|NUMBER 1674. — September 6, 2006||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
ith this issue we begin to serialize There Are Two Freedoms, the lecture Eli Siegel gave on June 5, 1970. It is about one of the most beautiful and important words in the world: freedom. And yet, as Mr. Siegel shows, people have used the word freedom as a cover for some of the ugliest and most vicious activities.
Take the Confederate cause in American history. Southerners went to war so that Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, etc. could be "free" to run themselves—not be told what to do by Lincoln and Congress. Lee may have looked picturesque on his white horse, but the cause he represented was the "freedom" to own human beings and deal with them any way one chose. It was the freedom to own a slave and beat him to death if one wanted.
There Is "Free Enterprise"
hen there is the much glorified phrase "free enterprise." An employer who hired children to work in his factory was engaging in free enterprise: it was his business—shouldn't he be free to run it in the way he saw as most profitable? Also, free enterprise takes in the ability to have your worksite arranged any way you choose: once you're forced to put in fire exits and sprinkler systems and safety equipment, you're no longer free. You're shackled, told what to do on your own premises! Ever so many employers feel that way now, and see their evasion of OSHA requirements as an effort to be free.
Mr. Siegel writes about the term "free enterprise" in a note to one of his poems in Hail, American Development—the poem "Ode on the Death of a Racketeer." He says:
Freedom & Lies
n personal life too, as people simply think to themselves, the beautiful idea of freedom is quietly and hugely exploited. Every lie comes from a notion of freedom: I should be free to do anything with the facts that I please—in my own mind and as I communicate with others. The freedom people take every day to alter the facts, or not look clearly at them, is related to the freedom of the slaveholder. It's related to the freedom of the boss who employs 8-year-olds. In each instance, "freedom" is the ability to do whatever one wants with what's other than oneself.
Freedom Has to Be Aesthetics
The principle at the basis of Aesthetic Realism is urgent for the understanding of freedom: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." Freedom has several opposites, among which are exactitude and justice. In all authentic art, freedom and exactitude, freedom and justice, are the same. A ballet dancer can soar through space with such freedom because her technique is exact: she worked years to get the precision that made her free. A good actor is one who seems completely free in a role—and his freedom as Hamlet, his being so fully at ease with Hamlet's words, comes from his being just to Hamlet, just to the words Shakespeare wrote. In acting, freedom and justice are the same. And in music, when sound is free, when it soars or scampers or teases or crashes beautifully, there is structure in that freedom. The accuracy of organization is in that wildness of sound.
Aesthetic Realism is based on the idea that what happens in art is, literally, what life needs. This goes for personal life and it goes for the economics of a nation. Freedom that isn't also justice and exactitude is a mess, and cruel. It's contempt, "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." At the end of the note in Hail, American Development from which I quoted, Mr. Siegel writes:
The Failure of Ill Will
There Are Two Freedoms is the fourth of Mr. Siegel's Goodbye Profit System lectures. In them he showed that economics impelled by ill will—seeing one's fellow humans in terms of how much profit one can make from them—was no longer able to flourish. It would never again succeed the way it had once seemed to. Economics now had to be based on true freedom, the freedom of good will: the seeing how self-expression, individual creativity, real self-glory are the same as justice to other people and things.
Beginning about a hundred years ago, there were increasingly those "checks" on the profit system—to make it more humane, add a little ethics to it, temper its injustice. Most of these checks arose from the courageous battling done by unions. There came to be laws against child labor, laws mandating workplace safety, minimum wage, worker's compensation. Men and women in, or trying to form, unions fought and sometimes bled and died so wages could be higher and people need not be hungry. Then unions fought so workers and their families could live with more and more dignity and pleasure, get more and more of the good things of this world.
Every one of these checks on profit economics was a check on bosses' and stockholders' freedom to pocket the wealth that workers produced. After all, as Mr. Siegel put it, it's mathematical: each penny that people's labor brings in, beyond the money needed to have production continue, will go either to those whose work creates the wealth or to owners who don't work for it. Every curb on the profit system's injustice—from mandated ventilation to an employer-paid pension plan negotiated by a union—interfered with the profit system itself. It was money used in behalf of what workers deserve, and thus cut in on how much profit could go to persons who did not do the work.
What Unions Need to Be Clear About
ere is what unions today need to see. The greater justice for which they fought, and which they increasingly achieved, has helped to disable profit economics. That's why there has been such a fierce effort these decades to do away with unions in America, and why so many companies are having their work done overseas by "cheap" labor. I said this some years ago, based on what I learned from Eli Siegel—the present difficulty of unions is really a sign of their strength: by the 1970s, unions were able to accomplish so much, get such a better life for American workers, that employers have found themselves unable to come away with the profits they desired. Unions, making work more ethical, have weakened a way of economics based on bad ethics. Seeing this fact should bring pride and encouragement to the American labor movement.
In the August 6 New York Times, Ben Stein writes: "Corporate executives say that...our industries cannot compete with foreign makers because our labor costs are so high that if we used American union labor, we would see profits evaporate." Here we have what Mr. Siegel described 36 years ago as the two main factors causing economics based on profit to fail: 1) unions have gotten workers more of what's rightfully theirs; 2) " America is not the only country now with industrial know-how....There is more competition with the American product."
nions have been threatened into agreeing to givebacks. And whole unionized industries (like steel) have shrivelled in America . The answer is not to try to save profit economics by having less justice—less in terms of wages, health coverage, job security—come to workers. Unions need to see what they are really after: "Free-and-Just Enterprise." That is, enterprise based on ethics and aesthetics.
Unions need to see that givebacks won't solve the problem—-that we've reached the point when American workers cannot get paid with any decency and have big profits come to people who don't do the work. Further, unions need to be clear about a very happy fact: American companies can exist quite well without profits coming to non-working individuals. In fact, such unearned profits are the big interference with the US economy.
Americans, including labor leaders, need to look straight at the following question: Since the jobs of America cannot provide profits for non-working owners and also provide what the American people deserve, the wages, healthcare, security, pensions, and yes the leisure time—which of the two should be eliminated? Should the well-being of Americans be sacrificed so a few rich people can get richer? Or should the wealth that the American people create be theirs to give them good lives—and those completely unnecessary unearned profits be eliminated? The workers of America, with management included among the workers, can run and own the work of America, the workplaces of America, very efficiently. Having one's life used to enrich somebody else was always wrong and ugly anyway. And non-profit jobs are ever so American. Firefighters do not work to supply some individual with profit. Nor do most teachers. Nor, even, do park rangers, who help us value and enjoy the American land.
Aesthetic Realism differs from every other approach to economics in saying that economics has to be the same as aesthetics and ethics. In sentences of 1946 from Self and World, Eli Siegel describes what America is looking for. It's what our economy can no longer function well without-the oneness of individual freedom and justice to all people:
oday's talk is called "There Are Two Freedoms." Its purpose is to show that because America, like most of the rest of the world, has taken freedom to be only one thing—which is against the principle of art—there has been an injustice. And that injustice, as I said two weeks ago, is showing itself as inefficiency.
The relation of freedom to good will is an aesthetic matter. Good will is freedom.
I have been trying to show through instances that 1) the lack of aesthetics in the management of America in these last years, or, for that matter, all years, is a cause of what is now going on; and 2) the lack of aesthetics is also the same as injustice, the absence of good will, the lack of ethics. The lack of aesthetics is a lack of ethics. It happens that art is still not seen as a guide to economics. It is that.
It can be said that the freedom of one opposite is the freedom of the other. That is, being strong, you have a freedom which you also can change into the freedom of being graceful. And being wide is a freedom which you can change into the freedom of being intense. In other words, all the opposites are two freedoms which question each other and complete each other.
