A Journal for Western Man




The Runner's Ambition

Edmund Daleford

Issue II- September 2, 2002


The values of a culture can be understood from the peculiar physical activities of its members. In the case of certain tribes in underdeveloped Africa, for example, a popular rite of passage into adulthood is cruel bodily mutilation. The man undergoing it is judged not by the betterment he brings to his functions, but by the suffering he can “endure”. In China up until the Industrial Revolution and Western morality had seeped in at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there existed a ritual practice to bind the feet of women to supposedly make them more “beautiful”. What did the Chinese traditionalists consider beautiful? Inaction, immobility, a woman who was unable to tend to herself and served as a status symbol instead of a working, self-improving human being. Both practices were designed to cripple man’s body and divert his mind toward the evil while causing him to forget that a good can ever exist.

We here in the West have our own brand of physical customs. Every day I see perhaps three or four individuals of varying ages, complexions, and sizes zoom by my house in a frenzy of motion, frequently seeming mere blurs as they proceed along their course. They are not slaves forced to perform hard labor, nor are they military trainees developing themselves in obedience to their superiors’ commands. They are fellow civilians of mine, and they perform a uniquely Western phenomenon, voluntary exercise. I run some six kilometers daily myself, enough to ensure that my health does not erode and that I would continue to exhibit a vitality useful in any life activity. Why is it that this practice, not embedded in rigid tradition, but instead in the individual’s voluntary choice, so recurrent in Industrial culture only?

Running is an ultimate individualistic sport. No other man can furnish your success, which comes as a result of moving your feet and maintaining proper breathing technique. Neither can you be carried by “the collective foot” and expect to end up anywhere but in the mud. Essentially a man must determine his own objective and remain loyal to it, regardless of the anti-selfish impulses of sloth within him and the unfortunate impulse to stop at the first inconvenience. It is on a higher plane a triumph of reason over whim, as the mind is well aware that the body can receive nothing but good from the tension and exhaustion that the exercise provides. Only a short-term “range-of-the-moment” pain evasion mentality stands in one’s way, and running is a training ground on applying this sense wisely and, in some cases such as this, ignoring it when it is irrelevant to the reality of the matter.

Running is systematic and action-oriented. Try jogging without establishing a rhythm to your breath and your pace. Try completing the mile doing nothing but uttering unintelligible mystical gibberish and extolling some incomprehensible God. Or try asserting that all techniques are equally valid and none is objectively superior to any other. The result will be stagnation and, just like in the macroscopic picture of life, stagnation entails retrogression. Pretty soon you will be decomposing on your couch watching other people physically enhance themselves in sport activities while you head toward the same mystic muck which practitioners of those ridiculous claims are in right now. However, if you succeed with a goal first envisioned and then realized, you will become master of your capacities. You will be in a proper place to run greater distances, sprint faster, and encounter less internal resistance besides.

Is that not the same method undertaken by Western scientists, businessmen, architects, thinkers? Their minds were first required to hatch an idea, an invention, a marketing scheme, a building, or a philosophy. Then, under intense, meticulous conditions, they must translate the idea into a comprehensive framework, a blueprint, a business plan, a design draft, or an outline. Afterward, the bulk of their work consists in applying their physical capacities, which all workers must employ to some degree, and developing the finished product. It is no coincidence that Thomas Edison, the ingenious father of the electric light bulb, the gramophone, and over a thousand other marvelous contraptions, had enunciated that “Genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Work ethic is the determinant of whether a good idea becomes reality and gives its author plentiful riches, or whether it merely stagnates in a dormant corner of an inactive mind.

Both running and the Western Scientific Method (ultimately supporting each of the professions, even the humanitarian arts), have proven time and again to carry men to the pinnacles of efficiency through their practice. But they have also a profoundly similar purpose. Running is not slave labor, nor is it self-mutilation, like the torture of African young adults and the abuse of Oriental women. No negative consequences whatsoever stem from it, and each individual, of his own free will, chooses to undertake it for his rational self-interest, that is, for self-amelioration. A healthy body breeds a sound mind, and vice versa. What is the purpose of technology and philosophy? I am typing at a computer right now to spare me the tedious effort of drafting and re-drafting and risking a loss of my papers. I live in a spacious, air-conditioned, abundantly-supplied house instead of a damp, fetid cave. I read the most enlightened thinker of all time, who helps me analyze reality at its most basic and most crucial levels, Ayn Rand. Both my body and mind benefit, physically, from a lack of destitution and suffering, mentally, from increased competence in dealing with reality and providing for myself. Ultimately, every material convenience and every ideological conclusion is also a method of self-amelioration.

I am a Western man, and thus I love my life. I value competence in people, and therefore in myself. Hence I seek to improve my material condition through daily exercise, not in or for the sake of a collective, but for myself and myself alone. Every kilometer accumulated, every machine produced, every building erected, and every rational idea put to writing is a product of immense ambition and aspiration for the better. It is not suffering that we need to grow accustomed to, and it is not inaction and idle revelry that we need to exhibit as virtues, but ceaseless striving forward, in proud upright stance and a refreshed smile of triumph across a weathered, sweaty complexion. Let us all be selfish and run, run on to master our destinies!

Edmund Daleford is a freelance writer, an Objectivist, and Vice-Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

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