Work in Progress: What are the Big Questions?


“Work in Progress” notes are ones where I’m reaching out to the community (that means you) for perspective, research and thoughts that will become part of the “official” published work.  In other words, this is your chance to get caught up in the adventure of predicting the future of Scientology, and figuring out how we can help bring that about.

This note introduces the list of “big questions,” the issues that have the most bearing in understanding where the cult is headed, how fast it will get there, and how we can help it along.  The questions here are the topics for the major research projects that we will set ourselves over the next few months.  The answers to these questions will probably change over time, so we’ll need to revisit each of them periodically and re-examine our conclusions in the light of new information.  But the first step on the intellectual adventure is to identify the most important questions.

The Role of the Big Question

When we in Global Capitalism HQ are trying to evaluate stocks to invest in, there’s an ocean of financial data that we have to consider.   Every single quarter, we look at a couple of hundred different numbers for each company in our portfolio.

It turns out that very few of those numbers actually matter at any given point in time.  We note that Microsoft currently owns $1.15 billion in mortgage-backed securities, a tiny sliver of its vast cash hoard.  That number has no bearing on its stock price, but there’s always an outside chance that it could.  If Management suddenly decided to roll, say, $35 billion of the $66 billion in US government debt it owns into mortgage-backed securities, we would certainly try to figure out why, because it would tell us whether they were smarter than we thought, or if they were putting a huge chunk of money to work in a risky investment, causing us to worry about a whole bunch of things, not the least of which is that management went collectively insane without our noticing.

In the case of Microsoft, the potential for the stock to go up can be determined by the answers to a small number of questions. Part of the job of an analyst is to figure out what investors are concerned about and answer those questions really, really well.  In the case of the software giant, the questions are things like:  Will management raise the dividend?  who will be the new CEO after Steve Ballmer retires next year?  When are they going to stop losing money on their Internet search engine? How will they fix the disastrous Windows 8 user interface and make their customers happy?  There are a couple others, but you get the picture.  If I can answer these questions better than my competitors, and especially if I can see when the answers to those questions might change, I will make enough money to justify my exorbitant salary.

The Current List of Big Questions

In the case of Scientology, here is my first stab at the list of big questions that would help us figure out what might happen next. From there, we can figure out what trends work in our favor, and how to blunt the cult’s strengths that we may find.  Each big question leads directly to a number of smaller questions that bear answering as well.

  • Membership count:  How big is the cult today in terms of both “public” and staff?  What is the likely rate of membership decline?  What is the cult doing to increase members?  Is disconnection an effective way of stemming the membership decline?  How many people still in the cult are “under the radar,” pretending to do Scientology, but only hanging in to avoid family or business consequences of disconnection?
  • Financial momentum: What are the cult’s sales and profits currently, and what is the trend?  What is the cult’s financial strength (mostly, the size of reserves)?  What are the effects of recent developments in the business, such as the major changes to the events business that could arise over the next year?  What could cause the financial picture to change rapidly over a reasonably short period of time?
  • New member recruitment: What is the cult’s strategy, if any, to bring “fresh meat” in the door? Just because its strategy is not working doesn’t mean they don’t have one.  It’s easy to believe, given Miscavige’s apparent long-term myopia that they don’t have one, but it’s much wiser to presume that there’s a strategy.  That way, if the cult does start to see growth in new members, we can formulate ideas of how to oppose that.
  • How much do Narconon and other ABLE businesses contribute? What is the current status and the future of the entire constellation of ABLE-related entities, including Narconon?  What is the financial impact to the cult?  What is likely to affect the fortunes of these businesses?  What percentage of recruitment of new members or new employees for the cult does Narconon comprise?  Is the business small enough that the cult could shutter it if legal issues continue to climb?  Or will the cult hang on because it is the only viable source of “fresh meat?”
  • International momentum: What is the current state of Scientology in key countries, especially outside the US?  Understanding this will allow us to determine whether the cult is retreating in reality, even if they continue to open new Ideal Orgs, such as the one announced recently in Buenos Aires.  Given the news in South Africa this week,
  • David Miscavige’s mental state: Is David Miscavige’s behavior rational?  Is it possible to develop a predictive model to estimate what Miscavige will do in a particular set of circumstances?  Colloquially, people say Miscavige is crazy.  It’s irrelevant whether he has a mental illness or even a diagnosable personality disorder.  What matters is whether there is a consistent model to assess what his likely responses are to situations. That way, if Miscavige suddenly starts behaving differently, it could be an important harbinger of change within the cult.
  • The king is dead; long live the king! What would happen if Miscavige were suddenly no longer the head of Scientology?  Would the organization simply shutter its doors?  Would a worthy successor be found? Or would the successor be so cowed and inept that the organization would implode slowly in an absurd soap opera?

How You Can Help

You can help by contributing your perspective.  What other questions should be on the list? Why are those important to understanding the cult and what can answering these questions help us decide?  Which of these questions don’t belong?  And for any of that, please help me understand why you think the way you do.  I promise I’m open to being convinced.

And of course, if you have any thoughts on data points that would help answer any of the numbers questions, or some valuable perspective that you haven’t seen anyone else understand, then this is the place.

I’ll produce a final “Predicting the Future: The Big Questions” document after the discussion here has settled down. Thanks in advance for your help!

Author: John P.

John P. is a Wall Street money manager and IT technologist fascinated by irrationality in all its forms, and Scientology most of all. He's a lifelong Steely Dan fan.