Jeffery L Nicholas
Philosophy and social theory
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
Aristotle woke up, stretched, and rubbed his face. He wanted to go back to sleep, but his mind wondered, as it often did; and today it had more to wonder about. He stood up and made his ablations and dressed.
In the breakfast room, he sat next to Plato. They stared at each other a moment, both seeing red eyes staring back, both seeing exhaustion in the other. They shared a breakfast of oatmeal with fresh honey, blueberries, and flax. It was simple, but it was enough for the day.
"We better get to it," Plato said.
They cleaned out their bowls and set them aside to dry in the sun coming from the window. Aristotle smiled at the sunlight. It was strange, but it shored up the hope in his heart. Clearly, he was tired and frustrated and so sad... so very sad to have been right this one time.
Plato and Aristotle stepped out into the warmth of the new day and stared out at Athens. They could hear moaning coming from around them. Yesterday, Pericles had conceded to The Orange Haired Spartan. Her speech was conciliatory. But she also said that they had to give the Orange Haired Spartan a chance to lead. Pragmatic to the end, Aristotle thought. Pragmatism was what landed us here. "Paying the mortgage," he said to Plato. They both chuckled. It was their mantra for dealing with the last months. Everyone had to pay the mortgage; even they did.
"Living well," Plato said.
That was the only answer possible, Aristotle knew. You had to pay the mortgage, but you didn't have to sacrifice your life to it. That was the one thing that had defeated the Athenians... they sacrificed their life to paying the mortgage. Everyday. And then they made the final sacrifice that elected Pericles over Socrates.
They walked down the street and came to Aristophanes lying in his own vomit. They picked him up and carried him to his house. As Aristotle cleaned vomit from Aristophanes, he recalled some of the funny parts in The Clouds, even the ones that had made fun of Socrates. They play was funny, but it was sad that so many people had used it as a reason to reject Socrates. He was the only one that could have united the Athenians to defeat Sparta. Best not to dwell in the past.
They left Aristophanes to his own devices and continued down the way. As they went along they picked up trash in the street and put it in the correct bins. When they came to a homeless person, they invited him to join them. After an hour's walk, they came to Diotima's house. Aristotle could feel the nervousness of the men and women behind him. Diotima was a witch, and a midwife to boot. She knew the secrets of the world, secrets she had shared with Socrates. Since Socrates had drank the hemlock and passed his cloak over to Pericles, Plato and Aristotle had come to sit at her knee. Aristotle was not used to being around so many women, or around so much discussion of love. It put Plato's Symposium to shame.
Diotima invited them into the house. She did not hesitate when she saw the large number of people. instead, she smiled. They needed people now, now more than ever. She gave each homeless person some grapes, olives and cheese. When they were refreshed, she led them out into her garden where they met the other midwives and witches, witches and midwives, and midwife-witches.
"Let's ground ourselves," Diotima said. She struck a song bowl, it's clear note hanging in the air for an infinite moment. Then they learned to breathe, to feel the breath enter the body, fill it up with hope, and take away all the fear when it left the body. The ending note stayed with Aristotle the rest of the day.
Then they walked out into the fields around Athens and began to tend to the garden.
"We begin here," Diotima said, "where we are closest to nature, where we can feel the love pushing up from the ground and reaching for the sun." She took an old man's hands and pushed it into the cool dirt. "We begin where we remember that life comes round every year, that even in the coldest, darkest winter, the soil lives." She moved to the next one, and the next one, working her magic.
When she was finished, she walked over to Aristotle. he was bent down in the dirt, his dark hands covered with soil and a smile on his face. She placed her hands around his face and lifted it to her. Their eyes danced a dance with each other.
"It's time you began talking about love as well as friendship, is it not?" She had been working her magic on him for months now, and he was beginning to understand her secrets.
Aristotle was not sure he was up to the task, but then Diotima would remind him that it just takes a little every day. That was another reason they worked in the fields. Every day they could make a little change, and with their prayers, and their love, they might change the world. If nothing else, they would leave a little piece of it better than it was before.
This story began here.
It is characteristic of work that it first and foremost unites people. In this consists its social power: the power to build a community. In the final analysis, both those who work and those who manage the means of production or who own them must in some way be united in this community. In the light of this fundamental structure of all work-in the light of the fact that, in the final analysis, labour and capital are indispensable components of the process of production in any social system-it is clear that, even if it is because of their work needs that people unite to secure their rights, their union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it.
Read that first line again: labor unites people; its social power consists in building a community.
We are nearing the end of National Midwifery Week, so I want to leave you with something positive, something to continue motivating you to ask questions for your own care.
Midwifery is, not simply good health care, better for the mother and child and family, better for the community, but it is pro-woman. I've alluded to this before: the first role of the midwife is to help the mother trust herself and trust the natural process. The first role of the midwife is to empower others.
What we see in the US system is quite different. The system is based on fear: a fear of death ultimate, but that manifests as a fear of litigation and a fear of loss of control. Watch videos of women delivering and you will hear guttural--beautiful--noises coming from them. They are able to let go. Yet, we fear when to let our bodies go so often in this controlled society. We fear being too fat or too thin. We fear being sued because we have no control over the situation, so we try to tighten the screw. But like any normal screw, over-tightening leads to stripping the screw of its natural form, making it incapable of functioning. So we discard it.
