Understanding Scientology, by Margery Wakefield - Next - Previous

Chapter 14

Brainwashing and Thought Control in Scientology -- The Road to Rondroid

... (the techniques used in modern brainwashing) are not like the medieval torture of the rack and the thumb-screw. They are subtler, more prolonged, and intended to be more terrible in their effect. They are calculated to disintegrate the mind of an intelligent victim, to distort his sense of values, to a point where he will not simply cry out "I did it!" but will become a seemingly willing accomplice to the complete disintegration of his integrity and the production of an elaborate fiction.
-- Dr. Charla W. Mayo, The Rape of the Mind

In part, the totalitarian state is sustained because individuals terrorize themselves -- they become accomplices in their own tyrranization, censoring what they say and even what they allow themselves to think and feel.
-- Willa Appel, Cults in America

The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude.... Crude absurdities, trivial nonsense and sublime truths are equally potent in readying people for self-sacrifice if they are accepted as the sole, eternal truth.... It is obvious, therefore, that in order to be effective, a doctrine must not be understood, but has to be believed in.
-- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

Most people think that brainwashing is something that only happens in Communist countries like Russia or North Korea. There is some validity to this belief, because brainwashing was developed in these countries where it was used for psychopolitical purposes.

Brainwashing is defined as "the process of causing a person to undergo a radical alteration of beliefs and attitudes.... The brainwashed person is conditioned by punishment for undesirable beliefs and rewarded for expressing desirable beliefs." (1)

Ex-cult members and their families are only too aware of the truth -- that brainwashing does exist in America. "An uncomfortable reality has at last come home to the American public: brainwashing, which once seemed exclusively a Communist technique, is here in America, and used by cults." (2)

Hundreds of former cult members testify this is so in court proceedings, public information hearings concerning the cults, magazine and newspaper interviews, and counseling sessions. Psychiatrists and other professionals who counsel former cultists confirm this...

These techniques include constant repetition of doctrine, application of intense peer pressure, manipulation of diet so that critical faculties are adversely affected, deprivation of sleep, lack of privacy and time for reflection, complete break with past life, reduction of outside stimulation and influences, the skillful use of ritual to heighten mystical experience, and the invention of new vocabulary and the manipulation of language to narrow down the range of experience and construct a new reality. (3)

Ronald Enroth describes what he calls the "seduction syndrome." Many of those inducted into a cult like Scientology come in searching for identity or for spiritual reality, and this is especially true of young people.

Coming to grips with one's identity has always been a part of adolescence in America, but today's youth face difficulties compounded by the massive cultural and social upheavals that characterize the contemporary world, especially during the last decade.... Despite the boom in entertainment and the pervasive impact of the mass media, youth often remain bored, unfulfilled and lonely.... The tendency to drift in and out of job, college and sexual relationships; uncertainty and anxiety regarding the future; discontent with economic and political structures -- all contribute to isolation and loneliness. (4)

Most cult members had previous experience in a traditional church or synagogue. However:

... cult seekers have found these conventional religious institutions to be lacking in spiritual depth and meaning, incapable of inspiring commitment and providing clear-cut answers, and often hypocritical in everyday life. (5)

In contrast, the cults provide black-and-white answers to the questions of life.

Cults not only provide firm answers to every question, but also make promises that appeal to those needing reassurance, confidence and affirmation. (6)

Many people come into a cult such as Scientology at a time in their life when they are undergoing unusual stress or crisis. An example of this is the first year college student, away from home for the first time.

Other precipitating life experiences that increase vulnerability include such things as a recent divorce of one's parents or similar serious problem in the home; the extended, critical illness of a family member; a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend; poor academic performance or failure; or unpleasant experiences with drugs or sex. When someone is feeling exceedingly anxious, uncertain, hurt, lonely, unloved, confused or guilty, that person is a prime prospect for those who come in the guise of religion offering a way out or peace of mind. (7)

And there are a small minority of people who are drawn to the cult because of chronic emotional problems often as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home.

The lonely, the unstable, the vulnerable -- cult recruiters seem to have the ability to spot these people in a crowd. They seem to have a sixth sense for people who will make prime candidates for the cult.

Recruitment of the vulnerable is one element of Enroth's "seduction syndrome." Other elements include: intense group pressure and group activity, such as that experienced by the newcomer on the introductory course, the Communication Course of Scientology; sensory deprivation, a lack of proper nutrition and adequate sleep, also experienced by Scientologists, who may be fed a diet of rice and beans as a punishment for inadequate production; and a dramatic change in world view -- the adopting of beliefs radically different from those held before.

In another paradigm of brainwashing, Willa Appel describes a three stage conversion process, which is also applicable to the Scientologist.

