Archive for May 16th, 2007

Knowing me..

These remarks by Larry Flynt on the passing of Jerry Falwell, which I came across via Angry Arab’s site, strike me as true:

My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling.

Before the gap between image and reality gets bridged, you tend to demonise people who hold views you find highly objectionable, until you discover that the views they hold may really only constitute a fragment of who they are as a person. Once you get to know someone, it becomes a lot harder to subject them to ridicule, which can spoil some of your fun.


..but the dianetic is interested in you

I caught some of the Panorama documentary on Scientology the other night. John Sweeney’s outburst formed the focus of the publicity prior to the documentary, and it appears to be shaping debate in the aftermath of its airing too.

My first reaction when seeing him responding with quasi-military barracking to his pursuer’s constant harrassment was to laugh. He was clearly attempting to retain some sense of journalistic order, but these attempts -in such a surreal and oppressive situation- led him to mirror the full-on approach of his opponent. A person less concerned with the pressures of delivering a documentary might have been more inclined to respond with a foul language, or a knee to the opponent’s crigs. Neither response would have been justified, but it would have been certainly understandable. I also thought the scientologist missed a trick by not offering him a ‘free stress test’.

I don’t have much to say about Scientology itself, but there were some features of the tactics employed by its practicioners in the documentary which are recognisable from other situations. The incessant recourse to the vocabulary of reason – facts, bias, objectivity, reason, bigotry, prejudice and so on- allied to the presentation of all sorts of ‘facts’ is employed to force the opponent into submission and compliance.

How does a rational individual deal with such people? By attempting to debate with them and their practices, are you not engaging them on their own terms? Have you not lost before you’ve begun?

As long as Scientology is recognised by the public as a cult, there is the hope that people have the knowledge to recognise it and steer clear from it. But what happens when this false rationality is not tethered to a recognisable ‘brand’? What if the existence of Scientology is merely a symptom of a wider malaise in human relations?

For example, on the television every night of the week (I am sorry if this comes across as one of my hobby horses), you have programmes broadcast that highlight the need for receptiveness to the advice of ‘experts’, in property purchases, household cleanliness, personal grooming, child rearing, and so on. The storyline of each programme is the same: as long as the clueless and confused -even humiliated- participant follows the expert’s advice, then things will work out better. If you watch these programmes night after night -as many people do- do you not end up acquiescing in the receptiveness that these programmes demand? Is that not the whole point of the programmes: so that you are receptive to purchasing the products advertised before, during, and after?

The easy and desirable answer is to say that people who watch the programmes enjoy independence and freedom, and one should respect them enough to realise that they are able to make up their own minds about what they see. But what if they are neither free nor independent?

If they are independent, why do they watch these programmes religiously, when the principal lessons proferred -be observant to the conditions and demands of the marketplace, and behave according to the expectations of ‘experts’- is the same every time? If they are free, why do they choose to submit to the same programmes every week?

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May 2007
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