Encyclopedia of American Loons: #652: Werner Erhard
I started scanning this website, Encyclopedia of American Loons, after reading Randall Gross’s page today on James Fetzer, and I was curious to see this listing about Werner Erhard.
Full disclosure: I did est (now known as The Landmark Forum), as well as a few seminars a long time ago. To make a very long story short, I found it to be a waste of time, and I also found it to be cult like. There was a lot of hard core emotional manipulation, but I never knew anyone I would consider to be brainwashed in the truest sense of the word. Essentially, it seemed to me that est participants in the training and various other “post graduate seminars” (you were called a “graduate” after you complete the training) were unpaid sales associates, as sometimes these seminars consisted of nothing but the seminar leader lecturing us about why it was so important to bring guests to “Special Guest Seminars” - where said guests would see a presentation about the training, and then be subjected to some pretty hardcore and intrusive hardselling.
And yes, at the time I did the training anyway, you were not allowed to go to the bathroom save for scheduled bathroom breaks, and if you tried to get up and go to the bathroom outside of these breaks, you would receive a stern lecture about how you were breaking your commitment by monitors places at the back of the room next to the doors. You also were not allowed to wear a watch during the training, and the windows were even covered completely so you would not have a sense of what time it was. Whether Landmark still does any of these things I do not know.
My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that while I would call est cult like, I wouldn’t compare it to well known cults like Scientology, mainly because it was pretty easy to leave. I simply stopped going to est events, and save for a few phone calls from concerned estians, which I simply ditched, there was no effort at all bring me back into the fold. I know some may disagree and say it is a cult, but that was my experience. I also wouldn’t call est’s founder, Werner Erhard (formerly used car salesman Jack Rosenberg) a “loon,” but simply an egomaniac, a con artist, and a real piece of work (as a young man, he abandoned his first wife and children).
So with all that said, I found this entry interesting.
A.k.a. Jack Paul Rosenberg (real name)
The Erhard Seminars Training or “est” was a pretty popular affair in the 1970s and 80s (it might still exist - offshoots such as the Landmark forum at least do). In the seminars participants payed quite a lot of money to be abused and subjected to woo, pseudo-existentialism, meditation, sleep deprivation, and brainwashing, all for the purpose of increasing Werner Erhard’s personal wealth but officially for the purpose of “getting it” (a comprehensive discussion is here). What you were supposed to “get” is still a little unclear, for it was framed in incoherent gibberish and psychobabble that est initiates claimed were “intensely” meaningful (because of sleep deprivation, presumably), but at least the participants were supposed to speak enthusiastically about it afterwards and recruit new participants (and obtain “awareness”). The est babble was based on a combination of Mind Dynamics, Scientology (though even scientologists denounced Erhard - ok, so they claimed infringement of copyright rather than calling bullshit), Zen, Gestalt psychology, Heidegger, Dale Carnegie, motivational books, Psycho-Cybernetics and various precursors of The Secret.
Mind Dynamics, by the way, was the focus of Erhard’s precursor to est, and involved a method by which Erhard claimed to be able to teach clairvoyance, ESP, mind reading, and similar bullshit.
Here’s a pretty objective review of the Landmark Forum, and if you’re curious, Youtube has boatloads of other videos about it: