The Guardian, Running and Liberty (and J.S. Mill too)

Emma John, a journalist who writes for the British newspaper « The Guardian », avers in her recent article that runners are crazy or in her own words that they are «a bunch of recluses who enjoy the prolonged sensation of self-inflicted pain”. She probably meant the article to be a light-hearted critique of endurance sports and to bring back down to earth those who make all sorts of spiritual claims for participating in them.

The problem is that it isn’t particularly funny, or erudite or perceptive.

She simply does not get it. The basic points elude her. Runners, triathletes, mountaineers, cyclists do what they do because of two basic concepts : liberty and fun.

First, we can run because no-one, no government has prohibited it. That’s wonderful and to be cherished. Does Emma John realise Hezbollah does not really “approve” of the Beirut Marathon, for example ? That’s why a lot of runners participate in it, in order to celebrate the freedom to “just do it”.

Second, we run out of choice, not compulsion. We do it because we like it, because it is fun for us. Other people prefer to do other and life is enriched by the varied endeavours of individuals.

Emma John blames the fact they put Alan Sillitoe’s “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” on the English-lit reading list” for what she describes as “a golden age of machismo”. And she claims to have read Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”, gets the title wrong for a start (she calls it “What I Think About etc”) and thus completely misses the metaphor.

What Ms John needs to read – a sad omission from her reading list – is John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”. If she had read that before pontificating, even in jest, she would have been a bit closer to getting it. But I can anticipate her response …. “Why bother reading a book by a dead Victorian?” she may ask. She’ll have to find the answer to that question herself because I’m going running.

UPDATE: There’s a good response by IanM on his blog here. He makes the additional point that many runners, himself included, run to raise money for charity. Good point. 

Posted by Xavier.

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One Response to “The Guardian, Running and Liberty (and J.S. Mill too)”

  1. Sofia Says:

    plus, in this article, the lady ignores the beneficial effects of dopamine n adrenaline, hormones increasing not only through exercise….but mainly by the feeling of pleasure while running..the physiological point of view!

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