"We thought we had all the answers... we were so
written by a former member of Aesthetic Realism,
am really glad to know about your website and to read what
other former Aesthetic Realism members have written. It
all rings a bell!
As I look back on my time
in AR, one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is
the colossal arrogance it instilled in me (and all its
members). We were led to believe that because we
'studied' AR, we were the authorities on whatever subject
came up — we had the in-depth comprehension that gave
us the right to tell other people what to do and how to
think and feel. This included people who were, for all
practical purposes, total strangers and those who had shown
no desire for guidance.
was only in my early 20s (as most of the members were then)
and didn't have very much experience in life. But armed with
AR, that didn't stop me. When people around me faced
issues like loss of love or a job, money problems, being
assaulted or raped, grave illness -- even life and death --
I had no doubt that I had a grip on the situation. I
followed the AR formula telling people that they should make
sure they weren't using what happened to them to have
contempt for other people and the world and that they should
look for reasons to be grateful and to like the world. That
was the ultimate fixer-upper. Zip, zip! The idea that I
should have real human empathy for someone else's grief or
worry and to be humbled before it wasn't part of the
equation. We had a message to deliver and a mission to
accomplish. Every life situation was an opportunity to
proclaim that Siegel was the greatest human being who ever
lived, AR the greatest knowledge, and — even in dire
circumstances when a person's attention was completely
consumed by some emergency or misfortune unfolding in their
life -- if they didn't grab that as their mantra then they
didn't merit my effort because they lacked the respect
Siegel and his philosophy deserved. Case closed.
Now that I'm older and have
actually been through some of the more difficult things in
life and have experienced firsthand what certain emotions
actually feel like, I am appalled as I look back at the
callous and cavalier way I dispensed wisdom, believing so
wrongly that just because I could throw around a few
supposedly profound statements I actually understood how
people felt and was equipped to talk to them about their
For one thing, I was
skating very close to and often crossing the line into a
blame the victim mentality, which I now see AR goes in for a
lot. For example, illness (except for Siegel himself, of
course) was always associated with a person's contemptuous
attitude to the world, and a sick person was seen as needing
criticism to get well. If they died, well, it was as though
they had brought it on themselves because they had refused
to listen to criticism of their lousy attitude toward the
world, and the chickens had come home to roost. A
post-mortem review of their failings was always in order. I
cringe when I think back to how unfeeling I was, both to
people who were struggling with health issues and to the
people who loved them — thinking all the while that I
was God's gift to them.
These are some of the
reasons I now believe AR is dangerous and I wish that, like
members of other cults, its members were even more isolated
from society so they couldn't keep going around hurting
others with their warped and conceited counseling in
public schools, workplaces, and
in the population at large. They have no right to manipulate
people's lives as they do. And they certainly are not
qualified as therapists, even though they have chosen to
call themselves by the euphemism, "consultants."
note: Right after the former
member above shared that story with me, a non-member wrote
in to complain about an AR person criticizing her and her
son! Talk about lightning striking twice. Here's what that
I have come to your site after being severely
judged and criticized by a man [AR member] whom I
had been romantically interested in. He saw fit to tell
me that my child, who has been diagnosed with Asperger's
Syndrome, simply was contemptuous of the world and
mending this attitude would fix his problem. He also
said, in a patronizing and smarmy "in my best interest"
tone, that my child needed a father and that was in large
part the cause of his problem. There was more but no real
point in recounting it.
I was outraged and continue to be. That someone would
willingly ascribe to a belief that discourages
intellectual rigor or investigation because all of the
questions have already been answered by the unity of AR
is truly repellent and fascistic to me. I am deeply
disturbed to find that I had feelings for someone so cut
off from the inputs of reality and confined to a hall of
mirrors whith Eli Seigel on every wall.
I am sad, but better off.
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Former members describe Aesthetic Realism
- The ULTIMATE statement by a former member. Wow. A former Aesthetic Realism member who was involved for over ten years and into the 1990's sent us this incredibly detailed account of what life inside AR is like. This puts to rest once and for all any lingering question about whether AR is a cult - it is. The AR people will not be able to "counter" this on their Countering the Lies website because this account is from one of their own, and because it's so exhaustively detailed.
- A tale of getting sucked in. Another former member shares his experiences. This story is unique because he describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved.
- Growing up in Aesthetic Realism. What it's like to be born into a cult.
- Aesthetic Realism ruined his marriage. "[It] introduced a level of stress in my marriage that had not previously existed....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." This former member also wrote about AR on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind.
- 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. A former student describes how he was kicked out of AR because he couldn't change from homosexuality. Powerful stuff.
- "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.
- "This is merely one example of the way 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!" A former member tells her story, and wonders why there hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.
- They took his consultation tape. A former student describes how 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 sought AR's "gay cure" describes how the group's leaders admitted that the founder took his own life.
- "I personally know at least half of the contributors to AR's Countering the Lies website and know them to either be fibbing or having a long-term memory problem.". 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.
- Aesthetic Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult aspects of AR. Originally written for Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.
- Michael Bluejay's description. This whole website is my statement about Aesthetic Realism. But in this article I describe my family's involvement in more detail.
- 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 at a Glance
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
|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).
- 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
- 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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I don't endorse the advertisers.