In the first stage of the conversion, the recruit is isolated from his past life.

First the individual is isolated from his past life, cut off from his former position and occupation as well as those with whom he has emotional ties. (8)

In Scientology this is accomplished in several ways. In gradually adopting a new language, the recruit to Scientology is subtly separated from those in his past who no longer "speak his language." And the use of the term "wog," a derogatory term, to refer to all those outside Scientology, accomplishes the same end. Additionally, the student is pressured to spend every available minute "on course," instead of on frivolous pursuits outside Scientology which are termed "off-purpose."

In the second phase of conversion:

... the loss of name and identity is reinforced by inducing the novice, emotionally and intellectually, to surrender his past life. Humiliation and guilt are the basic tools in the psychological dismembering of the former self. (9)

In Scientology this phase is accomplished in two ways. First, through the practice of auditing, also called the "confessional," in which the Scientologist over a period of time divulges all the secrets of his entire lifetime. And second, through the "ethics" process of writing up one's "O/Ws" (overts and withholds), in which the person records every wrong deed, real or imagined, committed in this and in previous lifetimes. The Scientologist must produce these O/Ws until the Ethics Officer is satisfied that he is reduced to an acceptable level of contrition and humiliation.

In the third phase of Appel's conversion, "the convert assumes a new identity and a new world view." (10)

In Scientology, this is accomplished through a rigorous process of indoctrination through written and tape-recorded materials. The member's confidence in all previously trusted social institutions is ended, and replaced with the belief that salvation can come only through Scientology. The person's new sense of identity comes from his or her belonging to the cult as all other allegiances are severed.

A third paradigm of mind control, or brainwashing, comes from George Estabrooks in his writing about hypnotism, about which he was an expert. Estabrooks noticed that many of the elements of mob psychology used by cult leaders were very similar to techniques used by hypnotists. He states that these techniques were used by Hitler, they were also practiced by Hubbard.

Of these six essential points in the psychology of the mob, the first is: "(The cult leader) will strive for a restriction of the field of consciousness among the members of his mob (cult).... His ideas, and his ideas only, are to be considered by the mob (cult).... His followers hear only one line of thought, his line of thought." (11)

This will sound very familiar to a Scientologist. Scientologists are strictly forbidden against "mixing practices," from studying any other system of thought while in Scientology. Hubbard, as "Source," is regarded as ultimate authority and as infallible. Any confusion or disagreement with anything said or written by Hubbard is regarded as a misunderstanding, or "misunderstood word" on the part of the student.

The second point in mob psychology is that "the dictator will appeal to the emotions.... Moreover he will appeal to the baser emotions of fear, anger, hatred." (12)

In Scientology, there is an appeal to fear and to guilt. The ideology in Scientology is that we are caught in a trap, and that Scientology is the only way out of the trap. Fear is also maintained within the group by the office of "ethics" through which any doubts, disagreements, or failures within the group are punished. Members having serious disagreements or difficulties are threatened with expulsion and the label of "Suppressive Person," or eternal condemnation.

Third, "the mob (cult) leader will count on emotional contagion, an extremely important factor in all mob (cult) situations.... Emotions are far more contagious than the measles.... Humans tend to fit into the emotional pattern of a group." (13)

In Scientology, the prevailing emotion is a sense of urgency and of fear. Scientologists at work do not walk, they run. Everything is deadly serious and urgent. The world is at stake. Each small victory has added significance. Scientology is a group at war, and this mentality lends fervor, enthusiasm and a sense of danger to each activity.

Fourth, "We have the matter of social sanction. The individual feels justified in any action approved by the mob (cult) and its leaders...." (14)

Because Scientologists believe themselves to be fighting for the salvation of mankind, any acts -- even if they are illegal -- which will contribute to this purpose are sanctioned by reason of "the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics."

The fifth element of mob psychology has to do with omnipotence, "the `I'm right, you're wrong' reaction, which we see in the fanatic. It never occurred to the Nazi, it does not occur to the Communist, that there are two sides to an argument." (15)

Scientology, to the Scientologist, is the only truth. This fact has caused enormous frustration for many family members trying to reason with the Scientologist in their family. The mind of the Scientologist is closed to any other possibility than Scientology. There is no other side to the argument.

Finally, there is the removal of inhibitions. "Anything goes if the party sanctions such activity." (16) Jonestown was a shocking example of this aspect of the cult mentality. Scientology is another potential Jonestown, except on a much wider scale.

Robert Lifton identifies eight features common to all forms of what he calls "ideological totalism," eight psychological themes common to an environment in which brainwashing is present:

  1. Milieu control
  2. Mystical manipulation
  3. The demand for purity
  4. The cult of confession
  5. The sacred science
  6. Loading the language
  7. Doctrine over person, and
  8. The dispensing of existence

Each of these features can be found in Scientology.

