Beware the Object

I have taken two contrasting approaches to running in my life. One is to run with a specific goal in mind; the other, to run in order to run (i.e. run for the enjoyment of running). When it comes to running, both are fine, but the difference highlights a distinction between two modes of action. These two modes diverge in serious ways when considering more important aspects of life, hence this post. First back to running.

When running with a specific goal in mind, I often become overfocused on that single goal, sometimes training too hard and getting injured. Running can become a chore rather than a delight. This is not to say that having a goal isn’t often helpful, and it can be a great motivator; rather, a static goal can rob running of some of its essence. The ultimate point of running is to run for enjoyment, and so the ultimate point of focused training is to run for enjoyment too; though this ultimate goal is mediated through the short-term goal (e.g. a race).

Now, in running, this is not so much of a big deal – running is not that important in life(!). However, I have noticed that the effect and its dangers are amplified in more significant areas of life. That is, when one has a static/concrete goal, that goal has a tendency to overcome and pollute the wider aim that gave rise to it. Why is this? I think it is because we are good at reaching that which we aim at. If we aim wholeheartedly at some goal, then we are often successful in achieving that goal. The problem comes when that goal is static and absolute – we then achieve that goal only to become static ourselves. If the point of our lives is defined by a finite thing, then life can be “completed” and so at that point of completion (thus at all prior points) life becomes absurd; we realise that we have been in despair all along. This happens on an individual level, but also on a societal level. When we all become focused on a static, absolute (yet finite) aim for society, then we are plunged into despair – not only because of the absurdity resulting from the idea that we could complete life, but also because this absolute yet finite aim offers up definite steps to achieve it and all else is sacrificed to achieve that state. This might have been what went wrong in the communist states and what is going wrong in far-left thinking at the moment: the desired goal is too static, too absolute, too finite and so leads to absurdity and thus cruelty.

To say it again, if our ultimate good in life is a bounded, static thing, then we stagnate. There can be no progress in life beyond a certain point if the ultimate point is finally achievable. We become like what we aim at and revere: if that is a fixed, dead ideal, then we become fixed and die.

The upshot of all this should be clear – life is lived best when our ultimate aim is grand and left to transcend our understanding.

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