The Great Question in Love & Economics
Dear Unknown Friends:
We begin to serialize They Go Away from Something, a lecture Eli Siegel gave on January 22, 1971. And we print part of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Ernest DeFilippis, from a public seminar of this month: “What Is True Courage in a Man?” Mr. Siegel’s lecture is from the Goodbye Profit System series, which he had begun eight months earlier. In those talks and in issues of this journal, he showed that a certain point in human history had been reached: the profit motive as the engine for a nation’s economy had failed and would never work efficiently again.
And that is what has happened these decades. The profit motive is the seeing of other people—their labor, their needs—in terms of one’s own aggrandizement: how much money can I get out of you? It has become ever more difficult for companies based on this familiar but ugly motive to bring in the desired returns.
They Tried to Save It
Mr. Siegel begins They Go Away from Something by speaking about the State of the Union Address to take place that evening. He mentions four measures that he thinks will be (and indeed were) presented. They’re attempts, he says, to save the profit-making ability of US companies, but they won’t work. They did not work, nor have the other methods tried these 40 years.
Today the efforts to keep profit economics going are of a different kind from those of 1971. The idea now is to have the American people poorer and poorer, working for lower pay, so more money can go to owners and less to those who do the work. And the idea is to give private businesses more and more governmental funding—money that belongs to the American people—while also undoing or impoverishing such public institutions as schools. These methods won’t succeed either.
People in 1971 would have found it hard to believe that 40 years later so much of US industry would simply no longer exist; hundreds of thousands of companies would be gone; most products Americans use would be made elsewhere; millions of people would be jobless, with the agony attending joblessness; wages would be lower and lower; so much of America would be owned by other nations, including China, as part of our enormous national debt. The years show that Mr. Siegel was right.
Economics & Love
This Aesthetic Realism principle is true about both economics and love: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” Every aspect of economics is a relation of the opposites self and world. It’s always you and something or someone not you—whether you’re manufacturing a product, working at a computer, firing someone, raising a price, buying a loaf of bread. Every aspect of love is also yourself and the outside world: from your intimate thoughts about someone, to embracing that person, to disagreeing with that person. The cruelty and inefficiency in economics, the pain and failure in love, both come from elevating oneself through making less of the world, embodied often in other human beings. Mr. Siegel described the fundamental injustice as contempt.
In the seminar paper from which we print an excerpt, Ernest DeFilippis also spoke about George Meredith’s novel Diana of the Crossways. For reasons of space, we cannot include that discussion. But I’m going to quote from a poem of Meredith, because it’s a means of seeing how contempt in the field of love is like the contempt in profit economics. Poem 28 of Meredith’s Modern Love, published in 1862, has these lines:
I must be flattered. The imperious
Desire speaks out. Lady, I am content
To play with you the game of Sentiment,
And with you enter on paths perilous;
But if across your beauty I throw light,
To make it threefold, it must be all mine.
First secret; then avowed. For I must shine
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And men shall see me as a burning sphere;
And men shall mark you eyeing me, and groan
To be the God of such a grand sunflower!
I feel the promptings of Satanic power,
While you do homage unto me alone.
The great question of both love and economics is: How should we see another person? Here the speaker sees a woman as someone to aggrandize him—flatter him. Her beauty is something he wants to own: “it must be all mine.” As part of the “game” he’ll flatter her—see her as three times more beautiful than she is—so long as she consents to be owned by him.
Meredith is describing courageously what people usually see as love: another person’s making them important. But that is also how in the profit system people see other people: what you produce with your labor should, as much as possible, be mine, go into my pocket. In love, people have wanted a person to consider them superior to the whole world, “do homage unto me alone.” And part of the attraction of profit economics is to get a position so superior that you can boss people around, have them “do homage unto” you.
In both social life and economic life, there has been a seeing of the world as something to subjugate. In both there has been a thirst to be envied. In love, the conquest of a person has been decorated to seem romantic. In economics, annihilating a competitor and seeing people in terms of what you can squeeze from them have been made to seem glamorous. But there is always a deep shame, because the purpose of our lives is something else: our real purpose is to be important through knowing and caring for what’s not ourselves.
Aesthetic Realism says that both economics and love need to be like art. And the Meredith poem is an instance of art. He is trying to see his subject truly, be fair to it—trying so honestly that his words are musical, have grandeur. That is what love really is: the desire to see truly another person and the world he or she is of. And the only economy that will now work is one based on aesthetics—on the seeing that we are more as we are just to a world of people and things.