Many today claim that one of their passions is to work out. That’s cool. But working out is not a passion, despite its appearance as one. 

If you’re reading this, you most likely know that “passion” in English means “lidenskap” in Norwegian. If you pay close attention to the wording, you will see that in the Norwegian word “lidenskap”, you find the word “lide”. And, as you probably know, “å lide” means “to suffer”. Is that not what one does when one lifts weights, runs or swims? It’s like we enjoy our own suffering. 

Nonetheless, I am here to argue that working out is not a passion, despite the appearance that it is. Why? I have two main arguments: there is no truth connected to working out; and there is a presence of narcissism in working out. There appears to be no doubt that these two arguments are connected. I mean to analyze working out as an isolated case; there is no doubt that working out in organized sports with others can be categorized as a passion. 

Strangely enough, it’s difficult to find philosophical or theoretical writings on passions. There is one philosopher, however, that I interpret as writing about passions, although he does not call it that directly. And he’s actually alive! Is that possible? Amazing. 

The philosopher’s name is Alain Badiou, a French philosopher. If you’re slightly familiar with philosophy, you’ll probably think “not one of those”, but Badiou is an exception. He’s not a postmodernist nor a post-structuralist. After postmodern and post-structuralist philosophy entered the scene, Badiou got more concerned for the status of truths. He therefore sought out to redefine truths, so they no longer have a transcendent character. What this means is that truths are not supposed to be up there, totally unreachable for us, like a God in the heavens. Rather, truths have an immanent character. They are down here on earth with us. Anyway, enough bullshit. Let’s get to the fun part. 

Badiou uses the word “conditions”, “categories” and “truth procedures” (Badiou (2008), Conditions) for what I interpret as passions. These conditions or truth procedures are connected to his philosophical framework, centered around the idea of the Event. For Badiou, there are four truth procedures: love, politics, art (of all kinds) and science. Do we see working out, in any way, here? No. But are we Badiou? No. So we should not just accept his word as it is. 

Why is it called a truth procedure? And why is my main argument against the claim that working out is a passion, that “there is not truth connected to working out”? Truths (and their procedures) are for Badiou connected to the Event. The Event, as the capitalized E shows, is not just any ordinary event. It is something that interrupts the ordinary, the usual and our daily lives. Something that rips apart one place of being to the next. I believe the Event, simply put, is change itself. In love, this is conceptualized as the fall (in love); in politics, the revolution; in art, a new work that restructures the way we talk about art; and in science, a new discovery. 

So, to search for the truth in working out, we have to search for the Event in working out. Where is the Event in working out? What is it that changes when you work out? There is no doubt that your own physique changes for the better – you might be able to lift heavier and your body can move more easily. Many have a soul lifting experience after working out. I think that’s good. But does it qualify for an Event? 

You can argue that it does qualify for an Event for yourself, but no one else. Because being able to lift things more easily and an improved psychical life is no doubt changing for you. Therefore, I don’t think there is a problem to claim that “working out is true”. It is, but only for you. And here we approach the problem of narcissism. 

What is not so good is the narcissism bound to working out. Why is narcissism bound to it? Because what difference does working out make for anyone except yourself? You can argue that, in the end, it will affect others. “When I work out, I am able to help my tired grandparents lift the heavy stuff in their home”. It’s true, you can make an argument out of that. But can you not make an argument like this for anything? You can argue “I want to express myself, so I allow myself to be rude to others”. Though this “expression” would be on the expense of others, and is that fair? 

Let’s use a more extreme example in order to really test the logic of this argument: can we use this argument if we argue “In order for me to live, I need to kill someone”. I think, by taking the argument all the way to its logical conclusion with an extreme example like this, we see the absurdity of it. You cannot argue in this consequential way to justify your actions because you could justify any action. And we know all actions are not justifiable, there are actions of injustice/inequality. 

You could argue that these examples are different and contradict each other because you’re in effect being kind in the first example and being rude (a real downplay of the extremism of the third example!) in the two others. And therefore, the argument that working out is narcissistic is invalid. But is it really? 

What defines a narcissistic act? Is it not an act that gets caught up in a circle of a sort, where what you are doing is repeating itself? In psychoanalytic terms, I believe this is defined as a drive. In daily life, I think it’s comparable to what we know as a habit. Are all habits then narcissistic acts? Not necessarily, but I think all narcissistic acts are habits, or drives. 

I think what separates a narcissistic act from an act that is not narcissistic (meaning you directly or indirectly care for someone) is that the non-narcissistic act is an act with the intention to focus on the process, rather than to focus on the end-goal itself. When you focus on the process, meaning, when you’re trying to think your way t(hr)o(ugh) your action, your action becomes less narcissistic. Isn’t this how great works – whether amorous, artistic, political, or scientific – come to “life”? The lover, artist, militant or scientist chooses to work on their work, rather than work directly towards a specific goal. I think this does not mean that there shouldn’t be a fixed goal, it just means that that goal should be unconsciously motivated, rather than consciously. 

When you’re in the process of working out, though, you can find yourself working on the process, rather than a fixed goal. In this sense, I think you can approach a lesser narcissistic way of working out, but it is still caught up in the narcissism because the work you’re doing is too “close” to yourself. When an artist is working on their work, it is not their own body they are working with. They are, hopefully most unconsciously, also working together in a type of “discourse with others”. I don’t think there is any type of “discourse with others” when you’re working out, unless it is in organized sports, of course. 

Even if working (in general – working out and working with a piece of art) is about the process, isn’t a small portion of narcissism nonetheless necessary to live a life? I think so. Or maybe we really should go as far as to claim that we should strive to create a society where narcissism isn’t even necessary. But that is a topic for another discussion for another time. If a slight portion of narcissism is necessary, then what is stopping us from claiming that working out really is a passion? We already know it has a component of truth to it, but only for yourself. 

This begs the question: do passions have to be something that directly or indirectly affects someone else? We can see that this is the case with the other passions, what Badiou calls truth procedures. Love obviously involves two. Self-love would be another case of narcissism. Art is usually shared and enjoyed by more than just the artist. Many more than the scientist benefit from a scientific discovery, given that it is made public of course. And the political site is probably the epitome for a passion that involves others. Or at least it should be. 

Does working out have this effect, besides the one we have already discussed, where you can help your grandma? I can’t think of any, but please reach out if you do! And just for the record, before anyone accuses me of being some book-nerd that just rots in his room all day, I do go for a swim twice a week and I appreciate being active. The point is not that people should not exercise at all – it is something worth spending time on – but that it should not be considered a passion.  


, , , , , , , , ,
Latest Posts from Unikum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.