The HBO documentary about Scientology, “Going Clear,” is a must-see. Not so much because it exposes Scientology as a moneymaking, totalitarian cult, something most people already have known for 50 years. More useful is the film’s description of Scientology’s ideas, techniques, and tactics, for they bear an eerie resemblance to contemporary Progressive belief and practice.
The first dimension of Scientology, as its name suggests, is scientism. This is the notion that human identity and behavior both individually and socially can be understood and hence manipulated as successfully as real science understands and manipulates the material world. Because of that success, genuine science has immense authority and commands respect that scientism attempts to expropriate. That’s why L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, dressed up a retooled Freudianism and space-alien mythology with new technical-sounding jargon and dubious technology. Hence neologisms like “scientology,” “dianetics,” or “ingram,” hence the “E-Meter,” a glorified carnival attraction with knobs and dials replete with numbers and oscillating needles that supposedly identify and measure psychic trauma. This patina of scientific objectivity made Scientology attractive to potential recruits who had failed to find answers to their psychic discontent in traditional religion or in psychotherapy.
Scientism has similarly characterized Progressivism from its beginnings. The core conceit of progressives is that traditional knowledge and wisdom are inadequate for understanding human nature and solving the more complex problems created by industrialism and new technologies. Those problems needed “sciences” like sociology, economics, and psychology: “The great triumph of modern psychology,” Walter Lippmann wrote in 1914, “is the growing capacity for penetrating to the desires that govern our thought.” Thus we need government by the elite “hundreds who are wise,” as Woodrow Wilson put it in 1887, and “enlightened administration,” as F.D.R. called it in 1932. Politics should no longer be, as the Founders envisioned, about leaders of virtue, experience, and wisdom governing within the Constitutional order that protects political freedom from conflicting factions and clashing “passions and interests.”
Rather, progressives prefer technocratic rule based on “scientific” knowledge, not to protect freedom, but to achieve utopian goals like “social justice” and “equality.” Like Scientology’s “auditors” who possess the secret, “scientific” knowledge that can enlighten and improve the neophytes, progressives assume that their ideological opinions are the fruit of reason and science. As people of objective knowledge and respect for facts, they think they are better able to rule than those still mired in ancient superstitions like religion or even common sense, the masses who are “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish,” as Wilson wrote, or “stupid,” as Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber said, or who “get bitter” and “cling to guns and religion,” as Obama sneered.
Given the assumption that their ideology is really science, progressives dress up their subjective and frequently irrational prejudices in pseudo-science. Contrived statistics are a favorite device, for numbers with decimal points appear objective and inarguable. There’s the false claim that women earn only 77% of what men make, or that 20% of college co-eds suffer sexual assault, or that 97% of scientists endorse anthropogenic global warming. These numerical confections, like the dancing needles in the E-meter gauge, imply that these issues are no more a matter for debate than are the law of gravity or the spherical earth. Of course, in reality such statistics are camouflage for ideological, not scientific beliefs.
But to progressives, they are scientific facts, so anyone who disagrees is either hopelessly ignorant or willfully evil, blinded by bigotry or in thrall to religious superstition. This explains the nastiness of progressive attacks on those who disagree with them, the quick recourse to ad hominem smears of the sort that appear only on the conservative fringe. Just as Scientology defames critics and defectors with false accusations and character assassination, so too progressives frequently hurl epithets like “racist” at those who criticize Obama, or indulge preposterous tropes like the “war on women,” or throw ugly names like “denier,” redolent of Holocaust denial, at anyone who questions that anthropogenic global warming is a scientific fact rather than a hypothesis. And progressives are eager to use the power of government and institutions like the IRS and college administrations to silence and stigmatize those who oppose them.
This explains another similarity: the rationalization of opposition as a conspiracy of the malignant evil against the enlightened good. Nothing bespeaks the cultic mentality like the belief that a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” as a newly announced presidential candidate has put it, rather than the failure of progressive ideology and policy, explains their opponents’ criticism. Scientology is famous for its aggressive use of this conspiratorial rhetoric to deflect inquiries into its practices, blaming them on cabals of doctors and psychologists angry at Scientology for challenging their lucrative monopoly on mental health. So too we hear progressives harping on and on about the “Koch brothers” or the “Israel lobby” or “big pharma” or “big oil” or the “1%,” all those “malefactors of great wealth who defraud and exploit the people,” as the 1936 Democratic platform put it.
Finally, and most important, is the “great leader,” the messianic figure, the transformative personality whom no one must doubt or criticize, and whom the faithful must defend and protect. For Scientology it is founder L. Ron Hubbard, a mythic figure whose alleged intellectual talents and achievements have nothing to do with the real man. One of the spookiest moments in “Going Clear” is the footage of Tom Cruise and current Scientology honcho David Miscavage saluting a gigantic picture of Hubbard in a scene evocative of Orwell’s 1984.
As for progressives, they have a long history of romances with dictators, from Mussolini in the 1920s to Mao in the 1960s and Fidel Castro today. This preference for a strongman reflects the progressive belief that their utopian aims require a vigorous centralized power unimpeded by the will of an ignorant “people.” Thus no matter how many murdered, imprisoned, or tortured, the “revolutionary” hero, the messiah bearing the new knowledge of “social justice” is worshipped by progressives, who will viciously attack Israel for dispersing mobs with rubber bullets, even as political prisoners in Cuba or Venezuela are tortured and silenced. To paraphrase Sylvia Plath, every progressive “adores a fascist, the boot in the face.”
So too have progressives viewed Barack Obama ever since he came upon the political scene in 2004. No other presidential candidate or president has been larded with so much hyperbolic praise and inflation of his mediocre abilities, from Chris Matthews’ tingling leg to David Brooks’ awe at The One’s perfect crease in his trousers. Nor has any other candidate or president been spared scrutiny or investigation as much as Obama has. Much of his history remains as mysterious as his college transcripts, and what we do know comes from his semi-fictional memoirs. Meanwhile the media have been complicit, like good cult-members, in protecting the image and burnishing it when necessary, ignoring inconvenient facts like Obama’s long friendship with race-baiter Jeremiah Wright and ex-terrorist Bill Ayres, winking at his blatant abuses of executive power, and letting pass gaffes and blunders that would have kept the media frenzied for weeks had a Republican committed them. We’ll soon see if Hillary Clinton is afforded the same adoration and studied indifference to her lack of achievement and her personal scandals.
Progressivism under Obama has finally transformed from a political movement into a cult. Fact, reason, argument, and evidence are fruitless against the blind certainty and commitment to dogma that characterize the progressive mind. The only thing to do about progressives is expose their absurdities, and then beat them at the polls.
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