Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A First Look at Stephen Kent's Narcissistic Rage Paper

Thomas Gandow posted on ARS today a possibly new paper from Professor Stephen Kent (PDF format, dated Jan 2008 thus not that new in fact).

This one, contrary to Jacobsen's paper just referred to in the preceding post, is not a "scholarly-sounding" paper. It is an actual scholarly one.

As with the previous Scientology-related papers, Kent seems to just want to "get at" the Church of Scientology, for reasons best known to him, if that's even the case.

This particular paper is entitled: "Malignant Narcissim, L. Ron Hubbard, and Scientology's Policies of Narcissistic Rage".

As usual, rather than actual field study and experimentation, he takes his information from popular critical information available through the Internet and anti-cult organizations.

Kent's papers usually get debunked at a later stage by reputable scholars engaging in a more in-depth analysis, supported by a broader field study that involve more than the unilateral viewpoints of critics and ex-members, as was the case for his study on the RPF.

In the present case, though, I doubt they will even bother.

First, through repeated challenges to his analysis and papers, Stephen Kent's credibility has suffered quite a few blows.

Second, the present paper is particularly ridiculous, because Kent basically says nothing else than the fact religious and Messianic zeal, and its corollary, intolerance to criticism, is a form of mental deficiency which he refers to as "malignant narcissism".

To "prove" his point, Kent launches in an extensive recitation of the same-old accusations made by critics towards the CoS: the Guardian Office operations, Paulette Cooper's harassment, and even R2-45.

The whole article seems like just an excuse to bring all this recitation up in a scholarly paper, and Kent makes sure at every stage to make the link with these and his claim that Hubbard suffered from the affliction he promptly identified miles away in space and time, and that supposedly translates itself in the equally meaningless term of "malignant rage".

The link he does, however, is nothing more than a simple statement:
"Tactics such as these, involving public humiliation and character assassination, reflected Hubbard’s narcissistic rage."

"Scientology’s campaign, which was a prolonged and aggressive response to Cooper’s publications and legal action, demonstrates the extent of Hubbard’s “narcissistic rage” and “need for revenge."

"‘Auditing Process R2-45’ dramatically demonstrates the manifestation of Hubbard’s malignant narcissism and, more specifically, his narcissistic rage. "
Frankly, not the best of Kent's paper, and one that will probably be simply ignored by his scholars peers, so ridiculous the arguments made that they are almost self-evident.

Not that Kent will care very much, since his aim seems to bring the bulk of such accusation in a scholarly paper, that will be extensively circulated around through the Internet by anti-Scientologists - just as his paper on the RPF is being circulated, and the papers debunking it ignored.


Rebecca Hartong said...

"This one, contrary to Jacobsen's paper just referred to in the preceding post, is not a "scholarly-sounding" paper. It is an actual scholarly one."


You know... I do wonder about people who have maintained a deep interest in criticizing Scientology for many years. As you're aware, I think Scientology is silly and I believe the organization has done some pretty despicable things, but after a point there's just not that much more a person can say about it.

Yes, yes... L. Ron Hubbard was a nutcase.

Yawn. What else is new?

Scientology is interesting in it's way, but I honestly believe it doesn't have enough depth to really occupy a person's intellect for more than a few years (at best). Eventually, a critic reaches the point where they're saying the same stuff over and over and over again.

Why bother?

I suppose the argument could be made that critics want to warn newcomers away from the group but I wonder whether they're really especially effective at that.

I think the anti-Scientology criticism "movement" has been little more than an echo chamber for quite a few years now.

pignotti said...

"Malignant narcissism" is not even a recognized DSM diagnosis, although it does seem to be the latest pop psychology fad "diagnosis." The DSM diagnosis is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but it was not formulated in such a way that dead people or celebrities can be diagnosed from afar by people who have never even met, much less formally assessed them. Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Bernie. I see that the paper is a whopping 52 pages. I'm sure I will have more to say about this once I have read it, but if the authors are presuming to diagnose Hubbard from afar, that alone would be highly problematic.
In response to Rebecca, the latest generation of Scn critics has gotten so fanatical and engages in so much exaggeration, I doubt they are having much of an impact other than getting written off as cranks. See, for example, some of the recent allegations about "human trafficking" being made on OCMB and the response anyone who challenges them gets.

pignotti said...

I had a chance to look at the paper. Since I don't want to clutter up your blog, I'll be brief and elaborate elsewhere. Here are some of the problems I see with this paper:
1. "Diagnosis" was made from afar of a dead person. Second-hand reports and even writings of the person are not a valid basis for diagnosis. Valid diagnoses are made through direct assessments by qualified mental health professionals. Sociologists are not qualified to make such diagnoses and those who are qualified cannot make valid diagnoses of people they have never met and formally assessed.
2. "Malignant narcissism" is not an actual DSM diagnosis. The authors mainly rely on one secondary source by a psychoanalyst/psychologist(a book)throughout the paper. The DSM is also referenced, but only in relation to the NPD diagnosis, not what is added to it.
3. Even if it had been established through valid means that Hubbard had a bona fide diagnosis, so what? It wouldn't even begin to explain all the complex situational and social dynamics that are present. I am surprised to see a sociologist focusing so much on individual pathology and do not find his defense of this convincing. This is the second recent paper that has done that (Alexandra Stein has a dissertation on a political movement and "disorganized attachment" in former followers and is working on turning it into a scholarly paper for publication). Not only are such sociologists outside their area of expertise; their field has much richer, better explanations for what is going on in these groups.
4. Chalking things up to individual pathology and the medical model tends to create a victim mentality. Members of such groups are also frequently pathologized for getting involved, in spite of much evidence to the contrary. Sociology and social psychology have much more interesting, inclusive and better explanations for what goes on.
I will comment more on these main points later, probably on my own blog.