Saturday, December 26, 2009

Scientogy, EST, Landmark and Me

I told Dail Doucette of St. Mark's that I would write this up.

Scientology is a financially successful cult that was started back in the 1950s by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard to make money. To learn more about this, check out the anti Scientology website Operation Clambake. I've never had much interaction with Scientologists. They have, shall we say, a very bad reputation in many circles. In any event, I'm not all that drawn to highly authoritarian groups. Yes, they have their place in our society. They are not, though, my cup of tea. Unless, of course, they step over the bounds of legality and honesty -- as Scientology does.

Werner Erhard -- original name John Rosenberg -- apparently tried out Scientology along with several other offbeat kinds of psychological groups during the 1950s and 1960s. Wikipedia has an article titled Werner Erhard about the man. The accuracy of the article is debatable. Just see the beginning of the article. I first heard about EST through magazine articles in the 1970s. The group made a very bad impression on me. Spending a weekend locked up in a room with people shouting abuse at me and not even being allowed to relieve oneself in a rest room seemed very bad to me. Some people, though, claim to have gotten good things from EST training. In any event, there are websites dedicated to Erhard and his career that are critical of him. The charge that EST is authoritarian -- perhaps in the extreme -- seems reasonable. Googling EST and cult produces a list of webpages that is 1.3 million entries long. A number of people at St. Mark's Episcopal Church have been through EST and swear by it. I've had little discussion with them about EST, though. The people I do know who have been through EST seem like reasonable people for the most part.

An organization called Landmark (or Landmark Forum) apparently succeeded EST. I've heard that it is a kinder, more gentle EST. I do have a few comments about Landmark from personal experience.

I met Gary Oleson through the L5 Society. L5 was a visionary, idealistic group which I joined in the late 1970s while living in New Jersey. Some people clearly went overboard. Perhaps because of the way I was brought up, I did not. After a few years, I learned that space colonies were far in the future and not a realistic possibility in my lifetime. Still, though, I enjoyed my work with the group. I even became a leader because of a successful Space Day event I organized in New Jersey. To learn more about that part of my life, I suggest reading a few of my blog postings:

I met Gary Oleson through L5 in the mid 1980s. He seemed like a reasonable guy. I'd say he still is for the most part. Every so often, though, he would invite me to something else, not apparently an L5 activity. There wasn't any real pressure, though, since I lived in New Jersey at the time and could not readily come down to DC for events that did not already have significant interest.

In March 1990 I moved to Maryland to work at Goddard Space Flight Center. At around the same time Gary invited me to a session of what turned out to be a Landmark introduction. I spotted authoritarianism right away. I was also not favorably impressed with what they were teaching. It seemed like some sort of baby psychology -- something I was not interested in because of my extensive background in psychology. In any event, nobody really followed up with me. Perhaps no one saw me as a likely candidate. Perhaps, also, because I started fading from National Space Society activities at the time and did not have much contact with Gary over the next several years. I got back into NSS activities after being fired from Goddard in 1999. To learn more about that, just read Politics and My Technical Career.

In 1998 I did get involved -- at first quite heavily -- in the Hash House Harriers. I did get one surprise relating to Gary after I joined the hash. Since I am pretty open about my life, I told several people in NSS about the hash. Everyone of them told me Gary was a hasher too. That surprised me. He had never mentioned the hash to me. Considering the fact that I am a runner -- and lots of people know about my sense of humor -- it would seem a natural suggestion for me.

In any event, I did get more involved with the space activist crowd again after being driven from Goddard. I started running into Gary more often. Still not a lot, though. I also started running into him occasionally at a hash. Our interactions have been light, though, for the most part. Gary has now started pushing Landmark at me some times, though. So far I have shown essentially no interest. At one point I did ask Gary about finding love in the hash. He replied that I should not bother but should look in the space activist community (not likely) or Landmark (virtually impossible).

I don't know what to make of all this. I'm rather independent and turned off to all sorts of authoritarian groups, not just EST or Landmark or Scientology. I wrote this posting mostly because Dail was interested. He's a good guy. So are the other people I know at St. Mark's.

A Few Basic Training Stories

Some people know that I was a draftee during the Vietnam War. I was inducted into the Army in August 1967 -- three months after I graduated from Rutgers with a degree in physics. I was very unhappy at this turn of events.

I had grown up in an Eisenhower Republican family. I considered myself in my high school years a similar kind of Republican. I will admit, though, that my curiosity was stimulated by Goldwater's "The Conscience of a Conservative."

By October 1962 I had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life -- pursue a career in physics. That, by the way, was early in my senior year at Steinert High School in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. A frightening event happened that month. We came too close to nuclear war because of the Cuban missile crisis. I went from being a standard issue Republican to a Republican pacifist. An immature decision? Sure -- I was less than month from my 17th birthday. I could think like an adult -- but I was not nearly as mature as I became in succeeding decades.

