Acceptable Truths, Convenient Lies
When we were on the Flagship Apollo in the early 1970’s, we were told what we could and could not say about ship activities when ashore. It was called a “shore story.” We were not to mention Scientology. If asked, we were the Operation and Transport Company (OTC), an “executive training firm” that brought people in from all over the world for “advanced management training.”
In PR Series 2, LRH said, “never use lies in PR.” But he also modified this, saying, “Handling truth is a touchy business also. You don’t have to tell everything you know — that would jam the comm line too. Tell an acceptable truth. … So PR becomes the technique of communicating an acceptable truth — and which will attain the desirable result.”
When we landed in Clearwater, we had a “shore story” too. We were “United Churches of Florida,” a pan-denominational religious group. We were not to mention Scientology. That was our “acceptable truth.”
Acceptable truth? There was nothing “true” about it. It was a lie, a false façade. Just like the lie, on the ship, that we were “OTC.”
And “acceptable”? Acceptable to whom? Our lie about being “OTC” on the ship was not really acceptable to the locals. They could see that we were not some “top management training organization.” We were a bunch of ragtag, long-haired kids aboard a rusty, WWII-era cattle transport. Our identity was shrouded in mystery. Our operations were shrouded in mystery. All they knew was that we were not who we said we were. The very fact that we were lying generated suspicion and rumors.
Same in Clearwater. We came into town under false pretenses. We lied. So was it any real surprise that, once the lie was exposed, the local population treated us with suspicion and distaste?
So our lies were not in any sense “acceptable.” They were only “acceptable” to us, because they temporarily “attained the desired result” of creating a benign public image. But any benefit was very transitory. The lies were never acceptable to the local public, and they backfired badly. People aren’t stupid, and it is arrogant to think they are.
The minute you start to blur the line between truth and “acceptable truth” and “convenient lies,” you’ve started down a slippery slope.
Fast forward to the Int Base, in the early 2000s. I lived there. The reality was that the Int Base had become a nightmare of sleep deprivation, threats, punishments, physical and emotional abuse. Everyone there knew it. But that wasn’t an “acceptable truth.” Not acceptable, that is, to the image the Church wanted to project, of being a benign, humanitarian religious organization. So our long-term expertise at “telling acceptable truths” came into play. In letters home, I talked about how great and wonderful it was at the Int Base. On those few occasions where I toured business contacts through the Base, I talked about how idyllic our life was. It was a lie. But, as I told Anderson Cooper, I was willing to lie for the group. I was willing to lie to protect Scientology’s public image.
And David Miscavige? I knew him to be a bully and a tyrant, a man of volatile moods who ruled by threat and force. But I also knew that any criticism of him, even to close friends, would result in punishment or exile. So publicly, I sang his praises, as did everyone else. Like North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, the only “acceptable truth” was to sing his praises and deify him as a man without the slightest fault or blemish, a man of almost mystical ability and wisdom. To mention the slightest character flaw or error on the part of Miscavige would be to “damage Church image.” It was an “enemy” action.
Seeing the Church of Scientology “spokespeople” trotted out to defend the Church on the recent AC360 series, I was reminded of this mindset. Everything at the Base is wonderful, life there is ideal, nothing abusive ever happens there, and David Miscavige is the perfect “Dear Leader” with absolutely no character flaws whatsoever.
I understand why they did it. As I told Cooper, I would have done the same thing in their shoes. They are committed to the Church of Scientology. They believe they have to defend it at any sacrifice – even sacrificing the truth. And they know that to reveal certain things would mean personal punishment and exile.
But like any “acceptable truth,” it backfires. Because people are not stupid. They can see a lie. They can see it in your shrill insistence that life at the Base is perfect and Miscavige is perfect. They can see it in your eyes, in your false indignation, your tension and nervousness. It is the ultimate in arrogance to think one can lie with impunity; that the “ignorant wogs” will never notice. They do notice. They do perceive. And the lie is very, very transparent.
Truth isn’t “acceptable” or “unacceptable.”
Truth is truth.
And truth, the whole truth, is the only thing that is acceptable.