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.