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Escape from Freedom

October 27, 2010

I’m reading an interesting book, Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm. I love the title. He wrote the book in 1941, after the rise of Hitler, exploring why people give up their freedom to follow a totalitarian fascist like Hitler. I’m reading it because I’m interested in why people will give up their freedom to follow an authoritarian religion like Scientology, ironically in the name of attaining freedom.

In the book, Fromm traces the historic roots of our modern concepts of freedom. In the Middle Ages, he notes, there was not a lot of freedom. People were separated into castes and classes, and if one was born into a certain class, one stayed there. If your father was a farmer, likely you would be a farmer. Nobles were nobles, serfs were serfs. And as far as the broader questions of life, death and salvation, that was the province of the Church. God was in Heaven and if you were good and confessed your sins and went to Church, you would expect to go to Heaven.

With the Reformation, the rise of the middle class, the appearance of modern capitalism, the Industrial Revolution, everything changed. Man gained a lot of freedoms. He could rise from poverty and become rich. He could travel. He could change his profession. He could even change his religion. But with these modern freedoms came insecurity, aloneness and doubt.  Fromm says:

“This identity with nature, clan, religion, gives the individual certainty. He belongs to, he is rooted in, a structuralized whole in which he has an unquestionable place. He may suffer from hunger or suppression, but he does not suffer from the worst of all pains – complete aloneness and doubt.

“We see that the process of growing human freedom has the same dialectic character that we have noticed in the process of individual growth. On the one hand it is a process of growing strength and integration, mastery of nature, growing power of human reason, and growing solidarity with other human beings. But on the other hand this growing individuation means growing isolation, insecurity, and thereby growing doubt concerning one’s own role in the universe, the meaning of one’s life, and with all that a growing feeling of one’s powerlessness and insignificance as an individual.”

With the freedom to think, to speak, to associate, to choose how to live one’s life, comes uncertainty, insecurity, isolation. And thus man can seek to “escape from freedom.” Fromm again:

“…in our effort to escape from aloneness and powerlessness, we are ready to get rid of our individual self either by submission to new forms of authority or by a compulsive conforming to accepted patterns.”

I did a lot of surveys in my career in marketing for Scientology. And there were certain “buttons” that always came up tops: “confidence,” “self-respect,” “certainty.” That’s what people wanted. Frankly, I never fully understood these things. We did surveys as to what made people feel like that, and it never found anything conclusive. It just seemed to be part of the fabric of modern life.

Before I got involved with Scientology, I would never have described myself as “insecure” or “powerless.” But no question, there was a certain rootlessness about the 1960s. With the openness and freedoms of that era also came a longing to belong, to know the answers, to find a purpose. A lot of people went in search of wise men or gurus. And part of the appeal of Scientology to me was feeling that I was becoming part of a group of like-minded people, a group who had answers, who had a purpose, who knew what they were doing. It felt good, it felt solid, certain. And I was willing to give up some of my freedoms to preserve that kind of certainty and purpose.

And I became part of a new culture, where people were willing to sacrifice anything out of a compulsive sense of duty, to make their lives a tool for the accomplishment of the higher purposes of Scientology. The only freedom that mattered was spiritual freedom, as defined by Scientology and as achieved only by paying for and following the exact path laid out in Scientology. All other freedoms, all personal freedoms, could be and should be sacrificed to that goal.

And, of course, eventually I gave up most of my freedoms. I ended up living in a virtual slave colony, working round the clock, seven days a week, for an insane, authoritarian dictator.

While most Scientologists never experienced that extreme, every Scientologist gives up many freedoms. The freedom to think, the freedom to speak, the freedom to associate with whoever one wants to, the freedom to live one’s life and make one’s own choices.

And sure, when you leave Scientology, you have to make all those life decisions and choices yourself, you have to think things through yourself and decide what is right and true for you. You don’t have all those pat answers and quotes to fall back on. And with that freedom can come uncertainty, questions, doubts. And so, many people choose to escape freedom once again, into some new ology or ism, some new pat set of answers, some new authority.

For me, I’m done escaping from freedom.

Fromm describes something called “positive freedom” in these terms:

“…he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous, and intellectual capacities; he can thus become one again with man, nature, and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self.

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33 Comments
  1. October 27, 2010 5:24 am

    I can’t speak for anyone else.

    But I got into Scientology to achieve personal freedom.

    To operate exterior to the body and be anywhere I decided to be by just thinking the thought that I was there and being there stably.

    My ambition was never to be part of a group that has become so materialistically oriented that acquiring real estate has become its primary purpose.

    • October 27, 2010 12:05 pm

      Same here, personal freedom and help making a better place to live.

      Looking at the covert attack on my religion I was thinking that I have seen this before, that also this attack will crumble and that there is positive change ahead. This is repeating through time. I believe that I am now, by studying the group and Miscavige, I am learning how to deal with the next attack.

  2. Karen#1 permalink
    October 27, 2010 6:17 am

    …and I never joined the Sea Organization that would one day be usurped by a madman who beats people and “runs” the Church as a authoritarian dictator with SADISM and ABUSE and LOCKDOWN of its members.

  3. Soderqvist1 permalink
    October 27, 2010 6:38 am

    Erich Fromm even wrote a review of Dianetics the Modern Science of Mental Health, back in the fifties, in The New York Herald Tribune Book Review of September 3, 1950, p. 7.
    http://www.eqi.org/fromm.htm

    • earthmother permalink
      October 28, 2010 6:09 pm

      Excellent review, thank you for posting the link.

  4. Scooter permalink
    October 27, 2010 9:36 am

    Nice, Jeff – hit the spot with me.

    Drugs, insecurities due to drugs and shyness, lot of other uncertainties and Scientology “handled” them all. For me. For a long time.

    But not now – freedom is sooooooo good.

  5. Skydog permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:10 am

    I find this phenomenon fascinating. When thinking of an ‘eternity’ most people don’t want to take responsibility and are happy to follow someone claiming to know the real answers. I have family members that are devout christians and very insistent that I be saved. My response to them is “what if you are wrong”? It is one thing to be sure of your own salvation and be willing to suffer the consequences; it is quite another to use the power of persuasion on others to alter a belief system. But then again, in the backdrop of an eternity, it may not make a bit of difference anyway.

  6. October 27, 2010 11:12 am

    Damn, Jeff!

    This captures the dilemma of the Independent Scientologist!
    I went through a series of realizations when I separated from the church
    and then saw that many choices led back to the same search for a like-minded group.

    Many Independents seem to be looking for a leader to recreate Scientology in a new and acceptable form. I realized that many of us have the potential to create a new and acceptable form of spiritual enlightenment, but few will take that course of action.

    After a year of intensive study and successfully delivering services to others in the field, I am coming to the reluctant conclusion that Scientology was not an end point in man’s search for enlightenment. It is a jumping off point for those who have the insight to learn better methods of freeing others from past confusions and the errors that resulted from those confusions.

    I call it the search for workable technology and it is best performed by independent researchers working in concert and sharing results. An Open Source movement that is only an idea at present, but will find expression as the pressure grows to deliver results to throngs of spiritually damaged former Scientologists.

    If we do not help people to think for themselves and to really take responsibility for their lives, we run the danger of recreating the mindset that led to an authoritarian cult.

    Great article!

    David St Lawrence

    • Marta permalink
      October 28, 2010 2:09 am

      Spot on, David.

    • Skydog permalink
      October 28, 2010 12:57 pm

      I agree.

    • October 28, 2010 1:56 pm

      David,

      Isn’t it interesting that you reach that point of realizing Scientology is merely a step on the ladder to enlightenment and you look around to see all these other people having the same realization, yet you can’t seem to get traction on establishing a stable/expanding network with the purpose of pursuing this common goal?

      Don’t mean to run a listing question, but I wonder why that is.

      Michael

  7. aotc permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:32 am

    Good post, thanks.

    For me this falls under stable datum. Some people working for aid agencies or political parties do so because a strong purpose keeps the bank/negative thoughts at bay. Maybe some of Scientology’s ultra-critics exhibit this phenomenon too..
    ‘Fight Club’ explores this sort of thing well I think.

  8. Frankie permalink
    October 27, 2010 2:50 pm

    Jeff,
    Your article really hit a chord with me and is still resonating.
    I am also done escaping from freedom!
    Thank you for the great article.
    It is really very strange, setting out for oneself into the strange new world after being on staff for so long. Its odd at first with no one to report to, making up your own mind about what to do, where to go, and whats right and wrong. For me its been like starting anew.
    I am sitting here smiling, my future is up to me and what I make of it!
    Best,
    Frankie

  9. Grateful permalink
    October 27, 2010 4:23 pm

    “People willing to trade their freedon for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.” (Attributed to Ben Franklin)

    I have noticed than within my journey of discovery about Scientology (and life), there are crossroads where I have to make this decision – freedom, with all its uncertainties, discomfort and sometimes outright terror, or a comfortable security. Even though I know that I will go for freedom, no matter the the price, there is still that “jumping off the diving board” feeling every time.

    Thank again, Jeff, for this thought-provoking post that made me look yet again.

  10. Athena8 permalink
    October 27, 2010 5:23 pm

    I have equated freedom with truth ever since I gazed at the words inscribed at the base of UT tower – “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Then when I found Scientology my sophomore year, I did find truth. I am so grateful that I did get into Scientology when I did. Listening to those reel to reels on the SHSBC at St. Hill, I again learned that the common denominator of things that set men free is truth (tape 428). The more that Miscavige has obfuscated the truth, the more freedom has vanished for all within Scientology. As Karen mentioned, it was not always the case.

  11. Summer Wind permalink
    October 27, 2010 8:14 pm

    That last paragraph is exactly true. Once I lost the need (compulsion) to belong to a group I became calmer, liked myself more, could differentiate with much more speed, became more intelligent and last but not least I found out that all the happiness I will ever find lies in me and that my eternity belongs to no one but me regardless of what the DM machine would like me to believe.

  12. Bert permalink
    October 27, 2010 9:55 pm

    No question that freedom takes work and carries a lot of responsibility. Fromm’s book would seem to provide some understanding why stepping out of moral certitude and into the realm of somewhat fuzzy moral/ethical science is so difficult. I’m reading Sam Harris’ ‘The Moral Landscape’ and he clearly is fighting an uphill battle trying to argue that we can have a rational approach to the most important questions of life.

  13. Aeolus permalink
    October 28, 2010 12:04 am

    Most of the people I know who are now out of the Church got in originally because they were seeking answers to life’s big questions, out of strong interest rather than for relief from doubt or uncertainty. But then, we’re the ones who got out, aren’t we?

    However, the Church plays that ‘Escape from Freedom’ card, big time. The answer to every smallest riddle in Life, the Universe and Everything is to be found in those Vols. Perhaps you need to clear your words and re-study, but it’s in there somewhere, so there is no need to look anywhere else. And Certainty is a virtue. No matter what your level, if you are certain of something, that’s good. If you aren’t, then clear your words and re-study. It’s in there somewhere.

    On the other hand, Doubt is Bad. Doubt is one of the dreaded lower conditions, which are to be avoided at all costs. If you do get into Doubt, you must do the Doubt formula to get out of it as quickly as possible. And then you can do the gruesome Liability formula, ample incentive to never get into Doubt again.

    Granted, being unsure of everything would be a debilitating state, and we need to put some issues in the ‘settled’ bin in order to function at all. However, our personal growth as human beings always takes place out there on the fringes, just beyond the boundary of what we are sure of.

    • John Doe permalink
      October 28, 2010 2:34 am

      Well said, Aeolus.

      BTW, the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything can be found in…volume 42!

      Oh, dang! That one’s not out yet…

      • Aeolus permalink
        October 28, 2010 2:22 pm

        Ah, the wisdom of Douglas Adams. Another thing you and I have in common, I see.

    • October 28, 2010 1:48 pm

      Aeolus,

      Hmmm. Doubt. Doubt=lower condition? Hmmm. You got me thinking.

      And this understanding availed itself.

      Doubt is such a staple in my life. Not as a bad thing, but a positive. No matter how much I learn, I always reach out further, always wanting to learn more. And learning involves going through those moments of confusion and doubt and uncertainty. “Just what does this mean?” I ask myself. Where does it fit? Why? Where did it originate?

      I don’t want a life full of certainty. I want to push the envelope of enlightenment. And pushing the envelope will always involve going through the crap between knowing and not knowing.

      So, I think you’ve unearthed something here about those conditions. Doubt is not necessarily a lower condition. And certainty is not necessarily a higher or more desirable condition. Doubt can exist as a very rarified condition way, way up. And certainty can exist as a very solid condition way, way down.

      What a wonderful world where we can look for ourselves and share what we see.

      Michael

      • Fidelio permalink
        October 28, 2010 8:56 pm

        Aeolus and Michael,

        that is so very much what I realize, too.

        Isn’t doubt and uncertainty (meaning unanswered questions) the motor of any progress and advance and learning??

        I scrapped that “lower” condition thing about doubt along with the “enemy” and “treason” as well. Finding out who I (really) am is “enemy”? Huh? Finding out “that I am” is the way out of “treason”? Hell – no. (Only “workable” in Hubbard’s judgmental value system.)

        One notes intention and feels resent (Goethe).

        I am asking myself what is the sense behind that SCN thing at all? A tough lesson existence is presenting to us to overcome once and forever the cancer of organized religion and spiritual slavery and pushing us towards individual enlightenment?

        I second you, Michael, singing: “What a wonderful world where we can look for ourselves and share what we see.”

        Fidelio

      • John Doe permalink
        October 29, 2010 3:54 am

        I always like your posts, Michael!

        As an aside to your post and Fidelio’s post, has it occurred to anyone else that even after OT 7, you’re still not out of Enemy Condition?

      • Fidelio permalink
        October 29, 2010 9:43 am

        Doe,

        LOL! Hell no!!! – that did not yet occur to me that even after OT VII, I am still downstat scum and an ethics particle….LOL

        Thanks! Fidelio

      • October 29, 2010 7:53 pm

        John Doe,

        You little stinker. Very astute.

        Yeah. Technically, up through the NOTs material you would be going through very low conditions as a thetan, especially confusion. After all, what is a body thetan but confusion? And if you have entities attached, then you are sitting in confusion. That is, if you accept these things, and I’m not debating this one way or another–everyone has to make their own observations on this stuff.

        There’s at least one condition below confusion: overwhelm. And unless you’re able to operate at the full level of OT as postulated by LRH you would be in degrees of overwhelm, confusion, treason, enemy, doubt, liability, non-existence.

        But, since absolutes are unattainable, we’re always sitting in shades of black/gray/white relative to any concept.

        Even going “clear” is only a step in “clearing.” Clear has all sorts of levels, depending on the dynamic. All sorts of release and clearing points.

        Auditing is a process of increasing the proportion of theta the analyzer versus theta the problem. All the way up through current NOTs you are working on decreasing theta-the-problem more than increasing theta-the-solver: negative case gain. You aren’t really drilling theta abilities like in the fifties.

        So, yes, you’re working up through harmonics of the “conditions” working through harmonics of confusion, treason, enemy, doubt, liability, non-existence, etc. None of these is an absolute.

        Or, that’s what I would have thought, had I thought about it.

        Michael

  14. Free To Shine permalink
    October 28, 2010 12:12 am

    What a wonderful post Jeff.
    I don’t think many scientologists understand the freedoms they give up in the name of “certainty” and it can be a shock when leaving to find out how extensive that loss has been. Fromm’s description of ‘positive freedom’ is great, although it can take quite some time to slowly come to understand how to do it outside a set framework of (usually) long duration. That’s where we can help each other.

    As someone who did not have a choice about being a scientologist in any real sense, being a generational one from the age of 14 and for the next 40 years, it was particularly hard to find my place in the world outside scientology. That feeling of ‘having to save the planet’ with no thought of the real cost to self is a hard one to overcome. Finding your own real personal passions is the way to go, and a joy to do as well.

  15. Marta permalink
    October 28, 2010 2:11 am

    Another terrific article, Jeff. I don’t always comment, but I’m always here and I’m continually appreciative.

  16. John Doe permalink
    October 28, 2010 2:31 am

    “…he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous, and intellectual capacities; he can thus become one again with man, nature, and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self.”

    The above is a description of a man, living his “dynamics”.

    I am happy to be out here with you all, living my life as defined by my needs and freedoms. Freedom from a hell of a lot of “now you’re supposed to”…

    Please keep up the good work. I value your voice immensely!

  17. October 28, 2010 4:13 am

    Jeff,

    I really think that you should make a book with all these articles you write. Maybe its title would be something like “An Insight Into Scientology and Scientologists”.

  18. October 28, 2010 11:16 am

    Thank you for this … and for the good work you are doing in putting truth out … Plus your Quick Note for bloggers to not degenerate into name-calling or comment with the sole purpose of picking a fight.

    I just posted an article on my (new) blog, http://thetanetworker.wordpress.com/, “Sanity is not statistical” … and … the statistics created by David Miscavige are not sane or true, which I start off talking of Doublethink. I trust it was OK to put a link to your Potemkin Village article within mine [I hadn’t seen that one on your web site, but was alerted to it by someone who posts regularly on Marty’s blog] ; I actually first heard of the term “Potemkin Village” from a (rare) truly human rights-oriented congressman — Chris Smith of NJ — who knew that what he was seeing in China, under the CCP, was a thoroughly and entirely sanitized facade desiged to hide the persecution and torture of Falun Gong practitioners …

    ”When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray’. We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land” – Desmond Tutu

  19. DLTaggart permalink
    October 29, 2010 2:02 am

    This post is as heartbreaking as any I have read. You can probably judge by my pseudonym that I am kind of a radical indivdiualist. Yet I understand the craving for belonging and structure in what seems like a sometimes cruel and lonely world. But being free – truly free – doesn’t HAVE to mean these things. Forming close friendships with a few very trusted people has always warmed my heart and made me know that love, acceptance AND freedom are entirely possible.

  20. Cowboy Poet permalink
    November 2, 2010 12:25 pm

    The last paragraph is very comforting. It’s easy and comfortable to wear isn’t it?
    Reminds me of those words that I will paraphrase:
    Man believes there is becomingness but there is only beingness.

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