In milieu control, the cult controls both the environment and the communication of the cult member. Scientology is a very controlled environment. The existence of the department of Ethics provides the threat of punishment for all transgressions against cult norms. Even physical illness is considered the shortcoming of the person and evidence of the existence of "out-ethics."

Communication with those outside Scientology, "wogs," is manipulated to achieve the desired ends of the cult. The cult member's communication with family members, especially ones not favorable to the cult, is often dictated by the cult. Communication within the cult follows certain rules. "Upper level" students may not discuss the contents of these levels even with a spouse. All other Scientologists are forbidden to discuss their "case" or feelings with other Scientologists. Through the use of "knowledge reports," members critical of the organization may be reported by other members, as in a Communist state.

In "mystical manipulation," the group seeks to inspire in the member certain behaviors and feelings that seem to have originated magically from the environment. In Scientology, the member comes to think and believe just as Hubbard teaches, thinking that these thoughts and beliefs are the result of his own "cognitions," or coming to truth.

With the demand for purity:

...the experiential world is sharply divided into the pure and the impure, into the absolutely good and the absolutely evil. The good and pure are of course those ideas, feelings and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure. (17)

A good example of this in Scientology is the redefinition of the word "ethics," which comes to mean that which is good for, or benefits Scientology, while anyone against Scientology is an "enemy," or an "SP" (Suppressive Person). A "good" person is one who is most completely aligned with the goals and purposes of Scientology; an "evil" person is one who opposes the "greater good," or Scientology.

The cult of confession is carried out in Scientology through the many levels of auditing, or "confessionals," and through the periodic writing up of one's "O/Ws" (overts and withholds). This purging oneself of both actual and imagined crimes leads to the gradual act of self-surrender to the group. One learns to think only those thoughts sanctioned and acceptable to the group.

The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. (18)

This is what Lifton calls "sacred science."

Scientology to a Scientologist is absolute truth, and there is a certain comfort in this belief. Having black and white answers to the complex questions of life shields one from the insecurity and uncertainty of ambiguity, and this is one of the great attractions of Scientology for its members.

Hubbard, a persuasive and dynamic speaker, makes many claims about the scientific validity of his science, none of which have ever been subjected to the rigors of the scientific method, but which are accepted at face value by his trusting disciples.

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliche ... [it is] the language of non-thought. (19)

Scientologists have their own dictionary. A conversation between two Scientologists might not make sense to a non-Scientologist. Lifton states:

The effect of the language of ideological totalism can be summed up in one word: constriction. He is, so to speak, linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed. (20)

An example of this kind of constriction of thought is the phrase in Scientologese: "My 2-D and I are in ARC," which can be translated as: "The person I am romantically involved with, either as a lover or a spouse, and I have a great deal of love for each other, we share basically the same beliefs, we communicate well with each other, and there is a shared understanding between us which is very positive."

Other examples of loaded language are the words "reality," "ethics," and "suppressive," the latter containing a world of meaning for a Scientologist.

Lifton also describes the primacy of doctrine over person:

...the demand that character and identity be reshaped, not in accordance with one's special nature or potentialities, but rather to fit the rigid contours of the doctrinal mold. (21)

A Scientologist is never allowed to think about the "tech," or the "science" developed by Hubbard. To alter the "tech" in any way is denounced as "squirelling," for which crime one can be expelled from Scientology. Questioning the doctrine is forbidden. Doubts or questions are euphemistically relabelled as "M/Us", or misunderstood words on the part of the student.

The totalist environment draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right ... known as nonpeople. (22)

In Scientology there are two types of "nonpeople": "wogs" and "SPs." Wogs are those who have yet to become enlightened as to Scientology. "SPs" or suppressive persons have no right to exist and this is declared by Scientology's "Fair Game Law," which states that enemies of Scientology can be "sued, tricked, lied to or destroyed." This is the dispensing of existence within Scientology.

One of the phenomena common to many cults is the personality change in the cult member after conversion. This has been a frightening experience for many families. Sometimes the change comes about gradually, and in other cases it occurs in a single experience called "snapping" by one team of researchers. (23) The cult personality is radically different from the pre-cult personality.

There is evidence that this change is organic as well as psychological. Exposing a person to a radical change in environment and an overload of new and radically different information may actually cause a change in the neurotransmitters in the brain. The substances norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain have similar chemical composition as mescaline or LSD. When sensory flow to the brain becomes either severely restricted or suddenly overloaded, it can trigger a state of increased suggestibility or the symptoms of dissociation or hallucinations.

