The Attention Fix
2000 LITERATI CONTEST
The Attention Fix: Scientology as a Figment of Narcissism
by Eldon M. Braun
On January 26, 1986, two days after L. Ron Hubbard dropped his body, eulogist Earle Cooley, Esq. announced to an audience of thousands assembled at the Hollywood Palladium that the Mighty Thetan was headed for another galaxy in order to continue his important research unencumbered.
Who knows? Maybe Hubbard is out there somewhere chortling at what he pulled off. At the time of his death, he had accomplished most of what he set out to do. His legend still persists today. He continues to captivate and mystify tens of thousands of adherents who study his weird cosmology and perverse psycho-babble as scriptures. According to one still-emerging theory of mental pathology, that would make him a winner by his own standards.
Critics of the organization he left behind remain every bit as fascinated by LRH as his followers. In his own terminology, he created his persona as a “mystery sandwich,” and remains a magnet for attention. We’re still trying to figure him out by using conventional logic, and we can’t quite manage. I would bet that Jon Atack, Bent Corydon, Paulette Cooper and a host of other writers and scholars still have unanswered questions rattling around in their brains – basic questions like “What made him tick?”
Hubbard remains an enigma to fans and foes alike. Even after all these years, he is still getting more than his share of attention. Perhaps that’s all he really wanted. If so, he is still pulling a fast one on everybody.
NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER
Narcissism was first defined simplistically in 1898 by the Fabian physician-psychologist Havelock Ellis as autoeroticism. In 1914, Freud said that in certain cases – notably among “perverts and homosexuals” – libidinal self-centeredness stems from the child’s feeling that caretakers cannot be depended upon to provide love reliably. These children “give up” as far as trusting and investing in others as love-objects. Through their eyes, the condition was seen as a masturbation-in-the mirror fixation, reminiscent of the original Greek myth of Narcissus. Like all the “hysterias” he defined, Freud saw it as a mischanneling of the Libido, the primary sexual drive of his theory.
The concept of Narcissism as a pathology was expanded by Karen Horney in the late 1930s, when she integrated the Freudian “drive” construct with emerging theories of developmental psychology. As one of three basic personality traits, along with Aggressive and Perfectionist, the Narcissist was depicted as a grandiose, glad-handing showoff, intent on displaying an impressive image to the world. As it turns out, there was a hidden, darker side of the narcissistic personality yet to be revealed
The most important professional contribution to a modern, expanded definition of Narcissism was the work of Austrian-born psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut, who broke with Freudian tradition by presenting a new theory he called “Self Psychology” in a controversial lecture given at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis in 1957. He published papers on the topic beginning around 1960, but did not release his first book, Analysis of the Self until 1971.
Kohut’s proposed clinical methodology was diametrically different than that of the classical (Freudian) approach. Instead of observing and diagnosing the patient objectively, the therapist was encouraged to use empathy as a method to observe both the client (vicarious introspection) and the clinician’s own self (subjective introspection). The therapist’s reactions became a valid source of information; he could get to know his patient.
Kohut saw the development of the Self as a fluid process rather than the mechanistic series of stages described by Freud. Rather than being perturbed, arrested and introverted during a linear course of development, the Self could be fragmented by traumas. Early childhood influences were seen as the main source of traumas, but those occurring later in life might also contribute.
Existentialism was an influence on Kohut’s seminal work. He recognized the influence of depersonalizing societal forces on the developmental scenario. His fan club of young analysts hailed his work as pivotal, because it shed new light on the individual’s role in a modern industrial, technocratic society.
Self disorders were the results of childhood traumas very much different to Freud’s Oedipal, castration and other conflicts and fears. These are the traumas of the child either not being “seen” (an existence, a presence which are not affirmed by objects, especially the Primary Objects, the parents) – or being regarded as an object for gratification or abuse.
Such children develop to become adults WHO ARE NOT SURE THAT THEY DO EXIST (lack a sense of self-continuity) or that they are worth anything (lack of self-worth, or self-esteem). They suffer depressions, as neurotics do. But the source of these depressions is existential (a gnawing sensation of emptiness) as opposed to the “guilty-conscious” depressions of neurotics. Such depressions… are interrupted by rages because things are not going their way, because responses are not forthcoming in the way they expected and needed. Some of them may even search for conflict to relieve the pain and intense suffering of the poorly established self, the pain of the discontinuous, fragmenting, undercathected self of the child not seen or responded to as a unit of its own, not recognized as an independent self who wants to feel like somebody, who wants to go its own way….
They are individuals whose disorders can be understood and treated only by taking into consideration the formative experiences in childhood of the total body-mind-self and its self-object environment – for instance, the experiences of joy of the total self feeling confirmed, which leads to pride, self-esteem, zest, and initiative; or the experiences of shame, loss of vitality, deadness, and depression of the self who does not have the feeling of being included, welcomed, and enjoyed.
(From The Preface to the “Chicago Lectures 1972-1976 of H. Kohut” by: Paul and Marian Tolpin. Emphasis IN CAPITALS added)
Only during the past decade has pathological Narcissism been fully examined, defined and recognized. Today, the most popular Narcissism site on the web gets 1,000 hits per day. Most of the popular books on the topic were published within the past few years. Is this just another Disorder of the Month? Apparently not. It appears that Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) went largely unrecognized for decades because it is so elusive.
Everyone’s psyche contains at least a little incipient Narcissism. Desire for self-esteem and recognition are natural components of human nature. In a way, narcissism is a distorted projection of the American Dream. Nobody likes to acknowledge a sense of accomplishment (even a false one) as a form of mental illness – least of all the Narcissist himself. Frankly, I myself find writing this an unsettling task.
The first official description of pathological Narcissism appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders only 20 years ago, in 1980, the same year L. Ron Hubbard went into seclusion in the California desert. Here is the description from the current manual:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. requires excessive admiration
5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations 6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes”
(from Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition., 1996, American Psychiatric Association)
Anyone who has known or studied L. Ron Hubbard will likely agree that he met more than five of the APA criteria listed above. Many would say he scored nine out of nine. His factual biography, if recast as a work of fiction, would seem nearly as fantastic as his science fiction epic, Battlefield Earth.
BASIC GOODNESS AS COVERUP
Conventional wisdom and logic don’t apply in the solitary, manipulative realm of the Narcissist. Ordinary mortals require a substantial reality adjustment in order to comprehend the behavior of an individual who lacks empathy or boundaries of common decency. Most of us automatically assume, as Hubbard said, that somewhere deep down at the core, people are basically good. (Well, maybe except for a few out and out psychopaths, such as serial killers; it takes a Hannibal Lector to make us doubt that basic assumption.)
Assuming that a pathological Narcissist has any good intentions – whatsoever – is a big mistake. They aren’t usually overt criminals, though they will certainly commit crimes if they find it expedient or happen to operate within a criminal peer group. But they would rather get their associates to do the dirty work. Another term used for borderline Narcissists in business environments is “Serial Bullies.” Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street are a few of their favorite stomping grounds.
Whatever his chosen venue or the extent of his pathology, the Narcissist lacks both moral scruples and a genuine sense of loyalty. The image these individuals present, and the attention supply they receive as feedback, are all that really matters. This unique agenda makes their motives alien to other people’s comprehension, which in turn is their main protective device.
It’s a little like the Hubbardian concept of the Suppressive Person, but with a sicker twist.
AMORALITY IN ACTION
If we consider LRH as a pathological Narcissist, the concepts of right and wrong would have been mainly irrelevant to him. Even his re-definition of ethics as “the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics” meant his own dynamics as he interpreted them. In actuality, he assigned himself absolute authority to determine what was right or wrong when he wrote the rules. And Scientologists bought his rationalization.
Grandiosity, exploitation and dissembling come naturally for such individuals. Repeat: They have little or no empathy, and few if any boundaries.
Just ask Sam Valknin, Ph.D. In 1999, he caught the attention of therapists and victims of Narcissists with a seminal book on the topic that is mainly autobiographical. Here is his description of how it came about:
‘Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Re-Visited’ was written under extreme conditions of duress. It was composed in jail as I was trying to understand what had hit me. My nine years old marriage dissolved, my finances were in a shocking condition, my family estranged, my reputation ruined, my personal freedom severely curtailed. Slowly, the realization that it was all my fault, that I was sick and needed help penetrated the decades old defenses that I erected around me. This book is the documentation of a road of self-discovery. It was a painful process, which led to nowhere. I am no different – and no healthier – today than I was when I wrote this book. My disorder is here to stay, the prognosis is poor and alarming.” (from the author’s blurb posted at the Barrens & Noble online bookstore)
Valknin is no slouch in terms of real world grandiosity. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy. He has authored prize-winning works of fiction and favorably-reviewed treatises on Eastern European economics. He writes in a chillingly presumptuous style. As he describes his condition or answers questions on the discussion boards at his web site, he often sounds petulant about having to explain things in such simplistic terms to the unintelligent masses. He knows full well that he is abnormal, and is disarmingly candid about the negative aspects of his condition. But he can’t or won’t give it up. Being an authority on Narcissism is obviously his new source of “supply.”
His central thesis is that Narcissists are compulsively addicted to attention, or what he calls “narcissistic supply.” Simply put, if they don’t get a steady dose of attention – they begin to doubt their own Selfhood, or existence as a person. Adoration, acclaim and envy are the favored forms of attention, but even negative attention (if it helps the Narcissist feel important) is better than being ignored or exposed as an ordinary, fallible, unremarkable human being. That is seen as the ultimate defeat: the loss of Self, a vacuum of non-existence.
These individuals create artificial “Selves” with superior attributes. Most are quite convincing to their families, their associates and themselves. They walk their talk as best they can, and many are extremely good at it. It is an obsession and a desperately self-fulfilling prophesy, because the attention and feedback generated by the Narcissist’s grandiosity is his primary assurance THAT HE DOES EXIST. They make heroic efforts to fulfill their chosen roles, and often possess boundless energy. It’s a bit like a perverse Horatio Alger story, co-written by Lawrence Sanders, interwoven with fantasy and truth.
From the Narcissist perspective, says Valknin, other people are viewed as inferior, simplistic, two-dimensional figures. They exist only to be controlled and used for his purposes. Narcissists fall into two overlapping categories: Intellectual and Somatic. The former (mostly male) try to impress with their intelligence and accomplishments. The latter (mostly female or homosexual like Andrew Cunanan) use physical beauty, social charm and sexual wiles as their assertion of superiority. Both types tend to be very good actors – they convincingly feign affection, love, empathy, humanitarian ideals and other admirable human qualities, but only to get the supply of admiration they so desperately need. They are not, however, truly capable of feeling any of these sentiments. The whole world is a victim, waiting to be exploited for its supply of attention.
