Also known as, ” … private, just for you!”
This post is the second in a series of explorations regarding Steve Hassan’s BITE model as depicted in his anti-cult book, Freedom of Mind. I am plugging my “school” tenure into the model to see if it fits. Today’s installment: Information Control
Hassan writes that cults “rob people of the ability to make informed decisions” through deception. Strategies range from out right lying, to withholding and distorting information and all strategies all come to bear “… when recruiting new members.”
Information control is “school’s” specialty. It is, in fact, a policy: Clever Insincerity: misinformation and lies instituted, justified as “necessary for one’s evolution and to protect the invisible world” and proliferated across membership, from recruitment into infinity.
This is because, of course, no one “joins a cult”. Cults must pitch themselves as “bible studies”, “management training programs”, “personal growth seminars”, “yoga classes”, “casual discussion groups”, “invisible esoteric mystery school’s”, etc. etc. etc. Pick a flavor, there’s a cult for it.
Lisa, my recruiter, orchestrated our “new friendship” over a course of months. We met at the Whole Foods, where she struck up a conversation then said, “We should get together sometime.” We exchanged phone numbers. She called persistently and patiently. After some walks at Fresh Pond, chats over coffee, visits to the MFA, etc. etc. etc., she pitched a “casual discussion group.” “People come and go.” “We discuss ideas.” “We laugh a lot.”
She introduced me to Robert, “a friend”. He asked me, “how would you like to try a free-5-week experiment?” I recall thinking, “What could it hurt — It’s free and I can leave.” He followed-up with, “it’s very important that you don’t tell anyone about this … its private, just for you!” I bought into the exclusive and special marketing.
Both Lisa and Robert omitted, and/or distorted, the following: the unspoken expectation of lifelong tenure — there is no graduation when striving for the unattainable; the $350/monthly “tuition”; the demonization of those who dare to leave (i.e. “disgruntled ex-students”); the i.v. drip from my bank account into “school” coffers, for the rest of my days, til death do I part; that eventually implementing “school’s” secret recruitment protocol — a carefully constructed 5-meeting seduction process — would be necessary for my “evolution” and soul manufacturing!
Hassan writes, “Members are also kept so busy that they don’t have free time to think and seek outside answers to questions.”
“School’s” soul manufacturing requirements increase exponentially, over time — the longer your tenure, the more school demands of you. In concert, the lies both told to you, and that you tell to the “un-schooled”, proliferate . Your critical bi-weekly attendance spills over, invading “only life things” and relationships. You must perform these tasks “invisibly”! Don’t draw attention, and/or curiosity about “the invisible world!”
Additionally, once you’ve attended a class or two, you are nicely positioned to accept the “No Internet Research” policy. “School’s” pat line for this is “you’ve all had your own experiences of ‘school”. Don’t poison them!” The Internet is akin the the Wall of Babel. Why would you turn to it when you have access to the true “SOURCE”??? With all source material coming from the group, and the group coming between you and your outside relationships, isolation takes root and grows, along side your many evolutionary tasks and the lies that accompany each task.
I followed the “No Internet Research Rule” for five years, thus I believed “school” when it laid claimed to the following “secret” esoteric ideas: self remembering, multiplicity – the many Is, three centers or three brains – moving, emotional and intellectual, identification, internal & external considering, the law of three, etc. etc. etc.
If I had Googled any one of these “secret & exclusive ideas”, I would have immediately found them all over the Internet. The real source: a Russian philosopher named Gurdjieff — a name never uttered in the hallowed halls. My “sustainer” (mentor/minder … think sponsor, like in 12-step groups) specifically told me, “You’re lucky! You won’t find these ideas anywhere else!!!” At the time, I believed her. Now I know that this pat phrase is probably pulled out for newbies who begin to question things.
Eventually “school” handed out what it called “The Black Book”, a mysterious collection of transcribed and Xeroxed “lectures” with all names redacted, bound beneath a black cover. THE WORK, “school” claimed, was an “oral teaching”. This mysterious “BLACK BOOK” was a rarity. We –again– were lucky! After leaving, I ordered a used copy of In Search of the Miraculous on Amazon for $5, I realized that “school” had redacted, Xeroxed, bound and copied the entire published book, renamed it The Black Book and distributed it, in hushed tones, to good little cult cogs like me.
Hassan writes, “Information control … extends across all relationships. People are are not allowed to talk to each other about anything critical of the leader, doctrine or organization.”
School took this control to new heights, or lows (depending on your perspective). We weren’t living together, so the institution knew it had to implement strict social controls. Forget about critiques or concerns! Let’s review “School RULES” as discussed in Behavior Control:
- Observe ten minutes of meditative silence when you arrive – no casual conversation before “class”.
- “No unnecessary talking” – no casual conversation in the hallowed halls.
- “Non-fraternization” – no casual conversation outside the hallowed halls.
- No Internet Research! – no independent research.
- No discussion about “school” with the “others” – speaks for itself.
Any normal conversation was a violation: No sharing of last names, occupations, phone numbers, email addresses, normal family stuff — chatting casually & directly, in any way, was “leaking” (for shame!).
Now let’s revisit the “class” structure …
- Sit in meditative silence until “tai chi!” or “body work!”
- Practice “tai chi”or “body work” for 30 minutes.
- Silently march to seats and wait for “teachers”.
- “Discuss” “secret ideas” — i.e. wait to be called on, like grade school.
