetics video clip discloses about Scientology’s religious ideology. First, the world is essentially rational; therefore, logic is the means of living in harmony with it. Fromm (1950) likens Dianetics’ vision of reality to a machine and the clear person to a mechanical engineer who uses reason to navigate their way through it. By the application of logic, right decisions are made, and the individual’s survival is insured. Second, logic is the instrumental means of uniting with the divine. As discussed above, the clear condition, which is a permanent transcendent state, is achieved by the rational application of spiritual technology to achieve a state of self-mastery. Once clear, the individual is an analog of the alpha-theta who is the sole cause of the physical universe (Kent, 1999). Scientology proposes a religious experience and relationship with the divine which is actuated and governed by an impersonal, immaterial, rational means. Third, Scientology offers a portrait of the divine which is flat, free from mystery and ambiguity. If the clear state is a mirror image of the divine existence then it indicates that the divine exists in a state of transcendent being, characterized by rational self-mastery, and amorality. In some respects Dianetics’ supreme being has many affinities with Aristotle’s unmoved mover who is a passionless, amoral being, contemplating only itself.

This view of the divine constructed from the key terms and clusters of the Dianetics video illustrates Burke’s method of analyzing a rhetor’s worldview by examining the terministic screens contained within an artifact. Burke maintained that by analyzing key terms which directed attention to certain concepts and ideas while suppressing or deflecting attention from others, it was possible to construct central features of a rhetor’s thought. Applying this method to Scientology’s Dianetics video and analyzing what is primary and what is suppressed, reveals that Scientology’s religious ideology is shaped by belief in a passionless, amoral, transcendent being who is open to affiliating with individuals who have achieved a state of self-mastery through rational self-determination.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cluster Criticism of a Scientology video pt.2

The Key Terms

In the Dianetics video there is only one explicitly referenced key term, but there is a second key term which is implied. The first key term is “clear.” It is used only one time in the entire video but if this term were removed from the video or the Scientology lexicon, and not replaced by a similar word, it would gut the system of coherent meaning; so, clear, fits the criterion of ultimacy. Clear represents the entire goal of Dianetics. To be clear, means one is free, rational, happy, and transcendent, no longer susceptible to the irrational influences of sinister engrams deeply lodged in the reactive mind. The second key term is “abberated,” which in the system of Dianetics refers to the state of an individual prior to their decision to pursue clearing (McCall, 2006). Though not explicitly stated in the video, abberated is the term around which a whole series of negative cerebral terms, action verbs, and images of maladaptive behavior cluster. To be abberated, means one is enslaved, irrational, emotionally volatile, and repressed.

The Clusters

Abberated. The dominant idea associated with the key term abberrated is that of the reactive mind. This construction occurs two times in the video and is the referent of the pronoun “it” three times. Associated with reactive mind are a series of cerebral terms including negative thoughts, irrational, and think. Besides being associated with negative cerebral terms, the reactive mind is characterized by a state of motion through the use of an array of action terms such as throws, making, protecting, believing, reacting, and accumulating, which are all unthinking action responses to environmental stimuli. The frenetic picture of the reactive mind is further colored by the visual images of abusive behavior activated while under its control, including a hysterical woman screaming and throwing things at what is ostensibly her boyfriend, a man backhanding his small child, an employee in a verbal altercation with his boss, a man punching another man on a public sidewalk, and an elderly gentleman hollering at fellow motorists while driving on the freeway. One final concept associated with abberated, which is not explicitly stated but is certainly implied, is that of bondage. If the primary term associated with clear is “free” then by implication, the corresponding term associated with abberated must be “bondage.” That concept seems to be reinforced by whole series of supporting ideas mentioned already including irrationality and stimulus response antisocial behavioral outbursts. The overall picture that shapes up from the terms and images clustered around the key term abberated portrays individuals as victims, acting out in abusive ways under the tyrannical sway of uncontrollable irrational influences which are rooted in the sinister, subterranean compartment of the human mental apparatus called the reactive mind.

Clear. The dominant motif associated with the key term clear is “free.” The free state is the condition of being under the influence of the analytical mind. The analytical mind is characterized by machine like qualities as it makes survival decisions based upon a vast reservoir of memories, experiences, and logical calculations. A series of cerebral terms are associated with the analytical mind as well, such as think, decide, calculate, rational, imagination, and creativity. Visual images reinforce the concept of rational contemplation and self-control. One image shows a man using tools to fix a broken bike, then a woman playing a violin, a man proposing to his girlfriend, a couple engaged in playful banter, and a man interacting thoughtfully with a co-worker. In contrast to the frenetic state of activity associated with the reactive mind, the clear state is the condition of operating under the control of the wholly rational analytic mind. Additionally, clear is associated with states of being. The clear state is described as being able, being confident, being productive, being happy, and in short, being yourself. A final concept of transcendence seems to be clustered with clear. Transcendence is not only indicated by the words, concepts, images, and being verbs which characterize the clear state, but also by the juxtaposition of the outer visual frames which bracket the video presentation. The first series of images which introduce the subject of the video are scenes of people facing the camera while grieving over the death of a loved one, suggesting a sense of enclosure or constriction, while the video ends with a man who is clear, standing on a beach, facing away from the camera, looking out toward crashing waves and a panoramic skyline, suggesting an ever expanding future life characterized by limitless possibilities and freedom from constraint. An overall picture of survival, rationality, freedom, and transcendence emerges from the terms, concepts, and images which cluster around clear.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cluster Criticism of a Scientology video pt.1

The Artifact

The artifact proposed for rhetorical analysis in this post, “An Introduction to Dianetics,” is a 4 minute and 6 second video which attempts to introduce primary components of L. Ron Hubbard’s book, Dianetics: The Evolution of Science. This video explains how Dianetics can help individuals achieve life satisfaction and personal achievement through eradicating traumatic memories etched upon the mind. The message of the video is that individuals can empower themselves to live satisfying lives through eradicating powerful subconscious forces called engrams that are the cause of antisocial behaviors, negative thoughts, physical ailments, and painful emotions. Once these engrams are identified and eliminated, it is promised that the true “you” can emerge, unleashing an individual’s potential in the form of confidence, intelligence, productive, and creativity.

To better understand the concepts introduced in the video, a brief word of explanation is in order. In Dianetics, Hubbard (1983) explains that there are two parts of the human mind that are responsible for psycho-social behavior: the reactive mind and the analytic mind. According to Hubbard, on the one hand, the reactive mind, though it is always conscious, “neither remembers nor reasons but simply records all that occurs on a time track” while on the other hand, the analytic mind, “perceives, remembers and reasons” (1983, xii). These two minds interact to effect human emotions and behavior when the reactive mind “impinges engrams of physical pain and painful emotion onto the analytical mind when catalytic situations occur in relation to the one in which the reactive mind first recorded the pain” (Hubbard, 1983: xiii). According to the video, it is the discovery of Dianetics, that these engrams, a record of painful experiences, memories, emotions along with all of the circumstances in which they occurred, are formed in the reactive mind in the earliest stages of human development, even before birth (McCall, p.439). While these engrams are not accessible through the normal process of retrieval and recall, they are stimulated autonomically when a life experience bearing similar features to an engram occurs, triggering a suspension of the analytic mind, which in turn, causes the reactive mind to lash out in irrational thoughts and behavior.

In order to break free from the grip of antisocial, irrational behavior generated while under the sway of the reactive mind, Dianetics prescribes auditing. This occurs as a person trained in the principles of Dianetics causes a patient to go into a state of “reverie” by commanding the patient to close their eyes as the auditor counts out loud to seven and to then go back to the painful engram (Fromm, 1950). As the patient slips down the time track in the reactive mind, the engram is recalled, confronted, and then run through the analytical mind. Once this occurs, the engram permanently loses its negative charge and its capacity to effect thought and behavior. Though this whole procedure is not spelled out in detail in the video, this is precisely what is meant when it explains that Dianetics, “contains a technology to free yourself.”

Friday, June 4, 2010

A brief introduction to Burke's cluster criticism

According to Foss (2009), cluster criticism is a method of rhetorical analysis which helps critics “gain insights into rhetors by analyzing the terministic screens evidenced in their rhetoric.” Burke (1966) what he means by termnistic screens by comparing them to photographs of the same physical object made with different color lenses. The point Burke makes is that the very terms a rhetor uses effect the nature of a rhetor’s observations just as the lens color of a camera effects the representation of a photographed object. A rhetor’s terms then, represent a frame or lens through which they see the world and are cues which help identify the meanings they propose for their audience.

To help identify and analyze a rhetor’s terministic screen, cluster criticism is used by a critic not only to isolate the key terms used in an artifact but also the words that cluster around or are associated with the key terms. Key terms can be identified either by the frequency of their use, their intensity, or their ultimacy. Frequency is obvious, meaning that repeated use of a term signals its significance to the rhetor. Intensity is a bit less defined however. Foss explains that though a term may be used infrequently “it may be critical because it is central to the argument being made, represents an ultimate commitment, or conveys great depth of feeling” (2009, p.66) Finally, ultimacy, refers to “god and devil terms” used by an author. According to Foss, “God terms are ultimate terms that represent the ideal for a rhetor, while devil terms represent the ultimate negative or evil for a rhetor” (2009, p.67). To further illuminate and better appreciate the nuance of a key term, terms which cluster around them are to be identified. Terms cluster either by way of proximity, conjunction, juxtaposition, or cause and effect. Having identified the key terms and the clusters, the critic is ready to make some overall assessment about a rhetor’s worldview embedded in the artifact.