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Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1705.— November 14, 2007
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Feelings, Profit, & Ethics in America

Dear Unknown Friends: 

n the lecture we're serializing, Always with PDC, Eli Siegel is showing that ethics is central in economics—is always with Production, Distribution, and Consumption. Ethics is the justice or injustice, the good will or ill will, with which we see anything outside of ourselves. It is the biggest matter not only in economics but in every aspect of our lives.

     Mr. Siegel gave this lecture in 1974. In 1970 he explained, with evidence from history and the moment:

There will be no economic recovery in the world 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.

     The motive of profit—the seeing of your fellow humans in terms of how much money you can get out of them; the hope that another person will be weaker so you can be stronger, that he be more in need so you can better have your way with him, that he fail so you can triumph over him—the profit motive was always contempt. But, Mr. Siegel explained, as the 20th century approached its end the profit system was no longer able to thrive, nor would it ever again.

     So today, while a few mega-corporations are making lots of money, thousands of businesses no longer exist. Compared to 1974, manufacturing in America has become miniscule. The gap between rich and poor has steadily increased: the large middle class that America was once so proud of has been shrinking. However long economics based on ill will may continue, it is, in terms of success, finished: “The purpose of profit,” wrote Mr. Siegel in 1977, “is no longer able to produce well and to keep Americans contented” (TRO 213).

     I'll comment, and give some background, on some of the matters he speaks about in the present section of Always with PDC.


n 1974 inflation was affecting people massively. In recent years inflation has been presented as nicely curbed, and a large reason is the cleverness with which it's calculated. For instance, the core Consumer Price Index, used to measure inflation, does not include the prices of food and gasoline. Meanwhile, mothers throughout America know that the price of milk is painful and in some instances unpayable, though children want that milk and need it as much as ever. The fact that gasoline costs much more than it used to, is knowledge had by about every American over 16. And it's knowledge accompanied by distress and anger.

      In issues of this journal, Mr. Siegel wrote about inflation as a matter of ethics: as having ill will in it:

It is quite clear that inflation has something to do with the unwillingness of a person to be left with the bag called Lower Price in his hands while some other person has a container in his hands reading Adjusted and Higher Price. So much “economic adjustment” has retaliation in it, and ill will right in its diplomatic midst. [TRO 75]

As a raised price is “passed along,” a state of mind toward people is present—toward people as individuals and toward humanity itself. The price of flour goes up; a bread manufacturer is forced to pay more—so he charges other people more for his bread. He's angry and resentful, and feels, I can't worry about what someone who needs my bread may go through, how hard it might be for her to pay—I have to take care of myself! He feels, This trouble was foisted on me—well, I'll foist it on others.

     A raised price is passed along, and so are inconsiderateness, coldness, enmity. People do not want to have those feelings in their economic lives, a fact they're increasingly aware of. “Economics,” wrote Mr. Siegel, “should not have been the material for the ill will of man....For man to have ill will is for man to be a failure.”

“The Conservation of Decisions”

n this section of the lecture we find the phrase “the conservation of decisions.” “In the history of economics,” Mr. Siegel says, “decisions have been made, and the world has conserved them.”

     Some of these decisions are: laws against child labor; laws mandating workplace safety; the right to bargain collectively—to have unions; minimum wage laws; government protections against tainted food. Each ethical decision came to be only because people fought for it courageously, usually in a union. Every one of these and other decisions has weakened the ability of a company to make profit from humanity. That's why there are huge efforts to circumvent the decisions, efforts often assisted by persons in government. Yet the decisions have accumulated. They're part of what Mr. Siegel called the force of ethics which has made the profit system no longer able to flourish.

“Another Kind of Basis”

r. Siegel says the world is demanding, and going toward, a basis for production other than the profit motive. This new economics is something that has not existed before, but is in keeping with the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution. It's economics based on ethics and aesthetics: the oneness of justice to each individual and justice to all people. He wrote in Self and World, 60 years ago:

The world should be owned by the people living in it. Every person should be seen as living in a world truly his. All persons should be seen as living in a world truly theirs. [P. 270]

The Ethics of Reality as Such

ehind Aesthetic Realism's understanding of economics is Aesthetic Realism as strict philosophy, with its principle “In reality opposites are one; art shows this.” In the part of the lecture printed here is Mr. Siegel's statement “It can be said that the foundation thing in the world, in a way equivalent to the world itself, is ethics.” What that means is a very large matter, but something can be said fairly simply.

