Aesthetic Realism in the Press

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Reprinted from...
The African Herald
October 2001
Dallas, TX   


By Miriam Weiss and Joseph Spetly

     Before the horrific events of September 11th, we could look out the windows of our home in lower Manhattan and see the towers of the World Trade Center, a place where I, Miriam Weiss once worked on the 85th floor. I, Joseph Spetly see with disbelief the utter devastation to buildings and streets I often walked through, as I am now working at one of New York City’s emergency command centers located blocks from Ground Zero. Like people throughout America and the world, we are heartsick and deplore the massive and cold blooded acts that killed thousands of innocent men and women, making it so that wives will never come home to husbands, that parents will never see their children again. But we also deplore and are terrified by the reckless cries for military retaliation, something that will only lead to more horrors and destruction, both in other nations and at home.

     We know that for there to be a safe world and a sane world, it is imperative that people know what Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, explains in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, titled "Urgent: How Should We See People?" She writes: "The first crucial issue for the United States now is the issue every individual person faces when he or she is hurt: Do you want to think more deeply at this time, or do you want to feel that you don’t need to think and that since you’ve been hurt you have a right to do anything? The latter choice has been so frequent; but it is the ugliest, most dangerous choice in the world. It is a form of contempt."

     Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism defined contempt as "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it" and he showed, it is the cause of all injustice, from a sarcastic remark to racism and war. Contempt, Ms. Reiss writes, "is what impelled the persons who arranged for human beings to be killed and buried under 110 stories of rubble near the Hudson River on a beautiful September morning."

     Our dear next door neighbor is grieving for her son, now missing. He is one of the heroic firefighters who risked their lives to save others. As people nationwide and worldwide have witnessed the courage of rescue workers in New York City, it is emergent to ask now what would it mean for America’s response to this tragedy to be truly courageous and strong. The first thing, we know, is to make sure we don’t participate in the kind of brutality unleashed on New York. Ellen Reiss writes: "We need to learn from Aesthetic Realism about [contempt] and be sure we are against [it]including in us. Otherwise we will meet contempt and ill will with contempt and ill will of our own, and that will be met with more contempt and ill willand there will be a horrible, deadly, unending contempt cycle."

     For any person or any nation to be courageous, we have learned, is to ask, what do other people feel, how do they see us? Ms. Reiss explains: "The persons who attacked this nation...were monumentally vicious. But we need to ask: Is there a discontent, an anger at the United States, which others, who are not necessarily vicious, have? And did the anger at the US which millions of people throughout the world have, enable those attackers to thrive, to be not adequately opposed?...I am not now speaking about the particulars, but it is a plain fact that millions of people on every continent feel our country has seen the nations and human beings of this earth as things to be used for the profit of US corporations. ‘Not only,’ people feel, ‘has America not been interested in what we deserve, in what is justice for usbut America has tried, vehemently, to perpetuate a way of using us that is unjust, so profits could be made.’"

     As we have spoken to people from New York and elsewhere, read many letters on-line from newspapers across this country, we have seen that many, many Americans do not want war, something one would simply not know from watching TV or listening to the radio. The real feelings of patriotic Americans must be heard; Americans who love their country as we do and want her to gain the respect of the whole world. What Ellen Reiss presents will make that possible: "[T]here is another kind of seeing which must be nowor terrorists will not seem, to millions of angry people, as terrible as they truly are; and there will be more horrors. That needed seeing is good will, exact and critical. It begins with our trying to think about people this way: 'Here is a person. He or she is as real as I am. What does this person feel? What, as [Eli] Siegel put it, does he or she "deserve by being a person"?'" 

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