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Peter McDermott on Bernie


 

 

While Peter and I disagree on many points, check for example the first debate I had with him on the issue of the German discrimination, I admire and respect Peter because, unlike so many anti-cultists or arsers, he *is* able to make appropriate distinctions and engage in honest discussions. He makes here a series of excellent points, and I can back him up entirely on the representation he makes of my viewpoint. Most of the posts below were made while I was away from ars.


Usenet post from the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.

Source: FACTNet's Database and Copyright Infringement

news@petermc.demon.co.uk (Peter McDermott)

Tue, 19 Aug 1997 20:31:27 +0100

Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: Re: FACTNet's Database and Copyright Infringement
Message-ID: <B01FB31F9668221757@0.0.0.0>

jbwebb <jbwebb@gramercy.ios.com>:
>As someone who does find you, well not so obnoxious as hard-headed, I find your views unyielding to the point of absurdity in how far you will go to defend your stance. Your mind is never, never swayed by intelligent debate. It's the same story, day in, day out. I sit here and read studied, thoughtful, comprehensive and intelligent rebuttals to your posts, yet you never, never, never say - "Hey - you're right, I never looked at it like that," or even something like "You could be right, but I just can't get over my prejudice."

For what it's worth, I hate Scientology with a vengeance. I think it's a corrupt and totalitarian organization that preys on the weak and innocent.

However, I have to say that I've not seen many 'thoughtful, comprehensive or intelligent' rebuttals of Bernie's posts yet. I've seen people putting different viewpoints forward, but that doesn't constitute a rebuttal.

>Another point that I find really stubborn about you is how you are always on the side of the cult and the anticultists are "worse" than the cults.

I'm not sure that Bernie *is* on the side of the cult or not, as yet. My readings of his posts so far, suggest that he's attempting to be even-handed. It seems to me that he's one of what must be thousands of Scientologists who left the cult and who *don't* feel damaged by the experience, and while that's not a point of view that's represented very often here, it's certainly one that I find of interest.

My feeling is that many people dislike Bernie because he highlights contradictions and hypocracy that people would prefer to ignore.

 

Usenet post from the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.

Source: Knowledge?

news@petermc.demon.co.uk (Peter McDermott)

Fri, 29 Aug 1997 14:44:30 +0100

Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: Re: Knowledge?
Message-ID: <B02C90CE966811DFD8@petermc.demon.co.uk>

drink@yourown.risk.com (bc):
>I hereby apologize to Bernie, and everyone else on this thread, for the flame. I will (really!) attempt to refrain from continuing the flamewars. My problem with Bernie, as I stated above, is his insistence that accounts of negative experiences are basically not valid. I think ALL experiences, positive and negative, are valid. All interpretations thereof will occur between the ears of the interpreter, and nowhere else. My *PERSONAL* opinion of those who have positive experience with the cult, is just that--my personal opinion. I've always tried to keep that clear in my posts--that everyone is *ABSOLUTELY* entitled to their own opinion--but that means that I am entitled to mine, too, Bernie.

I appreciate that that's how you respond to Bernie's posts, but I don't think that's his intention - or at least, it isn't how I read him.

While he does have a tendency to challenge other people's experiences by claiming his own are different, ultimately he's making the same argument as Judith, ie, that knowledge and the experience of *any* single individual are very different things. If one of the goals of people posting here is to try to reach some sort of secure knowledge (which will only ever be provisional) then you really do have to take both into account.

What seems to make Bernie so furious is that there is a real resistance to people posting experiences that *aren't* as negative as yours - even when the person posting is no longer under the sway of the cult. And there's a tendency to completely dismiss one side, without making any attempt to evaluate the data critically, while any claim that is critical of the cult will be embraced, no matter how ludicrous.

A final point: while people *are* entitled to present their experience and have that respected, by offering it up here, they *should* expect that it be subjected to critical scrutiny. This isn't a closed support group for ex-cultists, but a forum for discussing Scientology, and as such, any information should be evaluated carefully, regardless of the source.

 

Usenet post from the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.

Source: Knowledge?

news@petermc.demon.co.uk (Peter McDermott)

Date:

Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: Re: Knowledge?
Date: Wed, 03 Sep 1997 00:02:32 +0100
Message-ID: B032599896688B27E@0.0.0.0

Peter:
>>Personally, it doesn't bother me to see people slamming the cult, but I'd be a fool if I didn't recognize that the more extreme examples that are posted are unlikely to be *representative* samples of most members experience.

drink@yourown.risk.com (bc):
>Agreed. But do you consider the *representative* sample of most members' experience to be positive, or negative? (Assuming a "representative sample" exists, that is.)

