Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

Ida Tarbell
Ida Tarbell (1857-1944),
journalist and author

nancyhuntting.net

Aesthetic Realism Seminar  "What Are Women Hoping For?"
presented at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene Street, NYC 10012


Part 3: The Hope for Praise--and the Hope to Deserve It

The largest question people have, Eli Siegel said in an Aesthetic Realism class, is "can we be just to ourselves without being just to what is not ourselves?"  In Aesthetic Realism he answered this question clearly for the first time, and in this class he said with compassionate intensity: "If you can't feel you are just, you have to feel bad.  If this were known and really seen, how much torture and agony would not have been."  The kind and tremendously important thing Aesthetic Realism shows is the world is in us, insisting we be fair to it. There is a conscience in every woman that doesn't rest, and I'm so glad Eli Siegel showed me I had it--he showed people how beautiful it was, how strong it was, he honored and encouraged it. He writes in Self and World:

We want to be praised, to have power, but we also want to deserve this.  There is such a thing as the ethical unconscious...if we praise ourselves and we know we have been unfair to outside reality in doing so, there is a troubling conflict in us...to love ourselves really we have to want to know outside reality; that is the outside form of ourselves, or the world.
At the time Ida Tarbell had reason to be truly proud of herself for fighting injustice, she was not.  She describes her disappointment that powerful people in government and business attacked her book:
I had hoped the book might be received as a legitimate historical study....This classification of muckraker, which I did not like, helped fix my resolution to have done for good and all with the subject which had brought it on me.
Ida Tarbell was too ready to give up the fight for justice because she had another self that felt the way to take care of herself was to get the praise of the rich and powerful who seemed to run the world.  She decided to prove she was not a muckraker, and began a series of articles to show there were owners of industry who wanted to "improve the lot of workers." She writes:
I had taken satisfaction in picturing the worst conditions I could find, badly ventilated and dangerous factories,unsanitary homes, underfed children. But in looking for this material I found...substantial and important efforts making to improve conditions, raise wages, shorten hours, humanize relations....Was it not as much my business as a reporter to present this side of the picture as to present the other?
It was not owners but working people, organizing into unions and fighting, some dying, for every bit of the improvement she mentions. She herself saw something of the wrong she was doing, when she gave series of lectures to workers on these "improvements": 
I was not conscious that there was a large percentage of condescension in my attitude. My first audience revealed my mind to me with painful definiteness, and humbled me beyond expression. It was a steel town... face to face with these men, within the sound of the heavy panting of the great furnaces, within sight of the unpainted, undrained rows of company houses...the memory of many a long and bitter labor struggle that I had known of in that valley came to life, and all my pretty tales seemed now terribly flimsy. They were so serious, they listened so intently to get something; and the tragedy was that I had not more to give.
Ida Tarbell had a conscience, but she did not sustain what she felt here--she did not see how crucial it was for her life.  We can never like ourselves unless we are proud to see where we are wrong and change.  This is what Aesthetic Realism consultations make possible.

4.  The Hope to Know Versus the Desire to Own

 In 1924, Miss Tarbell accepted $20,000 from Elbert Gary, the head of U.S. Steel, to write a praising biography of him and his company. Gary's union-busting, strike-breaking policies included having mounted police club and run down people who were simply walking the streets of their towns, people who had to work an inhuman 12 hours a day.

I grew up largely unaware of the cruelty and injustice of the Profit System--the private ownership of the means by which people live. I liked the imagined feeling that having money and owning things made me superior. 

Eli Siegel was passionate about what every human being deserves. "While any child needs something he hasn't got the Profit System is a failure, " he said: "Only contempt could permit a man to make money from the work of another, as man has done these hundreds of years.  Only contempt for other people could bear the idea that another man might work only if oneself were the means of his employment..."

The desire to be powerful through owning and managing the world, the admiration for other people who owned and controlled land, industry and people in America, made Ida Tarbell, who had written so passionately about ethics, hard and cold to other people's feelings. It also affected how she saw men and love. I believe there was a desire to dominate people that made her unyielding. Most of her life she lived with members of her family whom she supported, and she never married. She said with great arrogance, "I never met a man I would want always by my side night and day, and I am sure I will not."  There is an increasing aloofness and sadness in her autobiography, written in 1939 when she was 82. Her last chapter is titled "Nothing New Under the Sun," and she writes:

Looking forward at life at thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, generally finding myself tired and a little discouraged, having always taken on things for which I was unprepared, things which were really too big for me, I consoled myself by saying, 'At seventy you stop.'
 Ida Tarbell never knew what her greatest hope was. She had the chance to know Eli Siegel--she wrote articles in the early 1930's that appeared in the same issues of Scribner's magazine as Eli Siegel's book reviews, many of which have been reprinted in the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known. In them, as Ellen Reiss writes in her commentary, "is that seeing of the world, art, people, which would come to be Aesthetic Realism." 

 "What is the greatest desire in woman?" Eli Siegel asked in an Aesthetic Realism class in 1974, "to be complete, or seemingly happy?"  And he asked me, "What is your complete self?"  I said, "A person wanting to know."  "Can you put it another way?" he said--"'My complete self wants to like the world'?" Studying Ida Tarbell's life makes me feel so deeply the good fortune that came to me. It is the honor of my life to try to express how Aesthetic Realism meets the hopes of women and all people.

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