Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

Ida Tarbell at McClure's Magazine
Ida Tarbell at McClure's magazine [Picture Courtesy Ida M. Tarbell Collection, Pelletier Library, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA]

Aesthetic Realism Seminar "What Are Women Hoping For?"
Given  in 1989 at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene Street, NYC 10012

Part 2: Justice Is the Means to Our Greatest Hope

 In a recent Aesthetic Realism consultation we said to a young woman, Laura Key:  "If you really felt the main thing in your life was to have the world seen truly by yourself and other people, you would feel unified."  This is the purpose in life which every woman needs to have, or there will be a constant, painful fight between two hopes in us--the hope to like the world, which is our greatest hope, and the hope to have contempt for the world. 

There was a desire in Ida Tarbell to have the truth seen by people, and the two books of permanent value she wrote came from this desire in her. Ida Tarbell was 8 years old in 1865 when Lincoln was shot, and it affected her tremendously as it did thousands of people across America.  As a writer for McClure's magazine when she was in her 30's, she began to research his life:

The more I knew of him, [she writes] the better I liked him and the more strongly I felt we ought as a people to know about how he did things....He had come to mean more to me as a human being than anybody I had studied.  I never doubted his motives.... The greatest regret of my professional life is that I shall not live to write another life of him. There is so much of him I never touched.
This moved me very much.  It stands for a hope women have had always--to meet a person in this world we can truly respect in a very big way.  

 Ida Tarbell's large respect for Lincoln had a powerful good effect on her and encouraged her to care more for her whole country. "The four years I put in on The Life of Abraham Lincoln," she writes, "aroused my flagging sense that I had a country, that its problems were my problems."  I believe it was Lincoln's passionate fight against slavery that gave her the courage to fight injustice she had seen growing up. 

Miss Tarbell writes of the outrage in her father and many other people when they discovered that John D. Rockefeller had struck a secret bargain with the railroads to give Standard Oil lower rates and charge others much higher rates to transport oil.  "In walking through the world there is a choice for a man to make," she writes with honest passion:

He can choose the fair and open path which sound ethics, sound democracy and the common law prescribe, or choose the secret way by which he can get the better of his fellow man...there was born in me a hatred of privilege--privilege of any sort...contradicting as it did the principle of consideration for others...
The choice she is describing here about economics is the choice Aesthetic Realism describes every person has, between respect and contempt.  Eli Siegel writes in TRO #262:
[W]e solve our life problems through the honoring of contempt or the honoring of respect.  Contempt is easier in this world, though the results are hurtful.  When respect is seen as not only more desirable, but in the long run also easier than contempt, we shall have a different world. 
In 1902 Ida Tarbell began the series of articles for McClure's that would later be her book, presenting evidence of the secret bargains Standard Oil made to control the supply and raise the price of oil.  She wrote:
For many in the world it is a matter of little moment... whether oil sells for eight or twelve cents a gallon.  It becomes a tragic matter sometimes, however, as in 1902-1903 when, in the coal famine, the poor... depended on oil for heat (and) throughout the hard winter...the price of refined oil advanced.
Her criticism of both her country's ethics and the cruel motives of the owners of Standard Oil was powerful:
We have here in the United States allowed men practically autocratic powers in commerce... the price of a necessity of life within the control of a group of 9 ruthless... as any nine men the world has ever seen.
The History of Standard Oil had an immediate, far-reaching effect, and was respected and rightly praised by many.  But Ida Tarbell would suffer because she didn't see that "secret way by which he can get the better of his fellow man" was in her, too, as she criticized it so usefully in others.

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

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