Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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Born and Raised in Aesthetic Realism

    by Ann Stamler, MA, MPhil • April 2012
    Originally published in ICSA Today (Vol. 2, No. 3), the magazine of the International Cultic Studies Association • Reprinted with permission

“Leaving, however, was only the first challenge...”

Aesthetic Realism revolved around founder Eli Siegel (1902-1978), a figure at the heart of the Greenwich Village scene in the mid-twentieth century.  My father began studying poetry with Siegel in 1941, my mother by 1943.  In his Greenwich Village studio at that time, Siegel was teaching mostly artists and writers what he thought made art successful and how art could help people in their lives.  Those teachings became the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, which he continued to teach in Greenwich Village until his death, on 1978.

My mother founded an art gallery in the Village in 1955 to promote Siegel's work and helped start the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in Soho in 1974.  My parents and I were among the first people Eli Siegel authorized to teach Aesthetic Realism, in the 1970s.  I finally left in 1985, at age 41.

The philosophy, as I learned it growing up and as it is described today on the group's web site1, is based on three principles:

  1. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.
  2. The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world.
  3. All beauty is the making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.

Black/White Thinking

On its surface, Aesthetic Realism appears benign.  Its teachings are humanistic, reflecting Siegel's wide knowledge.  For years after I had left the movement, I thought if only Siegel's teachings were freed from the possessive adoration of his followers, Aesthetic Realism might be recognized as useful knowledge.

I no longer believe the philosophy is benign.  There is a fundamentalism, a black/white thinking in Aesthetic Realism, that promotes distortion.  I believe the seeds of behavior that critics and ex-members have perceived as cultic2 are in the philosophy.

And I believe that Siegel used his philosophy to serve a consuming need to be praised.  Siegel said, and we agreed, that his philosophy was the most important truth, answering the problems of man, and that he was completely honest and beautiful; therefore, people's happiness in life depended on their attitude toward him.

My purpose in this paper is twofold:  first, to tell how elements of this environment, particularly the demand for conformity to one man's beliefs and the insistence that people devote their lives to praising him, impacted my life; and second, to explain how I was finally able to break free.

I am not familiar with the group's current functioning; however, during the years I was there, Aesthetic Realism was an outwardly benign, culturally dressed group that inwardly could mangle people's minds.  Although Aesthetic Realism may not have demonstrated all of the features commonly associated with the term cult, it was a high demand environment that tended to subordinate, at least in my case, the identity, goals, behavior, and autonomy of the individual to the vision and psychological needs of the leader.

I'm lucky.  I escaped this dominating environment because somehow my critical voice wouldn't die.  Leaving, however, was only the first challenge.  The mental damage done by a dogma whose manipulations are so well disguised can be especially difficult to understand and undo.  I still struggle with all the garbage imposed on my mind over 41 years, with "inherited" views and limitations that cause me to hesitate or stumble more than twenty-five years after I left.  I hope my story will help others who have been victims of deceptively benign organizations.

"Siegel became enraged because people were not sufficiently grateful to him and didn't tell the rest of the world how important he was.  He believed The New York Times refused to write about him because reporters and editors didn't want to learn from him.  He believed the art world boycotted him because he explained beauty and they could not.  He believed what he taught could end war, racism, poverty, and crime, and that he was singled out for hatred because he knew more than the authorities in every field."

A Child's Story

When I was born in 1944, my father was on a troop carrier off Normandy.  I first saw him when he returned from Europe in 1945.  Before he came home to my mother and me, I was told, he went to visit Eli Siegel.  For the next 10 years, we lived in different group homes with other "students," until we settled in a brownstone in Greenwich Village within walking distance from Siegel's studio.  Here, I lived with my parents and 10 other adults.

I remember from the earliest time that Eli Siegel was like two people.  When he talked to me and to my parents in what were called "Sessions," he could by funny and charming.  I admired his ideals.  He said we couldn't live with ourselves if we didn't care about other people.  Even when I was very young, I heard him talk about literature, history, politics; and he talked to me as if he really expected me to understand.  This was one Eli Siegel.

The other became enraged because people were not sufficiently grateful to him and didn't tell the rest of the world how important he was.  He believed The New York Times refused to rite about him because reporters and editors didn't want to learn from him.  He believed the art world boycotted him because he explained beauty and they could not.  He believed what he taught could end war, racism, poverty, and crime, and that he was singled out for hatred because he knew more than the authorities in every field.

