The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

The Great Question in Love & Economics

Dear Unknown Friends:

We begin to serialize They Go Away from Something, a lecture Eli Siegel gave on January 22, 1971. And we print part of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Ernest DeFilippis, from a public seminar of this month: “What Is True Courage in a Man?” Mr. Siegel’s lecture is from the Goodbye Profit System series, which he had begun eight months earlier. In those talks and in issues of this journal, he showed that a certain point in human history had been reached: the profit motive as the engine for a nation’s economy had failed and would never work efficiently again.

And that is what has happened these decades. The profit motive is the seeing of other people—their labor, their needs—in terms of one’s own aggrandizement: how much money can I get out of you? It has become ever more difficult for companies based on this familiar but ugly motive to bring in the desired returns.

They Tried to Save It

Mr. Siegel begins They Go Away from Something by speaking about the State of the Union Address to take place that evening. He mentions four measures that he thinks will be (and indeed were) presented. They’re attempts, he says, to save the profit-making ability of US companies, but they won’t work. They did not work, nor have the other methods tried these 40 years.

Today the efforts to keep profit economics going are of a different kind from those of 1971. The idea now is to have the American people poorer and poorer, working for lower pay, so more money can go to owners and less to those who do the work. And the idea is to give private businesses more and more governmental funding—money that belongs to the American people—while also undoing or impoverishing such public institutions as schools. These methods won’t succeed either.

People in 1971 would have found it hard to believe that 40 years later so much of US industry would simply no longer exist; hundreds of thousands of companies would be gone; most products Americans use would be made elsewhere; millions of people would be jobless, with the agony attending joblessness; wages would be lower and lower; so much of America would be owned by other nations, including China, as part of our enormous national debt. The years show that Mr. Siegel was right.

Economics & Love

This Aesthetic Realism principle is true about both economics and love: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” Every aspect of economics is a relation of the opposites self and world. It’s always you and something or someone not you—whether you’re manufacturing a product, working at a computer, firing someone, raising a price, buying a loaf of bread. Every aspect of love is also yourself and the outside world: from your intimate thoughts about someone, to embracing that person, to disagreeing with that person. The cruelty and inefficiency in economics, the pain and failure in love, both come from elevating oneself through making less of the world, embodied often in other human beings. Mr. Siegel described the fundamental injustice as contempt.

In the seminar paper from which we print an excerpt, Ernest DeFilippis also spoke about George Meredith’s novel Diana of the Crossways. For reasons of space, we cannot include that discussion. But I’m going to quote from a poem of Meredith, because it’s a means of seeing how contempt in the field of love is like the contempt in profit economics. Poem 28 of Meredith’s Modern Love, published in 1862, has these lines:

I must be flattered. The imperious

Desire speaks out. Lady, I am content

To play with you the game of Sentiment,

And with you enter on paths perilous;

But if across your beauty I throw light,

To make it threefold, it must be all mine.

First secret; then avowed. For I must shine


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And men shall see me as a burning sphere;

And men shall mark you eyeing me, and groan

To be the God of such a grand sunflower!

I feel the promptings of Satanic power,

While you do homage unto me alone.

The great question of both love and economics is: How should we see another person? Here the speaker sees a woman as someone to aggrandize him—flatter him. Her beauty is something he wants to own: “it must be all mine.” As part of the “game” he’ll flatter her—see her as three times more beautiful than she is—so long as she consents to be owned by him.

Meredith is describing courageously what people usually see as love: another person’s making them important. But that is also how in the profit system people see other people: what you produce with your labor should, as much as possible, be mine, go into my pocket. In love, people have wanted a person to consider them superior to the whole world, “do homage unto me alone.” And part of the attraction of profit economics is to get a position so superior that you can boss people around, have them “do homage unto” you.

In both social life and economic life, there has been a seeing of the world as something to subjugate. In both there has been a thirst to be envied. In love, the conquest of a person has been decorated to seem romantic. In economics, annihilating a competitor and seeing people in terms of what you can squeeze from them have been made to seem glamorous. But there is always a deep shame, because the purpose of our lives is something else: our real purpose is to be important through knowing and caring for what’s not ourselves.

Aesthetic Realism says that both economics and love need to be like art. And the Meredith poem is an instance of art. He is trying to see his subject truly, be fair to it—trying so honestly that his words are musical, have grandeur. That is what love really is: the desire to see truly another person and the world he or she is of. And the only economy that will now work is one based on aesthetics—on the seeing that we are more as we are just to a world of people and things.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

They Go Away from Something

By Eli Siegel

At this moment there is a gigantic effort to show that the profit way of the world and of America can work. In his State of the Union Address this evening, Our Reward* will be telling something like the following:

Though of course I can’t be sure, I think there will be something said about deficit spending—which means that the government will spend more money and get more into debt, with the feeling that the debt will in one way or another be taken care of. The idea is that if the government spends more money there will be more money to make and the possibility of profit will be there. So the public debt, as it is called, will be increased.

A second thing likely to be said is that revenues of the federal government will get to the states so that the states can spend money. There will be what is called a sharing of revenue, which means that the states will get more money and will spend it. As soon as money is spent, persons who like the idea of profit get interested.

The third thing is, there will be something about welfare, and it will seem that the government is more interested in the poor than any government ever was. This will surprise what can be called the routine, hardboiled conservative and make Our Reward look a little bit like Bakunin.

There will also be the going toward an expansive economy, sometimes called a John Maynard Keynes or Galbraith economy: that is, the more government spends, the better it is for everyone. There will be an economy different from the kind Our Reward has seemed to be for. This has been felt, and so the stock market is reacting buoyantly.

Through this approach the profit possibility is made easier, and for a while it is effective. There is more chance of making money because all of this, including the public debt, is inflationary. With inflation, more money will be around, so more can be made.

Also, the lower discount rate, the lower interest, has affected the stock market very much. That seems to be going on, and it too makes for increased chance of profit. That will, I believe, be somewhat affirmed this evening, to make money more liquid, easier to get. An expansive economy, an economy of financial affirmation and abundance, will help the profit system, it is thought.

Yes, there is no doubt that the profit system will be overjoyed. But as to its full meaning, that is to be seen. The profit system, as I’ve said pretty often, is out. All the measures being presented tonight won’t help it a bit—because other things are concerned. This is economics and ethics.

I have been thinking about a work supplementary to Goodbye Profit System. The title is The Mental Barricades: A Study in the Leaving of the Profit System. That is, the human mind has never liked the profit system. Even those persons who seem to be fortunate with it have never liked it. The relation of a human being to another human being is not beautiful or lovely there. Every human being somewhere has sniffed that there was something wrong.

In a large sense, the distaste for profit has come to a head, or become conscious. In many ways—outside of left parties—people have shown they don’t want it, very often persons on the management side. It is right that it not be wanted, because it hurts man.

This was felt by writers and men of religion, thoughtful persons, including politicians and statesmen. But it was a quiet ethical sentiment and didn’t have any human force. The force, as I have said, showed itself last year. It is still showing itself. What it comes to is that man is saying: No more profit system. This doesn’t necessarily include anybody to the left. The human race is tired of it. The whole human race—including people who will talk for it.

Here we have to have an understanding of what people see as to their feelings and also what they don’t see. There is such a thing as the unconscious. There is such a thing, even, as the collective unconscious. One can see that this displeasure, this againstness, is present. The feeling that the world should be better—this good will sentiment has been showing its force and will increasingly show its force.

Our conclave at the present moment in Washington cannot change that. The House of Representatives and the Senate, however strong they are, are not stronger than good will when it’s universally angry, in the same way that they’re not stronger than that which sends the planets around wherever those may be.

What Makes a Man Truly Courageous?

By Ernest DeFilippis

I had spent the morning gathering conch, or scungilli, at Tampa Bay. Then I picked up some garlic, olive oil, celery, parsley, a bottle of red wine, and a loaf of semolina. When I got home I began preparing my feast. The aroma was intoxicating, and I couldn’t wait to return and eat my meal after the game (I was playing minor league baseball). In came George, one of my roommates, and began to tease me jokingly: “What the hell is that smell?! How could you eat that?!” He even threatened to throw the remainder of the bushel off the balcony. Undaunted, I continued preparing my solitary banquet.

When I walked in later, George greeted me with, “Ernie, that was delicious!” He had eaten almost all of them. I was furious. I had put up with his poking fun of the dreamlike way I spoke of Emily, a girl I met in Raleigh, spent two hours with on a double date, and immediately fell “in love” with. But eating my scungilli—that was unforgivable. I saw George felt bad. He tried to apologize and make amends, but I didn’t want to hear it. The next day I packed up and left.

I think there was something George objected to—my smug, self-centered, righteous manner—and it would have been good if I had had courage enough to speak with him. But I preferred being hurt and angry. Meanwhile, I felt ashamed and gutless—that I had once again turned my back on a person.

Aesthetic Realism explains that how we meet a particular situation or person has to do with how we see the whole world. Is it a friend to be known and strengthened, or an enemy to weaken and defeat? I saw the world as against me, and thought that to be courageous was to protect myself and overcome this enemy. I felt that to be engaged with other people, have their thoughts and feelings get into me, was an invasion of what I called my “insulated capsule.” Inwardly I retreated from people while outwardly I thrust myself forward arrogantly.

The Mix-up about Women

I prided myself on my boldness with women. I wasn’t afraid to approach a woman who caught my eye. One such girl was Jane Stanley. While there were some facts about her I liked—mainly, she was pretty and liked me—there were others I didn’t like: she could (as I put it) “get into moods.” For example, I once lined up a romantic getaway in Vermont. We would ski during the day and spend the nights in front of a fire, lost in each other’s arms. But on the first night she was troubled by something and didn’t want to have sex. I tried to persuade her; she resisted. I got hurt and stormed out of the chalet. But in the midst of a tirade against her, I felt ashamed and cursed myself. Shortly after, Jane and I stopped seeing each other. Then, months later, she decided to come to New York for a visit.

I had begun to study with Eli Siegel, and in one class I told him that I was in turmoil about the visit. He asked: “Do you think you have two purposes with Ms. Stanley?” And he explained what these were: “Ernest DeFilippis would like someone to care for him, soothe him, make him feel mighty and important; and he would like to care for someone who would have him see all things better. That makes for trouble. The important thing is, what is your greatest purpose in life, your true purpose? Is it to see the world in the best way?”

In another class, as I spoke about another woman who confused me, Mr. Siegel asked whether I liked it that she was interested in culture: “Would you like her to care more for the world or less?” I said I wasn’t sure. And he continued: “Do you grant mind to a woman? Do you feel a woman who cares for you will accept the limits you hand down?”

Mr. Siegel was encouraging me to see what really represents me, what would have me feel courageous. “Courage,” he wrote, “is the belief that the way things are is not against oneself, and therefore that these things should not be gone away from....[It] is an organic like of the facts, making for a wish to know them.” Reading this, I was astounded.

I had felt nothing matched the glory I got from feeling masterful and being adored. Now I was learning there’s a greater, more glorious victory than the victory of contempt: respecting the world; seeing it, including the facts about a woman, truly. For this victory we need authentic courage: we need to be larger, tougher, have the intellectual tenacity to criticize our ego. It was an exhilarating, new kind of courage—one that makes for happiness and pride.

When I came to know Maureen Butler, a young woman from Ohio, I found learning about the facts of her life and what she felt was really exciting and interesting. And that thrill increases with each year. I love Maureen, who is my wife, because she encourages me to “see all things better” as we enjoy together the courageous, romantic adventure of seeing the world in all its diversity more and more fairly.

From a Consultation

Ed Jackson is an energetic young man, interested in social justice, who is studying Aesthetic Realism in consultations. He told his consultants he wanted to understand a criticism his girlfriend, Anna, had given him:

EJ. Sometimes, out of nowhere, she can feel very low and not know why. And she feels I can be too hard, tell her to “snap out of it.”

Consultants. Do you respect yourself when you tell her that?

EJ. No.

Consultants. If Anna can be changeable, are there facts that make for that changeability —a cause?

EJ. Of why she feels that way?

Consultants. Yes. If you don’t like understanding what the cause may be, then you don’t like the facts of who she is—what’s in her mind, her thoughts and feelings. Men feel a woman should be nice, uncomplicated, and please us on our terms. And if the facts interfere—annihilate them.

“I see,” he said, and spoke of how, instead of wanting to ask deeply about what was worrying her, “I can want to have a quick conversation and have sex.”

At his next consultation, he described a big change. He’d had a conversation with Anna of a much deeper kind, in which he expressed regret that “I can be grabby and not interested in what you feel.” He told us: “I was moved when she said how happy she was to be having this conversation and that she cared for me much more and wished that we spoke like this more often.” And he said with energy, “That’s what I want to do!”

This desire to have a good effect on another person is what really makes a man courageous!

*A term (ironic) which Mr. Siegel often used for Richard Nixon, then President.