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Do you need to be Good to be a Good leader?
is it really necessary to be a “paragon of virtue” to rule?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
I find myself quoting Pericles quite often these days… Not only because the above sentence is so repeatedly (and tragically) apt, but it also goes to show that many elements of human nature haven’t changed at all.
Those who want power are usually the ones who should not have it. Alternatively, the very ownership of power changes the individual. As Lord Acton once famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
One only has to consider momentarily the likes of many emperors, from Caligula to Caesar… The Roman emperor Tiberius was considered both accomplished and a monster. Hadrian was one of the “good emperors”, described as ‘enlightened’ and philosophical, but also prone to rage and brutality (As Frida - ahem Owly - thoughtfully asks here).
History is replete with examples of both immoral, yet accomplished leaders as well as kind but ineffective ones... which only continues to complicate matters.
We often ask what makes a good statesman, but today I’d like to take that thought one step further… and ask after a specific requirement, essentially:
Do you need to be Good to be a Good leader? And is it really necessary to be a “paragon of virtue” to lead a country? Are there other essential characteristics?
You can reply to this email or write to me directly at email@example.com
As for today’s mailbag to the questions “Is modesty a modern concept? Should we be more comfortable in our skin and act like the ancients? Or should we keep our bodies private?” WOW! What a range of responses. I certainly do not agree with all of them... but that’s what makes reading them so interesting, right?
Read on below for some fascinating insights on nudity in the ancient world, completely differing answers as well as a curious, yet thought provoking meditation experiment...
All the best,
Founder and Director
Classical Wisdom and Classical Wisdom Kids
P.S. IMPORTANT: There were a few issues with the links regarding our next Roundtable Discussion on the Myth of Atlantis in a previous newsletter...
So please, if you are a member and you would like to join us on August 9th to delve into the meaning, context and veracity of Plato’s famous sunken city, you can do so here.
If you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before then so you can take part! Led by former Professor of Philosophy, the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, and Design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia Benjamin B. Olshin, this will certainly be an exciting conversation:
My own contribution to the discussion would be only this. As different as it seems to look back on the Greeks exercising nude in the gymnasium, and then Romans and others following them in the practice, one thing we should probably not do is call the practice natural. It was essential to Greek nudity that its practitioners did not experience it as the default condition of the human.
There may have been a time when humans were indeed naked, way back when, but this is not the nudity practiced by the Greeks. For them it was a self-conscious act and a cultural innovation. They purposely denied themselves the uniform of civilized life.
Maybe because nudity was associated with innovation rather than nature, the practice could later spread. Plato proposed that women exercise naked in the Republic's good city alongside men. And both Plato and other later authors extended the nudity to the human soul. We should be athletes of the soul, as Paul the Apostle says. We should work out naked in the soul sense.
What inner nudity exactly means can be hard to pin down, but I see the thought as a conceptual development of the Greeks' attitude toward their athletic nudity as a cultural achievement.
My best wishes,
Professor Nick P.
I think we are far too modest and prudish when it comes to our bodies. I personally blame the Christian, especially Catholic, leaders for brainwashing us for centuries that our nakedness is something to be ashamed of. Every body is beautiful in its own way. We all have bits and pieces we would like to change, but that also comes from decades of the 'perfect' body being drummed into us through adverts, via billboards, catalogues, TV etc. Why should we get offended when we see someone naked? Why should we be offended when someone sees us naked? There is no need for it.
Let us start a campaign of 'nakedness for all'. I think I'll away and get stripped off, who wants to join me? :-p
Thanks for keeping the classics alive. Cheers.
BA (Honours) Humanities with Music
BA (Honours) Classical Studies
No! We should not be more naked!
Thank you for this most current and prescient discussion Anya!
I've been discussing it with a female friend lately; bemoaning the fact that women with increasing frequency choose to wear scanty clothing in public (e.g. at a classical music concert!)
My point is that I think women should, when dressing for the public, consider the male urge, his response to female skin exposure, especially in those young, healthy, beautiful bodies. The attitude seems to be today that how a man reacts is totally his responsibility - and the wearer (or not) of clothing need only think of - well, nothing but her comfort level.
Now, c'mon - is someone going to try to tell me that when a woman dresses, at least a part of her is not thinking of how others are going to react? (Often a very large part of her?) In fact, aren't women's wear designed to attract the attention of men? As a libertarian leaning man I will not (currently) advocate any official rules (like laws) around such a subject, but my desire is that we, as a culture recognize that men have feelings too!
As to the argument that humans 20,000 years ago were comfortable without clothing - hey, they were "comfortable without pretty much of anything! Didn't have much choice, did they? It was only the civilizing process that gradually learned the customs of wearing clothes. Sparing you my reading of history I would simply ask: If we're going to go back to cave-people standards then shall we also give up our cars, our homes, our dishwashers, sofas, beds, photos, make up, 5 million choices of food, travel, museums etc. etc. etc. that give us the finest quality of life the world has ever known?
All I'm saying is: Let's be civilized!
Thank you for this opportunity,
I’m enjoying your travel pictures! It makes me miss Europe. Regarding modesty, I think as Americans especially, we have Puritan culture so deeply ingrained in our society that it’s hard to look past. Add in the racist and colonizing history of Europeans and how that traveled to the new world (natural nudity in indigenous societies was often regarded as savage and frowned upon, at the least), and we have a lot of unpacking to do. I think Christianity had a massive impact on bringing shame to nudity and the human form, especially women’s bodies, and it’s going to take a loooooooong time to get past that. I like to think of myself as progressive, but even I was surprised by nips in the wild on any random beach I headed to while on the Mediterranean. While I think we’re moving in the right direction, I’ll be yearning for the day that women’s breasts are nothing more than asexual fat sacks and don’t need hiding for a long time.
It was not just the ancient world in which nudity was overlooked. In the Middle Ages, families slept in beds together along with their guests and copulation took place sans any privacy.
From my point of view, modesty (or repression) dealing with the naked body came into play little by little with Martin Luther introducing Protestantism, in which sublimation got deeper. The body signifies life and this is what we suppress in the name of repression. It was during this period that the Devil became a real presence, thus the diabolical, and death in life became more the norm rather than an escotological view.
Today, we live very much in a pornographic world, always trying to peek into that which we are told to not; we are so sublimated that we are filled with neurosis as well as aggravation more than a healthy acceptance of the body. Though we readily do not see it, the taking of gender out of language, which is now the geist, is also deep sublimation in that we are repressing the yin/yang of life giving us a very dead culture. Yes, the Devil shines brighter than ever in our present world, though it is really more of a death glare. Let us try and get back to a healthy view of the body, and maybe we will again find that life-giving force.
Herman. H, San Francisco
National Geographic used to show pictures of families bathing together in the 1960's. For most people over all time nudity was normal. The 1 percent follow their own rules. The lower classes have no rules. Only respectable middle class middle age phonies pretend sex and nudity do not interest them.
Hello Anya. This is my take on your recent question, "Is modesty a modern concept? Should we be more comfortable in our skin and act like the ancients? Or should we keep our bodies private?" It's a two-part question so I'll offer a two-part answer.
I would say yes, modesty is a modern concept - where "modern" in this sense implies it is a learned trait appearing sometime after the first human beings walked the Earth. While the timing of the earliest adoption of clothing is speculative (see the Smithsonian's analysis here), the archaeological evidence is that the making of clothes became a greater object of focus as climatic conditions became colder. We also know that tribal societies that have been discovered just in the last century or so often don the most minimal level of clothing. Members of the Yanomami and Sanuma Tribes of South America, the Karamajong and Kabari Tribes in Nigeria, the Zo'e Tribe in Brazil, the Dani Tribe of New Guinea, and the Kwaio Tribe of Melanesia are comfortable presenting in either full or nearly-complete nudity to this day.
Then - perhaps whether we would be happier or better off mimicking the ancients should be offered as a matter of choice. For those strongly attached to cultural influences mandating modesty, let them continue in their ways; they are their own best arbiters of whether that practice is supportive of their well-being. But those people who are open to an alternative and are relaxed about their unclothed appearance should also be allowed to live as they please. How to best manage interactions in the public forums where both groups meet is a matter whose resolution is beyond my current skill, but I'm guessing it'd take a committee, some study, public hearings, and a lot of argumentation!
