Okay, here is the promised post on the subject of thought-stopping – an interesting subject and one that every Scientologist or ex-Scientologist should understand.
The term originated with Robert Jay Lifton in his 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (a book that I recommend reading by the way, particularly Chapter 22, where he lays out the seven characteristics of the totalist thought reform environment).
In the book, Lifton describes what he calls the “thought-terminating cliché.”
“The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis. In [Chinese Communist] thought reform, for instance, the phrase “bourgeois mentality” is used to encompass and critically dismiss ordinarily troublesome concerns like the quest for individual expression, the exploration of alternative ideas, and the search for perspective and balance in political judgments.”
George Orwell, in his dystopian novel 1984, describes a society where an entire language has been developed, “Newspeak,” full of these thought-stopping phrases:
“…an elaborate mental training, undergone in childhood and grouping itself round the Newspeak words crimestop, blackwhite, and doublethink, makes [the citizen] unable and unwilling to think too deeply on any subject whatever….Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.”
We’ve all experienced thought-terminating clichés, in their milder form, in daily life. Let’s say a man is fired from his job. He says, to himself or to his buddies, “Well, shit happens.” It’s a cliché. It “explains” everything. He doesn’t have to think too deeply about things, like, for instance, what he might be doing to continually lose jobs.
Or a mother, who hears that her teenage son has been suspended from school for beating up another student. She shrugs and says, “Boys will be boys.” Again, it’s a cliché. It “explains” things for her. And it stops her from thinking about why her son does this or if there might be deeper issues.
Totalist authoritarian groups such as cults and oppressive governments load the language with such thought-stopping words and phrases. For example, a fundamentalist cult might believe that doctors are evil and modern medicine is the work of Satan. If a child gets ill, they don’t provide any medical care. If the child dies, they say “It’s God’s will.” That “explains” why the child died and stops them from worrisome thoughts that might test their faith. Such an “inner language” affects how people communicate and how they think. Using the cult’s terms begins to box one into a rigid orthodoxy – if you can only express yourself using the specialized cult terms, you start to think along certain patterns, and stop yourself from thoughts that are “outside the box.”
Scientology has its share of thought-stopping phrases. Let me give a few examples.
“He’s an SP” or “She’s been declared.” Of course, this effectively stops any thought about the person or anything they might say. And one does not even think about whether the person really is or is not Suppressive. If the Church says they are, they are, and the matter is given no further thought. “Did you see the CNN program about Scientology?” is met with “Oh, those people are all declared SPs.” And that’s the end of it – no further thought is necessary.
“That’s entheta.” The perfect thought-stopping phrase. It means, “go no further, this is something dangerous, something you cannot read, listen to or discuss.” Anything critical of the Church is, of course, “entheta.” Anything critical of David Miscavige is, of course, “entheta.” Any complaint or negative comment is “entheta.” Scientologists know not to go there. They have, as Orwell put it, “the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.” “Did you see the St. Petersberg Times articles about beatings at Int?” “That’s entheta.” End of story.
“He’s got overts.” The perfect phrase to dismiss anyone who is critical or who complains. You don’t have to listen to or understand their complaint. You don’t have to think about why they might be complaining. You don’t need to worry about possible conditions that might bring about complaints. The handy phrase explains everything, and you don’t have to think any more about it.
“That’s Black PR.” Similar to “that’s entheta.” Any complaint about Scientology management or leaders is met with this phrase. And presto, you don’t have to give it any further thought.
“It’s Command Intention.” I recall this being used internally among staff, and maybe it’s gotten out to public as well. It means “Don’t question or think about what you are being told to do.” A similar one is “It’s a COB Order.”
“He’s PTS.” Let me be clear – it’s one thing to study a person’s case, taking into account all factors, conclude that they are PTS, and do a PTS handling to try to better their life. It’s quite another to throw this phrase out as a cliché to avoid thinking too deeply about things. For example, when Rex Fowler, an OT VII, murdered his business partner, the first thing out of some people’s mouths was “he’s PTS.” Not based on any case study or knowledge, just thrown out there to avoid thinking too deeply about what it might mean for an OT VII, supposedly Cause Over Life, to murder someone. I heard the same thing when OT VIII Steve Brackett committed suicide: “He was PTS.” I’ve even heard the same phrase used to explain the entirety of current Scientology management: “they are all PTS.” Before you use a phrase like this, ask yourself, “am I just throwing this phrase out as a rationalization or excuse to avoid thinking about deeper issues?”
“She pulled it in.” Too often used by Scientologists to avoid thinking about or empathizing with the misfortunes of others.
I’m sure you can think of other examples (and I’m sure your examples will show up in the Comments section, as usual!)
I sometimes advise people who are recently out of Scientology to stop using the terminology, and stop thinking in the terminology. That’s not because the terminology is “wrong,” or “bad” necessarily, but some of the words and phrases may function as thought-terminating clichés. If you deliberately avoid talking and thinking in the terminology for a while, you force yourself to think things through newly rather than falling back on a pat phrase.