Michael Palmer

 Michael Palmer








Aesthetic Realism seminar:
 
To Feel More or Less: What Represents Us Truly?; 
or, William Jennings Bryan
By Michael Palmer

     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:

 Have 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 Harp-Tones:
I want a Sunday kind of love. doo, doo doo doo.
A love to last past Saturday night. ooo ooo ooo ooo 
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. 
      In a lecture titled, Aesthetic Realism and Your Feelings, Mr. Siegel said, "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:
 Do you think you hope people be as good as they can be? 
 MP.  I think I can have better hopes for people.
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! 

An Important American Shows We Want More Feeling, Not Less

In a lesson Mr. Siegel said, 

One should 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:
Bryan looked 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 that: 
  Despite 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. 

Honesty 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:

 the applause 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. 
Bryan began:
 I come 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: 
 The farmer 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:
Having behind 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:
    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.
Commented Mr. Siegel, "Because of his enthusiasm the world seemed to be less cold and dancing like a bronco." 
     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. 

The 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:

 Do you 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 her. 

Ignoble Last Days

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:

 Where 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.
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! 

 

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