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Black and White Thinking

November 3, 2010

One of the hallmarks of a cult (or any fanatical, extremist group for that matter) is black and white thinking. Things are either black or they are white. They are good or they are evil. There are no shades of grey, no nuances.

In his book Overcoming Cult Mind Control, Steve Hassan says, “Even the most complex cult doctrines ultimately reduce reality into two basic poles: black versus white; good versus evil; spiritual world versus physical world; us versus them” (And for those who believe “all psychologists are bad”…read on).

To give a silly example that won’t upset anyone, let’s say that there is one group that is violently against plumbers. They hate them. All plumbers are bad. Opposing them is a group that is fanatically pro-plumber. Plumbers are always good. They can do no wrong.  These two groups get on plumbing chat groups and argue and argue and argue.

Of course, neither side has a valid argument. Because life isn’t like that. Life has shades of grey. You can’t make a statement about “all plumbers.” Some plumbers are good, some are bad, most are somewhere in between.

But don’t go on the plumbing chat group and say so. Because you’ll get attacked from both sides. The anti-plumbing group will call you a “plumber-lover” and claim you are spouting pro-plumbing propaganda. The pro-plumbers will call you a “plumber-hater” and claim you are forwarding the anti-plumbing propaganda. Because things just have to be black and white. If you’re on the “white” side, grey looks like black to you. If you’re on the “black” side, grey looks like white.

And of course each side sees the other side as pure evil. The anti-plumbers will tell you that the pro-plumbers are brainwashed sheeple who are being manipulated by the corrupt plumbers union. The pro-plumbers will tell you that the anti-plumbers are just evil haters who will attack anyone doing an honest day’s work.

Each group sets the other one up as a straw man.

You say, “Well, my plumber did a decent job at a fair price.”

“Why are you siding with the pro-plumbers? Don’t you know they are all in the pay of the corrupt plumbers union?”

Or “Well, I was cheated by a plumber once who used shoddy materials.”

“That’s just malicious anti-plumber propaganda! Why are you attacking hard-working people?”

It’s near impossible to have a rational conversation when you have black and white thinking present.

We see Scientology examples all the time.

“Anyone who criticizes Scientology is Suppressive.”

“Anyone who criticizes LRH is Suppressive” (or a “hater”).

“David Miscavige is always good and never makes mistakes.”

“All psychologists are bad.”

“Anyone who leaves Scientology is evil – they have overts.”

“People who criticize Scientology can’t stand the thought of anyone getting better.”

“People who criticize Scientology are materialists who don’t believe in spiritual things.”

Or, on the other side: “All Scientologists are brainwashed.”

“L. Ron Hubbard is perfect and never made a mistake.” Or, conversely, “Hubbard is an evil con man who never did anyone any good.”

“Scientology tech always works.” Or, conversely, “Scientology tech never works.”

And yes, anyone who disagrees with the fanatic is an evil person, with the basest motives.

It’s good to remember that life has many shades of grey – it’s never black and white. No one is perfect. No subject is flawless. Nothing is absolute. People who disagree with you are not evil.

Take a look at some of the black versus white arguments you hear. Or even some of your own closely held black-and-white viewpoints. Is there just possibly room for a few shades of grey?

  1. November 3, 2010 4:10 am

    It’s so hard to comment on your site, because you always make so much sense that there is no more to be said. I wish you were running for Senate or something so I could vote for you. You’re my favorite blogger.

    • Cool Observer permalink
      November 3, 2010 7:36 pm

      I second that. This blog and “Ask the Scientologist” are the Gold Standard in the Scientology-related blogosphere. Intelligent, informative and thought-provoking. Believe it or not, but it was here that I started to see shades of grey.

      Back to topic: It’s kind of hard to see shades of grey when you’re indoctrinated that only Scientology has all the answers, that only the tech is workable, that any form of criticism is an attack and MUST trigger a counterattack. If having a discussion is likened to defending, if it’s necessary to attack to be ‘at cause’, if you’re a white hat and forced to fight the black hats, then you won’t be able to see any grey, because it doesn’t exist.

      This is indeed taken to extreme levels within Scientology. In his PL “Battle Tactics” (Feb. 1969) Hubbard wrote that it was desirable that the general public love Scientology and are in a frenzy of hate against the enemy. Does it make me “a hater” to point out that these are paranoid ramblings of a disturbed individual?

      • Valkov permalink
        November 5, 2010 12:00 am

        This is “cherry-picking”.

        This issue is about politics. It is about “wars of words”, such as are engaged in by governments to this day, for political purposes. It is done by any government, including the Government of the USA, as for example, against Iran, against “terrorists”, against Saddam Hussein- you name it. Against “Communism”, against the “axisof evil”, (by RonaldReagan), etc, etc etc.

        There must be a lot of paranoids around…..

        I read this issue as Hubbard saying use PR to influence public opinion when it’s called for. Heck, Republicans do it to Democrats every day, and vice-versa.

        Here is a further excerpt from “Battle Tactics”:

        “(This is a defense paper on material developed after 18
        years of ceaseless attack by a foreign enemy. Nothing in
        this paper advocates physical violence or invites the physical
        destruction of persons.)

        In these days of “cold war” when actual warfare is
        impossible due to atomic weapons, the warfare is waged in the
        press and public in the form of ideas.

        If you uniformly apply the tactics and strategy of battle
        to the rows we get into, press or legal or public confrontation,
        you will win.

        The enemy uses ” groups” and meetings of groups like one
        would use squads.

        If we and they are considered as two hostile and opposing
        nations at war, then a huge array of tactics and strategy
        become visible.

        One parallels in the field of thought what is used and
        done in the field of battle in other ages.” – LRH

        Hubbard wrote a lot about how to do PR, and one of the things he emphasized was to tell the truth in writing PR, don’t lie and don’t make things up, it will always blow up right back in your face if you do.

        Cherry picking quotes can be used to back up any pre-formed opinion, but it doesn’t make for good PR.

  2. Synthia permalink
    November 3, 2010 4:59 am


    You are so in tune with your audience and with what might enhance this community, if you will.

    I believe when the shades of gray are allowed to paint a warmer, softer wash upon the cold, stark contrast of seemingly conflicting realities, we will be a much stronger force collectively as we will undoubtedly be closer to the truth.

    Thank you once again.

    Love, Sindy

  3. Karen#1 permalink
    November 3, 2010 5:12 am

    You did it again Jeff !
    Spot on.
    I am a die hard Vegan. Perhaps that is why I am so healthy !
    I run 3 miles a day, every day ! My Vegan diet works for me !
    I so believe in fruit and veggies.

    Now and again ( as I am plugged into Vegan/Vegetarian communities,) I visit the Vegan message boards.

    These are non- combative gentle folk that just believe in eating healthy. Not controversial. Not Religious. Not Political


    The Meat Eaters appear and disrupt and bash and ridicule the Vegetarians !
    They HATE the Vegans ! There is real bashing on these boards til they are removed.
    They swear by their McDonalds burgers and practically consider Vegans mental cases !

    Black and White

    • Aeolus permalink
      November 4, 2010 1:54 pm


      I sure hope this doesn’t mean that carnivores are cultists, because I do love a good steak now and then.

      And to Jeff: I had observed before how many of the people attracted to your site are artists. Of course! Who else would be quicker to reject being restricted to black and white?

  4. wannabeclear permalink
    November 3, 2010 6:19 am

    Quite an apropos post on this election night!

    Time and again we are shown how dangerous it can be to reduce issues to black and white. It demonizes those on the other side and makes it much easier to rationalize bad behavior against one’s “enemies.” I’m actually reading “Combatting Cult Mind Control” right now and it highlights for me just such black/white behavior and machinations by the C0S in reaction to someone like Steve Hassan.

    If you look at just the black hat “evil psych” image of him as presented on “Religious Freedom Watch,” you’d think he was a violent deprogrammer and “anti-religious bigot” who kidnaps and physically abuses people. In reality, he’s spent his career proving that the best approach is to support cult victims by showing them the shades of gray they’ve been taught to ignore and allowing them the free will to truly make their own choices. Because it all really does come down to the ability to make an informed choice.

    Bringing it back to the CoS, if the Tech is THE answer and it makes one more able, then wouldn’t it follow that questions, debate and inquiry would simply prove to someone that they’ve made the right choice? If it can’t stand up to that kind of basic inquiry, then how strong could the Tech possibly be?

    • Valkov permalink
      November 4, 2010 11:39 pm

      It’s the outcome or result a person gets from auditing that “proves” to him he has made the right choice – or not.

  5. ExVet permalink
    November 3, 2010 9:02 am

    Two things that Mr. Spock would say spring to mind:
    “Fascinating!” and
    “Rigorously logical”.

  6. Fidelio permalink
    November 3, 2010 9:50 am

    One of the first and main products of Hubbard’s teachings is black and white thinking.

    Even people (initially) able to see grey shades, able to grant beingness to other viewpoints, willing and genuinely able to respect differences, deeply interested in widening their horizon are constantly lured (and/or forced?)into black and white judgements by the very tenets of SCN since the subject itself is so deep-rootedly judgmental, exclusive and black and white while claiming to the contrary!

    Just consider the derogatory SCN definitions of “open-minded”, “unreasonable”, “DBs”, “wog”, “other practices”, on and on ……………

    Unfortunately, SCN itself leaves only very tiny room for grey shades. If you want to shift into the viewpoint of a Scientologist there is no way around narrowing down and compressing as a person into black and white.

    The proof? The heated and furious discussions around the subject and Hubbard himself. And the years and years (sometimes decades) people need to decompress when distancing oneself and growing.

    I for myself came to the final conclusion: in order to live my truth which includes a zillion more greys than blacks and whites ever, in order to grow and mature, there is not the slightest room or space in SCN.

    Since Hubbard stole good things from all over the place, I find the valuable things somewhere else unadulterated. So, yes, there is evidently a small “black” in my mind:

    NO ONE needs SCN. To enlightenment, it is obsolete. In my search it was a hurdle – and that is probably its only use (and that’s my “white” on the subject 🙂 ) : a gruesome and embarrassing challenge enforcing myself to outgrow it.


    • Valkov permalink
      November 4, 2010 8:29 am

      Hmmm. Black and white teachings.

      Like Hubbard’s teachings about “multi-valued logic”, “infinity-valued logic”, and the “multiple viewpoint system”? Or like “gradient scales”?

      I guess I’ve listened to lectures and read books by “the other Hubbard”, not the one you’re talking about.

      • Fidelio permalink
        November 4, 2010 7:02 pm

        Yeah, Valkov, I read/listened to those, too.
        What I learned however, that being in, you were probably never really allowed to apply those, not even in the early days under Hubbard’s nose… After all, those might sabotage Thursday 2p.m. stats. Just saying. 😉

      • Jeff permalink*
        November 4, 2010 8:46 pm

        Of course, saying “All Hubbard’s writings promote black and white thinking” would be…black and white thinking. And if you were to say “none of Hubbard’s writings promote black and white thinking,” well, that would be black and white thinking as well, in my opinion. The point is to know it when you see it.

      • Valkov permalink
        November 4, 2010 11:32 pm

        Fidelio, I have never been “in”.

        Jeff, agreed.

  7. November 3, 2010 10:58 am

    It beats the heck out of me how $cientology can on the one hand really help people as a “self-help” movement yet, on the other hand, be so narrow and paranoid in its world view and treatment of it’s members.

    Dantalion Jones

  8. Athena8 permalink
    November 3, 2010 12:29 pm

    If one attempts to display common sense, or wisdom, it is quickly squelched by “Suppressive reasonableness.” There’s a lovely thought stopper for you!

