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1970s Fads: Erhard Seminars Training (est)

By Wikipedia

Erhard Seminars Training, or est (generally in lower-case), a controversial New Age large group awareness training (LGAT) seminar program, became popular during the 1970s. Werner Erhard (born John Paul Rosenberg) founded est and conducted the first est seminar in San Francisco, California, in October 1971.

The company originally incorporated in 1973 as a non-profit foundation in the State of California under the name of the Foundation for the Realization of Man. An amendment to the articles of incorporation, filed in July 1976, renamed it as the est Foundation.

Name Origins

Pressman recounts how Erhard adopted the name "est" from a science fiction book he had read: est: The Steersman Handbook, written by L. Clark Stevens and published in 1970.

Others have noted that the word est in Latin means "it is" (or "he is" or "she is"), which seems appropriate to an organization which stressed the concept of being (as in "ground of being") and emphasized use of the verb "to be" in many of its rituals and catch-phrases. (like "I am a stand..." or "what's so").

Influences on and Philosophy of est

Erhard himself cites Zen, or as some have alleged, Westernized Zen. The "est" principle that we ourselves created this world as God and created amnesia so as to play a game on ourselves (or Himself) derives from the writings of Alan Watts, a hipster popularizer of religious thought, most notably of Zen and of other eastern religions.

As quoted in est: Making Life Work by Robert A. Hargrave, Erhard cited the influence of Zen, Subud, Encounter Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Scientology and an obscure group known as Mind Dynamics. Erhard's supporters would later accuse Scientology of having engineered a campaign against Erhard for his borrowing of key concepts, such as "being at cause", meaning the cause of an event. The Church of Scientology regards est and Erhard himself as "suppressive" and counts his supporters as enemies of Scientology (whose numbers have grown exponentially thanks to the grand work of the nut case Dr. Tom Cruise).

Stone records the interpretation, both internally (Stone 1976:93) and externally (Stone 1976:97) which sees est as a component of the Human Potential Movement.

Responsibility assumption formed an important part of the est curriculum: however, critics charge that responsibility operated only in one direction, from the top down -- est Forum Leaders and Erhard himself tending towards autocratic shows of discipline.

Nowadays, Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) programs like Landmark Education contribute to promoting the ideas and concepts of Werner Erhard, though wisely without stressing his name, his controversial reputation or his ideological forebears.

Controversies

One est participant, James Slee, died during a seminar, and his family sued the organization. Other participants had breakdowns. Such occurrences occurred only very rarely, and juries have not established causation.

Eileen Barker, sometimes seen as a cult apologist, wrote of the ambiguous status of est, speaking of "... movements which do not fall under the definition of religion used by the Institute [for the study of American Religion], but which are sometimes called 'cults'. Examples would be est, Primal Therapy or Rebirthing." (Barker, 1989: 149)

Finkelstein wrote on the problems of categorizing est:

"[The] literature resembles the early literature on encounter groups and other vehicles of the human potential movement; it consists of only a few objective outcome studies which exist side-by-side with highly positive testimonials and anecdotal reports of psychological harm. Reports of testimonials have been compiled by est advocates and suffer from inadequate methodology. More objective and rigorous research reports fail to demonstrate that the positive testimony and evidence of psychological change among est graduates result from specific attributes of est training. Instead, non-specific effects of expectancy and response sets may account for positive outcomes. Reports of psychological harm as the result of est training remain anecdotal, but borderline or psychotic persons would be well advised not to participate." (Finkelstein 1982: 538)

Pressman recounts how incest allegations against Werner Erhard made on CBS television's 60 Minutes program in March 1991 came from Deborah Rosenberg, the youngest child from Erhard/Rosenberg's first marriage. (Pressman 1993: 256 - 257). Deborah Rosenberg's allegations of molestation and rape also appeared in print in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Another daughter, Celeste Erhard, subsequently stated that third parties tricked her into exaggerating spicy details about her father's alleged behavior (she and another sister had made allegations of domestic violence against her father on 60 Minutes, not about incest or rape). Celeste Erhard said that the media had told her that the articles and her appearance on 60 Minutes aimed to get publicity for a book (San Jose Mercury News, July 16 1992).

Pressman tells how Erhard filed but then withdrew a lawsuit alleging "false, misleading and defamatory statements" against CBS in the wake of the latter's 60 Minutes program (Pressman 1993: 257 - 258).

