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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1803.—August 17, 2011

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Respect vs. Contemptin Mind & Economics

Dear Unknown Friends:

We publish here part 4 of You Can Gossip Philosophically about Psychology, by Eli Siegel. This 1970 lecture—casual in its style, often humorous, yet always exact—is immensely important. Discussing passages from a psychology textbook, Mr. Siegel explains what no psychology has understood: the human self is a philosophic, aesthetic matter. That is, our lives, and our very beings, are composed of reality’s opposites, and our great need is to make them one. The two biggest opposites we have are Self and World. And our deepest desire is honestly to like the world: to see that being just to wide, multitudinous, and specific reality is the same as taking care of our own so particular self.

It Is Contempt

Last month, an event occurred in Norway which arose from a horrible rift between those opposites, self and world. A 32-year-old Norwegian, Anders Breivik, bombed government buildings in Oslo in an attempt to murder representatives of the ruling Labor Party. He then went to Utoya, an island where hundreds of teenagers were attending a Labor Party youth camp, and shot as many as he could. The death toll now is 77 people.

Breivik has been described as “far right” and “fascist.” Fascist is a word much bandied about over the years, but there is such a thing, and Breivik is that. Much of the press coverage has emphasized his fury at “multiculturalism”—at the increased mingling, in Norway and other nations, of people of diverse cultures, religions, ethnic backgrounds. Yet I am writing about him because what he did brings up the relation of two aspects of fascism, which are generally not looked at simultaneously and not seen as having the same source.

There is (1) the ethnic prejudice within fascism. And there is (2) the economics of fascism. Even now, as Breivik is dealt with, the two are not seen as of a piece. They are of a piece. And in order to understand humanity (including our own) and today’s world, we have to see them that way. They are both impelled by what Aesthetic Realism has identified as the desire behind all injustice: contempt. The desire for contempt is in everyone. Mr. Siegel described it in this principle: “The greatest danger or temptation of man is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not himself; which lessening is Contempt.”

There are in fascism, including Breivik’s, a false, ugly answer, impelled by contempt, to two crucial questions: 1) how should we see people different from ourselves? and 2) who should own the wealth of the world? The first question has to do with prejudice or non-prejudice; the second with economics.

Who Should Own a Nation?

Let us look first at the economics of fascism. To do so, I quote from the Columbia Encyclopedia (1950 edition):

Fascism was a negative reaction against... democratic equalitarianism. Its roots may be traced to the reaction of the ruling classes against the French Revolution....Fascism abhorred the idea of a classless society....The capitalist and land-owning classes were protected by the fascist system and favored it.

 “Protected by” included the government’s financially backing various companies; its privatizing state owned businesses and services, so that certain businessmen made big profits from them;1 and of course its destroying unions so that owners could deal with workers any way they pleased.

Either the wealth of a nation should belong to all its people—or to just a few. The first way is respect for people; the second is contempt. Fascism, like the profit system itself, not only says it’s right that a few persons be rich and others labor for them on whatever terms those bosses want, regardless of how much suffering and poverty ensue; fascism says, that’s how it MUST be—how we’ll FORCE it to be!

Today, as economics based on private profit is failing, there are only two choices. One is: have economics become more ethical, have it be based on justice to all people. The other is: try to force the economy to go on providing profit for a few—by making millions of people become poorer and poorer, making them work for much less money, desperate for a job so they’ll work for about anything. To accomplish this, it’s necessary to do one of the first things fascism does: destroy unions. In Nazi Germany, union leaders were sent to concentration camps before Jews were.2 “Fascism,” Mr. Siegel explained in another 1970 lecture, “is the profit system defending itself without any scruples,... and us[ing] violence to do it with.”

The economics of fascism, then, is contempt for people. Anders Breivik hated the Labor Party because, in its fairly mild way, it’s for the wealth of Norway being owned by many people, not just a few. The ferocious profit economics of fascism can appeal not only to persons who are rich—because many people without much money would like to associate themselves with those who own: would like to feel that somehow they’re with the moneyed ones and can look down on others. When one’s contempt is called to, one can fool oneself massively.

