Pretense, Love, & an Oil Spill
Dear Unknown Friends:
In this issue we publish, based on notes taken at the time, the second half of the 1947 lecture Pretense and Self-Conflict, by Eli Siegel. What he explains in this section is the means to understand so much of the daily pain of people: the nagging, often quiet, sometimes fierce feeling that what I’m doing doesn’t fully represent me and I don’t know what would, but there’s something false and empty in my life.
The basis of what Mr. Siegel explains is this Aesthetic Realism principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” If we don’t see that both opposites— for example, logic and emotion—stand for us, and if we’re not trying to make them one, we’ll inevitably be pretending. That’s because we’ll sometimes act as though one opposite represents us, and sometimes another—while neither in itself does.
The opposites Mr. Siegel speaks of here are the biggest in our lives: self and world, the desire to care for what’s not us and the desire to care for just ourselves. Unless we feel we’re taking care of ourselves by being fair to the outside world, we’ll feel (and so will others) that there’s something phony in the way we’re “kind.” Meanwhile (this is very good news) our selfishness is false too—because however much we think we take care of ourselves through it, our being selfish is a lying about the fact that our deepest desire is to be just. That’s why, unless our self-love includes love for the world, it inevitably makes us ashamed, lonely, unsure.
Published here too is something very much in keeping with Mr. Siegel’s lecture: part of a paper presented recently by Aesthetic Realism consultant Bennett Cooperman at a seminar titled “How Can a Man Be Confident about Love?”
Pretense, Profit, & Disaster
At this time, America is much affected by the explosion of and massive spill from a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion immediately killed 11 people. The resulting spill is in process of ruining the livelihoods of thousands and ending the lives of other creatures that depend on the habitat into which oil is now pouring. The matter of pretense is in this catastrophe importantly—and not just the overt pretense of the company’s dissembling about what it did and didn’t do, and about how much oil is actually gushing into the gulf waters every day.
The enormous pretense this occurrence points to is the lie, foisted on Americans for years, that economics based on profit is “American” and good for people.
Let’s look at a passage in Newsweek, May 17, about the 2006 investigation of two other huge oil spills. Those occurred in Alaska and were “caused by corroded pipelines.” Newsweek quotes EPA special agent Scott West about the fact that the company “had ignored repeated warnings about corrosion.” West noted:
“There was a corporate philosophy that it was cheaper to operate to failure and then deal with the problem later rather than do preventive maintenance.”
What we see in this statement is: production based on the profit motive is antithetical to one’s being fair to other people. Any pretense that the two are not antithetical is simply pretense. The statement points to the fact that a pipeline’s “failure,” with all the horrific damage this can do to human lives and earth, is more profitable for a company than making sure (for example) people don’t die; therefore, vast, deadly damage is preferred to the preventing of it.
A for-profit company can take out all the ads it pleases and pretend to be beneficent, but it’s like the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” pretending to be a kindly grandmother. The profit motive—however spirited and daring it’s made to look—is, by definition, the motive to use people and earth for one’s personal profit. And if that’s your motive, you cannot be finicky about such matters as people’s well-being, life, death. As BP and other companies know, trying to be fair to people will cut terrifically into your profits.
The big question raised by the present disaster and related happenings is: Should something that all people need—or something the getting and manufacture of which affect ever so many lives—be produced for the profit of a few individuals? To evade this question is, in itself, cruel pretense.
In his Goodbye Profit System lectures of the 1970s, Eli Siegel explained that the profit system is based on contempt, and that its success years are over. He showed that for an economy now to be successful, it has to be based on that aesthetic oneness of opposites which I described earlier and which is also ethics. It has to be based on: I take care of myself through being fair to you—not through hoping you’re weak, needy, and stupid so I can get the better of you.
Americans Are Less Taken In
The American people are less and less taken in by the pretense that profit economics is good for them. They’re much less ready to believe the following fairy tale, so often stated or implied: that horrors like the present BP oil spill arise, not from the very basis of profit economics, but merely from an abuse of it.
A May 10th article on Salon.com quotes reports by various media outlets. There is Bloomberg Businessweek, about the apparently faulty cement seal which permitted the bursting through of methane gas: after a basic pressure test, BP “didn’t perform a second and more expensive test to ensure that [the] well was properly plugged, said [engineering authority] Robert Bea.” Also quoted is the New York Times: a worker “on the oil rig at the time of the explosion...said the rig had been drilling deeper than 22,000 feet, even though the company’s federal permit allowed it to go only 18,000 to 20,000 feet deep.” The impetus behind those choices by the company was the very basis of the profit system. The impetus was the profit motive. It’s the same motive that welcomed child labor, sweatshops, and that utter form of using people for profit—slavery.
What Should Government Be For?
The last pretense I’ll mention concerns what President Obama denounced as the “cozy relationship” between the oil industry and our government. If a government wants to seem kind to people, even be kind to people, yet also wants to protect the profit system, ensure the making of big profits for some individuals—there will have to be pretense, because the two cannot go together. Various agencies will have to pretend to be for regulations, while not really being for them, and not enforcing them. Regulators and inspectors will let companies behave harmfully—because protecting earth and people would mean lessening by far the companies’ profits.
There is, then, that beautiful thing, the American land, including its waters. For its well-being and ours, it should, as Mr. Siegel wrote years ago, belong truly to the American people.