Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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A member involved from 1971-1980 speaks out

written January 19, 2005

     I rarely think of Aesthetic Realism any more, but a friend with whom I have sporadic contact advised me of this website and the Countering the Lies website established to combat the denoucing of AR by former students.

      I fall somewhere in between. I do not hate Aesthetic Realism nor feel that it stole my life. I learned some things from consultations, from Eli Siegel and later while teaching AR myself, and these things had a good effect on my life. I was pretty screwed up when I first encountered AR and was most definitely on a downward path. Eli Siegel was a smart man, unfortunately often a victim of his own students. The constant praising and looking to curry favor with him gave the whole thing a messianic touch. Still, he and his philosophy changed my downward spiral and I can't or won't deny that.

      While good came to me from my study of AR, I am not so naive as to proclaim that AR is not a cult; it most definitely is (or "was" as the case may be). During my tenure as a student and teacher, relations with my family and people I knew pre-AR were definitely discouraged. People did not go on vacations, or if they did, it most often was in secret. I was in college when I met AR and was somewhat ambivalent about it. I most certainly was told by my [AR] teachers that I didn't need to pursue my degree because AR was the education of the future and I would have a place in history as a teacher of Eli Siegel's philosophy. I read with interest contrary assertions by present students and friends of AR and find them mildly amusing as I personally know at least half of the contributors to the Countering the Lies site and know them to either be fibbing or having a long-term memory problem. I spent much of my 9-year involvement with AR, protesting in front of the New York Times, the home of the surgeon who operated on Eli Siegel, the homes of various NY Times bigshots and generally making a pest of myself proclaiming to all who would listen (and those who didn't want to) that I was a Victim of Press. As a struggling "student" of AR, I myself was made the center of many "respect meetings" where I was torn apart by other students "for my own good." I also watched other students, less adept at hiding things - I was damn good at keeping some of my more odious opinions hidden - practically skinned alive by unhappy people looking to feel better about themselves. I also think that students of AR have to take a serious look at how they marry and divorce and remarry and divorce (most often one another). It's not cool, guys!

      While I had doubts about my long-term association with AR for a couple of years, it was the death of Eli Siegel that made clear to me that I needed to move on with my life. I could not for the life of me understand how the man who told me, my mother and father and anyone who would listen that it was our contempt for the world that was the source of our suicidal feelings, couldn't resolve that conflict in himself. It was terribly sad and unresolved among students at that time. The fact that they say differently now doesn't belie the inner angst at the time of his death.

      When I left I was definitely shunned by other students. I would meet people in the NYC streets - as I still do to this day - and they would turn the other way to avoid me, or some even made derogatory comments about me.

      My life continued to improve even after I left AR. I took some fundamental principles of AR and used them in my everyday life. That, along with about 10 years of conventional therapy, and I've got a pretty good life now.

      I'm glad to hear that AR students are finally enjoying vacations and closer relationships with their families. If they are, and they say they are, I think it's a definite PR move and a big change from the past. I'm also glad that AR has moved away from the homosexuality issue, as this is the first thing that drew me to study AR and most definitely did not change my sexuality issue, even as I tried so hard to believe it had. I'm enjoying my life as a gay man with my long-term partner and am proudly open about my homosexuality.

     So, take from this what you wish. AR has value; but it's not the end all and be all it wishes to be.

 


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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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Former members describe Aesthetic Realism


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?

 


Google picks the ads, not me;
I don't endorse the advertisers.

 

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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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave