Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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"Most of the main AR people have been stuck there for upwards of 30 years. They are scared to death their lives might be somewhat pointless."

written January 11, 2005

     I am currently an executive at a Fortune 100 company. I am embarrassed by having belonged to the Aesthetic Realism cult and I do not want my name associated with AR in any way. However, your call to those who left AR stirred me. I believe for the most part you have it right.

     By the way, I am writing this note directly into the little box you provided [on your website]. I did not prepare a statement and have an editor revise it for me. Everything published by the AR folks goes through rigorous editing. What you are reading did not...It is just stream of thoughts on this subject.

     I do think that Eli Siegel had some very valuable things to say. My argument is with what surrounded Siegel's thoughts. All the control, guilt, and manipulations. Why did we wear pins reading Victim of the Press for all those years. I used to sign my name with VOTP under it. I still have books with votp inscribed in them...YEECCH.

     First, let's (superficially) review a few of Siegel's great statements:

• beauty is the making one of opposites

This is good and certainly is worthy of critical discussion.

the reason you are affected by art is that likely it puts together opposites that you are having trouble with...

This is another wonderful idea. no denying that! And this also can be thought about long and hard.

contempt causes insanity

This is also highly insightful. Contempt causes isolation and yes possibly insanity. However, there are other possible causes of insanity (physical/chemical problems) which AR completely discounts.

the profit system is over, the triumph of goodwill

I'm afraid Siegel was not a deep enough student of economics...he wanted to believe that goodwill was more prevelant in communism than capitalism... just plain wrong.

contempt causes homosexuality

This is homosexuality as seen by a heterosexual. Not quite deep enough. Wrong.

 

So I was initially seduced into AR because these philosophic statements are worthy of investigation (even the wrong ones). However, in classes with him we did not study critically. Siegel would lecture in his crowded small apartment on Jane Street in NYC. People were then given a chance to make adoring comments. I never heard a "student" ask Siegel a deep critical question. To question Siegel would have been [considered] heresy and deeply disrespectful.

     In some ways the women surrounding Siegel encouraged him to believe he was more than human. Thus when he had a prostate operation he found himself changed physically. He felt that "the way my feet meet the ground" was changed. He caused the students to picket the doctor who performed the surgery with the aim of getting the truth. What truth? Siegel was growing old. He had major surgery. He had poor circulation and water swelled his legs. Aging can create deeply upsetting changes. However, he could not endure this change and eventually convinced himself that committing suicide was more in keeping with his self-respect. I suppose he had that right. However, this was terribly odd and painful to those of us studying at the time. Life within AR became a huge guilt trip, even more than it had been before. Those of us that didn't understand the guilt were isolated. If we didn't buy into the guilt we were challenging the ruling matriarchy.

     For the next several years a power struggle occured with various people being purged and thrown out of AR. Martha Baird, Siegel's wife, also committed suicide a year or so after Siegel. Ellen Reiss, class chairman, initially shared power with a few other women but eventually felt sure enough to push her rivals out.

     Maybe AR has changed and is more open now, but when I studied everything Adam Mali says was true. I know most of the people making statements on the "Countering the Lies" site. They are the old timers [who were there when I was] and they know quite well they are lying by telling partial truths. Maybe they really do associate with their families now but I doubt they enjoy it.

   Since Siegel's death, maybe it is easier to live a distance from the center of things. As I remember there was a class held by Siegel every day except Monday and Thursday. To fill up those days Ellen Reiss held "respect meetings" on Monday and the Terrain Gallery had presentations on Thursday and Saturday night. If you studied you were expected to participate or attend 90-95% of these events. Turning back to "respect meetings" for a second -- this is where people would be encouraged to "help" others. An example would be to tell 25 people that John saw his father for lunch and his father said something negative about Eli Siegel and John did not defend Eli Siegel adequately. Poor John then would be the subject of an onslaught of criticism to help him see his own contempt for Eli Siegel...blah blah blam. This is merely one example of the way people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line or didn't conform to accepted behavior. Other ways: significant others told to withhold sex. Whole relationships brought into question and examined by groups of people. A person's life was definitely not his own.

     I have written more than I meant to so I will stop now.

     Just a final warning. Don't believe anything the AR people say. They are a cult and most of the people have been stuck there for upwards of 30 years. They are scared to death their lives might be somewhat pointless.

 


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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