"What Does A Person Deserve by Being Alive?"
By Ruth Oron, Miriam Weiss, Meryl Simon
This year, the US Department of Agriculture published these "Facts About Hunger in America":
Eleven to twelve million Americans experience moderate to severe hunger. An additional 23-24 million people are 'food insecure,' i.e., either cut the size of their meals or skip meals. ...Some of the consequences of chronic hunger in children are infant mortality, poor cognitive development, and increased risk of disease.
As three representative women, we say it is appalling that infants are dying and growing children's minds and bodies cannot develop as they should in this, the richest nation in the world. That a person in America of any age suffers from hunger, be it "moderate" (whatever that might mean!) or "severe," is a crime.
We respect persons working to alleviate hunger, but as reported in a New York Times article, even the massive, nationwide effort--"40,000 soup kitchens and food pantries...with more than 900,000 volunteers"-- cannot keep pace with the increasing need. Meanwhile, a basic right such as nourishment should come to people not out of charity, but because they are entitled to it as human beings.
Eli Siegel, the great American historian and founder of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, has explained the cause of all injustice, including the fact that children are starving in America: it is contempt. He defined contempt as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." Contempt, he showed is at the basis of our economy where some few people profit from the labor of many. And in 1970, Eli Siegel explained this tremendous thing--that history had come to a point where the profit system had failed and would never recover. He stated: "Man has lived with economic ill will for hundreds of years; but that doesn't mean that ill will was ever right or, for that matter, efficient. The inefficiency of ill will is now becoming apparent all over the world." We see this in 1999, despite the lying reports about a "booming" economy. The fact is, a few people are getting richer while increasing numbers of people are getting poorer, forced to worry where their next meal will come from.
Aesthetic Realism is completely clear--the one measure of the success of an economy is the well being of every person. Stated Eli Siegel: "While any child needs something he hasn't got, the profit system is a failure."
In the international journal, The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss, describes magnificently what must be for the children of America to get what they need:
As corn is in a Kansas field in summer, with the sun hot on it; as Texas earth is rich with oil; as glowing oranges of California grow and people pick them with aching fingers and get so little for their labor--to whom should these belong? A little child in Harlem is going to bed hungry while somewhere in America there are cows ready with milk that won't get to that child. And the child wants that milk and deserves it. That child is, with her fellow citizens, the rightful owner of that Kansas corn and Texas oil and those California oranges.
We have learned from Miss Reiss that in order to keep the failed profit system going at all, so that the big money interests in America stay happy, most people have to become poorer, and this means more of our countrymen will go hungry. In order to keep profits coming in, corporations have forced people to work longer hours, laid off men and women in massive numbers and moved jobs abroad where labor is even cheaper.
The only thing that will bring hunger to an end is for every government official and citizen to ask this ethical question stated by Eli Siegel: "What does a person deserve by being alive?" This emergent question is at the center of the powerful public service film on homelessness and hunger titled, "What Does a Person Deserve?" by filmmaker and Aesthetic Realism consultant, Ken Kimmelman. The film premiered at the Washington, D.C. summit meeting of the National Coalition for the Homeless and is being aired on television stations around the country and abroad. It concludes with these kind and completely practical sentences by Eli Siegel:
"The world should be owned by the people living in it....All persons should be seen as living in a world truly theirs." (Self and World, Definition Press, 1981)
The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is a not-for-profit educational foundation located at 141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012. (212)-777-4490; www.AestheticRealism.org