The primary virtue--to be a little philosophical--of the midwife is trust. In the basis of that trust, she is able to help the laboring mother listen to her body, to trust what the body is telling her. Some times, the body tells her that it needs some medical help. That empowers the mother to exercise her agency, by listening to and trusting her body. She can make a decision grounded, not in fear, but in love and honesty.
I don't mean to romanticize the labor and birth. It's painful. Nor do I intend to demean any one who desires to numb the pain through an epidural. Rather, I'm simply inviting people to consider other possibilities. Possibilities grounded in the empowerment of women and of families. I've talked about the dominance of science in our country and asking ourselves where science and technology fit in human life. That is all I am doing here: at what point does technology and medicine in the birthing room support human life and at what point does it detract? A midwife is one of the best, if not the best, guide in helping to answer that question.
My interest in midwifery stems from the social justice issues around it. For me, as most of my readers know, social justice ties directly to community. Midwives, unlike obstetricians and other medical professionals, are more inclined to help build community.
Thus, in the movie "Why not home," several of the midwives commented on their role in building community. "We should help build communities around birth because that makes families stronger."
In the US, our culture is built on death--how could it not be when it is founded on the genocide of First Nation Peoples? How could it not be when it arose at the same time as the industrial revolution which often requires the death of community, the death of individuals, and the death of the land?
We need to change. As mindfulness and Buddhist teachings tell us, we do not have to keep on going the same way we have been. We can, instead, look at our past and realize what we would like to change about it, and move forward with that change. Beginning with a change in the status of midwifery in the US is a crucial first step in this change. Just because doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies have fought over dollars in the birthing room does not mean that we need to continue to let this happen.
I invite you, not just to accept what I write here as fact, but to question. Question your doctors and hospitals about their high infant and maternal mortality. Question why the increase in C-sections continues when it coincides with a higher maternal mortality. Look at the studies, not just the ones done in the US, but those done in the world. Look at the Frontier Nursing Service which provided midwifery services in Appalachia--some of our poorest country--for 20 years without an infant death, compared the the growing obstetric practice.
And remember that I am not advocating that we stop all technology and all hospital or obstetric led birth. Rather, I am asking us to do what most needs to be done: to integrate our science with a life-affirming way of life.
What Plato later called dialegesthai, Socrates himself called maieutic, the art of midwifery: he wanted to help others give birth to what they themselves thought anyhow, to find the truth in their doxa.
Let’s consider this thought a moment in relation to the modern way of birth. The midwife helps the mother—supports her—in giving birth to a child. Often, though, especially in medical institutional settings, the obstetrician—and here I want to remember that what I write is not true of all obstetricians, and that it may be more true in the US than other places—takes over from the mother, uses his own technology to separate the mother and child. (In relation to yesterdy’s post, this obstetrical action can be viewed as Freire’s banking model of education.) Obviously, sometimes both in education and in birth, a different expertise is needed, when, not the mother’s hesitation, concern, etc, but the body’s operation might require input. Yet, the different models are telling. (To refer to an earlier post, one might read Robbie Davis-Floyd’s work on the wholistic model of birth.)
If we remain true to his own metaphor of maieutic, we may say: Socrates wanted to make the city more truthful by delivering each of the citizens of their truths
To continue this analogy from Socrates, the midwife wants to make the city more humanistic, letting each mother and each family find the truth—and the trust—in their own natures. We can think on this ideal a bit more in relation to the city. It would be easy to consider the city as the symbol for technology, and thus to consider the over-use of technology on a par with the increase in city life. David Harvey, on whom I’ve posted before, sees in the city the centre of revolutionary potential. So the city has something special about it. He ends his discussion of the city and revolution (in Rebel Cities) by noting the need to balance the infrastructure of the city with the natural environment. Here we return to birth again. By returning to a more wholistic model of birth we might also discover a better way of building cities. Once our model of birth is one with nature, where technology has a subordinate role, then we can begin to live more human lives in harmony with nature. Cities, under this model, must be restructured to support our natural living.
To Socrates, maieutic was a political activity, a give-and-take, fundamentally on a basis of strict equality, the fruits of which could not be measured by the result of arriving at this or that general truth
At the heart of the midwife activity, in contrast to the dominant obstetric-technological model, is equality. What might our democracy look like, our cities look like, our social relations look like if we birthed naturally, with or without midwives and doulas, in a relationship of fundamental equality? A return to natural birth, again supported by the obstetrician and technology when necessary, is a first step to a return to a natural equality, one which the Neolithic age disrupted.
It is time for us to reclaim our mothers, our births, and our equality.
Jeffery L. Nicholas (Ph.D philosophy, University of Kentucky) is an associate professor at Providence College and an international scholar on ethics and politics. He serves as research associate for the Center for Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University and a foreign research associate at Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá Colombia. Dr. Nicholas is co-founder of and executive secretary for the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry. He is the author of Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory (UNDP 2012), as well as numerous articles. Dr. Nicholas writes on midwifery and birth, the common good, friendship and community, practical reason, and Native American philosophy. He aims to develop a philosophy of integral humanism that synthesizes the philosophical traditions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and Feminist Care Ethics.