Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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From our mailbox...

Hi, Michael,

     I just stumbled on your website today and thought I'd say hello.  I'm the former student of AR whose testimonial appears on Steve Hassan's website, and which you link to from your site.  I'm so glad you have done this; you have done an excellent job in refuting [AR's] lies about your so-called "lies." 

     For years, when I thought back to my involvement with AR, it made my blood boil.  I can still get to the boiling point if I think about it long enough, but mostly I prefer to deal with Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism by giving them as little thought as possible, by giving them the cool disrespect they so dread, but so richly deserve. 

     If I can be of any help to you, please let me know.  You may, for instance, publish this email on your website.  Just please don't use my name.  I may be ready to reveal that someday, but not at this point.  I'd like to share more of my experiences with AR with you, but I don't have the time right now.  I just wanted to touch base and say thanks for the work you're doing.  Take care.

Jan. 30, 2005

Former members describe Aesthetic Realism

Statements by the general public

  • What does the general public think? This reader confirms my suspicion that anyone unfamiliar with AR who reads both my site and CounteringTheLies will see clearly that AR is a cult. July 16, 2005 


About the testimonials

by Michael Bluejay, ex-member of AR

Members or students?

 Aesthetic Realists claim that there aren't any former members of Aesthetic Realism, because there are no "members" to begin with, only students.  Of course, that's a semantic distinction which has no real importance. When AR people complain that I sometimes refer to them as members they're cleverly trying to change the subject. They'd prefer that you focus on whether they're students or members, than on whether they're a mind control cult.

     I simply use the term members to mean that the people I'm talking about have bought into their group's ideals and feel a strong allegiance to it. If it makes AR people feel any better then I publicly concede here that no one in the group receives a special laminated membership card. That couldn't be more irrelevant. It's the fact that the believers have devoted their life to this cause that makes them members. And once people snap out of it and leave the group, they generally agree that "members" is the proper term.

     In fact, the Aesthetic Realists have a short memory:  They used the term "members" themselves in their ad in the Village Voice.  And their founder, Eli Siegel, used the same term in a letter to the same paper.  And of course, the media has called AR adherents members too. (example: Village Voice)

     It's interesting that the defensive cry of "We don't have members!" is a hallmark of cults. Cult expert Steve Hassan spoke to that in this TV interview many years ago:

Host: But Roy Masters says that you can't join the Foundation of Human Understanding....

Steve Hassan: There's him and at least a dozen other cult organizations that say, "We don't have members!", like The Way International, but they have their membership lists, and they subscribe to the newsletter, and they give their money over....

Which side is telling the truth?

     Of course that's up to the reader to decide, but let me mention some things that I think are telling.

  • There are lots of former members who tell pretty much the same kind of story about life inside the group. Which is more likely: That all these numerous former members have somehow formed a secret conspiracy to tell the same kind of story (for some unfathomable purpose), or that they're really telling the truth?
  • Most people who have joined up with AR have later left -- and they haven't gone back.
  • AR's defenses can be proven false. They said they never had a cure for homosexuality. The evidence shows otherwise. They said Eli Siegel didn't kill himself. The evidence shows otherwise. They said I was only 2 years old when my family stopped studying AR. No, I was a teenager, and here's a picture of me in AR company wearing my AR button when I was 12.
  • It's not just former members saying AR is a cult. It's also cult experts like Steve Hassan (author of two critically-acclaimed books on mind control cults), and the media. When AR makes it into the press, the treatment is rarely favorable.
  • Cult members never realize they're part of a cult -- until they leave. Current members are perhaps not the best unbiased source as to whether a group is a cult or not. Nor are former members who left only because they were forced out and not allowed to continue their study.
  • I prefer you get both sides of the story. By all means, visit AR's Countering the Lies and read the vitriol they spew about former members who have dared to speak out. The hysteria displayed there answers the whole cult question nicely.  By contrast, they won't link to this site, even though their site is devoted to rebutting this one.  It's funny, people who stumble across their site are supposed to believe the rebuttals without ever seeing what's supposedly being rebutted.
  • I've had an open offer to debate the AR people for years. They scream up and down the street that I and the other former members are "lying", but thy won't stand behind their statements in a formal debate. Their excuse is that I'm not worth their time. But somehow it was worth their time to create a 100-page website (!) to argue with me and the other former members behind the cover of the Internet.


