Back when queer activist Kate Bornstein was a boy named Al, she was a leading member of the Church of Scientology. She served aboard L. Ron Hubbard's flagship, and even worked directly with Hubbard on a campaign to control Scientology members more completely. Bornstein's new memoir A Queer and Pleasent Danger explains why she found Scientology so appealing, and what she brought to it. Here's an exclusive excerpt about Bornstein's work with Hubbard.
This excerpt has been edited for length here and there — the full version is much longer and contains some hilarious passages where Bornstein meets with Hubbard, including much more about their dynamic.
Volcano image via Shutterstock.com.
I spent two weeks as Temporary Director of Promotion, poring over Hubbard's theories of controlling human emotion and reaction. Emotions weren't the only phenomenon that Hubbard had jimmied into a hierarchal scale. In Scientology, there are mathematically precise scales for every human perception. There are scales for justice and scales for your very condition of existence. There are scales by which you can assess entire nations and predict their behavior. This was great stuff! But I was due to return to the Deck Force in a couple of days, so I wrote down my ideas for the Commodore.
Staff members at any level of employment in the Church of Scientology are encouraged to write daily reports to the Commodore.
Aboard Flag, there was a better chance he'd read yours. His messengers combed reports for anything he might find interesting, and if you were lucky, you'd wake up to find an answer from Ron in your in-basket — in his own handwriting. The night before I left my sweet soft job, I wrote a daily report to Ron that went something like this:
I've come to the end of my time as Temporary Director of Promotion, and I'm glad to report, Sir, that I've learned a great deal about the value of your research as it applies to the fields of promotion and public relations.
Your emotional tone scale is indispensable if you want people to listen to what you're promoting, or if you want them to buy what you're selling — do I have that right, Sir? It wouldn't matter if you're selling goods, services, or Scientology to an unsuspecting wog world — all it takes is to bring them uptone, make them happier with who we are and what we've got.
Using your scale of emotions, Sir, I've developed a system by which I can theoretically get anyone excited about anything, just by talking higher and higher on the emotional scale. I tested this out, Sir. I stood off to the side of the line at the ship's canteen and snack bar, and I'd strike up a conversation with the people on line. After a few moments, I could assess their emotional tone. I asked them what they were going to buy, and then I'd sell them on buying something else — a particular piece of candy, for example — using an emotional tone a few notches higher than their own. It worked every damned time, Sir. People walked away happy with what I told them to buy.
So, Sir, theoretically all a PR officer would have to do is send out surveyors to take emotional tone scale assessments of a demographic to determine their emotional tone level as numerical values. Then you'd add up those numbers and divide by the number of people who were surveyed. The resulting number is the tone level of the target population. Plan your PR campaign half a tone to a tone higher, and it's gonna be a winner every time. Right? Sir?
Well, I head back to the Deck Force in the morning. I'm looking forward to it. I miss the sun. I hope this line of thought is helpful to you in some way, Sir. It's been a privilege having the kind of job that gave me the time to figure this out.
Al Bornstein, AB
A few hours after I'd sent my daily report up to the Old Man, I was stowing my administrative paperwork, smiling to myself, when a snappily dressed Commodore's Messenger appeared at my desk.
"Sir," said the messenger, "the Commodore sends you his best regards and says he's promoting you to Warrant Officer." She saluted me.
"I . . . why?"
"Your daily report, sir. He read it and couldn't stop laughing."
And then she laughed the Old Man's laugh — well, a soprano cover of his laugh, but it may as well have been the Commodore himself standing in front of me, laughing his ass off.
The next day, L. Ron Hubbard issued a new policy letter — a canonical decree for the administration of the Church, printed in green ink on white paper. He proclaimed that public relations had finally become a simple-to-do step-by-step technology which — if you did it just the way he told you to do it — would get invariable results. The problem worldwide was low production, as measured by the statistics Gross Income and Paid Completions. The reason for low production, he wrote, was that staff members were too low-toned. At best they were Bored (2.5), but most likely they were Scared (1.0) or Apathetic (0.1). The function of public relations in the administration of the Church, he wrote, was to manage the emotions of staff members, so they'd all be Enthusiastic (4.0) and produce lots more income and paid completions of services. In the policy letter, LRH muses on the effectiveness of a public relations officer assigned to the executive director of every church with the job of making us all Cheerful (3.5) and productive.
