Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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"We thought we had all the answers... we were so judgemental"

written by a former member of Aesthetic Realism, October 2007

     I 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.

      I 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 problems.

      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."

 

Editor's 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 person shared:

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


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?

 

 
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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave