From International Viewpoints (IVy)
Issue 48- August 2000
See Home Page at http://www.ivymag.org/
IVy on the Wall
by Ken Urquhart, USA
Stormy Skies: A Painstaking and Painful Exposé of an Exposed Exposé - 1
A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics, and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed. By Jon Atack. A Lyle Stuart Book. Published by Carol Publishing Group, New York, 1990.
If the outside of the cup be not clean, how shall ye know that the inside be clean?
An "exposé'' is a writing that uncovers and lays open to view a wrongdoing that has hidden itself or has hitherto been taken to be, or has presented itself as, a right-doing.
My intention is to examine this exposé, A Piece of Blue Sky, piece by piece, to see what, if anything, we can learn from such examination as to how an exposé of these subjects could have been appropriate, and how much of what it exposes rings true to one person, myself, who knew LRH personally from 1964 to 1978 and Scientology between 1956 and 1980.
Early in his book, Jon gives a summary of engram running. It is clear, concise, and I think quite correct. And it is intelligent. Given this, we might well explore the negativity with which he goes on to expose. Surely there is much of value here to discern not only in what he has to say that we can agree with as well as in how we disagree with him.
This chapter begins where we often begin with a book - its externals. We pick up the book and glance first at its title, or we notice the title and pick up the book. To 'sell a piece of blue sky' is to hoodwink the customer into buying something that is free to all but possible to none, such as...well, blue sky. One finds out what intangible the customer yearns for, one promises to deliver it, pockets the money for it, and leaves.
The dust jacket makes clear that the accusation in the title is aimed very deliberately. The subtitle tells us the subjects are to be exposed in their wrongdoings; the illustration on the jacket depicts very heavy clouds with dramatically reflected sunlight; some clouds are very dark blue, some lighter. A menacing storm is about to rage or has raged. The clouds are rent by a diagonal streak of white and orange: an impression of great, godly misdeeds brought to an abrupt halt by a stern, higher power. A glance at the back of the dust jacket finds more of the clouds and another rending streak, but no text.
We examine the publisher's blurb on the inside front of the jacket. This will usually tell us what to expect from the book, whet our appetites, move us to buy, and put us in a receptive frame of mind. This blurb pulls few punches. It first refers to the Church of Scientology's claims as to DMSMH's popularity and goes on: 'Dianetics avoids acknowledging its ties to Scientology, the quasi-religious cult founded by penny-a-word science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, which has promoted itself to the sad and lonely for about forty years as a true 'science' or 'technology' of the human mind.'
This is worth comment. It is perfectly true that DMSMH has never come out with any revision or addition that connected it to Scientology. But since every copy contained (or should have) a mail-in card with the address of a C of S establishment, and since the connection is widely known and never denied by the C of S (quite the contrary) I think it fair to say that in implying secrecy, mystery, or misrepresentation (i.e., 'avoids acknowledging'), the blurb-writer is stretching the facts to suit his pitch.
The terms 'quasi-religious' and 'cult' are defensible. To describe LRH as a 'penny-a-word' science fiction writer' probably tells no lies (I don't know what he earned) but to position him as such and nothing else (particularly in the context of Scn as an approach, as distinct from the organization) is a debasement of whole truth.
'Sad and lonely' is a sad way to refer to the totality of the people who have entered Scn and benefited from it. I for one have been sad and lonely at times in my life, before Scientology and seldom afterwards. I disagree that my interest in Scn was to resolve simply sadness and loneliness; those feelings were not a large part of my life. And I left Scientology a much better person than when I began with it. The blurb-writer wants us to understand that the sad and the lonely are the victims who buy the piece of blue sky and that Dn, Scn, and LRH, for the sake of the money their 'victims' will pay, prey on their sadnesses and lonelinesses in order to get that money out of them - leaving them not only sadder and lonelier but poorer as well. I could accept that some evidence to that effect could be presented. That it represents the totality of the truth about the organization in its complete history is an untruth; that it represents the truth about the organization as it has become is debatable; that it represents the totality of the truth about the subjects or about LRH is low-class propaganda unworthy of a serious study.
Putting 'science' and 'technology' in quotation marks as though they are suspect is defensible. I don't think either Dn or Scn is truly scientific, and although there is technology involved in their practice, I don't think it is a good word to use. LRH is open to disagreement here, and we have to let the allusions pass. He called his approach 'scientific' and 'a technology' because those were the buzz words of his day and he wanted to impress.
The blurb continues: 'A Piece of Blue Sky' exposes Hubbard's bizarre imagination and behaviour throughout his life and traces the creation of Scientology'. Here again, the reduction of the totality of Hubbard's living and producing to 'bizarre imagination and behaviour' is an attempt to deny what he did achieve that is worthy of praise by implying he did nothing that was not bizarre. Leaving aside for the moment the question of why anyone's behaviour, bizarre or otherwise, should be the subject of a book, we can confidently assume that no discerning reader would fall for such obvious propaganda. Are we to suspect already that Jon is preaching only to the disenchanted and the cynical?
And: 'The abuses, contradictions, falsehoods, paranoia, and greed of Hubbard and some of his pseudo-military Scientologist henchmen are now finally told.' Sure. From the very beginning of Dn and Scn, there was nothing but abuse, contradiction, falsehood, paranoia, and greed. And no people but henchmen (henchmen are people who serve out of self-interest, or are members of a gang). Right. Beyond the stories 'finally told' in this book there can be no further story, no further information; this is the final and definitive version of the whole truth. Yes, Jon.
Were there contradictions, falsehoods, paranoia, and greed? Of course. Has there ever been a human organization of size, power, and wealth without such human nonsense, and often worse? Of course not. Should LRH and the C of S have been above and beyond all that, in view of what they claimed to do? Of course they should have. Was the entirety of LRH's activity and of all who work or worked in Scn devoted to that nonsense? Ridiculous. Does Jon attempt any differentiation and any estimate of extent of that nonsense? If he does, the book is of much higher quality than its blurb.
What is the basis on which Jon (as seen by the blurb-writer, that is) makes this judgment? Firstly, this: 'The often sordid details have been culled from thousands of documents, many in Hubbard's own hand, including official C of S memoranda, publications, bulletins, court records, and correspondence.' How very impressive! What could be more authentic and trustworthy? How better could the author establish his bona fides? Millions of readers of the yellow1 press would know that they'd be getting nothing but the very straightest dope. They always do, of course, when the ink is yellow.
There are many, many details, naturally. We expect a proportion of them to be sordid; an emphasis on the number and sordidness of the details is a hallmark of yellow journalism; should its use here lend us confidence in the accuracy and objectivity of this study?
How many thousands of documents? Is this 2001 documents? If it were really 'many' thousands then the actual figure would have been trumpeted. We all know these tricks with words now. There are plenty of documents out there. Anyone can write any garbage on a piece of paper and call it a 'document'. I've even seen one that reports an alleged meeting and conversation with me that never took place in a building I have never been in with a person I have never met and reported as fact by that person! Who evaluated the relevance and authenticity of the documents on file, and how? Perhaps the book will tell us and restore our confidence in its integrity. Preliminary examination of the book's Reference Summary is not reassuring: it cites materials in publications, or in official internal C of S mimeo [duplicated. Ed.] issues; I don't see anything in LRH's handwriting or any church correspondence listed there.
Secondly, Jon stands on his '...personal experiences, not only as a devout Scientologist for nine years, but also his numerous interviews with hundreds of Scientologists, many of whom he has helped escape the Church's most insidious practices.'
The C of S certainly has developed insidious practices over the years and we can be glad that Jon has helped some number of people escape them, and has interviewed them. And we recognize that 'escaped from' is appropriate wording to use in connection with some of those practices. Were and are all of the C of S's practices insidious, and all equally insidious? We can reasonably doubt that until convinced otherwise by all of Jon's interviews, or by overwhelm of yellow ink.
The horses' mouths
Jon's numerous interviews with so many escaping Scientologists provide him with only 14 named interviews cited in his Reference Summary, names I recognize and one I don't. Jon cites seven different people referred to anonymously as 'former executive' or similar. Of the 14 people I know, eleven made their own exits from the C of S without any assistance whatever from Jon. The three others might have since they were at the Saint Hill organization, a neighbour of Jon's.
Jon's interviews include one with me which occurred some time in the later 80's (if I remember rightly) years after I had left the organization (and without any assistance from Jon: I did not have to escape, and suffered no insidious practices that reached me). Word had come to me that Jon would like to see me. I had heard of his research and was curious as to what he would ask me, and I was prepared to cooperate very fully.
I recall nothing specific about the interview except that we were in the loft of Jon's house in East Grinstead where he had a lot of files neatly organized, and that we did not spend a long time together. I vaguely remember that he asked me about some events; I was surprised to find his attitude was cool, offhand, seemingly not focused, or terribly interested. Certainly not that of a man on a passionate search for the truth. I clearly remember that when I left Jon's house I was puzzled. I'd spent an hour or so with a man who was investigating Scn and LRH, subjects about which, particularly the latter, Jon could have found out a great deal from me. Jon had so much information in his files; he had many contacts who must have told him of the position I had held. I can't imagine that Jon didn't know I had first-hand knowledge of LRH. Yet Jon had been talking to a fellow, me, who had known LRH as intimately as anyone outside his own family from 1964 through 1976, and fairly closely until 1978, and I couldn't recall a single question from Jon concerning LRH either as Commodore or as a person.
