Part 1: True Strength in a Man

Part 2: True Strength in a Man

Part 3: True Strength in a Man


Aesthetic Realism seminar:
True Strength in a Man
with a discussion about Muhammad Ali
By Michael Palmer

   Aesthetic Realism shows that true strength in a man is our desire, our need, to have good will for the world and people.  In issue 121 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, titled "Good Will Is Aesthetics," Eli Siegel writes:
Good will can be described as the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful.
     Studying what good will is, and having it as a conscious purpose, has made for big changes in my life.  I have deep feeling for people that I never had before.  And I learned about the thing in myself and in every person that most weakens our lives it is contempt, the desire to despise the world, be superior to it.  This is the thing that makes us feel our life is a failure. 

Aesthetic Realism Explained that
I Had Two Ideas of Strength

Growing up in the Bronx, New York, I wanted to become a sportscaster.  I hoped to be able to thrill people with descriptions of action on the playing field. I was also a very competitive person who, while appearing friendly, inwardly hoped that people would flop.  When I started working as a desk assistant at WCBS Radio, I was angry that a colleague, who had a similar job, was trying to advance and might do so ahead of me.  I secretly tried to undermine him, indirectly letting the boss know that he was often on the phone looking for a better job.  When he eventually got fired, I was glad but also so ashamed that when I'd meet him after that, I was unable to look him in the eye.  I felt beating out other people was how I'd be strong, but I knew I was dishonest. 

      In a class I attended in 1972, Mr. Siegel spoke to me about why I felt so bad and I felt understood.  He asked: 

Do you think there is something that impels one to hope one has had a good effect?  Is there an imperative there?  Do you think you would feel bad if you felt you had a bad effect on anyone?
"Yes," I replied, and Mr. Siegel continued: 
Do you like to encourage people?  Do you think if you failed to encourage people you would feel bad?  The chief thing we are concerned with is what we might have done that we didn't do.  Ethics consists of what might be, what is permitted to be, and what needs to be.  There is an imperative to think as well of ourselves as we can.
     I thank Mr. Siegel for showing me that what will have us think well of ourselves is having good will, wanting other people to be strong.

Muhammad Ali and True Strength

I believe the desire to have good will was impelling former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in 1967 when he spoke out passionately against the brutal injustice of the U.S. in the Vietnam War.  His feeling for the people of Vietnam who were being killed by American bombs and guns and the courageous stand he took refusing to be drafted was a beautiful example of strength in a man; and while it resulted horribly in his being banned from boxing for nearly four years, it made for self-respect in Ali and admiration of him by people all over the world. 
     Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942, named after an abolitionist of the 19th century.  His father, Cassius Clay Sr., worked as a painter of billboards and murals and spoke out often at home about the fight for civil rights in America. His mother, Odessa Clay, worked cleaning homes in the white, affluent part of the city.  In his autobiography, The Greatest, My Own Story, written with Richard Durham, Ali says: 
As early as I can remember I noticed the difference in the way black and white people lived.  Louisville was a segregated, racist town; the smell of the old Slave South hung as heavy as the smell of famous whiskey and horses.
     In 1956 the vicious murder in Mississippi of Emmett Till, a young African- American, affected Ali greatly.  Till, only 14, the same age as Ali, was killed by a mob of whites. Seeing the newspaper accounts enraged the young Cassius Clay, and he felt he had to get back at white people for Till's death.  Days later, he and a friend vandalized railroad tracks near his home, causing a derailment.  Fortunately no one was hurt.  But as Aesthetic Realism shows, anger, if it is just, is also accurate in behalf of the world and people.  Ali came to feel the way he showed his anger here was not accurate, and for years he said he felt ashamed of this occurrence. 
   Meanwhile, the young man was also becoming interested in boxing. The first time he was in a boxing gym at the age of 12, he was captivated. 
     In an Aesthetic Realism lecture of April 1965, Mr. Siegel spoke about why people are affected by boxing when he discussed an essay by the 19th century English critic William Hazlitt, titled "The Fight," about an 1821 boxing match.   Mr. Siegel said that Hazlitt, in describing the match, was giving external form to fights he felt in himself, including the fight between arrogance and modesty, simplicity and trickery.   Mr. Siegel explained: 
Muhammad Ali"We are looking for a good fight because if there isn't a good fight which makes for a conclusion, things in us will be annoying each other perpetually. There are two phases of conflict. One is the possibility that conflict changes into a fight which shows something has a likable result. The other is that conflict go on like a tired worm on a hot day dragging itself across Fifth Avenue. It's very unlikable, and if conflicts are not solved, they grow weary.  A weary conflict is one you don't know you have."
     I wish Muhammad Ali could have heard this that the conflict in him, which is in every person, between liking the world honestly and finding reasons to have contempt for it, could be in the open as in a boxing ring, could be understood, and have "a likable result."

To Part 2, click here

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