In Scientology, this can occur in the hypnotic practice of TR-0, or during the long hours on the Scientology courses.

Psychiatrist Dr. John Clark of Harvard University believes that the cults, including Scientology, are psychologically dangerous:

In cults, people are presented with stressful circumstances, especially huge loads of new information at times in their lives when they are vulnerable, and they dissociate. What the ... Scientologists and all the other dangerous cults do is maintain the dissociation. They keep the parts of the mind -- the connections inside the central nervous system -- divided in function, in action, and in their connection with the outer world. It's a way of controlling them, and the longer it goes on, the further apart all of this gets to be -- like the chronic schizophrenic. (24)

Did Hubbard really believe in Scientology, or was he just a calculating con man?

Estabrooks describes what he calls the "sincere dictator":

The dictator may be, generally is, a man of great personal courage. He plays along grimly till the last throw of the dice and meets his fate with his chin up. This may be because he is perfectly sincere. This sounds like a strange contradiction, but we must accept it. The dictator really believes that he is God's chosen instrument -- or society's chosen instrument, if he does not believe in God -- to lead his group, or possibly the entire world, into the promised land. The resulting picture is not pleasant and the individual who creates that picture is easily the most dangerous of all the mentally maladjusted. He has intelligence, conviction, drive, courage, and will be utterly unscrupulous -- a combination which calls for serious concern. (25)

Those who knew him will agree that this is a fair description of Hubbard.

One important clue to the motivations of Hubbard lies in a book he wrote in the mid 1950s called Brainwashing Manual. Although there were witnesses that Hubbard wrote this book, he attributed authorship to the infamous Russian politician Beria, then pretended to "discover" it.

Some of the passages from this book reveal much about Hubbard:

It is not enough for the State (Scientology) to have goals.

These goals, once put forward, depend for their completion upon the loyalty and obedience of the workers (Scientologists). These engaged for the most part in hard labors, have little time for idle speculation, which is good....

Hypnosis is induced by acute fear.... Belief is engendered by a certain amount of fear and terror from an authoritative level, and this will be followed by obedience.

The body is less able to resist a stimulus if it has insufficient food and is weary.... Refusal to let them sleep over many days, denying them adequate food, then brings about an optimum state for the receipt of a stimulus.

Degradation and conquest are companions.

By lowering the endurance of a person ... and by constant degradation and defamation, it is possible to induce, thus, a state of shock which will receive adequately any command given.

Any organization which has the spirit and courage to display inhumanity, savageness, brutality... will be obeyed. Such a use of force is, itself, the essential ingredient of greatness.


In rearranging loyalties we must have command of their values. In the animal the first loyalty is to himself. This is destroyed by demonstrating errors in him ... the second loyalty is to his family unit.... This is destroyed by lessening the value of marriage, by making an easiness of divorce and by raising the children whenever possible by the State. The next loyalty is to his friends and local environment. This is destroyed by lowering his trust and bringing about reportings upon him allegedly by his fellows or the town or village authorities. The next loyalty is to the State (Church of Scientology) and this, for the purposes of Communism (Scientology) is the only loyalty which should exist.

And, finally:

The tenets of rugged individualism, personal determinism, self-will, imagination and personal creativeness are alike in the masses antipathetic to the good of the Greater State (Scientology). These willful and unaligned are no more than illnesses which will bring about disaffection, disunity, and at length the collapse of the group to which the individual is attached.

The constitution of man lends itself easily and thoroughly to certain and positive regulation from without of all of its functions, including those of thinkingness, obedience, and loyalty, and these things must be controlled if the Greater State (Scientology) is to ensue.

The end thoroughly justifies the means. (26)

Did Hubbard know what he was doing?

The answer is yes. Driven by greed, by his twin lusts for money and power, he willfully and knowingly destroyed the lives of the thousands naive enough to follow him.

L. Ron Hubbard -- pied piper of the soul....


  1. Verdier, p. 11
  2. Ibid, p. 13
  3. Rudin, p. 16
  4. Enroth, p. 150
  5. Ibid, p. 153
  6. Ibid, p. 153
  7. Ibid, p. 154
  8. Appel p. 77
  9. Ibid, p. 77
  10. Ibid, p. 77
  11. Estabrooks, p. 216
  12. Ibid, p. 216
  13. Ibid, p. 217
  14. Ibid, p. 218
  15. Ibid, p. 219
  16. Ibid, p. 220
  17. Lifton, p. 423
  18. Ibid, p. 427
  19. Ibid, p. 429
  20. Ibid, p. 430
  21. Ibid, p. 431
  22. Ibid, p. 433
  23. Conway & Siegelman, p. 13
  24. Appel, p. 134
  25. Estabrooks, p. 223
  26. Corydon, p. 107-9

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