Art Schreiber noted in a letter of July 31 1998:

There have been allegations that Mr. Erhard was abusive to his family. However, those allegations were later recanted. I am enclosing a copy of the article in the July 16, 1992 edition of the San Jose Mercury News regarding the lawsuit brought by one of Mr. Erhard's daughters against a San Jose Mercury News reporter for fraudulently promising her payment as incentive for her to make such false allegation to the media.

Note however that the referenced article in the San Jose Mercury News ("DAUGHTER OF EST FOUNDER SUES MN OVER 2 ARTICLES") quotes Celeste Erhard speaking of "exaggerating spicy details about her father's life", not of recanting.

In the Stephanie Ney court case of 1992 (resulting from Ney's participation in "the Forum") a U.S. court in a default judgment ordered Werner Erhard (in absentia) to pay more than $500,000 in damages for "mental injuries" (Pressman, 1993: 262). In the trial, the court did not find "the Forum" the cause of Stephanie Ney's injuries, but because Erhard never contested the suit, the court entered the default judgment against him.

"Est" metamorphosed supporters might say "transformed itself" in 1980 - 1981 into the corporate "Werner Erhard and Associates" (WE&A) and the course "The Forum". In 1991 WE&A became "Landmark Education" and the course "The Landmark Forum". Landmark Education continues to operate seminars with similar methods and teachings. Pressman, comparing the Landmark Forum with the est course, states that the courses' "words and phrases ... had hardly changed" (Pressman, 1993: 267 - 268), and that a Landmark Education course presenter equated the two courses with the phrase "when this work was first presented" (Pressman, 1993: 271 - 272).

Associated Publications

A look at est in education: Analysis, review and selected case studies of the impact of the est experience on educators and students in primary, secondary, and post-secondary education, by Robert W. Fuller and Zara Wallace, published January 1, 1975, by est, an educational corporation. Joan Holmes, current president of The Hunger Project, served as consulting educational psychologist for the preparation of this book. 

Erhard Seminars Training and Tax Evasion

The United States IRS allegedly settled a dispute over alleged tax evasion with Erhard by paying him $200,000 for wrongful disclosure of false information. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned this decision on February 8, 1995, in the case "Werner H. Erhard v. Commissioner Internal Revenue Service".

Timeline of Incorporations and Name-Changes

October 1971 - Erhard Seminars Training, first seminar in San Francisco, California
1973 - the Foundation for the Realization of Man - incorporated, non-profit foundation in California
July 1976 - est Foundation - amendment to the articles of incorporation, California
February 1981 - Werner Erhard and Associates
January 16, 1991 - Breakthrough Technologies
signed by attorney Donald R. Share
Art Schreiber as initial agent
January 23, 1991 - Transnational Education Corp.
May 7, 1991 - Landmark Education Corporation
Brian Regnier signed as President and Secretary of Transnational Education Corp
Harry Rosenberg as director and treasurer
June 5, 1991 - Werner Erhard and Associates International, Inc., now a subsidiary of Landmark Education Corporation
Gilbert H. Judson, president
Regina Tierney, secretary
July 14, 1992 - Alexandria, VA - federal district judge rules Landmark Education Corporation did not have successor liability, in the case brought by a Silver Spring, Maryland woman for emotional damages allegedly due to participation in the Forum under Werner Erhard and Associates.
February 2003 - Landmark Education Corporation became "Landmark Education LLC" 

Staff/Participants/Individuals

Current/previous involvement, est, WE&A, Landmark Education, etc
Werner Erhard, a.k.a. John Paul Rosenberg
Harry Rosenberg - current CEO of Landmark Education and brother of Werner Erhard (John Paul Rosenberg)
Joan Rosenberg - Vice-President of Centers Division Landmark Education and sister of Werner Erhard (John Paul Rosenberg)
Nathan Rosenberg - along with other employees, bought WE&A from Erhard in 1991
Art Schreiber - Erhard's personal attorney, general counsel and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Landmark Education
Brian Regnier - est trainer, founding member, Landmark Education
Nancy Zapolski - Vice-President in charge of course development, Landmark Education, previously est trainer
Laurel Scheaf - President, Erhard Seminars Training, est trainer, currently forum leader, Landmark Education
Steven Zaffron - est trainer, current CEO, Landmark Education Business Development (LEBD)
Jerry Joiner - M.D., medical doctor for NASA, est trainer, forum leader within Landmark Education

