All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by wilfully restricting our activities.
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I sat in a stiff-backed chair. I had no thoughts, no fears, no hopes — or at least I tried to feel that way. I didn't look at the room around me, or hear the other people talking, or notice the roar of traffic floating through the window. I simply stared deep into the eyes of the young man who sat facing me. I stared at him, motionless, and was there, and confronted him, and didn't react — just as I'd been told to do.
"So you drive a Honda, huh?" he sneered, twisting in his seat. "Hey, I bet you keep lots of porno in the back of that car, huh? Really good stuff, lots of centerfolds, hey?" He leered and tapped me on the leg. I continued to stare at him passively, then burst into laughter.
"Flunk for laughing!" said my supervisor, Christy. I was in the midst of "TRO Bullbaiting," one of the drills in the Church of Scientology's Communications Course, or "Comm Course." The class was described as a self-improvement course that would help me communicate better with others — a talent which the local Scientologists had told me I was lacking. They knew, however, only that I'd been led to Scientology through an ad in a local newspaper which had advertised "free I.Q. tests" at something called the "Santa Rosa Testing Center."
The I.Q. test had led to a "personality test" which led to an introductory lecture which led ultimately to the Comm Course. The course had no semesters or scheduled starting dates, apparently no lectures, and no reading material except the "course pack" and a book called Scientology: A New Slant on Life, written by the group's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
I read New Slant cover-to-cover, and was surprised to find that not only did it make scant reference to Scientology itself, but shed no light on some of the unusual "drills" I'd already witnessed in the Comm Course. One of the drills, for instance, involved one student asking another, over and over, "Do fish swim? Do birds fly?" A different drill, called TR8, involves a student giving orders to an ashtray; a third, one of the students commands another simply to touch the walls of the room.
The local Comm Course takes place weeknights, 7 to 10 p.m., at Scientology's mission at 721 Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. My supervisor was Christy, an intense young woman who'd been involved with the Church for several years. A certificate hanging in the course room proclaimed that she'd attained the state of Clear," which in Scientology's own terms means she had lost her "reactive" mind.
It was hard to get to know Christy. She freely admitted, in fact, that her own personality was irrelevant for the duration of the course, that if she proffered her own thoughts and feelings and character the whole process would become diluted and ineffective.
"What do your materials say?" was one of her standard ways of dealing with a student's confusion. Her usual way of expressing approval was merely to say, "Good!"
The drills were dubbed OTTRO, TR1, TR2, and so on, "TR" standing for "Training Regimen." Each was prefaced by the "checkout," which mainly consisted of looking up "misunderstood" words in dictionaries and then being able to define them according to Hubbard's meanings.
And me? I'd gotten only up to TR1. I sat in a chair facing Christy, and was supposed to pluck lines of dialogue, one at a time, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. I was supposed to make the lines "my own," not simply by reading them aloud but by saying them naturally and unaffectedly.
Already, though, I was balking.
"How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail," I read from the dog-eared book. I repeated the phrase aloud to Christy and tried as hard as I could to "make it my own."
"Good!" she said.
I continued with, "I didnt know that Cheshire cats always grinned...How puzzling all these changes are!...I haven't the least idea what you're talking about...Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers!...Three inches is such a wretched height to be...Off with his head!...I wonder what they will do next!" flunk.
Flunk. Flunk. "I'm afraid I can't put it more clearly," I read, "for I can't understand it myself, to begin with." This time I received a "Good!" And no wonder — that one almost was my own.
"Are you getting bored?" Christy suddenly asked, narrowing her eyes.
I admitted that boredom was indeed seeping into my mind, but that I was frustated; too, by not understanding what this was all about.
'What do your materials say?" Christy asked.
I glanced back at the course pack. And word-for-word I read the mind-boggling "theory" behind the Alice drill: "On TR1, the student is using Observation, Consideration, and Confront as previously drilled. He is also drilling being Cause or Source-point, awareness of Effect or Receipt-point, and as Cause getting a Message (or Impulse or Particle) across a Distance to Receipt-point with Attention, Interest, Control, correct Direction, correct estimation of Distance, Time, and correct Timing, correct Velocity, correct Volume, Clarity and Impingement, and with the Intention that it is received and duplicated at receipt-point."
Clear as mud, I thought. "Look," I said, before Christy could start telling me to look up any words I didn't understand. "It's like I'm being taught to lie convincingly. I bet a professional actor would pass this drill really quickly — it's like I'm being taught to take someone else's ideas, someone else' thoughts, and try as hard as I can to make everyone think they're my own ideas...I don't know, it just sounds kind of immoral to me."
Maybe Christy herself was getting frustrated by this time. Her instructions in the course pack warn her, "there is a possibility that during a drill a student may become angry or experience some misemotion. Should this occur, the coach must not 'back off.' "
On this particular night there was only one other student besides me in the course room, so perhaps Christy had more time to deal with me on a one-to-one basis. She tried a new tack. "Are you bothered, Dennis, because I'm flunking you so much?" she demanded.
"Yeah, a little," I scornfully admitted. "But that's sure not the main problem. It just seems that if the ideas and thoughts I have are my own, then I can't help communicating them in my own natural way. And if they're not mine, then it seems really immoral to try to make people think they are."
Next Christy tried to apply the problem to "everyday" life: "It's like when you were learning how to drive a car," she said. "You didn't get to drive your own car, you had to drive someone else's car first, like your parents', right?"
"Yeah," I said, "but then after you do learn to drive, it doesn't mean you should steal someone else's car and drive It all over town and try your hardest to make everyone think it belongs to you."
"Break time!" Christy snapped.
It was 8:30. Time for the 15-minute break.
And time for me to get out of here, I thought angrily.
During the break I sipped a glass of water, and fumed. Several Scientologists lolled around on the front porch, enjoying the cool evening air. Christy stood in the hall and tried to convince another student to pay up for yet another course.
I wondered how she was reacting to my obstinacy. In the course pack Hubbard warns the supervisors, "Once in a while the student will start to rationalize and justify what he is doing if he is doing something wrong. He will give you reasons why and becauses. Talking about such things at great length does not accomplish very much. The only thing that does accomplish the goals of the TR and resolves any differences is doing the training drill. You will get further by doing it than by talking about it."
Suddenly I knew I'd had enough of the Comm Course — not only enough for my News-Herald story, but enough for me, the person himself, a rational human being.
Just before the break was over, I abruptly told Christy I was leaving. She whirled around to place herself between me and the door, took my arm firmly, and cooed, "Come on. Stay just a few more minutes."
'No," I said, "I think I'd better leave."
"Did you have a bad weekend?" she asked — implying, I think, that the only reason I couldn't comprehend the drills was because I was a cranky, tired little boy.
"No, I had a pretty good weekend. 'Bye."
[Picture / Caption: Scientology students involved in one of the Comm Course drills, or "Training Regimens."]
Next week: Scientology versus "the Merchants of Chaos" — how the organization deals with what it calls "Suppressive Persons."