Self improvement – isn’t it wonderful? If you’re feeling stuck, the market abounds in quick, wonderful books and courses claiming to give you the answer to every problem. Never mind that the claim is bombastic, that your feelings are temporary and that no one can ever know you better than you know yourself, hence the ancestral meme, “the answer lies within”.

Forget your twenty, thirty or fifty years of life experience on Planet Earth, constantly observing, analysing, trying to find the “right path” to happiness, if that even exists. Three days suffice; you will walk out of the Landmark Forum a new person.

Changed, re-engineered – reborn, almost. I don’t know how that sounds to others but it’s not exactly like the wonder pill that makes you lose ten pounds in ten days. This is someone’s mind we’re talking about.

The Landmark Forum, unlike other glorified cults, doesn’t seek to cleanse you of original sin or body thetans, but something easier to grasp – your identity.

“When you came in here Friday morning, you were so certain about who you were, weren’t you? You walked in certain, and tonight you’re walking out uncertain. It could take years to become certain about who you are again. That’s what the rest of the Landmark Curriculum for Living is for: to help you resolve that uncertainty.”

As you sit there for hours and hours daily, you are systematically torn to bits by being told what an arsehole you are, until your entire existence and all its meaning crumbles before you, so you can rebuild your identity from scratch. And all that for the pittance of a few hundred dollars (or whatever currency your country uses, as the recruitment mill operates in no less than 20).

Although satirical, this is a short reenactment of what happens initially. Participants are locked up in a room, unable to leave except for the one meal time (additionally they have a few short breaks during which they are assigned “homework”). They are not allowed bathroom breaks for hours on end, claiming it would be irresponsible to miss even five minutes of the seminar (although up to a third consists of promotion). More importantly, they are insulted to the bone marrow. They are outright told their lives (and therefore achievements) are meaningless facades; “stories”.

It can and does get downright sinister. Part of this deconstruction is to air one’s dissatisfaction with others, as well as painful memories of being harmed – to be told, in each and every case, that they are to blame, even for the actions of others. Applying that technique ends up being cruel and shameless, with no consideration for reality.

The other baffling treatment students endure, aside from being accused and bashed for their every misfortune (even rape), is to have their perception questioned whenever they disagree with organisers. From the article linked to above:

“Mmm, this refund, let’s talk about this. Why do you feel this way? What could you be resisting in your life? What if ‘I want my money back’ is just a story you are telling yourself?”

During the seminar, the leader dismisses doubts or criticism by saying to each dissenter:”This is only your interpretation.” It can be applied to facts from their past (which the leader has no idea of) and even real time thoughts and feelings. By this he means that the student has no ability to accurately discern what is real and what isn’t and must rediscover reality with the leader’s guidance.

Not surprisingly, according to a former Scientologist, the “tech” they use is heavily borrowed from L Ron Hubbard. In fact, Landmark evolved out of Est, which in turn evolved, partially, out of Scientology.

The French documentary detailing this, as well as showing footage filmed by an infiltrated journalist, has disappeared from the internet, aside from a short YouTube fragment. However, the transcript is available on the Wikileaks website (quite a read).

The catch, or hook, comes on the final day, when participants are encouraged to make amends with people they relate poorly to, after intense rehearsals, directed by the program leader, on what to say to them (as shown in the transcript).

Unlike Scientologists, who get a kick out of making members disassociate with loved ones, the founders of Landmark figured out growth was much easier when getting people to be kinder to their families and peers. In emotional prostration, participants invite those they wish to apologise to and publicly relieve their guilt. Meanwhile, “guests” are subjected to unavoidable pitches of the program, which they are invited to join (and sometimes do).

And so it grows.

Of course, this is only the beginning. Those who finish the first brainwashing session are immediately pitched another, twice as expensive, and then another, costing far more.

And if they’re still engrossed, they can always help recruit as many people as possible, as well as volunteer. In fact, the manual labour during these seminars is down to volunteers, at one point 25 per event (apparently now the term has been banned and they are merely “assisting”, as “volunteering” for a for-profit company is questionable). It’s free labour taken advantage of, to put it plainly. In the minds of those showing up to do it, they are helping humanity. Although it’s by no means comparable to what Sea Org members endure in Scientology, the concept is the same – giving one’s time towards someone else’s business, with the pretext of “transforming lives”.

“It’s wonderful; it completely changed my life”, claims the odd person on YouTube . “If more and more people went through this program the world would be a better place.” In fact, a few do add this “changing the world” shtick, with sheer enthusiasm, as if they really thought it was possible.

Where have you heard that before? Give us a few hundred dollars and help us recruit so we can help people and change the world.

It’s a pyramid scheme based on emotional fragility. Those going there are obviously not in a good place. There were reports of breakdowns and even suicides over the decades. Their goal is not to change the world, but to entrap people long enough to get them to recruit others and by that make more money.

As those of Scientology and most cults, Landmark teachings are replete with jargon. Paraphrasing a former student in the YouTube video linked to above, when asking two of his indoctrinated friends what it was about, it was impossible to discern, as their explanations were laden with terminology they had appropriated from the cult, such as “racket” and “winning formula”. “Just go and do it”, they said.

One of the key words to watch out for in discussions about Landmark is “authentic”. “Authenticity” is a state you reach through the program (through being depersonalised), apparently, as opposed to your natural one. Devotees often use this term when praising the group or each other.

More problems arise when, akin to any cult members, Landmark students begin to pester their family members and friends to join. In the video, one relative describes them as “speaking like drones, full of jargon, with cult-like glazes over their eyes”. And that’s not by far the only account I came across at a simple search.

They also engage in damage control when negative appraisals pop up. The French documentary featuring actual seminar footage and expert opinions was simply taken off a number of platforms, to the point that it has become impossible to find. When a series of critical videos  appeared on YouTube, the former student making them received a letter and refund, without having contacted them. So they browse the internet for any material likely to affect their business even slightly and then attempt to address it.

If you watch this video, posted by someone who had just finished the advanced course, the level of indoctrination is gob-smacking, akin to that which follows a dramatic religious conversion.

Immediately, you notice the following:

  • She censors her speech as directed by the group (she catches herself  expressing ideas naturally and adapts them to those of the group);
  • She describes the advanced course as a way for people to figure out how they can have an impact on the world (“change the world” mantra);
  • She talks a lot about how everyone should be and live (as opposed to personal improvements, a personal path etc), which proves that the seminar leads to uniformity;
  • Her speech is difficult to understand at times as it is laden with jargon;
  • She alludes to activism, “becoming uncomfortable” (approaching others with her ideas in order to “covert” them).
  • She talks about “going back to normal life outside the seminar” and the difficulties of that (seriously, it’s less than a week).
  • She traces her natural thoughts and feelings back to the seminar (“I’m going to try to not care what people think about me saying this because this is the foundation of the original Landmark Forum”).

From her description it’s easy to understand that the first seminar is about someone’s identity (deconstructing it) and the second about launching this new person into the world to “change it” (which obviously means drawing more people to Landmark). What does that sound like to you, in broad perspective?

In fact, this tendency of “speaking like drones” some attendees display has been noticed before.

Although the person uploading the video remained appreciative of the program, he had not arrived at the level seen above before giving it up. His observations are very interesting. First off, quasi-religious fervour and the belief that Landmark has the solution to the world’s problems. Then, word policing and always referring back to the program (as seen above).

Apparently, the seminar is not one of a kind. Similar ones, employing the same techniques, can be found across the world.

For more information, visit anti-landmark.blogspot.co.uk.

A small note would be that half of the comments in support of the program make heavy use of jargon, without any indication that those reading them can relate or properly understand the message. It’s fairly disturbing and justifies the observation that “they talk like robots”.