Socrate’s Apology

Socrates’ Apology is an account of Socrates’ legal defense of himself against charges that he was corrupting the youth of Athens (for unspecified reasons) and for not believing in the gods.

How precisely he corrupted the youth of Athens is not clear, as there is no statement given by his accusers. We can, however, infer that he offended a great many people. He would go to politicians, poets, and artisans, saying he was looking for wisdom, then ask them a bunch of questions to prove that they didn’t have any wisdom, yet neither did he have the answer to any of the questions that he posed. For example, to a citizen he asked if he had found a good teacher for his children. “who is he?” asked Socrates. “and of what country? And what does he charge?” “Evenus the Parian,” the man replied. “and his charge is five minae.” To which Socrates replied, “happy is Evenus, if he really has the wisdom, and teaches at such a moderate charge.”

In my notes here I have written “Socrates is an asshole.” He makes people feel stupid, yet he offers nothing helpful. Socrates charged no tuition, but one can imagine that the youth of Athens had a great time learning rhetorical techniques and making their authority figures run in rhetorical circles.

So, he must have conducted himself in such a way to make many powerful enemies. Yet, the Apology seems unjust – it is not wholly clear how his accusers have been materially hurt by him, nor even exactly what he is being accused of. At one point, Socrates refers to a satirization of him by Aristophanes that it is not true. Are the accusations being leveled at him so nebulous as to require him to defend himself against a satire?

Never mind what he did – the accusation that he didn’t believe in their gods is an accusation of “thought crime,” which doesn’t seem just.

Many features of what we now consider due process in the American court system are missing – the right to confront and cross-examine one’s accusers, the requirement that one bringing a civil lawsuit demonstrate that he has suffered harm, the right to freedom of speech. Yes, Socrates was an asshole, but one hopes that simply having made powerful enemies does not warrant imprisonment or death (though that sort of thing certainly happens), as seems to be happening in the case of Russia’s Alexander Shestun.

He made people feel stupid, while not offering any answers himself, but we remember Socrates as a martyr for freedom of speech and thought, sentenced to death without due process by insulted cronies.

The relevance to modern life? Legally, A society that preserves free speech should have more protections for the accused than did the Athens of Socrates, and in the United States, indeed there are. Personally? It’s not good to go around pedantically making people feel stupid.




A Japanese person born overseas is still Japanese. In the Japanese language they are called Nisei or Sansei, or otherwise, depending on how many generations removed from Japan they are. A Taiwanese person born overseas is called “American,”even though there is a word for overseas-born: ch’iao-sheng (僑生).

In this way, Japanese are inclusive, Taiwanese are exclusive.


正勝つ、吾勝つ。Masakatsuagatsu, meaning true victory is the victory over the self, words often said by Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, the studying of which brought me to this statement. Interestingly, it is one of the names of a child that resulted in the union between the Sun and Chaos in the legendary beginning of the world, as told by the Japanese. The full name of the this god is マサカツアガツカチハヤヒアメノオシオミミ, transliterated Masakatsuagatsu-katchihayahi-amenooshiomimi, the latter two parts translating as: the victory shall be as fast as the rising sun, and the patient straining of the rice stalks toward the sky. Speaking the name of the god invokes its power.

Training lets each day’s emergent self be victorious over yesterday’s self.

The future self’s possibilities are enfolded in the present self. We exist throughout time, inheritors of a legacy that extends back to the beginning of life, progenitors of a legacy that extends to the future – unless by accident or will we end our own lineage… Or through willful blindness.

I did not fall to the dark place suddenly, but rather through a long period of not paying attention, choosing comfort and safety, rather than clarity. Nor did I again find the light all at once but by degrees.

Consciousness is practiced in Iaido by doing things slowly, with clear intent, completing each movement before transitioning to the next. Movement and mind are the same. An improper form or a break in rhythm is indicative of a gap in consciousness. Perfect motion leads to calming of the mind. Consciousness is practiced in cooking in the same way. Doing things in the right order at the right time from memory calms the mind, even as the eating of the food nourishes the body. Cooking also makes deciding what to eat becomes less impulsive, more meditative, as one learns to listen to one’s body. Once, I had a blood test, and a day later walked by a fruit stand, saw bananas, bought a bunch and immediately ate a few. When the blood test results came back, they showed I had been low on potassium, an electrolyte that is plentiful in bananas. I was amazed, thinking – I knew, though I didn’t know how I knew, or even that I knew.

So it pays to listen to that little voice of instinct, because it is from a place of deep knowing. But, I have often been afraid to listen, because I have heard it whisper things which I did not want to hear. This is the Jungian shadow, and to the extent that we can we can converse with it, we become more Fully Human.

The shadow must be satisfied, because repression will only lead to resentment. But dark animal desires can be sublimated to a nobler form. Sexual desire emerges as motivated work, or a will to life. Competitiveness channeled becomes self-improvement. Rage when channeled becomes a certain clarity of purpose that when paired with well-executed action is calm and meditative. Despair as the figurative withdrawal to an internal monastery, for further study and transformation. Dark emotions contain a lot of information, but one must first recognize them as originating in the self, and stare into the darkness. 

Failure to do so can lead to an amputated humanity. More often as one too preoccupied with being “nice.” The light is not enough – only through her union with Chaos could the Sun give birth to Life.

I am happier for getting in touch with my inner asshole. He has become a productive contributor and is less prone to outbursts.

If one is not true to ones future self, it is easy to float half in a dream, to let ones mission be replaced by proxies designed by other people. During the short time that one is not paying attention, one may find that social media and porn have replaced being social, YouTube has replaced exploration, watching a reality TV show on cooking has replaced actual experimentation in the kitchen, and reading books on productivity and self-improvement has replaced actually doing anything.

Rabbi B. once told me – we must learn to see as if we are from the past, but live fully in the present. He meant being true to the values of our forebears, but not shunning the tools of modern industrial life. This can let us avoid many recent pathologies made worse by technology. Obesity caused by addiction to carbohydrates can be treated by returning to a more primitive diet. Internet or TV addiction can be treated by finding or making a circle of friends. Consumerism is actually a misdirected desire for progress that can be cured by measuring progress in a daily practice, such as art, science, dance, or rock climbing, rather than measuring progress in material possessions.

The difference between the instant satisfaction and the daily practice is that the daily practice takes time, and progress can be small. So people watch ice skating and live vicariously rather than learning how to roller-blade.

The daily practice frees us from concerns and frustrations of not being skilled. Practice will lead to skill, if one can be observant while at the same time being unattached to the outcome. One only has to be better than the self of yesterday.

The other difference is the quick fixes are ultimately unsatisfying to the will to life. Inside us is a little god of the Quick Fix, and a little god of the Will to Life, and whomever we feed becomes stronger.

A senior student of the sword told me – it will take many years. During practice, do not rush. Do not injure yourself. Rest or change muscle groups if you are tired. If your concentration is failing, rest, because it can be dangerous to yourself and others. Practice should be joyful. Never let handling a sword become a boring or tiresome thing.

So is it with any daily practice in life.

The name of the god: マサカツアガツカチハヤヒアメノオシオミミ

As a mantra, it encompasses the following:

Every day in every way, I’m becoming stronger.
Harness and use all desires, be they of light or shadow, to give life.
Let the focus of my mind, and the meditation of my movement be complete.

Two Mothers





The Gateway to Understanding

Practiced Aikido Wednesday with a friend CWS a knife disarming technique that involves locking the wrist that is holding the weapon, throwing, then pinning (Kotegaeshi). CWS threw me in such a way that had I been holding a weapon in my opposite hand (like the subway attacker four years ago who had one knife in each hand), I would have been able to stab his ribs in passing as I was being thrown. I have trained with CWS for four years now, and I thought it was about time for me to tell him. As he threw me, I touched his rib cage.

“This is a knife stab.” I said.

What ensued was various experimentation – him trying different angles and throwing me harder as he tried to close the opening.

He even resisted me at times as I took my turn throwing him. Once I touched his neck in preparation to throw. This was a sign that a punch would have reached his face. On the other hands he was only able to stand there as a result of my having slackened the tension in his arm.

I sensed frustration, and said no more. The answer was there. Sometimes people need to find their own answers. Six years of training this technique in a particular way, and me suddenly showing him a weakness in it, must have been unexpected for him, and it would take him time to adjust.

Two lessons:

1. When teaching, one must respect the experience of the other person, and understand that he may have a certain but if pride associated with it. One must provide the minimum necessary intervention to get the point across.

2. When faced with evidence that one has been wrong, the appropriate emotion is often frustration, but curiosity is more appropriate.