Others
Fernando Flores - philosopher, helped develop curriculum for Erhard Seminars Training
Harry Margolis - tax attorney for Erhard's organizations
Stewart Esposito - est trainer and CEO, Erhard Seminars Training
Robert Larzelere - M.D., director of Erhard Seminars Training's "well being department"
Enoch Calloway - M.D., psychiatrist, former member, advisory board of Erhard Seminars Training
Wolfgang Somary - investment banker, loaned Werner Erhard and Associates $14 million
Joan Holmes - prior "consulting educational psychologist", Erhard Seminars Training; founding CEO of The Hunger Project
Robert W. Fuller - est participant, co-founder, The Hunger Project
John Denver - est participant, co-founder of The Hunger Project
Ellis Duell - est participant, past Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Hunger Project
Lynne Twist - est participant, founding executive and past director of global funding for The Hunger Project
Steven Pressman - author of Outrageous Betrayal: The dark journey of Werner Erhard from est to exile, (1993), St. Martin's Press
James Slee - young est participant, died unexpectedly during an est training session 

Related Organizations

Werner Erhard and Associates
Landmark Education

The Hunger Project (1977 - )

Erhard formed the opinion that death by starvation occurred not because of lack of food to feed all those who suffered from chronic hunger. Instead he blamed the context in which people viewed and interacted with chronic hunger. That context, he said, consisted of a closely-held belief (or discourse, or conversation) that saw hunger as inevitable, a context of scarcity that governed all the interactions and fixes currently applied by those then attempting to fix the problem.

Along with John Denver and Oberlin College President Robert W. Fuller Erhard co-founded The Hunger Project in 1977. The Project had the initial stated intention of making "The End of Starvation within 20 Years an 'Idea Whose Time Has Come.'" Erhard served on the Project's board from 1979 to 1990, after which he ceased contact with the organization.

Quotations

... Erhard Seminars Training (est), a pricey, psychobabbling series of long and demeaning behavior-modification sessions that preached the virtue of selfishness.  Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in America (2001).

Even today, abundance theory is alive and well in many religious cults and in restrictive psychotherapy trainings such as est. Philip Cushman, Philip in Constructing The Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995, page 130

... the Werner Erhard est seminar ... the ... lucrative application of pop psychology. Robitscher, Jonas: The powers of psychiatry. Boston: Houghton Mifflen. 1980, page 455

There is a large potential market for the sale of "ordinariness" as a desirable commodity. Zen Buddhists, and other monastic communities, have been offering it for years.... A more modern version of ordinariness, on sale as a commodity, was Jack Rosenberg's 'est', or 'Erhardt [sic] Seminars training'. 'est', with its pretentiously small 'e', was a sixty-hour marathon, staged over two weekends, and based in a large hotel room with up to two hundred and fifty trainees and one trainer. Erhardt used his skills as a philosopher and salesman to provide a glossy training package that integrated Zen with more contemporary psychotherapies. The aim was to get 'it' by the end of the training programme. The 'it' on offer was 'enlightenment', the realization that there is no enlightenment, no key, no secret wisdom, no crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. In other words, candidates paid a considerable sum of money to get 'nothing' out of the training, and trainees were repeatedly reminded that when they finally left the hotel room, all that would happen would be that they would leave the hotel room and carry on with their lives... Sure enough, it worked. I got nothing out of it.... Unfortunately, although predictably, est 'graduates' tended to make rather too much noise and fuss about this nothing, and lionized Erhardt as though he were something special. He, again predictably, tended to puff up with this sense of being special. Consequently, the whole movement became yet another American carnival of noise and messianism that grew rapidly at the end of the 1970s, with tens of thousands of disciples in the USA and Europe, only to decline just as quickly when it went out of fashion. Therefore the market is currently wide open for someone else to offer another version of 'nothing', designed to help us come to terms with the miracle of nothing-special existence. Howard, Alex: Challenges to Counselling and Psychotherapy Houndmills and London: Macmillan, 1996: 72 - 73

est in Popular Culture

An episode of Mork and Mindy had David Letterman playing an Erhard-like character by the name of Ellsworth or ERC or Ellsworth Revitalization Conditioning.

Six Feet Under (Episode 16, Season 2, (2002): "The Plan") featured a seminar-delivery organization called "The Plan", which Claire Fisher "instinctively" compared to "est".

 

 

 

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