I don't begrudge the Old Man claiming credit for that — not then, not now. It was my idea to use emotional manipulation for the sales and marketing of Scientology — to get more people paying tolls as they crossed Ron's Bridge to Total Freedom. It never would have occurred to me to use the tone scale to manipulate staff. No, my grudge with L. Ron Hubbard only revealed itself with the benefit of hindsight. He twisted the use of my idea into something that ended up being mean to people. Sea Org officers, and Church executives in the field, had been verbally abusing staff for years — they'd never needed a policy letter to do that. But the new policy letter, based on my idea, gave officers and executives of the Church the explicit right and duty to scream at, berate, and otherwise abuse staff, all in the name of saving the planet now, now, now.
The next day, I was summoned to the Commodore's office on the topmost passenger deck of the ship. It had originally been the ship's gentlemen's parlor for first-class passengers. The office, ironically enough, was oval, with burled-wood paneling on the walls. LRH spent all his administrative time behind a massive oak executive desk that occupied fully a quarter of the room. His in-basket was empty. Always. His out-basket was full. Always.
We talked surveys for about half an hour. As Flag PRO, it was going to be my job to measure, establish, and maintain the pulse of all Scientology staff worldwide. Flag was in the business of sending orders out to the field, so it became my job to remove any emotional barriers staff might have to complying with those orders. I had one week to complete and tabulate the first international survey.
Daily visits to the Commodore's office continued for a couple of weeks. I completed the international survey on time. On the subject of taking over the planet, Scientology staff worldwide were at an emotional tone of 3.75, between Strong Interest and Enthusiasm. On the subject of doing their own jobs, however, the international tone level dropped to 0.95, smack-dab in the middle of Numbness and Terror. "Gotcha!" exclaimed the Old Man, pounding his desk for emphasis. He outlined his plan to bring worldwide Scientology staff upscale to where their feelings about their jobs matched their feelings about taking over planet Earth. Because staff were so low-toned emotionally, we had to pitch the first campaign at a level of Anger (1.5). We watched the statistics as they came in at the next week-ending. Damned stats went up, pretty near one for one. There was much celebration aboard the Flagship that night. LRH's breakthrough in public relations had worked like a charm, which, in a way, it was.
Ron was so excited by the fantastic international results of his new PR breakthrough that he began to use it aboard ship. My days became casual strolls between decks, above decks, down in the engine room, aft in the galley and laundry, deep down in the lower holds of the dorms, missions management, and course rooms. I strolled every foot of that lovely old ship, secretly conducting surveys of crew members to find their emotional tones. I was under orders from the Old Man to hide the survey questions beneath casual conversation, and by golly it worked. One by one, every area of the Flagship became more productive the following week. Hot damn!
For over six months, my life aboard ship went well. And then LRH blew it — he bragged to the crew how successful he'd been in assessing their tone levels and manipulating them into more and more production. And from that point on, staff emotional-tone-level surveys stopped working. Everyone knew what was coming when they saw me. No one wanted to be seen as low toned, so everyone got good at faking it. Word of what he'd done spread out into the field.
The Commodore and I launched the second international survey two months after he'd bragged of its success. The results came in considerably higher on the emotional scale. Ron took that to mean that his breakthrough was successful beyond his wildest dreams. He pounded me on the back. I wasn't so happy, and neither was Sylvia. We knew it was padded but neither of us felt we could tell the Commodore that staff were wise and the numbers were fake.
Sure enough, the next campaign failed miserably. Stats went down. The Old Man was furious that I'd fucked up as badly as I had. I was summarily removed from post and transferred back to the Deck Force.
Excerpt from "A Queer and Pleasant Danger" by Kate Bornstein. Copyright (c) 2012 by Kate Bornstein. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.