Prologue: The Good Life, Asceticism and Sustainable Cycling
What is the good life? Or: how are we to live? Since ancient times the answer to this question usually is that we must work on ourselves and improve ourselves by way of training. This practical and practiced philosophical investigation will focus on one particular dimension of this striving for human perfection by means of ‘asceticism’ (a derivative from the ancient Greek askēsis, meaning exercise or training): endurance sports, such as long distance running, cycling and triathlon. These are all sports that flourish by dedicated training rather than sheer motor talent, which makes them not only accessible but also increasingly popular among the crowd.
Especially the phenomenon of cycling has brought endurance sport within reach of the masses. Almost everyone can ride and afford a bicycle, a high tech artefact, which according to Ivan Illich “outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well” (Energy & equity. Harper & Collins, New York, 1974, p. 60). This energetic economy makes the bicycle a straightforward tool for a more sustainable lifestyle. But the stakes of a life that is to be fully lived in endurance are higher. How can endurance sport at large and cycling in particular contribute not only to self-knowledge, but also to self-improvement and to sustainability?
Because of its competitiveness and agonistic characteristic—at first sight the very opposite of peaceful sustainable coexistence—sport usually has a negative connotation in environmental philosophy or ‘ecosophy’ (a contraction of ecology and philosophy), a term coined by Arne Naess in the seventies and applied to sport by Sigmund Loland in the nineties. Inspired by Loland’s attempt to sketch an ecosophy of sport, and strengthened by Peter Sloterdijk’s analysis of man as an upwardly oriented training animal, set forth in You must Change your Life: On Anthropotechnics (2009/2013), as well as insights from historical phenomenology (or ‘metabletics’), hermeneutics and pragmatism, I will argue for a vertically challenged life in what William James has called ‘the strenuous mood’: serious and hard pushing, instead of pedalling around just a little. This results in an upwardly oriented ecosophical life, leading to qualitative growth, human flourishing, durability and a change for the better. Agonistic sport and environmental sensitivity: the twain shall not only meet but merge into a strenuous consequential truth.
KeywordsAsceticism Cycling Ecosophy Human flourishing
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