Aesthetic Realism in the Press

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Reprinted from...
June 3, 2004
Bay Village, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Rocky River, Westlake, Ohio 


Contempt can become a very dangerous thing

Guest Columnist

     I agree with Mary Jane Skala when she says ("Perspectives," May 13th) that the world’s prisons should be open to a free press. Indeed!  At the same time, people want very much to understand how it is that young American men and women came to degrade and torture Iraqi people—with such obvious pleasure. 

     As an out-of-town Sun Herald subscriber and native of  Rocky River,  I want my fellow readers to know that the means of that understanding is in Aesthetic Realism. 

     Eli Siegel, who founded Aesthetic Realism in 1941, comprehended the human mind of any century in a way that is so much needed now. “The large every mind,” he wrote, “ the fight between respect for reality and contempt for reality.” He defined contempt as “a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.” 

     Contempt can be as ordinary as tuning out and pretending to listen as another person is talking, or making a sarcastic remark. As I studied Aesthetic Realism, I learned that the boredom I once so often felt arose from contempt—a haughty feeling that other things were beneath my interest. 

     It is contempt, as the basis of economics, that has made for the rampant layoffs in these years, which has caused so much suffering for people in Ohio and every state, where profits for a few people are seen as more important than other people having jobs and enough money to live with dignity and ease.  And it was contempt that had an American girl smile as she held a leash that was around the neck of an Iraqi man as he lay on the floor at her feet. 

     In her commentary to the international periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, editor and commentator on national and international affairs, quotes the May 17 Newsweek column by Fareed Zakaria in which he says that 9/11 was used by various persons to feel they could have contempt for the world and to do anything in the name of “fighting terrorism.” 

     Zakaria writes “....Alliances, international institutions, norms and ethical conventions have all been deemed expensive indulgences at a time of crisis...Congress is barely informed, even on issues on which its 'advise and consent' are constitutionally mandated.”

     Reiss’ comment on Zakaria’s observation is tremendously important for people to know: 

     "Al Qaeda is an organization which is based on and puts into action contempt of the fullest, most virulent kind.
     "Meanwhile, Zakaria is expressing what many others have said too: that 9/11 was used by some in this country as an opportunity. It was a chance to unbridle their own contempt, to say: 'We’ve been hurt; therefore we can do whatever we please—and if we can call it 'fighting terrorism,' no one will have a right to question us. 
     "Whatever specific orders may have been given to the MPs at Abu Ghraib, that way of mind affected them. Its huge presence in recent years encouraged a related state of mind in them. There is a terrific readiness in people to feel, 'If I can see myself and what’s mine as hurt, anything I do is justified—all my contempt can be set free!' Some of the results have been recorded in photographs from Iraq."
    There should be a national discussion about what this readiness to be hurt and the desire for contempt takes in, along with the proud, kind alternative, which Aesthetic Realism makes possible. 
     “The next war has to be against ugliness in self.” Siegel writes: “And the greatest ugliness in self is the seeing of contempt as personal achievement....Respect for what is real must be seen as the great success of man.”
     Aesthetic Realism is taught at the not-for profit educational foundation in New York City, the Aesthetic Realism Foundation,

Butler, a former resident of Rocky River, lives in New York City.

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