Friday, February 01, 2019

Racism and economic brutality - cruelty has a cause in common

A head teacher from Morecambe (UK) recently said in a national TV interview that she's been seeing numerous children coming to school so hungry that they search through bins to try to find thrown-away apple cores. Racism and economic brutality have much in common. 
Morecambe head teacher tells of desperate children going through bins for food
Morecambe head teacher Siobhan Collingwood
There is only one way that anyone in a position of power could allow this to happen - and I learned this from Aesthetic Realism.  You have to be willfully oblivious to the reality of those other people; see them as two-dimensional, as not having feelings or insides of the kind you have yourself. It's the only way. This is contempt, the desire to build oneself up by making less of other things and people. Eli Siegel wrote, in his masterful consideration of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw:
As soon as you have contempt, as soon as you don't want to see another person as having the fulness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person. (James and the Children, p 55)  
Contempt is ordinary. It's in a conversation when you fail to listen. It's behind every sneering look and every petulant outburst. And it makes a person cruel. Other people are cardboard cutouts and we are deep and sensitive. Contempt is easy to see in other people but it takes courage and real thought to see it in oneself. Meanwhile, looking at contempt in oneself is a personal and national emergency. When we have contempt we sunder our relation to the world that, according to Aesthetic Realism, we were born to like, to be moved by, excited by, even saddened by. We're born to have it do something to us, not to be stony replicas of sentient beings! 
We do not know how contempt works in us unless we ask, really ask.  

I'm sure that the people who created the austerity policies that have children so desperate that they go through bins for food, do not see themselves as brutes. They simply aren't asking, "Do I see other people, including those of a "lower" socio-economic class or a different race as having the depths I have? If I don't what does that mean?" They see the world as against themselves, and most other people as hostile representatives of that world, to be managed, fooled, used.  

Aesthetic Realism says that every person, of whatever race, background, religion, nationality, represents the world and has the world's opposites in him or her - surface and depth, thought and feeling; is one individual with so many aspects, relations, hopes and fears. See Eli Siegel's definitive work on the subject, "Aesthetic Realism: or, Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" part of an interview with Lewis Nichols of the New York Times Book Review.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Aesthetic Realism and Human Rights

A group of refugees land on Lesbos, Greece. (Pic: Antonio Masiello, Daily Telegraph).
The way refugees are spoken about and dealt with, both in the US, where I live, and in the UK, where I am from is deplorable. I cannot stand it. There is an almost unbelievable level of cruelty shown by otherwise decent human beings to these people in distress. It seems to me that the large cause of the abuse of refugees is that they are seen as fundamentally different from and inferior to oneself. 
A Syrian Kurdish woman crosses the border between Syria and Turkey at the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province on 23 September, 2014 ( BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images )
Refugees are seen as dirty, strange, unproductive, criminal, alien, avaricious, mendacious. They are not seen as three-dimensional human beings, as real as you or me. Things are used such as their skin colour, religion, country of origin, or language. Seeing other people this way seems to justify one's coldness. It is implied or said that you have to take a firm line with these people; you have to be severe so that they don't abuse our hospitality and generosity. (Notice how we become noble in our minds even as we're brutal).


A Syrian refugee trying to reach Europe
This is one more reason why it is imperative for the understanding of contempt as explained by Aesthetic Realism to become general knowledge, studied honestly everywhere. 


In Self and World, An Explanation of Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, wrote: 
Aesthetic Realism states that ethics begins with the human obligation to see everything, living and not living, as well as one can. Where we get away from this obligation or don’t see it, or diminish its meaning, it is rather clear that contempt is showing its strength; indeed, is winning.
The first victory of contempt is the feeling in people that they have the right to see other people and things pretty much as they please. For this reason, the viewpoint of Aesthetic Realism that we have an obligation to see everything as well as we can, is a critical matter.
The fact that most people have felt there is no such obligation, that they had the right to see other people and other objects in a way that seemed to go with comfort—this fact is the beginning of the injustice and pain of the world. It is contempt in its first universal, hideous form….
These words explain the cruelty towards refugees. It is evil, nothing else. Meanwhile, the economic worry and pain that so many people feel as 2018 comes to a close can be used by a person to feel he or she has the right to be unkind or at best uncaring. We don't; none of us have that right, and if we act as if we do we will punish ourselves in ways that we may not even realize. There is that feeling Mr. Siegel describes here, that we have the right to see other people in a way that goes with comfort. But under our skins, brutality never makes us feel comfortable. I've learned from Aesthetic Realism that we will always pay ourselves back if we are untrue to our deepest desire.

Many people do feel uncomfortable today, concerned about the future. Then here are all these people looking and sounding different, coming into one's country. The tendency is to see them as different only, and not see the great, deep correlation there is between them and us; nor how much we can be added to personally,  culturally, even economically, by the people whose lives have been so difficult in their homelands that they have uprooted themselves and often their families in order to look for a new start in a place that is strange to them. 
Migrants who traveled with caravan towards U.S.

As to how much we in the West are directly responsible for the troubles in their homelands, I am not going to even begin to address that in this post. My view is that even if we and our governments had nothing at all to do with the refugee crises, we are human beings and we owe something to every other human being on this earth. How else can we bear ourselves? And what pride comes from thinking of how we can make others stronger? 


Central American Refugees Gather At U.S.-Mexico Border In Tijuana
Good will, according to Aesthetic Realism, is "can be described as the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful." This is the purpose we need to have towards persons called refugees, let alone for our own families, friends, and acquaintances.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Who Is My Brother?

"I hate and despise a shrewish suspicion of foreigners and foreign ways; a man who can look me in the face, laugh with me, speak truth and deal fairly, is my brother, though his skin is as black as ink or as yellow as an evening primrose."
  • What is Coming? (1916) Herbert George Wells 

I see that fine sentence by H. G. Wells as a companion piece to the following statement, by Eli Siegel: 
“It will be found that black and white man have the same goodnesses, the same temptations, and can be criticized in the same way. The skin may be different, but the aorta is quite the same.” 

See Ken Kimmelman's historic Emmy-winning PSA, "The Heart Knows Better." 

From the anti-prejudice PSA by Ken Kimmelman


Saturday, October 06, 2018

"Racism Can End"

There's a commentary by Ellen Reiss, the Chairman of Education, and editor of periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known that is immensely important and needed in our time. She writes about the difference between the idea of racial "tolerance," and the true, exact, wide way of seeing that is needed for racism to end.

She writes, in part:
The big thing people have not known about racial prejudice is that it does not begin with race. It begins with the world itself, and how one sees the world. Race will never be understood and racial prejudice will not end until people can learn the following from Aesthetic Realism: 1) Race is an aspect of the aesthetic structure, the sameness-and-difference structure, of the world. This structure is what we see as we see two different things, ocean and sky, inextricably part of one horizon; as different words join together to make one sentence; as a tree’s trunk and leaves are different yet for each other, sweetly and powerfully coherent with each other. Whenever, Mr. Siegel showed, we see difference and sameness as one, we see beauty. 2) No person would be against people of a different race if that person were not against the biggest thing different from him: the world.
And later,
...for racism to end we have to be against the thing it begins with: contempt for the world itself. Further, racism won’t be effectively done away with unless it is replaced with something that has terrific power. What needs to replace it is not the feeling that the difference of another person is somehow tolerable. What is necessary is the seeing and feeling that the relation of sameness and difference between ourselves and that other person is beautiful. People need to feel, with feeling both intimately personal and large, that difference of race is like the difference to be found in music: two notes are different, but they are in behalf of the same melody; they complete each other; each needs the other to be expressed richly, to be fully itself.
This is some of the most important writing I know. You can read the whole issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known here
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