LMT Literati Challenge, Year 2000

From: Bob Minton <bobminton@lisatrust.net>
Subject: LMT Literati Contest Entry - Scientologist: Roger Wilson
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000 19:38:23 -0500
Organization: Lisa McPherson Trust, a Scientology watchdog group
Message-ID: <r2nq3t89n78vtk9lme9oo5jmqhdbilsci5@4ax.com>

(Received December 1, twenty-four hours past the deadline; too short, too late, and only one long paragraph, but what the heck.)

Hi LMT,

This is a bit short I know but I ran out of time. Please consider:


FREEDOM, CONTROL & RESPONSIBILITY

Copyright 2000 © by Roger Wilson

Freedom. Control. Responsibility.

Three weighty words that echo down the corridors of history. Three words on which have been founded nations, societies and great causes. Three words that ring with libertarian values. Three words that seem to sit so well on the lips of so many renowned individuals, from Plato and Socrates to Thomas Jefferson and the other authors of that most noble document - the American Declaration of Independence. Weighty words true. But what do they mean, really? And what do they have to do with a late 20th century religious movement like Scientology? Let us step back, before we take another step forward. Back to the beginnings of that most authoritative of tomes, the Oxford Dictionary. And see what it has to say on the subject, or subjects. Freedom, says the Oxford, is in essence, liberty of action (to do). Control, says the Oxford, is the power of directing or restraining. Responsibility, it says, is derived, of course, from responsible. And that means morally accountable for actions, capable of rational conduct. At first glance these words may seem to differ from each other greatly, but there is more here that is similar than is different. One could say, for example, that that which one can control, one can be responsible for. The reverse clearly also applies. If one cannot control one’s drinking habits for example, one is likely to do things, either to oneself or others, that would fall well outside the bounds of rational conduct and would certainly lack morally accountability. We have all seen the staggering drunk, full of bravado, try to drive their car when clearly they could not or attempt to seduce their best friend’s wife. In these cases and so often, one excuses the behaviour, because we say he was clearly not in control at the time. We also say, he was being irresponsible. So responsibility and control may be much more allied than first considered. Especially when one realises that responsibility is not merely about blame or assigning fault to another. But what of that most noble word - freedom. The word famously uttered by Mel Gibson in his dramatic portrayal of William Wallace in the film Braveheart, just before the hero dies. Freedom can be considered by some to be an abstract concept. And many imagine freedom as an all embracing totality, no doubt imagining the myriad of things one could be free from. But let us return to the meaning of it, as found by James Murray or, more likely, one of his contributors, so many ages ago. Freedom is the idea of having a liberty of action. Being able to do. We are free when we are unconstrained, physically or emotionally. When we know we can say what we please, we feel enormous freedom. The shackles are gone and we can express ourselves without constraint. Herein is founded one cornerstone of a civilised world, freedom of the press. Liberty of action. Freedom is perhaps most dramatically realised as a concept to anyone who is without it. A prisoner of crime, or conscience. The bed-ridden, ill and injured. The worker chained to their machine by time or economic duress. The slave. These are the ones who can most deeply feel the idea of freedom. Its lure and its attraction. It is no wonder that millions who have suffered under the yoke of enslavement, torture or persecution, have so willingly fought and died for such an idea as freedom. But chains need not always be physical or made of poor grade steel. Chains can be mental, emotional, psychological. And with this comes a new view of freedom. Whatever one cannot walk away from easily, is that which one does not have freedom from. Liberty of action is missing. A gambling habit. An addiction to a drug or alcohol. A repeated criminal impulse or activity. A savage and violent temper. All these things can be as enslaving as the hard chains of steel. All these things can imprison one for life and make that life seem intolerable. Yet if one cannot simply click one’s fingers and walk away from such things, if one does not have the freedom to choose not to gamble that money, take that other drink, rob that bank or beat that child, then one does not have liberty of action. In fact, action enslaves them. But it is not just in these more dramatic and obvious examples that one finds new meaning in the idea, liberty of action. Examples can be found in the ordinary and the day to day. Let us take someone who suffers a deep-seated, lifelong fear that prevents them from attaining a goal or a dream. Or a family squabble that has gone on for years and prevents former loved ones from seeing or even speaking with each other. Or what of a neurosis that prevents someone from realising their full potential. Or a lack of confidence that constrains an otherwise strong ability. All these things take their toll in life. All these things too enslave the individual, who may at first just keep the dream alive inside themselves, without ever telling another, but then eventually watch it fade and die out, to be replaced by the mundane, daily grind of existence. And only to remember it some time, late in life, as a faded memory to be shared with a grandchild or an old acquaintence. If one wants to act, but cannot, then one does not have liberty of action. One is not free, one does not have freedom. If one wants to be a movie star, a poet, a pilot or a priest, but cannot, then how can one say that person has freedom? They do not. And so we return to the triumvirate of Freedom, Control and Responsibility. If one cannot control one’s actions, then one is certainly not in a state of responsibility for them. And if those actions are driving and controlling one through some irrational fear or mental aberation, then one is also not free, one does not have liberty of action. Ask someone who has conquered an addiction and they will certainly talk of these things. They will say they are now free of those urges, they feel more responsible and they have control back. Even in something like cigarette smoking, these three factors are found to work together. The