Of course, the condition involves co-dependency. The Narcissist needs attention and admiration – the supply for his addiction. His spouse, associates and followers are gulled into awe and loyalty because they too need something – whether it is the reflected glory of association with a superior being, a masochistic need to be controlled, or their own latent Narcissistic tendencies. Consider that in terms of cult followers, or “victims” of cults. The passage below may well describe not only Mary Sue Hubbard’s slavish devotion, but the difficulties experienced by those who break ties with Scientology. Just substitute “former staff member” or “ex-Scientologist” for “partner” and multiply.
A Narcissist is never whole without an adoring, submissive, available, self-denigrating partner. His very sense of superiority, indeed his False Self, depends on it…. It is through self-denial that the partner survives. He denies his wishes, hopes, dreams, aspirations, sexual needs, psychological needs, material needs, everything, which might engender the wrath of the Narcissist God-like supreme figure. The Narcissist is rendered even more superior through and because of this self-denial. It is easy to explain self-denial undertaken to facilitate and ease the life of a Great Man…. The relationships are characterized by rampant emergentism: roles are allocated almost from the start and any deviation meets with an aggressive, even violent reaction.
The predominant chord in the partner’s mind is utter, unadulterated confusion. Even the most basic relationships – with husband, children, or parents – remain bafflingly obscured by the giant shadows cast by the intensive interaction with the Narcissist. A suspension of judgment is part and parcel of a suspension of individuality, which is both a prerequisite to and the result of living with a Narcissist. The partner no longer knows what is true and right and what is wrong and forbidden…. His primordial sin is that he fell in love with an image, not with a real person. It is the voiding of the image that is mourned when the relationships end.
The breakup of a relationship with a Narcissist is, therefore, more emotionally charged than usual . . .
Why is it that the partner seeks to prolong his pain? What is the source and purpose of this masochistic streak? In all likelihood, the partner is an inverted Narcissist, a suppressed one, or a latent one in the limited sense that his psychological make-up and formation are identical to those of the Narcissist. This deep-rooted, deep-seated identity fosters the frequent follies-a-deux which is the Narcissistic couple.
(from Sam Valknin’s Narcissism FAQs
Some degree of Narcissism is a natural component of a normal Self. Everyone had fantasies of omniscience as a child, and presumably would not object to possessing a few superhuman powers. Heck, if nothing else, it would be easier to rearrange the furniture by levitating it. Hubbard’s strategy plays perfectly on the latent narcissistic tendencies of his flock. “We, the Chosen Ones, Come Back through the Aeons as Mankind’s Only Hope for Total Freedom on a Cleared Planet.” And so forth. From outside the Scientology bubble, it’s patent nonsense; but inside, it plays just fine.
Many – including former Scientology members going through the recovery process – wonder how Hubbard wove a spell that works so rapidly and so thoroughly on a significant segment of the populace. “Gosh, all I did was take a simple little personality test, and before I knew it, I signed myself into indentured servitude with a billion-year contract!” they exclaim. The answer, of course, is management by statistics. Hubbard’s mania for collecting stats on everything and everybody, including private information, was surely a great aid in deciding what he could and couldn’t get away with.
He honed the art of manipulation down to a true science – the real Science of Scientology.
In describing the skills and advantages of his own pathology, Sam Valknin says:
The Narcissist is possessed of an uncanny ability to psychologically penetrate others. Often, this gift is abused and put at the service of the narcissist’s control freakery and sadism. The Narcissist uses it liberally to annihilate the natural defenses of his victims by faking unprecedented, almost inhuman, empathy.
“This capacity is coupled with the Narcissist’s ability to frighteningly imitate emotions and their attendant behaviours. The Narcissist possesses “resonance tables”. He keeps records of every action and reaction, every utterance and consequence, every datum provided by others regarding their state of mind and emotional make-up. From these, he then constructs a set of formulas which often result in impeccably and eerily accurate renditions of emotional behaviour. This is enormously deceiving.
“The Narcissist is our first encounter with carbon-based artificial intelligence. Many wish it were the last.
(from Sam Valknin’s web site.
THE TWO PROFESSIONS OF LRH
Hubbard was a prolific and fairly popular writer of pulp science fiction, but never came close to being acknowledged as a great author except by himself. Those honors went to his more talented contemporaries, such as Pulitzer Prize winner John Cheever – another alcoholic Narcissist who encountered a major life crisis when his bisexuality was discovered. His narcissism was diagnosed during marriage counseling therapy.
Throughout his life he had pursued surreptitious homosexual activities, being transiently infatuated with young men who reminded him of himself in his youth, while also living in a superficially settled way as a married family man, a respected writer with an enviable suburban life, breeding pedigreed dogs and serving on the vestry of the Episcopal church. When his secret life (going to New York City for a few days every now and then to pick up sailors and other beautiful boys for brief flings) came to scandalous light, his family sought to reassure him by telling him that they’d known about his homosexual activities for years. Now, a normal person would be ashamed and embarrassed but also relieved and grateful that scandal, not to mention chronic emotional and marital infidelity, had not caused his wife and children to reject and abandon him – but not the narcissist! Oh, no, Cheever was enraged that they would ever have thought such a thing of him – if they really loved him, they’d have bought his artificial “country squire” persona: they would have seen him as he wished to be seen: they would have believed his lies without question or doubt.
(Joanna M. Ashmun, “NPD Traits Discussed“
Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to pawn yourself off as a major literary figure if no one who really matters agrees with you. So Hubbard made a transition to a field where he could recreate himself as a fictitious hero.
His second profession of cult leader is highly favored by individuals with this pathology. What better role for positioning oneself as a demigod? A whole raft of false messiahs can be described in the same diagnostic terms, including a few who joined their followers in mass suicides.
Narcissistic cult leaders may believe some, none or all of what they preach or teach. That is irrelevant, since the primary goal is controlling and manipulating the flock. Maintaining the supply of reinforcement for the Narcissist’s grandiosity and image of infallibility is the important thing.
It is an addiction , an amoral lust.
The underlying assumption of superiority makes things difficult for therapists who attempt to work with Narcissists. They believe that no one possessing their feigned superior qualities would need help in the first place. If it were true that they needed help and got it, the invented Self might cease to exist. Maybe there would be nothing left. Few acknowledge that they have a problem or seek therapy anyway until a severe crisis occurs, such as desertion by a co-dependent mate, or an episode of exposure and utter humiliation. Even then, they spend most of their time in therapy trying to outwit and impress the therapist.
In 1947, citing depression resulting from his Navy service during World War II, Hubbard wrote a letter begging the US Veteran’s Administration for psychiatric therapy, saying “I cannot account for nor rise above long periods of moroseness and suicidal inclinations, and have newly come to realize that I must first triumph above this before I can hope to rehabilitate myself at all.”
Perhaps his plea was a ruse, intended to qualify him for a larger disability pension; at that time, he was getting only $11.50 per month. Then again, maybe it was genuine. He had gone through marital and financial crises after leaving the Navy, where his record was far from swashbuckling. In either case, a Narcissist’s predictable response to being turned down would have been rage: they were making nothing of him.
His revenge was resourceful. Just two years later, he had invented his own brand of pop psychology, laced it with hypnotic suggestions, and soon churned out a best-selling book, Dianetics. “That’ll show them!” he might well have exclaimed as the book rose to the top of the best-seller lists. But soon came the unanimously devastating reviews by respected mental health professionals like Rollo May. A conspiracy, of course. Later, he expeditiously converted his following of hopeful amateur therapists into a religion that incessantly attacked the mental health establishment. He even went so far as to portray psychiatrists as robotic villains controlled from outer space.
THE POWER RATCHET
As his organization evolved, Hubbard systematically removed autonomy from his followers at every level of Scientology’s power structure. He built numerous feedback systems into the organization to discourage disagreement or initiative, and ruthlessly punished or expelled those who tried to exert any influence on their own. His policies are so labyrinthine and contradictory that anyone attempting to straighten things out using established procedures is bound to get lost in the maze and give up.
The underlying message is that if you question anything, you are dramatizing your own aberrations because, by definition, the organization doesn’t have any. Your problem, in turn can only be remedied by buying more auditing or training until you change your mind. This endless feedback loop of confusion and frustration is typical of the way a Narcissist builds dependency and exploits his victims.
The Narcissist endows himself with license to operate outside laws and moral codes. Hubbard’s fascination with Aleister Crowley is said to have begun when he read the phrase, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” He conveniently neglected another of Crowley’s tenets: “Abstain from all interferences with other wills.” Scientology’s Bridge to Total Freedom was constructed as an elaborate, always-under-construction series of steps to ensure confusion amongst, and obeisance from, his followers.
Of course, there was some effective bait on the lower levels. There always is in any cult. Dianetics and many processes leading up to Clear are considered valid and effective therapies by a number of highly intelligent people – at least, once the indoctrination is filtered out. People get high. They have realizations. They resolve personal issues, or at least believe they do. Then they’re routed to the registrar for the next fix of increasingly narcissistic fantasy.
The Narcissist will do virtually anything to evade being held accountable for his baser actions – not because of guilt, but because it would reveal him as fallible and ordinary. History is rewritten and present time reality is restructured to avoid this possibility. Blame is shifted to others. Hubbard was a master at this. He was obsessed with finding a Why for every mishap, in the form of subconscious evil intentions or hidden overt acts others had committed in past lives. This made everyone in Scientology a convenient scapegoat to be used when needed. Hubbard even sacrificed the loyal Mary Sue, who went to prison for “Snow White,” the espionage scheme he devised and directed. Not a big problem for a Narcissist, because LRH had little if any conscience in the first place. There were others left to provide his supply.
She was dispensable: just a pawn like everyone else in his world.
Hubbard thought ahead. He even engineered an important place for himself in the future by decreeing himself the sole Source of Scientological wisdom, and by declaring his ramblings to be sacrosanct scriptures. No matter if he contradicted himself or established policies that encouraged Scientologists to commit crimes. Occasionally he would claim not to have written a particularly embarrassing bulletin at all. Someone else, on a ship manned by 200-odd zealous and obedient followers, must have somehow slipped it in and forged his signature.
Narcissistic symptoms can very likely be acquired, and certainly reinforced, through association and emulation. You can’t beat them so you join them. In cases where abuse is a factor, that might the only defense. It is well documented that Hubbard was increasingly abusive during his final years. As one of his few close associates, and his only direct link with the organization, David Miscavige must have been the brunt of a considerable amount. Mary Sue was already in jail, so it would be logical to assume LRH needed a substitute co-dependent.
Some people… adopt the role of a professional victim. In doing so, they become self-centred, devoid of empathy and, abusive and exploitative. In other words, they become narcissists. The role of professional victims – ones whose existence and very identity is defined solely and entirely by their victimhood – is well researched in victimology. It doesn’t make for a nice reading. These victim “pros” are often more cruel, vengeful, vitriolic, discompassionate and violent than their abuser. They make a career of it. They identify with this role to the exclusion of all else. It is a danger to be avoided. And this is precisely what I called Narcissistic Contagion or Narcissism by Proxy.
(Sam Valknin’s website.)
Most Narcissists – full-blown or incipient – seek or invent associations with important people. In the case of LRH, his Explorers Club membership, his incessant name-dropping, and his failed attempt to convince John Kennedy that Scientology could give America an edge in the space race – all demonstrate a craving to be seen as larger than life. Even his imaginary enemies were important and powerful.
It seems credible that young David Miscavige’s own sense of grandiosity might have been fulfilled and reinforced by his close association with Source and the authority it implied. If Miscavige possessed little or no empathy to begin with, the association itself would be more important than whether he viewed LRH as an ally or an adversary to be overthrown one day. Keep in mind the description, “carbon-based artificial intelligence.” We aren’t talking about situational ethics, but an absence of ethics. If it provides narcissistic supply, it’s the thing to do.
Some claim that David Miscavige beguiled, deceived and ultimately defeated L. Ron Hubbard. In a sense perhaps he did, but by that time Hubbard was a shell of his former physical self – overweight and unhealthy from decades of heavy drinking, drug use, chain smoking, and manic all-night writing binges. The few photos taken of him during his final years make it obvious why it might have seemed wise – even to him – to keep his corporal self under wraps. A look in the mirror would have told him he wasn’t presenting a very credible image. He may well have chosen seclusion for reasons other than dodging legal subpoenas.
But even in his waning years, Hubbard was still experienced at the art of deception.
From all appearances, Miscavige seized control of the empire four years before Hubbard’s death and rapidly consolidated his own power. Oh, he had a bit of a tussle with Captain Bill Robertson, Mary Sue, David Mayo and a few dozen gullible, good-hearted Mission holders. But he was more ruthless than any of them, so naturally he won. It took considerable determination, intimidation and repression, but wrestling control from his adversaries and establishing himself as the new dictator was a shoo-in for him.
THE FOLLY OF DAVID M.
There was just one problem, but one that would be significant for a pathological Narcissist. In order to maintain his political power base, Miscavige was forced to sustain and even enhance the image of the Founder and Source of the empire. Just take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard. There, in foyer of the L. Ron Hubbard museum, the great bronze bust presides triumphant before a cheesy trickling fountain, beckoning visitors to view LRH’s greatest fictional work – his contrived biography as Ron the Invincible, Renaissance Man. It is Scientology’s Monticello, or Mao mausoleum, or Napoleon’s tomb – within spitting distance of Madame Toussaud’s Wax Museum.
Yet all poor Miscavige gets are a few lousy photos in Advance Magazine. One wonders: Did any of his underlings propose to call the new building now rising in Clearwater, Florida “The David Miscavige Centre?” Perhaps such an honor could be rationalized by his Biggest Win, the 1993 recognition of Scientology as a religion by the Internal Revenue Service. If anyone suggested that accolade, nobody bit, including Miscavige. Even if such recognition were deserved, Miscavige will christen it the Super Power Building, and will be obliged to furnish yet another roped-off LRH office, complete with a stale package of Kools on the desk.
Miscavige’s small stature, his limited education, and some unsavory rumors about his personal history haven’t helped his image any. But he could have overcome all that. His real problem is that destiny or his own actions placed him a situation where self-aggrandizement was virtually impossible. LRH had already stolen the show. Miscavige’s rages and periodic fits of physical violence belie the frustrations of a Narcissist who can’t allow himself to be publicly adulated. The best he can do is occasionally hang out with Tom Cruise.
Ah, there is that other subcategory – the Somatic Narcissist. If you can’t be a genius, be beautiful – get your supply as an object of desire. L. Ron Hubbard did have a certain thing about clothes, and once wrote an affirmation telling himself he had beautiful feet, but he surely didn’t fall far into that classification. Miscavige may be a bit more on the somatic side; his coif, his bearing and the cut of his jib do betray a touch of vanity.
OTHER ROUTES TAKEN
If Miscavige had been thinking coherently about his future narcissistic supply, he might have considered started his own operation. It was possible, as proven by another mini-LRH named Harry Palmer. A mission holder who somehow escaped destruction during the 1982 purge, Palmer hung on until 1986. He then, when officially declared, said that “If LRH could do it, I can do it too.” He founded a New Age multi-level organization called Stars Edge Inc. to deliver Avatar, a $2,000 course derived from Scientology and other disciplines. Avatar has strict confidentiality requirements, and is said to have more 1,000 licensed trainers, each producing an average of one new graduate a month. The course gets people high and produces realizations, so many of Palmer’s followers adore him.
Palmer makes every effort to distance himself from his Scientology roots He flies into rages only occasionally, when someone questions the sources of his materials or his business practices. In terms of narcissistic supply, he is doing a lot better than Miscavige.
Why hasn’t Palmer been attacked and harassed? His former followers say he is prone to use “black PR” (or blackmail) when threatened. They also report that he was a pretty good computer hacker, and managed to crack Scientology’s network during his legal conflict with the Church. What he found is anyone’s guess, but it must have been sufficient. When threatened by a Narcissist, says Valknin, “Mirror his actions. Threaten back.”
That would have been practical advice for a number of sincere, well-intentioned Scientology loyalists who tried to “save the tech” or formulate their own derivatives after Miscavige took over. During the tumultuous events of the early 1980s, dozens of influential ex-mission holders and former staff members attempted to salvage what they viewed as the worthwhile aspects of Hubbard’s material. There was excited talk about “Freezone Scientology” or “Reform Scientology” as a schism from the official Church. These efforts triggered massive harassment and crippling lawsuits based on copyright and trademark infringement.
Had these reformers been more realistic and cynical, they wouldn’t have underestimated Miscavige’s ruthlessness. They just wanted to be left alone. They played fair; he didn’t, and he won – despite eventually losing a few court cases. Consider David Mayo and Sarge (Frank) Gerbode. Those were heady times at Mayo’s Advanced Ability Center in Santa Barbara back in 1983. Saturday afternoon talks were attended by optimistic old timers. Despite hefty financial support from Gerbode, who is wealthy, Mayo’s operation was soon harassed out of existence, and years of court battles ensued.
After winning an undisclosed settlement from Scientology, Mayo pretty much went into seclusion. He is only harassed when he occasionally opens his mouth. Gerbode, a psychiatrist by training, has continued to pursue and scientifically validate his own flavor of Dianetics, called Traumatic Incident Reduction. At the least, Scientology’s machinations must have put his research years behind schedule.
Another former mission holder, Alan Walters, developed a Scientology-based technology called Knowledgism. His latest processes focus mainly on incidents and archetypes of abuse. He may be closer than anyone to resolving what the fascination with Hubbard and his tech is all about.
LACK OF RECOGNITION
Overall, when Miscavige has gone after “squirrels,” he has produced results he can point to as Wins. He has mauled defector after defector, critic after critic. For some years, he managed to suppress the more sordid details of L. Ron Hubbard’s life history. Yet through all these actions, he has only reinforced LRH’s image within the Church of Scientology as Source, Founder, LRH the Magnificent.
Even today, to the possible delight of L. Ron Hubbard’s Mighty Thetan in the Sky, most of the attention – that all-important supply – is still on Source. Miscavige has the power, but he is forever deprived of the glory. >From his behavior, it is obvious that something enrages him to the core of his being. It must hurt him terribly to salute LRH when he makes speeches at big Scientology events. That huge, blown-up photograph is always staring over his shoulder, smirking.
This, after an unprecedented series of victories over Scientology’s former archenemy and current ally, the US government. This, after the demolishment and covert takeover of the former Cult Awareness Network. This, after shuddering rebellious members of LRH’s family into silence. All in all, in Scientological terms, he hasn’t done a bad job of defending the bastion and consolidating what power and money it still possesses. Within the context of Scientology’s closed system, his leadership gets at least a Well Done. But outside that context, things aren’t going so well.
From the standpoint of practicality, critics of Scientology would be well advised to consider the pathology and motivations of the Narcissist in their strategy for dealing with what is left of the organization. Narcissistic Personality Disorder was largely unexplored when a judge described Hubbard and the organization as “paranoid and schizophrenic.” It may well be the underlying cause of those manifestations, but it isn’t the same thing. Like child abuse, it is a touchy subject that lay hidden under a rock for decades, because victims and perpetrators alike just didn’t want or know how to talk about it. Narcissists and their co-dependents only realize something is wrong when a catastrophe makes it painfully and inescapably clear to them.
At this point, Miscavige finds himself in an uncomfortable political position. In mid-2000, a number of hardcore, faithful members of long-standing loyalty began to discover that unauthorized alterations had been made to Hubbard’s sacrosanct writings. These heresies were apparently committed to sanitize Hubbard’s more outrageous rants and contradictions, and to increase profits by requiring expensive extra services. Miscavige obviously condoned them. Now he has to cover his tracks by covering up the alterations or shifting the blame. This might explain why recent exposes by the anonymous Usenet poster “Safe” and OT VII Virginia McLaughry caused such a ruckus. The evidence is right there, on paper, impossible to contradict or even spin.
Miscavige is stuck with a shrinking organization that has run into trouble virtually everyplace it has tried to expand outside the US. By hook or crook or blackmail, Scientology has mustered unprecedented support from the US government, but that can’t last forever. Germany, France, Spain and a number of other countries aren’t buying the State Department’s religious freedom arguments.
Can you name the two worst things that happened to Microsoft last year? The antitrust suit was bad enough. But the German flap over the Windows 2000 disk defragmenter must have been quite an embarrassment, too. And all because that module came from Executive Software, a company headed by a Scientologist. The logical Germans rejected the argument that their security concerns were evidence of religious intolerance. “Just show us the source code,” they said. “We only want to be sure this program won’t snoop around for intelligence data during the course of its job.” Instead, they got instructions for disabling the suspect defragger.
