Prologue | Introduction | History | Leadership | Language | Technology | Ideology | Source List
"Charge is the electronic bing-bang that hits the pc in the blonk..."
-L. Ron Hubbard, Engram Chain Running, audio tape lecture series, 1963.
Scientology uses a strange language that is altogether baffling to those unfamiliar with it. Speaking in a lingo almost entirely coined by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientologists communicate in words that the average person would find quite perplexing. While this language is technically English, it is composed of hundreds of coded words whose meanings are known primarily by Scientologists. This peculiar aspect of Scientology brings up several questions, such as "What is the function of this language?" and "How does it relate to totalitarianism?" In this essay, I will answer these questions by examining the relationship between language and the thought process in totalitarianism, focusing on Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. In addition, I will discuss the type of language that influenced Hubbard and the consequences of altering word meanings.
The complicated language of Scientology is an integral part of the movement and distinguishes the group from many others. The official glossary for Scientology and Dianetics50 lists definitions for over 300 words, and these are only "official" terms. Many of these word meanings were altered by Hubbard in order that his new definitions would describe or agree with Dianetic techniques.51 Others terms are simply made-up by Hubbard.52 The terminology of Scientology is influenced by several key areas: science-fiction and computer science. The language of science-fiction throughout Scientology should come as no surprise, since Hubbard had written science-fiction narratives for many years prior to Dianetics. Science-fiction is defined as "fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals."53 Apparently, Hubbard felt little need to do away with this type of story-telling when speaking or writing about Scientology. This is because Scientology is itself a kind of "science fiction." Scientology is composed of undocumented, unproven "scientific" theories, which are then used by Scientologists to form success narratives- in short, it is fictional science. Arendt emphasizes that totalitarian movements rely on building an entirely fictitious world, whereby factuality is increasingly distorted.54 L. Ron Hubbard wanted to make fiction reality- he wanted to write his own "space opera."55
In the upper levels of Scientology, Ron's penchant for science-fiction becomes especially evident.56 Members discover that some 70 million years ago, Earth was part of an overpopulated Galactic Federation. The evil president of the federation, Xemu, ruled that the excess population be sent to Earth, where they were put alongside volcanoes and subjected to nuclear bombs. The spirits, or Thetans, of the victims were then "implanted" with religious and technological images and became stuck together in clusters. Human beings, said Hubbard, were actually a collection of these Thetans, a cluster of alien-spirits or "Body Thetans." Xemu was later rounded up and imprisoned in a mountain on one of the planets. To this day, he is still kept alive by an eternal battery. In order to be a free soul, without the clusters influencing our behavior, one has to remove these "Body Thetans" through Scientology techniques. That is what Dianetics prepares one for!
The language of computer science also highly influenced Scientology-speak. Hubbard borrowed quite a few computer science terms from the 1940's and 50's, once again changing their definitions to reflect the goals of Dianetics. For example, Scientology defines "machine" as "an actual machine in the mind (like ordinary machinery), constructed out of mental mass and energy, that has been made by the individual to do work for him, usually having been set up so as to come into operation automatically under certain predetermined circumstances."57 This definition places the human mind in a mechanical state that can be manipulated accordingly. The mind is thus a version of a computer that can and should be programmed efficiently. Other computer related words litter the Scientology dictionary: circuit58, erase59, processing60, terminal61. This phraseology reveals Hubbard's desire to mechanize human thought and feelings, to the point where a simple technique could be used to fix any ailment or "aberration"62 on the part of the subject.
The language of Scientology serves several primary functions. One of these is to construct a style of communication unique to that particular group. The unusual lingo distinguishes Scientologists from other people, building a sense of community that is different and removed from the rest of society. Because Scientology-speak is utter nonsense to the uninitiated, it separates the Scientologist from everybody outside of that group, functioning as communication for the few.63 Thus, the language becomes one of the marked traits of the Scientologist.
Another aspect of language in Scientology is the ease with which members speak in ready stock phrases arising from the cult's beliefs and rhetoric. Stock phrases are words which are often repeated in order to provide an easy explanation for beliefs. To put it another way, they are clichés. Hannah Arendt particularly noticed this trait in Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal on trial for the genocide of the Jewish people. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt writes of being struck by Eichmann's capacity for continually speaking in "stock phrases or slogans."64 Eichmann was unable to communicate other than through catch words and Nazi party slogans. "Officialese is my only language," he admitted, testifying to his incapability of "uttering a single sentence that was not a cliché."65
Scientologists also tend to often display this trait. There exists a startling similarity in phraseology between Scientologists. While studying language within Scientology, I became aware of how frequently certain phrases and terms are repeated. This characteristic provides valuable insight into how a Scientologist thinks and speaks. A prime example of Scientology lingo is found in the following excerpt, gathered from a on-line newsgroup:
"Scientology is a religion founded on ethical systems and conduct, by using the understanding that freedom is found for the individual by that individual taking responsibility for their past, present and future. Some criminal organizations have recognized this as a threat to their survival or criminal intent to rob mankind of spiritual freedoms and have thus gone about in quite a methodical fashion to undermine the work of Scientology in the community. Scientology as a religious practice is about the individual taking responsibility for themselves and others across the dynamics. It is a good organization under attack, from ignorance, from evil intent and from those who are not into taking responsibility in general. It is my personal belief that there are suppressive individuals in society, suppressive groups, chaos merchants and the like who knowingly attack the truth either consciously or unconsciously. They are repelled by the fact that others wish to stop criminal action. They are repelled by a group that has the capability to find them out. They are repelled by concepts of freedom, love and honor and higher spiritual concepts."66
The passage above demonstrates the thought processes of an active-phase Scientologist and contains many of the cult's terms and stock phrases used in a natural context. Virtually everything said has been repeated over and over by Scientologists in order to justify their "religion" against attacks by critics. As with Eichmann, the language is full of clichés that are "always said the same, expressed in the same words."67 This curious trait is a revealing factor of the Scientologist mentality. Regarding Eichmann, Arendt wrote that "his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else."68 Eichmann was unable to think outside of one position- that of the Nazi party. Consequentially, his mind was "filled to the brim with fabricated stock phrases."69
The quotation from the Scientologist shows how effortlessly the member uses Scientology terms and catch words to defend himself against criticism. Communication without these stock phrases and cult slogans would be near impossible, for they constitute the way the member thinks. Repetition of such phrases within Scientology indicates that members are only capable of thinking in one particular way. They can think only in terms of Scientology-speak and have much difficulty doing otherwise. This does not mean that Scientologists are blind robots that repeat everything they hear. It does, however, mean that Scientologists' thought processes have become so enmeshed in the cult's beliefs, they are unable even to think outside of the cult's language.
Another element of Scientology-speak, which can be seen in the previous excerpt, is the strange juxtaposition of talk about "criminals" with words such as "freedom" and "spiritual." Anyone who challenges Scientology is an evil "criminal," while the group is self-labeled as honorable defenders of "freedom" and "higher spirituality." This paranoid thread runs throughout the language. The theme can clearly be read in the lines about being "under attack," along with the omnipresent "chaos merchants"70 and "criminal organizations." Scientology views itself as the victim of a brutal scheme by those who seek to oppose the "truth." The "suppressive" people of whom the member speaks are defined as those "who actively seek to suppress or damage Scientology or a Scientologist by actions or omissions undertaken knowingly to suppress, reduce or impede Scientology or Scientologists."71 Thus, a constant paranoia is built within the language of the movement. The idea of a worldwide plot to destroy Scientology because it contains higher "concepts of freedom" is a testament to the group's delusions and irrational suspicions. Speaking with Scientologists, one frequently encounters such views along with the standard stock phrases. As with Eichmann's case, communication is not possible because the words are consistently used as a safeguard against reality.72
The altering of word meanings remains another language characteristic common to Scientology and the Nazi party. For the Nazis, all correspondence referring to the mass killing of the Jews was subject to a rigid set of "language rules."73 The rules substituted code names for words such as "killing" and "extermination," replacing them with "final solution" and "special treatment." The effect of this language system was to prevent people from equating the unpleasant idea of murder with the horrible actions they were taking. Within Scientology, words meanings are also altered, yet the reasons for the changes are somewhat different. While the Nazis substituted code words to cover-up the reality of their murderous actions, Scientologists are more apt to exchange old words for a new version that better suits their ideology. An example of this sort of language is the unofficial Scientology term "Raw Meat Preclear." A Raw Meat Preclear is defined by Hubbard as "one who has never had Scientology processing."74 Hence, anyone who is not a Scientologist is equated with "Raw Meat." This is an especially revealing word substitution, as it exposes the insulting attitude taken toward non-Scientologists. The term "Raw Meat" is akin to the massification of bodies into pieces of flesh. It is much easier to harm a person when they are simply packages of meat, and not people with complex feelings and experiences. The result of the Nazis' code words is the same- dehumanization through language. Terming a person as "Raw Meat" also functions inside another dialectic. Because most Scientologists were not always members of their movement, they too were once "Raw Meat." Thus calling another "Raw Meat," the Scientologist unwittingly equates his or her own self as a reconstructable, packagable, utterly manipulatable object.
In addition, Scientology redefines words with the goal of producing an entirely new meaning for them. Often times, such words are a significant clue into the cult's ideology. For instance, Scientology's re-definition of the term "critical thought" particularly exemplifies this case75. Hubbard defined critical thought as "a symptom of an overt act having been committed"76 or "a withhold from an auditor."77 What Hubbard meant is that critical thought is a bad thing; it indicates a criminal act. "Overt acts" and "withholds" are the equivalent of crimes against life and freedom in Scientology. The new definition thus makes it a crime for members to think critically, particularly about Scientology. Any "critical thought" by the Scientologist is immediately suspect. This redefinition makes criticizing anything about Scientology extremely difficult for members, as it is reflected back on them as something they did wrong. Hubbard's message is clear: critical thought is not the sort of thing any good Scientologist should be engaged in.
The theme of critical thought occurs throughout Arendt's analysis of the totalitarian ideology. Totalitarian movements always work to stifle critical thinking because it challenges the unifying mentality which their ideology necessitates. The fact that Hubbard specifically chose to redefine "critical thought" as a crime is no mere coincidence. Totalitarian movements cannot function with the plurality of viewpoints that independent critical thought provokes. Using language to smother such thinking is a significant step in the movement toward totalitarianism.
Copyright 1999 Laura Kay Fuller. It was her Senior Thesis at University of California, Santa Cruz (CA), in 1999. Duplication is not allowed in any form without written approval from the author. Operation Clambake will forward any letters to the author.