Nancy Huntting, Aesthetic Realism consultant, writes:
What is mental health, really—for each of us? And what in a person works against it and stops it from being? In “Perfection, Imperfection, & Our Minds” you’ll read about that. And you’ll read Eli Siegel’s powerful discussion—so needed today—of the way of mind behind a mass shooting. There is a great, unprecedented explanation of the human mind in this issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known!
The commentary by Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
The lecture we begin to serialize here is great in its understanding of the human mind. And it is great in its rich explanation of a matter that now has wide tragedy and urgency and worry with it: mass shootings. Eli Siegel gave this talk, Mental Health Is about Perfection and Imperfection, on August 5, 1966, four days after Charles Whitman positioned himself at the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas, Austin, and shot down at people. The figures have been given as: 14 killed, 31 wounded. The lecture is a means of our comprehending something still not understood over half a century later: What is the large cause, the central thing, in a person’s mind that has him take a gun and mow down many other human beings?
At the time of this talk, Mr. Siegel was giving a series of lectures on mental health. He is the philosopher, historian, educator who identified the thing in humanity, in each of us, which weakens our mind and is the source of injustice. That thing is contempt: the “disposition in every person to think we will be for ourselves by making less of the outside world.” Contempt is massive in its range. It takes such ordinary forms as the hope somebody flop so we seem better; the sneer of “I would never wear something like that”; the seeing of people mainly in terms of how important they make oneself. Contempt is in coldness to another’s feelings. And contempt is also the cause of racism, with its horrors: behind every racist thought and act is the feeling, I’m big, I’m somebody, because I can see those people as beneath me!
The connection between contempt as seemingly ordinary and contempt as brutal and disastrous is in this statement by Eli Siegel from his James and the Children:
As soon as you have contempt, as soon as you don’t want to see another person as having the fullness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person.
In the lecture we’re serializing, Mr. Siegel doesn’t use the term contempt as such. Rather, as he speaks about the opposites of perfection and imperfection, he is describing something fundamental to contempt. He is describing the texture of contempt as it exists deeply and also virulently, and sometimes seemingly blandly, in a mind.
This Is Mental Health
Eli Siegel is also the person who identified that in us which is opposed to contempt. It is the desire “to like the world through knowing it.” This desire not only is in behalf of mental health—but indeed, if it wins out over contempt, is mental health. For mental health is the seeing that our own importance and expression arise from our being just to what’s not us. Mr. Siegel showed that to like the world honestly is the purpose of our very lives. And therefore our contempt—while seeming for a time to elevate us—always makes us dislike ourselves, feel agitated and low and unsure….Read more