I recently posted a tribute to Carl Barney by Richard Minns and the Ayn Rand Center Israel, which honored Carl for his enormous, decades-long contributions to the advancement of Objectivism, free minds, free markets, and capitalism.
Shortly after I published that tribute, someone posted a link to it along with an attack on Carl, smearing him for having been involved in Scientology many years ago. The post essentially said that Carl is immoral for having been involved in the cult, and that he should not be praised but condemned.
That attack is absurd and unjust.
For forty years, Carl has embraced and advocated the philosophy of Objectivism—the philosophy whose central virtues are rationality (as against any form of mysticism or “just knowing”) and independent thinking (as against secondhandedness or “group think”). During these four decades, he has supported individuals and organizations dedicated to advancing Objectivism, political freedom, and human flourishing. He has funded the Ayn Rand Institute; Cato Institute; Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism; Objectivists at Duke University, University of Maryland, Tufts University, and George Mason University; Objectivists and Objectivist organizations throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America; and, indeed, my own work and that of The Objective Standard.
Carl’s substantial contributions to these organizations and individuals have enabled them to advance the principles of reason, individualism, and capitalism much more effectively than they otherwise could have.
Yet Carl has been attacked because, earlier in life, he was involved with Scientology.
I asked him about his involvement with Scientology, and here’s what I learned.
He first heard about Scientology sixty years ago, when he was a teenager. This was in the organization’s early years, and its appeal to him was that it offered a system of ideas for self-improvement and business success. He got involved because he thought Scientology was a system of ideas for good living. Not only is there nothing wrong with this motive. It’s a good motive. That’s exactly what a young person (and every person) should want in life. And Carl found certain aspects of Scientology helpful in this regard. So he embraced and used those aspects in an effort to make a good life for himself, and encouraged others to do so.
Over time, the leaders of the movement began steering Scientology less in the direction of ideas and tools for good living and more in the direction of mysticism and collectivism. Carl rejected this development, and he and others who wanted to focus on personal growth and business success clashed with the leaders. In time, these success-focused rebels either left or were kicked out of Scientology (as Carl was) for not toeing the line and conforming to the cult.
Still eager to discover and use ideas for good living, and disgusted by his experiences in Scientology, Carl read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and discovered Objectivism. Using the principles of this “philosophy for living on earth,” he succeeded in business and in life. Among other ventures, he built twenty private colleges that were extremely successful. Given his benevolent attitude, he wanted others to benefit from the philosophy of Objectivism. And given his success and the wealth he created, he was in a position to help financially. So he began supporting organizations that sought to advance the philosophy, including, and primarily, ARI.
From ARI’s inception until recently, Carl was its top contributor and a key board member. Earlier this year, he parted ways with ARI because he didn’t approve of its focus and direction. He now funds and runs an organization he created, the Prometheus Foundation, which includes the Objectivist Venture Fund (OVF).
Prometheus Foundation and OVF are dedicated to advancing Objectivism by funding promising intellectuals and ventures that focus on showing people the life-serving value of Rand’s ideas and how to use them to live well and defend freedom. Carl’s goal is simple: to introduce as many people as possible to the philosophy that has helped him to live a beautiful life—so that they can live such a life, too.
Many people subscribe to bad ideas or systems of thought in their youth and later repudiate those ideas or systems and adopt better ones. Dan Barker was an evangelical Christian preacher; now he and his wife are co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood leftist; in time, he came to understand (imperfectly) that leftist policies are contrary to the requirements of human life. Christopher Hitchens and David Horowitz were communists; in time, they came to realize that communism is contrary to the requirements of human life and became (imperfect) advocates of liberty and capitalism. Countless people have gone through such transformations. You probably know some personally. I know many. We don’t condemn them for it. We champion their progress. This is the rational, just way to evaluate them.
Carl Barney got interested in Scientology as a teenager. When he came to see that it was harmful, he rejected it. He then discovered Objectivism, lived by its principles for decades, and still does. With his success, he funds the advancement of Objectivism so that others can learn about the philosophy and use it to live rich and meaningful lives as well. Far from being cause for condemnation, this is cause for admiration and praise.
More half-truths and lies regarding Carl Barney’s involvement in Scientology have been spread on social media, and I’ve received several questions about these rumors, which I’ll address below.
But first, I want to highlight how reprehensible it is to initiate or spread such gossip. Carl is a profoundly good man who has been fighting for decades to advance the ideas on which human life, liberty, and happiness depend—including the lives, liberty, and happiness of people who attack him. Yet a few people have decided to smear him because of his involvement in Scientology four decades ago. These smears have damaged and continue to damage Carl’s reputation. And once such damage is done, it cannot be undone.
I’m reminded of a passage from Jonathan Swift:
Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.1
I’m reminded also of the scene from the movie Doubt, in which Father Brendan Flynn delivers this brief sermon:
A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew. I know none of you have ever done this. [slight laughter]
That night, she had a dream: A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt.
The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke. She told him the whole thing.
“Is gossiping a sin?” she asked the old man. “Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing his finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution, Father? Tell me, have I done something wrong?”
“Yes,” Father O’Rourke answered her. “Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You’ve borne false witness against your neighbor, you’ve played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.”
So, the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness. “Not so fast,” says O’Rourke. “I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.”
So, the woman went home, took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed.
“Did you gut the pillow with a knife?” he says. “Yes, Father.” “And what was the result?” “Feathers,” she said. “Feathers,” he repeated. “Feathers everywhere, Father.”
“Now, I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind.” “Well,” she said, “it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.”
“And that,” said Father O’Rourke, “is gossip!”
Because some people have chosen maliciously to gossip about Carl, such feathers are now strewn about social media, damage has been done, and it cannot be undone.
Normally, I would not respond to such gossip. But several good people have caught wind of the smears and have asked me for clarification. So, for them, and for any others who may be confused, I want to say a few more words about Carl’s long-past connection to Scientology. (This information is from a conversation I had with him.)
Carl was never involved in the upper management of Scientology. Indeed, he was quite removed from it. He was always in the “free-enterprise sector,” which upper management looked down on. He never worked for or with Ron Hubbard and never had any relationship with him.
Carl operated several Scientology franchises (later called “missions”), which were dedicated to teaching others what he had learned so that they, too, could live better lives. These franchises taught courses in communication, personal efficiency, and relationships, and they provided counseling (sometimes called “life repair”) to those in need. Carl saw the courses and the counseling as valuable and useful for good living, as did most of the people who participated. They traded value for value, and participants usually were happy with the exchange.
The franchises were nonprofit organizations, so the only money Carl made from them was his small salary, less than $1,000 dollars a month. Even in the 1960s and ’70s, that wasn’t much money. So he looked for ways to earn additional income on the side. And he ventured into real estate.
A friend showed him how to purchase a property with a small down payment, improve the property, and sell it at a profit. Beginning with just a few thousand dollars, Carl purchased, improved, and sold many properties over the course of several years. In the process, he earned a few million dollars. This is how he made his first substantial money. And these earnings enabled him later to acquire and improve several colleges, which is where he made more money. (Contrary to rumors, Carl is not and never was a billionaire.)
Nor was Carl ever a member of Scientology’s “Sea Organization” or on the crew of a Scientology boat. He was a paying customer on one of the boats for about two months, and he hated the experience. Although there were many decent people aboard, some of the crew and passengers were hostile to free-enterprise people such as Carl. And they were all the more hostile to him because, in addition to being one of “those free-enterprise guys,” Carl refused to conform to the religious and authoritarian aspects of Scientology.
Carl never wanted anything to do with those aspects, and he never participated in them. He got involved with the organization specifically for the self-help ideas it offered, stayed involved because he regarded many of these ideas as life enhancing, and got out when he saw the religious and authoritarian elements rising to prominence.
Reflecting on the day he first came across Scientology, he recalled a sign in the window of the organization in Melbourne, Australia. It read, “Scientology makes the able more able.” Another sign read, “Scientology is non-political and non-religious in nature.” That latter sign may sound surprising to us today, but as Carl pointed out, when Scientology began, although it had a few trappings of religion (e.g., the notion of prior lives), it was not a religious organization. In the early days, it was a set of ideas, courses, and introspective techniques intended to improve one’s communication skills, personal efficiency, and personal relationships so as to maximize one’s success in life (to make “the able more able”).
Over time, however, Hubbard chose to make Scientology a religion. Although he didn’t assert the existence of a God, he folded in, among other additions, bizarre science-fiction-like fantasies of how people came to populate Earth and notions of an afterlife, in which the soul continues to exist after it leaves the body. This is the kind of stuff of which religions are made.
Scientology today is a corrupt organization. Many of its practices are monstrous and inexcusable. But what Scientology has become is not the same as what it was initially. And Carl has nothing to do with what Scientology has become. To condemn him for evils committed by people in the organization after he left is patently unjust. It’s like condemning a 1960s Goldwater Republican for the vices of today’s GOP.
Scientology is a package deal of sorts: It has some relatively good elements and some seriously bad elements. Carl got involved (as many people have) because he accepted and embraced the part of the package that he regarded as providing useful guidance for self-improvement and business success. When he saw the other part of the package rising, he rejected it. And when he was required to embrace that part in order to stay involved, he said, “no thanks” and walked away.
There is no shame in a man having been involved in Scientology for ideas he regarded as life-enhancing. There’s no shame in having refused to embrace its religious and authoritarian aspects. And there’s no shame in having gotten out when conformity to those aspects became a condition of staying in. Indeed, all of these were—and are—acts of virtue.
Carl financially and morally has supported dozens of philosophical and intellectual organizations and thousands of educators, activists, and students in myriad ways for decades. You would be hard-pressed to find an Objectivist organization or individual who has not benefited from his benevolence and good will. (See Part One, above, for a brief indication.)
