Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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A former member describes the mind-control aspects of Aesthetic Realism

written by a former AR student, Dec. 16, 2000
originally published on Steve Hassan's
Freedom of Mind
reprinted here with permission of the author

“It is not so much the philosophy itself that I find fault with; rather, it is the fact that they are a mind-control cult.”

I am writing to share my views on the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel. It is not so much the philosophy itself that I find fault with; rather, it is the fact that they are a mind-control cult. I "studied" with these people for several years, and while I learned much that was useful, I was always wary of their worship and adoration of Eli Siegel (which Siegel himself demanded while he was alive). Siegel and his followers claim that Aesthetic Realism is so "beautiful" that one should "respect and be grateful to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism without limit". This is a dangerous concept, for it can mean anything they want it to, and can be used to justify anything in the name of "justice to Eli Siegel". The main purpose of this phrase is to get people to give up their individuality and devote themselves exclusively to the worship of Siegel. The members and "students" are all encouraged to speak and write in exactly the same way. If you read the various articles and testimonials on their website or in their publication ("TRO"), you will quickly see what I mean. They all sound as if they had been written by the same person. They all include statements of "profound respect", "deepest gratitude", etc. In effect, they are all testaments to the "greatness" of Siegel, and the relative insignificance of the author.

In addition, they try to instill a sense of "deep regret" (read: "guilt trip") in everyone because of the way they "met Aesthetic Realism". In other words, upon first learning about Aesthetic Realism, a person is supposed to

“Upon first learning about Aesthetic Realism, a person is supposed to instantly know that it is 'true', 'more beautiful than anything in the world', and be instantly 'grateful without limit'.”

instantly know that it is "true", "more beautiful than anything in the world", and be instantly "grateful without limit"; if one has any doubts, or simply doesn't understand something, then one is having "unjust contempt", and one must regret this for the rest of one's life in order to "be completely fair to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism". Of course, this is just another mind-control technique. I'm glad to say that I never bought into this, and refused to express feelings I did not have.

They claim to be about ethics and not politics, but in fact they are rabid left-wing extremists, completely blinded to the injustices and human rights violations of communist (or other anti-American) dictatorships, but always eager to rail against the actions of our government. They are highly critical of the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the West's intervention in Kosovo, but have never once criticized the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Tienanmen Square Massacre, or the murderous ethnic cleansing of Milosevic. They claim that Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was justified, because the world's resources should belong to all the people (I guess Saddam was going to share all the

“[They] never admitted they had been wrong. Then again, they never admit to being wrong about anything.”

Kuwaiti oil with all of us, out of the goodness of his heart). I was "studying" with them when communism collapsed in Europe; just a few months before that happened, they were writing in TRO about how happy the people of Eastern Europe were with their economic system. After these happy people overthrew their wonderful system, Aesthetic Realism never admitted they had been wrong. Then again, they never admit to being wrong about anything.

I could write much more, but I think I've gotten my main points across. In conclusion, I would like to say that I think Siegel saw some things about human psychology that would be valuable additions to that field; however, by demanding to be worshipped and robbing people of their individuality, he only managed to render himself, and therefore his knowledge, highly suspect and ultimately useless. He may well have started out with good intentions, but ended up just another egomaniac. We should welcome all contributions to the knowledge of mankind, but if we should worship anything, it is the Source of that knowledge, and not the people who are able to perceive certain bits of it. Siegel himself said that all men are equal; too bad he felt this didn't apply to him.

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Former members describe Aesthetic Realism

Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The Aesthetic Realism Foundation




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


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.


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".


New York City (SoHo)


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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What former members say...

They reeled me in like a brook trout... Guilt was introduced into the experience. They told me I was "not showing respect for this great education I was receiving" by [not getting more involved].

If there is anything the Aesthetic Realists are good at, it is convincing people that if they think they see anything wrong with Siegel, AR, Reiss or how the organization is run, there is really something wrong with them. Any time I began to question things or think I saw something amiss, I had been programmed to think that what it really meant was that something was terribly wrong with me.

My new AR friends were starting to apply the hard sell a bit more so the word "cult" did come to mind , but I naïvely believed that it couldn't be a cult because it wasn't religious in nature.

They get you to actually control yourself. A lot of people's lives have been hurt --ruined.

So, there was Eli Siegel, who came up with all these rules, but to whom none of the rules applied, and there was everybody else.

[Eli Siegel] was a hurtful person. He was a sociopath. He was a control freak, and he was a cult leader.

Poor John then would be the subject of an onslaught of criticism to help him see his own contempt for Eli Siegel.... 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.

We all had to present ourselves as essentially miserable failures whose lives were in shambles until we found the glorious "answers to all our questions" in AR.

It was very difficult for me to surrender to AR in the total fashion they seemed to want.

I received a call from one of the AR bigwigs asking me to donate money to the foundation.  When I told him I was low on cash I received a considerable verbal drubbing.

I consider my "study" of Aesthetic Realism to be one of the factors that led to the eventual breakup of my marriage, to my eternal sorrow.

I felt a bit raped psychologically.... if you are thinking of getting into the AR consultation process, realize that they could end it all suddenly, and that you could find your most intimate thoughts on tape in someone else's possession.

They flatter you to death and tell you that you're so wonderful, and you have all these qualities that others have never seen. And then there's this horrible criticizing.

That's when I finally knew for sure: AESTHETIC REALISM IS A CULT.  I swore on that moment that if I was ever given the opportunity to tell the world what these people did to me, I would.

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.

[New AR students] would be shocked if they knew that the lives of the people they are supposed to learn from are very different from the principles they are taught in consultations. Even though publicly the AR foundation preaches respect for people and like of the world, inside the organization the message is very different. The underlying feeling is, "People who do not study AR are inferior to us, and the world is our enemy, out to get us." We had contempt for outsiders and were scared of the world. We huddled together for safety, secure in our sense of superiority.

When I was studying, we were allowed to associate with our families only if they continuously demonstrated that they were grateful to and respectful of Eli Siegel and AR. This did not include going to visit them if they lived far away because then we would have had to miss classes, and that would have meant we were "making our family more important than AR."

Some of the students I remember going at most intensely and viciously to stop them from associating with their families, (and whom we succeeded in stopping for many, many years), are people who are now bragging on the AR website about how great their relationships with their families are and writing as though that was always the case.

There were even instances of students refusing to visit their parents when one of them was dying because the parents did not "express regret" and renounce their unfairness to Eli Siegel and AR. There were parents who literally begged their son or daughter to relent so they could see them one more time, but the child refused. The parent died without ever seeing their child again. Far from being criticized for such behavior, students who went this far were seen as heroes in AR. They received public praise from Ellen Reiss.

While I was in AR, I did believe that Eli Siegel was greater than Christ.... It would have been accurate to say I worshipped him.

People were told that if their families did not support aesthetic realism, they were not their families.

Some of the people with statements on the Countering the Lies website claiming that AR students do not shun former students have actually passed me on the street, looked straight at me, and pretended they were seeing right through me. This includes people in the highest positions in the organization.

More and more the AR zombies demanded that I express gratitude to ES and AR. Every paper that a student wrote had to end with the obligatory "I am so grateful to ES and AR for..." along with "I deeply regret that I have met this great knowledge with contempt..."

Eli Siegel was an evil person. And I don't use the word evil lightly.

See former members' statements in their entirety



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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave