This was a particularly good picket. There were some fantastic responses from the public ("Yeah, I know they're arseholes" and too many "Keep up the good work"s to count), including a couple of lads who stopped to debate with one of the scientologists. John R's shouts of "They're only after your money. They say they can clear your mind but they just want to clear out your wallet!" were very effective at getting a response from the public. Not that it captures what we object to about Scn- after all, there are plenty of organisations that just want your money - but it taps into suspicions that a lot of the public have about those over-friendly, rather false people with clipboards.
One bizarre amusing bit of the demo was when a devoted UFO believer, who apparently has a flat full of pictures of aliens, thanked us for protesting against the evil Scientology but said it was unfair for us to associate his beliefs with them via the Xenu pictures on our leaflets. I spent a while trying to reassure him that, although we didn't share his beliefs, we weren't protesting against them.
I try to reward good behaviour by the scientologists, and so I should mention that two of the counter-picketers, when they handed Freedom to a passer-by, took a critical leaflet and gave it to them as well, saying "*That's* for and *that's* against- make up your own mind". This is something I've never seen before and goes completely against When it started dripping with rain, Paulo the scientologist looked up and muttered "Thank You". Who was he saying that to- did he think LRH was working the clouds?
I'll try and reconstruct my conversation with the dictionary guy. He was making the point that since a psychiatrist did not know the dictionary definition of psychiatry, psychiatrists shouldn't be given any responsibility. He was so excited by this idea that he popped into the org and came out with a dictionary. I brought the conversation onto the topic of word-clearing. It's all paraphrased and summarised but I think I've got a good memory.
Me: Isn't this a very simplistic, primary-school idea of how language works? What about linguistic subtlety?
Him: But misunderstood words are such a serious issue. They can be a matter of life and death. Imagine a pilot is landing a plane, and the control tower tell him "You can not land on runway H". Imagine that the pilot doesn't understand the word "not". So he does land on runway H, hits another plane and kills hundreds of passengers.
Those are lives on the line: it could be your life, my life, your family's lives...
[Incredulously, I ask repeatedly if he seriously thinks this sort of misunderstanding is a problem. He insists that it is. Okay, I know about the warning about misunderstood words that appears in all the Scientology books, but I'm amazed to hear someone offering that belief with such seriousness.] [Steve C-T asks for the meaning of "enturbulate" and "Marcab". The guy spends a while looking them up and doesn't find anything.] Me: Here's a similar situation to yours. My name is "Martin". I don't see a definition of my name there. Now imagine that there is an important surgeon called Martin. He's needed urgently to save lives, and someone says "call for Martin". The person hearing this does not know what "Martin" means, so they don't call the right person. That's a matter of life and death. That could be your life at risk, or your family's lives...
Him: That's not the point. [We brought up a number of similar objections to which his reply always was "That's not the point." Steve C-T remarked that if the dictionary is so important, they should have a bust of Doctor Johnson along with the one of Hubbard.] Me: What do you do about the other aspects of language apart from the dictionary meanings of the words? What about sarcasm?
Double-entendre? Context? The subtlety of meaning that comes from familiarity with the subject? Do you have other books that you look those up in?
Him: There are only words. The purpose of language is to communicate ideas.
Me: Okay, do you understand this: "colourless green ideas sleep furiously"?
Him: I can't apply it practically. It's like "The world will explode in twenty minutes". It's not something I can apply.
Me: But that sentence is easy to understand. It says when something will happen, what it will happen to, and what it is that will happen.
Can you understand "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously"?
[He gets me to repeat the sentence (the well-known Chomsky sentence) a few times and gradually admits that he does not understand it.] Me: According to what *you've* been explaining to *me*, it must be that you don't understand one of the words.
Him: [thinks for a while] It must be "colourless".
He then spent a good few minutes with his Oxford dictionary, in the midst
of a busy shopping street, looking up the word "colourless". Eventually he
came back to me and said "it means 'no colour'". He said this completely
innocently: no hint of irony or of any of the linguistic subtlety I'd
previously mentioned. I repeated the Chomsky sentence and asked if he now
understood it. He still didn't, and at this point we left to go to the
pub: he was still muttering to himself about colourless green ideas as we
MARTIN L: Postgrad. researching philosophy of belief and Bayesian inductive
POULTER : logic at Bristol Uni., UK. * Visit http://eis.bris.ac.uk/~plmlp/
for Cult Concern FAQ + WEIRD (not WIRED) + "Bob" in the UK + Automated Love
+ Scientology Criticism + Sexual Politics + Helena Kobrin's Legal "Ethics".