We would sit, thirty or so people, listening to him tell us how much good he had done in our lives, and how we would never be happy until we acknowledged to the entire world our debt of gratitude to him.  I would sit as far to the back of the room as possible, tears of shame running down my face, bending my head down behind the person in front of me so I wouldn't be called on to speak, and vowing inwardly to be "honest" from now on.

In 1955, my mother started an art gallery because she thought the art world should know what Siegel said about beauty.  This gallery became central in our lives.  That same year, I started seventh grade at Hunter High School in Manhattan.  I enjoyed the demands Hunter made on me, and I made friends.  My best friend and I would talk on the telephone every night, letting the receiver hang while we each went to supper, and then returning to pick up where we had left off.

I did not know then how attractively Bohemian my life looked to my schoolmates.  I envied them.  They had busy homes, visited relatives, traveled—and they did not have to go to sessions and hear criticism of their contempt.  Siegel said I was a snob, using my intellectual Hunter girlfriends against him.  If I was honest, he said, I would be telling my friends about him.

While I was in high school, Siegel started a poetry class for young people in Aesthetic Realism.  I brought my Hunter friend, who enjoyed the meetings until she felt pressured to become an advocate for Eli Siegel.

Close as we were, she could not do this.  We had shared first dates, first drinks, first cigarettes, first romantic involvements.  We had ridden the subway to and from school together for almost five years.  Now, I told her if she did not agree with Aesthetic Realism, I couldn't ride the subway with her.  We broke up.

Outward Success, Inward Failure

By the time I started college, I had become zealous on behalf of Eli Siegel.  I was an honor student, and I used my straight-A average as an advertisement for what Aesthetic Realism could do.  Teachers wrote me flattering notes, and I was interviewed by newspapers.  Siegel held me up as an example, saying I had compared him to my professors and he came out ahead.  Secretly, I envied the life of other students, even the pain they experienced dating, smoking pot, leaving their homes—at least they were free.

I was also in a constant tension with my teachers.  No essay I wrote was just about history, or Galileo, or Moliere; the upshot of my papers was always Eli Siegel explains this, and therefore his work is most important of all.

I graduated from Brooklyn College near the top of a class of several thousand, with a full major in French and another in Latin, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with prizes in classics and French.  Although I received offers from graduate programs out of state, I needed to remain near Aesthetic Realism, so I applied for and received a graduate fellowship in classics at Columbia University.

That summer, I felt growing excitement at the prospect of graduate school.  I envisioned myself in those grand old buildings, talking with people about ancient literature, studying the Latin poetry I loved.

Eli Siegel told me I was using Columbia University to feel superior to him.  I became anxious, and took to my bed.  I cried for hours.  I would not talk to anyone.  Only my mother's coaxing and finally a telephone call from Mr. Siegel got me back in circulation.  I went to graduate school, by my grades fell, I was ill at ease on campus, and ultimately, although I earned a master's degree and completed all the exams for a PhD, I gave up academics to teach Aesthetic Realism.

"There was no such thing as privacy; husband would tell on wife, mother on child, friend on friend.  And no subject—dreams, sex, career, eating habits, casual conversations—was exempt."

Siegel became increasingly obsessed with how unfairly he was treated.  He said people resented him because he was such a force for beauty, and completely honest and incorruptible, and because he was a threat to our desire for contempt.  There was no room for criticism, no ethical ambiguity; either you wanted to respect him, or you were a slave to contempt.

He conducted classes three nights a week: two on some cultural subject, and one about the ethics of people in the room.  It was here that a new procedure began.  People began to tell on each other.  Siegel would talk to person A, and person B would pass a written note about something person A had done.  There was no such thing as privacy; husband would tell on wife, mother on child, friend on friend.  And no subject—dreams, sex, career, eating habits, casual conversations—was exempt.  In 1974, my mother persuaded Siegel to let his followers buy a building in Soho to start an Aesthetic Realism school, and the Aesthetic Realism Foundation began.  By this time, being fair to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism was a holy grail, always sought, never attained.  I was in a leadership role.  I directed public programs, wrote papers, and helped other people write them; I helped prepare the application to become a nonprofit foundation.  I was admired because I had studied so many years with Eli Siegel, but I rarely lived up to the person everyone expected me to be.  We had to adopt a set of attitudes—to the press, our family, other students, replete with language we were expected to use.  Even when I used the right world, I did not convince myself; and I was in constant expectation of the criticism, which always came.