The Cause of Prejudice

Racial, religious, and ethnic hatred has been part of fascism. Again, that is what the media has mainly presented in relation to Breivik’s massacre. But we have to see that being against “multiculturalism,” as Breivik was, is not really separable from the fascist economics I’ve been describing. Multi means many. And “multiculturalism” is the idea that people of many different backgrounds can add to each other. Hating that is in keeping with hatred of the idea that a nation’s wealth should be owned by many, not few. It’s not by chance that the Norwegian Labor Party was for both things: an economy more democratic than certain persons desired, and also a welcoming of people who could seem different from the Christian Nordic type. And it was because of both that Breivik murdered one teenager after another on a lovely island on a summer day.

Aesthetic Realism is that in the history of thought which explains: contempt, the feeling “I’m more through seeing you as less,” is the cause of all prejudice and racism. That desire to look down is present in people’s daily lives. A man can feel like a big shot talking to the guys about how silly and selfish women are. A woman can feel triumphant speaking with her friends about how much more sensitive we are than those brutish males. But contempt for what’s different from oneself has also made for concentration camps, slavery, “ethnic cleansing”—and the Breivik massacre. In issue 142 of this journal Mr. Siegel wrote, greatly, about Nazism. He explained:

It is clear that if you are impelled or run by contempt, you wish other people to be “inferior.” There was in 1930 a collective desire, caused by bitterness and the feeling of injustice, in many German persons, to see themselves as “superior.”...

The whether [Nazism] was sustained by a national contempt akin to the contempt an individual may have. In order to murder or enslave another, you have to build up some contempt for this other.

Throughout history, and within each individual, contempt has been at war with the deepest desire of the human self: to know and like the world different from us. There is nothing humanity needs more now than to understand that fight. And through Aesthetic Realism we can. It is through the study of Aesthetic Realism that contempt can lose, both nationally and personally—and the pride, art, kindness, and intelligence that are inseparable from respect for the world can win.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

How Should We Meet the World?
By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel is quoting from Elements of Psychology, by Krech and Crutchfield (1958).

There are quite a few experiments described in this book, and some are very taking. For example, monkeys had to solve a problem of undoing a hasp that was locked with a hook and pin. The writers tell how these monkeys, just left alone with the hasp—not shown any reward, like sugar or whatever it is they wanted—did better than when they got a reward. That is, they did better when they had the pure and artistic joy of taking away the pin and the hook. The authors use a psychological word—they generally write quite well, but of course they have the tinge of the lodge on them: “An intensely desired reward may actually disrupt adjustive behavior.”

That means that if you go after something, have something in mind and are intense about it, your activity may not be as efficient as when you see the activity as simply the beautiful or right thing to do. There have been some persons who, when they were amateur tennis players, were good, but when they became professionals they were told to give up tennis and go to football—because they became terrible as soon as they were working for money.

There is the experiment of being on a pillow in some kind of container and getting no new impressions. All you do is rest. It’s called “The Distress of Reduced Stimulation.” And the conclusion is quite true: “Varied stimulation is necessary for the normal working of the human brain.”

People do try to shield themselves from the impressions of the world. If you’re an expert at it, you get into something like a cataleptic trance. Then you can put aside everything, including sunbeams. Or you’re in a state of coma and are not excited by even the Reader’s Digest. The relation between stimulus and quiet is a big matter. It is concerned with motion and rest, and the relation of motion and rest is an aesthetic thing, or philosophic thing.

Under the heading “Adaptive Behavior,” a phrase that is taking is about liking the world:

To our study of the many worlds of man still another is added—a world inviting him, and requiring him to adapt to it, manipulate it, change it, and create in it.

The infinitives are arranged well: “to adapt to it,” then “manipulate it”—which means you have to do things with it; it’s not the best word but it doesn’t sound too painful—“change it,” and then “create in it.” That sounds good. That’s snappy. Saying the world requires you to “create in it” is another way of saying the world requires you to like it through some activity of your own. One should cheer after that sentence.

What Is the Motive?

Then we have this: “It appears that the very process of problem-solving is itself an expression of a basic motive.” So we have a motive to solve problems. And what for?

We frequently behave as if the solution of a problem were a reward in itself. And it even appears that some lower animals share this motive with man. (For an experimental demonstration of this, see Box 3.)

That box has the description of the disinterested monkeys. I’ll read from it:

The...monkeys had learned to solve the puzzle during the first 12 days and had learned this without any reward from the experimenter. [They] were then given additional tests....While the animal watched, a raisin was placed in a box, and the assembled puzzle was attached to the box so as to lock it. Then the monkey was released. Now their failures increased strikingly!

