Three Books on Politics in the Age of Trump

BY MATTHEW HERBERT

The harshness of Richard Rorty’s words must have jarred his own ears when he wrote, in his 1998 book Achieving Our Country, that America was lurching toward a brutal new phase in politics. He said:

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments.

Overturning governments? That sounds extreme. How might this come to pass in America? Rorty lays out his reasons with cool precision.

First, the Left and Right would collude to affirm organized money as the country’s real political master. In 1998, this process was already well under way. Most senators were millionaires before they ran for office. Washington was being flooded with business lobbyists, who increasingly wrote the content of our laws (especially tax codes and financial regulations), and gerrymandering was promising near-automatic election wins by local poitical machines which would not have to deliver on any substantial promises. Developments post-Rorty (d. 2007) topped up this cocktail. The financial bailouts after the crash of 2008 proclaimed that bank presidents’ bonuses would now be treated as too big to go unpaid, and in 2010 Citizens United vs FEC gave organized money free speech rights the same as yours and mine, ensuring that we will never, ever be heard again by our elected officials until we have made our first billion and start throwing it around. And voilà, our democracy was remade into a plutocracy.

rorty achievingBut the masses know too many sappy patriotic songs and slogans to accept this kind of thing without protest, right? Cradle of freedom and all that. We can’t really expect the $10-an-hour crowd to rise for the national anthem and sing praises to wage slavery? Well, yes, a “Weimar-like state” is an inherently unstable condition precisely because the proles feel permanently trod upon and are constantly on the verge of figuring out who is doing the treading. How to divert them from the sight of the huge golden trough from which the plutocrats sup? How to sate their demand for democracy? Fake democracy ought to do the trick. As Rorty puts it,

For the sake of keeping the proles quiet, the super rich will have to keep up the pretense that national politics might some day make a difference. Since economic decisions are their prerogative, they will encourage politicians of both the Left and the Right to specialize in cultural issues. The aim will be to keep the minds of the proles elsewhere–to keep the bottom 75 percent of Americans and the bottom 95 percent of the world’s population busy with ethnic and religious hostilities, and with debates about sexual mores.  

Have you ever wondered why the editors of the Wall Steet Journal bother publishing opeds about abortion, gay marriage, or Black Lives Matter? Because they are too polite to simply tell you to mind your own fucking business, but they know there are magic potions for getting you to “specialize in cultural issues” instead of bottom line politics. As Gore Vidal once sagely pointed out, politics used to be about deciding who got how much public funding to do what. It is now about getting a nuclear-grade hate on for people who think differently from you about sex, religion, or authority.

But wait. Can it really be this easy to keep the proles in line? Let’s get back to that bit about Weimar being unstable. The wage earner who would have worked steadily in a factory 30 years ago but who now strings together two or three McJobs without benefits must feel a real loss of security that cannot be diverted by his participation in a debating club, even one turbocharged by abortion and social media. Again, Rorty is to the point:

Union members in the United States have watched factory after factory close, only to reopen in Slovenia, Thailand, or Mexico. It is no wonder that they see the result of international free trade as prosperity for managers and stockholders, a better standard of living for workers in developing countries, and a very much worse standard of living for workers in America.

This is the most combustible element in American political life, and it must be kept lidded. Can the working poor forever be engrossed in culture wars funded by organized money? We’ll see, I suppose.

Meanwhile, we have achieved a Hegelian synthesis in political consciousness that Rorty predicted in 1998. As downsizing and offshoring begin to cut into white collar jobs, he wrote, the working poor will realize that

their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban, white-collar workers–themselves desperately afraid of being downsized–are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for–someone willing to assure them that once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

If you think I am giving Rorty too much credit for being spot on in his prediction of Trumpism, I would like to point out one telling detail that he actually undersold. Through one of its favorite fronts in the culture wars, the myth of rugged individualism, organized money has succeeded in persuading many working poor that there are actually several classes beneath them, clawing for their hard-earned tax dollars, and they (the working poor) are, like their white-collar compatriots, too dignified to underwrite this kind of profligacy. Thus we have the working poor rejecting even the glimmer of affordable healthcare on grounds that they don’t want to subsidize it for the really wretched of the earth. We can’t have any slacking, you know. As Christopher Hitchens observed of moments this low, it’s enough to make a cat laugh.

