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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1808.—October 26, 2011

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

A Truly American Economy & “Occupy Wall Street”

Dear Unknown Friends:

The 1973 lecture Ah, Blessed Worry, the conclusion of which we publish here, is part of Eli Siegel’s great Goodbye Profit System series. What he described in those lectures describes our economic state today. Using historical, cultural, and contemporary documentation, he showed that by the 1970s the world had reached the point at which economics impelled by contempt was no longer able to succeed.

Aesthetic Realism defines contempt as the “addition to self through the lessening of something else.” It has thousands of forms, including things as ordinary as the hope that somebody look foolish so oneself can seem the smarter one. Yet the feeling that we are more if other people and things are less, is the source of everything hurtful in the human self. It’s the cause of every cruelty, including racism. It’s that in us which weakens our own mind and is the reason we dislike ourselves. And, Aesthetic Realism explains, the big, continuous fight in every person is between contempt and the deepest desire we have: to like the world honestly, to be just to it as a means of expressing and truly being ourselves. This deepest desire is the source of all art, science, real intelligence, kindness, true pride.

Contempt in Economics

The profit motive is contempt. The profit motive is the looking at a person in terms of how much money can you get from him or her? And profit economics is composed of the activities of that ugly motive. Centrally, it is the paying people as little as possible for their labor so that the wealth they produce can come not to them but to you. Central too is that a person should be able to get a product he needs only if he can pay enough so someone will make profit from his need. And fundamental to the profit motive is: the more desperate people’s need for what you produce, the higher the price you’ll demand—this is, after all, the profit motive.

Though it has been in operation for thousands of years, such a way of seeing one’s fellow humans is a barbaric thing for an economy and the lives of people to be based on. From it have come sweatshops, child labor, hunger, and ever so much poverty, with all that poverty makes for: suffering and stifled hopes and the monumental curtailment of people’s possibilities. That is why Eli Siegel saw the profit system’s inability to go on as a cause for celebration: it was an ethical victory that a cruel thing could no longer thrive! It might be made to continue awhile, with increased pain to millions of people, but it would never prosper as it once had.

The Dollar, the Trade Deficit, & Ethics

In the final section of Ah, Blessed Worry Mr. Siegel speaks about two matters that were just beginning in 1973 but are big established facts now. One is the US trade deficit. The other is the weakening of the dollar. He points to these as aspects of the profit system’s failure.

Today, Americans above a certain age can cringe within as we look at the euro and see it’s worth considerably more than our once lofty dollar. The US has become, for many foreign tourists, a bargain basement, where they can buy things, dine, and be entertained at prices that are (to them) low. All because the dollar is so much less glorious than it was.

As to our trade deficit: it is, under a profit-motivated system, an insurmountable thing, because it’s a result of what Mr. Siegel called the force of ethics working over centuries. He said:

Deeply, what has made the profit system weaker is at the very beginning of history...: man was not made to be used by man for money....That was justice five thousand years ago, but it didn’t have a chance to show its power until now....Ethics is a force like electricity, steam, the atom—and will have its way.

Part of ethics having its way is the trade deficit, because that is a result of more knowledge throughout the world and more widespread technical ability, and it’s ethical that knowledge belong to all people, not just some. Mr. Siegel explained in 1970 (before we had a trade deficit):

America is not the only country now with industrial know-how....There is more competition with the American product.... [This] doesn’t help the profit system.

The “Occupy Wall Street” Protests

Last month there began something of great importance, which arose from, and also embodies, the force of ethics in our nation and the world. The headline of an October 4 New York Times article about it is “Anti-Wall Street Protests Spreading to Cities Large and Small.” Americans from all walks of life have been literally occupying an area near Wall Street. Joined day after day by others, in hundreds and thousands, they are expressing their passionate objection to the economic injustice in this land. There are rallies, marches. There are “Occupy Boston,” “Occupy Chicago,” “Occupy Portland,” “Occupy DC,” “Occupy Memphis,” and more, and more.

It has been said that the demonstrators are not clear enough about what they’re asking for, that they’re objecting to various things but not demanding something definite, agreed to by all. From one point of view, that’s so. But the diverse objections do come to a single objection, a deeply unified objection, which Aesthetic Realism can make pellucidly clear.

For example, the Times says the demonstrations are “anticorporate.” It says they’re protesting “corporate greed, unemployment and the role of financial institutions in the economic crisis.” It quotes a Los Angeles demonstrator, age 24, who said, “Everybody is in debt whether it’s medical bills or school or loans”; and another, a freelance film director, who “said the protesters were united in their desire for ‘a more equal economy.’”

Well, these are all aspects of the unifying objection: People across this nation are angry that America is being owned by, and run on behalf of, a few people—not by and for all. That is why a slogan of the movement has come to be “We Are the 99 Percent.” These demonstrations are really opposing that contempt for people’s lives which is the profit system itself.

An America True to Herself

The chief reason it has been hard to get to a unified “message” is that the message cannot be put in the terms Americans have been presented with intensively over the years: that is, this is not a matter of “capitalism” versus some other “ism.” What Americans have wanted for years, and are demanding courageously now, is economics based on the best things in America. They want an economy based, for instance, on the famous phrase in our Constitution’s Preamble, “We the People of the United States.” They want an economy based on the idea stated in the Declaration of Independence, that all people have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What these demonstrations are really calling for is an economy that Mr. Siegel once described by quoting Lincoln: an economy, not based on profit for a few, but an economy “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The American Revolution itself did not begin with a clear statement that we should separate from England. It began with the colonists saying they wanted to be treated better by King George—treated like other British subjects; for instance, taxed more equitably. Then in time people came to see that in order to get the things they wanted, America had to be a nation unto herself. We today shall certainly not have an armed revolution; our Constitution, the structure of our government, is a fine, beautiful thing. But an increasing clarity is growing that for Americans to have the economic lives we want, for so much agony to end, our economy has to be based, as Mr. Siegel put it, “on good will rather than on the ill will which has been predominant for centuries.”

The phrase “Occupy Wall Street” is a very good one, and it is deep. It means that a certain part of the American earth, land occupied once by Indians, near that beautiful harbor into which Henry Hudson sailed four hundred years ago, does not belong to a few people who will use the rest of us to aggrandize themselves financially. It means that America, including Lower Manhattan, belongs to all of us, together; and so we occupy it: it is ours.

What people are occupying for, marching for, demonstrating for can be called economic democracy. It can be called production based on the seeing of every person as real. What they are demanding is an America based on the honest answering of the question Eli Siegel said is the most important for our world: “What does a person deserve by being a person?”

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

What Does It Mean?
By Eli Siegel

On page 14 of today’s Wall Street Journal [Feb. 2, 1973] we have this:

On Wednesday, Paul A. Volcker, U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Monetary Affairs, contended the dollar’s weakness didn’t reflect fundamental weakness in the dollar but monetary developments in Europe.

It could reflect both. But it would be good to ask, Why is the dollar weak? When people feel they are weak, they sometimes think, “Nobody likes me,” or “I haven’t eaten anything for hours”—but they ask.

Yesterday, however, some U.S. bankers expressed a dissenting view. Wolfgang Schoellkopf, a vice president...of Chase Manhattan Bank, said...the dollar’s troubles reflect “fundamental problems.”

That is what I’m saying: “fundamental problems.” That is academic for lots of trouble.

Charles E. Fiero, an executive vice president of the bank,...described the current flurry of floating rates, two-tier markets and exchange controls as “half-way measures that don’t solve the underlying problems.” Both executives indicated they expect the U.S. fight against inflation to be a difficult one this year.

That is an understatement. Inflation can be used, and has been fairly often, to save a financial situation. But then, at a certain point it’s against that situation, and apparently that is what’s occurring now. It’s not only the housewife who’s complaining of inflation; it’s even the manufacturer.

Messrs. Fiero and Schoellkopf asserted it will be very difficult for the U.S. to correct its trade deficit of imports over exports last year.

That’s something to see: that last year—it was somewhat so the year before too—the United States imported more than it exported. And when a country starts importing more than it exports, it looks second class.

But what the Wall Street Journal does not do is ask why the dollar has gone down in European money markets. Why does Bonn [the West German capital] say, “Let’s stop the inflow of the dollar”? It was the American dollar that enabled the government of West Germany to persist.

Why the Dollar Has Weakened

One reason the dollar has gone down is the way in which the government has been spending money in the last thirty years to sustain private profit—including the payment of people by the CIA, and also the payment for bases, for arms, and all kinds of research for war. There was all that helping of Chiang Kai-shek, and all the helping of every other person who took a strong stand against what was considered anti-free-enterprise. All those people were well-heeled and well paid, and they came to be contemptuous of their pay. The United States has been on a profit system binge. It saw the town on private industry terms. One can say with a good deal of sobriety, the American government is now bankrupt. That is because in its effort to save the profit system it spent so much money that the chief symbol of American finance, the dollar, is looked on with a little disdain.

Another cause of the depreciation of the dollar is in a phrase that sometimes sounds like gibberish (nine-tenths of it is gibberish, but one-tenth is useful knowledge): the fight for markets. What is happening is related to the going down of the British Empire when American manufacturing went ahead. The British Empire was based essentially on making those things that the rest of the world needed, and when it got competition from American manufacturing, the British Empire was less of the British Empire.

Why for the first time in history does the United States import more than it exports? What does it mean? The persons who make things that are in rivalry with imported things—and there are many of these, including radios and televisions, some cars, clothes—are all in a huddle about the matter. There has been a fear of foreign competition from the beginning, and there were tariff laws, but never was there what we have now.

The Federal Reserve system is part of why the dollar has gone down, because the chief way of having money depreciate is to issue too much of it. As soon as you start issuing too much, the money itself depreciates. I remember years ago being amazed seeing a French novel, 110 pages: it was priced 800 francs. One of the things that de Gaulle did was stop that stuff. He took in all those funny francs.

What Is the Worry About?

I read now another example of worry—from the New York Times of January 30. This article is “Advertising: System Defended,” by Philip H. Dougherty:

In a strongly worded [advertising] industry leader today called for the establishment of an organization to resell the free enterprise system to the American people. Barton A. Cummings, chairman of the Amer ican Advertising Federation, attacked militant consumerists—he called them “controlists.” ...They are the ones who want the business community controlled by regulations and legislation, he said....“If we in business cannot put the brakes on this..., the free enterprise system that we have known since the beginning of our republic will become a thing of the past.”

Well, at least it shows the worry. The worry is a sign that something is happening. That’s what I mean by the title “Ah, Blessed Worry.”

Mr. Cummings,...of Compton Advertising, which has among its clients the mighty Procter & Gamble, United States Steel, the New York Stock Exchange and a handful of utility companies, pleaded[:]...“We cannot afford to pussyfoot and procrastinate any longer.”

This means that the profit system is in danger and so we cannot “pussyfoot and procrastinate.” Most people don’t think it is in danger. They think it is “Hail profit system,” not “Goodbye profit system.”

Mr. Cummings...criticized the media, educators, churchmen, intellectual journals and politicians for their attacks on the system.... “For reasons beyond my understanding,” Mr. Cummings said, “much of the media affords the attackers considerable space and time, tearing down the system, especially using the business community as a scapegoat.”

That’s a phrase, “tearing down the system.” But the question is a simple one: Does the way industry is now controlled and managed, serve the needs of people as well as something else would? That is a sober question. It has nothing in the world to do with Marx. It’s a little like a question that could have been asked if ancient Assyria had had a town meeting: “There’s a monarchy in Assyria, but is there a better way?”

Mr. Cummings talks as he does because he and others are discontent that they’re not having their way—so they have to feel there’s a villain working. It couldn’t be the fact that the thing doesn’t work. It’s like saying something couldn’t be the fault of the typewriter—it must be the fault of the typist. It could be that, but maybe it’s the fault of the typewriter.

I am implying that the last week in the financial history of the world has been one of the most important. There is such a thing as financial history, which is part of history in general.

He said that when there is a show-down now between a business and a “controllers group,” the latter is represented by some well known figure—“perhaps Mr. Nader himself....You can guess who gets the headlines.”

As soon as the profit system starts pitying itself, it means something.

Something Has Changed

But...J.E. Lonning, president of the Kellogg Company,...[said] that “even though we resent... attacks on our business..., we are living in a new and different world. We can’t go home again. Because home isn’t there anymore.”

What does that mean? There is a feeling that the old gray profit system mare ain’t what she used to be. And the agitation about the dollar, in the last days, in the capitals of Europe is a sign that the statement I made some years ago—it’s goodbye profit system—is true. black diamond

Aesthetic Realism is based on these
principles, stated by Eli Siegel:

1. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.


2. The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it .... Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.


3. All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.

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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution
Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1] Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2] Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
Art and Literature:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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