As soon as they’re bribed with raisins, they don’t do so well.

And a new kind of error appeared. In the previous tests without reward the monkeys never touched the hasp first; with the food reward, they always erred by attacking (literally) the hasp first. The monkeys, when they had the raisin “in mind,” could not restrain themselves from a direct attack....A highly desired reward may sometimes be bad for problem-solving!

Going for Composition

In another passage there is a statement about “integration” in “adaptive behavior” and biology. In all the physical sciences there is integration going on, along with the opposites of sameness and difference. For instance, the idea in physics that action and reaction are equal is a way of having sameness and difference as one. Then, the various occurrences in physics have in them some notion of getting things together and making them separate. Magnetism is a way of getting things together; so is electricity; and that has to do with integration. In every science there is something going on among different things that makes for composition or integration.

All biological phenomena show integration, but nowhere is this more profoundly true than in the adaptive behavior of living organisms.

Physiology is the field between psychology, or the social sciences, and the physical sciences. Physiology is not seen as a social science, except when it gets pernickety and becomes psychology. As soon as the organism is thought of in terms of what can happen to it, it takes on a quality of the social sciences. While it deals only with the mechanism, in any animal, of bones and tissue and digestion, it’s in the physical field. But as soon as a person gets involved, it becomes social. The seeing of physiology as a mechanism is necessary, and there are a good many things that occur in physiology that are just cause and effect. But we do have the physical sciences sometimes encroaching on psychology.

 “All biological phenomena show integration.” It can be said that a tissue is a composition. Digestion is a composition. And also, mind is a composition. A tissue is interested in maintaining and putting in motion all the things which are of that tissue. A stomach is interested in composing what it receives and using it well. As soon as the self gets a little uncertain, the stomach begins getting worried too, because the stomach can’t be expected to be better than the self it’s of. But composition is present in every phase of man and, for that matter, every phase of reality. All things, including words, are compositions.

Psychology very often looks like physiology. A person, for instance, is angry, and his stomach juices take on another quality, usually less comfortable: that’s physiology, but it’s in relation to anger. One can say that this effect could be had without the anger. It’s possible for stomach juices to deteriorate without anybody getting angry, if that’s any comfort. That is, you can spoil something in more than one way. I used to point out that if you want to have somebody be tearful you can do it with music, but you can also do it with onions, and you can do it with dust. This is about the important matter of body and mind, which is very necessary to deal with. It’s another way of dealing with substance and form, or weight and non-weight, or even matter and motion.

If, as the authors say, “living organisms” go through “adaptive behavior” which is “integration”—what has this to do with the liking of that to which you want to adapt?

We Have to Do with Other People

The writers, as they finish this introductory chapter, get social. All psychology texts have a tendency, in summing up, to get a little social, because, after all, an individual with psychological endowment and possessions has a certain relation to people:

An important factor in the person’s social functioning is his “social perception,” that is, how he perceives other people and groups, how he perceives such social institutions as the church, the state, and the economic structure and such social events as political campaigns, mob action, war, and religious services.

This means that any person interested in his own mind has had to be interested in what was going on. Plato, interested in mind somewhat, was interested in what went on. The reason Archimedes, a physical scientist, didn’t do so well was that he wasn’t aware of the invaders of Syracuse.3

Interest in the busy world is being shown more and more, and psychologists have sometimes had to act sociologically, as chemists have had to. Even geologists have occasionally hit the street. Psychology is increasingly changing into the other social sciences—economics, sociology, history, politics. That is happening today, because individual psychology has had to be aware of what the press was writing about. Everyone has had to ask, What are the wild campuses saying?

 “We shall find that the principles of the perception of physical stimuli...enable us to understand many of the more complex phenomena of ‘social perception.’” So while the sensory receptors can make for awareness of things happening in a room, and sounds, sights, smells, tastes, touches, they can also make for awareness of what is going on in England or South America, or in Minnesota, or in what may go on in Minnesota. The self as self-contained and the self as walking and strutting and yelling are getting closer and closer. black diamond

See, e.g., Germà Bel, “The First Fascist Italy,” Cambridge Journal of Economics (2011).

See Robert Jackson, Office of the US Chief Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality, “Opening Address for the United States,” Nuremberg Trials, in Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1946), vol. 1, chap. 5, pp. 129-131.

Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier during the Siege of Syracuse.

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 RealismThe 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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