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:
True Strength in a Man
with a discussion about Muhammad Ali
By Michael Palmer
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.
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.
Realism Explained that
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.
I Had Two Ideas of Strength
In a class I attended in 1972, Mr. Siegel spoke to me about why I felt
so bad and I felt understood. He asked:
"Yes," I replied, and Mr.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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."
Part 2, click here
© 2014 Michael Palmer