Aesthetic Realism seminar:
By Michael Palmer
To Feel More or Less: What Represents Us Truly?;
or, William Jennings Bryan
Aesthetic Realism describes
the crucial debate going on in every person-- "Should I have more feeling
or less?" And in an issue of The Right Of, Class Chairman Ellen
Reiss tells of a large mistake people make about this when she asked:
you divided reality into that part of it to which you will be "warm"(your
family, some friends, certain fields of interest), and a huge rest-of-the-world
to which you are deeply cold? (#1276)
Yes, I divided reality
in this harmful way. Growing up in the Bronx, I had friends and "certain
fields of interests" such as sports and popular music. Meanwhile,
I was deeply cold to the "huge rest-of-the world" which I saw as harsh—chiefly
because most people did not give me the unconditional approval I got from
my parents. And, I had an unwillingness to learn anything new. For
instance, when rock music began getting popular in the 1950s, like other
teenagers, I found it fascinating, but I also saw it as a threat to music
I liked and was knowledgeable about--like Frank Sinatra and Nat "King"
Cole songs--and I decided to ignore it. I remember when friends got a group
together on Mosholu Parkway and started harmonizing, rock-style; like the
I loved what I was hearing,
but then became angry and said haughtily, "That's nothing new. Fran Warren
had a hit on that song ten years ago!" I squelched the feeling I had.
I want a Sunday
kind of love. doo, doo doo doo.
A love to last past
Saturday night. ooo ooo ooo ooo
In a lecture titled, Aesthetic
Realism and Your Feelings, Mr. Siegel
"Every time a person felt something, no matter what it was, there was knowledge
about something." In school, I had large feeling learning about the Revolutionary
war and how the colonists came back from near defeat to finally beat the
British. I memorized all the battles and names of the Generals on both
sides. And I was thrilled learning about the courage of the abolitionists
prior to the Civil War, who guided escaped slaves to freedom from the south.
I was moved to tears the day I first read about the Yankees' Lou Gehrig,
who on his "day" at the Stadium, knowing he was dying, expressed gratitude
for his tragically short life in those memorable words, "Today, I consider
myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
But, as I had to do with people every day, I went for less feeling.
While I liked entertaining friends with comic routines and imitations,
I was not interested in their lives. I deeply felt people were not
good enough for me to know. When I learned that a friend had had a nervous
breakdown in his first year at college, I was shocked. I had
summed him up, felt he had everything going for him and certainly no concerns.
My coldness, worried me, but I didn't know how I could be different.
Years later when I began having Aesthetic Realism Consultations, my consultants
asked me, "Have you cultivated a manner in dealing with people? You
have a certain mingling of aloofness and familiarity. Are you aloof
and chummy?" This was so exact!
Once at a party, the hostess whom I hadn't known previously, asked me to
stay afterwards, thinking because of my friendly manner, that I was a person
she could talk to. I had feeling for her and was hoping it could be more;
but when she told me that she had been seeing a psychiatrist, I became
cold and said to myself "Don't get involved--she's got problems."
I didn't ask her anything about herself and soon left. I can still see
the disappointment on her face. For a long time I was ashamed of what I’d
done, but it wasn't until some years later in an Aesthetic Realism class
taught by Eli Siegel that I began to understand why I made choices like
that again and again. Mr. Siegel asked me, "What do you think you are protecting
yourself from? We protect ourselves from two things, evil and good.
Do you think," he continued "what is upsetting you is that you might be
protecting yourself from something good?" I had never thought of
that, but as I did, I saw I was protecting myself from having more feeling
about people and the world itself. Then Mr. Siegel asked me:
think you hope people be as good as they can be?
And he explained:
" In other words you don't like how you see them. " Then he asked me this
crucial question: “Do you want people to be strong? Do you think
you have enough good will to want people to be strong?” I hadn't,
and this had deadened my feeling throughout my life. Aesthetic Realism
describes good will as “the desire to have something else stronger and
more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful.”
Mr. Siegel told me, "Having more good will [should be] the objective of
every person." I felt like dancing right on the spot. Having
this as a conscious objective changed my life, gave me a self-respect I
had never had. And it has made possible my happy marriage to Lynette Abel
whom I love. Wanting to know Lynette, consciously wanting her to be stronger,
to be strengthened by her, has made for romantic, passionate feeling between
us, the real thing!
MP. I think
I can have better hopes for people.
Important American Shows We Want More Feeling, Not Less
In a lesson Mr. Siegel
ask, what is one's greatest question and [it] can be put very simply: Do
I have the best feeling for people and other things that are not myself,
all of them, near and far?
