est est est!
May 6, 2012 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Founder of est, Werner Erhard has a new project

Werner Erhard, found of est and Harvard Business school prof Michael Jensen have written a book on integrity in business-- forthcoming from Cambridge University Press
posted by Ideefixe (85 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Umm, wasn't est a giant scam? But then, the idea of business integrity is pretty laughable too.
posted by DarkForest at 11:27 AM on May 6, 2012


Bullshit artist unveils new bullshit. Film at 11.
posted by jonmc at 11:35 AM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am not familiar with this person but having read the article my main thought is how some frauds can re-invent themselves in accordance with the spirit of the times. Also, there's no such thing as business ethics beyond actual laws that keep people in place.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:35 AM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Did you mean to provide two links to the same article in this FPP?

I don't think est was a giant scam, aside from its extraordinary cost. It (and its descendant Landmark Forum) are orchestrated and choreographed encounters with basic existentialism and subsequent empowerment through realization and self-actualization. (Yes, I know that sounds like a bunch of buzzwords all mashed up together, but that's really what they are.)

I have no idea what this integrity in business thing is all about, because the linked article doesn't provide much information about that.
posted by hippybear at 11:35 AM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


In other news, a fox has co-authored a book on henhouse security.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:36 AM on May 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


As if more people in business need to be Psychotic. Werner Erhard is an abuser especially of women. Fuck him.
posted by adamvasco at 11:38 AM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


hippbear sort of nails it. est (and various other off-shoots and competing products) caught most of their controversy for taking some powerful humanistic techniques, removing them from the mental health field and applying a rather significant price tag (and pretty hardcore marketing). I knew a few people who took some programs and, on the short term anyway, it seemed to be really good for them ... at least in terms of getting their emotional shit together, finding some positivity.

But I HATED it when they tried to sell me on it.
posted by philip-random at 11:40 AM on May 6, 2012


I don't think est was a giant scam, aside from its extraordinary cost.

Well, in fairness, no scam is a scam, aside from the part where they take your money.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:41 AM on May 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


adamvasco: are those the same charges of abuse which are detailed in the linked FPP article as having been retracted and dismissed?
posted by hippybear at 11:42 AM on May 6, 2012


Peter Gabriel weighs in ...

"Anyone with an open mind wanting to explore the world was drawn to that movement. There were fairly scary adventures that could change lives. Last year I met Werner Erhard [born John Paul Rosenberg, the former salesman who created the EST course]; many people feel negatively about him, but I enjoyed him enormously. The whole system he set up felt like a hard-sell American organization but if you didn't have a year to spend in an ashram yet still wanted to shake up your life a bit, you could go for a couple of weekends and get severely challenged.
posted by philip-random at 11:44 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Landmark absolutely meets my criteria for scam. est absolutely meets my criteria for a dangerous cult.

And Werner Erhard meets not only my criteria, but several judges', as a fraudster.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:46 AM on May 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Those first five words had me so thinking "obit!".
posted by telstar at 11:46 AM on May 6, 2012


Erhard's fraud convictions have not been retracted.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:47 AM on May 6, 2012


Convictions? What convictions?
posted by hippybear at 11:49 AM on May 6, 2012


Can't even read the article. Wants me to log in.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:54 AM on May 6, 2012


I would certainly not want to associate with the guy, but it should be mentioned that it was at meetings of some of the best physicists organized by Erhard actually brought fruition to a new debate and some heavy work on black hole entropy.
How did this war with Stephen Hawking come about?

I was a particle physicist when I was invited to an event at Werner Erhard's house in 1981. Erhard [founder of the est self-awareness movement] admired scientists and liked to listen to them debate. At one of his events, I met Stephen Hawking. Stephen discovered an amazing fact, which is that black holes evaporate. It's like a puddle of water out in the sun.
Now it may be that some of the work that ended up happening would have happened, but just a bit later, but it can't be doubted that it was Erhard's bringing together some of the greatest minds to discuss the latest and greatest theories that brought about some heavy debates on the latest theories that Hawking was working on.

Here's a video about Susskind and Hawking
posted by symbioid at 11:54 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I should add that they interview Susskind directly in the video).
posted by symbioid at 11:54 AM on May 6, 2012


Google Cache of article for those who may have problems reading this article, which is a simple click for me. Not sure why some might have to log in.
posted by hippybear at 11:57 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


About a decade ago I watched some troubled friends of friends get sucked into Landmark Forums and then try to sell it to everyone they could.

These people willingly relinquished control of their already chaotic lives to what appeared to basically be emotional abuse, financial abuse and ego-destruction.

After the local operating chapter of Landmark Forums realized that they were basically just broke-ass raver kids (but perhaps with rich-ish parents) they were cut off or estranged or whatever, and each of them was suddenly unmoored from whatever little grounding the cult provided and they went fucking nuts.

Like driving down the freeway high on heroic doses of magic mushrooms while wearing rags or faux-jesus robes fucking crazy go nuts.

The residual fallout from this string of episodes would have been much, much worse if the particular circle of friends I was hanging out with wasn't already too old and wise for that shit.
posted by loquacious at 12:02 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Skepdic's take on est.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


From wiki. Nothing very clear here except that Erhard filed for dismissal of his own case (for libel and defamation) and sent checks for $100 to each of the defendants, covering their filing fees in the case which is
nothing like fighting ones case or proving ones innocence. He also likes cease and desist. Shyster.
posted by adamvasco at 12:09 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My memory is that in his book Outrageous Betrayal, Steven Pressman documented that Erhard had been convicted of minor fraud under his previous name of Jack Rosenberg. The Paul Morantz article also refers to this, but gives no links to third-party sources. I don't have the Pressman book anymore, so I can't cite the specifics from there; I'll keep looking for public records or references to same (I was not referring to the IRS case that was eventually settled in Erhard's favor).

Another interesting article.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:12 PM on May 6, 2012


From the article:

I am a stronger, more useful human being because I have no concern for my reputation.

Two things come to mind. A. I'd love to hear a politician say this while on the stump. B. I can easily imagine a Hollywood-level master villain saying this (ie: the dark side of A).

What a loaded choice of words!
posted by philip-random at 12:13 PM on May 6, 2012


From that Skepdic link ...

Erhard and Scientology

In the late 1960s, Erhard studied Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard became a significant influence. Scientologists to this day accuse Erhard of having stolen his main ideas for est from Hubbard. We do know that when Erhard set up est he considered making it a non-profit, as Hubbard had done with dianetics and the Church of Scientology. But Erhard decided to incorporate as an educational firm for profit in a broad market.

Erhard and his supporters accuse Scientology of being behind various attempts to discredit Erhard, including hounding by the IRS and accusations of incest by his children. Erhard won a lawsuit against the IRS and the incest accusations were recanted. Erhard has claimed he has good evidence that Scientologists made a strong and concerted effort to destroy him.


Curiouser and curiouser.
posted by philip-random at 12:15 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, this was the article I meant to link. Anyway, going off to find documentation for the claim I made earlier, because if I'm mistaken I certainly want to clear that up. My thinking that Erhard is bad news is pretty orthogonal to my thoughts about what he might have done as a car salesman in the days when his legal name was Jack Rosenberg, but I still don't want to be inaccurate about that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:18 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm really not trying to defend Erhard in particular, but I do wish that people who seek to attack someone with whom they have disagreements about methods or worldviews would actually work to keep their attacks in the realm of actuality and not rumor or dismissed charges.

I've had one or two friends who were greatly helped by Landmark Forum (although they retreated from participating beyond the initial weekend), and have heard about people like Peter Gabriel finding est greatly beneficial. Personally, I've had my own existential awakening through other methods and have never felt driven to pay for the experience through one of these types of programs. But I'm not going to dismiss the possibility that such things can help people.

And I'm also not going to accept false charges being made against someone without evidence. My Google skills are pretty sharp, but I couldn't find any factual references to any convictions against Erhard. I'd welcome correction.
posted by hippybear at 12:22 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still trying to track down the accuracy of the statements about Jack Rosenberg (or maybe it was Kirk Von Savage, another previous name of Werner Erhard's) having been convicted of fraud, and still failing, but Jesus Christ this is something else again.

hippybear, if I am mistaken about that, I will be the first to apologize (similarly if it turns out that the sources I relied on are inaccurate) to Mr. Erhard.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Introduction to the Landmark Education litigation archive . I find Erhard and EST as plausible as his original near twin organisation Scientology. That Scientology sought to discredit or smear him is neither here nor there. I maybe mistaken in my beliefs about him but my gut reaction says no. He plays the weasel lawer game and has enough cash to win. I was around in the early 70's and there were some pretty strange stories doing the rounds.
Here is an extract from Outrageous Betrayal. I guess some people like to pay shitloads of money to be shouted at and abused.
posted by adamvasco at 12:46 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


lawyer / lawer
posted by adamvasco at 12:47 PM on May 6, 2012


One of the classic signs of a destructive cult is the redefinition of common words to have an esoteric meaning available only to members.
posted by scalefree at 12:56 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know who else was named Werner?

No, seriously, he re-named himself after Werner Herzog and Amelia Erhard.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:00 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I was mistaken in trusting, and linking to, Paul Morantz's description of Werner Erhard as "an ex-used car salesman from Philadelphia with a couple of criminal convictions for fraud," but that jibed with my memory of what was presented in Outrageous Betrayal. However, I haven't been able to authenticate the allegation via public records (I have written to both Morantz and Pressman to ask for their sources). So my apologies to Mr. Erhard and his defenders--and Mr. Erhard, my full legal name is in my profile, so no need to hassle the mods for my contact information--for the possible misrepresentation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:01 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Offered FWIW

The Fuhrer Over est

Werner Erhard of est: How the king of the brain-snatchers created his private empire

New Times: The Feature News Magazine/March 19, 1976

By Jesse Kornbluth

posted by cdalight at 1:05 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apparently "Curtis Wilhelm Von Savage" was another name Erhard used.

Werner Heisenberg and the West German cabinet minister Ludwig Erhard were his name inspirations.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:29 PM on May 6, 2012


I find Erhard and EST as plausible as his original near twin organisation Scientology.

I think this way over-simplifies things, akin to saying that heavy metal and rockabilly are the same thing (which I guess they are to certain kinds of ears). That is, in the 1970s while Mr Hubbard and his crowd were such outsiders they were effectively being chased from America by various powers that be, Mr. Erhard was getting embraced by all manner of well regarded, even cool folks (Yoko Ono, Jeff Bridges, Raul Julia, Diana Ross, Harvey Korman, David Geffen, Joanne Woodward to drop a few names).

I think the difference is that Scientology chose to call itself a religion which immediately unleashes all kinds of worms, whereas est was always up front about just being a business (ie: we will give you a SMACK of enlightenment, and here's what it will cost). Which is as far as I'm going to go toward defending them.
posted by philip-random at 1:40 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arguing that est or Landmark Forum are scams is so tiring, especially on metafilter where otherwise perfectly skeptical, logical people hold either or both of these up as some kind of "no you guys these are different!!!"

If you can't recognize either of these as outright scams you're either ignorant of what they are, or need your definition of scam suitably reworked.
posted by odinsdream at 1:41 PM on May 6, 2012


a scam is money for nothing, no?

What do you say to someone who genuinely believes they got something for the money they sunk into est? (I can't speak for Landmark, I don't know of anyone who's singing its praises). Are they just ignorant? I wish it was that easy. As I mentioned earlier, some of the people that I knew who took est back in the day (the early 80s) seemed to actually do quite well by it (ie: got certain aspects of their lives straightened out as a result). Yeah, there was a vaguely creepy, evangelistic edge to them for a while afterward, but in general, they hardly ended up either destitute or psychically broken. At worst, I'm thinking if I bugged them about it now, they'd think of it as an expensive vacation to an over-rated resort. But not a complete write-off.
posted by philip-random at 1:50 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm still curious as to the nature of this new project, and remain frustrated that the same article was linked twice in the FPP and neither of those links to the same article provide much context or information about that.
posted by hippybear at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2012


Wow, that's a lot of fake names.
posted by box at 1:52 PM on May 6, 2012


I have never understood the "this seminar/series of books and tapes/group activities will transform your life" idea. It's such an unsophisticated, quick-fix approach to what are either deep personal questions or actual psychological issues.

“But you are here. Where you are, Lucy, this object you call Lucy, is here.”

I nod.

“And where Werner is, is there.”

I agree.

“You do see me, do you not? Where is Lucy-seeing-Werner happening?”

On the back of my retina, I say. He shakes his head.

“What you told me is your theory about seeing. I want to know where you seeing Werner is happening. Point.”

I duly point to my brain.

“You have no idea what’s in there, woman!” Erhard jabs an angry finger in my direction. “Godammit, Susie, your seeing Werner is happening where Werner is.”


Really? We are listening to this guy?
posted by emjaybee at 1:58 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apparently "Curtis Wilhelm Von Savage" was another name Erhard used.

Werner Heisenberg and the West German cabinet minister Ludwig Erhard were his name inspirations.


Facts be Damned! Werner Herzog and Amelia Earhart! That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
posted by From Bklyn at 2:00 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


hippybear, there's boatloads of info on Erhard's site about his collaboration with Jensen.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:05 PM on May 6, 2012


And I'm also not going to accept false charges being made against someone without evidence. My Google skills are pretty sharp, but I couldn't find any factual references to any convictions against Erhard. I'd welcome correction.

You should also consider that this lack of convictions (and evidence on the internet) is the result of heavy-duty lawyering-up with all that sweet, hard cash.

Est, Landmark, etc are basically just a crudely redacted, unprofessionally administered form of cognitive behavioral therapy available for a steep price, with some deft psychological tweaks to command that steep price and the self-recruiting that it's members do.

Whether or not anyone has anecdotal experiences about friends that have seemed to get something out of it is rather irrelevant. My own anecdotal experiences are the exact opposite.

Sure, these friends were all fired up and motivated about it, but once they figured out that they couldn't afford the price nor recruit enough new members to help pay their own way, and once they'd gone through the abusive, shouty parts of the program they just fell to pieces and damn near took a whole bunch of other people with them.

So, consider also the strength of the placebo effect. When some drops many thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on est/landmark/whatever, they really, really are emotionally invested to say that they got their money's worth so they don't have to admit to themselves that they were fools.

Because people want to believe. That's kind of a nutshell synopsis of religious faith in general, right there. I've seen people "benefit" from all kinds of things from joining the Krishnas or Baha'i or Ye Olde Hippie Yogic Flying Retreat, but it's rare that it was either a permanent change or a drive to make changes in their lives that they already had.

It's extremely likely that these same people would have benefited equally or greater from some plain old therapy or a support group or something that would have cost a whole lot less.

In any case, a really good litmus test for a money-cult is something like this:

Do they charge money for services or access to "secrets"? If yes, they're probably a cult.

Why? Because if whatever organization believes they really have the psychological or spiritual tools, skills or technology to drastically help humanity and/or individuals - they tend to want to make that available for as many people as possible as cheaply as possible, as clearly as possible and without the manipulation that's a hallmark of these kinds of money cults.

Otherwise they don't really believe in the snake oil they're selling, or they're being disingenuous about their own motives in operating such a cult for personal gain.

I'm sincerely shocked and a bit aghast that anyone is defending this guy, here. He's obviously in it for the money, not the betterment of humanity.

If he really had tools to transform people and/or humanity he should just do it and give it away for free. People would shower him with gifts and support if it was real and it worked more than it didn't work.

But, hey. The placebo effect when backed with heavy financial investment is a hell of a thing.
posted by loquacious at 2:31 PM on May 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I took the EST Seminar in '82 at the Ambassador Hotel in LA. I was sure I didn't get "it." That means I got it.

I thought the most interesting EST offerings were some of the business seminars you could take after the main seminar. IIRC it was called "Hermeneutics Inc" or something like that. The central idea was that people talked constantly and didn't realize their yammering was interpreted by clients as making commitments, so they should just STFU and think about what they were saying and "commit to their commitment" when they realized what they were saying and explicitly wanted to make a commitment.

Somehow Bill Millard, the owner of ComputerLand (where I worked a lot in the 80s) was a friend of Erhard and a lot of the EST business methods influenced their training materials. Erhard did a lot to help me keep my integrity into the shark-infested computer biz in LA. So this sort of business project is exactly the sort of thing I'd expect Erhard to be doing now.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:32 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sincerely shocked and a bit aghast that anyone is defending this guy, here. He's obviously in it for the money, not the betterment of humanity.

loquacious, I hope I don't sound like I'm trying to defend the guy because I agree with pretty much everything you've said here. The point I've tried to make a couple of times in this thread (probably not very well) is that hyperbole doesn't help when it comes to trying to figure out what's creepy about est/Erhard (ie: equivocations with Scientology, not made by you). Because, in the end, he's not serving up some wigged out sci-fi religion, just (as you say) ...

a crudely redacted, unprofessionally administered form of cognitive behavioral therapy available for a steep price, with some deft psychological tweaks to command that steep price and the self-recruiting that it's members do.

Where I disagree is when you say ...

Do they charge money for services or access to "secrets"? If yes, they're probably a cult.

That's just too big a leap, I think. Does this mean that everybody who ever signs a non-disclosure agreement is aiding and abetting a cult?
posted by philip-random at 2:43 PM on May 6, 2012


That's just too big a leap, I think. Does this mean that everybody who ever signs a non-disclosure agreement is aiding and abetting a cult?

In a sense, yes. NDAs (and non-compete clauses/contracts) are frequently non-enforceable in a real court of law.

And business itself is very cult-like with corporate or campus cultures, mores, ethics and attitudes. Look at any MLM or downline business "opportunity". Same psychologies, same cult-like behaviors, same kind of buy-in barriers to make people feel special about losing a ton of money to a con artist - even though that con artist may have previously been a friend or neighbor or something.

But to be clear I'm speaking specifically about so called self-help organizations, be they spiritual, quasi-spiritual or purely psychological.

The same thing happens with lots of other new-age woo or other spiritual retreats or products where people are bamboozled by slick marketing, tall promises and higher than market price costs - because, again, they want to believe.

And who among us doesn't clamor hungrily to be better, more functional humans in what is apparently a dysfunctional world?

Point being that Erhard and Est aren't the only games in town at all that deserve this cult status.
posted by loquacious at 2:58 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I could start a cult. Give me lots of money and I'll make you feel good about being an irrepressible sexual pervert. I bet you were just thinking about something totally depraved and weird, weren't you? I knew it. I can see it in your crazy purple aura.

It's ok. Just wear this protective carbon nanotube ionic holographic amulet and special robes while you're thinking naughty thoughts and doing naughty things with those filthy hu-mon genitals of yours and all that negative sexual energy will be converted to Godly spiritual energy to heal the planet of evil. It's a win-win. The more perverted you are the holier we'll be.

Now I'm just going to need to see you naked in my office so I can inspect your aura with my special goggles and purify and anoint you with some rituals strange rituals that may or may not resemble you performing oral sex on my holy places. Remember to bring your bank routing numbers, any precious metals or ready cash.

Loq-Ra needs finer robes, a case of good Scotch and a date with Betty the (totally spiritual) fetish maid mistress - oh, and an army of lawyers to protect me err I mean us from the evil infidels and non-believers.
posted by loquacious at 3:09 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have never understood the "this seminar/series of books and tapes/group activities will transform your life" idea. It's such an unsophisticated, quick-fix approach to what are either deep personal questions or actual psychological issues.

Yes, that's where all this criticism of EST and similar systems comes from, misunderstanding. If you are somehow threatened by the idea of people trying to change their lives from within, I suppose there's something to be feared, and lashed out against. I personally find that to be utterly ridiculous. To me, it seems like a reactionary way of thinking that I thought died out in the Nixon era.

You have to view EST in context as part of the "self-actualization movement" of the 70s and 80s. EST was similar to many other forms of self-actualization, from psychotherapy and zen buddhism to Esalen and encounter groups. They said if you took the EST seminar, you would get "it." The best I can explain "it" is that it's a sense that you create your reactions to the world around you and you can take responsibility for yourself and improve your life with that knowledge. "It" won't turn you into a cultist, it won't change your life overnight, but it might put you on a path to self-improvement over a lifetime.

If you want a more serious analysis of EST without the usual reactionary accusations of cultism, the best thing I can suggest is Adam Curtis' documentary series "The Century of The Self." Curtis makes an extremely lengthy and elliptical argument that claims the psychoanalytic theories of Freud lead to the self-actualization movement, and then the Reagan/Thatcher era where these theories were used to destroy peoples' trust in government as a shared cultural enterprise, preferring the actualization of The Self rather than actualization of society. I can scarcely do justice to his hours of presentation of this argument.

But anyway, in one of these episodes, there is an extensive discussion of EST, with archive films taken during a seminar. What is in those films has almost no resemblance to the seminar I took. The difference is so stunning that I can only presume Erhard was playing a joke on the filmmakers.

So, about the only legitimate criticism of EST that can be made, is if you disbelieve in the value of the self-actualization movement as a whole. Empowerment of an individual was a radical idea in the late 70s and 80s, and came under considerable criticism. Go ahead and join the critics if you care to, but it is rather anachronistic to join a battle on the side that lost out several decades ago.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:16 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


My experience with people who have been in EST and The Forum is that they get a lot of pretty fundamental self-help suggestions, a structure with which to apply it, and, in exchange, must belong to an organization that has no effective business model, except to keep its members paying dues and to make their members responsible for bringing in new members. What has happened with the friends (actually ex-friends, thank you, Forum) is that the groups are so expensive, and the push to acquire new members so intense (your personal development in the group seems to hinge on it) that the actual self-help process starts to break down, replaced by the almost maniacal attempt to raise money and talk people into joining the group. At which point members become unbearable to everyone else they know, who shut them out, making it impossible for them to get new members, making them even more desperate, and so the cycle spins down toward burnout.

This is from an outsiders perspective. I'd love to hear from somebody who was on the inside, to see how much it dovetails.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:26 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll make you feel good about being an irrepressible sexual pervert.

I already feel good about that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:28 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I already feel good about that.

That's ok. Would you like to feel bad about it? I mean... really, really bad? I bet you're feeling bored and jaded... but what if I told you you could feel... innocent again? Even virginal?

Step into my office, you nasty pervert. *cracks cane*
posted by loquacious at 3:31 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Empowerment of an individual was a radical idea in the late 70s and 80s, and came under considerable criticism. Go ahead and join the critics if you care to, but it is rather anachronistic to join a battle on the side that lost out several decades ago.

I hadn't really thought about this, and it's very interesting. I was certainly raised in a world of self-actualization. The focus was almost entirely on the power of the individual, and the importance of the development of the individual. There was a real mistrust and breakdown of the idea of collective effort, collective responsibility, collective duty. There was a general mistrust of civics. And, frankly, if this is the world that resulted, even in part, its miserable.

I am just now figuring out how to organize people collectively, and to recognize how much greater the power of that is. In our apartment building, we're now all strangers, and we live in a town of strangers. There is no sense of collective responsibility for our town, for each other. When we address the landlord -- who has the actual power -- it is as relatively powerless individuals. When we address problems in the community, it is as individuals speaking up to organizations, who tend to ignore us, even without intending to. They're just so mired in inertia, and need a real push to change, and an individual can only provide so much of a push.

I feel like I have been limited my entire life by going it alone. And my response has always been to try to improve myself. And I think I'm pretty okay, and this has not made the world much better. So while I don't reject the idea of self-improvement -- we could all stand a little polish -- I think it is essential we get back to civics. To group effort. To concern with creating an effective bureaucracy, rather than just express contempt for bureaucracy as a whole. We need to be members of our communities, rather than individuals whose connection with the outside world is as an constantly improving island of self.

Not that this was the goal of self-improvement, or even the fault of it. And I think the world is tilting back toward collective organizing. And I am starting not to feel quite so powerless as a result.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:39 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is from an outsiders perspective. I'd love to hear from somebody who was on the inside, to see how much it dovetails.

My experience is nothing like that. I didn't pay anything for the EST seminar. A friend bought a ticket for me and my girlfriend as a gift. I was never asked for dues. Over the next year or so, I paid for a couple of weekend seminars, like $20, that was the total sum of money I ever gave them, and that seems to me like a fairly standard, cheap price for a seminar in a rented room in a hotel or convention center.

Of course YMMV. I am sure the seminars of 72 were different from the one I took in 82, which are different from Landmark in 2012. And there are a lot of people who get "it" and take a while to settle down.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:42 PM on May 6, 2012


I think it is fucking hilarious that people consider Rick Ross an authority. Half the stuff I have read on his site looked like complete B.S. to me. Disclaimer--I could only take a small amount of it.
posted by bukvich at 3:44 PM on May 6, 2012


I owe my amazing career to the Forum, as well as probably my marriage. Took 3 classes. 1st class was amazing and transformative, other 2 were so-so. Haven't been back in 20 years.

Worst cult ever.
posted by haricotvert at 3:46 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, Bunny, I really recommend you invest the time in watching that lengthy "The Century of The Self" documentary series. I found it similar in effect to some of the things I did like EST, it tore down a lot of preconceived structures and opened me to making new ones. And it helps contextualize how deeply self-actualization concepts penetrated into society in some unexpected ways.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:47 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I allowed to pee while I watch the series?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:49 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it is fucking hilarious that people consider Rick Ross an authority. Half the stuff I have read on his site looked like complete B.S. to me.

Articles from Mother Jones and the LA Times are "complete B.S."?

The Ross site is useful as an archive, regardless of whatever Rick Ross's deal is as an anti-cult guy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:52 PM on May 6, 2012


Oh, I forgot Psychology Today. Well, that was much less of a B.S. outlet in the 1970s than it is today.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:54 PM on May 6, 2012


that the groups are so expensive, and the push to acquire new members so intense (your personal development in the group seems to hinge on it)

That's interesting, because the two or three people I know who went through Landmark weren't being overly evangelical about the seminar, they weren't required to continue as part of any membership, and there was, as reported from them, no pressure to recruit anyone into taking the Forum nor was there any any stigma attached to failing to do so, nor financial reward in the form of cheaper future courses if they did so.

Odd how what we experienced through our friends is completely different. I wonder what the actual truth is.
posted by hippybear at 3:59 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it might be different from group to group. This was in Minnesota, where self-help groups have a long history of devolving into cults.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:01 PM on May 6, 2012


Am I allowed to pee while I watch the series?

No. And you understand that you have consciously created this commitment to hold it.

Actually, I think this no peeing thing was mythologized by the movie "Semi-Tough." The whole movie is a spoof of the self-actualization movement. There's a scene where Burt Reynolds is planning on taking a fictionalized version of the EST seminar, so he buys a "Motorman's Friend," which is a sort of external catheter attached to a tube that leads down to a metal can you strap to your ankle. The scene where he lets loose, with a look of satisfaction while everyone else is crossing their knees, that's the sort of thing that becomes a myth. Actually, that whole movie is pretty good, it's the only Burt Reynolds movie I'd ever recommend to anyone. The Rolfing scene is pretty funny too, but hardly anyone has ever heard of Rolfing so it never became so mythological.

Anyway, the no-peeing rule wasn't the big thing everyone made it out to be. I remember they said you had to wait for breaks, but if you really could not hold it, speak to one of the staff and they would arrange for you to sit near the back so you could slip out without disturbing the seminar. And no excuses either, you really should have a legit medical reason why you can't hold it for a few hours. You're only cutting yourself short by missing parts of the seminar.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:14 PM on May 6, 2012


> Am I allowed to pee while I watch the series?

Now see this is just ignorant. Nobody ever was prevented from peeing. What was done was you were discouraged from getting up in the middle of the talk sessions to go take a piss and restrict your pissing to the scheduled break times. This was for the convenience of the one guy up front who was trying to keep the attention of 3 or 4 hundred seminar participants.

Also the money discussion is way off. If you could buy group psychotherapy in a carton at the pharmacy department at Wal-Mart, it would greatly resemble Est or the Forum and its cousins. The last time I looked it was 400 dollars for 66 hours, or about 6 dollars an hour. An hour with a shrink costs 200$ and an hour of group psychotherapy was ~ 10 dollars the last time I shopped it. Not that it's that great but for 6 bucks an hour what could you possibly expect?
posted by bukvich at 4:16 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This was for the convenience of the one guy up front who was trying to keep the attention of 3 or 4 hundred seminar participants. ]

My understanding from what I've read about such matters is that the discouragement from leaving in the middle of a talk session to go to the bathroom was that some participants would be looking for any excuse to escape the procedures during segments of the presentation which were psychologically uncomfortable for them personally, and that bathroom necessity was the most common excuse for ducking out for a few minutes. So the potty breaks were discouraged in order to keep people from being consciously/unconsciously avoidant of uncomfortable concepts which would obviously be the concepts which they most directly needed to confront and not avoid.
posted by hippybear at 4:21 PM on May 6, 2012


Now see this is just ignorant. Nobody ever was prevented from peeing

I actually was referencing Semi Tough. Is Burt Reynolds no longer the cultural force he once was?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:29 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, the no peeing thing and the strict rules and no clocks and no windows and the yelling and the instant intimacies are basically each individual strategies that when added to food deprivation and sleep deprivation and isolation from dissenting points of view become something known as coercive persuasion. This is how all cults operate and the way they generate a feeling that "my life has been changed" is by basically making you feel that your suffering and submission and merging with the group has been worthwhile (otherwise you're a sucker and an idiot and friendless outsider who doesn't "get it").

The more you pay emotionally and financially for an experience, the more you want to believe it was valuable and changed your life. Sadly, when you run trials on these seminars, people *believe* their lives have been changed in positive ways, but their *behavior* doesn't actually change for the better. And a small percent crack under the stress and become suicidal or psychotic (LifeSpring has had to pay out millions because of this). So, basically, these things are at best ineffective (even though people believe they were helped: you can be helped by bad experiences of course but we don't prescribe being treated awfully as treatment) and at worst seriously destructive emotionally and financially.

The other important thing to know about any of the est-based/ Large group awareness training stuff is that the fundamental "wisdom" they teach is that you control everything. So, if you were raped, you chose to be raped. If you were a Holocaust survivor, you chose to be in the camps. It's a silly extremist view of the sensible idea that your perception shapes the way you view the world (which is true) into the idea that your perception creates the world. Obviously, this kind of belief allows you to treat everyone else like crap (they asked for it) and do what you want in the most oblivious and self centered way (you are creating reality). it also is lovely for people who are survivors of horrible things to be taught to blame themselves.

I've written a ton about how these programs are imposed on teens in many of the "emotional growth" "boot camp" "behavior modification" programs — this is how you get "seminars" that have teenage rape survivors perform lap dances.

Anyway, this guy talking about integrity is like Newt Gingrich on fidelity, basically.
posted by Maias at 5:24 PM on May 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


(The no bathroom breaks thing was not a myth but was dropped in some of the later incarnations although they still seriously discourage them, they don't have people wetting themselves regularly any more and they definitely used to do.)
posted by Maias at 5:25 PM on May 6, 2012


This is from an outsiders perspective. I'd love to hear from somebody who was on the inside, to see how much it dovetails.

I experienced a thing called LIFESPRING from the outside (that is, various friends and an immediate family member went through the seminars). And, yes I was lucky enough to get invited to more than one meet-a-great (ie: aggressive sales presentations). Oh, what fun.

As I recall (it was thirty years ago and people weren't supposed to share any specifics of the seminars anyway), there were basically three levels.

1. basic introductory seminar (semi-intense, cost a few hundred bucks)
2. level two (twice as long, cost double, quite intense)
3. recruitment (free but you were now part of the sales team, a contracted volunteer commitment that lasted a few months -- Lifespring was big on contracts and commitments)

Again, I don't think it cost me any friends on the long term. Nobody ended up in the psyche ward or went bankrupt. One good friend who'd been messing around psychedelics a fair bit actually seemed to get a lot positive out of it (cleaned up his act, got a regular job, went back to school). But then, as he confided later, he had a major meltdown/spiritual crisis maybe a year after he finished everything. Which, as he put it, was not a result of anything that happened in the training, except maybe the training put off the inevitable for a while. Bottom line: he had profound existential issues that he only ever reconciled by getting involved again in the Church in which he'd grown up (a sort of low grade, non-evangelical United thing).

All this said (and as regards the peeing stuff), he has described one incident (in the recruitment part of it) where he was so exhausted after a long day of various Lifespring related activities that he was on the verge of hallucinating and finally just walked out of the conference room they were using. Which caused a big furor, much drama as all of his "friends" tried to talk him back into returning. Unfortunately I don't recall any more specifics, except that, for him, it was sort of the final straw. Time to get back to his real life with his real friends etc.
posted by philip-random at 5:35 PM on May 6, 2012


And following up, just in case there's some confusion. I knew people who took both est and Lifespring (different crowds). But I was more intimate with the Lifespring ones. Worth noting, there was definite competition between the two crowds -- the Lifespring types arguing that theirs was a more gentle, less confrontational training, the est types mostly just shrugging Lifespring off as a second rate rip-off.
posted by philip-random at 5:39 PM on May 6, 2012


I took a Landmark Forum class 10 years ago, and everything people are saying is true.

And I mean everything, both pro and con. Which is what I think makes it so difficult to discuss.

It's not tinfoil hats and magic underwear. The things they teach are pretty uncontroversial, when you get down to it -- they're just hard. Nobody wants to have a difficult conversation about some long-held personal pain, even if they know rationally that they should. Landmark is structured to get people through those barriers, in a way that other methods often can't.

The problem is that it works using techniques straight out of the cult handbook. About 3 hours into it, I realized why a bunch of stuff sounded familiar, and from that point on I had to resist the urge to shout "I love The Leader!" every ten minutes or so. I'm not sure if this is what people are talking about with the bathroom breaks, but if you stand up during a session they stop and ask you where you're going, as everyone in the room looks at you. They put a lot of energy into building this creepy group dynamic of conformity and compliance.

Now, I can see that this is part of why it's effective -- it makes it hard to withdraw or avoid going through some difficult exercise. Which is why I stuck with it until the last few hours, when the selling started.

there was, as reported from them, no pressure to recruit anyone into taking the Forum nor was there any any stigma attached to failing to do so

I call absolute, 100% bullshit on this. That was the entirety of the last session, and the mantra -- repeated dozens if not hundreds of times, like a little "Carthage delenda est" -- was that the single criterion for successful completion of the class lay in your recruitment of new attendees.

Which was how I got up in the middle of the last session, told them when they asked me politely-but-oh-so-visibly what I was doing that I just couldn't take it anymore, and walked out. I called the friend who had convinced me to go and told him about it, and he begged me to just finish the session, that it would be worth it. So I went back in and sat for the last hour.

When it was all over, and they asked people to stand up and talk about how great the session had been (and, of course, how they were going to recruit everyone they knew), I realized I did get something positive out of it. So I got up and told the guy leading the session that I still thought he was full of crap, but that here I was actually telling him that rather than just slinking out the back door, and that really was personal growth for me.

And what sticks in my mind was how pissed he looked, and how the faint hope I'd harbored -- that they really were there to help people rather than make money off of them, and that they'd be happy to see someone benefiting from their course, even if they didn't get a convert or promise of additional business -- just blew away like ash.
posted by bjrubble at 5:44 PM on May 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


What has happened with the friends (actually ex-friends, thank you, Forum) is that the groups are so expensive, and the push to acquire new members so intense (your personal development in the group seems to hinge on it) that the actual self-help process starts to break down, replaced by the almost maniacal attempt to raise money and talk people into joining the group. At which point members become unbearable to everyone else they know, who shut them out, making it impossible for them to get new members, making them even more desperate, and so the cycle spins down toward burnout.--Bunny Ultramod

Just for the anecdotal record, this happened to someone close to me too. She never got me to go despite many, many annoying attempts, and she finally broke away from it, thank goodness! She was about to lose her job from spending so much money on it.

And don't forget the Landmark Cafe lawsuits.

Whatever happened to Werner Erhard's big project to end world hunger? It was supposed to have accomplished its goals by now. Since it seemed to involve nothing but expanding awareness of Werner's philosphical mumbo jumbo (something like "when everyone gets 'it', the hunger will end") I didn't give it much hope, and am sorry people put their money into that pit rather than into actual effective programs.
posted by eye of newt at 5:50 PM on May 6, 2012


A better link on the Landmark Cafe (it's more about the firing of the manager who wouldn't take Landmark than the tip pool lawsuit).

And I meant to say that the person I knew almost lost her job for spending so much time doing Landmark recruiting (as opposed to doing her job), not because she was spending so much money (though she did that too).
posted by eye of newt at 6:29 PM on May 6, 2012


Ok, so, I haven't been to anything like one of these large group sessions (though I have some experience with group confessions after several years of Baptist youth camp).

So those of you who say there's some value, and people "break through" their problems..in what way? Do they get up and confess and seek guidance? Break into small groups and reveal their shortcomings to each other and do trust exercises? What is so uncomfortable that so many people would want to walk out? Would anything prevent someone from just making shit up? I am trying and failing to picture this process.
posted by emjaybee at 7:13 PM on May 6, 2012


> So those of you who say there's some value, and people "break through" their problems..in what way?

If you are in a rut and an existential or experiential shock will break the rut it can be very beneficial. The 36 hours in three days is extremely powerful in getting you outside of your comfort zone.

> Do they get up and confess and seek guidance?

Happens to a few. Not essential.

> Break into small groups and reveal their shortcomings to each other and do trust exercises?

Included and not essential.

> What is so uncomfortable that so many people would want to walk out?

There is a long list of self-examination lessons. The most disturbing thing is a hypnotic induction (they claim they don't do hypnosis but my own opinion is that is dishonest) where the participants confront their deepest fear. I signed an NDA so I could be sued (ha!) for telling you this but our deepest fear is the people that we know do not like us or respect us. This is resolved at the end of the thirty minute hypnotic induction when you find out that their deepest fear is that you do not like them or respect them. In my session three quarters of the way through this a woman got up and ran towards the restroom and we could all hear her puking her guts up out in the hallway.

> Would anything prevent someone from just making shit up?

If you go to a therapist and pay them money and then make shit up it sort of defeats the purpose of it.

Journalism on est and the forum is pretty crappy. If you want an academic's look at it, I like what Irwin Yalom has to say on his book on Group Psychtherapy. He reports they do a lot of good things, but ultimately they rely on a known flawed premise that big risk is required for large results. It is helpful in keeping the attention of people over the ordeal of 36 hours in three days that highly dramatic shit like child abuse and sex abuse and familial hatred is brought to light, but sound therapy treads gently on the boundaries of such topics until significant trust is first built. Rushing onto the big stuff very often backfires and it is more damage added up on top when that happens. If you do not have Real Big Issues like that I cannot imagine doing it could possibly be harmful to you. Unfortunately a lot of people do have Real Big Issues like that and those people are often going to have a real hard time trying to work in this manner.

Also the marketing push will nauseate you if you do not ignore that part of it. I didn't try and do any serious work on my largest issues and I ignored the marketing and I thought the experience was worth the three days and the four hundred dollars.
posted by bukvich at 7:42 PM on May 6, 2012


From what I understand, it has to do with an existential breakthrough, that is, seeing that everything is ultimately meaningless and that the past doesn't matter and the future is made up of new choices rather than being determined by previous actions. It's somewhat similar to the zen concept of satori, the enlightenment, although it isn't fully congruent.

The friends I've talked to who have gone through Landmark Forum, as much as they've been willing to talk about the experience, say that the big moment of truth for them (which was always different, but always led to the same end) was the dawning of realization that nobody knows what the answers are, that there really IS no Answer, per se, and that all the baggage they've been carrying about former relationships/life choices/childhood conditioning didn't have to have power over them. That they had the opportunity to redefine themselves from that point forward and that they could move in any direction they wanted and disregard any lingering doubts or fears which held them back from full realization of the persons they wanted to be.

Honestly, it sounds like the same kind of thing I learned from doing a lot of hallucinogenics combined with quality conversation with knowledgable hippies. It also sounds like the kind of thing people who are in therapy seek through intense introspection.

There's no confession, there's no breaking into small groups and revelation of shortcomings... From what I understand it's more about a constant presentation of concepts combined with the engineered atmosphere of the situation which helps people to get to that realization.

I'd say the closest I've seen to an existential breakthrough that I've seen depicted in mass media was in I Heart Huckabees, although not at all in the same way that this process seems to engender. The IHH philosophy has a core of interconnectedness which est and Landmark don't seem to have. Frankly, the hippies who were guiding me through my own process of self-realization seemed to carry a lot more of the connectedness than not, and I'm happy about that.
posted by hippybear at 7:44 PM on May 6, 2012


I knew people who took both est and Lifespring (different crowds). But I was more intimate with the Lifespring ones.

LOL well the Lifespring people were more intimate with everyone, that's what they did. As I understand it, it was more of an intimacy training with lots of hugging, that's how they greeted each other. I knew Lifespring people and yes they were very pushy about recruiting, one of them actually called my Dad and conned him into giving them money so I could take LS but I made them give it back, I was really pissed. Anyway, one friend in this circle was a Playboy centerfold and she was always hugging me a bit too intimately, and I always hugged back and thought HELLS YEAH but then one day, one of her friends started with the recruiting pitch, she was like "oh oops, I thought you were one of us," and no more hugging from then on. Damn.

Anyway, I notice one trend in this sort of discussion, I always see this about EST. The people who have no direct experience with it are quick to stridently denounce it as a cult, based on secondhand reports. The people with direct experience are more realistic about its good and bad qualities, but none of them think it was a cult, and most are generally positive about it as an experience (even if they may have problems with the organization or marketing or whatever). Sure, maybe they used some cult-like techniques, but I always found it was fully disclosed and explained as such, so you could deal with it more appropriately.

Let me give you an example. One of the more notorious EST exercises is the "stare-down" (well that's what I call it, I don't know if it has a real name). I think this is actually depicted in that Adam Curtis documentary but I don't know if they do this anymore, I know they did it up to the early 80s when I took it. Anyway.. they told us we were going to do an exercise that was adapted from Gestapo interrogation techniques. We would stand face to face with an EST trainer, who would stare directly into our eyes for minutes at a time, with a passive look on their face. We would look back into their eyes. They were unflinching. This was supposed to be an exercise to break down the barriers of interpersonal interaction, which would then be restructured in a supportive environment. I watched person after person break down into tears in this exercise. And that was the point, to give you an opportunity to confront that direct barrier between Me and You. Nobody had to take the exercise, you could skip it if you wanted. A few skipped it, I didn't.

Now they could have bullshitted us and told us it was a Zen exercise or something, but they didn't. They were not concealing anything they were doing. Obviously a lot of people hear about that and are OMG NAZIS and that's the end of it. It's quite different if it is explained in advance and then you are offered this as a technique intended for self-development. Sure, you can argue there was peer pressure to go along. Well I opted out of various exercises in the EST seminar, and other people did too.

Sure, a lot of mistakes were made in the self-actualization movement, just as there were mistakes made in previous social movements. But if you're looking for an evil mastermind, Erhard is not the guy you're looking for. I constantly hear people compare him to L Ron and I have to just roll my eyes.

Anyway, on preview when bukvich "gives away" some of the secrets like you're scared of people, but they're scared of you too, these may seem trite but they have significant impact when delivered in a carefully planned method rather than someone typing it out in MeFi. But I think the most interesting part of EST is that everyone who took the seminar has a different perspective on what "it" is. That is about as far away from the singular thinking of cult indoctrination as you could get.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:49 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of some of the people who advocate taking psychedelic drugs. "You realize everyone is connected, you learn to drop your ego, don't suffer your past mistakes, etc.!" Wait, you didn't know that already?

Also, from what I can tell about these things, it seems like this has an MLM/franchise aspect to it. Each group leader is going to be different, and that's why the stories here seem so divergent.
posted by gjc at 8:12 PM on May 6, 2012


Well, the stories aren't divergent, the interpretations are. The stories include the same basic elements but some people claim that they are lifechanging and helpful and the others claim they are harmful. This is when empirical studies— which exist— are useful. They show that the claims of lasting change are not valid (people who participate aren't any better off than controls in terms of changed behavior) and that there are some casualties.

What's more, the people who lead these things don't have psychological training and are in it for profit— hence, all the pressure. And hence the fact that they make people sign things like non-disclosure agreements and agreements not to sue and agreements that they aren't currently on meds and aren't in treatment for psychiatric disorders. This suggests that they know there are serious issues and still want to make money.

If you want to submit yourself to a for-profit organization that makes money by making you into a salesperson for it and that has no oversight or regulation or controlled data favoring it and feel safe letting them take control over your life for a weekend, knowing that they use tactics that are designed to coerce, that's your choice. But I don't think it's fair to say that it's simply one set of opinions versus another: there's data and it doesn't favor these guys.
posted by Maias at 8:34 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


If someone came to you and said they wanted you to tell them what to do, you could literally turn them into a human pumpkin with relatively little effort, but some skill would be required. Just ask the magician/hypnotists who call a random phone booth and put the person who answers to sleep in 20 seconds. It's the power of suggestion, and the willingness of the random respondent to let you in their mind, because they answered the phone while all others ignored it.
posted by Brian B. at 9:04 PM on May 6, 2012


METAFILTER: the same kind of thing I learned from doing a lot of hallucinogenics combined with quality conversation with knowledgable hippies.