- “Observe 1 hour of silence” after “class” — to “seal yourself off“; “don’t leak!” (i.e., no un-monitored conversation allowed)
In hindsight, its easy to see that “school” controlled all “essence friend” interaction. Obviously, if we were not allowed to talk directly to each other, we couldn’t share our critiques of the group and its leadership. We couldn’t share questions about inconsistencies, or concerns about its eventual disregard for our families, jobs, friends, personal passions, etc. I blindly accepted the extent of the social engineering, spilling out of the hallowed halls and shaping my life. After all, we were superior humans doing THE WORK, “EXPERIMENTING”, our engagement needed to rise above our “only life” relationships.
Thus, when we communicated outside the hallowed halls for various “school”- projects, we left messages on “private” voice mails. “Essence friend” interactions and soul manufacturing efforts joined together through the voicemail system for one illustrious purpose: mo’ members, mo’ money. But my “classmates” and I, we truly believed we were reaching for something higher – the best in ourselves, joining together for some kind of allusive evolutionary cause – the betterment of mankind.
Hassan writes, “Information is usually compartmentalized to … keep members from knowing the big picture … people are told only as much as they need to know.”
When I was a starry-eyed newbie attending my first “classes” at the Belmont Lion’s Club, I knew my class met in a little room (like an oversized closet, really) while the “older class” met in the adjacent larger room. I was vaguely aware of a man who appeared to be lurking outside the building every week, usually across the street. I did not know about the additional classrooms in the Faulkner Mills Building in Billlerica. I also didn’t know that the lurking man was a “school” sentry — on the lookout for “disgruntled ex-students” who could leave flyers on the cars.
Additionally, “school” assigns each newbie a sustainer (as mentioned above). The sustainer calls and meets with his/her charge between “classes” to field questions, support their “growth”, oh, and they are also held responsible for retainment, God forbid a newbie decide s/he doesn’t want to be in a cult. “School” tells the newbie that sustainer/sustainee conversations are confidential. In truth, sustainers report ALL conversations back to “school” leadership.
“School” implements a phone tree -“recruiters”, “sustainers” & “teachers” get “student” phone numbers. “Students” can only access a voicemail system. Of course, no one says, “you can’t reach me directly. Leave messages on my voicemail. I’ll call you at my convenience.” Over time, I realized that the important, busy, and “evolved” men and women of “school” never picked up their phones. I accepted this dynamic without question. My time became “school’s” time, as I waited for more evolved beings to find time, to respond to questions and fit me into his/her refined life. The phone tree is in constant use as the less evolved are phoning reports into the voicemail boxes of the more highly evolved, who might or might not call back at his/her convenience. This is especially true when “school” is a new “friend-making” drive.
Once I’d “graduated” (cough) into the “older” class, a mysterious nutcase named Sharon appeared two or three times. Robert escorted her to the front of the room and announced, “Ask your questions”. Everyone fawned over her, catering to every whim. No one explained that she was “school’s” NYC CEO. Only after leaving, did I learn about corporate headquarters in NYC, where an entirely different set of “classrooms”, faculty & student body and invisible hierarchy reigned: Robert answers to Sharon; NYC, by nature of being corporate headquarters, is superior to the satellite Boston branch.
Hassan writes that cults create environments where “truth is multi-leveled” – in other words – cults compartmentalize information that will only be revealed when one is “ready”, as deemed by the leadership. “Members,” Hassan writes, ” … are assured that all will become clear shortly. If they work hard enough, they’ll earn the right to understand the higher levels of truth.”
Once I departed and joined the ranks of “disgruntled ex-students” I learned the “higher level” of truth: “school” drops “non-fraternization” for the “oldest class” — i.e. those who are sufficiently indoctrinated. “School” marries “older students” off to each other after breaking up “only-life” marriages. I’ve also heard tell of a bizarre baby-swapping/adoption system, allegedly orchestrated by Queen Sharon. A “student” who has a baby, gives the baby to a “schooled” couple, on the Queens orders. Thankfully, I never rose high enough, or fell low enough, (again, depending on your perspective) to witness, or experience, this level of control.
There’s something else that “school” will fight tooth and nail to keep mum from its “evolving” clientele: an illustrious and invisible history: the group’s founder, a sociopath named Alex Horn (now dead), began “school” as a theater, back in the 70s. After enough allegations of physical and sexual abuse and neglect of children, a series of investigative newspaper articles exposed the group. City authorities kicked it out of San Fran and it migrated across the country to set up shop in NYC and Boston.
While in my cult coma, I used to picture centuries of “esoteric schools” passing down these “evolutionary rules” & behavioral dictates through the years. I came to believe that they were “necessary” for those who were “refining their vibrations”. Today that makes me laugh. The truth is that “school” leadership establishes “rules” arbitrarily, usually in response to some “event”. For example, a failed relationship between two NYC students inspired (cough) the “non-fraternization” rule — turns out the woman’s brother was in the N.Y.P.D. Before that relationship melted down, trust me, “students” “fraternized” in all kinds of ways.
Once the curtains are lifted, you see that “school” is just another cult with illustrious AIMs of money, membership, money, aggrandizement of narcissistic leader, money and more money. Cults are all opaque, cloistered – cloaked in mystery! They spin a milieu akin to a funhouse: distorted mirrors, surprises behind every corner, convenient spin to justify and/or explain away legitimate questions or discomfort. Somehow for me, while still starry-eyed, the mystery added to the magic! But once I left and lifted curtain after curtain, I saw the cynical truth: transparency threatens operations; it interrupts the process of disorienting group members, stealing their identities, and recasting them as cult cogs who “do whatever it takes” to further the group’s “aim”: increased membership, increased income.
Transparency is bad for business.
Next week’s installment: Thought Control