Why there aren't even more ex-member stories here

For a small cult like AR, I think there are a fair number of former-member stories here, especially considering that when people leave a cult, they often just want to put the experience behind them and not talk about it any more.  However, the AR people say that the "few" stories on this site is evidence that the group isn't really a cult.  So let me speak to why there aren't even more ex-member stories here:
  • I don't know how to contact most former members. Unlike the AR Foundation, I don't have contact information for people who used to be involved. Now, if the AR Foundation would like to provide me that info, I would be happy to contact former members to solicit their statements.
  • Many former members prefer to put their AR experience behind them rather than dredge it up again by writing about it.
  • Many former members are embarrassed by their involvement and don't want that experience to be public, even anonymously.
  • Former members are well aware that AR will drag their name through the mud if they dare to criticize AR. Here's what an ARsupporter said about me on AR's website after I put up my own statement here: "So much for the stupid lying of Mali, Bluejay and the other liars.... Why is he doing this? Feeling himself to be a failure in his own life...Michael Bluejay seeks the triumph of making himself important by looking down upon others. He is attempting to assuage his feeling of unimportance". Most people are understandably wary of subjecting themselves to that sort of abuse.
  • Many former members are dead. And not just the ones who killed themselves, like the founder, Eli Siegel did. AR has been around since the 1940's and their heyday was in the 1970's, and many of the former students are simply no longer around.
  • Perhaps most importantly, one former member pretty much wrote the book on the cult aspects of AR. Most former members probably feel with some justification that there is little more to say.


Why many of the testimonials are anonymous

Let's take a moment to address the Aesthetic Realists' complaint that many of the statements on our site anonymous. The AR people are raising a stink about anonymous statements for exactly two reasons:

  1. They want to be able to identify their critics so they can drag their names through the mud on Countering the Lies, same as they did with me and Adam Mali, and to snipe at us any way they can. They found on my personal page where I said my mother is a private person who didn't want her name on the Internet, so the AR people lost no time in outing her, and her husband. And they try to discredit me right on the front page of their site by pointing out that I've ridden a bicycle naked. Yeah, so I've been to Burning Man (along with tens of thousands of other people) and I rode in the ride in London to protest oil dependence (along with thousands of other people). How that could somehow mean I'm not qualified as a former member to say that AR is a cult, I can't possibly imagine. But the point is, if they think they have any dirt on their critics, they don't hesitate to make it public. And when you're in AR, you're supposed to share everything, so they know all the secrets of the people who have left. Most former members understandibly don't care to have their personal lives displayed on the web for all to see in this way. Regarding this, one former student remarked to me, "I think that people on the outside might think there is something wrong with a person's mind if they DO give their name! It might seem like they're a masochist or that they don't have the sense they were born with if they're willing to hand themselves over to be chopped into little pieces! Anyone with a life or career could see the need to protect themselves from slander."
  2. The AR people are hoping to shame former students into not contributing their stories. After all, if a former student buys into the AR argument that it's unfair to post about their experience anonymously, then they won't post at all, and AR has pre-silenced another critic (managing to manipulate the student even after s/he left the group!).

This is obvious enough -- except to Aesthetic Realists who are complaining that some of the contributors here choose to remain anonymous.

It's also a tad hypocritical,, because every single time an AR apologist has written in to the site here, they've not ony failed to give their name they've used a fake email address too. When the former members write in, they give both their real names and their email addresses, I just don't publish them if they don't want me to. But the AR people don't give either. Once an AR member wrote to complain that this statement by a former member was made anonymously -- and they sent in their complaint with a fake name and email address! That really ought to win some kind of award for irony. And it doesn't end there. AR apologists have taken to harassing my mother -- anonymously, of course. Here's what one of them sent to her:

I studied Aesthetic Realism for only 9 months, and I could tell that it is an incredible philosophy. You are so cruel to your son, as you use him to get back at what you respect so much, yet can't be superior to, and making him look like an angry old man, and a stupid one at that. Your ego has taken over you. I am your son's age and I am glad that I have a mother and father who understood my study of Aesthetic Realism. YOU know Aesthetic Realism is not a cult, but you probably ARE a cultist.

I whithold my name because you and your son seem so bitter and nasty.

Talking about prizes for irony, that last line ought to get one too.

Incidentally, my mother has had zero input into this website, because she prefers to put her AR experience behind her and not talk about it any more. But the AR people insist on believing my mom is behind the site somehow -- and persecuting her for it. Anonymously.

By the way, if the person above really believes that AR is an "incredible philosophy", then why did they stop studying after only nine months? And where did they get the idea that my mom was behind the site, if they're not a part of the group? Well, we can't ask them -- they sent their missive not only anonymously, but with a fake email address to boot.


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.


(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

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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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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