Had I opened a gourmet magazine to find an article extolling the gustatory delights of Velveeta on Wonder Bread, I would not be more shocked than opening The Quest to find Eliezer Sobel's paean to est I was saddened to find Mr. Sobel still trapped in the tangle of sophistries woven by Werner Erhard and his minions. I urge Mr. Sobel and your readers to turn to the literature on cognitive dissonance and coercive persuasion to make sense of the est phenomenon and to discover how vulnerable we all are to clever charlatans who prey on human weakness.
Erhard the huckster sold his toxic confusion by playing on the hidden fears, guilt, and shame of his victims. An est trainer yelling in your face "Your life isn't working, asshole!" might seem at first blush a tad disrespectful, even hostile. How much easier to let Erhard's specious double-talk convince you of his transcendent purpose than to face the ugly fact that the trainer is humiliating you in front of a large crowd. It's true that the trainer, after this intimidating outburst, would flash a big smile. Confusing? Of course, and designed to be so, but suddenly comprehensible if you realize what is the essence of a confidence game: that you are confronted by an enemy who is pretending to be your friend.
Mr. Sobel confirms the power of such trickery to persist. After twenty years the thought crosses his mind that maybe "the training hadn't worked" -- a sobering, uncomfortable thought. But immediately the trainer's deceptive suggestion, implanted so many years before, seduces him back to the comfort zone: "Just choose to believe that it did."
I had the misfortune to be snared two years ago by one of the "sons of est" -- they go by names like Landmark Forum, Lifespring, and Insight. After a struggle to emerge from this organization's noxious manipulation, these are the words I use to describe my experience: Outrageous betrayal of trust. Spiritual abuse. Emotional rape.
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