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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1810.—November 23, 2011

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

A World to Share

Dear Unknown Friends:

Here is the second part of It Weakens, one of the Goodbye Profit System lectures Eli Siegel gave beginning in 1970. In this section we see some of the aesthetics of economics—in keeping with the principle at the basis of Aesthetic Realism: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

For example, Mr. Siegel speaks about economics in relation to how land is the same and different, and how nations are. We also see something about big opposites of self and world: how the tangible world in the form of land joins with, and meets the needs of, people, selves. He speaks too about aesthetics as ethics, or good will: how the basis of trade is that the likeness and difference of people can become one—kindly, efficiently, beautifully—because you have what I need, while I have what you need.

The Ugly Motive

Eli Siegel is the economist who showed that a particular motive has befouled the beauty and kindness inherent in economics. It is the motive for contempt: to obtain an “addition to self through the lessening of something else.” Contempt, Aesthetic Realism makes clear, is that in the self which interferes with every aspect of life. It is the source of all cruelty. Contempt is that which weakens a person’s mind, even while the person thinks he or she is ever so keen in having it. It has thousands of forms, including the hope that someone be foolish so you can preen yourself on seeming smarter. Contempt makes for a fake notion of love—including the feeling that someone loves you if you can essentially own the person and he or she will be an inward mess without you. Racism, with all its viciousness, is a form of, and arises from, contempt: it’s the feeling that you’re Somebody if you can see a whole race as inferior. And in the field of economics, contempt has taken the form, these many centuries, of the profit motive: the seeing of other human beings in terms of how much money you can extract from them and their labor.

In his Goodbye Profit System lectures Mr. Siegel showed that history had reached the point at which the profit way was no longer able to succeed. He gave many reasons, including the ever-increasing foreign “competition with the American product.” “There will be no economic recovery in the world,” he wrote, “until economics itself, the making of money, the having of jobs, becomes ethical; is based on good will rather than on the ill will which has been predominant for centuries.”

Despite the enormous effort to make people think otherwise, the profit motive has never been fundamental to economics as such. It was always completely unnecessary, as tacked-on as it was brutal; as artificial as it was unjust. What is needed now is something the world has never had fully yet: an economy true to the aesthetics and ethics at the beginning of economics itself.

Then & Now

Mr. Siegel gave the lecture It Weakens in January 1971, more than four decades ago. As we look at some of the matters he discusses in this section, we can see how they have changed or intensified over these years—all in behalf of the weakening of the profit system. For instance, he refers to “something called international banking”: that “something” has now become gigantic.

In 1971 he comments on the fact that US investments abroad were greater than foreign investments in America. Well, the US Department of Commerce, in its most recent report on the matter, tells us:

The U.S. net international investment position at yearend 2010 was –$2,471.0 billion...,as the value of foreign investments in the United States continued to exceed the value of U.S. investments abroad. [Bureau of Economic Analysis]

Mr. Siegel speaks about imports and exports. 1971 was the first year in which the US had a trade deficit. Today that deficit has become massive. And it exists and is growing because knowledge is more democratically had throughout the world. That is part of what Mr. Siegel described as “the force of ethics,” which was making profit-getting harder. He said:

America is not the only country now with industrial know-how....There is much more competition of various kinds with American industry than there used to be. This...doesn’t help the profit system.

Travel Is Economics & Emotion

Mr. Siegel speaks here about another matter in which we see a huge change from forty years ago: tourism. Americans, he said truly in 1971, were the big tourists. That the streets of New York would today be filled with tourists from other continents, and that these tourists would feel they could purchase things cheaply here, would seem fantastic to people four decades ago. So would the idea that the Chinese would be big tourists! Yet the reason it is so was explained by Mr. Siegel in the sentences I just quoted: the abilities of other nations have increased, and so has their wealth.

To comment on tourism as representing aesthetics—the oneness of opposites that are central to the hoping human self and to economics—I’ll quote briefly from a person who wrote about travel long before the tourism industry began. Around 1380, Geoffrey Chaucer told about a group of English travelers, of diverse occupations, en route to visit the shrine at Canterbury. In his General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales he makes it clear that the purpose was not just religious: to take this trip on horseback, in spring weather, in interesting company, met a desire in people. This was the Middle Ages, and travel, other than for trade or war, needed some religious excuse. But Chaucer has us feel that many of his travelers were on the road mainly because they wanted to experience reality in a new way. As April comes, he says:

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes.