Las Cruces, New Mexico
1) Modesty is defined by the society using the word to usually encourage or berate certain human behavior that promotes oneself;
2) Yes, we should always be comfortable in “our skin/bodies.” We developed them to reflect our humanity and common soul; and
3) There is no such thing in our physical/viewable/touchable universe as “privacy!” We are an intrinsic part of our existence which depends upon the interdependency of all forms which reflect the beautiful reality within our ether of “I am! We are!”
Simply: Enjoy who you are and the life you have created to accompany you through your lifetimes.
Thanks for raising all these questions. As a long time reader but first time replier, I couldn’t help but respond. Modesty is something I’ve thought about for awhile since I was a teenager, afraid to bare his arms and a college student trying to understand the relationship between clothing and sex.
The problem of modesty is both an ancient and modern problem, I think ever since the Garden of Eden in Genesis. When Adam and Eve realize that they’re naked and no longer ashamed, it’s God who clothes them with animal skins to remedy this, after all. And for the trend of “burkinis”, it could hardly be said that the burqa and Islam is a modern invention.
Rather it seems what changes is how modesty is understood and expressed in a particular time and place and what’s changed is modesty as understood by the Victorians to be the repression of the sexual and physical in favor of the ornate to the postmodern flaunting of it (at least in the English speaking world).
I think this shows a misunderstanding and twisting of modesty though — we should not equate our bodies as primarily sexual instruments, whether we’re against or for it. Rather modesty is how we deal with shame and vulnerability. The ideal is to be naked and unashamed, being proud of who we are and accepted for who we are. But insofar as society and illness can disfigure the beauty of the human body, clothing can be useful to adorn our bodies rather than distract from unwarranted attention or communicate that we’re sexual objects to be used for pleasure. There’s more I could say on this but I think that’s long enough for a letter.
Modesty began concurrently with the sin of Adam and the Fall in the Garden of Eden. If you look where sweat pours out remember and recall that was not the original design. The original design called for the shekinah glory to pour out instead. This orange bred glow served as a purifier from sin and any manifestation of it.
Fire in the Bible is always purification and here we had on our bodies an automatic purifier. When this protection left with the sin by Eve, Adam lusted and lost his protection as well. Modesty and dress are a poor compensation for this, but it is the best fallen man can achieve.
What is worse is to expose ourselves to each other unarmed by the glory. The act of blushing is forgotten when this happens. Seen anyone blush recently?
In the secular world, societies and cultures embracing this practice have soon decayed and been lost. The modern world is no exception. Prurient thinking and lust lead to pornography and sexual fornication. Depraved minds follow and that pretty much dooms that culture and people to quick and final extinction. Europe and America today fall into this sad pattern as the latest examples.
Here is a post I sent out to all my group of Meditators. I created something called BedMed and have found it quite revealing.
Enjoy, ZenKen (Kenneth P, Ph.D.)
A Distracting Experiment
The noise from the AC was somewhat distracting and so was turned off. Even the breaths were also distracted, so "dead man's" pose with as little quiet/soft breathing was attempted.
An idea presented itself. Why not experiment with meditating in the NUDE, lying on the bed?
Felt strange and weird. Totally undressed before "God" (Source Energy). Almost embarrassed!
Hundreds of questions arose.
Thought: when Source Energy, aka Yahweh of the OT created "man" (Adam) out of the dust, he and his companion Eve (of a rib???) were totally NUDE. Seemingly enjoying it all until they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, with the famous fig leaf event happening. Nude before, fig leaf after! Free before. Clothed after. And so did guilt arise? Is knowledge so wonderful?
But back to the experiment. Difficult to be in Buddha's no-thought space with different feelings/thoughts arriving. Have I been too quick to judge the nudists? Or the polyamorous groups? Or "ugly" bodies? Who am I to judge!
Interestingly no sexual thoughts arose. However, if a nude woman was meditating next to me in bed, I wonder? A distraction?
I've never heard of any spiritual master, etc., talk about NUDE meditation? Always clothed!
And normally, not in bed.
Sometimes one sees nude folks running into the ocean with great glee and joy: Ah, FREEDOM!
And so I also today in bed felt a wonderful sense of freedom and innocence, just like I imagine Adam and Eve did.
Need to experiment more, of course. Being natural sometimes is hard.
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