  9. Bert permalink
    November 3, 2010 2:31 pm

    I heard the very term “Black and White” on a Catholic radio station pertaining to certain teachings of the Church. I immediately called and pointed out that this was a characteristic of a cult. They were more insulted than inlightened, and continue to argue that certain Catholic prohibitions on abortion, same sex marriage, euthenasia and condom use were always 100% morally correct. It’s not just a Scientology problem. Such Black and White thinking means that thousands (maybe millions) have died because Catholic priests in Africa continue to spread lies about the evils of condom use in communities where AIDS is an epidemic. Black and White thinking shuts down rational discourse, and indeed shuts down thinking completely. It takes work to live in the grey, but the reward is a thoughtful existence.

  10. November 3, 2010 3:21 pm

    This post is the most dangerous of them all.

    Don’t you know that you can not launch a GLOBAL CRUSADE TO SAVE ALL MANKIND without black and white thinking? It is the fuel upon which all such crusades run!

    My god. What are you trying to do to me? Frankly, if I’m not on a GLOBAL CRUSADE TO SAVE ALL MANKIND, I’m not alive!

    This post was a low blow, Jeff. Very deflating and depressing. I’m going to go pull the covers up over my head and whimper for a while.

    Thanks a lot.


    • Valkov permalink
      November 4, 2010 8:21 am

      Why do I get the feeling you are not kidding?

  11. November 3, 2010 5:12 pm

    Jeff – I am with you 100% on this. Total sanity. Mat and I finished your book, by the way. Highly recommended for everyone to read!

  12. idle org permalink
    November 3, 2010 8:55 pm

    David Miscavige is leaning toward a lovely hue of coal.

  13. sherrymk permalink
    November 3, 2010 9:24 pm

    Absolutely Jeff. This is the exact reason why I’ve distanced myself from being a member of any group, -ology, -ism, etc. especially where they concern spiritual or religious paths, even political paths. Too much name-calling and labels. Exactly what I just spent the last 2 years sorting out and removing from my own mindset.

    The stuff of life never has been and never will be able to be described in terms of black or white. Even the colors themselves have varying degrees of quality, there can be no “pure” white, no “pure” black. Certainly no “ultimate answers”, “pure tech”, “or “that-which-cannot be-challenged solutions” . I suppose if you remove all living things: plants, animals, man from the equation, you might be able to approach a scientific definite. But then who would be around to catalog it, let alone give a hoot!

    It saddens me greatly to see the same kind of “think” occurring with many -ex SCNS, the same that was so prevalent inside the C of S. Using a different word, doesn’t much change the intent. Very disheartening and quite disappointing.

    Thanks again for your wise words.

  14. Kevin Bloody Mackey permalink
    November 3, 2010 9:35 pm

    Once again Jeff you’re the voice of reason in a battlefield.

    Nice one mate.

  15. November 3, 2010 11:37 pm


    And life is full of colors, too 🙂

  16. John Doe permalink
    November 4, 2010 2:21 am

    Another refreshing post. Seems obvious once you examine it.

    When one is too far down into thinking in absolutes, in thinking only in black or white, the only thing that looks grey is the world.

    BTW, I’ve met the evil plumber…

    • Cool Observer permalink
      November 4, 2010 7:56 am

      His name is Joe, right?

      • John Doe permalink
        November 5, 2010 12:59 am

        You gots it, amigo!

  17. Panda permalink
    November 4, 2010 3:14 am

    Great essay, Jeff. Thanks. 🙂

  18. Free To Shine permalink
    November 4, 2010 5:12 am

    Those wonderful shades of grey soften the edges of life and viewpoints and you are so right – without those greys only a tiny part of the picture is visible.

  19. Tony DePhillips permalink
    November 4, 2010 7:33 am

    I love your writing Jeff.

  20. Tony DePhillips permalink
    November 4, 2010 7:44 am

    Thought you might enjoy this Jeff. (and others..)

  21. plainoldthetan permalink
    November 4, 2010 6:43 pm


    I find myself a bit perplexed as the result of your article.

    There are some things I find I have black-and-white thinking about that I can’t seem to shake.

    Like: “Killing an entire generation of male Jewish children in order to keep your throne is wrong.”

    Like: “Setting up a society where the majority of young people are illiterate is wrong”.

    Like: “Criminally importing cocaine and heroin and making a fortune off others’ addictions is wrong.”

    I liked the article. I just find my thinking slammed up against its premise kinda abruptly.

    Maybe you could write a follow-up article that might address my difficuties. Or am I the only one with this difficulty?

    • Jeff permalink*
      November 4, 2010 8:42 pm

      Differentiate between taking a strong moral stand and indulging in black and white thinking.

      “David Miscavige’s abuse of his staff is wrong” is a moral stand. “All Scientology Executives are evil” is black and white thinking.

      “It’s wrong to import cocaine and make a fortune off others drug addictions” is a moral stand. “All illegal aliens are drug smugglers” is black and white thinking.

      I could go on. But I think you get it.

    • Tony DePhillips permalink
      November 4, 2010 10:44 pm

      Hi POT,
      My take on this is that it is an expanion on the idea of infinity valued logic or absolutes are unobtainable. In your examples let us say that the people involved in exterminating a lot of jewish people or any other major overt. Or DM for example, yes, what they do is bad. Very bad. And yes, it should be stopped. But you could say that these doing the horrendous acts are NOT TOTALLY EVIL. They still have some good in them. Probably they do some good also. Feed the dog, water the plants etc. I look at it as a ratio and a gradation of black versus white. You could say that DM is black. But is he TOTALY BLACK? Could it be possible for him to get BLACKER?? I think he could get blacker, therefore it is not an absolute blackness. Is Ghandi TOTALLY WHITE? LRH TOTALLY white?? For me, to think in absolutes, is a thought stopper and won’t allow you to see when a person is changing for the better or worse if you decide that they are either black or white with no gradation.

    • Valkov permalink
      November 5, 2010 12:23 am

      “Wrong” is itself a generality referring to one part of a big continuum. Example: Killing another is “wrong”, but even so, there are gradations. 1st Degree murder, 2nd Degree murder, Manslaughter, accidental unintended death, etc. They are all wrong, but there are degrees or shades of grey involved in how we view them.

      The wholesale slaughter of others as in the Holocaust or Kosovo, or the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities full of civilians would be considered “more wrong” by many people, than the accidental killing of a person, although still horribly tragic, by losing control of your car on black ice on a winter road.

  22. SirArthurConanDoyle permalink
    November 4, 2010 11:26 pm

    Karen, I’m a vegan – I agree with what you say Jeff, but McDonalds is pure evil – (and that’s not brainwashed think). I think we can all agree that DM is the target and that he has brainwashed scientologists into thinking that way and disconnection (among many other abominations) are something that has affected all of us. I hear a lot about fishing and so on, but if more of us were vegans…

  23. November 8, 2010 6:32 pm

    An outstanding blog entry that’s made me think a lot. It’s much easier to pick apart the all-or-nothing beliefs of other people than my own. Hypocritical, since I speak out against the us-vs-them, black-or-white mentality that I see in Scientologists, but have trouble poking holes in my own black/white belief that Hubbard was an evil con man. I know there were nice aspects to his personality, and I’m sure he was a lovely man to sit down and have a cup of tea with. A Scn friend showed me personal correspondence from LRH that was her prize possession. He made her very, very happy. And yet I still think he was defrauding her, doing something evil with a smile on his face. Is that grey? Something I’ll have to ponder more.


  24. is u peoed on DM permalink
    November 15, 2010 4:21 pm

    Any tree can be judged by its fruits as any philosophical construct can be the same. It isn’t anymore confusing than that. I judge L RH by his fruits to whether his words have any value. It’s bitter and i see people all around getting sick from it. It is like the grape . It makes you drunk but in the morning you get a hangover. The only value i see in hubbard and why he deserved his riches, is he kept the idiots of the streets and taught them a very good lesson, that the truth remains in them, not in the words of others. Unfortunately a lot of those idiots go onto the next vinyard. At least it keeps them busy. Read the irony of my words. LOL.

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