My kid said, “Mom makes more money than you, because she went to college, and you didn’t,” and then he laughed. And I said, “I did go to college, but I studied philosophy, which is an excellent preparation for selling bikes and writing blogs,” and I laughed. My wife didn’t. She stood and closed her eyes and shook her head, as she does.
Of course, when I was in college, I didn’t even begin to know what I didn’t know. Like so many who came before me, I wish I’d paid more attention. Of particular disinterest were the early, core classes on moral philosophy, the Greeks, the Catholics, and the British. It all struck me as simplistic and boring, and I was eager to get to Nietzsche’s post-moral ideas on the “real world.” I remember, eventually, sitting in a graduate level seminar with a Czech professor whose English was lacking and who mumbled in a way that suggested he knew just how badly he was mangling every sentence, with me thinking, “Yeah. This is the stuff!”
But of course now, as I’m older, morality and how to live a good life are current topics again, and I realize that the simplicity of the Greeks was a way to boil enormously complicated topics into practical terms. I don’t want to reread those texts, but I see now what I didn’t see then. Last week’s Group Ride was an expression of my recent pondering of moral conundra, and I should apologize. I should have known better than to mention the cyclist-whose-name-shall-not-be-spoken, because invariably the conversation becomes about that specific person, even when you’re just trying to use him as an example of one aspect of thing you’re wondering about.
This has all been a long introduction to today’s Group Ride, which again delves into the shallow water of morality and cycling.
Here’s what I’m thinking about. The weather is getting colder, and I have transitioned my bikes and gear to winter mode. I’ve pulled out the thermal wear, the balaclavas, the GoreTex boots. The studded tires are there by the workbench, and the ski gloves have come out of their storage bin. It’s yearly ritual, and one that signals the end of more difficult riding. My commute is short, so the weather is manageable for me, but in some ways that makes the inner dialogue about whether to ride or drive more difficult. It’s a lot of work for a little ride time.
But global warming, or rather GLOBAL WARMING, if you read the papers, or the recent non-fiction from scientists popular and not. Also, I should mention, given last week’s distraction over the aforementioned unnameable cyclist, this Group Ride isn’t interested in whether global warming is real or not. I am behaving as if it’s real, because the overwhelming evidence suggests that’s so, and for the purposes of this piece, let’s all work with that assumption, or at the very least acknowledge that driving causes pollution that has a deleterious effect on our world. Maybe it only needs to be that simple.
Anyway, back to me, lying in bed, casting one squinty eye at the weather app on my phone, and pondering the pro/con-ness of riding my bike. It’s a pretty loaded decision to take on pre-coffee, but I find I’m most successful when I form an early intention. Sometimes I even take out the winter riding tights the night before to create some good momentum. I can tell you, regardless of long term effect on the planet, my life is better when I ride, and maybe I should just hew as closely to that home truth as I can and forget all the other noise in my head.
But then I think something like, “When the oil is gone, and the earth has warmed, and all of the other mammals have gone the way of the mammoth,” will I have wished I had ridden my bike more?” I literally think bat shit crazy stuff like this. It’s how I navigate my day.
So this week’s Group Ride asks, am I really crazy? Or is this an entirely rational way to think in changing times? I would not for a moment judge someone for the way they get to work, so if you drive, that’s cool. You do you. All I’m trying to explore is the question: Is there a valid moral component to bike commuting, i.e. is this a reasonable way to decide how to get where you’re going? In my cynical moments (which likely outnumber their opposite), I think, “There is no way we’re not burning every drop of oil on the planet, so it doesn’t matter what I do.” As you can see, I’m no more certain about the way to live than I was when I was twenty and straining to hear Dr. Mumbles talk about Beyond Good and Evil.