|NUMBER 1823.—May 23, 2012||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is the third section of the 1970 lecture Philosophy Begins with That, by Eli Siegel. He is illustrating something which Aesthetic Realism is the one philosophy to show: the structure of the whole world is in every individual thing. That structure is the oneness of opposites. Every object, feeling, sound, sight, happening—from a shout to a birth to a walk with one’s dog—is a simultaneity of such opposites as continuity and change, freedom and order, the strange and the ordinary, the weighty and the light. In the lecture, Mr. Siegel uses passages from a diary of the novelist Arnold Bennett to show that philosophy is what we’re meeting in each item of our lives and aspect of ourselves.
He begins this third section with a discussion of the branches of philosophy: ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics. Aesthetic Realism itself is all four, and shows that they are inseparable.
Let us take epistemology (the study of knowing, of how the outside world can be in our mind), and ethics. Central in both is the tremendous matter of truth. And truth is always a oneness of the most fundamental of opposites: self and world. Mr. Siegel defined truth as “the having of a thing as it is, in mind.” How do we see truth? What is our attitude to it? This is the largest matter in every person’s life, and in nations, their economy, their government—even though most people are exceedingly uncomfortable and evasive about it.
What Lying Is About
On April 25, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the tendency of children to lie, and what parents should do when their child presents them with a falsehood. The Wall Street Journal gives examples: a boy denying he took a cookie, when he indeed did; a child asserting that it was the cat, not he, who broke the vase; and a teenage girl falsely assuring her mother that the party she’s going to will be chaperoned. The parent is supposed to say something like: “I would be disappointed if I found out you weren’t being truthful,” or “Everybody makes mistakes, but it is not OK to lie about them.”
The article, by Sue Shellenbarger, is titled “How to Handle Little Liars.” But the parental techniques recommended in it have not worked and won’t—because neither the parents nor the psychological researchers quoted know what lying is really about.
A lie does not begin with whether a cookie was eaten, or a chaperone will be present. The big question about lying, what is behind every lie, is: How do you (whether you’re an adult or child) see truth? Do you see the world as something for you to be fair to; or as something for you to use to aggrandize yourself, have your way, make yourself superior? The preference for a lie rather than for truth does not begin with a situation. What it begins with, Eli Siegel describes in the Preface to his book Self and World:
The first victory of contempt is the feeling in people that they have the right to see other people and things pretty much as they please....The fact that most people have felt...they had the right to see other people and other objects in a way that seemed to go with comfort—this fact is the beginning of the injustice and pain of the world. It is contempt in its first universal, hideous form.
How Much Does It Matter?
There is this, in the Wall Street Journal article: “All children fib....Lying is, in truth, a milestone of normal child development.” I have to say that these statements are deeply sickening. The reason is: while of course some lies are much worse than others, lying comes from the ugliest, cruelest, sleaziest thing in the human self. It is “normal” in the same way that the ability to contract a horrible disease is normal: the human self is constructed with the possibilities of both strength and weakness, good and evil. But the sentences I just quoted make lying seem not to matter too much, when what makes a person prefer lying to truth is a life-or-death emergency.
The question is not whether “all children fib.” The question, for everyone, is: Do you see truth as beautiful, as important—or do you think the most important thing is your own comfort and supremacy? This is a philosophic question. It is about the nature of the world and the nature of the self, and about these as opposites needing to be one. It is also the most personal, pressing question there is. How our lives go depends on it. Whether we respect or dislike ourselves depends on it. Whether we are kind or mean depends on it.
The Fight in a Child
The central matter in “childhood development” has been described by Eli Siegel in Self and World:
Every child has this debate: Shall I...see the world as magnificently and as delicately as possible; or shall I see the world as the material for victories for just me?
Some forms of the debate are: Am I more important than everything and everyone else, or are other children as real as I am, with feelings as vivid as mine? Do my parents belong to me, or are they part of the whole world? These questions are not articulated in a child’s mind; nevertheless, they are burningly present there. And when parents encourage a child to feel superior to the world, they are encouraging the biggest lie, and other lies will follow. The big lie children (like adults) take unto themselves is not about a cookie. It is contempt, the making less of what is not oneself.
For the Wall Street Journal to write about lying in children is both comic and terrible. That is because the profit system, to which the Wall Street Journal dedicates itself, happens to be one of the biggest lies in human history. Profit economics is based on the huge, horrible lie that the world belongs more to some people than to others. To see another human being as a mechanism to provide profits for oneself; to see a worker as someone to pay as little as possible while taking to oneself as much as possible of the wealth his work created; to think of a human being not as someone as real as oneself, but as someone from whom to get money—this is an utter and daily lie.
Let’s take, for instance, a father in Victorian England who chided his little boy for telling a fib. Meanwhile, this paterfamilias owned a factory in which other boys and girls labored hour after hour of their stifled lives. Child labor, sweatshops, the profit motive itself, all come from that lie which Eli Siegel described: the “see[ing of] other people...in a way that seemed to go with comfort....It is contempt in its first universal, hideous form.”
Why Are They Fooled?
“Parents,” the article notes, “are remarkably bad at detecting their children’s lies....[They] have what researchers call ‘a truthfulness bias.’” Certainly, parents want to think their offspring are more honest than other people. However, a big reason children are able to fool them is that the main interest of most parents has not been in how their children see truth: how fair they are in their minds to reality near and far. Historically, parents’ larger interest has been in having the child behave well—and bring glory to the household. If you are more interested in having your way than in what’s true, another person can fool you more easily than if you have had a steady, beautiful, loving interest in truth.
There is much more to say about this great subject of children and truth. It is a philosophic subject, and also a subject as human as a child crying to herself in bed at night. One big instance of what the psychologists cited in the article do not see is: when a child lies, she despises herself for doing so, because her deepest desire is to be fair to the world. And every child longs to see real honesty in the adults around her.
While people don’t see truth as that which makes them important, or takes care of them, they will lie. Aesthetic Realism is the study of how seeing reality truly is the same as being gloriously fair to yourself. It shows that all art is the oneness of justice to the world and full self-expression. Aesthetic Realism, then, is the most needed education, and the most magnificent. It arose from a person, Eli Siegel, who, I saw, loved truth with his whole heart and mind.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
We Look at Ourselves & the World
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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