Aesthetic Realism is a cult
Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

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“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.”

written by a former AR student, May 7, 2005

I'm ready to share my experiences because I've been to the Countering the Lies website and I have seen that I'm being attacked all over the place for remaining anonymous [for my posting about AR on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind].  I'd like to explain why I choose to do so, so that your readers will see that I'm not some evil, nefarious monster, but just a guy who got burned by a cult.

 I began studying Aesthetic Realism to change from homosexuality.  Actually, I'm bisexual; I was married at the time, and extremely conflicted.  When I began my "study," I had to agree to their terms, which stated that I would be allowed to study AR as long as I did so respectfully.  Note that the terms did not state that I promised to express feelings that I did not honestly feel.  Of course, had they stated that, I would never have studied it in the first place.  I had also read Eli Siegel's appeal to people to give Aesthetic Realism a hard, critical look (I can't remember the exact quote, but that's what he meant), and I resolved to do so.  In fact, I could not have done otherwise, for that is the type of person that I am.

“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.”

Right from the start, I found myself feeling very depressed after my consultations.  The message I got from my consultants was that I was no big deal.  I supposed this would have been easier to take if it hadn't been coupled with the constant praise of Eli Siegel.  I was frequently told that I was incredibly angry at Eli Siegel because he was so much more intelligent, so much greater than I.  At the same time, if I mentioned anything at all that led them to suspect that I thought myself more intelligent than some other person, I was severely criticized and admonished to remember that Eli Siegel always said that all persons are equal.  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.

Just a few weeks into my study, something happened that really left a bad taste in my mouth.  I received a call from one of the AR bigwigs (I think it might have been Ellen Reiss's husband at the time -- how many husbands has that woman had, anyway?), asking me to donate money to the foundation.  When I told him I was low on cash (after all, I wasn't rich and I was already paying them decent money for consultations), I received a considerable verbal drubbing.  Here was this person with whom I had never spoken before, telling me that I loved Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism more than anything in this world, but I was so angry at my respect for ES and AR that I didn't want to give them money, blah blah blah.  I gave him his stinking money, but I felt that something clearly wasn't right here.

“...these discussions introduced a level of stress in my marriage that had not previously existed.”

My consultants encouraged me to talk more with my wife about my homosexual feelings and my gratitude to ES and AR.  Even though my efforts were halfhearted at best, these discussions introduced a level of stress in my marriage that had not previously existed.  My wife no more wanted to hear about my homosexuality than I wanted to tell her about it, and even my puny attempts at idolizing Eli Siegel made her see me as weak, which is precisely how it made me feel.  As any former student will tell you, that "Aesthetic Realism persona" I adopted was a crashing bore.  I can't tell you how many arguments we had because she did not want to study Aesthetic Realism.  Why the hell would she?! All I did was criticize her for allowing me to have "adoring contempt" for her, for letting me feel that "I could sweep the floor with her," and all of the other AR speak clichés I had been saddled with.  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.

If I had had any sense at all, I would have stopped having anything to do with AR after a few consultations.  However, I was so desperate to change that I ignored my gut feelings and tried to blind myself as much as possible.  Actually, it was more complicated than that, because AR did say many things which I found to be very insightful.  At some point, I tried to resolve this conflict by telling myself that Eli Siegel was on the right track, but his students had somewhat lost their way after his death.  Despite my misgivings, I kept going back for more consultations and more criticism because I honestly believed that it would be good for me and my marriage in the long run.  I could not ignore my doubts, but I always tried to give AR the benefit of those doubts, keeping in mind my initial promise to study AR respectfully.

“One day, when I started my consultation, I received a tremendous shock...”