Finally, I Walked Out

Around 1977, Siegel developed a prostate condition.  He refused medical treatment.  When he finally went for surgery, it was not successful.  In the months leading up to his death, he lived in the home of one of his students.  I was among the people who helped take care of him.

During this time, a few individuals rose to new positions of power in the organization.  These were people Siegel had praised for their ethics.  But I saw them doing things that Siegel had not done, such as telling people whom to marry and where to live.

Another circle of people acted as enforcers for this leadership.  I was part of this.  I, too, thought I knew what was right for people better than they did themselves.  Meanwhile, I heard the same people Siegel had praised talking scornfully about him, and about other people.  In public, they functioned as ethical monitors.  In private, they seemed to me power hungry and cruel.

Also during this time, a female follower talked about being physically close to Siegel for many years, and claimed Siegel's wife and the woman's husband knew of the arrangement and allowed it to go on.  I began to feel there was something crazy going on, although I could not say this to anyone except my mother, who confessed she agreed with me.

Following Siegel's death, the new leadership accused my mother of ethical and financial impropriety and forced her out as the Foundation's director.  My mother had sacrificed her painting career because the art critics who praised her would not accept her praise of Siegel.  I had watched her all the years I grew up, trying to measure up to Siegel's ethical criteria, and internalizing his criticism to the point where she felt she was responsible for his suffering.  Now she was accused of sabotaging his work.

The situation, as much as anything else, drove me away from Aesthetic Realism.  I resigned as an officer of the Foundation and took a temporary typing job at a nonprofit Jewish agency.  For the first time as a mature adult, I was functioning in the outside world.  I met people who seemed to value me, not because I spread the world about Aesthetic Realism at Brooklyn College and Columbia University, or because I was one of the first people to teach the philosophy, but just because I was me.

I began to lead a double life.  By day, at my job, I advanced rapidly in position and salary.  By night, in a class full of people at the Foundation, I heard excoriating criticism:  I was a bad seed; I wanted to murder Aesthetic Realism.  Outside, I began having adult relationships with men.  Inside, people cautioned men to stay away from me because I was unethical.  Finally, I walked out.

Coincidentally, I and a man I had briefly dated [in AR], but who had been told to stay away from me because I was a bad influence, left the same day.  A few days later, he called me; we began dating again and soon married.  We have remained happily married since 1987.

My father remained in the group until his death.  I do not believe my mother, after 70 years, can leave.  Because I left, my parents cut me off.  The exception was in 1998 when critical statements I made about Aesthetic Realism were quoted in an article in The New York Post, and I received a five-page vitriolic letter, most likely written in committee, but over my parents' signatures.  The letter compared me to Brutus assassinating Julius Caesar, and to Benedict Arnold.  Today, if I pass former colleagues on the street, they look past me as if I do not exist.

Recognizing Myself as an SGA

While still in the movement, I had been uncomfortable with the inside-versus-outside mentality, with the rhetorical praise of Siegel, and with the frequently uncritical agreement with his ideas.  People who had never read Hegel or Aristotle called Aesthetic Realism the greatest thought of all time.  Although I opposed anyone who called Aesthetic Realism a cult, I had to agree inwardly that much of our behavior justified the word.  I just didn't have the courage to say what I thought until I was circulating in the real world.

When I began discussing this issue with my husband, he encouraged me to visit the Cult Hotline & Clinic in New York City.  However, I voted to stay away from cult-recovery work because I didn't want to be anywhere near a group of any kind, and certainly not one that I feared would share the evangelical spirit I now scorned.

Then, as I approached my fiftieth birthday, I felt something was holding my life back.  Ten years after leaving Aesthetic Realism, I began to work with a therapist trained in cult-recovery work, and I learned about the parallels between Aesthetic Realism and other high-demand groups.  I began to understand what the dynamic of my upbringing had in common with all families, which was extremely beneficial.  I previously thought everything about my experience was unique.  Through therapy, I felt less different from other people.

Yes, as much as cult educators understood, I felt there was something in my experience they could not grasp.  There was a wound that would not heal.  I thought it was a weakness in me, something to be ashamed of not overcoming; and so I hardly ever talked about it, even to people who had left my own movement.

Then, in 2006, when I was almost sixty-two, I accepted an invitation to attend the first ICSA workshop for second generation adult ex-cult members (SGAs).  That experience turned me 180 degrees.

When you choose to join a group, there is experience prior to joining that is part of your mental and emotional makeup.  There is something, no matter how deeply buried, to compare the group to; and there are usually friends and family in the "outside" world.  When you are born into a group, there is no other experience.  You are totally invaded and violated, without even an unconscious memory of being your own self.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ann Stamler, MA, MPhil, graduated from Brooklyn College summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1965, and earned graduate degrees in Latin from Columbia University.  She was in the Aesthetic Realism movement from birth until she left at age 41, in 1985.  In 1987 she married Joseph Stamler, whom she had first met in Aesthetic realism.  From 1985-2006 she was a senior executive of a nonprofit agency in New York that worked with the labor movements in the U.S. and Israel.  She has served on the boards of various civic and cultural organizations.  In 2007 she was elected to the legislative body of her town in Connecticut, a position she continues to hold.  In 2011 she retired from her job as a senior administrator at a new Jewish high school in Connecticut to devote her time to local government and her volunteer work with ICSA.  She is Ex-Member Editor of ICSA Today.

Meeting others who shared the second generation experience was life changing.  When I walked into that room filled with people who shared that specific experience—being born to parents who already belonged to a movement, never knowing anything other than that environment from day one—I felt a connection.  I had not felt anywhere before, and a bond with those people I will never lose.  Others may grasp intellectually what occurred, but there is an emotional level only one who has shared the experience understands.  A door opened.  It was a beginning point for trust, for opening up inner areas of myself, to myself, and also, however slowly, to the outside world.

My involvement with ICSA, attending conferences and workshops, and as an editor for ICSA Today, is a way to add to people's understanding of the dynamics of high demand groups, and to turn my painful experience into something of value to the world.

Note:  Ann's story forms the basis of the final chapter in Nori Muster's Child of the Cult, a collection of studies of Second Generation Adults.




1 AestheticRealism.org

2 NewYorkCult.com for former member statements, as well as articles including "Monumental Man" by Melissa Goldman, Jewish Times, Baltimore, August 22, 2003, and "Foes Accuse Teachers of 'Cult'", by Susan Edelman and Maria Alvarez, New York Post, February 1, 1998.


 

What's on this site

Cult Aspects

What is Aesthetic Realism?
An explanation about both the AR philosophy and the group that promotes it.

Cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism
Fanatical devotion to the leader, cutting off relations with families who aren't also believers -- it's all here.

AR and Homosexuality
The AR group used to try to "cure" people of being gay. They stopped that in 1990 because high-profile success cases kept deciding they were gay after all and leaving. AR has never said their gay-changing attempts were wrong.

AR's founder killed himself
AR's founder Eli Siegel killed himself, but the AR people have been trying to hide that fact. They can't hide any more, since enough former students have come forward to confirm the truth.

Attempts to recruit schoolchildren
Some AR members are public schoolteachers, and yep, they do try to recruit in the classroom.

How cults recruit new members.
Explains how a rational person can unwittingly get sucked into a cult group.

Mind control tricks
This article explains AR's use of Directed Origination, a classic tool for brainwashing. Also see the article where someone infiltrated the group to learn about their mind control methods.

Five reasons you can't trust an Aesthetic Realist
One reason is that most people who were in AR eventually woke up and got out. See more about this, plus four other reasons.

Lies Aesthetic Realists tell
They say they never saw homosexuality as something to cure. They say the leader didn't kill himself. They say my family left the group when I was an infant. These and more are debunked here.

Hypocrisy of the Aesthetic Realists
It takes some serious brainwashing for the members to not realize that they're guilty of what they accuse others of.

Aesthetic Realism glossary
We explain the real meanings behind the loaded language that AR people use.

AR in their own words

Actual AR advertisment
The AR people spent a third of a million dollars for a double-page ad in the NY Times to tell the world that the press' refusal to cover AR is just as wrong as letting hungry people starve to death.

Ad for the gay cure
AR bought huge ads in major newspapers to trumpet their ability to "fix" gays.