I don't have a view, largely because I don't believe I've ever had the data from a representative sample. My own view of the cult *is* shaped by those people who have had negative experiences. However, that's tempered by a feeling that many of those who remain in still feel they get something positive from the cult (I find it hard to comprehend why, but there you are) and a growing suspicion that many people leave feeling that they've been overcharged perhaps, but still feeling broadly positive about the tech and the people they met there. Again, I don't understand this either.

My point is that the reality of the experience of cult membership is far more complex than this group is prepared to concede. I really wish I could get a better handle on this complexity, but whenever anyone *does* appear here who is prepared to talk about their positive experiences, they are immediately leapt upon by a huge string of fuckwits, ranting OSA, clam, etc. You've talked about how *you* believe Bernie's posts invalidates other people's experiences, but given that he's a single individual posting from a different viewpoint, I find it hard to grasp just how much of a problem that can be, given the overwhelming support that ex-clams get on this group. It seems to me that it must be far harder for someone whose experience is completely contrary to the bulk of the views expressed here to post. If you want to talk about the invalidation of experience, it seems to me that you should take an objective look at *that* process - although I can quite understand that someone who *has* had a particularly negative experience with the cult might not want to. But my own feeling is that being able to do so would indicate that somebody had moved on from their bitterness, and was trying to get a wider perspective on the whole issue, and in that sense I *do* agree with Bernie when he says that many ex-cultists are still stuck in the cultist mindset.

>My short experience with the cult was negative. Most of the ones I have seen here are negative. Most of the ones I've seen in e-mail exchanges, web pages, books, and personal (IRL) discussions have been negative.

If you hang around with critics, you really shouldn't be surprised that all of their views are critical, but we really have no way of knowing how typical or how representative those views are. As I said, anyone trying to express a contrary view in these parts is rapidly set about by a mob insistant on proving the folly of their position.

You've implied Bernie's invalidation is upsetting to you, or angers you. How do you suppose you would feel if you were posting in a group where poster after poster did precisely that? Do you really think you'd stick around very long to try and explain yourself? particularly when it became clear that you weren't going to be allowed any latitude in your account - and so were going to have to define precisely every single ambiguous word you posted, because your opponents weren't prepared to engage in discussion on the sort of terms that most people take for granted when they are attempting to genuinely understand what the other person is saying?

My guess is that you wouldn't stick around very long either.

>I'm not claiming to have done a scientific survey; I've just talked to people and read things. I'm not saying everyone ends up dead in the basement of the Ft. Harrison--I'm just saying that I firmly believe that the negative FAR outweighs any positive that *may* exist. IMHO.

With regard to Scientology as an organization, I'd agree completely. However, I'm not at all convinced that the same thing is true of people's experience of the cult. Or rather, I'm pretty sure that most of those who stay in for any length of time do so because they have a positive experience. I don't buy the mind control theory - I think that's an excuse that people use to explain behaviour that they aren't very proud of. I believe they stay in because they get something positive, and they leave when the experience turns negative. And I think that the better grasp we have of what it is that people find positive about the cult, the better able we are to point out the flaws. But you really can't get at that unless you actually listen to what those people have to say.

>>How many coroners reports have you seen? How many members of the cult do you suppose there are? In light of the disparity between these two things, why is his argument so difficult for so many to accept?

>I've seen one coroner's report. That's one too many. His argument is difficult to accept because it is delivered in the guise of a sermon, rather than a discussion. I suppose I am probably guilty of the same offense.

Indeed, but it's hardly an uncommon one in these parts. I take your point about his tendency to preach, but I think it's hard to put forward an unpopular point of view in this newsgroup. Take a look around sometime, and see what happens to those who does.

Personally, I believe that without exposure to a broad diversity of opinion, one really isn't going to get very far in understanding much, and when you've got people regularly abusing and vilifying people for holding different views, you can't expect them to stick around for long. What we've *all* got to ask ourselves is are we going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?

>Sorry 'bout that--I never really thought I was preaching to the choir. I just want the truth to be known. If Bernie feels he is delivering the other side of that truth, more power to him. That's not going to make me stop speaking my mind. I'm not asking you to. I'm just asking that you think about according the same sort of respect to someone who expresses that point of view as you'd expect others to accord to you.

