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On Celebrity Scientologists and Wealthy Republicans

There is a common phenomenon among those who have experienced a near-death experience during which others have lost their lives. At some point, the survivor begins to ask themselves, “Why me? Why was I chosen to survive? How did I get so lucky?” Many survivors blame themselves, constantly harping on what they could have done to save another, or wondering if that other life would have been put to better use than their own life. This can manifest as a self-loathing feeling of being unworthy of the gifts that are given to you. To avoid that feeling, some people convince themselves that they survived thanks to their own skills, reaction, and instincts. Others may feel the need to justify their existence in this world, and use it as motivation to better themselves. The reactions of survivors could go a number of ways, but these are certainly common reactions to tragedies. So what does this have to do with celebrity Scientologists and wealthy Republicans? Everything.

A while back, when I was living in Los Angeles, my roommate’s best friend decided to join Scientology. As she went through the early stages and tried to inform/recruit us to join along with her, I learned several things about the religion. The first is that early on, Scientology is a practical guide to assist people in learning how to get their life in order, be happier, and help themselves. It’s only a little bit ironic that Scientology’s most visible face, Tom Cruise, spoke the quotable line, “Help me help you” in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, because that is what Scientology is all about at the lower levels, as Scientologists describe in this video from the official Scientology website.

As odd as it may seem that an organization helps people by teaching them that they don’t need help, that is the basic premise. You may remember Tom Cruise questioning the entire psychiatric industry as well as any and all psychiatric drugs on the Today Show. The message here is that drugs are unnecessary because there are ways to heal yourself. The primary practices of Scientology are based in “dianetics,” which is defined on the website as “what your soul does to your body through your mind.” It’s basically an extension of “mind over matter,” which adds on “soul over mind.” There’s actually a lot on the earliest levels of Scientology with which perfectly rational people would agree. And just like the fact that Ron Paul sometimes sounds like the only guy who makes any sense on one issue can mask the fact that he isn’t completely sold on the Constitutionality of the Interstate Highway System or the Civil Rights Act of 1964; practical, self-help advice and practices can mask a belief in aliens such as Thetans and Xenu that sort of sounds like the midi-chlorians from Star Wars.

I’ve probably gone into too much detail here about Scientology, but I want readers to know that I’m giving it a fair shot and also to understand why a vulnerable person in search of answers might be drawn to such a belief system. If you were stretched thin and someone said “The solution to all your problems lies within you and within your control. For a small fee, I’ll tell you how,” you might consider it. But the follow-up question is why would so many people who aren’t vulnerable–who in fact are powerful and famous and rich–be drawn to such crazy ideas when the practical benefits aren’t necessary? And the answer brings us back to the opening paragraph.

When a celebrity looks outside of his or her bubble and sees how people live in the normal world juxtaposed against how he or she gets to live, one might ask, “Why me? How did I get so lucky?” Some might even begin self-loathing; feeling as though they are unworthy of such a life, such success, such riches. Others, however, might need to feel like they are successful because they did something special; that anyone could be successful if they knew the secrets to getting there. Some might want to become members of an organization that preaches that the key to success and to happiness is from within you, that everything you can and do achieve is thanks to your ability to overcome obstacles from within: some may become Scientologists.


And that brings us to this:

If you own a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

– President Barack Obama


I think we can all agree that we’d like that statement better if it read, “You didn’t build that alone. Somebody else helped make that happen.” In the context of his speech, that would probably be a better fit with the intent of that line. It was a small statement that came as part of a long rant of sorts about the fact that people who have achieved success have done so through a system, a government, and a community that has created the environment in which that success can be achieved. Here’s the whole quote:


There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I am always struck by people who think, “It must be because I was just so smart.” There are a lot of smart people out there. “It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.” Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you are successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you did not build that–somebody else made that happen. The Internet did not get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off of the Internet. The point is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.


It’s not altogether unlike the quote from Elizabeth Warren, which went viral as an image not so long ago, seen below:

These quotes represent a fairly common viewpoint: the idea that success is not attained within a vacuum; that success comes from a system and a community and that you need help or maybe even luck to get to the top. And I’m sure that you could find thousands of anecdotes about the guy whose public education failed him, he dropped out, he worked hard, had a great idea and achieved success with as little help as is humanly possible, but most of us would recognize this to be more the exception than the rule.

However, this is a viewpoint that Republicans–especially the wealthy ones and the ones that control the talking points–cannot accept. Here are some reactions:

Rush Limbaugh:

This is a bunch of people with miserable, meaningless lives, lying to themselves, trying to tell themselves that they matter. I think it can now be said, without equivocation, without equivocation, this man hates this country. He is trying, Barack Obama, is trying to dismantle brick-by-brick the American dream.


Mitt Romney:

I’m convinced he wants Americans to be ashamed of success. I want Americans to welcome and to celebrate success… I don’t want government to take credit for what the individuals of America accomplish.


The National Federation of Independent Businesses:

[The president’s] unfortunate remarks over the weekend show an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs. I’m sure every small-business owner who took a second mortgage on their home, maxed out their credit cards or borrowed money from their own retirement savings to start their business disagrees strongly with President Obama’s claim. They know that hard work does matter.


The Heritage Foundation:

That sound you hear is silence—as millions of small business owners and entrepreneurs were left speechless this weekend from President Obama’s latest insult.


Perhaps all of this is simply playing politics. Perhaps these people saw an opportunity to jump on Obama’s statements and swing or strengthen support within a target demographic. Or, perhaps some of these wealthy Republicans got a glimpse outside of their bubble and saw how people were living in the normal world juxtaposed against the life that they get to live. They thought to themselves for a minute, “Why me? How did I get so lucky?” And rather than risk the exposure to the possibility of self-loathing, they quickly answered, “I got here on my own. I got here because I worked harder. I got here because I am smarter and better than those people who want government help. Nobody helped me get here, and so nobody else should need help.” And so they joined an organization that espouses those beliefs: The Republican Party.

  1. July 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    Great synthesis of these ideas.

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