Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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Former AR student Ron Schmidt describes his experiences

written February 12, 2005

     Thank you for the information you put together on this site. I was a student for about two and a half years from summer 1987 until the end of 1989. The experience was strange to say the least, and the word cult often crossed my mind while I was 'studying'. I began to study because I was gay and it was not cool to be gay in a rural area not to mention my parents are devout Catholic. I can't say everything about my experience with AR was bad, however I learned early on that if I didn't express gratitude for AR and ES often I would be in trouble. Looking back I can't believe I lasted there as long as I did. I never lived in NY but I did visit twice and had two consultations in person, of about thirty consultations over the phone which were taped and sent to me so I could study them. After finding this web site a couple of days ago I went home to listen to one of them. It happened to be my fourth one, and most of the hour was spent on how I wasn't grateful enough for AR and [AR founder] Eli Siegel. When I protested that I hadn't changed yet I was told that I had seen enough already of the great beauty of AR. During the consultation I was asked very leading questions like how did I think about myself after being attracted to another man, Did I think more or less of myself? Did I think more or less or the other person? (Now how would any 22yr old Catholic closet case answer these questions?) At no time was I given any numbers as to how many people had changed, I was just told "many people had changed" I was also never told how long I should expect to study before I would change, nor for that matter that people who had changed had recanted. I was afraid to ask these questions because of the element of fear that if I wasn't respectful enough they would drop me.

They dropped me anyway. My consultants eventually told me I couldn't study any more. They said I wasn't trying hard enough and I was thwarting their efforts. They were very rude when they did this and I was devastated. I always wondered why they were so rude. I can understand they were disappointed that I hadn't changed after two and half years of study, but since they always claimed to have good will for me I would think they would have said something nicer like "We feel we have done all we can for you for now and encourage you to continue to study on your own," (since it was the knowledge of AR that supposedly caused people to change). After that when I tried to renew my subscription to TRO my check was returned to me. I tried to study on my own for about another year then I got some counseling because I felt so demoralized.

That was a long time ago and I now feel I am a reasonably well adjusted gay man and am out to just about everyone I know.

So is AR a cult? I don't think it is for me to say. What I can say is that I don't think AR or Eli Siegel had any real insight into the subject of homosexuality. Since they no longer teach the 'Change from Homosexuality' I have no real beef with AR today and I believe in 'live and let live'. I do feel it is important for me to tell my story as honestly as possible, which I feel I have done here. If someone I knew wanted to study AR I would simply tell them to proceed with caution.

I will just finish by saying "Thank You" to Michael for this web site because I feel better knowing I am not the only one who had misgivings about AR.

-- Ron Schmidt,

[Editor's note: About eight years after kicking Mr. Schmidt out of AR for failing to be "cured" of his gayness, one of Mr. Schmidt's consultants left AR himself.  Also, while AR no longer counsels people on how not to be gay, they haven't renounced that either.  In other words, they still think being gay is a mental problem, they just don't talk about it any more. (See more about AR's supposed 'gay cure')]

  
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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?


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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave