Aesthetic Realism is a cult

  Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

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"Countering the Lies":

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation strikes back!

by Michael Bluejay, former member of Aesthetic Realism • July 2009 • Updated December 2011

What they say about us:

So much for the stupid lying of Mali, Bluejay and the other liars.... Why is he doing this? Feeling himself to be a failure in his own life, and joining with others also seeking revenge for essentially the same reason--notably Adam Mali--"Michael Bluejay" seeks the triumph of making himself important by looking down upon others. He is attempting to assuage his feeling of unimportance by attacking the persons and philosophy he very well realizes best represent truth and beauty.

-- Marvin Mondlin, AR believer, on CounteringTheLies


So much for the AR philosophy of not having contempt for others! And this is sadly typical of how AR deals with its critics: by name-calling and mud-slinging.

Mondlin's statement above, and those of the other members on Countering The Lies, tells you everything you need to know about how well AR deals with differences of opinion. Critics of AR are personally attacked and publicly insulted.

So much for tolerating criticism.

(And as for whether I'm really a liar...the mountain of evidence on the website you're reading now suggests otherwise.)

[Update: The AR people have since quietly taken down the quoted bit about from Mondlin's missive on their site. But they've certainly never apologized for it. And of course all the other insults throughout their site remain intact.]

A cult never shrugs off criticism. When a cult believes its religion or philosophy is the most important thing in the world, its members equate criticism of their group as the largest evil imaginable. The Aesthetic Realists have said that the media has "blood on its hands" for not running glowing stories about AR, and that such lack of reporting is a "crime against humanity", and is just as bad as keeping food from starving people. (source)  So if merely ignoring AR is a crime against humanity, can you imagine how terrible actual criticism of the group must be?

     When a cult gets criticized, they go overboard in their reaction. It often involves screeching hysterics, insulting their critics, and calling them liars. (This actually works to the critics' benefit, because the cult people have simply demonstrated how fanatical they are in their beliefs, which was usually the critics' main point.)

     The Aesthetic Realists acted this out to the letter. In 2004 I put a single page of criticism about AR on the web. I didn't expect to write more, I simply wanted to document this weird part of my former life, and perhaps warn others away from the group. And how did the Aesthetic Realists respond?  They put up a nearly 100-page website called "Countering the Lies", full of shrieking screeds such as this one:

"So much for the stupid lying of Mali, Bluejay and the other liars.... Why is he doing this? Feeling himself to be a failure in his own life, and joining with others also seeking revenge for essentially the same reason -- notably Adam Mali -- "Michael Bluejay" seeks the triumph of making himself important by looking down upon others. He is attempting to assuage his feeling of unimportance by attacking the persons and philosophy he very well realizes best represent truth and beauty."

    I love how AR responded with their "Countering the Lies" site, because they've essentially just shown the world how fanatical and intolerant they are.  They've made our point for us.

   But they didn't stop there. I had made the mistake in my biography on my personal website of saying that I wasn't mentioning my mother's name because she's a private person and wouldn't want her name on a website. So of course as soon as the Aesthetic Realists saw that, they outed my mom on Countering the Lies, mentioning not only her by name, but also her husband's name, and revealing other personal information about them. Really classy. (Incidentally, that was the impetus for my starting this website. When the Aesthetic Realists refused to take down the personal information about my mother, I decided to fight fire with fire, spilling the beans about their whole sordid enterprise, publishing original source documents showing what they really do, inviting other former members to share their stories.)

   Of course, we've dealt with AR's charges of lying head-on:

    Now let's look at how Aesthetic Realism deals with its critics on their "Countering the Lies" site.

 

Attacking the critics, rather than their arguments

Like all cults, AR is quick to insult its critics and to try to discredit them.  I'll never forget how a reporter once asked me, "How do you respond to the Aesthetic Realists' claim that you're some sort of sexual deviant?"  That one's straight out of the Scientologists' playbook.

Aesthetic Realists actually compare their critics to critics of abolition:

"[Critics of AR] have worked to disparage this new education with pejoratives much like those directed against abolitionists by slave-owning Southerners. Their motive, in the 19th century, was to have their egos uninterfered with so they could continue to own other human beings for profit. And those who have attacked Aesthetic Realism bear a resemblance to Cato the Censor (in ancient Rome) who was known for his desire to stifle what is kind, gracious, and pleasing. And the controversy here is like that between Darwin and his detractors--that is, between new knowledge about the nature of the world and man's place in it, and the ego's desire to abolish whatever it cannot be superior to." (source)

Calling all their critics liars

According to the Aesthetic Realists', anyone critical of them is a liar.  They repeat this one so frequently it's comical.  Heck, their whole rebutall site is called, quite ironically, "Countering the Lies". 

They'll even call newspaper reporters liars, too, if a reporter writes an article that isn't fawning about AR, or if the reporter just ignores AR completely.  They called celebrated columnist Ann Landers a liar because she didn't write about the "fact" of AR's alleged gay cure.  And here's a letter to the editor one of them sent about an article that mentioned AR:

"I am writing in reference to an article in which I was misrepresented, the most recent installment of the series "The Move to America". The reporter lied about the particular lessons she saw in my classroom. First, she lied about Eli Siegel and his thought, Aesthetic Realism. From the time Eli Siegel won the Nation prize for poetry in 1925, The Lodge has been angry with him because they had something large to learn from him, but he was not one of them and would not flatter their egos. Thank God! Never in 22 years of formal schooling had I met anything like the integrity, the scholarship, the scientific rigor - the sheer truth - of Eli Siegel's thought, which is embodied in Aesthetic Realism. I gave it a workout over 14 years, and it passes any test. I am proud to be a student and a critic of Aesthetic Realism, and I resent like hell the way New York Newsday referred to Eli Siegel, to his thought and to his students. The reporter also lied about Aesthetic Realism as a teaching method, and in so doing, set herself at odds with hundreds of classes and thousands of students that give simple, powerful evidence: it works. I know something about this hatred of respect. I am furious with New York Newsday's attempt to deal such a blow to education, to decency itself. The attempt will fail. Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism have never looked truer, more enduring than they do right now, and I swear the press will not have its evil way." (Linda Ann Kunz in Newsday, Nov. 7, 1986)
And here's a compendium of the "lying" accusation from just one Aesthetic Realist, from just one source, the Discussion page for the Aesthetic Realism article on Wikipedia.

"[H]e simply says that any person who speaks against it (even if that person is deliberately lying, I might add) is giving it 'criticism'!"

"[The cult allegation] is a hideous lie."

"Because the statement made by Bluejay is a lie, it should be removed from the article."

"Bluejay says nothing of substance in his web pages--but attacks by stating misrepresentations as if they were truths. There is a word for that, and the word isn't criticism; it's lying."

"This little gang has come out with a stream of lies that would curdle vinegar."

"Meanwhile, have you ever tried to curb the spleen of your own writing?--even so far as to stick to the truth? Perhaps if you take your lies off the internet, and keep them off, Mrs. Bernstein will reconsider whether it's necessary anymore to name names." (source)

"I do wish the lying would stop, but do not at this time expect it to." (source)

"...it's only another instance of your disregard for truth..." (source)

"I submit that fictitious cybersmears do not constitute 'the other side' of the facts about Aesthetic Realism..."

"What I have said on the subject has been forced on me by the lying of four persons whose usernames are: Jonathunder, Outerlimits, CDThieme, Michaelbluejay." (source)

Another one said:

"When people like Bluejay tell lies (and whoppers to boot) I do have contempt for that." (source)

"I guess people are just supposed to let him lie and keep silent." (source)

It's funny how no one's ever called me a liar except the Aesthetic Realists.  (It's also ironic, because of course, it's the cult people who aren't telling the truth.)

Sidestepping the criticism

There's no way the Aesthetic Realists could confront their critics head-on because their arguments would look so weak, so instead they try to sidestep the criticism by pretending that it's criticism of the philosophy rather than criticism of the group.  So let's be clear: our whole point is that the Aesthetic Realism group is a cult (as one might surmise from the title of every page of this website), not that the philosophy they practice is without merit. I've said on the front page of this website for years that our criticism is about the group and not the philosophy, but the Aesthetic Realists won't acknowledge that.

(By the way, to be clear, while most of us don't disagree with the philosophy, we do disagree with some of the conclusions. For example, while most of us have no problem with the idea that contempt makes a person unhappy, we do disagree that homosexuality is a result of one having too much contempt for the world.)

Here are some examples of AR people failing to make the distinction:

"[N]one of these so-called critics ever take up [AR's] intellectual content. Don't you think that is peculiar? ... Ask them to compare Siegel to Plotinus or to Aristotle--very important comparisions, I think--and they will draw a blank. " (source)
[S]peaking against [Aesthetic Realism] (without any real knowledge of it by the way) is as ridiculous as speaking against the Salk vaccine, or poetry, or the French language, or the theory that the earth is round and not flat. (Wikipedia talk page)

They do a very good job on missing the point.  The difference between Aesthetic Realism and things like poetry, the French language, or the Salk vaccine are that those other things aren't organizations with a fanatical following.

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is a school. It is no more a cult than Princeton is, and that's the way history will see it. No amount of misquoting (as above) or plain lying can change the facts. (Wikipedia talk page)

The difference between AR and Princeton is that Princeton students don't believe that their school's founder was the greatest human being ever to walk the face of the planet, and they don't cut off relations with friends and family just because they enroll at the school.

"If the associates of Einstein were enthusiastic about his theories--did that make them a cult?" (Wikipedia talk page)

No, but if they had worshipped him and renounced their families in support of him the way AR people do, then it would be a different story.

