By Arnold Perey
Today there are more fury and despair than ever about racism. People feel it cannot be eradicated from the way persons see one another. As an anthropologist, I am proud to say that Eli Siegel, the great poet, critic and educator who founded the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, understood the cause of racism. He himself was completely without prejudice. And, as I know personally, the education he founded enables prejudice within people to stop!
The basis of Aesthetic Realism is scientifically
new. In no other source -- not Hegel, Kant, nor Freud, nor any other --
is there the understanding of self accurate and deep enough to stop racism.
Aesthetic Realism has this understanding. "Man's deepest desire," Eli Siegel
explains, "his largest desire, is to like the world on an honest or accurate
basis." This principle is true about people of every race, including the
Native American people I lived with in central Nevada and the Melanesian
people I lived with in Papua New Guinea.
But we have another desire opposing our hope to like the world: the desire to have contempt. And contempt -- the "disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world" -- is the fundamental cause of all cruelty, today and in any time (Self and World, 1981, pp. 1, 15). Evidence is throughout the literature on man -- from Montaigne's essay "Of Cannibals" (1580), to Laura Bohannan's work on Africa Return to Laughter, to Chagnon and others on the Amazon's Yanomamo people.
The reluctance to give meaning to the possible thoughts of others is one of the great victories of contempt and therefore one of the great disasters of man .... Contempt is present wherever some people know other people who are different from themselves. Contempt is in the race question, is in the nationality question, ... is in the youth and age question, is in the parents and children question. As soon as we see that other human beings are placed differently from ourselves, contempt does what it can to include them. [The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, issue no. 228]Man's contempt for "human beings ... placed differently from ourselves" has impelled people without their being able to identify it or combat it, since ancient times. Because of Eli Siegel we can now understand this -- and know the cause of such things as the following, described by anthropologist Ashley Montagu: "Many tribes call themselves by names which mean in effect 'we-are-men,' implying that all others are not" (Man: His First Two Million Years, 1969, p. 182).
In the isolated Oksapmin region of Papua New Guinea, virtually a New Stone Age economy in 1967-8 when I was there, I heard people in Betiana hamlet talk about people in Gaugutiana hamlet and say: "Gaugutiana people have bad noses. They are bad people." These two communities fought and killed each other.
The desire to have contempt is what makes one people or group against another. Too much, the family today is still tribal. My family saw itself, as we looked out of our windows in Mt. Vernon, NY, as superior to the neighbors. My unjust and foolish disparagement of all people took in those of other races, whom I assumed I was superior to without knowing them at all.
Looking at an arrow, he pointed out: "There is drama: part is smooth and part is rough .... Something intricate changes into something smoother. On the rough part many things occur with difference and sameness." For example, see Arrow Shaft "A": Three small, very different shapes above each other make up one triangle pointing downward. And they are within an outline which has the same triangular shape. This is a beautiful study in sameness and difference, many and one, rough and smooth, within and without -- opposites that all things have in common, including people!
This principle stated by Mr. Siegel -- "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves" -- is scientifically true for all cultures. It was my honor to discuss that fact in my doctoral thesis for Columbia University's anthropology department, with Aesthetic Realism as its stated basis and Margaret Mead as my thesis advisor ("Oksapmin Society and World View," 1973).
Mr. Siegel was showing that the artists/workmen of Oksapmin were representing on these thin arrow shafts the philosophic structure of the world: the permanent opposites. My respect for the people soared. Asked Eli Siegel, with kind humor, "Mr. Perey, do you believe the world can change on a stick?" I was learning that every human being has the world in his or her mind.
Eli Siegel had charm, ease, and power when he spoke about race. He made superiority look as ugly as it is -- and he gave justice style.
As a social scientist I say that Eli Siegel is the one person who has shown definitively and with enormous scientific scholarship the equality of all people. Statistics that purport to show otherwise are flimsy, unjust fakes.
What needs to replace it is not the feeling that the difference of another person is somehow tolerable. What is necessary is the seeing and feeling that the relation of sameness and difference between ourselves and that other person is beautiful .... It is possible for millions of men, women, and children to have an emotion about race that is like an art emotion. And it is necessary. [The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, issue no. 1264]
The phone number of the Foundation is (212) 777-4490 and its Internet address is www.AestheticRealism.org.
I love Aesthetic Realism for bringing to my mind a wideness I would not have had, a respect for people whose skin tones differ from mine. The end of racism is one of the great gifts to humanity that Eli Siegel's mighty thought can provide; and no one should have to wait another day to know this.
Alexander Pope once wrote of Sir Isaac Newton this passionate iambic pentameter line: "God said, Let Newton be! and all was light." Pope's opinion has been agreed with by generations of scientists. My opinion and others' opinion of Eli Siegel is like that of Pope about Newton: he has brought the light of science to the darkest territory in the human self and society through his luminous logic.
Dr. Arnold Perey is on the faculty of the
Aesthetic Realism Foundation. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University
in anthropology for research supported by the National Science Foundation
and a National Institute of Mental Health fellowship. At the Foundation
he teaches in consultations as well as the Aesthetic Realism and Anthropology
course and is an instructor in the workshop for teachers, The Aesthetic
Realism of Eli Siegel As Teaching Method. He began his study of Aesthetic
Realism with Eli Siegel and continues it now in classes taught by Ellen
Reiss, the Chairman of Aesthetic Realism. His published articles
include "A New Perspective for American Anthropology: the Philosophy of
Aesthetic Realism" (The Anthropologist, University of Delhi, Vol. XIX,
No. 1&2) and "The Real Opposition to Racism" (The Right of Aesthetic
Realism to Be Known, No. 724).