I used to think that as long as I was not in the cult of Scientology, I would never fall into the unquestioning, partisan mindset that I had adopted when I was a Scientologist.
During the 15 years since leaving Scientology, I’ve learned everything I could about logic. I’ve taken courses on decision-making because, obviously, I’d made many poor decisions as a Scientologist. I’ve studied a lot of atheist and skeptic philosophy from ancient Greece all the way up to Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I’ve also become as scientifically literate as I can be without becoming an all-out freaking scientist.
I read books and took courses in social psychology and learned about cognitive dissonance theory, social coercion, the Fundamental Attribution Error, and the actor/observer bias. I learned about cognitive biases in neuroscience, and cognitive distortions in behavioral psychology.
I applied all these things to Scientology and to my time as a Scientologist so that I could see and write about the dynamics at work in Scientology which came together to make scientology a cult, and to coerce me, as a Scientologist, into adopting such unquestioning partisan thinking about the world around me.
As an Ex-Scientologist, I debated Scientology on the Internet with Freezoners, Independent Scientologists and, in the early days, fervent Churchies. I found that every once in a while, one of the points they made would get through to me and I would realize that I had been wrong about a criticism of Scientology, or I had conveniently forgotten some valuable part of my own past as a Scientologist.
Identifying Too Strongly With Your Tribe
After Scientology, I realized that identifying too strongly with my new group of Ex-Scientologists was a mistake – the same mistake I’d made back when I identified too strongly as a Scientologist.
I began to realize that since the truth has no ‘sides’, then there was a problem with me adopting the Ex- or Anti-Scientology ‘side’ in all my thinking and discussions about Scientology.
I realized I’d been blinded by my own loyalty.
Able now to step back a little bit more, I started spotting logic problems in the thinking of Ex- and Anti-Scientologists, just as I had spotted logic problems in the thinking of Scientologists 15 years before.
I started writing things that went against what my Ex- and Anti-Scientology group agreed upon, but which I sincerely believed to be true. My popularity suffered greatly. Instead of the public praise I had become used to while writing what my group agreed with, I started receiving public ridicule and insults, and people regularly blowing up at me. There were bannings and threats of bannings. And I lost whole lots of my Ex- and Anti-Scientology Internet “friends”.
What had changed?
I simply applied the same critical thinking skills to Ex-Scientology as I had earlier applied to Scientology. And I found that my Ex-Scientology tribe had taken very similar steps against me to what my Scientology tribe had taken against me 15 years earlier: angry ridicule, public humiliation, discrediting, insulting labels, censorship, and banishment.
I learned that an unquestioning partisan mindset had very little to do with being in a cult – it had everything to do with being in a tribe.
You don’t have to go so far as to join a cult to develop an unquestioning partisan mindset, you just have to be a loyal member of a tribe.
Tribes are way more common than cults. In fact, tribes are everywhere you look in human society: Republicans, Democrats, Americans, Russians, Cubs and Dodgers.
Human beings are a tribal species. Tribalism is literally built into your DNA. You don’t even have to think about how to do it. You join a tribe naturally.
Any member of a tribe is a willing member. They willingly shut off their questioning mind, and turn on their partisan tribal mind not because a cult leader tells them to, but because their tribe needs them to if they are to remain a member. Because human beings are fundamentally a tribal species, people instinctively know what ideology and behavior to adopt to remain popular, and to keep their standing, in a tribe.
So I’m not accusing anyone of doing something so rare as to join a cult here, I am accusing them of doing something so common as to join a political party, practice any religion including atheism, or dress up for a soccer game.
The problem was never cultic thinking, or being in a cult.
The problem is tribal thinking. The problem is that the truth is never tribal. Yet that is very common.
Not even the atheistic, anti-scientologist never-ins can claim that they are exempt from tribal thinking.
So if the truth has no sides, and tribal thinking has too little to do with the truth, then how can tribal thinking be identified?
Like this: Tribal thinking is concerned with the survival of the tribe. It is concerned with both the narrative stories, and the moral behavior, of its members to keep itself alive.
End of Part 1