more one can take responsibility for one’s habit, the more one can control it and therefore work towards being free of it. Or not, as one so chooses. But despite all these fundamentals, the words freedom, responsibility and control have been getting a rather bad show of it in this modern world. Control, for example, is often maligned. One hears terms like “control freak” and so forth, as if someone who wishes to exert control in their lives is doing something insidious to others. Control has gotten a bad “reputation”. Yet almost everything we do in our lives demands varying degrees of control, that we forget we are all control “freaks”. We control the water temperature in our morning showers to a precise level, we control the spoon that brings just the right amount of cereal to our mouths, we control the car that we drive to work, we control the computer we sit at, we control the phones we use. In fact, without exerting control over ourselves, our bodies and our environment, every waking moment of every day, we could not exist yet alone get a thing done. We even have automatic control mechanisms to keep ourselves breathing, just to stay alive. So control itself is not bad. It’s just that bad control is bad. Too much control is a police state. Too little is anarchy. We would instinctively rebel against someone who marched up to us at our desks, grabbed us by the ear and lead us away. Equally we would be frustrated if our boss came to us and, when telling us what he wanted us to do, just mumbled and dilly-dallied and um’ed and ah’ed and never actually specifically told us what to do, when to do it or how to do it. And our freeways would be murder, literally, if no one controlled their cars or themselves and no traffic rules applied. Responsibility also has been much maligned of late. Or perhaps it’s just been forgotten. In the ceaseless cry for rights, rights and more rights, we have forgotten that with every right comes an equal and commensurate responsibility. The right to drive a car comes with the responsibility not to harm others while driving it. The right to drink comes with the responsibility to know when to stop. The right to expect one’s partner to be faithful to one comes with the responsibility to make sure one is equally faithful. Those who protest most loudly for rights are often those who really just want to be the most irresponsible in their behaviour. Rebellions against outdated moral codes with the cry of rights and rights, are often simply a facade for the perpetrators wanting to live irresponsible lives. But surely freedom is greater now than before. Surely in this modern world we have greater freedoms than before. Surely no one is attacking the idea of someone being a “freedom freak”? Perhaps not. But one can have too much freedom. Free love, free sex, free drugs. Eventually one becomes a slave to the thing he claimed was freeing him. And the circle completes. If you cannot control it, you cannot be responsible for it and you cannot enjoy freedom within it. So how do freedom, responsibility and control operate together within Scientology. Or do they clash? And how do they interface with the non- Scientology world. Scientology itself claims to mean “the study of wisdom or knowledge” or “knowing how to know.” It is a group. It is organised. It therefore will have an effect on its members. But what sort of effect? Let us take a drug addict, who has been living through years of hell with their addiction. He, or she, comes in contact with the Church’s Narconon programme, not fully aware at the time just what Scientology is or how far reaching its impact. He wishes to be free of the effects of drugs but is not fully sure, at first, whether this programme can actually do it. He is shown success stories from other participants who are now leading drug free lives and reads all the materials to do with the programme. But how really does he get through it? The group, in order to deliver the programme to him, must exert some control over his behaviour. He must, for example, not continue to take drugs while he is on the programme, apart from that, he is free to do what he likes. He must turn up on a regular schedule each day and get through a certain amount of the programme or he will get nowhere. And he must take responsibility for following the steps of the programme to get through it. So, in effect the Church is exercising control over him, taking away some of his freedom by making him turn up each day, and even, to some degree, taking more responsibility for him than he is taking for himself. But this is only temporary. It is only until the person himself has come up in level from being a drug addict - trapped, out of control and irresponsible - to one who is on his way to being free from drugs that he can take back these things himself. And when he does it is with a new found power. For a drug addict, finally to be truly free of his addiction and able to get on with living his life - freedom, responsibility and control have new meaning. Finally, he is free of the ravages of his past addiction. He no longer has a body craving wildly for a fix. He is free to do all sorts of things he was once unable to do, now he is free of the demands on his time that searching for the drugs and the money to pay for them once took of him. His life too, is now more under his control. He can decide what to do with his free time, rather than let his addiction dictate. He can operate better in life, hold a more stable job, earn better money. And being free from a controlling, craving addiction, he can take more responsibility for himself and others. He will be a more responsible member of the society so it benefits too from his new found freedom. And because his behaviour isn’t being controlled by drugs, he won’t commit crimes to pay for them. All these lead to more freedom for the individual, simply by surrendering a little of it, for a short time, to ensure a positive outcome. What then of someone who is not a drug addict? Someone who is leading a normal, reasonably happy and successful life. Someone who comes into contact with Scientology through a book or a friend. How do these factors influence her, or him. Say, on closer inspection, we discover that her life, whilst having all the apparencies of success, normality and happiness, is actually not quite what she wants. Her relationship with her boyfriend, whilst good, is not as good as she knows it could be. She wants a deeper sense of commitment, a more open and honest relationship, with better communication. She finds it hard to get him to open up to her and talk about his feelings. At work too, she feels she could succeed better, get a promotion, but she is not fully confident with expressing herself and is embarrassed at speaking out in meetings. She reads about a communication course the Church offers. She becomes interested in it. Again, to attend and receive the benefits of the course, she must give up some freedoms she enjoys, have someone else control her for a while and be responsible enough to actually apply what she learns. So instead of watching TV every night of the week, she attends the course for two weeks after work. There she is controlled by a supervisor in the course room who gives her the exercises and activities she must do as part of the course to get her through it. And she is asked to be responsible enough to turn up for course on time, not drink or take drugs while she is studying her course. All of these she can do easily, of course, for they are not great burdens. After a few days, she begins to feel better about communication. Her confidence in her own ability to communicate increases. Her willingness to be relaxed and comfortable when communicating with her boyfriend means he is too and she begins to discover his willingness to communicate has increased. At work, she finds herself able to speak out in meetings. She comes across to others as more self-assured. People start, for the first time, thinking about her as having potential for greater things. By the time she graduates her course, her communication skills have risen considerably. And now she enjoys greater freedom to communicate with others, more freedom at work and in her relationship. She can control situations more easily through communication alone. And she is therefore more prepared to take on more responsibility. So she too wins by surrendering a little personal freedom in the short term to gain much more personal freedom in the long term. But how are these ideas applicable to the broader community? One could say, for example, that working at a job is an exercise in trading off various freedoms, control and responsibilities within a group, in order to gain some freedoms for oneself. One agrees to commit a certain amount of time each week, usually on a regular schedule, to be a certain place and time to perform a certain function which is of benefit to those who own or operate the business. When you are working you are not free to come and go as you please. You must be willing to be controlled by bosses or supervisors who may tell you to do or not do certain things that you may or may not like. And you may even have to take responsibility for certain people, actions, areas, projects or equipment that you ordinarily would not want to have anything to do with. We all do this in our working lives, somewhat willingly, in order to receive money so that we may have some personal freedom to persue our own activities with family and friends or to indulge personal hobbies or interests. So almost any relationship by an individual with a group, to some degree, will infringe on a person’s freedoms, will manifest some level of control and will make the person be responsible for something they may not have chosen themselves. But that is the nature of the inter-relationship between individuals and groups. In order to do better in life than one could on one’s own, one joins or befriends a group. It could be a social group, a work group, a sports group, etc. One enjoys activities withing this group and is aided in their life by being part of this group. The group gives much to the individual. That the individual must sometimes give back to the group or be called upon by the group in its hour of need, is the eternal nature of how groups and individuals behave and has been true since they were first formed. In fact, one could say that groups which do not demand a contribution from their members do not survive. The football club that does not demand its members pay their dues, help out with keeping the club rooms in good repair and work towards fundraising activities is not long for this world. In this context the relationship that Scientology has with its members is that of the universal relationship between individual and group. One need only walk into any Church of Scientology to see how this works. One would see members coming and going from their day and evening study classes, free to go home afterwards. One would see the staff of the church, doing their 9 to 6, Monday to Friday, then going home at nights and weekends to be with family or friends. One would see others coming and going for their counselling sessions. One would also see the church’s members out in the community working at jobs, being mothers and fathers, or perhaps running a small counselling group at home. But it is what one would not see that is most obvious. One would not see church members being held against their will. Or being told where to go or what to do, every hour of every day. One would not see these things because they are simply not there. This is a fact anyone would be free to see for themselves. Implied suggestions, by anyone, that the church denies freedoms to its member are demonstrably untrue. Or that it somehow sinisterly exerts control over its member is equally untrue. What one finds instead, are earnest, hardworking, dedicated adherents who are taking responsibility for their condition in life and being willing to do something about it. But more importantly, taking responsibility for others and being willing to do something about helping them. Scientologists do have something to do with control, freedom and responsibility. They are active and do have liberty of action because they know their actions will do good for themselves and others. They can exercise control in their lives, because they do have the power to direct and restrain themselves and others in doing what is right and good. And they are responsible because they are capable of rational conduct and are willing to be morally accountable for their actions. These three concepts, control, freedom and responsibility, do not clash in Scientology anymore than they clash within any organisation and possibly, given the advanced philosophical state of many of the church’s members, they clash less. They do, as we’ve seen, however, work very well together. And given how Scientologists more readily and ably interact with others in their lives, one could say they interface very well with the non-Scientology world. Certainly far better than some individuals, whose questionable purposes and activities leave poor, impoverished African nations even poorer for having had anything to do with them.

Roger Wilson