This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 725 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Book Review - Going Clear : Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

This book had a personal fascination for me as I've been compared to L. Ron Hubbard.

O.K. It was facetiously by my flatmate, who has been known to refer to me as L. Ron and his Church of Wanketology, and by an impassioned atheist on a discussion board who saw some similarity between some of my beliefs and those of Dianetics. Perhaps this sort of thing happens to all authors of self-help literature, even when, as with myself, they have no followers" let alone their own empire as Hubbard did.

To me, the story of Scientology is a compelling cautionary tale also because I was for a few years a student of another individual (who shall remain nameless) who, like Hubbard, claimed to have achieved a scientific understanding of human nature which could save the world. He came to believe that he had a special ability to perceive the truth and to think holistically. Unlike Hubbard, or myself, he is a scientist who accumulated a vast body of evidence for aspects of his theories. And, also unlike Hubbard, he did not turn his campaign to save the world into a money-making scheme. He did sue his critics, but unlike Hubbard and his successor David Miscavige, he did it with the honest intention of correcting misperceptions about himself and his followers. Hubbard's avowed strategy was to use legal action as a method of intimidation.

The reason I mention these things is that my experiences have led me to think a lot about how the individual who wishes to play a role in the psychological healing of society should behave. My own writing has been a product of my personal struggles and what I have learned from others. To some extent it is an expression of things I have been trying to give rational voice to since my teens, to some extent it is a response to my would-be guru friend and to some extent it is a synthesis of the ideas of others which have been important to me.

My experience with my friend, however, greatly affected my presentation of my ideas. To my mind, he went wrong in two key ways. He stopped questioning himself and thus allowed his theories to become a dogma and he came to view himself as a prophet" and became intolerant of dissent in his organisation. Thus he became surrounded by a small group of people who, I believe, if it were a question of trusting themselves or trusting him would trust him. He's no Hubbard. His organisation has remained small and presumably had little impact on society. But in the case of Hubbard we can see these problems writ large. Not wanting to fall into this trap, I reminded myself that I might not be the best judge of my own ideas. I view an idea much like a potentially beneficial virus. It is something which, if it proves useful, will spread and take on a life of its own irrespective of the individual in whose mind it first appeared. If we have to put too much effort into persuading people of something then perhaps it is because it is not true. So I did two things to correct for these potential problems. I emphasised in the presentation of my writing that I make no claims that anything I say is necessarily true and that I claim no authority of any kind. And I gave myself a dismissive pseudonym – Joe Blow – so that, in the perhaps unlikely event that my writing strikes a major chord, there can be no cult of personality. Hardly anyone knows who I am. In this way, any ideas I present stand or fall on their own, and there is no need for me to try to maintain some kind of control over how people respond to them, something which, while it may have made Hubbard a rich man, was inseparable from his life of paranoia and criminality. He died a broken man, hiding from the authorities.

Wright does a brilliant job of making the phenomenon of Scientology understandable by placing it in its historical context, giving due attention to the complexity of Hubbard's personality and the impressive scope of the dogma he created and showing, through the experiences of ex-members, most notably screenwriter/director Paul Haggis, an insight into the movement's appeal as well as how it went badly wrong for so many.

The search for understanding of human nature and an effective form of therapy for the human race was the most important task before us in the late forties when Hubbard developed his theory of Dianetics and it is still the most important task before us today. But Hubbard was certainly not in a position to achieve this single-handedly, which is what he believed he could do. His methods were not bad methods - introspection, imagination and automatic writing. When psychology is the area of enquiry there is no such thing as objectivity. We have to use our mind to understand our mind. The object and the subject are the same. It is even questionable whether we can be truly objective even in areas as far from ourselves as physics and chemistry. The human dilemma is that we are so insecure in ourselves that we are always looking for reassurance in the phenomena around us. If our neurosis makes us competitive then we see more competition than cooperation when we look at the natural world. If even there we cannot be unbiased how can we look honestly into ourselves? And yet we must. We must understand our disease - the psychological disorder which has been with us since before recorded history. In our insecure state we try to tell ourselves we are not sick. We look for some precedent in the rest of nature for our aggression, our pathological competitiveness, our oppression of our fellows, our greed. We can try to excuse our patriarchal behaviour by pointing to alpha male chimpanzees, or our wars by pointing to territorial disputes between hungry groups of animals, etc., but we have to hunt pretty hard and ignore an awful lot to present this flimsy case. There is no precedent in the rest of nature for the sickness which has pushed us to the brink of self-annihilation. When Hubbard came up with Dianetics the imminent threat seemed to be nuclear war. Would Dianetics (later Scientology) save us from blowing ourselves up? That may be less on our minds now, but our population continues to grow exponentially while we are caught up in addictions which are fast destroying our life-support systems and we have an economy completely dependent on fostering those unsustainable addictions. We are in deep shit. The need for rapid psychological healing and resultant cultural change of the most revolutionary kind is far greater than it was in Hubbard's time. And this is part of what makes the story of Scientology such an important one. If we wish to achieve something we must learn from other's failed attempts.

If Hubbard had invented Dianetics in our day it would almost certainly not have flourished as it did in his time. There is too much competition. There is a New Age guru on every corner. But in the 1950s there was almost no counter-culture. It's not hard to see why some intelligent individuals believed that Dianetics was the only hope for human survival. What else was there? There was psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, who probably had the deepest genuine understanding of the human dilemma, what he termed the emotional plague", but he would die in 1957. I can't think of anyone else who had a grand radical vision for the rehabilitation of the human race.

