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The Enemy Within

Nov 04, 1996 10:25 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

This time, getting attacked at some length in a national
publication is a lot more fun than it was under Theosophical
auspices, and gives rise to philosophical speculation about what people
choose to attack and why.  The current issue of the New York
Review of Books contains my letter protesting
caricatures of my books as "pious" and "deferential" in
a review by Frederick Crews of Peter Washington's *Madame
Blavatsky's Baboon*.  Crews writes a predicably smart-alecky and
inaccurate reply.  He is inaccurate in taking my description of
various paranormal events in Theosophical literature as an
endorsement of claims made as to their genuineness, when in
fact I express no opinion on the matter.  The smart-alecky part
I leave to the imagination.  But it certainly does call to
mind the way that John Algeo made several factual errors in
describing *The Masters Revealed* and also some unwarranted
assumptions about my intentions and outlook.  It seems that
people are inclined to take silence as *dissent*.  To a
skeptic, if you report an allegation by HPB or Olcott without saying
"This can't be true" they assume you believe it.  To a true
believer Theosophist, if you report it as alleged, without saying
"and I believe it," they assume you don't.  Alas for faint-hearted
and wavering folks like me who leave most such things in the
category of "Maybe so, maybe not", this tendency leads to
feeling universally reviled.

As to the philosophical issue, what really bugged me about the
Crews piece was the same as in the case of Algeo's attacks--
"Why me?"  With four simultaneous books about HPB coming out in
1993-94, Cranston's *HPB*, my *TMR*, Washington's *MBB* and
Godwin's *The Theosophical Enlightenment*-- why did just one
manage to draw such fire from both Theosophists and outsiders for
opposite reasons?  With Washington ridiculing HPB and selling
ten times more books than I, why didn't Algeo choose to attack
him rather than me in two reviews running to nearly 10,000 words?  My book,
after all, was basically friendly to HPB and written by one of his own
members!  With Cranston portraying HPB as a saint who never did
anything wrong in her life, and selling ten times more books
than I, why didn't Crews choose to attack her as an example of
credulity instead of me?

Before succumbing to explanations involving past life karma or astrology,
I realized that the phenomenon is one that also explains recent events in the
Baha'i world: the enemy within.  Algeo doesn't want
Theosophists' minds to get corrupted by doubts about the
Masters, but doesn't worry about Washington's frankly hostile
book undermining anyone's faith.  If a *Theosophist* comes
out with an unorthodox solution to the puzzle, and it gets taken seriously
in places like a university press and major review media, this
represents a much greater danger to orthodoxy, and requires
bringing out the big guns.  Crews's particular "church" is the
academy, and his fear is that studies in esoteric history are
the camel's nose under the tent of academia.  If people like
HPB are taken seriously in academic publications, who knows
what might come next?  Degrees in astrology from Ivy League
universities, no doubt.  So true believer skeptics like Crews
jump into the fray to prevent society from returning to the
Middle Ages.  He doesn't regard a book like Cranston's as a
threat to the ideological purity of the academy, but mine and
Godwin's and Faivre's must be scornfully compared to
Washington's, which takes the only acceptable approach to HPB
and her ilk-- ridicule.

The Baha'i parallel:  why are a handful of academicians who
never tried to undermine anything getting front page attacks at
the hands of authorities in Haifa and Wilmette, while those
same authorities are mum on *real* dissident cults?  Because
those who can be easily labeled as evil outsiders can be neutralized
and have no influence.  But "enemies within" who have
heretofore had a reputation as loyal Baha'is are a much greater
threat, and require the big guns.

The enemy within attracts such vituperation not just for
sociological reasons but for psychological ones.  People only
become scared of subversive ideas undermining the faith of
their coreligionists when their own faith starts to totter.
How else would they be able to distinguish between serious
threats and inconsequential ones?  So, a twofold hypothesis:

1. The likelihood of an author coming under severe ideological
attack is directly proportional to the imagined harm to in-group
solidarity or well-being which the author's work is perceived to pose

2. The imagination of harm to the in-group is directly
proportional to the (often unconscious) perceived threat to the
certainties of the *individual* doing the imagining.

Which leads to a paradox.  The more conscious certainty that
your own position is right and others wrong, the more likely
you are to engage in ideological attacks.  BUT the more
*unconscious uncertainty* of your own rightness, the more
likely the ideological attacks on others.

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