On Running and Lies in an Extra Moral Sense
We have arranged for ourselves a world in which we can live - by positing bodies, lines, planes, causes and effects, motion and rest, form and content; without these articles of faith nobody could now endure life. But that does not prove them. Life is no argument. The conditions of life might include error.
--Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 121
|This moustache is even better than Nietzsche's.|
One subject that we skimmed over today was my last blog post. One of my running partners, who happens to have a PhD in physiology, reminded me that I had finally cured my four-year battle with chronic achilles tendinitis by finding the right shoe (in this case, the New Balance 890). So, my last post, which encouraged readers not to worry so dang much about their shoe choice was really in bad faith. Maybe, he said, if I had paid more attention to shoe choice over the last four years I wouldn't have been running in pain for so long.
I had to admit that he has a point.
|NB 890, I owe you an apology.|
The ideas that actually work out in practice do not always have positive effects in the realm of feeling. The political process is perhaps the best example of this. We call those folks "ideological" exactly those who are more interested in thinking thoughts that please the intellect in particular ways. Those who are more pragmatic or compromising are less psychologically attached to ideas and more willing to forgo the more subjective satisfactions of certainty or ideological purity in favor of more social (and hence more vague) sorts of satisfaction, like agreement or progress, or problem-solving.
So, in theory, yes, it would be nice not to have to worry about shoe choice. We could be the runner that we imagine ourselves to be: durable, immune to forces of marketing, tough as nails, blind to pain, and able to overcome all obstacles with a healthy dose of our powerful will. This is an idea that is pleasing to the intellect (though once written out, it does seem pretty flat and brutal) but also one that simply doesn't work in practice. In fact one of the reasons that this idea is so attractive is precisely because we aren't like this. It's a fantasy, one that we can disappear into in moments of self-satisfaction.
Running is a practice; it's not a theory. The things that work in running are not always things that are pleasing to the intellect. The intelligence, then, that is required to train well is not theoretical, it's practical. Aristotle called this sort of intelligence phronesis, and he opposed it to theoretical intelligence. Phronesis is precisely that sort of real-world intelligence that is skeptical of too-easy answers. To be practically wise, you have to be careful in a strange way of trusting your intellect. The answers that are satisfying to the mind are not always so satisfying to the world.
We here in the U.S. think of ourselves as practical people, and this value in practical living encourages a kind of anti-intellectualism. We are nervous about academia, the ivory tower, the Washington beltway, etc. We worry that the brightest and most attractive ideas might be dangerous. There's a sort of puritanism at work here: those ideas are most dangerous at the moment that they are most pleasing to think. Perhaps this is one reason that philosophy and philosophers have almost no public presence in our contemporary culture. Ours is not a philosophical culture because we refuse to take pleasure in ideas--and philosophy pretty much luxuriates in them.
What's the upshot of all this? I'm not really sure. One thing that philosophy has taught me is that the truth of an idea is only one aspect of it. Ideas can do many things besides turn out to be true. They can encourage us, motivate us, and ennoble us. They can memorialize a prior time or give us hope in the future. Yes, it's important to be honest. It's important to be realistic. It's important to be practical. We ought to seek the truth.
But maybe one thing that we ought also to do is to remember that ideas also have an aesthetic function in a living organism. I don't believe that we can have it both ways: seeking the truth will always be ugly and painful, if sometimes satisfying. Fantasies and myths will always be powerful forms of pleasure, and often repugnant and ignorant. A nostalgic tale that is not quite true may be just the thing to provide us motivation to tackle once more the difficult task of ascertaining the truth.
Then again, it might just be a lie.