One day, when I started my consultation, I received a tremendous shock: one of my consultants had abruptly departed from AR.  All my consultants would say is that he had "written a horrible letter to Ellen Reiss, stating that he no longer wished to be completely fair to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism."  They were clearly extremely uncomfortable with the whole issue and eager to turn the conversation to their usual criticism of me.  Things were never the same after that.  I had the feeling that something had changed internally at the foundation, but of course, nobody would discuss something like that with me.  I was deeply suspicious and disillusioned and I took a few months off.  When I went to resume my consultations, I was told I had to write some huge paper first, detailing how I had been unfair to ES and AR and expressing my "regret" over this.  I wrote my paper as fairly and honestly as I possibly could.  In other words, I expressed my gratitude for all the things I had learned, but I absolutely refused to express feelings that I did not honestly feel, period.  After all, if I had done so, I would have been studying (and paying to study) just to please them, and why on Earth would I do that?  Needless to say, I was denied any further consultations. 

“That's when I finally knew for sure: Aesthetic Realism is a cult.”

I was completely devastated.  I felt I had really gone out on a limb with my wife and had basically been left hanging there.  I felt they had failed to live up to their end of the bargain, the bargain we made when I began my study.  My devastation quickly turned to anger when I read about their new stance on the issue of homosexuality.  I mean, who the hell were these people who had gone on TV in search of people like me, who promised me they had all the answers, promised me that they would never abndon me as long as I studied their philosophy respectfully, who strung me along for years and took a considerable chunk of money from me, then dumped me out of the blue because I no longer suited their purposes?  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.

These days, I don't think about AR very much.  However, when I saw Steve Hassan's site, then your site, I felt I had to honor the promise I made to myself some thirteen years ago.  I think it needs to be put as bluntly as possible: It's time to recognize that the whole AR/homosexuality thing was a miserable flop.  They know it and we know it.  Unfortunately, they don't have the HONESTY to admit it.  This, coming from the self-proclaimed guardians of honesty.  To be fair, I think they're just too brainwashed to know any better.  If the philosophy doesn't work, blame the student, not the philosopher.  Gee, wouldn't it be great if all scientists did that?  Just declare something true because, if the experiments don't confirm it, the experiments were flawed. Well, sorry, Ellen Reiss, but the proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  The fact is, all those years of "study" didn't change my feelings for men one whit.  There are theories, then there's reality.  Lots of theories, from B.F. Skinner to Marx and Engels, sound great on paper.  Only problem is, they don't work.

So, that's my story.  I'm almost 50 years old now, and a lot more comfortable with who I am.  However, I'm still not willing to out myself in front of the whole world.  That's my choice, and I have a right to that choice. That does NOT, however, mean that I'm not going to try to warn people about a cult.  I hope that people who read "Countering the Lies" will also read this.  Then, they can decide for themselves.  There are several people on this website who have courageously listed their names.  How does my story stack up to theirs?  Does it really sound as if I'm making all this up?  Do I sound like the bad person I'm portrayed as on Countering the Lies?  Again, to everybody out there, read this and decide for yourself.  More than anything, be glad you have a mind of your own with which to decide.

Reader comments about this article

those who won't listen


Dec. 15, 2007  16:02

my mother's friend is into an aesthetic realism "study group" and refuses to listen to any of us about anything anymore. these people think for her and have told her to lose contact with any of us. for those who don't listen, i wonder if we just let them go.

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Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The Aesthetic Realism Foundation




Eli Siegel, poet & 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.


We have a tendency to look down on others to make ourselves seem superior by comparison (contempt).  Every single problem in the world (including homosexuality) is the result of contempt.  By studying AR, we can learn to purge our contempt so the world will be perfect.  Also, beauty comes from the contrast of opposites.


New York City (SoHo)


About 66, as of 4/22, as ~23 teachers + ~43 teachers-in-training.  (In 2009 it was ~77 (33+44), and ~29 regular students.  You could consider them members, but I'm not including them in the total.)  Anyway, with only ~66 committed members, much for world domination.

All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers.  Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".
StatusIn serious decline.
They might have ten years left.

Method of study

Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student) (usually in-person, but also remote).

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, and family members who refuse to join
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...
The best bits:  Cult aspects of ARDream to NightmareA journalist infiltratesAll the articles

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