A Hegelian synthesis preserves the opposites from which it arises. This is the beauty part, if you are Trump. Faced with a choice between the keeping the ever-worsening status quo and agitating for real, popular revolution, the working poor have instead chosen a plutocrat’s counterfeit version of popular revolution–gaudy populist chauvinism. Organized money sits serenely atop the new sound and fury. If you wonder what its intentions are, consider that the only thing Trump has put any serious effort into so far has been raiding future healthcare budgets to secure tax breaks for the rich.

I read Rorty’s Achieving Our Country sandwiched between two other books that also cast a clear, bracing light on the age of Trumpism: Tony Judt’s 2010 Ill Fares the Land, and Timothy Snyder’s 2017 On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century.

Ill Fares the Land tries to remind liberal democrats that they never had it so good as the middle 40 years of the 20th century, when the state was uncontested in its role as advocate of its citizens’ well being. During FDR’s New Deal and the reconstruction of post-WWII Great Britain, all the humble citizen had to do was look around to see the horrible, overwhelming power of the tectonic forces that could ruin the lives of millions. If the state was good for anything, it was good for fending off the worst  of these forces–poverty, sickness, war. And so for a few golden decades, many westerners accepted the main principles of social democracy–capitalist economic development harnessed to a system of progressive taxation designed to maximize economic security through public works.

judt ill faresJudt is careful to point out that we are not social democrats by default, that it took the force of the Great Depression and WWII to persuade the masses they were better off with the kind of government willing to redistribute private wealth for social security than with the kind who thought its job was simply to stay out of the wealth-seeking individual’s way.

This sort of thing is against our religion these days, of course. If your political instincts lie even a micron to the right of the far left, you likely started to stiffen or breathe audibly at that sentence about redistributing wealth. (I hope to make time in the future to write about two uses of redistribution that Rorty, Judt and Snyder pass over too lightly, I believe, which fail to disturb us–the construction of a lavish social safety net for the super rich and the unquestioned existence of a gargantuan defense budget that funds our addiction to military chauvinism. These things never perturb us.)

Like Rorty, Judt is prescient about the rise of the working poor as the revivifying force behind populism. The dynamics of globalism and automation have produced a new class of precarious labor that used to be able to take its security for granted. Ever the historian, Judt points out that this taking-for-granted was the outcome of deliberate government choices in the 1930s and 1940s, not the natural arc of unfettered market forces, as we would like to believe.

As a non-historian, I cannot judge the quality of Judt’s account, but to hear him tell it, the tale of social democracy’s demise was a simple one. Just as the post-WWII generation got comfortable in its prosperity, it began to replace its Keynesian assumptions about the benefits of collectivism with a new gospel being written at the University of Chicago that said all our lives would be better if the state stopped taxing and spending and simply left us alone.

It was an appealing idea. Americans especially like the idea that everything worth doing, we do on our own. And, as it took hold, it attracted powerful benefactors. For the past 30 years, Judt says, think tanks, newspapers and politicians have pushed us to believe increasingly that our highest freedom consisted in being left alone by the state. But alone to do what? Well, if President Reagan was right about Adam Smith and the workings of the Invisible Hand, all we had to do was try to get rich and the full commodities of public life would simply fall into place.

There is a catch, though, according to Judt. Even in flush times, accepting that the purpose of life is to acquire wealth erodes the possibility of trust, and trust is the only reason we willingly pay our taxes. Judt writes:

As recently as the 1970s, the idea that the point of life was to get rich and that governments existed to facilitate this would have been ridiculed: not only by capitalism’s traditional critics, but also by many of its staunchest defenders.

There is, of course, a further catch: times aren’t always flush, and when economic security declines, the economy’s losers will start to feel betrayed by the established ideology. For 30 years Americans have been taught that public spiritedness was fine in the abstract but once you started putting tax dollars behind it, it became socialism, which was very bad, because look at the USSR’s gulags and China’s Great Leap Forward. It’s as plain as the nose on your face.

Here is how far we are willing to take our faith in the free market. By the 2000s, all the major indices of economic well-being showed America in steep decline, says Judt. Despite the gold-standard healthcare created by our immense wealth, life expectancy in America sank from a high in the 1970s to a place just below Bosnia and above Albania in the 2000s. Social mobility collapsed as well: for the first time ever, by the 2000s, young Americans could not reasonably expect to outpace their parents in terms of education, employment or well-being. McJobs and ill health awaited most of them. Small wonder, then, that the things Judt calls standard symptoms of being “chronically superfluous to the economy” went up as well–depression, alcoholism, obesity, gambling, and petty criminality.

But we stuck to our guns, says Judt. We continued to revere the self-made tycoon as the personage most worth emulating. Thirty years of propaganda underwritten by the economic worldview of the University of Chicago have convinced us it is noble, not crass, to measure our self worth in terms of possessions acquired.

We Americans accept that life is an adventure, and that adventures have real winners and losers. For the middle 40 years of the 20th century, there were enough of us bootstrapping our way up to prosperity to believe that winning at life was primarily a matter of will. Whoever lost out just wasn’t applying themselves. But as our jobs started to escape on the upcurrents of market forces such as offshoring and automation, the myth began to seem less credible, or at least it should have. Myths die hard, though, and we still wish to believe that our own grit and intelligence are the main determinants of our fate. Weren’t those market forces benevolent in the final analysis? Didn’t our faith tell us they have to be?

Timothy Snyder’s 2017 book, On Tyranny, reminds us that there are worse things the established powers can do than laugh at us while we entertain such childish thoughts. They can exploit our confusion.

The logician will tell you that any proposition whatsoever follows from two contradictory premises. (It’s a mildly technical matter; you can Google the argument ad absurdam if you’re curious). The government propagandist doesn’t need to know the whys and wherefores of this principle: all he needs to know is that once you get most of the people believing passionately in nonsense most of the time, you can play much more freely with the kinds of things you would want them to believe.

snyder tyrannyThe first desideratum of the tyrant, says Snyder, is for us to accept his self-centered worldview as the truth, easy for us because it is a variant of our own narcissistic wish to simplify the world and assign blame for perceived injustices. The following, though, is a precis of how this attitude played out in the 20th century:

Both fascism and communism were responses to globalization: to the real and perceived inequalities it created, and the apparent helplessness of the democracies in addressing them. Fascists rejected reason in the name of will, denying objective truth in favor of a glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people.

As a philosopher, I feel the same giddiness at this sort of thing that vulcanologists must have felt in 2010 when Iceland’s largest volcano erupted, disrupting transatlantic air travel and suddenly calling their arcane musings into vogue. Trump’s assault on truth, knowledge and honesty have suddenly made it highly useful to know a thing or two about what constitutes those ideals.

Snyder considers Trump’s attack on truth as a campaign consisting of several modes. He is worth quoting at considerable length on this onslaught:

The first mode is the open hostility to verifiable reality, which takes the form of presenting inventions and lies as if they were facts. The president does this at a high rate and at a fast pace. One attempt during the 2016 campaign to track his utterances found that 78 percent of his factual claims were false. This proportion is so high that it makes the correct assertions seem like unintended oversights on the path toward total fiction. Demeaning the world as it is begins the creation of a fictional counterworld.

The second mode is shamanistic incantation. As Klemperer noted, the fascist style depends upon “endless repetition,” designed to make the fictional plausible and the criminal desirable. The systematic use of nicknames such as “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” displaced certain character traits that might more appropriately have been affixed to the president himself. Yet through blunt repetition over Twitter, our president managed the transformation of individuals into stereotypes that people then spoke aloud. At rallies, the repeated chants of “Build that wall” and “Lock her up” did not describe anything that the president had specific plans to do, but their very grandiosity established a connection between him and his audience.

The next mode is magical thinking, or the open embrace of contradiction. The president’s campaign involved the promises of cutting taxes for everyone, eliminating the national debt, and increasing spending on both social policy and national defense. These promises mutually contradict. It is as if a farmer said he were taking an egg from the henhouse, boiling it whole and serving it to his wife, and also poaching it and serving it to his children, and then returning it to the hen unbroken, and then watching as the chick hatches. . . . 

