Growing up in the Bronx, I thought snobbishness was a trait that wealthy people had. Meanwhile, I remember using our nice apartment to look down on my friends who lived in poorer housing on the same block. Studying Aesthetic Realism, I began to understand something about myself for the first time—the connection between my snobbish aloofness and the acute loneliness I felt. And I’m so thankful that both changed!
In issue 1870 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, titled “The Sheer Fight,” editor Ellen Reiss shows, in a way that surprised me, the fundamental relation between the everyday snobbishness a person can have and the contempt that impels our profit economy. She writes:
We are proud to publish “The Serious Aspect of Snobbery,” which Eli Siegel wrote in the 1950s. It is a logical and rollicking, an incisive and delightful, an eloquent and charming essay about a horrible thing. Mr. Siegel defines snobbishness, or snobbery; and he shows that, though it may often seem casual and urbane, it is related to the most brutal cruelty and has the same source. Later in his teaching of Aesthetic Realism he would describe that source as contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.”
As introduction, I’m going to comment on a massive form of snobbishness and contempt. It is snobbishness become a way of economics, something which has hurt, curtailed, crippled human lives for thousands of years. And I’ll comment on a recent happening, because this event, though of a particular time, concerns all of world history and every person.
A Way of Economics
The most awful snobbishness is the feeling that the world, with all its wealth, should belong only, or mostly, to certain people. That is the basis of the profit system. Further, the profit motive is active snobbery. It’s the motive to extract all the money one can from another human being, from his labor or his needs, while giving him as little as one can. It’s the seeing of a person in terms of “How much money can I make from this guy? Is he desperate enough so I don’t have to pay much for his work?” It’s not an asking, “How can I be fair to this person who is as real as I am, whose feelings are as deep?” The profit motive is the desire, not to understand someone, but to aggrandize oneself through him—a desire always accompanied by the assumption that oneself is superior and has the right to look down. From this contempt-as-economics, snobbery-as-economics, have come sweatshops, child labor, industrial diseases, poverty—and millions of men, women, and children leading lives so very much worse, so much less, than they were entitled to lead.
In the profit system there is also a fundamental snobbishness toward reality itself. This snobbishness is the underlying sense, “The world is unworthy of my liking it unless I can own as much of it as possible. I can like the world only if I possess more of it than other people do. I can’t value it unless in some big way it’s mine to manage, grab, kick around, show off with, do with as I please.” >>Read more