A man whose feeling for
people, near and far, brought new hope to America just over a century ago
was the politician and statesman William Jennings Bryan. Known as
"the Commoner" because of his feeling for the ordinary people, Bryan worked
with beautiful energy for fairness to those he called "the producing classes,"
farmers, laborers--people whose hands, sweat, blood literally built this
country and created the wealth. And he was courageously against those who
viciously profited from these workers--the millionaire industrialists,
the trusts, the railroads and banks.
Born on the "great prairie" in Salem, Illinois, in 1860, and brought up
in a very devout Protestant home, Bryan had a large care for both religion
and the land. He wanted to become either a farmer or a Baptist Minister,
but was affected by his father who as a lawyer, State Senator and Judge
had feeling for people. Bryan became a lawyer, practicing first in
Illinois and then moving to Nebraska. Early, he had a debate between
more feeling and less. He could easily have remained practicing law to
take care of himself and his family, but he felt he wanted to do more--to
fight for the working people who were being treated brutally. In
1890, Bryan left his law practice to run for Congress, and though he was
a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, he surprisingly won election
to two straight terms.
What Bryan saw in Washington was an America in turmoil. Corporate
millionaires like Pullman, Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie were amassing
fortunes based on having as little feeling for people as possible, especially
the farmers in the west and laborers in the east. There was a depression,
unemployment was about 20 percent and people roamed the country looking
for work. Bryan visited the Pullman industrial shops and was horrified
by the condition of the workers who had seen their wages drastically cut
and their families literally starving while being forced to pay high rents
and prices in Pullman's own company town. Bryan felt that transportation,
banking, communication networks were being used to keep the workers poor,
and should be owned publicly, and the actual producers of wealth--those
who do the work--should get the fruits of their labors.
Meanwhile, even as there is so much to admire in his feeling for people,
there was also that in him going for limitation, a rigidity, especially
when his opinions were challenged by new ideas, such as in science and
philosophy. In an Aesthetic Realism lesson Eli Siegel said, "Deep in every
person is the question of whether we should feel more or less." Bryan
once defiantly said, "I'd rather trust the Rock of Ages than know the ages
of the rocks." And regardless of criticism he tenaciously kept to this.
Biographer Paolo Coletti writes:
upon critics as either ignorant, dishonest or irreligious. Criticism slipped
readily from his back.
And biographer Leroy Ashby
points to Bryan's discomfort with the developing intellectual world, noting
new forms of art and music, the Commoner adhered resolutely to the familiar
sights and sounds of his youth.
Aesthetic Realism shows,
and it was true of myself, a person can be very stubborn in protecting
something he sees as himself that really isn't, and quickly reject what
is new. This always makes for less feeling, not more.
about the World Makes for the Feeling We Want
In The Right Of,
Mr. Siegel wrote, "The emotion...which all people hope for arises from
one's having been honest about the world." That honesty, and the emotion
arising from it, was what Democrats were hoping for as they met in Convention
in Chicago in 1896 to pick a Presidential candidate. William Jennings Bryan
came as a delegate from Nebraska, and, as one of the persons picked to
select a platform, he was to deliver an important speech--ostensibly about
gold--to the Convention. The Democrats were literally torn apart by the
gold issue. Bryan felt that the gold standard, which had backed the nation's
monetary system since 1873, favored the rich, the Wall Street speculators
and should be abolished. Some, including incumbent President Grover Cleveland,
wanted to keep the gold standard, fearing a return to bimetallism--a combination
of gold and silver backing the money supply--would cause financial chaos.
Because of Bryan's reputation as a public speaker, his sincerity and passion,
there was great anticipation as he approached the Speakers Platform that
hot July night. Louis Koenig writes:
grew like a forest fire in fury and swept beyond the galleries into the
lobby and out in the street. The galleries stood up almost in unison; delegates
rose; and even the distinguished guests stood.
to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty--the
cause of humanity.
And with tremendous feeling,
he went on:
who goes forth in the morning and toils all day....who by the application
of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates the
wealth....the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb
two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places
the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade....We come
to speak for this broader class of business men.
And later he closed with
these now-famous words:
us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the
commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere,
we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You
shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall
not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!
When he concluded there
was a wild demonstration on the floor and the next day, on the fifth ballot,
Bryan, not even a candidate prior to the convention, was chosen as the
Democratic presidential nominee. He showed that having more feeling--not
less--for what people deserve is irresistible, makes one glorious!
In a 1969 class
titled "William Jennings Bryan and History as Art and Science," Mr. Siegel
spoke of the feeling Bryan's candidacy made for. "Bryan, he said, represented
an aroused America...[and] there was a great deal of emotion.