Carl deserves admiration for producing substantial wealth, and he deserves gratitude for spending his hard-earned money to advance the fundamental ideas on which human life, liberty, and happiness depend.
I hope you’ll join me in defending him, and men like him, when they are attacked.
I received a nice email from Carl Barney thanking me for speaking up about the recent smears against him, and because the email includes interesting information about the nature of such attacks, I asked his permission to share it here. He said yes—hence Part Three . . .
I’m grateful for your clarifying the record regarding my long-past involvement in Scientology. It’s reassuring that there are people such as you and others who will speak out, and I greatly appreciate you and them.
I haven’t followed anything to do with Scientology for 40 years, so I don’t know its current condition or practices, but I’ve heard that it has turned into a corrupt and reprehensible organization. It was not always so. In the early days, I got a lot of benefit from Scientology courses, as did many others. The courses in communication, personal efficiency, relationships, and counseling helped a lot of people. And many good people engaged in them. While it is embarrassing to be connected to Scientology in any way today, I do not regret and am not ashamed of anything I did while involved.
In addition to the courses, people gained value from the practice of “auditing,” which consists of asking structured questions that help a person to introspect, overcome mental blocks, and think more clearly about his life, goals and choices. Because licensing laws forbade non-licensed counselors from using the term psychotherapy, the practice was called auditing or counseling instead. But it’s really a form of psychotherapy. And initially it helped a lot of people to improve their lives. In time, however, to qualify Scientology as a religion, Hubbard added the weird science fiction stuff, and things went south.
While he incorporated Scientology as a religion in the ’50s, it was not until the ’70s that he mounted a massive campaign to provide the organization with the trappings of religion. He developed a cross (Scientology has nothing to do with Christianity), he insisted that franchises be called “missions” and that his organizations be called “churches” (rather than “organizations” or “Orgs”). He developed a series of ceremonies for weddings, funerals, etc. and called the officiants “Ministers” or “Reverends.” He even had people dress up in clerical garb. These changes were implemented primarily to gain tax-exempt status with the IRS. But they also indicated a shift in the direction of the organization that I and others opposed and that eventually became intolerable. While Scientology started out benign and thousands got benefit from it, in time it became wacky and weird, and ultimately became corrupt and vicious. As this happened, good people left in droves.
As you know, I’ve mostly ignored the defamation perpetrated against me, but it has caused harm. For instance, my romantic partner’s mother vehemently insisted that her daughter break off with me when she heard the distorted description of my past connection to Scientology. And the rumor that I’m “almost a billionaire” has caused some to ask for large sums of money. One person tried to extort millions of dollars.
I have a great many business relationships and personal engagements and, of course, the first thing people do is look me up on the Internet and social media. What they find in these attacks is a complete misrepresentation of who I am. Yet some are influenced by it or even believe it. And, of course, trolls love it and repeat the lies.
I recently read a WSJ article titled, “The Problem with Believing What We’re Told,” which discusses several studies about what people tend to believe and why. You should check it out, as it basically explains what’s going on with these attacks on me. When people make a concerted effort to destroy someone’s reputation, they use a series of credible facts as a foundation. They then build on this factual basis a web of half-truths and outright lies. They insert poison. Because the defamation begins with factual information, those reading it tend to attribute truth to the entire piece. As the authors, Dr. Gary Marcus and Annie Duke, point out, “This tendency to assume truth first and ask questions later (if ever) has become a serious problem in our era of information overload, with the rise of so many sources of information that are either unreliable or intentionally misleading.”
The simple act of repeating a lie can make it seem like truth, as the Temple University psychologist Lynn Hasher and colleagues showed in a pioneering study published in 1977. The researchers asked 40 people to rate the truthfulness of a variety of statements, some true and some false. A number of statements were repeated in multiple rounds of the exercise over time. Test subjects became more likely to believe things as they were repeated, regardless of whether they were true or false. The third time they heard a false statement, they were just as likely to believe it as a true statement that they heard once.
We are even more easily snookered when pictures are included. Participants in a 2012 study, published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, were given statements about celebrities or general knowledge. When pictures were attached, people were more likely to believe the statements, including the fake ones. . . .
Related research shows that even adding unimportant details to a statement can have a similar effect. If you add vivid language, lies can spread even more quickly. A 2017 study . . . found that the presence of moral and emotional words like “hate,” “destroy” or “blame” acted like an accelerant, increasing the chance that a message would spread by about 20% for each additional emotional word.
Another interesting finding is that “fake news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories.” The article ends by noting that “critical reflection is becoming ever more important, as malicious actors find more potent ways to use technology and social media.”
It is so easy and inexpensive for malicious people to damage someone’s reputation today. Unless good people speak up, such merchants of hate are granted sanction and believed.
I am pleased that some people are speaking up and correcting the record. So, to you and them, a heartfelt thank you.
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1. “Political Lying,” The Examiner, no. 14, November 9, 1710, https://www.bartleby.com/209/633.html.