My eyeballs glaze over any time I hear someone use the word “society” in an argument. The word is just so damn played out and superficial that I’ve become allergic to it. Whenever someone tries to focus on society as a cause for anything, he or she does so out of laziness; he or she isn’t going deep enough because society is just a symptom of human nature. If you think about it, looking at society for instances of cause and effect would be like looking at a cough instead of the cold that causes it. That’s a super short-sighted thing to do, and Tim Gorichanaz did exactly that for an entire, peer-reviewed paper.
Simply put, we don’t live in a “commodified world,” but rather, we are a species that strives to commodify life. It isn’t modern society that “seeks to minimize” discomfort, strenuousness, unpredictability, or riskiness, but rather, it’s human nature that shies away from what we see as negative, because from an evolutionary standpoint, minimalizing these states of existence increases the likelihood of reproduction. Every society in recorded history has done this, just as every human in the fossil record has done this individually. Any argument to the contrary is irksome because it just doesn’t go far enough, and it just doesn’t tell the whole truth.
The simple fact is this: for sublimity to be achieved, there must be a paradox, a contradiction, and an extreme runner isn’t finding this enigma by going against the bounds of society; he or she is finding it by going against our atavistic human nature.
To see it in its entirety, you need to render humanity down to what it really is: a group of animals. Quite literally, everything we do is done to increase the likelihood of reproduction. If we conserve energy, we’ll have a better chance of making babies. If we don’t do extreme sports, we’ll be safer, thereby increasing our chances of having babies. That’s why most people only run if they’re being chased (or if they’re chasing something); that’s how it is today in “modern” society, and that’s how it was where we were hunter-gatherers.
So, it’s easy to see where the contradiction leading to sublimity for extreme runners comes from. If we run when we’re not being chased, a contradiction is being created on a basal level. If we push ourselves past the point of endurance when it isn’t necessary, our subconscious minds get confused because they have no frickin’ clue why we’re doing what we’re doing. And if you combine that point of contradiction with the heady runner’s high that comes from a lack of oxygen and a depleted caloric intake, all of a sudden, boom, you’ll feel the emotion of sublimity. You’ll find that certain something special that is both confounding and elevating, and if you possess rhetorical skills, you’ll be able to write about the expectance adequately. There’s no magic involved. There’s nothing special or spiritual when it comes to running, and contradicting paradigms are formed by people who don’t dig deep enough into the objective truth.
Secondly, not only is Gorichanaz one of these people who didn’t go deep enough, but his paper is full of citations pointing back to other people who didn’t go deep enough either. Granted, running recreationally is on the rise in this country, but healthism, which Gorichanaz dismissed as only part of the reason, is in fact one-hundred percent of why running is on the rise. You see, herds of animals always find ways to achieve balance (again, because it leads to more babies). This country of ours is fatter than ever, so of course nature is going to step in and spur a few of us to run more. And a few of those few will encounter sublimity, and then they’ll spend the rest of their lives chasing that feeling by doing stupid things like running twenty-seven miles through the desert. One of Gorichanaz’s cited references (Jones) came close to this realization, but then the logic stopped for some reason even though healthism is in fact the seminal and root cause of extreme running.
Third, Baumeister got it all wrong too (for the record, my spellcheck seems to despise these names just as much as I loathe the outdated references). It’s true that humans seek purpose or efficacy or value because we see these tenets as integral parts to an autonomous nature, but we don’t look for these tenets thanks to a higher calling—we don’t care about these things because we’re looking for purpose. In truth, we try to tie to ourselves these values because doing so gives each of us a more unique identity, and… yup, you guessed it, a unique identity increases our chances of making babies. It’s just hard for scholars to admit things like this because doing so is admitting that we aren’t special, and I’ve never met a smarty-pants scholar who was willing to admit that he or she is nothing more than an animal preprogramed to reproduce and then die.
Fourth, if you think about it, isn’t extreme running just a way to ramp up one’s identity? Picture this: A fit and lithe man is standing in a bar, nursing one of those trendy, low-calorie beers. He just finished a marathon, and he “forgot” to take off the number pinned to the back of his shirt. He sees himself as different than the other men in the bar; he sees himself as above and lofty because he found a sublime emotion today thanks to my aforementioned reasons. And when that man walks up to the woman across the way, his opening line is inevitable. The identity he purports to that woman is predictable. For him, finding the sublime has given him confidence and an edge—he thinks it’s spiritual, but really, it’s evolutional. It’s just a leg up on the competition, and all of his sublime ultra-running is nothing more than an intentional contradiction he’s too shallow to see, and it’s just a means to an end: a way to have more babies.
Lastly, no, the sublime is not a byproduct of activities because it isn’t that simple; doing stupid things is just one way to stumble upon the paradox that leads to sublimity. But at least Gorichanaz looked at this side of things because Burke and Longinus looked only at things that happened to us, things that happened around us, and Gorichanaz’s piece to the argument brings us closer to a codified and complete answer to the question as to where the sublime comes from. Personally, I’d say this contribution, albeit incomplete, was the most salient part of Gorichanaz’s paper.