Actual letters from AR people
When a theater critic casually dissed Aesthetic Realism in New York magazine, the AR people responded with hundreds of angry letters, calling the article "a crime against humanity".

Actual internal meeting
The AR people blunderingly made a tape recording of a secret meeting they had, where they lambasted a member who had supposedly been "cured" of his gayness, but then found to still be cruising for gay sex. Their screeching hostility towards him is matched only by their fear that the secret will get out.

Actual AR consultation
For the first time the public can see what really happens in an Aesthetic Realism "consultation" (thanks to a former member sharing his tape with us). In the session the AR counselors tried to help the member not be gay, explaining that the path to ex-gayness was to express deep gratitude to AR and its founder.

Actual AR lesson
I had a lesson with the cult leader, Eli Siegel, when I was two years old, which, like everything else, they made a tape of. The highlight is Siegel taunting me with "Cry some more, Michael, cry some more!"

Ad in the Village Voice from 1962
The AR folks try to deny that they're a cult in this ancient ad -- showing that people were calling them a cult as far back as 1962!

AR responds to this website
The AR people have tried to rebut this website with their own site called Countering the Lies, whose title ought to win some kind of award for irony. Here we explain the story behind that site.

What former members say

Aesthetic Realism exposed
The ultimate statement by a former member, who was involved for well over a decade.

A tale of getting sucked in.
This former member describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved.

Growing up in a cult. An ex-member who was born into AR tells what it was like growing up in the group, and how she got out.

Aesthetic Realism ruined his marriage. "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."

On having all the answers. A former member explains how AR members think they have all the answers, and feel qualified to lecture others about how they should view personal tragedy.

Kicked out for remaining gay. Former students describe how they were kicked out of AR because they couldn't change from homosexuality. Ron Schmidt and Miss Brown.

"Leaving, however was only the first challenge.". One of the original teachers of Aesthetic Realism explains the cultic environment inside the group, and how she got out.

"If I disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor." A former member tells how AR try to change him from being gay, and convinced him not to spend Christmas with his family.

"...people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line...". The experiences shared with us by a member from 1974-80, now a Fortune 100 executive.

"I want Ellen Reiss questioned!" This former member wonders why there hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.

They took his consultation tape. Describes how the AR people kept his consultation tape with his most intimate thoughts on it, and told him he couldn't study any more unless he incorporated AR more radically into his life.

"There isn't any question: Eli Siegel killed himself."
A former member who had sought AR's "gay cure" explains how the group's leaders admitted that the founder took his own life.

Confirms all the criticism. A former member from 1971-80, confirms that AR students don't see their families, are discouraged from attending college, and shun other members. He also offers that he was mistaken when he was involved about thinking that AR had changed him from homosexuality.

Michael Bluejay's description. Your webmaster describes his own family's involvement.

Members interviewed in Jewish Times. This lengthy article in Jewish Times quotes former students of Aesthetic Realism extensively.

NY Post article. A series of articles in the NY Post quotes many former members who are now critical of the group.

Aesthetic Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult aspects of AR. Posted on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.

Other Goodies

Thinking of leaving AR?
If you're thinking of leaving the group, you're not alone. Let's face it: Most people who have ever studied AR have left -- and not come back. There's got to be a reason for that. Curious about what they figured out? Worried about the fallout if you do decide to leave? Here's everything you need to know.

Recovering from your AR experience.
People who leave cults often need special therapy to cope with what they went through. Whether you decide to seek counseling or choose to go it alone, here's what you need to know.

Media Reports
NY Mag called AR "a cult of messianic nothingness" and Harper's referred to them as "the Moonies of poetry". We've got reprints of articles, plus some help for journalists researching AR. (And here are shortcuts to the landmark articles in New York Native, the NY Post and Jewish Times.)

Site News / Blog
Here's some news and commentary that I add from time to time.


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.

Name

(We won't publish your name unless you say it's okay, but we have to have it in order to verify submissions.)

Email Address


(We won't publish your email address, but we have to have it in order to verify submissions.)

Your experience:

Yes   No

Okay to publish your name?

Yes   No

Okay to identify your gender? (e.g., "his story", "her story")

Yes   No

Get a notice of updates to this site? (no more than 4x/year)

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...

 

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?

 

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



 

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