|NUMBER 1803.—August 17, 2011||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
We publish here part 4 of You Can Gossip Philosophically about Psychology, by Eli Siegel. This 1970 lecture—casual in its style, often humorous, yet always exact—is immensely important. Discussing passages from a psychology textbook, Mr. Siegel explains what no psychology has understood: the human self is a philosophic, aesthetic matter. That is, our lives, and our very beings, are composed of reality’s opposites, and our great need is to make them one. The two biggest opposites we have are Self and World. And our deepest desire is honestly to like the world: to see that being just to wide, multitudinous, and specific reality is the same as taking care of our own so particular self.
It Is Contempt
Last month, an event occurred in Norway which arose from a horrible rift between those opposites, self and world. A 32-year-old Norwegian, Anders Breivik, bombed government buildings in Oslo in an attempt to murder representatives of the ruling Labor Party. He then went to Utoya, an island where hundreds of teenagers were attending a Labor Party youth camp, and shot as many as he could. The death toll now is 77 people.
Breivik has been described as “far right” and “fascist.” Fascist is a word much bandied about over the years, but there is such a thing, and Breivik is that. Much of the press coverage has emphasized his fury at “multiculturalism”—at the increased mingling, in Norway and other nations, of people of diverse cultures, religions, ethnic backgrounds. Yet I am writing about him because what he did brings up the relation of two aspects of fascism, which are generally not looked at simultaneously and not seen as having the same source.
There is (1) the ethnic prejudice within fascism. And there is (2) the economics of fascism. Even now, as Breivik is dealt with, the two are not seen as of a piece. They are of a piece. And in order to understand humanity (including our own) and today’s world, we have to see them that way. They are both impelled by what Aesthetic Realism has identified as the desire behind all injustice: contempt. The desire for contempt is in everyone. Mr. Siegel described it in this principle: “The greatest danger or temptation of man is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not himself; which lessening is Contempt.”
There are in fascism, including Breivik’s, a false, ugly answer, impelled by contempt, to two crucial questions: 1) how should we see people different from ourselves? and 2) who should own the wealth of the world? The first question has to do with prejudice or non-prejudice; the second with economics.
Who Should Own a Nation?
Let us look first at the economics of fascism. To do so, I quote from the Columbia Encyclopedia (1950 edition):
Fascism was a negative reaction against... democratic equalitarianism. Its roots may be traced to the reaction of the ruling classes against the French Revolution....Fascism abhorred the idea of a classless society....The capitalist and land-owning classes were protected by the fascist system and favored it.
“Protected by” included the government’s financially backing various companies; its privatizing state owned businesses and services, so that certain businessmen made big profits from them;1 and of course its destroying unions so that owners could deal with workers any way they pleased.
Either the wealth of a nation should belong to all its people—or to just a few. The first way is respect for people; the second is contempt. Fascism, like the profit system itself, not only says it’s right that a few persons be rich and others labor for them on whatever terms those bosses want, regardless of how much suffering and poverty ensue; fascism says, that’s how it MUST be—how we’ll FORCE it to be!
Today, as economics based on private profit is failing, there are only two choices. One is: have economics become more ethical, have it be based on justice to all people. The other is: try to force the economy to go on providing profit for a few—by making millions of people become poorer and poorer, making them work for much less money, desperate for a job so they’ll work for about anything. To accomplish this, it’s necessary to do one of the first things fascism does: destroy unions. In Nazi Germany, union leaders were sent to concentration camps before Jews were.2 “Fascism,” Mr. Siegel explained in another 1970 lecture, “is the profit system defending itself without any scruples,... and us[ing] violence to do it with.”
The economics of fascism, then, is contempt for people. Anders Breivik hated the Labor Party because, in its fairly mild way, it’s for the wealth of Norway being owned by many people, not just a few. The ferocious profit economics of fascism can appeal not only to persons who are rich—because many people without much money would like to associate themselves with those who own: would like to feel that somehow they’re with the moneyed ones and can look down on others. When one’s contempt is called to, one can fool oneself massively.
The Cause of Prejudice
Racial, religious, and ethnic hatred has been part of fascism. Again, that is what the media has mainly presented in relation to Breivik’s massacre. But we have to see that being against “multiculturalism,” as Breivik was, is not really separable from the fascist economics I’ve been describing. Multi means many. And “multiculturalism” is the idea that people of many different backgrounds can add to each other. Hating that is in keeping with hatred of the idea that a nation’s wealth should be owned by many, not few. It’s not by chance that the Norwegian Labor Party was for both things: an economy more democratic than certain persons desired, and also a welcoming of people who could seem different from the Christian Nordic type. And it was because of both that Breivik murdered one teenager after another on a lovely island on a summer day.
Aesthetic Realism is that in the history of thought which explains: contempt, the feeling “I’m more through seeing you as less,” is the cause of all prejudice and racism. That desire to look down is present in people’s daily lives. A man can feel like a big shot talking to the guys about how silly and selfish women are. A woman can feel triumphant speaking with her friends about how much more sensitive we are than those brutish males. But contempt for what’s different from oneself has also made for concentration camps, slavery, “ethnic cleansing”—and the Breivik massacre. In issue 142 of this journal Mr. Siegel wrote, greatly, about Nazism. He explained:
It is clear that if you are impelled or run by contempt, you wish other people to be “inferior.” There was in 1930 a collective desire, caused by bitterness and the feeling of injustice, in many German persons, to see themselves as “superior.”...
The question...is whether [Nazism] was sustained by a national contempt akin to the contempt an individual may have. In order to murder or enslave another, you have to build up some contempt for this other.
Throughout history, and within each individual, contempt has been at war with the deepest desire of the human self: to know and like the world different from us. There is nothing humanity needs more now than to understand that fight. And through Aesthetic Realism we can. It is through the study of Aesthetic Realism that contempt can lose, both nationally and personally—and the pride, art, kindness, and intelligence that are inseparable from respect for the world can win.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
How Should We Meet 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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