Walking: the cure for dualism
Why driving may not be the best way to get around.
Walking is one of life’s simplest pleasures, says Socrates in Peter Kreeft’s fictional philosophical fantasy, Socrates Meets Jesus in the City.
I have always considered walking to be the most human way of getting around in the world. But recently, I have realized that this humble, particularly human gait, also provides a solution to one of the more metaphysical problems confronting society today. The problem is dualism, the lopsided separation of the human person into body and mind.
More than any other mode of travel, walking offers a pace at which we are actually able to process the world and connect with it.
You never get to know a place so well as when you walk through it. Compared to driving, biking or even running, you notice and remember more detail when you walk. It is a pace perfectly matched to both our bodies and our brains. It’s a way of being more fully present in the world as embodied beings.
And that’s something we need.
For centuries- since Plato’s insistence that the ideal “forms” or things exist only in the spiritual realm, accessible only by the mind, or Descartes’ harsh division of mind and body with mind being the definitive aspect – man has resorted to dualism to try to understand himself.
The logic of dualism privileges the mental or spiritual, as the perfect, the clean, the technological, over and above the fragile and imperfect physical part of our persons.
It’s kind of like Apple products versus real apples.
The result is an alienation from ourselves, our neighbours, and the world around us.
These effects are further worsened by the technology we use to interact with the world and each other. From smart phones to Facebook, we are encouraged in a dualistic abstraction from our physical presence in the world. We are easily lost in our minds, abstracted from the world and from our neighbors. Any contact with the material, organic world of nature is heavily mediated.
Driving particularly reinforces this dualistic fallacy.
Driving is incredibly platonic. How many times, on a late-night drive, have you arrived at your destination without even realizing how you got there. It isn’t so much your body that is moving through and interacting with the world, as your mind. It is your mind that processes and reacts calmly and mechanically to external stimuli. The pavement and the gas pedal allow and utter disregard to the particularities of place. Because you don’t actually interact with the places you pass through, you miss out on the thousands of tiny intricacies that make living in a physical world pleasurable.
And for human contact, you have blinkers, or in more gregarious cultures, the horn bleat, and, if you’re lucky, the occasional middle finger or actual verbal abuse! O the joy of intimacy and human contact! But for the most part, you exist in your own bubble of mental ideas, self-sufficient and removed from others.
I love driving; love the rush, road trips, watching the world roll past. I just spent two full months of my summer in a van traveling around America and I loved more than most of it.
But let me also recommend the simpler and oft forgotten joy of walking. Faced with a dualistic disconnect between mind and body, where most contact with both nature and neighbour is heavily mediated by ever sleeker machinery, it is easy to lose the precious and simple pleasures that come from being embodied beings in the world. The humble act of walking can help you recover from and resist the dualism imposed on us by our technologies.