Scientology, Skeptoid, free rides and abusive relationships

Skeptoid recently took on Scientology.

I say "took on". What I actually mean is "gave a free ride to".

There's been plenty of discussion of this over at the Skeptalk mailing list, split pro and anti, to which Brian has been firing back one-line replies to in rather a glib fashion. It's a bit tedious, but at least the other members are OK to engage on this subject.

However, Brian did add a more lengthy response over at SkepticBlog.

Overall I didn't find it a particularly convincing defence, but I was disturbed by one particular paragraph:
My analysis was that people who have the right psychology to want to live a Sea Org lifestyle find their happy place when they’re under psychological pressure. Thus, Scientology must apply that pressure (Scientology and the Sea Org being essentially the same entity). Part of that pressure is making it real. It can’t just be threats. So they actually do harass and sue people who leave the church or speak out against it. They actually do barricade them into their rooms. They actually do require them to cut off their family and friends. It’s a twisted dance between narcissists and codependents. To you and I, that’s pretty messed up. For them, it works. This is my own conclusion, and my opinion. Clearly, most disagree with me. But it’s a perspective that I don’t think enough people consider.
This worries me for a couple of reasons.

First, it's a classic blame-the-victim response. It's "they knew what they were letting themselves in for". It's "they asked for it" and it's "they need it because they're a bit weird".

I don't see any evidence to suggest that this is in fact the majority case, but it's perhaps true for at least a proportion.

It is, of course, unclear what mechanisms Brian thinks are in place to filter out those without the "right psychology" for the Sea Org.

Given Scientology's disdain for psychiatry and psychology, it's hard to picture exactly how that would go, but reports from former scientologists suggest that a good proportion, perhaps most, are coerced into Sea Org lifestyles when their funds run out for further auditing. They're told that they'll "lose the bridge" if they don't continue, and that they can pay for their courses by working for the Sea Org.

That, however, is not the bit that really worries me.

The bit that really worries me is this
Part of that pressure is making it real. It can’t just be threats. So they actually do harass and sue people who leave the church or speak out against it. They actually do barricade them into their rooms. They actually do require them to cut off their family and friends.
Now, Brian is, of course, implying that a majority of Sea Org signups are there because they need an abusive relationship, but not only that, he's suggesting that there's an implicit contract between Sea Org and the adherent that allows the abuse to continue beyond the adherent expressing the wish to leave. In fact, it's OK that harassment and lawsuits continue after leaving the church, because that's what the adherent has, implicitly, asked for.

In case you're not following it
Part of that pressure is making it real. It can’t just be threats. So they actually do harass and sue people who leave the church or speak out against it. They actually do barricade them into their rooms. They actually do require them to cut off their family and friends.
The nearest analogy for what Brian is describing here, at least that I can figure out, is a rape fantasy with no safe word. For rape fetishists, it has to feel real - it has to be dangerous. If you have that kind of kink, you have to be open, honest and careful, and above all else you need to define a clear point after which the fantasy no longer applies. In this version, however, it's OK for the abuse to continue beyond membership, and it's OK for it to happen implicitly. Apparently.

They actually do harass and sue people who leave the church or speak out against it
.

And

people who have the right psychology to want to live a Sea Org lifestyle find their happy place when they’re under psychological pressure. Thus, Scientology must apply that pressure [...]. Part of that pressure is making it real
.

Whether or not the Church Of Scientology actually engages in such a practice is, at this point, immaterial.

The problem now is that Brian appears to be OK with a large, corporate-style, tax-free organisation, with little oversight due to their "religious freedom", entering into implicit contracts to engage in what is essentially a sado-masochistic relationship, and when the adherent wishes to terminate, then harassment and legal action are expected to follow.

A beaten wife may go back to the abusive husband she loves for irrational reasons, but ultimately when she finally chooses to leave, she should be afforded the opportunity to do so free of harassment. This is not what Brian's wording advocates. Brian's wording is that she asked for it.

I don't mind overly if people have a kink for co-dependent interpersonal relationships, but I do think they should be conducted ethically, explicitly and safely, that there should be exit capability and appropriate recourse when they inevitably go wrong, and that they should not conducted by secretive, shady organisations which are able to escape oversight through appeals to "religious freedom". I also think that we as a society have a responsibility to people caught up in situations they don't wish to be in. Brian's hands-off approach does not sit well with me.

I was, of course, worried that perhaps I was overreacting, but I've bounced this off a couple of other people to see if they find it as odd as I do. It seems I'm not entirely alone in my reading of the post.

Brian is being unresponsive via skeptalk, most recently commenting that he knows he "did a good job on an episode when people have to change what I said in order to disagree with it", which suggests perhaps Brian might be trolling for controversy. I don't know, and I'm not getting any sense at skeptalk, so I'm left with the option of blogging instead.

I'm not changing a thing here. I've taken Brian's own words from SkepticBlog, interpreted them in the only way I can sensibly manage, and come to the conclusion that Brian is advocating ongoing abusive relationships with no meaningful right of exit.

Am I the crazy one here?


notes

1. I LIKE Brian. I've sat on a panel with him as a moderator, and as a speaker at TAM Oz we had some opportunity to interact in person. I've chatted with him on skype and had several email conversations. His work is usually great. This one, however, is a bit off the normal course. This little blip won't stop me wanting to buy him a beer next time we're in the same place, especially if he can come up with a meaningful response. I think overall he's good for skepticism, but shouldn't be afraid to engage when disagreement occurs. We should
all, as skeptics, be willing to consider that we might be wrong. I've considered it over this post, for sure.

2. I have had some involvement in protests against Scientology in the past. And for my trouble I've been photographed, screamed at, abused and followed home by what I can only assume, from their behaviour, to be people acting on behalf of Scientology. So far, I've avoided the kind of harassment some other protesters have received, which includes public naming through flyers and posters, abusive calls and text messages, frivulous C&D letters and calls to family members with accusations of criminal conduct.
I have not attended a protest for perhaps nine months or more, but I retain contact.

3. Brian has been the subject of previous speculation of libertarian leanings. Are we seeing the hands-off, laissez faire libertarian "don't interfere, it's a personal thing" leaning here?

posted @ Friday, January 28, 2011 10:33 PM

 
 
 

Comments on this entry:

# re: Scientology, Skeptoid, free rides and abusive relationships

Left by Tom at 1/28/2011 11:46 PM
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The point you are putting across is spot on.

The problem here is that these are Brian's opinions and commentary. So as odd as his comments on the matter are, they still just his comments.

I would hope Brian, being an alleged sane and rational person, would not condone prolonged abusive relationships. Perhaps Brian just doesn't want to admit that he may have erred a bit on his commentary. Perhaps he had one too many sangria's is feeling a tad surly.

I don't think you're crazy. I don't think Brian is crazy. I think his opinion leaves a lot to be desired, but in the end it's just an opinion not really based on anything.

# re: Scientology, Skeptoid, free rides and abusive relationships

Left by jason at 1/29/2011 12:25 AM
Gravatar
One of my issues is this:

Surely, as a society, we have a responsibility towards other people to ensure they're protected from abuse at the hands of others?

In relationships with asymmetries of power, this is even more important. Individuals should be offered protection from large organisations, which of course they are free to refuse if they so wish and if they are mentally fit to make the judgement.

I don't think Brian is right to say "Fuck them. They signed up for it in the beginning", though he *has* a right to say it.

I think it's callous and a little inhumane, to be honest.

# re: Scientology, Skeptoid, free rides and abusive relationships

Left by Podblack at 1/30/2011 1:32 PM
Gravatar
"...but shouldn't be afraid to engage when disagreement occurs. We should all, as skeptics, be willing to consider that we might be wrong. I've considered it over this post, for sure."

I'm glad that you can reflect that maybe certain behaviours could be wrong.

Brian is no stranger to controversy and 'Tweeted' as such that he expected this episode to be this way. His episode on DDTs and the response he had to his posting a picture of a female astronaut and making a comment have had some far-reaching effects, that are still being referred to today (a SS episode: skepticallyspeaking.ca/...) - he was clearly the 'John' referred to in the show. He has addressed criticism before in these cases.

Anyone who is outside the mainstream has had to examine the vitriol thrown at them from one segment of society or another, which leads to greater understanding and use of critical thinking to examine the irrationality of society - which leads to finding critical thinking groups.

SO MANY of those attracted to and involved in Skepticism are the misunderstood people of the world, and the somewhat unquestioning acceptance of the skeptical community (mostly) is part of the attraction. There's sometimes a sense that 'the in-crowd won't accept questioning as valid unless it's by fellow in-crowders' and that it 'hurts skepticism' to really look critically at how use of resources, the structure of organisations, vague goals and even bias with personal relationships taint progress.

I think it's healthy to examine what leads us to the positions we take - and I'm interested in what the 'skeptical community' will think about Jon Ronson's forthcoming book, where he engages in a proactive manner with Scientologists and portrays them somewhat sympathetically in regards to their criticism of psychology and psychiatry.

For my own part? I'd appreciate it if people DID have a problem with me, that they took the time to contact me to explain why. I think that considering the work I've done and support I've given, I deserve at least to have a chance to give my side on whatever the issue is. It would be a gesture that I know people would ordinarily give to situations outside of skeptical groups. :)
Comments have been closed on this topic.
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