|NUMBER 1825.—June 20, 2012||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is part 5 of the magnificent 1970 lecture Philosophy Begins with That, by Eli Siegel. Discussing entries from a diary of the novelist Arnold Bennett, and relating them to the history of philosophic thought, Mr. Siegel shows something that has been “left out of philosophic studies...and its absence has made the discussions of philosophy incomplete.” Philosophy, he shows, is not just about the seemingly higher matters: it’s in each “specific thing, the thing on the move.” It’s what we’re in the midst of all the time.
Early in the talk he describes philosophy as “the study of what reality can never be without.” And this what is the opposites: such opposites as sameness and difference, rest and motion, being and change. The philosophic opposites are also our very own: they’re in us, in how we feel. They’re in our mistakes, worries, triumphs, ponderings. Further, there is this great fact, told of in a central principle of Aesthetic Realism: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” Art does what we most want to do, and what we suffer from not doing: it puts opposites together.
An instance of art, at once charming and deep, is the prose of Arnold Bennett in the passage, quoted here, about commercial cultivation of flowers. We can see that his style is simultaneously factual and graceful, no-nonsense and tender. His sentences have, inseparably, point and nuance, often humor and pathos, the acerb and the kind.
The Economy & the Opposites
When opposites are not one—as in life they so frequently are not—there are always, in various ways, ugliness, pain, cruelty. That is so in a field which affects every person in the world: economics.
Humanity on all the continents is now intensely in the midst of what Eli Siegel explained four decades ago, in his Goodbye Profit System lectures. He showed that while an unethical and ugly way of dealing with human beings and reality itself had gone on for hundreds of years, it could no longer work successfully. Profit-motivated economics would continue to fail no matter what might be done to keep it going.
The underlying reason is: the profit way is based on contempt. It’s based on the seeing of a fellow human not in terms of what he or she deserves, but in terms of how much money one can squeeze from the person—from the person’s labor, or from the needs of the person as possible buyer. That is a horrible, unjust way to look at a human being: how much can I get out of you while giving you as little as possible? Yet that is what the profit motive is. And for centuries it has inflicted on vast numbers of people poverty, industrial diseases, sweatshops, child labor, rooked and stifled lives.
Opposites Mr. Siegel speaks of here in relation to philosophy are one and many. These opposites are fundamental in economics, in the form of the individual and all people. And the profit system divides them. It is based on the idea that a land—America, for instance—should belong much more to certain individuals than to millions of other people. It has made millions of children be hungry while some rich person lives lavishly, monumentally.
Mr. Siegel speaks about the opposites of sameness and difference. The profit motive severs these, sleazily and cruelly. Impelled by it, you cannot see a human being aesthetically: as like yourself, as having feelings and hopes as real as yours, even as that person is also different. Instead, you have to think of the person as someone whose fundamental function is to provide you with as much money as possible. If you were to see a person as like you, as deserving the justice you deserve, you could not see him or her as a mechanism for your own aggrandizement.
This brings us to other opposites Mr. Siegel speaks of: the animate and inanimate. To see people as mechanisms through which to make profit is, really, to take the life from them.
Profit economics is a travesty in each of the four aspects of philosophy: 1) ethics—the profit way is based on contempt, not justice; 2) aesthetics (the study of beauty)—making opposites fight, the profit system is ugly, not beautiful; 3) ontology (the study of being)—with its willful, imposed division of the opposites, profit economics is not in keeping with the nature of reality; 4) epistemology (the study of knowing)—the profit motive does not see people as to be known, but to be used for one’s own comfort and glory; it does not see the world as to be known, but to be grabbed.
What a Recent Article Really Says
On May 11 the New York Times published an article which, while not meaning to be, is really a statement that the profit system no longer works. It’s by Louis Uchitelle and has the headline “What It Takes to Keep a Factory.” Using as an example the Revere Copper Products company, the article says that the only way manufacturing can now go on in America is: for workers to be paid much less, for many to be put out of their jobs altogether, and for government to subsidize private industry.
The chief owner of Revere is quoted as saying, “There is nothing made in the United States that has to be made here—that can’t be shipped in from some other country.” That is in keeping with what Mr. Siegel described in 1970 as a central reason the profit system is fundamentally kaput: “America is not the only country now with industrial know-how....There is more competition with the American product.” Profit-making in the US could thrive while people in other nations depended on American products and were incapable of producing what US companies could. That situation has certainly changed! And the change is part of what Mr. Siegel showed to be “the force of ethics,” a force weakening the profit system. For people all over the world to have greater ability and knowledge—for “know-how” to be not merely the province of a few—is ethical: it is increased justice to humanity. It is a truer relation of the sameness and difference of people. And it is making the going-on of the profit system impossible in America.
Revere Copper, we’re told, would not be able to exist were it not subsidized by New York State. What is being seen across the land, writes Uchitelle, is that “manufacturing needs a little help in the form of local, state and national subsidies for survival in a global economy.” He quotes the owner of Revere: “The only manufacturers in America who go without government support are those whose markets are so insignificant that they are not noticed by foreign producers.” These statements are given quietly but they are stupendous. They are tantamount to saying the profit system has failed, is over—because if government has to subsidize companies in order for them to exist, we no longer have free enterprise.
Further, we’re told, a manufacturer can stay in America and make a profit only if the employees’ pay is sizably reduced. This, of course, makes the workers’ standard of living much lower than before. And those are the workers who remain: a big percentage of the workforce, the article says, needs to be eliminated. In the instance of Revere, the union—a UAW local—agreed to a concessionary contract under threat that otherwise the factory would close.
The True Story
It’s important to be clear. US manufacturing need not be in difficulty. Workers need not be fired. Americans need not live, as they do now, with increasing financial difficulty and increasing worry and agony. What’s holding up the US economy is the completely unnecessary factor of large profits for persons who don’t do the work. Do away with that factor and US industry will thrive. It is unnecessary—also immoral—for governments to use the people’s money in order to supply profits to various private individuals. The true way to have American production succeed is: get rid of the profits paid to people who haven’t worked for them. A boss with valuable management ability can still be part of a company—taking home simply what he or she earns through his or her labor.
I’ll say swiftly what I have said with more fullness in previous issues. The gigantic attempt to subjugate unions, choke them, undo them, kill them, comes from only one thing: Unions have been the greatest force in America in behalf of people who work—which means Americans. They have enabled Americans to live with some financial dignity. They have, as the AFL-CIO truly says, created the middle class. They have prevented people from being subjected to industrial diseases, from being maimed and crippled and burned on the job. Every bit of justice unions brought to the American people lessened the profits of owners. And the desire to kill unions is the desire to throw Americans into impoverishment so that big profits can come to those who don’t do the work. The mathematics is simple. At this time in world history, there is just so much money available through American production. To whom should it go: to Americans, so they can live with dignity and some ease—or to a few private owners, who want to get rich through the work and deprivation of others?
America wants an economy different from any that has been in the world before. The only economy that can now work will be based on justice to both an individual and all people, on that oneness of sameness and difference which is aesthetics and the structure of the world itself.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Body, Mind, Flowers:
A Philosophic Uproar
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.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner
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