The Solution to Racism
By Arnold Perey
Today there is more anger than
ever about racism. At the same time 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."
Photo by A. Perey
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.
Racism is contempt for the world that takes the form of contempt
for persons different from oneself.
Mr. Siegel explains:
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.
In college, I studied the cultures of the world, including those of
India, Africa, Australia, the Americas, Asia, ancient Europe, with some
of America's noted scholars. I learned many important facts, but I had
not yet learned the most crucial ones. Then I met Aesthetic Realism, in
August 1968. Racism, which I had condemned, I still knew had not been eradicated
in me. I was ashamed of this but felt nothing could ever be done about
it. Then, in classes taught by Eli Siegel my own contempt was clearly described
to me and kindly criticized; and because I learned, with detail, that the
purpose of the human mind — my mind — is to be just to the world, my
way of seeing people changed. And as it did, I saw the prejudice
in me as to race, religion, accent, and more fade away — to be replaced
by real respect!
Early in my study, I brought to an Aesthetic Realism class a number
of richly carved arrow shafts I'd gotten that year in Papua New Guinea.
I wanted to learn about them from Eli Siegel. He said, "The questions to
ask about these arrows are the questions to be asked about art anywhere.
What did the workman or artist have in mind?" For the first time in my
anthropological studies I was being asked to consider with respect the
thoughts of a tribesman as if they were like my own! "The
deepest motives of a people are in their art, or what is nearest to art,"
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
next to each other make up a triangle pointing downward. And they are inside
an outline which has the same triangular shape. This is a
beautiful study in sameness and difference, intricate and simple — which
are opposites and are crucial to art, science, thought.
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
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.
In 1923 the Modern Quarterly published Eli Siegel's passionately reasoned
"The Equality of Man." He wrote, "Men have not had an equal chance to be
actively powerful as they might be. And if they had been given an equal
chance to use all the powers they had at birth, they would be equal." And
he states, "It is my business to go on showing it to be so." This is what
he was showing, faithful to his purpose, decades later when he asked me,
for example, the following questions: "What does a reader in anthropology
in the British Museum have in common with what he is reading about?"; and,
"Is the conflict that one can notice in Hamlet — a conflict between seeing
something as right and also seeing oneself as not prepared to act — is
this conflict in what can be called the uncultivated 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
The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is where the knowledge America most
urgently needs is taught. "Racism won't be effectively done away with unless
it is replaced with something that has terrific power," writes Ellen Reiss,
the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism. Aesthetic Realism has that power.
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]
There are classes, consultations, public seminars, and dramatic presentations
at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, where you can learn more. Aesthetic
Realism consultations — in which a person speaks with three consultants
— are based on the Aesthetic Realism lessons Mr. Siegel gave for almost
40 years, and through them people feel what is felt nowhere else: truly
and deeply comprehended. Consultations, which are new in culture, are given
by telephone across the country and abroad.
The phone number of the Foundation is (212) 777-4490 and its Internet
address is www.AestheticRealism.org.
Aesthetic Realism has brought 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
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: Mr. Siegel has
brought the light of science to the darkest territory in the human self
and society through his luminous logic.