Thanks for that, hippybear.

They show that the claims of lasting change are not valid (people who participate aren't any better off than controls in terms of changed behavior) and that there are some casualties.

This would be my take on it (second hand again but I did make sort of a study of it back when my various friends were doing their thing). But I question the way you drop "casualties" in there. Are there actual stats that say that that people that take est etc are likely to be worse off " ... than controls in terms of changed behavior", or is there just a percentage of them that end up "damaged" who would have found that damage regardless (ie: out in the real world), just as a percentage find positive lasting change out there.
posted by philip-random at 9:05 PM on May 6, 2012


But I don't think it's fair to say that it's simply one set of opinions versus another

Oh sure it is. It is my opinion that you cannot judge the effects of a self-development course without experiencing it. It is your opinion that its effects on the human psyche can be evaluated by secondhand information. No data can ever resolve this.

There are no Lisa McPherson cases in EST. I don't know what you're going on about, with all this "harm" talk. I can acknowledge my biases and see both the pros and cons. But I tend to disregard the opinions of people with extremely rigid, black and white thinking.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:28 PM on May 6, 2012


I steered clear of est (and later, Landmark) because of the sort of hard-sell "We *know* this will be good for you!" experiences I'd had with friends and/or acquaintances who'd gotten involved in either est or Landmark or both; they give you (me) these super-toothy smiles, Julia Roberts sorts of smiles, fourteen thousand teeth, and if there is more than one they sortof look at one another knowingly, a nod of heads. Any of that would have sent alarms ringing, all of it together and I knew to just say "I'm glad you've found it, it appears it's been a very important experience for you, but probably I think I'm busy this coming weekend, oh, and yes, now that you mention it, I'm pretty sure I'm busy the third weekend after that, too -- heck." etc and etc until they take their big mouth of smiling teeth and move on, leave me alone.

But one friend, who was quite close, and who I did trust, he did Landmark, and he found it very, very powerful, and now there he was with the toothy grins at me but I knew he meant to help, in fact I believe that all of the people I've mentioned truly have good intention, like a Baptist wanting to spread his Jesus thing to others because it's been so good for him, even though it'd be horrible for the person he's trying to give it to.

Long story short, I went to a Wednesday night introductory, at which nothing at all was said, all sizzle no steak, but big hard sell on the coming weekend. I didn't like it, quite annoyed that there was no information given, but my friend went on about it and of course it was just a weekend and two hundred fifty bucks so what the hell; I signed on the line.

It was held in a rented office space, nice, as office spaces go, lots of glass but every glass had blinds and every blind was closed, and we were not to open them. We were not to go to the bathroom. We were not to go get a drink of water. We were not to talk to one another. We were not to do anything but let these people treat us like shit, sit there like dopes while they put us down. Aside from the leader they had plenty of staff to keep it running tight, keep everybody “in line” and I suspect that at least some of these minor staffers were volunteers.

They were really insistent that everyone be not only prompt but *early*, that this would help us begin to set on our new course of living in true integrity. They called again, the night beforehand, more of the "You must be on time and you should be early." thing.

I was on time, early in fact. It seemed that everyone had gotten there early, all of us participants. But oh, hey, guess what – the presenter, the lead, she was at least ten minutes late, maybe fifteen, and we are to be good little citizens, sit in our chairs quietly, waiting. Did she apologize when she got there, did she say “Oh man, I know that we've been dogging you all relentlessly about prompt true integrity and stuff and here it turns out that I can't do it; please forgive me.” Guess.

I was hot, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one, she was arrogant and a big goddamn jerk and it was perfectly clear that this thing is run on the exact same idea as US Marine Corp boot camp, treat people like shit, wear them down physically and mentally, disorient them totally, have a strong lead who cannot be questioned AT ALL or you get crucified, publicly, a public shaming. What a load of crap.

She kept on, baiting everyone about everything, doing her best to get someone to question her, and if/when someone did she ran over them. What a hemorrhoid! I lasted about fifteen minutes, then began to talk and wasn't going to stop.

She tried to run over me and that was not going to happen, I called her on it and also on every goddamn game I'd seen her run that Saturday morning (I can only imagine people who stay the whole week-end, the bs she had to have laid on them) and that whole time she's trashing me and slashing at me but I didn't give a rats ass, I insisted she treat me with respect and she would not. I stood up and walked. She kept trying to engage me as I walked, I was done.

THAT caught them – people don't usually walk on $250, and they went on and on about how they're not going to give it back, after a minute or two of wrestling with them over the money, I smiled and told them that it's easy worth $250 to me to walk out of a bad scene, it's clear that they needed the money more than I did. And I left.

It is not part of their plan to have someone leave, they really did try to talk me into staying. I told them that the only talking I was going to do with them involved them giving me back my money. They were insistent that was not going to happen, I waved them goodbye. $250 well spent.

They called me later that afternoon, doing all they could to get me back in the fold; it would have been great for Landmark had the other participants seen me leave and then come back penitently. I told them I'll be glad to come down there, that they will give me my money and I will then leave. They agreed to do so. Oh my god, talk about hard sell – they did everything they could to bust me down, back into the game. I said “Hey, how about that money?” and finally they gave it to me.

So that afternoon I learned that I'll easily spend $250 to live honestly, true to myself.


I'm not saying that there is not good to come out of there – I have seen people go through and come out so much stronger, perhaps a better human being, definitely a more determined human being, at least for a while. Same as in boot camp, getting slugged around will give you a zing for a while. But to me it's the exact same as victims bonding to their abusers; it looks bad to me, feels wrong, I believe that it is wrong. I guess it's best to say that it's wrong for me; that I can state with assurance.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:46 PM on May 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


It is my opinion that you cannot judge the effects of a self-development course without experiencing it.

That's silly.
posted by freebird at 11:55 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tonight Show, 1973 - John Denver interviews Werner Erhard
posted by philip-random at 9:37 PM on May 8, 2012


Controlled studies are not really in the same league as "secondhand information". And the sunk-cost fallacy is a well-known psychological bias towards something you've put time, money or effort into without being able to recover it.

I've had 3 people try to get me into Landmark. They are all lovely people who I believe had my best interests at heart. But they don't seem to have gotten any particular benefit from it, and it cost them a lot of money and quite a few friendships. I'd already heard about the dodginess of Werner Erhard, there are plenty of paths to enlightenment that are cheaper and more fun, and the similarities to Scientology intro sessions are pretty obvious if you know anything about those, so I politely declined for the several months it took to get them to leave me alone.
posted by harriet vane at 2:33 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


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