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Knapp on Victims, Victors, and Psychological Freedoms

The last 6 months or so working on TranceNet have been a tremendous gift. I've had a chance to intensively think through issues that have hounded me for over 20 years.

But I'm beginning to find that the "anti-cult" movement fits me like a cheap suit.

Over the past month, TranceNet has gathered quite a bit of attention in the anti-cult movement -- and some generous, if modest funding. I've been approached by the three largest organizations to play some part in their efforts. As many of you know, I designed the original FactNet 3 Web site and AFF home page. I've also spoken at a number of CAN functions. [Important Note: We do not recommend contacting the Cult Awareness Network, or CAN. An extraordinarily courageous and useful organization in the past, CAN was recently forced into bankruptcy with the help of the Church of Scientology, who now owns their records and mans their phones.]

I respect their efforts and heartily support their goals.

But something has niggled at the back of my head from when TranceNet began back in late September 1995. Something that wouldn't quite lay still. But I just couldn't put my finger on it, until the last couple of months.

I'm just not "anti-cult."

Heck, I like John Travolta's movies -- I don't care if he is a Scientologist. Ditto for David Lynch and TM.

I think some of the people I met in the TM movement were some of the finest I've met anywhere. Whether they realize it or not, to the hard-core believer, TM is their religion, their world view. It must hurt like hell to see it torn to shreds. Even worse to be ridiculed in front of the Usenet world.

I'm not willing to live in fear of taboo-laden groups like Scientology and TM. Nor am I willing to run away from all forms of spirituality. I want to stand for something, not just spend my life obsessing on my "enemy's" shortcomings.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not wimping out. Just thinking out loud.

I found that when a friend asked what I was doing with my career, I would sheepishly mumble, "I'm working with an anti-cult group."

When I caught myself doing this, it was a real danger signal to me.

I thought, "What is it I really want to do here? What do I want to be my life's work? I've been given an extraordinary opportunity. I have to grab hold of this."

What I came up with: I don't care what people believe. The last thing we need is another excuse to persecute unpopular religions or ethnic groups. I'm not interested in hurting people.

If I'm going to do this I want to spread a little joy.

Finally, I just don't think of myself as a victim. I'm tired of people in the anti-cult movement offering me the kind of eyes-downcast type of condolences usually reserved for the bereaved. I feel, in fact, somewhat condescended to.

Here's the deal:

I don't want to be "anti" anything. I want to be pro-freedoms.

And I don't think anybody exiting a "cult" wants to hear that they're victims. Heck, can you see it? One day you believe you're a god, the next everyone is offering you sympathy because you're somehow damaged?

I think that Steven Hassan, Dennis Ehrlich, Curtis Mailloux, I, and so forth and so forth, have something extraordinary to offer future generations.

We went through a tremendous mind-f**k -- and we not only survived, we prospered.

We know things about human nature and the mind that those of you who haven't experienced thought reform can imagine. Things that the "lay" audiences we talk to will never dream of -- and probably couldn't have survived. (Think of how many never get out who were in as deep as we were!)

This is why I'm particularly pleased to tell you that I have accepted the Executive Directorship of the Singer Foundation, a new human rights organization -- in the tradition of American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

I can't say too much now. But you will be amazed by the national figures who are behind this new effort -- and the ambition of our agenda.

We will be announcing it on March 29.

Until then I must be hazy on the details, although I hope to ask some of you to play a part in the announcement. (I was approached about this within weeks of launching TranceNet last fall. Some of you may remember that I promised a big announcement around January 1. We spent a little extra time hammering out our charter. You'll see that much of the thinking I'm sharing with you is reflected in this new organization.)

We will fight for the recognition of a new set of freedoms -- psychological freedoms. And the survivors we work with simply won't be victims. They'll be veterans -- and even victors.

The psychological freedoms model is too confined by the cult world. The same model encompasses manipulation by therapists, controlling spouses, clergy, governments, and so forth. It all began with Lifton's, Singer's, and West's work with returning US soldiers brainwashed in Korea, after all.

The public certainly needs a little wake up call. Most people believe battered women should just walk away. That propaganda was something only practiced during WWII. That suckers somehow asked to be duped out of their life savings and their lives.

What about TranceNet?

I'm especially pleased to say that TranceNet will continue. For right now, as it has, a personal project of me, Albert Miller, Mike Doughney, and the other generous volunteers, named and unnamed, who have made it a reality.

And in the future, the board of our new Foundation has plans to absorb a somewhat more professional version of TranceNet, and possibly other Web sites, into their plans.

Well, I've gone on quite long enough. I hope to hear your thoughts -- whether privately or publicly -- soon.

I'm excited about this new direction. I hope you will be as well -- at least on March 29 when you see what all the hoopla is about.


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"I said whatever problems I might or might not have, TM is not making them better, it is making them worse and I decided to leave.... I felt like I was crossing from slavery into freedom." Mitch Kapor, Founder Lotus, Inc., EFF

Except where noted, (C)1996 John M. Knapp. Permission granted to repost for any noncommercial purpose with this copyright notice. All other rights reserved.

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