Thursday, December 29, 2016

Victory at Standing Rock

The recent victory at Standing Rock in North Dakota, fought for by the Lakota Sioux people, joined by other Native American protectors, added to and supported by thousands of other Americans, I see as an important event in US history. That is true no matter how long it lasts. The spectacle of a few brave individuals from a nation that has been so wronged and dishonored, standing up against the odds, being joined by more, more and still more, from all over the US and beyond, with so many other people of all nationalities following and cheering them on from afar, is beautiful.

The subsequent apology by US armed forces veterans, and the expression of forgiveness by the Lakota, though it did not involve so many people, is one of those things that ends up in the history books children read at school. It's powerful and moving, and is for all time. 

Photograph by Josh Morgan for The Huffington Post
The following question came to mind. It was first asked by Eli Siegel, the American poet, critic, educator and founder of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism: "What does a person deserve by being alive?" 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"The Heart Knows Better," by Ken Kimmelman

Aesthetic Realism anti-prejudice PSA
The Heart Knows Better
It's a great time to see this important PSA! In fact, it should be broadcast and shared EVERYWHERE. See it here: "The Heart Knows Better."

Against Racism, For Truth and Kindness

One of the most important statements I've seen is this, by Bishop Frederick C. James, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church:
I'd like to say what's in my heart. What this nation needs is more caring across ethnic lines. I think our nation and the world needs what Eli Siegel, the great founder of Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy of life in America and the world, teaches. It's certainly in harmony with the great religious scriptures and the heart of all faiths across this globe.
Bishop James, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Bishop James
I am proud to agree with the careful and large opinion of Bishop James. And I am grateful to Alice Bernstein and the Alliance of Ethics & Art for publicizing his comment, for her courageous writings and videos and so much more.

Our nation and the world sorely needs Aesthetic Realism, including its understanding of how people of different backgrounds, religion, ethnicity, can see each other with respect and real affection. I write from personal experience. Though I saw myself as progressive, before studying Aesthetic Realism I had prejudice against people of other nations, backgrounds, and religions. I learned that the cause was contempt, the desire to make less of the world in order to build oneself up falsely. I thought I was clever and superior in looking down on people I saw as different. I regret this very much. It's the ugliest attitude in the world, and I had it. I have learned, too, that there is a bigger power in seeing other people truly; a true pride, gratitude, excitement, and size of emotion in feeling "I'm added to by what is different from myself." But contempt, because it is not understood and criticized, is a powerful and dangerous force in the world today.

Remain or Leave?
UK EU membership vote ballot
Here is just one example: England, my country of birth, which I love, has voted to leave the European Union. Left and Right were both divided on the issue, for various reasons.

One thing that's clear is that the forces of hatred and racism have been stirred up and exploited during the campaign. Refugees have being wrongly blamed for the destruction of social services in Britain, including the deterioration of the National Health Service. They are being made a scapegoat for the real culprit, the policies of austerity that have been imposed on poor people in Britain and all over the world.*
Refugees in the UK
This is cruel and it's hazardous. It is also not true. It is like the anger and contempt evoked through lies by Hitler in the 1920's and 1930's.  Eli Siegel explained in an issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known:
It is necessary to see that while the contempt which is in every one of us may make ordinary life more painful than it should be, this contempt is also the main cause of wars. It was contempt that made for the trenches of France in 1915; it was contempt which made for the labor camps of the Second World War. It was contempt which made for that awful mode of retaliation called Nazism...Hitler is perhaps the greatest evoker of human contempt in history...Contempt for the world simply because it is different from oneself is an insane principle of great place in history.
People in the UK, angry at the vast profits a few corporations are making while they themselves face a lower standard of living - that increasingly includes includes unemployment, homelessness, and hunger - are retaliating, as they see it, against a target that is not to blame for their woes. Contempt for refugees and suspicion of them is being evoked on a massive scale. It's as if half a nation is hardening itself to the reality of people they do not know and see as different from themselves, and hostile. In reality, they should be angry at the profit-driven economy that has brought them to this state, not at that person called a refugee, who is so desperate that he flees his homeland and travels across countries, even continents, to try to find a decent life and future for himself and his family.

It is urgent for people to learn from what Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, has been teaching about the cause of and answer to racism. She wrote this some years ago, and it needs to be taken up now more than ever: 
...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.
It is possible for millions of men, women, and children to have an emotion about race that is like an art emotion. And it is necessary...
Aesthetic Realism has the understanding, the uncompromising and precise criticism of contempt, AND the means for people to truly care for - have large emotions about - the sameness-and-difference that other people represent. It can literally end the toxic, brutal, and uncivilized force in the world today that is racism. I have experienced, through careful study, this change in my own life, and I know it is true. Let us do all we can to have everyone else around the world know this.  

* *Read about how Aesthetic Realism sees the economic policy known as austerity, and its true meaning and purpose.

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Aesthetic Realism & a Beautiful and Profound Novel Against Racism

I recently saw a stirring, deep, kind and most surprising event at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in NYC: "GWE: YOUNG MAN OF NEW GUINEA - A Novel Against Racism." Written by Dr. Arnold Perey, anthropologist and Aesthetic Realism consultant, and presented by the author together with actors Anne Fielding and Bennett Cooperman of the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company, this presentation included singing, with beautiful flute accompaniment by Barbara Allen, dancing, slides, and the dramatic reading of chapters of Gwe. Like other audience members, I was transported in mind and spirit across land and time to the home of the young man, Gwe. 