An example of this fact is in a well-known poem of Wallace Stevens, his "Anecdote of the Jar." It appeared in Poetry magazine in 1920, and begins:
This is hardly seen as a guide to economics, finance, the stock market, but it deeply is. I mean that literally.
"I placed a jar in Tennessee." The jar is neat and precise. We have a freedom to be neat and precise. If we're not permitted to be neat and precise, something of us is taken away.
"And round it was, upon a hill." As soon as we get to the hill, there's another freedom mentioned, the freedom of being wide; and, since a hill is usually less neat than a jar, the freedom of being casual. The opposites are always two freedoms, and it's the not seeing this which has made the present misery in financial circles.
"It made the slovenly wilderness / Surround that hill." Stevens is saying that the presence of this jar on the hill gave a neatness to the hill. At the same time, it did something good for the jar: it made the jar more wild. So there was an interpenetrating freedom. There was the freedom of the jar to be precise; there was the freedom of the surrounding country, including the hill, to sprawl and act like Tennessee .
Because of the presence of the jar, the wilderness is not wholly wild. The jar is bringing out in the wilderness a certain freedom of being neat too, just as, if you have your hand outstretched and you decide to clench it, you show another freedom of the hand: you can clench it.
Now, America, like every person, is trying to be both of these things: precise and casual, wide.
It's the misuse of the word freedom that has been so hurtful. Someday there will be a mourning time for America for the sloppy use of the phrase "the free world." That is one of the cruelest and funniest misuses of English and of the true meaning of words.
Again, what Stevens is saying in this very important American poem is that the neatness of the jar brought out a freedom in the rather unkempt, or at least not so neat, Tennessee territory, and the Tennessee territory brought something wild to that neatness of the jar. Those are two opposites that concern freedom. There are two freedoms: we have a right to be casual—every right is a freedom—and we have a right also to be as neat as all not-get-out.
A full idea of freedom is the freedom of having one opposite corrected, questioned, but completed by the other. What is being gone for in the world, and has been for a long time, is the oneness of the opposites of individualism and wide, multiple justice. It's in the US Constitution. And it's in the phrase, as I've said often, "E pluribus unum," from many, one. That's a phrase, and the currency has accepted it, but it's not something that has been believed.
Walter Pater & the Mona Lisa
nother example of the two freedoms is in a famous passage from Pater's "Leonardo da Vinci." We have a woman standing for a whole trend in history. From the face of Mona Lisa comes an idea of history in Europe, and a person is given the possibility—as the Statue of Liberty is given—of standing for more than a person. We all stand for more than a person. And neither collectivism nor individualism is correct: what is true is the aesthetic relation of individualism and collectivism. The collective farm is not wholly correct if it's only collective, and the robber baron is not wholly correct either. This is how the Pater passage begins:
That has been put in other ways, for instance in various films. I think I saw one in 1912 with Theda Bara: somebody said to her, "You're not a woman—you are Woman." So Theda Bara was changed from individual to collective.
The meaning of all history is in that face. This (if you have any doubt about it) is distinguished prose. It is where poetry and prose take themselves for each other.
All that humanity is capable of is in that face.
As we look at this picture, we have to do two things: look at the face; and ask, What did Leonardo da Vinci intend? So we go from face to meaning, face to significance, face to content, face to suggestion, face to inclusiveness, face to relation. As we do that, there are two freedoms of mind: one is to be precise, to see the object as expressed by so many inches and by such color or shape; and then to ask, What is the meaning? In asking the meaning, we are always looking out of the window: we are looking out of the window of the object into anywhere. We have that freedom. We have the freedom to be precise and the freedom to go after meaning. The intellectual freedom, as I hope to show, is the same as the ethical freedom, or as ethics itself.
What occurs in "Anecdote of the Jar," what occurs in the Pater comment on Leonardo da Vinci's most famous work—the resolution of something precise and individual with something that goes out wide—this is what economics is after.
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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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
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