People got out of themselves,[and] they thought of the world as being kinder,
sweeter, nicer, lovelier, truer." He then read a poem by Vachel Lindsay,
"Bryan, Bryan, Bryan Bryan:" about the day Lindsay saw Bryan on a campaign
stop in Springfield, Illinois and the large feeling it made for. This is
part of a stanza:
Commented Mr. Siegel, "Because
of his enthusiasm the world seemed to be less cold and dancing like a bronco."
And everybody heard him—
In Springfield, in Illinois,
Around and around and around the world,
That danced upon its axis
And like a darling bronco whirled.
But, evil was also working, making for less feeling. Terrified at
the thought that Bryan might become President, powerful businessmen and
corporations got behind Republican candidate William McKinley with millions
of dollars. Employees were warned they would lose their jobs if Bryan won.
Mr. Siegel said in the class, "You cannot stop the desire for justice in
the world, even if you try to kill it 8 million times. Ethics is much a
fact as brass. Justice and decency are scientific facts." Though
Bryan was defeated in a close race, he got more votes than any previous
Presidential winner and so much of what he was fighting for that had to
do with more feeling for people--a minimum wage, fair labor practices,
woman's suffrage, guaranteed bank deposits, a graduated income tax, direct
election of Senators, and much more, eventually became law. And the full
gold standard backing money was later dropped as well.
Great Opponent to More Feeling
Though he was unsuccessful
in two more tries for the Presidency, Bryan earned the respect of people
by speaking out against our policy of imperialism in the Philippines and
elsewhere, and later as Secretary of State under President Wilson, he worked
for a system that would insure peace and keep World War 1 from occurring.
But, with all that he was courageously for, what Bryan needed desperately
to know is what Eli Siegel was the historian to see--that it is contempt--beginning
in individuals--that is the cause of an unjust economic system, and it
is what works in the self always making for less feeling. While much is
not known about Bryan's private life, he and his wife Mary were married
for 31 years, until his death in 1925. Mary Bryan was a lawyer herself
and a critic of him, whose advice on politics and world affairs, Bryan
depended on. He had a lot of feeling for her, but in his autobiography,
while he devoted full chapters each to his parents, his children and friends,
he rarely mentions his wife, and when he does, it's only in relation to
the family. Did Bryan think, as many men have, that he had had too
much feeling about Mary Bryan, and unconsciously went for less? In
Aesthetic Realism classes taught by Ellen Reiss I have been greatly fortunate
to learn what it means to have more true, proud feeling for my wife.
In one class, some years ago, Miss Reiss asked me:
think you have a fight between wanting to see keen, deep, alive meaning
in Lynette Abel, and also wanting to take her for granted?
I did. And Miss Reiss
so kindly said:
I think there
are dangers with any two people....One is to feel, "Didn't I give enough
homage to a woman?"
I am proud to say that
my life is so much added to through Lynette--her
perceptions, her passionate desire that people be seen justly. As
a man who once felt so cold and separate from people, I am proud to love
From what I have read
of Bryan's life, it seems that as the years went on, and his political
setbacks continued, the desire that was in him to be limited, to be rigid,
especially about new ideas, became more intense. He virulently campaigned
against Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution, feeling it was the threat
to man's belief in God. At age 65 he became a prosecutor in the 1925 trial
of John Scopes, a biology teacher who was being tried by the State of Tennessee
for violating a state law prohibiting the teaching of Evolution in a public
school. In the class on Bryan Mr. Siegel said, "the last days of
"[Bryan's] life were rather ignoble, since he was the lawyer against Scopes
in the trial." In a bizarre turn, Bryan actually took the witness stand
to testify about the truth of the Bible, and under withering cross-examination
by the great Clarence Darrow, he began to lose his composure. n the end,
Scopes was convicted but was later absolved on a technicality. Only five
days after the Scopes Trial ended, William Jennings Bryan died in his sleep.
Tragically, what is most remembered about Bryan now is that "ignoble" end,
but his whole self, his lasting, good effect on this country, was much
greater. So much of what he worked for, arising from his feeling for people,
was adopted by others--Theodore Roosevelt, and later, Franklin Roosevelt
in the kind social programs of the 1930's, many of which exist to this
day. In a 1972 class, Mr. Siegel said of Bryan, "He is so much a
part of American history." Vachel Lindsay concludes his poem:
The best of William Jennings
Bryan's life shows that the answer to the debate in every person--is that
we want more honest feeling about the world and people. It is the
only way we will take care of our lives. The scientific and great
knowledge of Aesthetic Realism shows how that can resoundingly be!
is that boy, that heaven-born Bryan,
That Homer Bryan,
who sang from the West?
Gone to join
the shadows with Altgeld the Eagle,
Where the kings
and the slaves and the troubadours rest.