|NUMBER 1647 — August 24, 2005|
|Dear Unknown Friends:
ith this issue we begin to serialize a lecture that Eli Siegel gave on July 8, 1966, on the subject of mental health. Immediately, in this first section, he does something tremendous. He explains a matter not explained before Aesthetic Realism but central to the well-being of everyone: what distinguishes a good emotion from a bad emotion?
And he speaks about the motive which he showed to be the most hurtful thing in every person—the thing which weakens our mind; makes us nervous, and worse; is the reason we dislike ourselves; and is the source of every instance of human unkindness, from a mean remark in the kitchen to racism and international brutality. This thing, this motive, is contempt: "the addition to self through the lessening of something else."
In Baseball Too
subject that's present again in the news these days is a means of looking at contempt: the subject of athletes' use of anabolic steroids. An article on the front page of the New York Times sports section, August 5, begins:
It happens that since it is people who play sports and people who watch sports, the two purposes Aesthetic Realism shows to be fighting in every person are present as sports are played. In each of us there's a desire, much vaster than we know, to respect the world. In each of us there's a desire, also much vaster than we know, to have contempt for the world.
Every player of professional baseball has had in some fashion a big feeling about the game's beauty—as every fan has had. That feeling is respect for the world. When a pitcher holds a ball very close and then sends the same ball hurtling—a shape through space—we feel closeness and wide distance as one; we feel humanity and abstraction as one. To see a ball travel swiftly in air is to feel matter and space as one. To see a player slide into third base rightly is to see humility and triumph at once. To see a double play is to see people as simultaneously individual and related. And as we watch a player run well, we are watching power and grace as the same. These are the world's opposites. To feel them together is to respect the world.
Meanwhile, there's a desire, and it can be in both player and fan, to use a sport to have a contemptuous conquest over the world. That's the reason there have been riots after soccer games. It's why softball or soccer dads have come to blows over the results of their children's games. It's why baseball fans can be nasty to players on the opposing team, or to players on their own team who aren't doing well. All this arises from the fact that the persons concerned don't like the world. They feel, without articulating it: "Life itself doesn't give me what I want. It confuses me and makes me unsure. But if my team, or my child's team, can beat out those other guys—then I've shown up that mean world. I've kicked it in the jaw. I've shown that I—through what I associate with myself—am superior, supreme, and can look down triumphantly!"
So a sports victory becomes a means of vanquishing a disliked world. A defeat for one's team is taken as the world again insulting oneself—and this leaves oneself raging.
Contempt and Steroids
t seems surprising to say there is a relation between one soccer dad's punching another in the face and a professional baseball player's using steroids. But there is. The use of steroids also comes from contempt for the world. When a player has himself injected with them, he's not only having contempt for the rules of baseball and the people he's fooling. He's having contempt for the laws of reality and biology, which he has risen above through pharmaceutical magic. To use anabolic steroids is to have the world on your terms without respecting it. It's a way of managing reality and making it do your bidding. It's a way of getting something without working for it and earning it.
While people don't like the world, various ways of manipulating it to one's advantage will be popular. (In the baseball-and-steroid matter, part of the advantage is, of course, financial, because players, like others, would like to make as much money as possible.)
Meanwhile, it's an important fact that everyone feels there's something wrong with using those steroids. That's so even of players who tell themselves they have to use them. The feeling there's something wrong comes because the human self is deeply ethical. We may go after contempt in various ways and try to justify it, but we always despise ourselves for it. And we despise contempt in others even as we may join them and pretend they and we are just fine.
o understand further why the use of performance-enhancing drugs has been so prevalent, we have to relate it to what else is happening in America and the world.
For example, to lie is to have a fundamental contempt. Lying is contempt for the facts, for truth, for what is so. To manipulate the facts can be as bad as manipulating one's body with a drug; often it's much worse. And everyone with eyes, ears, and a working mind knows that a lot of lying has been taking place in America, as it has been elsewhere, including by people in high positions.
When you see people lie, either you are against it clearly and proudly, or you feel, often without being conscious that you do: "Look, if all this fakery can go on, including by important people, why shouldn't I falsify too? Why shouldn't I manage the world to suit myself too?"
That reasoning has gone on with children over the centuries. They've seen adults being hypocrites and felt deeply, "These guys talk about respect, but they don't respect truth much themselves. So I don't see why I shouldn't lie, and fool them."
In other words, athletes, like others, see contempt ever so present in many ways. Unless they're accurate and proud critics of it, they'll feel encouraged to have contempt themselves. Some of that contempt may involve steroids.
One of the big ways contempt affects everybody is through the economy. The profit motive is contempt: it's the wanting to get as much as you can from someone while giving them as little as possible. Mr. Siegel has spoken about the fact that ethics and sport at its very basis are close. We see this closeness in the phrase "It's not sporting." Well, throughout America, there's a feeling that the economy and how it affects people is not sporting. For a child to be born poor, with "three strikes against her" from birth, before she ever got up to bat, is not sporting. People feel there's something ethically amiss with the fact that they have to worry about how to pay for healthcare; with the fact that a pension one thought one had is suddenly non-existent; with the fact that one's long hours of work bring profits not to oneself but to somebody else.
The use of steroids is not sporting. But it happens to continue the non-sportsmanship that goes on in profit economics—including that basic idea that one should aggrandize oneself, not necessarily through working to earn something, but through adroitly grabbing and manipulating.
A Poem about Sports & the Vietnam War
n 1968, during the Vietnam War, Mr. Siegel wrote a poem relating baseball and ethics, the ethics of a nation. I quote portions of it here, because 1) it's beautiful; 2) it tells of history; 3) it's a means of placing the ethical lapses in players in relation to ethics as such; and 4) it can make every person, every player, prouder of loving a sport, because it is ethics itself which we're loving. "The Umpires Are There, with Their Fair and Foul" is included in Mr. Siegel's Hail, American Development (Definition Press, 1968):
o continue looking at the subject of mental health and what it is, I'll read an article that was popular in the 1940s. Many things can be used to show what mental health is about. In the meantime, I say what I have said before: the most popular and diseased way of establishing a life is to have contempt for what is not oneself, and insufficient respect. This is the largest epidemic in the world, and it's the most popular.
This article, "How Your Mind May Make You Ill," by Elsie McCormick, is in a compilation, Getting the Most Out of Life: An Anthology from the Reader's Digest, published in 1946.
Much has happened since, but I have to say that the lack of knowledge is pretty much the same as it was, and that the article is useless. It is based, as journalists' articles very often are, on what professional people were doing. The atmosphere today is different, but the question is the same, and it can be put this way: Is there any way of distinguishing a bad emotion from a good one? That doesn't occur in this article about "emotions" and "emotional difficulties." And that is important, because if a person says, "You are too emotional," it means nothing very much since to live is to be emotional. Chopin was emotional and is a hero of Poland. There are persons who have been exceedingly emotional, and because they've been emotional are looked upon as praiseworthy people. Not to have emotion is the same as not being born, or being dead.
We have, then, the question of how to distinguish quantitatively and qualitatively—because emotion is like coal and can be seen qualitatively or quantitatively—so that some notion of good is present.
What Makes an Emotion Bad
esthetic Realism says that every emotion that has had bad contempt in it for something besides yourself is bad. What distinguishes a bad anger and a bad fear is the fact that bad anger and bad fear are means of aiding this bad contempt. Bad contempt is the dislike of something, not in order to like the world, but in order to establish oneself.
There are many things that are worthy of contempt. But the cause for your having contempt is the big thing. Everyone knows that I almost automatically feel contempt for Richard Nixon, but if the purpose of my having contempt for him were to establish myself, Richard Nixon would be used incorrectly. The purpose of the contempt has to be seen. If it is not in behalf of something beautiful in this world, or the world as beautiful, the contempt would be wrong, because the crucial thing is the purpose.
Contempt in Hypocrisy
n order to distinguish between emotion that is good and emotion that is bad, the drift of the emotion, the purpose of the emotion, would have to be looked at. Let's say a group of high school girls squeal at a colonel who is visiting the school. They show tremendous enthusiasm. But deep down they don't give a damn for this colonel. They don't know anything about him and aren't interested in knowing. But they go through all that enthusiasm and they make this person something tremendous. The hypocrisy there, in all its exuberance, is with contempt.
When people respect something, they would rather not mean it than mean it. That is the calamity of Aesthetic Realism: the respect that people have for it they unfortunately mean, and that they cannot forgive.* Respect made less than it is, or associated with something that shouldn't be there—anger—is respect also affected by contempt. That which stops us from respecting a thing accurately can be described centrally as the force of contempt.
What Is the Purpose of Mind?
It has to be asked: what is the purpose of mind as such? Mind, in every instance of it, has two purposes. I have sometimes described them as knowledge and feeling; that is, mind is to know things and also to say whether something is pleasant or not pleasant. This can be put in another way: mind is for the purpose of perceiving or seeing—that is, knowing; and mind is for the purpose of value.
We think today, what with the great tendency to use the word value, that values are the biggest thing in human life. Values are instances of saying that something matters, something means something, something is beautiful, something is good. There is something more than the thing perceived.
We can presume that if, say, a very praiseworthy dog looked at a picture in the Museum of Modern Art (which dogs perhaps have done, though not often), the difference between a person who sees that picture and this very praiseworthy dog is that the dog sees something which is like the color he has seen in various homes and he's not going to say, "This stirs me. The arrangement of colors does something to me," or, "The structural abstraction makes my day a success." Those are value terms.
I'm sure that dogs have been not more than six inches away from a painting of Cézanne, at least in the old days, and the dog would sniff and then go to something more interesting—say an artichoke. The dog, in other words, finds no value in the arrangement of color and line with the possible addition of figure. And a Renoir may be a Renoir to his master, but it's only a surface to him.
But Values Are There
The dog does have values. A dog likes certain sounds more than others: some sounds are quite distressing. And a dog, generally speaking, would rather go away from a coal chute with coal going down. The dog also doesn't like the sound of quarreling humans and doesn't want to snooze while a man and wife are quarreling. There are various ideas of value the dog has too.
The purpose of mind, then, is to see and to value. To see is easier, because you don't have to be human in order to see. A lens, from a certain point of view, can see. The beauty of the picture is made, it is said, by the person behind the lens, not the lens. Those automatic pictures of the moon, except where a person has to do with them, are not yet seen as stirring art. Value is the big thing in seeing.
What Kind of Value?he next thing is: value of what kind? We can value the perceiver or we can value the thing perceived. These are the two things to be valued. If the purpose of mind is to see and value and there's an interference with it or a lessening or restriction on it, it can already be said that mind is not doing so well. The first thing needed for mind to be well is to be doing what mind should be doing. A mind should be seeing and valuing.
But a mind can also be used not to value. Mind can say two things: "I wanna very much" and "Don't wanna." The latter is said in ever so many ways, and there are subtleties. A mind not wanting to value things accurately or sufficiently is a mind that is the victim of contempt.
Contempt is the inability, the unwillingness, to value things because the person sees a value for oneself in decreasing the value of other things. According to Aesthetic Realism, this is the beginning of all mental ailment, from biting fingernails to inaccurate anger. There is not one such thing that cannot be seen as causally related to this tendency of mind to value itself more because it values other things less.
*Yes, I have seen this to be true. The desire to get revenge on Aesthetic Realism and Mr. Siegel because one honestly respected them, is as cruel as anything I know. Some of that ugly attempt at revenge is still around. — ER
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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