Even if his contacts and his researches had convinced him that I was a complete fool he could still have got some information from me about the man. But he chose to remain silent on the subject.
Of course this gave rise to my suspicions as to Jon's objectivity. Not once in the following years did I receive any request from him for further information or clarification. I felt that the book, when I read it in 1990 or 1991, confirmed those suspicions: Jon had pronounced LRH and Scn guilty and had proceeded to put together the condemning evidence; he had no interest in any fact or circumstance that did not strengthen the case for the prosecution. Not only that, the courtroom had no place for witnesses for the defense - forget about the accused themselves or their attorneys.
Quietly, methodically, and intently (but seemingly without great enthusiasm) Jon pulled together his archive of hate. He had a fixed purpose: to trash LRH and his organizations. Jon followed his purpose faithfully. He did not, and perhaps could not, consider, perhaps even conceive of, a viewpoint of truth other than his own. To him one was either owned by the C of S or was an enemy to it or a potential victim of it that Jon had to save from it. No middle ground of reality, no complex interweaving of sanity, integrity, clarity, clearing, order, purpose-and their opposites; only the truth that could condemn Hubbard, none of the truth that comes from understanding him.
All this was brought back to me from seeing my name again amongst Jon's interviewees.
Look before you leap!
Now back to the blurb: 'Millions of people,' it concludes with, 'are apparently reading what purports to be a 'self-help book [i.e. DMSMH] for advice and comfort in coping with their life's discontents. Before they embrace Hubbard's 'self-help' philosophy, they would be well-advised to learn more about the cult of Scientology and its Messiah.'
That's pretty good publicity the C of S I'm sure has been happy with, that millions are reading DMSMH. I'm not sure why the blurb insists that DMSMH is a self-help book. I haven't seen any C of S promo for years (thank goodness) and if they position the book that way they are off the mark. It's a way to help others and to get help for self. It's a way to get help for self. I do not believe that the people who know what Dn is and use it do so for 'advice and comfort' although they do use it to help them with their life's discontents. The blurb writer doesn't know what he is talking about. He knows how to position people as contemptible - hence his use of words, and the 'Messiah' in particular. I do feel that this use of the title is extremely disrespectful to Him who first had it. But I think we would all agree wholeheartedly that those millions of people need to learn all they can about the 'cult of Scientology' before embracing any part of it. Do they learn all they need to know from Jon Atack and the other detractors?
Face in the clouds
The rear flap of the dust jacket shows a portrait of the author, taken against the light. He broods, with a scholarly stoop of the shoulders and neck. A face that shows intelligence, sensitivity, courage, and capacity for discipline and persistence. Its chiseled features hint at possible meanness and obstinacy, and a not-uncharacteristically British gritty contempt for bullying authority, a contempt that can become fanatical if pushed far enough. As an avowed enemy of LRH and Scientology, how does he perform?
The next shot
We will examine in this first essay of the series Jon's second shot, the title itself being his first (and the blurb its smoke). It's a passage that appears, untitled, on a page to itself following the title-page, where one would normally see the Dedication. The passage claims that in 1950, with the popularity of his new book, DMSMH, LRH sought 'schemes to part his new followers from their money. One of the first tasks was to arrange 'grades' of membership offering supposedly greater rewards at increasingly higher prices. Over thirty years later, an associate wryly remembered Hubbard turning to him and confiding, no doubt with a smile, 'Let's sell these people a piece of blue sky.''
Aha. Hence the title. Neat tie-in, there, punches the message home.
I am no scholar on the early history of Dianetics and the various organizations. I do not recall ever reading or hearing about 'grades' of membership in those days offering supposedly greater rewards at increasingly higher prices. We didn't hear about 'grades' of membership much until the sixties - when we also began to hear about increasingly higher prices. Unless I am mistaken, which is more than possible, Jon has his dates very mixed up here. In any case, the wording is fuzzy. What happened to the discipline, Jon?
But wait - in the last sentence from this introductory passage we detect a possible proof of the author's and book's objectivity. Notice the generous, relaxed, and omnipotent editorial interpolation, 'no doubt with a smile.' Notice how the author and producers of the book so honourably restrain themselves to just 'a smile.' Only a biased and prejudiced commentator would stoop to low, yellow-press levels as, for example, 'no doubt with a gleeful/greedy/twisted/nasty/wicked/evil/Machiavellian/conspiratorial/ self-seeking/false/grin.' Phew. They almost had me fooled. Gosh, I must have been hallucinating.
Indeed, the author and the producers are in such a hurry to get to the plain, basic, unvarnished, and total truth that they don't take any time to answer a few obvious questions about this passage, so conspicuous as it is in its position and setting.
Who is this associate? How reliable a witness is he? Is his original experience documented anywhere else (probably not, but it would be great to see it)? What is the context in which the person says he remembers that remark by LRH? Was the person in or out of the C of S when the remark was reported, and if out, for how long and what was the history in the C of S? Is the person or has the person been antagonistic towards LRH and the C of S? If so, for how long and on what basis, how hysterically (or calmly) and how actively (or inactively)? Does this person have something to gain by saying such a thing? Did the person say what is reported as said with any disclaimers, reservations, or additional data, that would affect our reception of the quote as given? When was the recollection communicated, and under what circumstances? What else has this witness reported under what different circumstances and to whom? What's this person's agenda regarding LRH and Scn? What was the actual context in which this remark was made? Who is the 'them' that LRH supposedly refers to if he did?
Why are these questions not answered? Do we really believe the answers are omitted by accident or oversight? Since we don't have the answers, the quote's authenticity is definitely in question but not effectively invalidated. Supposing the quote is authentic and meant to convey exactly what Jon is using it to convey, what then?
Who are you talking about, Jon?
Supposing that these are words that issued from LRH's mouth and that they convey what Jon wants us to assume they convey, then they show LRH in a manipulative and cynical frame of mind, certainly at the time that he spoke them. Supposing that he was at that time manipulative and cynical, did he remain so throughout his career? I saw him daily over several years, with gaps. I never saw him in a manipulative and cynical frame of mind with regard to what he was promising to deliver to the public in return for their money, although I would say that he did become clearly cynical as he aged. I did not see a man who was in the business of selling pieces of blue sky. I could not have lived with myself had I served such a man as closely as I served LRH. I would never have involved myself in an outfit that was dedicated to hoodwinking the public. I will stake my life that there are many, many individuals who worked on the ship and in various offices around the world who feel exactly as I do.
I will swear on my own immortality that there was about the man a core of sanity and integrity, of power, strength, clarity. He had an energy and a brilliance to him that glowed and sparkled super-humanly. He had a tenderness that could include with respect and genuine unreserved liking any person that came within his notice - yes, until he chose to feel otherwise, true. When engaged with another, that other would know that he or she were to LRH the most important person in the universe. He had a deep understanding of how people worked and he was capable of working with them, as absorbed in his work as any true artist is absorbed in the act of creation.
And he had within him a streak of ungovernable rebellion against mediocrity, against hypocrisy and pretence, against lifeless acceptance of any status quo, and a contempt for those who would restrain him out of their fear of his bigness. He chose to operate on a planet where the things he hated are very normal.
But in his awareness of his bigness he allowed himself differences from others, differences that led him into paths which misdirected his energy and brilliance and alloyed his sanity and integrity. Part of him was a swashbuckling regular old space-opera buccaneer having a wonderful time getting away with wickednesses that really did not do much damage to anyone except the arrogant and the self-interested.
As a man of sanity, integrity, energy, and brilliance, and as an ungovernable rebel against dull authority, he let his vanity run away with his energy and brilliance. Then his energy and brilliance ran off beyond the reach of his integrity and sanity. In this complexity, he pitted himself against the forces that govern Planet Earth, and he went down. His sanity and integrity as a being gave way to his urge to rebel, to snap his fingers under the nose of authority, and to gather his treasure any way he could - and bury it to fund the next life cycle.
In going down he put himself in a position where the little people could spit on him.
Hence, A Piece of Blue Sky.
What do we know at this point in the book? We know that Jon alleges a direct quote from LRH and presents the quote in such a way that leaves room for question and hence for doubt on the authenticity of the quote and on its value to Jon's case; that by placing the allegation as he does, immediately after the title-page, he tells us that the alleged words and their alleged meaning are the corner-stone of the edifice he builds with the rest of the book; that I accept that LRH could have said such a thing in his younger years but do not think him capable of them in later years despite his growing cynicism; that the book's title and the not-knowledgeable blurb set us up to anticipate that the book supports the premature finding of dreadful guilt.
Well, the book supports something, at any rate.
Let's see what else we can find out about that as we go along.
© 2000 Kenneth G. Urquhart.