LGATs and Fight Club. Dissecting a Delusion

John Hunter, PhD
November 26, 2019

2. Parallels between the LGAT industry and Fight Club


“For those who stubbornly seek freedom, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination” – Noam Chomsky [55, p. 212]

The response by many LGAT proponents to assertions of unethical influence is certainty that they are rational thinkers and that they could not have been manipulated. Like this Fight Club metaphor, however, LGAT manipulation is invisible to those who do not know exactly what to look for. LGATs exert their influence by surreptitiously devaluing critical thinking, tiring participants over a number of days (to further minimise their ability to question), convincing them that “experience” is the most trustworthy “way of knowing”, and then triggering a powerful emotional experience, which serves as a substitute for rationality and understanding. Many LGAT graduates are, in fact, convinced that the only way a person can understand these trainings is through personal experience [33].

The irony is that, in claiming to be invulnerable to these processes without intimately understanding them, LGAT proponents reveal their willingness to form beliefs without considering all of the evidence: Their certainty is not based on an in-depth comprehension of persuasion processes (the rational approach), but instead on an emotion-based heuristic (their “experience” and the deep-seated need to feel invulnerable to exploitation). Similarly, while LGAT proponents may believe that they are enlightened, it is a strange enlightenment that elicits a mentality of, “All that I care about is if this works for me”. If a personal development course makes a person less empathetic and more inwardly focused, then they have regressed, not grown, and anyone who callously discards those who will inevitably be harmed is one step further from Gandhi and one step closer to Bundy.

Through the book and the film, Palahniuk and Fincher appear to be commenting on the reckless way that LGATs go about providing “enlightenment”, while sweeping casualties of their processes indifferently under the rug. It is contended that Fight Club is about how Palahniuk became aware of this manipulation and harm, of the torment it caused him to acknowledge these uncomfortable facts, and of the intimidation he felt to speak openly about his concerns.

In order to finally escape from Tyler’s influence, Jack puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger [C]. In doing so, it might be said that he had to let a part of himself die in order to be free. The film ends with The Pixies’ Where is my Mind? playing and Jack and Marla watching as buildings collapse all around them. They are holding hands as his world falls apart and this, possibly, represents a reconciliation with reality under difficult circumstances. Perhaps it was not easy for Palahniuk to accept information that undermined his involvement with this organisation, but in the end his conscience prevailed and he chose evidence, rationality, and morality. I like to think that Fight Club is more than the story of men beating each other into submission, or – as other “experts” have suggested – a simple commentary on consumerism and masculinity. To me, it is primarily about experience-based beliefs, the worlds we build around those beliefs, and the courage it takes to dispassionately review them.

1. Introduction to the LGAT industry


C: “My eyes are open…” [6]


6. Fincher, D. (Director). (1999). Fight Club [Motion Picture].

33. Hunter, J. (2017). Stress-induced hypomania in healthy participants : the allostatic “manic-defence hypothesis”. Retrieved November 7, 2019, from Research Space: University of KwaZulu-Natal: https://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/handle/10413/15188

55. Chomsky, N. (2003). Chomsky on Democracy & Education. London: RouteledgeFalmer.

Full reference list

1. Grigoriadis, V. (2001, July 9). Pay Money, Be Happy. Retrieved March 24, 2016, from New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/culture/features/4932/index1.html

2. O’Hagan, S. (2005, May 8). Fright Club. Retrieved November 5, 2016, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/may/08/fiction.chuckpalahniuk

3. Snider, S. (2003, May). Est, Werner Erhard, and the Corporatization of Self-Help. Retrieved November 7, 2016, from Believer: http://www.believermag.com/issues/200305/?read=article_snider

4. Thorne, M. (2008, July 12). Chuck Palahniuk talks sex dolls, strippers and the one subject he won’t write about. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/chuck-palahniuk-talks-sex-dolls-strippers-and-the-one-subject-he-wont-write-about-864625.html

5. Palahniuk, C. (1996). Fight Club. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

6. Fincher, D. (Director). (1999). Fight Club [Motion Picture].

7. Brewer, M. (1975, August). ”We’re Gonna Tear You Down and Put You Back Together”. Psychology Today, pp. 35-40+.

8. Pressman, S. (1993). Outrageous Betrayal – The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile. United States: St. Martins Press.

9. Rhinehart, L. (2010). The Book of est. Hypnotic Marketing, Inc; Hypnotic Media LLC.

10. Finkelstein, P., Wenegrat, B., & Yalom, I. (1982). Large Group Awareness Trainings. Annual Review Of Psychology, 33 (1), 515-539.

11. Landmark. (2016a). Landmark Company History. Retrieved November 1, 2016, from Landmark Worldwide: http://www.landmarkworldwide.com/about/company-overview/company-history

12. Landmark. (2016b). Company Overview. Retrieved April 1, 2016, from Landmark Worldwide: http://www.landmarkworldwide.com/about/company-overview

13. Lieberman, M. (1987, April). Effects of Large Group Awareness Training on Participants’ Psychiatric Status. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144 (4), 460-464. Retrieved November 28, 2016

14. Singer, M. (2003). Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace (Revised and updated ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from: https://www.amazon.com/Cults-Our-Midst-Continuing-Against/dp/0787967416

15. Langone, M. (1998). Large Group Awareness Trainings. Cult Observer, 15. Retrieved May 18, 2016, from: http://www.csj.org/rg/rgessays/rgessay_lgate.htm

16. Fisher, M. (1987, October 25). I Cried Enough to Fill a Glass. The Washington Post, p. 36. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/magazine/1987/10/25/i-cried-enough-to-fill-a-glass/c75b0dda-e8ea-46f9-8aea-8e4afdd0cfbe/

17. Glass, L., Kirsch, M., & Parris, F. (1977). Psychiatric disturbances associated with Erhard Seminars Training: I. A report of cases. American Journal of Psychiatry, 134, 245-247.

18. Kirsch, M., & Glass, L. (1977). Psychiatric disturbances associated with Erhard Seminars Training: II. Additional cases and theoretical considerations. American Journal of Psychiatry, 134, 1254-1258.

19. Hassan, S. (1988). Combatting Cult Mind Control. Rochester: Park Street Press.

20. CESNUR. (n.d.). CESNUR Center for studies on new religions. Retrieved June 10, 2017, from: http://www.cesnur.org/testi//DIMPAC.htm

21. Skolnik, P., & Norwick, M. (2006). Introduction to the Landmark Education litigation archive. Retrieved October 25, 2016, from Cult Education Institute: http://culteducation.com/group/1020-landmark-education/12390-introduction-to-the-landmark-education-litigation-archive.html

22. Mr. Blueberry. (2014, February 3). Postcards from the Future: The Chuck Palahniuk Documentary. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1IH54MLTq4

23. Hunter, J. (2019, May 20). The first rule of large group awareness trainings. Retrieved November 7, 2019, from Psychological Society of South Africa: https://thoughtleader.co.za/psyssa/2019/05/20/the-first-rule-of-large-group-awareness-trainings/

24. Prasad, A. (2012, December 18). Landmark Forum Review – Scam, Cult or Pyramid Scheme? Retrieved March 24, 2016, from ajithprasad.com: http://ajithprasad.com/landmark-forum-review-scam-cult-pyramid-scheme/

25. Mahoney, R. (1998, August). Do you believe in Miracles? Retrieved March 29, 2016, from Elle Magazine: http://culteducation.com/group/1020-landmark-education/12396-do-you-believe-in-miracless.htm

26. Thornburgh, N. (2011, April 10). Change We Can (Almost) Believe In. Retrieved March 24, 2016, from Time Magazine: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2055188-2,00.html

27. Howard, R. (2001, July 23). Mindbreakers. Retrieved March 29, 2016, from Daily Mail – London: http://www.culteducation.com/group/1020-landmark-education/12500-mindbreakers.html

28. Faltermayer, C. (2001, June 24). The Best of Est? Retrieved March 28, 2016, from Time Magazine: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,138763,00.html

29. Libaw, O. (2002, August 13). ‘Transformation’ in a Weekend? Retrieved March 29, 2016, from ABC News: http://www.culteducation.com/group/1020-landmark-education/12514-transformation-in-a-weekend-.html

30. Hukill, T. (1998, July 9). The est of Friends. Retrieved March 29, 2016, from Metro News (San Francisco): http://culteducation.com/group/1020-landmark-education/12352-the-est-of-friends.html

31. Ebert, R. (1999, October 15). Fight Club (1999). Retrieved November 4, 2016, from: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/fight-club-1999

32. Fowler, R. (1999, November 30). Report on the Landmark Forum. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from Landmark Worldwide: https://www.landmarkworldwide.com/media/files/pdf/expertopinionreport.pdf?la=en

33. Hunter, J. (2017). Stress-induced hypomania in healthy participants : the allostatic “manic-defence hypothesis”. Retrieved November 7, 2019, from Research Space: University of KwaZulu-Natal: https://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/handle/10413/15188

34. Lifton, R. (1961). Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. North Carolina: W.W. Norton & Co.

35. Singer, M. (1995). Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from: https://www.amazon.com/Cults-Our-Midst-Hidden-Everyday/dp/0787900516

36. Palahniuk, C. (2006). Fight Club. London: Vintage Books.

37. Scioscia, A. (2000, October 19). Drive-thru Deliverance. (P. N. Times, Ed.) Retrieved March 26, 2016, from Phoenix New Times: http://www.culteducation.com/group/1020-landmark-education/12479-drive-thru-deliverance.html

38. Hill, A. (2003, December 14). I thought I’d been brainwashed. But how wrong could I be… Retrieved March 24, 2016, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/dec/14/ameliahill.theobserver

39. O’Brien, J. (2012, May 22). Get Confident, Stupid! Retrieved from GQ: http://www.gq.com/story/landmark-forum-get-confident-stupid-gq-may-2005

40. Fazeli, S. (2012, August 27). My (Scary, Destructive) Brush With Scientology Light. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from xojane: http://www.xojane.com/newagey/landmark-forum-cult

41. Electronic Freedom Foundation. (2016). Landmark Education and the Internet Archive. Retrieved November 2, 2016, from Electronic Freedom Foundation: http://www.eff.org/cases/landmark-and-internet-archive

42. WikiLeaks. (2009, September 8). Suppressed French documentary on Landmark Forum cult, transcript, 24 May 2004. Retrieved November 9, 2019, from WikiLeaks: https://wikileaks.org/wiki/Suppressed_French_documentary_on_Landmark_Forum_cult,_transcript,_24_May_2004

43. Ashok, A., Marques, T., Jauhar, S., Nour, M., Goodwin, G., Young, A., & Howes, O. (2017, March 14). The dopamine hypothesis of bipolar affective disorder: the state of the art and implications for treatment. Molecular Psychiatry, 22 (5), 666-679.

44. Berk, M., Dodd, S., Kauer-Sant’Anna, M., Malhi, G., Bourin, M., Kapczinski, F., & Norman, T. (2007). Dopamine dysregulation syndrome: implications for a dopamine hypothesis of bipolar disorder. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 116 (434), 41-49.

45. Cousins, D., Butts, K., & Young, A. (2009, December). The role of dopamine in bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorders, 11 (8), 787-806.

46. Howes, O., & Kapur, S. (2009, March 26). The Dopamine Hypothesis of Schizophrenia: Version III – The Final Common Pathway. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 35 (3), 549-562. doi:10.1903/schbul/sbp006

47. Belujon, P., & Grace, A. (2017). Dopamine System Dysregulation in Major Depressive Disorders. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol, 20 (12), 1036–1046. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5716179/

48. Dunlop, B., & Nemeroff, C. (2007). The Role of Dopamine in the Pathophysiology of Depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 64 (3), 327-337. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.3.327

49. Lemonnier, M. (2005, May 19). With the gurus wearing neckties. Retrieved March 29, 2016, from Le Nouvel Observateur: http://culteducation.com/group/1020-landmark-education/12420-with-the-gurus-wearing-neckties.html

50. Evans, J. (2010, December 7). Attack therapy and the Landmark Forum. Retrieved April 1, 2016, from Philosophy For Life and Other Dangerous Situations: http://www.philosophyforlife.org/attack-therapy-and-the-landmark-forum/

51. Schreiber, A. (1999, June 22). Art Schreiber, 22 juni 1999. Retrieved August 8, 2017, from stelling: https://www.stelling.nl/kleintje/landmark-versus-simpos/brief-schreiber-1

52. Stellar, T. (2009, November 10). Is Landmark Forum an LGAT or not? And does it really matter? Retrieved March 25, 2016, from tucson.com: http://tucson.com/news/blogs/senor-reporter/is-landmark-forum-an-lgat-or-not-and-does-it/article_5e6b6856-0474-11df-a5b4-001cc4c03286.html

53. Badt, K. (2011, November 17). Inside the Landmark Forum. Retrieved March 24, 2016, from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karin-badt/inside-the-landmark-forum_b_90028.html

54. Martin, J. (1998, November). The Con-Forumists. Retrieved March 29, 2016, from Swing Generation: http://culteducation.com/group/1020-landmark-education/12305-the-con-forumists.html

55. Chomsky, N. (2003). Chomsky on Democracy & Education. London: RouteledgeFalmer.

Copyright ©

John Hunter, PhD