can become a very dangerous thing
I agree with Mary Jane Skala when she says ("Perspectives," May 13th) that
the world’s prisons should be open to a free press. Indeed! At the
same time, people want very much to understand how it is that young American
men and women came to degrade and torture Iraqi people—with such obvious
As an out-of-town
Sun Herald subscriber and native of Rocky
River, I want my fellow readers to know that the means of that understanding
is in Aesthetic Realism.
Eli Siegel, who founded Aesthetic Realism in 1941, comprehended the human mind of any century in a way that is so much
needed now. “The large fight...in every mind,” he wrote, “...is the fight
between respect for reality and contempt for reality.” He defined contempt
as “a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making
less of the outside world.”
Contempt can be as ordinary as tuning out and pretending to listen as another
person is talking, or making a sarcastic remark. As I studied Aesthetic
Realism, I learned that the boredom I once so often felt arose from contempt—a
haughty feeling that other things were beneath my interest.
It is contempt, as the basis of economics, that has made for the rampant
layoffs in these years, which has caused so much suffering for people in
Ohio and every state, where profits for a few people are seen as more important
than other people having jobs and enough money to live with dignity and
ease. And it was contempt that had an American girl smile as she
held a leash that was around the neck of an Iraqi man as he lay on the
floor at her feet.
In her commentary to the international periodical The Right of Aesthetic
Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, editor and commentator on national
and international affairs, quotes the May 17 Newsweek column by
Fareed Zakaria in which he says that 9/11 was used by various persons to
feel they could have contempt for the world and to do anything in the name
of “fighting terrorism.”
Zakaria writes “....Alliances, international institutions, norms and ethical
conventions have all been deemed expensive indulgences at a time of crisis...Congress
is barely informed, even on issues on which its 'advise and consent' are
Reiss’ comment on Zakaria’s observation is tremendously important for people
"Al Qaeda is an organization which is based on and puts into action contempt
of the fullest, most virulent kind.
"Meanwhile, Zakaria is expressing what many others have said too: that
9/11 was used by some in this country as an opportunity. It was a chance
to unbridle their own contempt, to say: 'We’ve been hurt; therefore we
can do whatever we please—and if we can call it 'fighting terrorism,' no
one will have a right to question us.
"Whatever specific orders may have been given to the MPs at Abu Ghraib,
that way of mind affected them. Its huge presence in recent years encouraged
a related state of mind in them. There is a terrific readiness in people
to feel, 'If I can see myself and what’s mine as hurt, anything I do is
justified—all my contempt can be set free!' Some of the results have been
recorded in photographs from Iraq."
There should be a national discussion about what this readiness to be hurt
and the desire for contempt takes in, along with the proud, kind alternative,
which Aesthetic Realism makes possible.
“The next war has to be against ugliness in self.” Siegel writes: “And
the greatest ugliness in self is the seeing of contempt as personal achievement....Respect
for what is real must be seen as the great success of man.”
Aesthetic Realism is taught at the not-for profit educational foundation
in New York City, the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, www.AestheticRealism.org.
a former resident of Rocky River, lives in New York City.