Self Improvement or Selfish Profit?

Many have accused the culture of Large Group Awareness Training, the Human Potential Movement, and Self Improvement as nothing more than vehicles of profit-mongering – for those behind the various companies, religions and organizations that dole out the “self improvement” in the first place.

A 2002 documentary by British film director Adam Curtis delves into these questions at great length, in the film, The Century of the Self. The film may be downloaded in entirety at Internet Archive, or viewed in streaming format, at Google Video.

If you go to the streaming format version, there is a most interesting segment which begins at 31 minutes into “part 3 of 4”, in the documentary. This segment of the film analyzes the “Est Training”, began by Werner Erhard in 1971. The Erhard Seminars Training company later changed its name to Werner Erhard and Associates, or “The Forum“. Werner Erhard and Associates sold its coursework and “technology” in 1991 to a group of its employees which included Erhard’s brothers and sister as well as his personal attorney – they then formed the for-profit company now known as Landmark Education.

This segment of the film includes interviews with Werner Erhard, Est graduates John Denver and Jerry Rubin, as well as journalist Jesse Kornbluth.

“What Erhard did, was to say that only the individual matters – that there is no societal concern. That you living a fulfilled life, is all you need be concerned about. Est people came out of those trainings feeling that it wasn’t selfish to think about yourself – It was your highest duty.”Jesse Kornbluth, quote from the film

This quote then begs the question: What would a world full of “graduates” of these various types of seminars look like? Would “transformed” individuals be self-improved, or simply selfish? Were the motives of the founders of these various organizations self improvement of their customers, or selfish appreciation of their retirement accounts?

As most of these groups are either private, for-profit companies, or organizations cloaked under the protective mantle of religion, full financial disclosure and rigorous objective academic study is a rarity if not an impossibility within the “self improvement” movement.

Indeed, point five of the petition designed by the Landmark Education group of graduates known as the Transformation Reformers, also calls for financial disclosure, transparency and openness to criticism:

“A commitment to transparency and openness, including openness to criticism, openness to straightforward and public discussion of all aspects of Landmark, its history, and other transformational methodologies, as well as greater transparency into Landmark ownership, decision making, and financial information – openness also to graduate-led reforms such as these, and to changes in Landmark leadership itself if leadership serves as an obstacle to positive reform.

To date, the inherent culture of the key management within Landmark Education and other human potential movements does not seem to be one which fosters full financial disclosure, transparency and an openness to criticism, to say the least. This is most obviously evidenced by the Landmark Education Litigation Archive, which clearly shows a pattern of intimidation through legal threats – of many individuals and members of the press who have criticized the group throughout its controversial history.


2 Responses

  1. Why do people peddle such stuff about Landmark? I’m a “graduate” and I’m still living the benefits six years on.

    I can’t think of a group of people more genuinely and single-mindedly concerned about the world we live in than staff and graduates of the Landmark Forum.

    Doing the Landmark Forum caused me to “pull myself together”, get off my selfish bum and bring my disfunctioning family together and then my bigger family. It DIRECTLY caused me to mend relationships at work and get involved with local issues like I never would have even thought about before doing the Forum.

    So what part of all that is being selfish? Yes, we learn to stop using excuses that limit our possibilities – but I would assert that indulging in self doubt is the selfish act.

    I’ve done work for Landmark at their centre in London, I saw nothing that would suggest secrecy, money grabbing or any of the other accustaioins made by armchair critics – it’s just all tittle-tattle, and a sad reflection on those who dont bother to rigorously investigate their subjects with an unbiased mind.


  2. Re: the comment from the Landmark Graduate

    Why, if your life is so full of the benifit of Landmark, do you find yourself at this LGAT Truth blog?? Must be some part of you that is questioning the validity of it….

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