The problem we have in understanding ourselves is one of honesty. If we can think honestly there is no great mystery about the basics of human behaviour. If we do something we are capable of being aware of why we do it. But we grow out of the habit of thinking honestly early in our lives, and this is at the heart of our problem as a species. To the degree that we can be honest with ourselves, introspection is an essential way of learning about ourselves. But the free exercise of the imagination, and techniques like automatic writing (which Hubbard appears to have used frequently) are ways in which we can sometimes short circuit the mind's self-censorship and dishonesty. Others sometimes make use of psychoactive drugs.

The key problem with Hubbard's attempt to excavate some grand understanding of human nature and psychological therapy from his own imagination was that he appears to have been a pathological liar. Exploration and honesty are the two things needed for this project. Hubbard was pretty brave and enthusiastic about the former, but he fell down on the latter. And where things went badly wrong is that life and society provided him with no reality check. There were plenty of people who needed to believe that someone could lead them out of the human dilemma. What we believe often has more to do with what we need to believe than it does with logic or reason. I know from my own experience of psychosis how easy it is to believe something, even something ludicrous, because of the power with which it bursts into the mind. But I had reality checks in the form of everyone around me who realised I was crazy, not to mention anti-psychotic drugs. If I had been like Hubbard, surrounded by disciples hanging on my every word, I might still believe those things now. I learned that, while the imagination is inescapably prophetic, it speaks in symbols not facts.

Where conventional religion explained the unprecedented nature of the human disease by introducing the supernatural – we were cursed by God or possessed by evil spirits – Hubbard introduced science fiction – our bodies are a place of exile of extraterrestrial beings. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the most bizarre aspects of his explanation were kept secret from initiates until they were already integrated into the movement and had experienced, or felt they had experienced, benefits from its therapy.

If Hubbard's ideas of therapy had absolutely no practical value then it is doubtful his movement would have taken off. But he borrowed ideas from Freudian psychotherapy and adapted them into a kind of fast food equivalent of psychoanalysis. Freud put forward the credible idea that when we have a block in our memory it is because of an association with something unpleasant, possibly a memory of a bad experience. Hubbard turned this into a crusade to produce clears", individuals whose traumatic blocks had been removed, allowing them, among other things, to have total recall of everything they had experienced in their lives. He announced a lot of clears", none of whom showed any signs of such recall or any other special abilities. Desensitisation is a major part of the Scientology strategy, and this is something which has a proven track record in conventional psychotherapeutic practise for the treatment of phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder. I think the appeal of Scientology can probably be summed up by a combination of potentially effective techniques (including the kind of positive thinking also preached by people like Anthony Robbins), show business razzle-dazzle with e-meters etc., and community. You might get better therapy from a university-trained psychotherapist, but it would be a private process, you wouldn't be a member of a therapy community.

Wright gives a disturbing account of the sick goings on amongst the Sea Org, the clergy of the Church of Scientology – including the inflicting of punishment in the form of imprisonment and virtual slavery. While some members make a break for freedom, most accept their punishment as justified. Perhaps the development of such a culture shouldn't surprise us. Scientology lures people in by playing on their insecurities. While emotional insecurity turns some of us into paranoid control freaks, more often it leads us to seek some sense of security through submission to authority. Perhaps the most reliable indication that someone is emotionally healthy is that they interact on a basis of equality with all of their fellows. It would be surprising if a society which set out to attract the insecure didn't end up a kind of perfect storm of dominance and submission. Of course this would not be the case if it was the Bridge to Total Freedom it claims to be.

It is never enough to simply criticise toxic social institutions. To do so can play into their hands. They can portray this as persecution. And it does us little good to distance ourselves from such institutions as if we were superior to those who comprise them. We need to understand them, because it is only full understanding which can bring healing. Wright places the story of L. Ron Hubbard and the religion he gave birth to into its social and historical context, and he makes no attempt to deny anybody's experience. We read of horrific abuse of power, we read of space opera become dogma, we read of any number of fabrications and hypocrisies, but there is no attempt to exclude the possibility that many Scientologists have gained benefits from the church's therapy techniques, whether those benefits come directly from the techniques or from the placebo effect. In fact this element is necessary to an understanding of the relative popularity of the movement.

Some see L. Ron Hubbard as simply a clever con artist - a snake oil salesman who hit the big time. This is not the Hubbard we encounter in Wright's book. We find a deeply flawed and tormented individual who made a desperate attempt to find understanding of human nature and a method to heal our propensity for self-destruction. Wright gives plenty of evidence to back up the view that Hubbard believed in the essence of his dogma for the whole of his life. This doesn't preclude an addiction to wealth and power or a complete inability to live by or realise the supposed benefits of that dogma. One could make a comparison with the upper echelons of the Catholic Church where hypocrisy, corruption, extravagant luxury and abuse of power do not preclude the possibility that those who behave in this way may genuinely believe they are God's representatives on Earth. Hubbard was an addictive personality - and part of what he was addicted to was his own delusional belief system.

This is also the story of Scientology's attempt to seduce Hollywood and of the thuggish rule of Hubbard's successor, David Miscavige. If you want to gain some insight into how John Travolta and Tom Cruise became Scientology's poster boys, you will find it here.

Lawrence Wright tells his story like a novelist, but the thoroughness of his research and the fact that he is such a skilled devil's advocate, makes this a powerful expose which will no doubt do great and necessary damage to the Church of Scientology.


  1. I saw the film 'The Master' recently and although not an account of L. Ron's life - it was pretty close!! I looked into Dianetics a few years ago and actually found some of the ideas and practices to be quite useful. Alas, one step deeper into the Scientology pit and the greedy hands grab and try and pull you all the way in. Not for me. Nice blog post. :)

    1. Yes, The Master is a fine film.

      The best idea with any system of ideas is to take what is useful and leave the rest. Apparently it was to discourage this attitude to Dianetics that Hubbard set up the formal organisation of the Church of Scientology.

  2. Congratulations on your fascinating review––your thought provoking analysis of Scientology––well written.