Rainbow in the Valley: Papua New Guinea, by Arnold Perey

We lived through the stirring events of the book, including an intense and ultimately shocking conflict between the arrogant, colonial police force and the downtrodden, indigenous people of Ketta-bora, just a short distance from where Gwe was born. 

From "Gwe," by Arnold Perey
We are made witness to Gwe's birth, and to a profound and keen understanding of how parents anywhere in the world may feel about the birth of a child; to dramatic incidents of his childhood; to brutal economic injustice and what causes it; and to the first meeting between Gwe and the American anthropologist, Alan Hull, who has come across the ocean to study Gwe's people for his PhD field study work. They look different and see each other as so different at first, but the great theme of this novel is the finding of deep and remarkable sameness within difference. 

Gwe is a work of great importance, the serious study of which could change the world.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

What Does It Mean to See Another Person Rightly?

Aesthetic Realism is the greatest critic of injustice; that's why it has the power to end racism but has made a few selfish people angry. 

In an early issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Eli Siegel wrote:
The purpose of Aesthetic Realism is to encourage a person to see other persons rightly and to see what it means for himself to be seen rightly...
According to Aesthetic Realism, anything which does not see a man or a woman as illustrating all of reality is disrespectful to that man or that woman. Another phase of disrespect is the unwillingness to see someone as having an inward life he is aware of. The most fashionable way of not giving respect to a person is the not giving him full, busy, deep consciousness. A person can be defined as: A living being who is aware of himself and of his particular, changing life.
I love these sentences, and have done ever since I first heard them read on a Saturday dramatic presentation over thirty years ago. They are sociological, political (would there be such ferocious and tricky attempts to deny voting rights to millions of people if American citizens were seen this way?), psychological, ethical, and beautiful. Moreover, they illustrate the way Eli Siegel saw, which became Aesthetic Realism itself. This is the way I was seen first in Aesthetic Realism consultations, and now in classes taught by Ellen Reiss, the Chairman of Education.

In consultations I learned that I was related to Puck, from Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream," to Sidney Carton from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, to Oliver Cromwell of the 17th century, to poet Matthew Arnold, to George W. Bush, Winston Churchill, and more. The relations were true, usually involved criticism of a self-centred way of seeing I had but disliked myself for, and made me feel proud. I learned that I could think about my attitude and become a stronger, kinder, better person.

I also learned how I was related to the students I taught, to friends, to objects such as the sturdy, warm-coloured three-legged wooden table in my apartment. I wanted to put together opposites the way it did; I wanted to be strong but also warm, not harsh and aloof.  And I learned I was related to my own family. That's not meant to be a joke! I thought I was the sensitive one in my family, and I looked down on my parents and sister. I saw myself as so different from them.  I learned I was WRONG! I treasure the changes that happened in how I saw the members of my family because of my study of Aesthetic Realism. As a result, I feel closer to all people, connected to the world in a way that would have been just impossible without what I have learned.  And this brings me to the subject of racism.

No one can be a racist if they see that the other person is, as Mr. Siegel wrote, a "living being who is aware of himself and of his particular, changing life." As you think of this, you respect another person for the depth they have. (For more on how Aesthetic Realism sees racism itself, see the Online Library). A writer who put this way of seeing consciously into his short story, though it deals with the subject of the family, and not race as such, is Sheldon Kranz. Sheldon Kranz was also a teacher of literature, a poet, and an Aesthetic Realism consultant.

His story, "My Mother Was a Girl," gives an inner life, a reality, to a person most sons do not see as having one. I respect it immensely as literature and as a valuable example of how one human being can change, and see another with depth and wonder.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

True Poetry Opposes Racism

I still remember the first time I read a lecture (transcribed) by Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism. His words, and the principles behind them, had me understand myself for the first time in my life. And what also amazed me was that he used poetry and literature to understand the human self. I thought it was beautiful and kind that the great art of the world was seen as throwing real, logical light onto our questions, uncertainty, confusion. 

Then there is the poetry of Eli Siegel himself. Beginning with his 1925 prize-winning "Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana," there was a depth of seeing people and the world that was new. About it, William Carlos Williams wrote, "I say definitely that that single poem, out of a thousand others written in the past quarter century, secures our place in the cultural world." 

That Aesthetic Realism understanding of poetry and life is implicit in a more recent poem I care for, by Ellen Reiss.* Even though from one point of view it's not about racism, - not overtly anyway - it has such deep and sensitive feeling, and insight, into what it means to be a human being, that I'm linking to it from this blog. As you read it you can ask, could this be describing a person of any race, any background? We feel, this is a person, a self. And after all, you can't get much more multiethnic than the New York she is writing about! 

This is the beginning of the poem "Welcome Your Confusion as a Guest," by Ellen Reiss

"Walk swiftly in the wet November day, 
 On the sidewalk that is pink from the sun, 
 Somewhere in New York. 
 Watch puddles tremble in the street 
 As the cars move over them. 
 You hold your jacket tight around you,--
 It is soft and warm against your body 
 And the wind is cold across your cheeks..."

Read the whole poem here.

And you can see the poem read aloud as the narrative for a video created by Georgie James here. 
*Ellen Reiss is the Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education and editor of the The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known.