... Excerpt from the Commentary...
In This Issue
In the section printed here, he comments on an article of 1910, about jobs and success. And in relation to a matter he discusses: I remember Mr. Siegel saying that the persons who did the most unpleasant jobs should be paid the most; that, he said, would be just. He also speaks here about the fact that, though it is a subtle thing, Americans’ view of success and their attitude to work has changed. This change, which he is pointing to in 1970, has continued. People are angrier than ever at being seen in terms of how much profit someone can squeeze from them. And while people may still go after wealth, there’s a feeling not only that it’s hard to get, but that the profit system rat race is sleazy and the real success is to have some kind of meaning in one’s life. People are looking for meaning more consciously than they ever did.
Mr. Siegel explained that success in life, meaning in life, is to like the world honestly. Because of his courage, Aesthetic Realism is the education that can teach us how.
An Idea of Success
By Eli Siegel
Note. Mr. Siegel is commenting on articles in the New York Independent of August 1910.
The article that on the whole has the most meaning now is one by W.J. Ghent called "To the Seekers of Success." He’s writing in order to oppose something.
A very popular magazine at this time was the American Magazine, which was made up of success stories; and it’s worth seeing. The Alger idea was carried on in a different way, and there was a feeling that if a person wasn’t a success, it was because of indolence, ethical deficiency, bad ethnic background, and generally because of his human lacks. The most noted representative of the idea — and the book is well written — was Orison Swett Marden. In his Pushing to the Front, success stories were given: how people got far while having been born disadvantageously. The book tried to bring out energies in one. Some of it went on in the 1920s: the avid young man trying to make a name for himself.
Well, it is a big thing — how one can push to the front in relation to people. Ghent points out that the whole thing is based on an illusion, because, no matter how many people push to the front, the work of the world would have to be done, and it would mean that those persons doing the ordinary jobs had not got to the conspicuously dazzling position you had. If somebody wins, somebody has to lose: that is the way the profit system is organized. You can say everybody gets a prize, but that is called by the angels hokum. Everybody cannot be on top of the ladder. There will be automation and people will be seen with more respect, but work will go on; and everybody can’t be a vice president, and everybody cannot be an executive secretary even. There are lots of titles, but they can’t, even with additions, be for everybody. Somebody has to be called Just There.
Somebody Had to Lose
The economic framework of society, the necessary divisions of labor, the enormous numerical preponderance (inevitable under the present system) of hard and ill-paid tasks ...In 1910 most jobs were unlikable. And correspondence courses began at this time: while you were a shipping clerk, you could study to be a lawyer. This was an attempt of people to encourage people. But the thing that wasn’t seen is that somebody had to lose. In fact, most people had to lose. In 1906 Upton Sinclair had shown what kind of work was done in Chicago in the packing houses.
... the mathematical impossibility that any considerable number of persons should escape therefrom — all this is serenely waved aside.It is a matter of relating individual push and dazzle to what can be called the basis of economic society. The basis of economic society is that things have to be produced for all people, many things. Ghent is quoting Marden, and says:
Then comes the individual counsel:Then Ghent says:
The oracles neglect to tell you [that] ... the "lower" places are just as necessary as the "higher" places. The 1,452,477 railroad men other than general officers are not employed thru philanthropy. They are not employed by reason of the rich man’s pleasure in paying wages to the poor man. They are employed because upon a hard, unsentimental, cash basis, it takes that many men to do the work.Brakemen still exist, and track walkers. And there are clerks — they are very important. One of the great strikes of America was a strike near Pittsburgh in the 1870s. Then there was the Pullman strike, the strike that Debs had so much to do with.
Jobs Are Seen Differently
One can see the attitude to work in the novels and magazines of the past as one can see it now in newspapers and magazines and how people talk. Also the way industry is organized is different. A waiter working in New York — say in Luchow’s (which is a place that has continued since then) — a waiter in Luchow’s would like to be the way he was in 1910, but he can’t be. He can talk of "Gemütlichkeit" all he wants, but it’s not there. He also knows that Luchow’s is run differently. This goes on in about every industry: people see the job of making a living differently.
The word success
a philosophic term too. And one of the reasons for the profit system’s
going is that an idea of success has changed.
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