A MATTER OF TIME
Slowly but inexorably, the power base of Scientology is eroding, along with any credibility that remains. Miscavige’s only viable strategy at this juncture is to close down unprofitable organizations in the hinterlands and consolidate the church’s operations toward its two main headquarters, Los Angeles and Clearwater. Los Angeles may absorb an influx of Scientologists without much notice, but Clearwater is a small city. Public opinion of Scientology there is already low because of the Lisa McPherson scandal, a problem that won’t go away. The presence of the Lisa McPherson Trust is a continual reminder of Scientology’s bad repute and its hostile behavior toward critics. The Trust also provides a convenient refuge for anyone who gets a sudden urge to bolt.
Worse yet, it must be apparent to Miscavige that he will never, ever get his full fix of adulation. By now, he surely realizes that he can’t usurp the status he needs to fully exist within his own mind. Even today, most people leaving Scientology maintain a certain awe of Hubbard’s genius and accomplishments. They blame their problems on squirreling by management – specifically, the technical and policy perversions of David Miscavige.
Miscavige is vulnerable, disarmingly set up years in advance by his mentor. Assuming he exhibits at least five of the traits needed to certify him as a Narcissist, he can’t be receiving anywhere near his full supply. What adulation he does get comes from co-dependent staff members he bullies into submission, and the more gullible public Scientologists who believe he is an effective manager. Those constituencies can be cowed and deluded to a great extent, but somewhere a limit exists. If the stats go down to a certain level, it’s entirely possible that Miscavige himself will take the heat for the ongoing decline. If Scientology wasn’t expanding as expected, Hubbard’s policy was to find a Who and stick someone’s head on a pike. That mechanism is still in place.
Fingers are pointing from within and without. Scientologists and critics alike might logically begin to consider who will overthrow David Miscavige and pretend to “handle” the current situation. It won’t be easy to pretend things are finally going right after all these years.
How to hasten the process? It appears that efforts to deride L. Ron Hubbard’s technology and accomplishments have been mainly futile. Scientology loyalists and many ex-members still believe he had something worthwhile to say. The Founder is, in his own vernacular, a Wrong Target for attention. Efforts to analyze him (yes, including this essay) are only feeding him and his co-dependents the attention he craved. Any attention placed on LRH is probably diverted from the topic at hand. It is a distraction.
Pickets conveying generalized anti-Scientology messages might harm Scientology economically by heading off potential new members at the pass, but such blanket criticism is likely have little effect on the faithful still inside other than galvanizing their loyalty. They want a Who and a Why. It is their indoctrination. No matter how well-reasoned and logical the arguments against the quasi-military repression, the loony cosmology, the unworkability of tech, the deceit, the criminality and all the other madness, the orgs are merely the remaining vestige of Hubbard’s distorted self-image.
Deriding Hubbard divides critics and Reform Scientologists. In every quarter of the loosely knit Freezone confederation, it is generally acknowledged that he was responsible for whatever might be worthwhile in Scientology’s body of tech. Even though others may have made slight contribution, the reasoning goes, Ron did put it all together and made it work – however well it does work.
The most viable target, and the most vulnerable one for critical assault on Scientology at this moment is a single individual: David Miscavige. He is already seen by former, departing and doubtful Scientologists as the squirrel, the Who of the situation. He is a mutually agreeable common enemy. His downfall after 18 years at the helm would surely cause considerable havoc.
None of his likely replacements is likely to show as much determination or skill. He has probably done everything he could to prevent them from developing those abilities. Even if – as speculative rumors have it – shadowy figures like Meade Emory are manipulating Miscavige from behind the scenes, his fall from power would throw Scientology into disarray. There would be a lot of pieces to pick up and glue back together – including the shards of Miscavige’s psyche.
“The narcissist is a solipsist. He carries the whole universe in his mind. To him, nothing exists except himself. Meaningful others are his extensions, assimilated by him, internal objects – not external ones. Thus, losing control of a significant other – is equivalent to the loss of control of a limb, or of one’s brain. It is terrifying. It is paradigm-shattering. Independent or disobedient people evoke in the narcissist the realization that something is wrong with his worldview, that he is not the centre of the world or its cause and that he cannot control what, to him, are internal representations. “To the narcissist, losing control means going insane.” (from Sam Valknin’s web site)
STEP #1: CRITICAL MASS
If we assume David Miscavige does suffer from a high degree of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Valknin has some advice. As a confirmed Narcissist, he might not be telling the full truth, but at least he is speaking from the horse’s mouth. He explains that there are two ways to deal effectively with a Narcissist. The first is by diminishing his false sense of self-esteem through systematic, factual exposure, coupled with belittlement of the Narcissist’s feigned abilities. This might be called “poison pill attention.” One Scientology variation is called reverse processing.
Certainly, moral qualms may arise. It isn’t pleasant to contemplate purposely causing a psychotic break, particularly in a Scientologist who might be subjected to the Introspection Rundown like Lisa McPherson. Then again, we need to remember what we’re dealing with and take into consideration Sam Valknin’s advice that only a crisis can bring a Narcissist to a realization that all is not right with the world. It may be uncomfortable to think in such ruthless terms, but let’s listen to the advice of an expert anyway:
It is very easy to break a narcissist – even a well trained and prepared one . . .
Any statement or fact, which seems to contradict his inflated perception of his grandiose self. Any criticism, disagreement, exposure of fake achievements, belittling of “talents and skills” which the narcissist fantasizes that he possesses, any hint that he is subordinated, subjugated, controlled, owned or dependent upon a third party. Any positioning of the narcissist as average and common, indistinguishable from many others. Any intimation that the narcissist is weak, needy, dependent, deficient, slow, not intelligent, naive, gullible, susceptible, not in the know, manipulated, a victim.
The narcissist is likely to react with rage to all these and, in an effort to re-establish his fantastic grandiosity, he is likely to expose facts and stratagems he had no conscious intention of exposing . . .
Any insinuation, hint, intimation, or direct declaration that the narcissist is not special at all, that he is average, common, not even sufficiently idiosyncratic to warrant a fleeting interest will inflame the narcissist.
Add to this a negation of the narcissist’s sense of entitlement and the combustion is inevitable. Tell the narcissist that he does not deserve the best treatment, that his needs are not everyone’s priority, that he is boring, that his needs can be catered to by an average practitioner (medical doctor, accountant, lawyer, psychiatrist), that he and his motives are transparent and can be easily gauged, that he will do what he is told, that his temper tantrums will not be tolerated, that no special concessions will be made to accommodate his inflated sense of self, etc. and the narcissist will lose control.
(from Sam Valknin’s Narcissism FAQs)
This tactic of derogation is already employed to some extent along with others, but all have been applied more or less randomly. The point here is to reallocate resources for the actions likely to be most effective. Perhaps it’s time to narrow the focus of the spotlight beam and direct it on the central character in the drama. Pin him in a pool of light, and ask him to perform a soliloquy. He pretty much made a fool of himself when he appeared on national TV several years back. Put his face and name on picket signs that highlight his incompetence. If possible, drag him into court. He didn’t fare so well in the legal arena during his few appearances, as evidenced by his flustered statements during a 1990 deposition, where he evasively clammed up when asked simple, innocuous questions about his background:
QUESTION: Mr. Miscavige, do you have a high school education?
MISCAVIGE: I don’t know what that question means.
QUESTION: Mr. Miscavige, when you were first appointed to the position of Chairman of the Board …who were the other board members?
MISCAVIGE: I have no idea what that question means…
QUESTION: What is the function of the trustees?
MISCAVIGE: Okay. When you say, “function,” let me just understand what you mean…
QUESTION: What corporate position(s) did you take, and when did you take them?
MISCAVIGE: What do you mean by “corporate positions?”…
(from the 1990 Deposition of David Miscavige, Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, Case No. C 694401)
If you took the trouble to read Valknin’s advice carefully, you should have noted that ultimate “truth” and morality are irrelevant. His suggested routine of derision is based on the narcissist’s own binary mode of operation. Judgments about whether Miscavige’s actions were good or bad, or honest or deceptive, have nothing whatsoever to do with it. The significant message is that he is not special or extraordinary in any way. His carbon-based artificial intelligence program has crashed and failed him. He is exposed as ineffective; untalented; a bumbler. He isn’t even a talented squirrel or criminal. The inherent fraud of his projected image of grandiosity is the crucial withhold to miss.
A related tactic might be to undermine the confidence of the individuals Miscavige depends on most for his highest quality of narcissistic supply – his closest obedient associates, and particularly Scientology celebrities.
Here there are many unexplored possibilities. For starters, one would target Miscavige’s incompetent promotional efforts – rather than L. Ron Hubbard’s lousy book – as the real Why for the Battlefield Earth fiasco. Such a rumor might well turn out to be true anyway, and would surely raise doubts even in the gullible mind of John Travolta. At least it’s worth a shot.
If the theory presented here is at least partly correct, Miscavige will react predictably – with narcissistic rage – and will help destroy himself. Most likely, he will have a little help from within the Scientology organization. They have always loved a scapegoat when the going got rough.
David Miscavige may well be ready and waiting for his own sacrifice, and for the inescapable realization that he actually doesn’t posses much of a Self, if any. Focusing on his evident foibles and frailty – his mundane, mistake-prone mediocrity – is probably the fastest way to hasten his downfall and the subsequent precipitous decline of the malignant organization he controls.
STEP #2: SHUNNING HUBBARD
And what about the enduring legend of L. Ron Hubbard? Is he still getting his narcissistic supply vicariously via those busts and ostentatious photos displayed in every Scientology org? Does he faintly hear the remaining loyal crew members shouting “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” at staff meetings? Does it matter? Should critics of Scientology even bother trying to deflate his myth?
Go visit Koos Nolte Trenite in the mental hospital and ask his opinion. He went psychotic (or more so) trying to figure out what made Hubbard tick. After years of “channeling” LRH through his wife and daughter with an e-meter, he snapped. He never managed to solve the mystery, but he used up a lot of attention trying and paid the price of his sanity.
In the real world, Hubbard is only a deceased historical figure. Unless you believe he is still watching and listening, or has already reincarnated, there is no chance of affecting him on a personal basis, and little reason to care about his reputation. If we accept the theory that Narcissism is contagious, and assume his followers have become infected by his pervasive grandiosity, then arguments about Hubbard’s accomplishments or morality will fall on deaf ears. He has already perverted Scientologists’ values to match his own. In Narcissistic terms, he was successful: He got away with it. Case closed.
There is, however, another viable strategy for dealing with Hubbard. According to Valknin’s advice, the second way to triumph over a Narcissist is disarmingly simple: disconnection. Cut off his supply. Abandon him or ignore him utterly. Aside from exposure, the other thing Narcissists absolutely can’t stand is lack of attention. LRH has already had more than his share.
Do we hear a snort and an angry bellow from a galaxy far, far away? Who cares? There is no true Self there, and never was. He was mocking it up.
Eldon M. Braun