Aesthetic Realism in the Press

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Reprinted from...
May 13-19, 2004
 Kingston, New York  


In the days since the revelations of the horrific abuses of Iraqi "detainees" at Abu Ghraib prison, a question often asked is: "How could this have happened?" Some say that the worst tendencies are brought out of people in a military environment. This may be so, but if the worst possibilities didn't exist before military life, they could not be aroused. It is imperative that the American people understand what in the human mind made for these atrocities so that they never happen again.

Eli Siegel has provided that understanding in the philosophy he founded, Aesthetic Realism. The most hurtful drive in people is the desire for contempt, defined as: "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it." Contempt is as ordinary as making fun in one's mind, ridiculing, for instance, how another may dress or talk. And, contempt is also the cause of all coldness, unfeelingness; the cruelty one person can inflict on another. In his book James and the Children, Mr. Siegel wrote: "As soon as you have contempt, as soon as you don't want to see another person as having the fullness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person. These three come out of the insufficient awareness of another person or another thing."

Once, along with a desire to be useful to people, I also worried about how angry and mean I could be. In an Aesthetic Realism class, Mr. Siegel said to me: "While we go for having contempt for a person, we feel bad if we succeed. To be fair to a person, you say to yourself that it's best for me to be fair." Learning where I had contempt, and what it means to be fair to the world and people changed my life, enabled me honestly to respect myself. I know personally and gratefully, that a woman who respects herself because she's hoping to see people fairly would not contemptuously build herself up by humiliating and tormenting others.

The study of what it means honestly to respect the world and people is the tested means to prevent the egregious cruelty we saw so recently. To learn more, I urge every reader to visit the Aesthetic Realism Foundation's website at:

Carol Driscoll
New York City

  • Aesthetic Realism Foundation home page
  • More Articles on War and Peace
  • International Periodical: TRO
  • Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism in the Press
  • Aesthetic Realism Foundation
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