This means Then people long to go on pilgrimages, / And palmers [pilgrims] to seek strange shores. There are wonder and exploration in the music of those lines.

The desire in 1380 to go on horseback to see new places, be somewhere different from where one had been, is like the desire to travel today. It is, deeply, an aesthetic desire: to put together the opposites of being and change; one’s intimate self and the world as wide; to feel at home in the unknown; to see the world as surprising yet continuous.

There are questionable reasons for traveling. A lot of tourism occurs because people don’t like themselves and feel if they go somewhere else they will like themselves. This, of course, doesn’t work. Also, much tourism takes place because people want to be seemingly affected by the world without having to think about what the world, things, people are and deserve. Meanwhile, the increase in tourists from different parts of the world to different parts of the world, is an aspect of a growing global feeling: We are all connected to the whole world; it belongs to all of us.

One of the most secular people in literature is the Wife of Bath, who is on the Canterbury journey. She has been married five times, and likes to wear bright red stockings. Chaucer writes about her travels in lines that can be translated this way:

And thrice had she been at Jerusalem;

She had crossed many a foreign stream;

At Rome had she been, and at Bologna,

In Galicia at St. James, and at Cologne.

She knew much of wandering by the way.

That an English woman of 1380 could travel so much and far is hard to believe. Yet Chaucer wants us to feel that this earthy, often selfish Wife of Bath had the mystery of things in her, and wanted to feel the mystery of things.

Chaucer tells us too about a person who physically traveled little, yet had a true love for and sense of the world as large. He is the scholar, or “Clerk,” who treasured, above everything he might possess, “Twenty books, clad in black or red / Of Aristotle and his philosophy.”

The world of the Clerk and the Wife of Bath is a world now insisting it be owned—not for the aggrandizement of a few—but by all people, aesthetically and kindly.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Land, Trade, Hopes
By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel is quoting from Principles and Problems of Economics, by Otho C. Ault and Ernest J. Eberling (1936).

Ault and Eberling write about the 1913 Federal Reserve Act:

The United States was to be divided into not less than eight nor more than twelve Federal Reserve districts, and each district was to have a Federal Reserve Bank.

And there’s a map. This is romantic in its way, because it has to do with the geography of the United States; and however the United States is divided—whether in terms of the individual states themselves or of regions—it’s still big.

You could have the United States divided in terms of how many sheep are raised in various parts of the country. Maine would not do so well there—though sheep are raised where you don’t expect them. However, sheep are very much in Wyoming. So you could have a map of America in terms of sheep-having or production. Also in terms of gold production. In California you have most of it, but there might be dribbles of gold in North Carolina. The country could also be divided in terms of how well teachers are paid. And I remember seeing a map of what the best-selling book was in different parts of the country: in one part it was The Prisoner of Zenda and in another part of the country Daddy-Long-Legs.

When the Federal Reserve Act came to be, the country was once more divided, with banks in some principal cities.

Today the persons working in banks are more and more like other people in showing their objections. There was a little conversation in a bank: One person said, “We may do something here about our conditions.” And the other person said, “Do tell!”—the second person was a teller.

One reason the FDIC, with its guaranteeing of deposits, is an anti-profit system notion is that profit has always been associated with risk. The idea in a nonprofit system would be that there’s enough risk between man and the universe, enough risk in terms of the strangeness of the world, so that an inferior kind of risk should not be cared for so much. There is a risk, or strangeness, in reality itself. However, the notion of risk has very much to do with profit. And the recent motions of Congress to have investors in the stock market be protected by the government, will take some of the risk out of profit and that much will change the profit situation itself. This began in the summer of 1933 with the Glass-Steagall Act, when bank deposits were insured.

Geographic Good Will

Related to banking, there is something called international banking now. There has been, is, the idea of foreign trade. Foreign trade, generally, is a diverse study in good will, also in enterprise, sometimes in aggression.

When the people of France, England, and Germany were just dying to have their food sharper, more pungent—wasn’t it wonderful to see that pepper was in the Orient? Salt, of course, was in Europe. There is Salzburg, with a name showing it’s notable for its salt. It’s not called Mozartburg; it’s called Salzburg. But there were various condiments that people wanted.

Then, there was quinine; somewhere that could be had. And there were many other things, including fabrics. There were countries that didn’t have any coal, but they could get it from somewhere else. So world trade has been, among other things, an interaction of geographic good will, very subtle: “You don’t have what I have, and you have what I may not have, so let’s discuss this.” Trade is based on that. The first thing to see is that the productive possibilities of various lands are different. They are different in the various states of the union. They are somewhat different in the counties of England. And you don’t hear of wine grapes being grown along the northern coast of France—nobody ever made big speeches about the wine of Brittany. So different places make for different delicacies and different necessities.

The writers say:

We have the insurmountable barrier of climate which prevents the people living in the temperate and frigid zones from producing the products of the tropics....Thus countries like the Dominion of Canada, Norway, and Sweden buy or import such things as tropical fruits, nuts, and spices, and give in exchange for them commodities which they have produced.

There’s nothing like having a tropical fruit early in the morning at your breakfast in Quebec. There’s nothing like having a pineapple in Norway, or guava jelly in Sweden. Meanwhile, Sweden also has things that other countries want—for instance, certain kinds of wood.

The Tourist Industry

We find the following statement about tourism:

In 1929 American tourists spent $659,000,000 more abroad than foreign tourists spent in the United States.

There was no such thing as the tourist industry in the 18th century. There was the Grand Tour: if you were of a good family in England and you’d gone to college, you were supposed to finish your education by traveling with a tutor to France and Italy, in particular—perhaps Germany. When you came back to London your position would immediately be better: you had made the Grand Tour. But tourism as such is a recent idea. Many countries see a good deal of their wealth as coming from it.

Tourism began with England. After the Napoleonic Wars, many people—perhaps because one hadn’t been able to go to France earlier, when Napoleon was keeping France—decided this was the time to go. They started visiting France, and later they would take their vacation elsewhere in Europe too. But the great tourists have been Americans.

Trade & How We Live

The writers say that in 1929 American “investments abroad exceeded foreign investments in the United States by $412,000,000.” At one time it was different: there were a lot of investments in the United States. And at the moment the situation in world trade is uncertain. The export business doesn’t know what is going on.

The fact that good will is somewhere implicit in economics is in this sentence: “International trade tends to lower the costs of production and raise the standard of living.”

It happens that sometimes a country could produce something, but at a higher cost than another country could. International trade raises the standard of living because the standard of living has to do with how many things representing the physical possibilities of the world come your way. The more things you can enjoy, of a physical kind, that get into your living room or your kitchen, the higher your standard of living. If you can say, “There is nothing that I like more in my gustatory life than this delicacy from Finland,” everybody knows your standard of living is high. Also: “I find that socks produced in Belgium are the best kind, though I cannot, of course, without being a little indiscreet, show you my Belgian socks now.”

Standard of living has to do with the wealth and show of the world as international. And, of course, it has to do with having the very best things. But there is a quality of good will about it. If you can get a pumpernickel bread that states of the union couldn’t produce all by themselves—well, it shows that international relations can be sweet from pumpernickel.

In the meantime, in international trade there is a word, tariff, which usually means trouble. The idea of getting things from other countries is very pleasing, mostly so if you cannot have those things from your own resources. But a time occurs when, while a company in your own land wants to produce the things that the people in it might want, another company in another land also wants to do that. One of the greatest fights at this time has been between American-produced and German-produced FM radios. The fight is fierce. It’s all gentlemanly, but it’s to the death. And if the FM radio makers were to become very worried, they would call for a tariff on FM radios from elsewhere. I don’t think this has occurred yet, but it might, or something like it might.

True Profit

The writers give various reasons for trade. This is one sentence: “It is carried on because society is benefited thereby, because it is profitable.”

The word benefited has to do with good will, and here even the word profitable does. In its first meaning, profit occurs where you get something that is good for your whole being, good for your life, good for your very self—as in the phrase “For what shall it profit a man” (Mark 8:36).

Anything that can add to you and become of you and make you more yourself, is profit. That is the first meaning of the word. The first profit in this sense was nutrition. People felt that by taking things into their bodies and having those things mingle with their bodies, there would be profit. And there was, because, for one thing, one was able to go on with one’s work. 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.
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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

Two Teachers Speak on a Class Taught by Ellen Reiss
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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