On Aristotle, Thomas More, and the U.S. Founding Fathers

Bust of AristotleI meet weekly via Zoom to discuss ideas with a group of friends who have many years in Aikido among them. A couple of weeks ago, one them (a philosopher as well as an Aikido sensei) was taken aback when she came across a comment that our U.S. founding fathers did not come here for freedom and were not interested in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The person who made those observations was referring back to slavery, of course, but my friend compared it to saying that Aristotle was not a great thinker because women during his time couldn’t own property. Since the Greece of Aristotle’s time, like the U.S. today, is often touted as the birthplace of democracy, it is worth noting that women had almost no rights there, which is one of the things that makes Aristophanes’s plays Lysistrata and Congresswomen so funny.

The commentary got me to thinking about how we should look at great thinkers and art in an age when many of us are no longer willing to accept racism, misogyny, and other practices that assume some, or even most, people exist only to serve the elite.

I recently read a discussion of Thomas More’s Utopia in which it is mentioned that the perfect fictional land included slavery. I haven’t read the book in many years and that fact had somehow not stayed with me. However, having looked up a summary of the book, I think I still need to go back and re-read it, because there are some important concepts in there, one of them dealing with the importance of the commons.

This is a roundabout response, but my point is that there is both value and harm in what was done by those who settled this country (many of them my direct ancestors, at least from the 1700s on). In the same vein, both More and Aristotle had important things to say, but there are things they missed. Continue reading “On Aristotle, Thomas More, and the U.S. Founding Fathers”

The Way of the Warrior

I’m doing a weekly Zoom in which I discuss principles and other philosophical aspects of Aikido with several other practitioners. One of the topics we keep coming back to is warriorship.

In the news this past week, I read that a U.S. army sergeant has just been become the first woman to become a Green Beret. I cannot help but be thrilled by that. Women can, of course, succeed in programs that are designed for men, even physical ones.

But while I know that Green Berets and other special forces are intended as elite combat troops and therefore expected to have intense physical skills (ones usually associated with very strong men), our Aikido discussions make me think real warriorship has little to do with that level of physical ability.

Common Japanese words for martial arts are budo (the way of war) or bushido (the way of the warrior). But bu, usually said to mean war, can also be translated “to turn the spear,” which means it has a connotation of protection or defense. That opens up a different way of thinking.

As I began to study martial arts, I found myself drawn to the concept of being a warrior, of being the person who would stand her ground, protect others, fight for those who needed me. And, of course, to be a woman able to walk the streets or travel on her own.

That is, to be a woman who was not afraid of men. Continue reading “The Way of the Warrior”