Against the Ownership That Is Contempt
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is the fourth section of the great 1970 lecture by Eli Siegel we are serializing, Selves Are in Economics. And with it is part of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Carrie Wilson, from a recent Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "What Are the Rivals of Love?" The two aspects of this TRO are of a piece, because Eli Siegel was the philosopher to show that what has interfered with love and had something false take its place, and what has made economics cruel and inefficient, are the same. The interference in both enormous aspects of human life has been contempt.
Contempt is the feeling that reality, people, perhaps a particular person, exist to make oneself comfortable and important—that one does not have the obligation to be just to it, them, him, her. A big form of contempt, in economics and amour, is the desire to own rather than know. I love the following sentences by Mr. Siegel, for both their comprehension and their literary beauty:
We can own the world only by knowing it. We can possess the world only by having it in our minds; that is, by having knowledge of it. All other possession, both in love and economics, is false and hurtful....The unconscious will never be at ease. The world was meant to be known, to be felt, not to be parcelled out into huge segments or lesser segments for the complacent but deleterious delectation of some and the domination and manipulation of others. [Self and World, pp. 279-280]
In the 1970s, Mr. Siegel explained that an economy in which the impelling motive is to make profit from people rather than to be useful to them, no longer works. Economics based on a few persons’ possessing a very great deal of the world’s and nation’s wealth, while the rest are in various ways "dominat[ed] and manipulat[ed]," no longer works. And with increasing consciousness, people have been objecting to it. In this short commentary, I mention three matters of our very moment, April 2002, which have in them opposition to contemptuous possession.
1. In the segment of his lecture printed here, Mr. Siegel speaks about the family, and says there is a new attitude toward it which is against the profit system attitude, against a certain ownership. The fight Aesthetic Realism describes as the largest in every individual—between respect for the world and contempt for the world—has gone on intensely in the family, and still does. But the tendency to say, "What matters is our clan. We own each other, are better than outsiders, and should be against them," is opposed even more than it was in 1970. It is opposed by the fact that families now have more of the presence of the wide outside world in them. First of all, families are much more multiethnic. All over America, people can look at a cousin whose race seems different from their own. This sense of difference and width is against the confining which is basic to ownership.
Also, because many people are in second marriages or have had children (to use a phrase) out of wedlock, the family is a new relation of close and distant, of one’s own blood and that of strangers: there are often half brothers and sisters, and these may or may not live in one’s home. So while trouble about love is sometimes part of the cause, the family is less "traditional." And as the family is less traditional, it is also in various ways wider; this width, again, is opposed to a certain sense of ownership.
2. A tremendous instance of people’s objecting to ownership has shown itself in relation to the scandal in the Catholic Church. I am not commenting now on the revelations of widespread abuse by priests— about which so much could be said. What I refer to is that this scandal has brought to the fore something which has grown in recent decades: the feeling of millions of Catholics that their religion has been owned privately, by a certain group of persons, and should belong instead to all Catholics. We see this objection, sometimes furious, in many commentaries by Catholic writers. (Maureen Dowd writes about the Church’s "huge institutional conceit," New York Times, Mar. 24. Anna Quindlen, in a fierce Newsweek column of April 1, says "ordinary Catholics...have been too little consulted by the highhanded hierarchy.") The feeling that religion should not be owned privately is an aspect of the feeling that the world itself, the birthright of everyone, should not be owned privately.
3. The third instance is the situation in Israel, about which I have written extensively over the years. For now I say this: it is very clear that the land of Israel/Palestine cannot and will not be owned by only a certain people, the Jews, with contempt for others, for Palestinians. The suicide bombings are, of course, horrible. But the fact is, and most people know it: Palestinians will finally have land that is rightly theirs. The Sharon government is furious about this fact, and in the fury of its frustrated conceit is behaving with more and more viciousness and brutality—just because it knows it has lost and cannot have its way.
The beloved land of Israel is small in size, but it is large enough for two peoples to own, in some fashion, together. And the fact that this has to be, is against narrow possession and is beautiful.