That's all.

 

Usenet post from the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.

Source: Knowledge?

news@petermc.demon.co.uk (Peter McDermott)

Wed, 03 Sep 1997 15:39:46 +0100

Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: Re: Knowledge?
Message-ID: <B033354296681E5C8@0.0.0.0>

Peter:
>>My point is that the reality of the experience of cult membership is far more complex than this group is prepared to concede.

seekon@ix.netcom.com (Number 3):
>    that's a claim that i don't believe is true, and i challenge you to demonstrate it. to be clear, the challenge concerns what the group is prepared to concede.

The above is my opinion based on my impressions of reading the group over a period of several years. I couldn't demonstrate it conclusively, without going to the trouble of doing a huge content analysis of a representative sample of posts, and I dont have either the time or the inclination for that. What I will say, is that I've certainly been guilty of it myself in the past and I don't think that I was at all untypical.

>> I really wish I could get a better handle on this complexity, but whenever anyone *does* appear here who is prepared to talk about their positive experiences, they are immediately leapt upon by a huge string of fuckwits, ranting OSA, clam, etc.

>    that also is not true. the people who politely come in to talk are met with a polite and generally moderate response. there have been a number who have done so, although not so many recently. that's not to say that they aren't substantially outnumbered, and that the critics don't provide a significant challenge to their belief structure. even new posters, unless they are particularly clueless, are heard for several posts before what you characterize as the ravening pack assembles.

I'll concede that this may be a more accurate characterization. Nevertheless, you concede yourself that it isn't long before the ravening pack *does* assemble. When that does happen, I doubt many people will be prepared to stick around for very long and engage in meaningful discussion. I can count the number that I've seen in the past on one hand.

>>If you want to talk about the invalidation of experience, it seems to me that you should take an objective look at *that* process - although I can quite understand that someone who *has* had a particularly negative experience with the cult might not want to. But my own feeling is that being able to do so would indicate that somebody had moved on from their bitterness, and was trying to get a wider perspective on the whole issue, and in that sense I *do* agree with Bernie when he says that many ex-cultists are still stuck in the cultist mindset.

>    what exactly is the 'cultic mindset' that they are stuck with? characterize how it operates, so that i can see it to.

A tendency to divide the world into 'friend' and 'enemy', a tendency towards paranoia and conspiracy theory, a refusal to consider information that doesn't fit in with the group's paradigm, a tendency to elevate particular individuals above the rest of the group, a belief that the ends justify the means.

All these tendencies are currently observable among critics here on ARS.

>>If you hang around with critics, you really shouldn't be surprised that all of their views are critical, but we really have no way of knowing how typical or how representative those views are. As I said, anyone trying to express a contrary view in these parts is rapidly set about by a mob insistant on proving the folly of their position.

>    i think that is way too simplistic. have you been set about by a mob insistant on proving your folly?

My position isn't *that* contrary to the dominant set of ideas here on ARS. *I'm* not saying that the experience of Scientology can be good for you.

>>You've implied Bernie's invalidation is upsetting to you, or angers you. How do you suppose you would feel if you were posting in a group where poster after poster did precisely that? Do you really think you'd stick around very long to try and explain yourself?

>    i am reminded about my curiousity about why bernie would do that, which you poo-poohed.

Did I? I don't believe I did. But I believe I can provide you with an answer to your question - or at least, I can tell you what I've how Bernie respond to that here on the group. He says that he's got a particular interest into the cultic mindset. What is it that makes people want to join such groups?

He believes (much more strongly than I do, perhaps) that he can see that mindset at work here on ARS among people who had been members in the past and have left, but still retain features of the mindset.

>>particularly when it became clear that you weren't going to be allowed any latitude in your account - and so were going to have to define precisely every single ambiguous word you posted, because your opponents weren't prepared to engage in discussion on the sort of terms that most people take for granted when they are attempting to genuinely understand what the other person is saying?

>    whether you like it or not, if you are going to present new, different, contrary views, you are going to have to make them clear in people's minds to have an effect. you are going to have to address the ambiguities that arise from the new view being presented. you have to be very careful about being misunderstood.

That's not my point though. My point is that it goes *way* beyond that reasonable request for clarification to a pedantic nitpicking that actually stifles the possibility of meaningful discourse, because some posters here just aren't that skilled at argument, and so they believe that picking them up on every word with a possible ambiguity of meaning somehow shows their opponent up as having a weak position. In fact, it doesn't, they are the people with the weak argument, but they never get to learn that because they are surrounded by people who will never concede anything good about those who they see as the opposition.

And at the same time, the thread becomes unreadable because it gets bogged down in all this boring nitpicking, and the *real* argument that is in there somewhere never even gets touched.

I'm not saying this happens all the time, but it happens frequently enough to be a major irritation to me.

>>Personally, I believe that without exposure to a broad diversity of opinion, one really isn't going to get very far in understanding much, and when you've got people regularly abusing and vilifying people for holding different views, you can't expect them to stick around for long. What we've *all* got to ask ourselves is are we going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?

>    returning to judith's epistemology topic, you need more than exposure to opinion. you need exposure to data - you need a way to acquire other people's experiences, you need a way to structure those experiences in a way that accomodates your own, and you need a way to assimilate or internalize them. exposure to opinion may provide ways of structuring data, but if that's all you get, and if it is too much at variance with your own structuring and experience, it looks empty or in error, and it gets rejected. this is not even bad, from an evolutionary perspective.

Indeed, but I've been studying the cult for twenty years, off and on, so I'm familiar with the data, I know all about the negative experiences, etc. More recently I've started to wonder about the credibility of some of the claims that I've taken for granted, and that's one of the reasons that I may seem to have been siding with Diane. She's the only person here who *isn't* a scientologist, who is prepared to do basic research on these issues and post her findings. And I agree with Bernie when he points out that the vilification she's undergoing as a result of this process *is* indicative of a cultic mindset.

Yes, I know that there are personal differences between Diane and some posters, but that isn't how the criticisms are couched. The implication is that anybody who posts information that undermines the credibility of a critic is an OSA plant. There seems to me to be an exact parallel here, with the argument that anyone who publishes objective but positive data about Prozac is in the employ of Psychiatry. Both sides are opposed to full disclosure of the data, and to an honest evaluation of all the evidence.

>>I'm not asking you to. I'm just asking that you think about according the same sort of respect to someone who expresses that point of view as you'd expect others to accord to you.

>    i think we've found a replacement for peter nathan hass, lo these many months :-)

Don't be too sure. I'm probably just being contrary. Next week, I'll probably be assaulting clams and dissing Diane and Bernie along with the rest of you.

 

news@petermc.demon.co.uk (Peter McDermott)

Thu, 04 Sep 1997 14:22:47 +0100

Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: Re: Knowledge?
Message-ID: B03474B79668DE032@petermc.demon.co.uk

bc:
>>I'd suggest you back up a paragraph and read what I wrote. I said "...unwilling to listen to anyone else relate their negative experiences *WITHOUT SEMANTICALLY PUMMELING THEM FOR IT*" (emphasis added for the reality-impaired).

Diane Richardson:
>What do you mean by "semantically pummeling"? Do you really think that anyone who questions your assertions is doing that to hurt you --invalidate you? I see things differently.

>The opportunity to analyze long-held opinions, defend those opinions in debate, and ultimately alter those opinions, reassess those opinions, or reaffirm them, is a great learning experience for me. It's one of the things that has kept me from wallowing in the same rut for a lifetime. It's my opportunity to learn and grow wiser.

Um, a big "me too" here.

It's funny, because when I was suggesting that ARS as a group does this when current or ex-$cienos with a positive experience of the cult post here, Seeker was arguing that this wasn't the case. What really happens is that people politely challenge their assumptions, but the poor Scieno's just can't take it.

Here, though, we have bc complaining because when Diane does to critics what ARS does to Scientologists, it constitutes invalidation by "semantic pummelling". But *everything* that we do here is "semantic pummelling". That's what we do here - argue and debate. If Diane's arguments are weak, there's no shortage of people here to jump all over her and point that out. In fact, even when they aren't weak, there are enough people here who lack the insight into the difference between a 'good' (ie, logical and coherent) argument and a poor one to take a shot at it anyway. It hardly seems reasonable to whine about 'semantic pummelling' because she tends to decisively defeat such people in argument.

My biggest disappointment with ARS at the moment is the way that Diane is being jumped on because of this tendency to question assertions. When she did it to Scientologists, she was a hero. When she does it to critics, she's a witch.

