Dear Unknown Friends:
A recent occurrence, important as history, stands also for a tremendous need in the life of everyone. It is the statement by Israeli soldiers that they will not take part in their army's activities in Gaza and the West Bank. The Washington Post of January 29 described it this way:
More than 60 Israeli army reservists, half of them officers and all of them combat veterans, have publicly refused to continue serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the grounds that Israel's occupation forces there are abusing and humiliating Palestinians.These reservists have now been joined by many others. I see their statement, including the sentence just quoted, as beautiful, brave, patriotic, true to Judaism, and necessary.
What it represents, beyond the immediate situation, is the need for people to look at themselves and ask what it is they truly feel — not what others tell them to feel; not what it is convenient to feel.
The desire to see what one really feels is, Aesthetic Realism explains, the crucial thing in sincerity. But it has been a rare thing. And the reason for its rareness, Mr. Siegel described in an Aesthetic Realism lesson. "We would rather use ourselves than know ourselves," he explained: use ourselves "to impress and manage other people" and be comfortable. The contest in everyone between the desire to know ourselves and that desire to use ourselves cleverly, to manipulate and look down on what's not ourselves, is a form of what Aesthetic Realism has shown to be the largest fight we each have: between respect for the world and contempt for it. The preference for the second has made for everyday pain and for tragedy on a massive scale.
An Everyday Preference
Meanwhile, Joan doesn't want to see, either, the true respect she feels for her husband in various fields. That is because, even while she wants to see a possession of hers as wonderful, she also wants to feel superior to him. She gets a triumph feeling she's better than he is. So she makes less of the fact that there is much she can learn from him. In both instances — her making him better than he is and worse — she doesn't want to see her real feeling because it would interfere with her comfort and conceit.
It cannot be said that Bill has wanted to see what his feelings about Joan truly are either. The couple are in their mid-70s. They stand for millions of people. They do not know that they have evaded looking at their feelings. Yet that evasion has made them resent each other, want to punish each other (including through sarcasm and silences); has made both ashamed; has made for a deep emptiness.
In the History of Nations
Further, the sense, had deeply by every human being, that owning others is evil, would if honored interfere with a certain pleasure. It would interfere with the pleasure both Southerners and Northerners had looking down on a whole race, the pleasure of contempt. In many instances, seeing what one really felt about slavery would interfere with one's being able to continue owning slaves: interfere with the comfort of using human beings to serve and enrich oneself. For the same reasons, people for many years didn't want to ask what they really felt about child labor.
Sincerity in America
Vietnam: The Real Feeling
Mr. Siegel from the very start said plainly that the Vietnam War was immoral, was un-American — was an attempt to force the profit system on the Vietnamese people, who did not want it. In this cause, we napalmed people, animals, earth; we bombed massively men, women, children; we sent Americans to maim and kill, and be maimed and killed.
It took a long time for Americans to see how against that war they were, as it had taken a long time for Americans to see they were against slavery. But the seeing grew; and by the 1970s, to continue the Vietnam fighting was untenable. A large reason was, the conscious feeling against it in this land had come to be enormous.
There has been in recent years an effort to make people forget, or not see truly, the feeling in America that had more and more people march in anti-Vietnam-War protests; the feeling behind the shout, which Mr. Siegel said was poetry, "Hey, hey, LBJ!/ How many kids did you kill today?"; the sick, furious feeling of American mothers that their sons were being sacrificed in behalf of something horrifically unworthy. There is an effort to fool people into thinking that that war was patriotic. But the being against it was one of the honest, beautiful feelings in American history, and America needs to see that fact and that feeling clearly now.
Today, What Do We Feel?
I think the revelations about Enron have had people more ready to ask what they feel. That is because through the Enron collapse, Americans are seeing that something they were asked to think they felt was untrue: they are seeing that profit economics is not trustworthy, ethical, nor, after all, so strong.
We come to the Israeli soldiers and their feeling that, as Americans once put it, "Hell, no! We won't go!" These soldiers wrote:
We, combat officers and soldiers, ... have been issued orders and instructions that have nothing to do with the security of our country, orders whose sole purpose was to perpetuate domination over the Palestinian people ....This feeling in them — as Mr. Siegel wrote about the feeling of William Bradford in the poem I quoted — "was just; and [they] wanted to see it." They should be loved for that. Their refusal should be celebrated, and all of Israel should join them in it, because it stands for what Mr. Siegel writes of in another poem, a very short one, which I care for greatly:
What Is the Cause?
The cause, Mr. Siegel showed, is contempt: "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." Cruelty and wars will not stop until people are studying contempt, including in themselves: the feeling, so ordinary, that the way to establish oneself is to look down on someone else. It is this ordinary contempt which, when circumstances arise, has had average citizens agree to "humiliat[e] an entire people."
It happens that if we see an unjust feeling of ours truly, really see it, we want to stop having it. Therefore, there is nothing greater and more joyful in the world than the fact that through Aesthetic Realism we can know and criticize contempt at last!
For many years, Israeli students of Aesthetic Realism have written clearly on the cause of the agony in the Mideast and the way of seeing necessary to stop it. Recently, articles by Aesthetic Realism associate Ruth Oron and such colleagues of hers as Zvia Ratz, Zehava Fishman, Avi Gvili, Rose Levy, have appeared in American papers. This month, the Rock Island [Illinois] Argus published the article by Ms. Oron and her mother, Leah Shazar, under the headline "Israeli Mother, Daughter Outline Keys to World Peace." Their article has appeared too in the Chicago Defender, the New York Beacon, the Tennessee Tribune, and other journals. They write, in part:
With all that we Jews have suffered, we haven't used our pain to understand the pain and the hopes of the Palestinian people. Instead, we have ... giv[en] ourselves the right to deal with the Palestinian people as we pleased. This is contempt.About the question Mr. Siegel said is the most important for humanity, "What does a person deserve by being a person?," they write:
Jews, Christians and Muslims urgently need to ask and answer [it] honestly. It is only when we want to know each other and be just to the centuries-long feelings we all have had for this dear earth we share — only then will we be able to trust one another and live together in peace.I have quoted, in this TRO, poetry by Eli Siegel. The poem that follows, "TEA, Beginning With," was written in 1966. He explained that all art is justice, and is a guide to the justice we should give to people. In this poem, there is justice to tea: there is the seeing of it with accuracy and wonder, lightsomeness and depth, immediacy and history. The justice is musical. It represents the beautiful justice Mr. Siegel gave everything.
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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