Author Topic: Fortune Magazine warns against scientology (and other) front groups, 1987  (Read 1972 times)

Offline ethercat

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I've snipped all but the scientology references; the full article is at the link:

(FORTUNE Magazine)

Guess who could conduct your next management training session. Werner Erhard of est fame, Church of Scientology, or some other ''human potential'' guru.

By Jeremy Main REPORTER ASSOCIATE Charles A. Riley II
November 23, 1987

(FORTUNE Magazine) – IN THEIR OCCASIONALLY feverish effort to become more competitive, American businessmen have grabbed for one restorative after another, some of them quite strange. None seems stranger than the human potential movement, which for years has offered the ordinary citizen a vaguely defined ''breakthrough experience'': In a weekend or so, change your life forever. Now prophets of the movement have begun to argue that they can fundamentally change companies the same way, by appealing to emotions rather than reason. The gurus have adapted their standard programs to suit business clients and are finding a fast-growing market among corporations still searching for the answer to productivity problems.


-- The Church of Scientology, a full-blown cult that believes it has simple cures for high cholesterol levels, radiation sickness, low productivity, and just about anything else that ails society, now has two subsidiaries that specialize in consulting to corporations. Recently even mainstream management training in the U.S. has moved a long way from standard classroom instruction. Otherwise conventional companies send their people on white-water raft trips, or to rappel down cliffs, or to act out corporate concerns in games or skits (see ''Wanted: Leaders Who Can Make a Difference,'' FORTUNE, September 28). Sometimes the dividing line between what's conventional and what's daft is hard to pin down.


At the extreme of human potential training, the Church of Scientology finds most of its business clients among small companies and, remarkably, medical group practices. - The human potential outfits that cater to business like to play down their past, styling themselves as part of the mainstream today. But they bring with them some of their old medicines, even if watered down. They may, like Wilson, use simple group dynamics to get people pumped up. But some go far beyond this, using psychological techniques that can induce ordinary people to suspend their judgment, surrender themselves to their instructors, and even adopt new fundamental beliefs.

PEOPLE who take the Scientology course in communications find themselves the subject of ''bullbaiting'' and ''confronts.'' In bullbaiting sessions, a student must try to remain expressionless while classmates badger him with taunting jokes and insults. In a confront, two people sit and face each other squarely, staring fixedly without movement. Both exercises are classic ploys in brainwashing, or thought control: They create a sense of powerlessness to rid the subject of old patterns of behavior. Groups also try to subjugate students with nit-picking discipline, demanding perfect punctuality and accepting no excuses for missing a session. Handsome, seemingly powerful instructors wrap themselves in mystery with jargon often bordering on the meaningless.

HUMAN POTENTIAL GROUPS all have a common aim: to alter people -- or corporations -- radically by unleashing energies that purportedly remain unused in most of us. They seek to liberate the mind, they say, by breaking the chains of habit and passivity. Training is designed to be a powerful emotional experience. To chief executives seeking breakthroughs to new levels of quality, say, or productivity, the potential kick from all this unchained energy seems just the ticket.

Many observers of the human potential movement don't share this enthusiasm, however. Carl Raschke, an expert in religion and society at the University of Denver, sees in the groups' outreach to business an attempt to transplant cultism and mysticism from the counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies to the corporate world. ''It puts people in a more mellow mood and makes them more compliant,'' he says, ''but it certainly doesn't make them more productive. It robotizes them.'' Whether or not the training makes people more productive, it certainly raises troublesome questions.

Says Robert Tucker, head of the Council on Mind Abuse (COMA) in Toronto, an organization that helps people break away from cults: ''It's one thing if an individual walks in off the street and signs up for a course, but quite another if your boss sends you. Then there's a level of coercion. Does my boss have the right to put me through training that conflicts with my religion and my world view?''

Margaret Singer, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, has studied what she calls ''coercive thought reform'' for over 30 years, since the Korean war. She points out that putting people through intense psychological pressure without good therapeutic reasons, and without knowing their family history, can have shattering results. Forcing someone terrified of heights into a precarious position in a high place can create that pressure, especially with the boss looking on.

Singer, Tucker, and organizations such as the American Family Foundation in Boston and the Cult Awareness Network in Chicago report an increase over the past few years in the number of people needing psychiatric care as a result of corporate training programs.

RICHARD OFSHE, a colleague of Singer's at Berkeley who as a freelancer won a 1979 Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting on another cult, Synanon, believes that corporations are building ''an enormous potential liability'' with such high-pressure training. ''Assuming these organizations transfer the methods they use with private individuals to the corporate side,'' says Ofshe, ''there will be a significant casualty rate.'' People who believe they have been psychologically damaged have successfully sued human potential groups in the past; now they will be able to sue their employers as well. The casualties and the lawsuits are probably still few; it is hard to fix their exact number since cases remain shrouded in medical and legal confidentiality, and employees are reluctant to criticize what their bosses have embraced. Trainees just coming out of a human potential course are characteristically on a high -- the courses are designed to produce that euphoria -- and will give the most glowing testimonials. Only rarely does a critical firsthand account emerge.


THE CHURCH of Scientology, while not yet as much of a force in corporate training, has developed a reputation in the press for its extravagant claims and affinity for lawsuits. Its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, a hugely successful science fiction writer, created the movement in the 1950s with the claim that he had come through incarnations for 74 trillion years and had learned that man's ills and shortcomings can be attributed to ''engrams,'' or painful memories, that can be erased by a purification process he developed. It involves the use of an ''E-meter,'' an elementary galvanometer, or lie detector.

Hubbard died last year, after living in seclusion for many years. He had previously turned the keys of the kingdom over to the Reverend Heber Jentzsch, 52, a practicing Mormon who believes that Scientology cured him of fatal radiation sickness. Scientology's many legal troubles have included the 1983 jailing of Hubbard's wife and eight other Scientologists for burglarizing the IRS and other government offices, several suits involving the church's tax-exempt status, and a $30-million suit by Larry Wollersheim, a San Francisco businessman who charged that Scientology left him psychologically damaged and drove his novelties business into bankruptcy. Several of these cases are wending their way toward the U.S. Supreme Court. These tangles haven't slowed Scientology's growth, claims Jentzsch. He puts membership at 6.5 million souls.

The Los Angeles-based church has moved into management consulting through WISE, a nonprofit organization, and Sterling Management, a consulting firm. According to Jentzch, Volkswagen is a client of WISE. Waving to a massive collection of gilt-edged volumes on his office shelves, Jentzsch says Scientology has developed ''brand-new technology'' that provides answers to business and economic problems that no one else has. On his computer, fitted with a Plexiglas screen containing lead particles to block radiation, he can call up 6,000 graphic representations, he says. Just what the books and the graphics will do is something of a mystery, but people who have taken Scientology courses say they do offer excellent material on subjects like handling work flow efficiently.

Loretta Garrett, 27, head of the sales department at a 65-employee phone- answering service called Megaplex in Atlanta, was persuaded by her boss, John Stewart Jr., to take a Scientology course this year. At first it seemed to her like straightforward management training. But after a couple of sessions in what was called a communications course, she found herself deep into Scientology -- the obscure language, the bullbaiting, the confront. ''They tried to get us to admit guilt because sales were poor,'' says Garrett. ''They wanted to get us past the analytical brain to clear the inner brain, where the poor sales were caused.'' Another employee, who has since resigned, said the training was ''one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. It was essentially brainwashing.'' After Garrett refused Stewart's invitation to go to the local Scientology mission to have her personality ''audited,'' she concluded that people who didn't go along with Scientology wouldn't get anywhere at Megaplex. She quit; Stewart responded by telling her that she was fired. Garrett, who is black, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Stewart says the quarrel is really over vacation pay and that he will countersue. He also says his business's performance figures have ''gone up phenomenally,'' and that he will continue to urge his employees to take the course, and pay their tuition. ''At $60 a head, I'm happy as hell about it,'' he says.



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