Going back to Seeker's question about the features of a cultic mind-set, it seems to me that point illustrates a key feature of such a mind-set. When faced with information or arguments that challenges their belief system, people with a cultic mind-set will not only refuse to assess it, they will also attempt to dismiss the person who is actually presenting the information. Bernie does it and so it's obviously because he's OSA and has some sort of agenda. Diane does it, and it's because she's bitter about her personal relationships, or because she's diagnosed bipolar. This is *precisely* the same style of argument that the cult uses when it claims that the reason people like Dennis, Arnie, Jeff Jacobsen, etc. have attack the church because they are really criminals with something to hide.

The cult resorts to these DA tactics when they don't have good arguments *against* their opponents, and the same thing, it seems to me, is true of those critics who engage in the same tactics. If they could win the argument on it's merits alone, then they'd do so, it would be apparent to everyone reading, and they could feel smug about having demonstrably crushed a fallacious argument. What happens is that they *don't* win the argument, and so they seek to DA their opponent in some way in an attempt to make themselves feel better over having been made to look foolish in public.

Anyway, my point is that what BC calls 'semantic pummelling' is really the best tool that we have. ie the ability to ask questions, to challenge basic assumptions, to point up the flaws in each other's logic. If we don't subject *all* claims to the same rigorous testing, then we have to accept $cientology's argument that critics are biased, bigoted and operate a double standard.

Mind you, I note that several people - Pope Barwell, Dennis and one or two others *have* been arguing in favour of adopting double standards with regard to the treatment of Scientologists re. outing and posting logs, so perhaps some people are also prepared to argue in favour of double standards with regard to the evaluation of evidence as well. Maybe they're right. Maybe wog claims *shouldn't* have to meet the same rigorous standards we expect from $cientology. Maybe we should just adopt the principle of 'whatever is true for you..' because refusal to do so is 'invalidating'.

But you know what? That all sounds like *clam-talk* to me. YMMV.

 

Usenet post from the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.

Source: Knowledge?

news@petermc.demon.co.uk (Peter McDermott)

Fri, 05 Sep 1997 17:59:50 +0100

Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: Re: Knowledge?
Message-ID: <B035F91696685E2DF@petermc.demon.co.uk>

Peter:
>> But my own feeling is that being able to do so would indicate that somebody had moved on from their bitterness, and was trying to get a wider perspective on the whole issue, and in that sense I *do* agree with Bernie when he says that many ex-cultists are still stuck in the cultist mindset.

John Ritson <john@jritson.demon.co.uk>:
>There is a Catch-22 here. If a person gives 'bitter' testimony that is liable to be discounted because they are still stuck in the cultist mindset. If they say that some things were good, some were bad, and it is not too important to them these days, then this is evidence that they have achieved the necessary wider perspective, but can also be taken as evidence that whatever it is that the 'bitter' people are protesting about is not really too bad.

I don't think that's quite what I was getting at. I don't have any problem with people telling us about their horrendous experiences with Scientology, *nor* do I think that that alone is indicative of a cultic mindset.

My problem is when somebody else comes along and says 'well, my experience was different', and that person isn't able to acknowledge the possibility that it *might* be different for other people. This says nothing at all about the overall goodness or badness of the cult itself, or the fact that it has engaged in evil actions, it simply reflects an ability to take all the data into account rather than automatically dividing the world up into pure good and pure evil.

 

Usenet post from the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology.

Source: Knowledge?

news@petermc.demon.co.uk (Peter McDermott)

Wed, 10 Sep 1997 00:13:24 +0100

Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: Re: Knowledge?
Message-ID: <B03B96A496681A1F85@0.0.0.0>

>>I still think that the word "lie" is not appropriate when you're talking about someone's opinion. You can call someone's opinion "wrong," but calling it a "lie" implies that Bernie is deliberately forwarding an untruth. Do you really believe that's what he's done -- express an opinion that he doesn't believe himself?

drink@yourown.risk.com (bc):
>Yes. See above. Where does this "cult" exist, outside of Bernie'simagination? Does even Bernie actually *believe* such a thing  exists? Or is it just a cheap rationalization? Sorry, but as far as I'm concerned, it still smells like a lie.

I don't believe Bernie *does* believe it exists as a cult in the literal sense (though I'm just guessing here.)

I think he's using the term 'cult' as an analogy to make what *I* believe is a very reasonable point about the similarities in thinking between some members of the 'close knit group' that you acknowledge, and cults themselves.

I've already outlined what these parallels are earlier on in the thread, in response to a request from number 3 to do so, so I won't go into them all again.

 

Peter McDermott on ARS On Mind-Control On Bernie



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