Omitting crucial details

On this site I talk about AR's professed "cure" for homosexuality, and AR responded by saying that I'm lying, that they never professed to have any such thing.  What they're not saying is that they're playing a technicality:  They simply never used the word "cure", although that's exactly what they described.  Heck, lots of others referred to AR's gay-change program as a "cure", including the NY Times, although Aesthetic Realists were careful to never use that word themselves.  It's like a racist website I visited once when it was in the news, where their FAQ said something like:
Q: Are you racist?
A: No, not at all!  We simply believe that all races should be segregated for purposes of ethnic purity.  But we're not racist or anything.
The Aesthetic Realists are simply playing that same game.  Fortunately another former member has written a veritable tome debunking the Aesthetic Realists' obfuscations in detail.

The reader will also note that I provide tons of original source documents on this site. You know the old saying, "Give 'em enough rope...." Here's AR in their own words:


Is Aesthetic Realism a cult or not?

Ultimately, it's up to the reader to decide who's telling the truth.  Fortunately I think the case is overwhelming, and here's why.
  • Aesthetic Realsim has been considered a cult for decades.  Here's proof that they were considered a cult as early as 1962, long before I was even born.
  • New York Magazine called them "a cult of messianic nothingness", Harper's called them "the Moonies of poetry", the New York Times said one of their books was "less a book than a collection of pietistic snippets by Believers", and the list goes on and on.
  • Cult experts like Steve Hassan, probably the best known authority on mind control cults, said "I think that [Siegel, AR's founder] was a cult leader, and that like many other cult leaders, he had a narcissistic personality and was a control freak."
  • Tons of former members tell pretty much the same kind of story about life inside the group.
  • Most people who have joined up with AR have later left -- and they haven't gone back.
  • A look at AR in their own words demonstrates their fanatacism.  Check out their double-page ad in the NY Times, their session of trying to "cure" a student of his homosexuality, and the transcript of a secret internal meeting.
  • AR's defenses can be proven false. They said they never had a cure for homosexuality. The evidence shows otherwise. They said Eli Siegel didn't kill himself. The evidence shows otherwise. They said I was only 2 years old when my family stopped studying AR. No, I was a teenager, and here's a picture of me in AR company wearing my AR button when I was 12.
  • Cult members never realize they're part of a cult -- until they leave. Current members are perhaps not the best unbiased source as to whether a group is a cult or not. Nor are former members who left only because they were forced out and not allowed to continue their study.
  • I prefer you get both sides of the story. By all means, visit AR's Countering the Lies and read the vitriol they spew about former members who have dared to speak out. The hysteria displayed there answers the whole cult question nicely. By contrast, they won't link to this site, even though their site is devoted to rebutting this one. It's funny, people who stumble across their site are supposed to believe the rebuttals without ever seeing what's supposedly being rebutted.
  • The Aesthetic Realists won't debate. I've had an open offer to debate them for years, but they won't accept.  They scream up and down the street that I and the other former members are "lying", but they make their charges only behind the cover of the Internet.  They're apparently too scared to make their case publicly.  I'm not.

In the end, it's up to the reader to decide. I'm confident in the arguments and evidence presented here.

Share your Aesthetic Realism story!

If you did time in AR, had or have a friend or relative in AR, or had some other run-in with the group, I hope you'll share your story on this site. If you'd like to write something that you don't want to appear on this site, then please write directly to my email address instead.

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Aesthetic Realism at a Glance

Name

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation

Founded

1941

Founder

Eli Siegel, poet and art/literary critic.
Committed suicide in 1978

Purpose

To get the world to realize that Eli Siegel was the greatest person who ever lived, and that Aesthetic Realism is the most important knowledge, ever.


Philosophy

The key to all social ills is for people to learn to like the world. Having contempt for the world leads to unhappiness and even insanity. (Their slogan is "Contempt causes insanity".) For example, homosexuality is a form of insanity caused by not liking the world sufficiently.

Also teaches that "beauty is the making one of opposites".

Location

New York City (SoHo)


Membership

About 106 (33 teachers, 44 training to be teachers, and 29 regular students). Has failed to grow appreciably even after 70 years of existence, and is currently shrinking.

All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers. Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".

Method of study

Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student).


Cult aspects

  • Fanatical devotion to their leader/founder
  • Belief that they have the one true answer to universal happiness
  • Ultimate purpose is to recruit new members
  • Feeling that they are being persecuted
  • Wild, paranoid reactions to criticism
  • Non-communication (or at least very limited communication) with those who have left the group
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...

 


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Open offer to debate

Since 2005 I've had an open offer to debate the Aesthetic Realists publicly in a formal format at any time to defend what I've said on this site, and to answer their own charges against me. But the AR people won't do it. Their excuse is, "He's not worth debating." But if that's true, then why did they put up a ninety-six page website to try to snipe at me and to try to rebut what I'm saying? I think the answer is that they're content to hide behind the cover of the Internet, but they know how bad they'd look in a live format where anyone actually got to ask any pointed questions.

You know what's really funny? Someone went to one of their public presentations, said he'd seen this site, and asked about the cult allegations. The AR person said, "It's very easy to say crap like that on the Internet and never have to be challenged." Oh, the irony is killing me!

Anyway, Aesthetic Realists, as for a public debate, I'm ready when you are. And to everyone else, when the AR people won't stand behind what they're saying, why should anyone take what they say seriously?

 


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