The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant. At the end of the war a worker told Klemperer that “understanding is useless, you have to have faith. I believe in the Führer.”

Rorty, Judt and Snyder would all say it is up to us to determine whether this kind of abject faith will become our own. Have we surrendered the idea that we can act on collective purposes other than maximizing military might? Various parts of our history indicate we were once capable of contemplating radically different priorities. Jefferson, Lincoln, Whitman, Twain, James Baldwin, and hundreds of others all told of a different place, where it was possible to measure our self-worth in terms of liberties won, experience broadened, and minds illuminated. There may be no going back to this place, but we should have the self respect to try.

 

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Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing

BY MATTHEW HERBERT

Officially, I shouldn’t like Kingsley Amis’s anthem to alcohol, Everyday Drinking. And unless you relish the sight of a man dying for his muse, neither should you. The book is an unsettling mixture–a witty, lighthearted view of what turned out to be a long, boozy death spiral. Amis ostentatiously drank himself if not to death then decidedly well along the way and apparently enjoyed himself massively as he went.

Christopher Hitchens, a friendly partisan of alcohol if there ever was one, said plainly that booze eventually robbed Amis of his best gifts, especially his wit. Amis’s own son, Martin, recalled deeply affectingly how he tried near the incoherent end of his father’s life to remind him how he had once written mordantly about people who lost the ability to recall ordinary words, an ability Kingsely appeared to have drunk right out of his own head.

whisky bottleSo is it wrong to look back fondly on Amis’s drinking life, much as one might recall the life of a fallen mountaineer? Yes, it was the thing that killed him, but let us remember what it meant to him and how much joy it brought, in its own way. When someone dies with a complicated moral accounting sheet, we indulge this tendency to say wryly of their flaws, that’s just “who they were.”

The thing is, Amis knew exactly what he was getting into. His novels are filled with clever, drink-sodden characters caught in the act of thinking up reasons for not stopping while they’re ahead. There is a whole section in Everyday Drinking about mitigating the downsides of overindulgence. Various small tricks comes into play, but Amis is able at least in principle to grasp the heart of the matter: “If you want to behave better and feel better, the only absolutely certain method is drinking less. But to find out how to do that, you will have to find a more expert expert than I shall ever be.”

I have my own reasons for reading Everday Drinking as a serious morality tale, and I will come to them in a moment, but it would be puritanical of me to camouflage Amis’s main attraction with a lot of philosophizing: Everyday Drinking is bitingly humorous throughout and sometimes even fall-down funny, as I found this passage to be:

HANGOVER READING: Begin with verse, if you have any taste for it. Any really gloomy stuff that you admire will do. My own choice would tend to include the final scene of Paradise Lost . . . . The trouble here, though, is that today of all days you do not want to be reminded of how inferior you are to the man next door, let alone to a chap like Milton. Safer to pick someone less horribly great. . . . Switch to prose with the same principles of selection. I suggest Aleksandr Soltzhenitzen’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It is not gloomy exactly, but its picture of life in a Russian labor camp will do you the important service of suggesting that there are plenty of people about who have a bloody sight more to put up with than you (or I) have or ever will have, and who put up with it, if not cheerfully, at any rate in no mood of self-pity.

It is possible to read Everyday Drinking straight through, never slowing down to contemplate its subtext of moral what-ifs, such as, “Shouldn’t Amis have tried a bit harder to be a more expert expert at moderation?” Below its sparkling surface, Everyday Drinking is a chronicle of unsullied obsession. And unsullied obsession is something that almost all of us can relate to. Who has never given themselves over passionately to some unbidden thing that rose to command their entire will? The list of standard obsessions is a familiar one–exercise, money-making, childrearing, religious devotion, writing, affair-seeking, and of course, various kinds of chemical addictions. We can all learn something from Amis’s singlemindedness.

Milan Kundera opens The Unbearable Lightness of Being with the lapidary observation that human lives, occurring only once, cannot be made the subjects of empirical experimentation. We cannot compare our current life, fully lived, with earlier versions to probe for insights or advantages. Nor can we fine tune our future lives based on what we will have learned through full commitment to this one.

Taken as a whole, Kundera captures the existential bind as well as it has been captured, I believe. It seems plainly true that I cannot go all out in my quest for familial-bourgeois happiness this time around in confidence that I will be able to take my turns later at a fully epic, or bohemian, or scholarly life, then pick or choose the best fit after a thorough review. Even if I could, which me would be the real one–the one supposedly perfected by repeated experiment? But isn’t it part of being human that we commit fully to this life without recourse to metaphysical fantasy (or Freudian wish)? Whatever I choose, I do so in something like Kierkegaard’s mode taking a blind leap of faith. I do it without recourse.

Well, there is a certain amount of faith involved in making one’s life commitments, but blind faith? Kierkegaard himself thought it was possible to simulate a consciously chosen life through an exercise of total commitment to one thing. He wrote a book about it, whose title I borrowed for this essay. For Kierkegaard, the “life-form” exercise took a religious tone, but it need not. You can change up the terms of the experiment as you see fit. The design of the “experiment” is roughly as follows: live for only one principle, and, if your commitment is pure, you will learn along the way which parts of your life are mere distractions, or diversions as Kierkegaard called them.

Read Amis with this Kierkegaardian idea in mind, and you see what sorts of things are made into diversions by the alcoholic’s purity of heart–friends, family, good digestion, and so forth.

Like many of Kierkegaard’s ideas, willing-one-thing can only be put fully into practice if you are a narrow-minded egotist. You can’t expect a lot of friends, colleagues and loved ones to wait patiently while you experiment with self-inflicted obsessive-compulsive disorder. Try to make it a thought experiment, not a practical one.

Orwell had his own thoughts about singleminded asceticism. Pointedly, he thought we humans should not think of ourselves as failed saints. He meant that it is silly even to run Kierkegaard’s experiment, or Amis’s boozy variant of it. We are a tissue of conflicting desires, impulses and loyalties, and if literature, biography and history have shown us anything, they have shown how fruitless it is to try to live as if humans were meant to perfect one or another ideal. This way lies madness. Some forms of the madness are much less pleasant than others (but who’s to say which forms?–Kierkegaard lived a short, anxious life; Amis had a very jolly time before self-harm caught up with him, and you could even say he knew the hazards he courted), but the strategic error is the same one in all cases: we are not meant to be pure of heart in the sense Kierkegaard had in mind.

I had a picture of the conflicted personality clearly in mind as a boy, well before I had seen the real article abroad in the world. In one of Frodo Baggins’s last scenes with his inseparable friend and comrade Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, Frodo explains to the faithful Sam that a sort of Valhalla-like heaven awaits the two of them. It’s the reward for an epic adventure and the solace for a deep metaphysical wound they share. But Frodo, wounded deeper, will be starting out for his final reward first, without Sam. Sam must stay behind and find the joy he is meant to find as a family man. Heaven will wait on this mission. In words that I have remembered for almost four decades now, Frodo tells Sam that he (Sam) is meant to be whole and that he cannot always feel torn between life at home as a husband and father and life abroad as an epic adventurer.

Lord of the Rings is a wonderful book for children, or course, and in many ways it is a good book for adults. But Frodo is wrong about Sam, just as he is wrong about all of us. We live and die with conflicted desires, impulses and loyalties, and we do so without recourse to the fantasy of multiple lives or human perfectability. Orwell sends off the problem of ascetic devotion with what seems like a quip: “No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid.” Orwell’s contention, of course is not that we can just dissipate our lives because nothing matters in the end, but that we should let no fantasy lead us into fanaticism. Read Kierkegaard for a dour but bracing rendition of this kind of fantasy; read Amis for a rather more enjoyable one, but bear in mind they both play with fire.

Groin Pains

BY MATTHEW HERBERT

I suppose many runners run just for the intrinsic pleasure of the activity. The animal joy of loping along the trail is what some might call an irreducible experience–something that can’t be made sense of by reference to something else. We run to run, I suppose.

But it’s the life lessons offered by running that keep us going through the hard parts. A friend of mine recently finished his first hundred-mile ultramarathon, nearly breaking his ankle partway through. You can’t tell me those last 20 miles of cramps, nausea, and teeth-buzzing fatigue, all on top of a wrenched ankle, were fun. He must have had some other goal in mind.

I submit today, though, that the hardest part of running is when we are sidelined with an injury. (Not to take anything away from my centurion friend: I do not mean the injured runner is tougher than him, but merely that s/he grapples with a less satisfying problem in waiting to heal than he did in rising to an awe-inspiring challenge.)

On the second of May of this year, I was doing a routine tempo-hill workout on the treadmill (it’s a convenient, if ignoble, way to get in hill work). I finished 9 kilometers at about an 8 percent uphill grade, probably running about 6-minute splits. Not a blazing performance, but not bad for a 50-year old, once nearly dead bureaucrat.

Before plumbing the depths of self pity, I should point out what a nice place I was in before I got on the treadmill that day. For the last three years, I had been experiencing a nearly miraculous break in a 30-year long debilitating bout of runner’s knee. After decades of having to settle for biking, fast-walking, and other vulgar things that runners do when they cannot run, I was somehow able to run again. Not fast, but I could turn in decent 30k stretches on the trail, this year even jogging the downhill parts, which had once been strict no-gos.

Finish Line

What’s more, even though I wasn’t young anymore, I could still fake it. To get my heartrate up to the flush of the six-minute miles of my youth, I ran uphill.  A 10-minute mile uphill felt like an all-out six-minute mile on flat terrain back in my glory years. Plus the scenery on the trails was better.

Not that everything was clear sailing. I still had the usual aches, strains and mystery pains. Despite the distances I could occasionally put in, I still fell out with small injuries now and then. I had tried three times to prepare for the Zermatt Ultramarathon, but each time I had to pull out with some kind of small, nagging injury.

This year was different. I followed a solid, patient training plan starting in November. I built up slowly throughout the winter, gradually increasing my endurance, climbing strength, and even speed. By April I, I could easily do 30k of hilly trails at 10k per hour (I only managed about 8 and a half last year), and I even simulated the first 30k of Zermatt on the treadmill–21k at a humane, 5 percent climbing grade, then 9k of churning hills up to 12 percent. And I felt strong. I was not just loping along in dumb animal joy; I was trampling out the motherfucking vineyards.

I suppose this was Pride, which wenteth before a Fall. When I stepped off the treadmill on the second of May, I felt a dull, vaguely painful tightness up where the quadricep meets the groin and lower abdomen. A connoiseur of running pains, I could tell this one was muscular, and I didn’t worry much about it. Muscle strains heal after a couple days; it was the joint pains that got you.

Except this time it was the muscle pain that got me. The ache got worse two days later when I took my oldest kid for a short hike. I iced it, stretched moderately and tried to tell myself I would easily be back in action in time to resume training and salvage my plans for Zermatt. I could no longer entertain the idea of breaking six hours, as I thought sure of doing, but at least I would still finish.

At the end of three weeks, though, I still couldn’t run. On the four-week mark, I vaingloriously strapped on my ultra-pack and hit the trail for a do-or-die trial. I don’t know what I was thinking. Actually, I do: I would either break through what I hoped was merely a nagging injury, or I would at least find out the worst–Zermatt would have to wait.

The MRI a week later illuminated what I learned that day on the trail: I was done for the season.

Luckily there was no major damage. The tendon attaching the quad and groin muscles to the hip carriage was fine, but I had achieved several micro tears of the muscle tissue near the tendon. This was mostly good news, but it ruined everything I had been working and hoping for since November.

I cannot honestly say I run in order to learn life lessons, but Jesus, they do keep coming. Run for any period of time, and you will inevitably get better at framing setbacks positively, seeing the intrinsic worth of something that seemed to have only extrinsic value. It’s not Zermatt I wanted (although it was); it’s being out on the trail, running up my local hill, or even squeezing in a treadmill workout before dinner.

I am on the mend now. I can jog three easy kilometers. There’s still a slight pain there, but it’s getting better. I’ve stopped thinking about Zermatt, or any particular event, for that matter. I would like to treat myself to a birthday run (in October) of some consequence, but I have cleared my calendar of races for the time being.

I am habitually optimistic. I believe reflexively that everything will be mostly ok if we exert ourselves and try to avoid beastliness. Running, with all its setbacks, illustrates over and over again the great variety of ways in which everything will be mostly ok. This is one reason I will never let it go.