Steven Pressman
St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1993.
289 pp., $22.95 (cloth).

The general attitude of the media and most of the public to Werner Erhard, often described as “America’s most famous pop guru,” was crystallized in a review of this book in Erhard’s former hometown paper, The San Francisco Chronicle. The review concluded that “Outrageous Betrayal certainly succeeds as an indictment of Werner Erhard, who is portrayed here as a monster of selfishness. But the mystery of why so many people believed in the man and his message still remains to be solved.”

Werner Erhard.
Werner Erhard.

One of the reasons for the mystery is that nobody in the media bothers to speak to the people who value in his programs—the seminars of “personal growth” called “the est Training” or, more recently, “The Forum”—dismissing anyone a priori as conned or brainwashed who thinks the experience worthwhile. Yet more than a million people worldwide have done what Erhard calls “the work” (a term he borrowed from Gurdjieft), and according to a study by opinion analyst Daniel Yankelovich, seven out of ten participants in The Forum found it to be “one of their life’s most rewarding experiences,” while 94 percent felt the program had “practical” and “enduring” value.

They will hardly recognize freelance journalist Steven Pressman’s description of the est Training as “a mish-mash of self-help theories, common-sense psychology, and dime-store ideas of motivation.” If I was “conned” by that “mish-mash” when I did est in 1984, I’m grateful I was conned into losing the addiction to alcohol that had plagued me for a quarter of a century.

What is most baffling to me (and I am sure to other “graduates” of these programs) is not that Erhard’s “technology” is attacked by the media, but that the attacks describe it in a way that is roughly opposite to what I’ve experienced. A typical example is Pressman’s charge that “the work” caters to “individual needs, not the collective good of society,” a misconception he bolsters by adding:

“The problem is that these movements don’t teach you to weep for the world, only to weep for yourself,” a friend once remarked to the author Sam Keen.

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