After that, though, I did not think much about politics. I was majoring in physics at Rutgers. I paid more attention to science than politics -- by a long shot. I had no contact with the opponents of the Vietnam war. While I opposed the war, I considered it of no importance to my life. Physicists were essentially exempt from the draft -- or so I thought.

My first draft notice surprised me. It came the summer after I graduated from Rutgers. I was already working for IBM. They put in a request for an exemption. That failed. I was faced with the choice of fleeing to Canada or accepting induction. Upon everyone's advice, I chose to enter the Army. My backup plan was to apply for a conscientious objector discharge when I was in the Army. I thought the situation would be cleared up quickly. Who on Earth would want a pacifist physicist in the Army? That effort failed. Friends predictions that I would be put into some kind of research outfit eventually proved to be true.

But basic training turned into a kind of hell on Earth for me -- and for my antagonists as well.

This is what they found out about me in my first week.

They discovered I had a degree in physics -- and the highest IQ of anybody at Fort Dix. That latter fact did not surprise me. I knew how well I had done in the GRE exam my senior year at Rutgers. That IQ was sufficient for me to get into both Mensa and the Triple Nine Society.

The physical fitness tests had one major surprise. I had not been at all athletic in high school or college. I thought I was terrible at every sport. The first four tests involved some sort of reasonably coordinated movements. My performance was what I expected. It was possible to get 100 points on each test. In the first four tests I got two 0s, one 17 and one 18. Then came the mile run. I had never run a mile in my life. A little over 6 minutes got me 95 points. I could not figure that out. Neither could the sergeant who became my first victim.

Victim? How could a draftee make a sergeant into a victim?

This story begins with a private who was waiting transfer to his educational group. The powers that be made him an assistant to the sergeant in charge of my basic training platoon. One evening said private gave me an order that I considered ridiculous. I simply told him "Go fuck yourself." He stomped away somewhat angry. A few minutes later he came back and simply said "Come with me." Since that was reasonable, I did as he asked. He led me into a room where the sergeant was sitting with a critical expression on his face. A corporal was standing next to him with a silly smirk. The private looked mildly hostile.

The sergeant began the conversation by asking me "Did you tell Private (name forgotten) to go fuck himself?" I simply replied "Yes." The sergeant then turned to the corporal and said, somewhat relaxedly, "Well, at least he admits it." The sergeant then turned back to me and asked "Why did you tell Private ? to go fuck himself?" I answered quite simply "Because he told me to do something stupid." The sergeant then said "When Private ? is speaking, he is speaking for me!" The sergeant had raised his voice when saying this. I had been on the debate team in high school and college. In responding, I lowered my voice and spoke quite earnestly. I have since learned that is what is called the command voice. I simply said "Then you make sure your stupid pet soldier doesn't tell people to do stupid things." Everybody's mouth dropped open. I was allowed to return to my bed. The private was the only one of the three who ever spoke to me again -- and then it was with real respect.

Remember my comment about being a physicist with the highest IQ at Fort Dix? That played an important factor in my next story.

We were on the rifle range. I had never held a real gun in my life before the Army. I haven't held one since. I had apparently made some sort of mistake on the range. A second lieutenant whom I did not know walked up to me and began, I gather, severely criticizing me. Since I had in ear plugs, I could not hear what he was saying. I finally got one of the ear plugs out. The lieutenant said "By any chance you would not be on the college op plan, would you?" His tone of voice was not respectful. Since I did not know what he was talking about, I simply asked "What's that?" The lieutenant raised his voice and replied with a clear lack of respect "That's a plan where the Army sends deserving, capable soldiers off to college for four years!" I immediately thought "My God, what a straight line!" and "He doesn't know who I am!" I simply replied, projecting my voice as I had learned as both a lay reader in church and in debate, "Oh. I doubt that I would be eligible. You see, I received a degree in physics from Rutgers last May." Everybody within ear shot broke out laughing. OK, not the lieutenant. An angry expression came over his face. He turned very red. He turned around and stalked off.

My eventual duty assignment was what my friends predicted -- with a twist that no one could have predicted. I was assigned to a research group -- at Lawrence Livermore. I was required to wear civilian clothes and live in an apartment. That assignment, though did affect my basic training. I had not learned how to throw a hand grenade. People at Fort Dix delayed my transfer for two months, blaming my lack of ability to throw a hand grenade for the extension of time in basic training. I think the real reason was that the Army had actually lost ground in my case. When I began my stay in the Army, I was a somewhat angry, rebellious physicist. By the end of basic training, I had added being funny and even more independent in my thinking than when I started. That change could have influenced my life in some interesting ways. Since then I have stood up to authority much more than I suspect I would have. I can accept authority -- provided that it is kept within the limits of a free, democratic societies. Too often these days it is not.