      Is there a structure of sameness and difference in the world which is fundamentally inter-enhancement; is there a structural good will? Let us take the fact that rain, different from a tree, enables the tree to grow. Or the fact that a molecule is composed of atoms which are different from each other yet work together and bring out a new possibility from each other. Or the fact that earth, different from a person, provides nourishment for a person, and in turn it is humans who can cultivate earth, bring out what earth can be and do. Or the fact that the English language, come to by millions of unknown people over centuries, enables one little girl in Maine to speak; and she, by using it, is helping the English language to continue and develop. These are instances of reality's structure, the oneness of opposites, specifically sameness and difference: different things showing they're for each other, of each other. There's destruction in the world, of course, and cruelty. But is the preponderant thing in the makeup of reality an inter-strengthening which is counter to the ill will behind profit economics?

      There is a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson that says: earth itself is against acquisition and is more powerful than the people who own a great deal. In “Hamatreya” Emerson names some early settlers of Concord, Massachusetts, who worked the land to have “Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood.” But soon, he says, these men want to make the earth their private possession and grab more and more:

Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
Saying, “'Tis mine, my children's and my name's.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  .
They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain.

Earth doesn't like this—she sees it as ridiculous. She tells the acquisitive ones: “Mine, not yours.” And—

Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.

     We have, then, Emerson, noted in American thought, affirming: there is a demand in the American earth itself that it be seen ethically, owned ethically.

ELLEN REISS, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism

Economics & the Feelings of People

By Eli Siegel

henever something goes wrong the factors in it get mixed up, and at the present time there is a feeling that the various aspects of economics are tangled. A general tangle is in these three words: production, distribution, consumption. That is, there can be production, but if there is wrong distribution it can go back to production and affect that. And consumption can affect both distribution and production.

      That is a long story, which I'll try to illustrate. But I think there should be a little discussion today of sentences in the introduction to Goodbye Profit System. The editor, Martha Baird, writes:

Eli Siegel said on May 22, 1970, that the profit system is finished....“We have with us,” said Siegel, “the triumph of good will.”*

      All of history is an effort to make a one of man and where he is—the world that he's in or of. Did the world say in 1970, The ethics that I have tolerated these hundreds of years I cannot anymore, because I'm different now?

      In some of the instances I have given tonight we have a presentation of people trying to outdo each other. Economics has been a scene of people trying to be smarter than someone else. An idea of economics is in Edward Noyes Westcott's novel David Harum: who can best sell a horse with a blind eye? I'm still trying to have the term good will take its place as a factual thing. I haven't succeeded, but one has to try.

Mr. Siegel has given the reasons for this extraordinary statement in a series of lectures.

      One can judge. I asked people to read the Leonard Silk article (New York Times Magazine, July 28, 1974). And I think they saw that ethics, good will or ill will, was present in what he wrote about. For example, one country can look at another with a kind of suspicious eye—countries are suspicious of each other. Sometimes it takes the form of a situation like that of Greece and Turkey. But you can have a suspicion that Venezuela is sending an evil eye right to the people here—because it's afraid some of them want oil on better terms from it. Economics has been in the field of “You want this on your terms but I have to think about my terms!” The world is also interested in what can be called the final asking price.

There Were People and Panics

here is a part of American history which consists of a list of panics. They were used very much to show that the free enterprise system was not working, because there have been panics from the very beginning, some lesser panics and some important ones. In 1837 there was one of the great panics of America, in the last year of Andrew Jackson and the first of Martin Van Buren, and it is still being studied. It's got a good deal to do with the national bank, but also with the price of land, and also with industry. In New York in 1837 there was a demonstration at the City Hall, pretty much where it is now.

     The next panic was 1857, and that too scared people. There was one in 1873. There was one in 1872 or so. Then there was one in 1907, a time that came to be the cause of the Federal Reserve. They are the big panics in American history, and the causes are still being studied. There was something like one in 1920. Then there's 1929. And there are a few that I've left out.

      So, what has occurred? In history we have people, and very often angry people. History is made up of two kinds of people, among others: scheming and angry. Both these psychological terms have to do with right and wrong, or ethics. Ethics was there when Biddle wanted his national bank but Andrew Jackson wanted to take it away. It is somewhat as simple as that, and Jackson won. The nearest thing we got to a national bank was the Federal Reserve.

      Today we can say scientifically there is a recession. That's become part of the economic knowledge of America. Some people have even said depression. And I think that there will be a few local panics when people go to the stores again and see what awaits them. Maybe not panics—just scenes.

An Investor Has a State of Mind

artha Baird writes about the book Goodbye Profit System:

One lecture is given in its entirety; eight others are summarized in reports by students of Aesthetic Realism.
     A great variety of backgrounds, economic experience, and political attitudes is represented in this class. Among us are some long-time, heavy investors in the stock market; people who inherited a few stocks but never paid much attention to them; people who never owned stocks and would not, looking on the whole thing as unclean.

     Now, I would say that the state of mind of about every investor, except if he's doing it for pure fun, in which case he is not an investor—the state of mind is quite bad. To be sure, one can make it look pretty. But the investor is going after loot that, if he thought about it, he wasn't sure he deserved—because risk is a part of labor, but risk by itself is not a full cause of wealth. As I said in something written in 1920, if a person takes the great risk of breaking into your home and taking things out of the desk, we don't reward him for it. But there's a desire to make risk by itself already a fruitful thing.

     I would have to say, with all my seeing of investing as romantic and so on, that the investing human type is not the highest type. There have been investors from the very beginning. Addison writes about them. Macaulay, in his dealing with the Exchange in The History of England, writes about them. A stock is a right to see yourself, if you have stock, as somewhat an owner of a company.

     The two biggest causes of emotion in man have been money and love, sex. One can use emotion badly about love, and one can use it badly about money.

Ethics and Inflation

he most salient thing about the economy now, the thing that has affected most people, is this inflation business. I felt that the profit system was deeply at an end. How it would show itself: that, I felt, would have to do with prices, but I didn't think that it would be inflation all the way as the conspicuous thing. There is also right now a report that unemployment has risen in New York State. The main thing in recessions has been a scarcity of money, a scarcity of jobs. Very often there has been a plenitude of goods but you can't buy them. What's present now is getting also to have a scarcity of goods, which makes it not only the new type but the old type. But the word inflation has taken on a new meaning, and that is the chief way that the world is showing its anger.

     There have been two specific things spoken of recently to counter inflation. One was mentioned by our Executive, Gerald Ford. As soon as the state employs people we have the incursion of something other than the profit system, and Mr. Ford had to get the idea that there could be public service jobs. The other thing was taxes. And there are some people who are afraid, because it's likely going to be taxes on persons who have a good deal to pay taxes with, not on everybody. It is a way of soaking the rich, and people are afraid of that. That's Galbraith's idea. If there are taxes, there can be the making of things and working without the worry of budget deficits. Taxes are a big thing. Tariffs are a big thing. Deficits are a big thing. But they all belong to those more simple three: production, distribution, consumption.

     Every individual looking at himself will see he is reeking with production, distribution, and consumption, in one way or another—even writing a memo. You have to produce a memo.

Another Basis

ow shall another kind of basis for production take place? That is a large question, which will have ethics in it. What say should a human being have about his life?: that's what it comes to.

     There are two things in physics—the conservation of energy and the conservation of matter. But there is also the conservation of decisions. In the history of economics, decisions have been made, and the world has conserved them.

     The world is showing its power; and it can be said that the foundation thing in the world, in a way equivalent to the world itself, is ethics. It is showing its power, and one way is by having something you can't help but notice. One can say that other things in economics are distant from one, but everyone has these rather crude couplets:

I am in some relation
To inflation.
I am in some relation
To the cause of inflation.

*Eli Siegel , Goodbye Profit System: Update (NY: Definition Press, 1982), p. ix        
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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Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies

Art and Literature
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The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

Two Teachers Speak on a Class Taught by Ellen Reiss
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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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