A version of the first part of this article in Polish is available on the author’s blog, Fronesis.
When the truth offends, we lie and lie, until we can no longer remember it is even there. But it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.—Valery Legasov in the series, Chernobyl
COVID-19 showed how fragile neoliberal political projects turned out to be. These projects gave the management to the unwashed hand of the market, which, working through political puppets, practiced political post-political theatre without being responsible for the biopolitical effects. Trump, Berlusconi, Kaczynski, Johnson until recently lived only a spectacle; they were not responsible for the “welfare” of the population, they were not interested in biopolitics but in post-politics. The virus challenged the latter. The post-policy of these post-politicians turned out to be hopelessly inadequate when positive biopolitics was needed. When real biopolitics – responsibility for life – is needed, it turned out that post-political theatre simply does not work.
I. Biopolitics – They Breed People, Don’t They?
Biopolitics is about breeding people, about population management, about food storage, about flood prevention. It is also about vaccination, standardized population-testing methods, standardization and human production in general. It is also about universal education. Biopolitics also means projects for new housing districts, cities, schools, hospitals. It means health campaigns, it means slogans: “wash your hands,” “take care of hygiene”.
But let us remember that the word culture comes from the word cultivation, in other words breeding. Biopolitics has become part of our societies; we are cultivating ourselves, whether we want to or not. The question is what we want when we propose to go “beyond biopolitics.” Does this mean that we want to be “beyond culture”? But what if we do not (self-)cultivate, (self-)breed? Who’s going to take over? COVID-19?
Much has been written critically about biopolitics, many warnings of abuse, the disastrous effects of “breeding” and “normalizing people. Biopolitics, especially in the period of “high modernism,” full of the enthusiasm and pride of modernity of the 50’s through the 70’s, required correction, the voice of reflection, remarks pointing to distortions and errors. In this sense, the critical discourse that built up around biopolitics was important. Today, however, we find ourselves in a different historical moment. After several decades of the neoliberal dismantling of the state (and science), there is little left of that modernity. Criticism of biopolitics was a practice that appeared relatively innocent within the wealthy countries founded on class compromise. It was then a moment of reflexivity. Only that it was exaggerated, coupled with anti-modern and teleological non-scientific fantasies, revealing its negative face. Criticism of the state’s delusions was a comfortable stance when modern states were still operating. It becomes suspicious when they fall apart. After all, what do these critics of biopolitics propose in a miserable time?
II. Over-critical criticism of biopolitics and philosophical anti-vaccine necromancy
In order to look at a potential answer, let’s analyse paragraph by paragraph Giorgio Agamben’s recent text, “Clarifications“:
Fear is a poor advisor, but it causes many things to appear that one pretended not to see. The problem is not to give opinions on the gravity of the disease, but to ask about the ethical and political consequences of the epidemic. The first thing that the wave of panic that has paralyzed the country obviously shows is that our society no longer believes in anything but bare life.
Agamben is cunning, avoiding the “gravity of the disease” in the second sentence. The scale of the disease is a crucial issue, because it determines what ethical and political consequences await us. This scale of the epidemic pandemic can only be estimated by mass testing and improving the circulation of scientific facts in society.
The wave of panic is partly a result of lack of a knowledge, and consequently a lack of ability to act. Deficiency of knowledge about the scale of the disease, the lack of sufficient testing, efficient and well-funded health care service results in an absence of agency and hesitation, from panicky compulsive hyperactivity to quietism.
Panic is spreading, among other reasons, because for roughly forty years the intertwining system of medicine, science and state has been dismantled and the state and the neoliberal states have become “sieve-hole”; they do not secure the population sufficiently. Our neoliberal societies have rather forgotten about the fact that naked life exists, that it requires for its sustenance the positive (democratic) biopolitics of a functioning public health system, and that even amidst the world of consumption, the world of simulacra and post-politics, the materiality of the world, the materiality and biology of of the body, is something to be taken into account.
It is obvious that Italians are disposed to sacrifice practically everything — the normal conditions of life, social relationships, work, even friendships, affections, and religious and political convictions — to the danger of getting sick.
Yes, because illness is the death of many people. Maybe Agamben doesn’t know it, but when you die, you lose everything. It is a normal part of life that we sacrifice a part of our freedom to ensure our lives, because it is only when we live that we have the chance to take advantage of even limited freedom. Life is negotiation. Only death can afford to be uncompromising. That’s why I think that Agamben’s proposal is a necromancer’s statement, which from the heights of its philosophical intransigence could only rule the Army of the Dead – because they do not enter into “bourgeois” compromises that protect life. As Agamemnon says of Achilles in Book IX of Homer’s Iliad, “Only the god of death is so relentless! Death submits to no one–so mortals hate him most of all the gods!” (1).
Bare life — and the danger of losing it — is not something that unites people, but blinds and separates them. Other human beings, as in the plague described in Alessandro Manzoni’s novel, are now seen solely as possible spreaders of the plague whom one must avoid at all costs and from whom one needs to keep oneself at a distance of at least a meter…
I suppose Agamben did not base this argument on any sociological or psychological research. Because of the quarantine I am also forced to practice “armchair research,” “sociology from the window” and “social network ethnography.” In spite of this, I can say with confidence that at least in Poland people have not been “blinded; there are a lot of solidarity initiatives, micro strategies to deal with the pandemic (sewing masks, keeping a distance, self-organizing group of neighbour help- the Visible Hand initiative), society is trying to cope with pandemic, even if against and despite the government and not because of it. People are “now seen only as potential transmitters of the plague.” By formulating such a judgment, Agamben runs the risk that his will become a self-fulfilling prophecy tomorrow.
The dead — our dead — do not have a right to a funeral and it is not clear what will happen to the bodies of our loved ones.
The situation in Italy is tragic, as it is in France, Spain, the US, and many other countries. I do not have full access to the verified information about it (because of the quarantine), so I cannot speak up knowledgeably enough about it. Military trucks transporting bodies are a tragic symbol. But the only question is to whom Agamben’s claims should be directed – it’s the virus that kills, it’s the virus that makes the number of dead bodies so high that the social and cultural ways of ensuring a dignified burial have failed to cope with it. Without what he calls “apparatuses of security,” the situation would only be worse, we would have images of pre-modern pandemics, bodies without burials in houses, on the streets, funerals that would expose participants to further contagions.
Our neighbour has been cancelled and it is curious that churches remain silent on the subject.
Churches have not remained silent; in Poland it took a full two weeks to insist that masses should not take place, and now, after the next wave of restrictions, you cannot run, you cannot enter the park but you can go to church (even if the number of people allowed in is restricted). The Polish archbishop Dzięga did not remain silent, but wrote in a letter to the parishes:
It is not without reason that one is said to be afraid of something, like the devil of holy water. (…) Do not be afraid to reach for holy water in faith. Do not be afraid of the temple. (…) I ask all of you, however, if there are no truly extraordinary circumstances, do not to ask to take Holy Communion by hand, even though formally you have this right in the Church. And you, Brother Priests, grant Holy Communion always with love and heartfelt joy to all who ask for it in faith and with a pure heart.”
Agamben therefore has an ally. Likewise, polish televangelist Father Rydzyk uses the pandemic to call for a fundraiser for his purposes, we are supposed not to worry about our “bare lives”, but to drop a coin for “God’s work”. But in Poland not everyone is an ally of Agamben. The Muslim League and similarly, the Muslim Religious Union in Poland, very quickly reacted responsibly and cancelled the prayers in the mosques, which probably, according to Agamben, shows that they have capitulated to the fetish of protecting “bare lives.”
There are also many others who are not only concerned about”bare life” but can link it with a call for new solidarity. People like Bernie Sanders are calling to use the exceptional situation of a pandemic to rebuild society based on the secular spirituality of togetherness (2), with its symbol – universal health insurance. Scientific teams around the world are working on vaccines. Images of doctors and nurses appear in social media as a symbol of hope and sacrifice. Peoples are trying to share hope even in despair.
What do human relationships become in a country that habituates itself to live in this way for who knows how long? And what is a society that has no value other than survival?
Maybe Agamben in the luxury of his existence as a white male inhabitant of Europe does not know this, but for many people, many communities in this world, most of their lives are spent just barely surviving. Even before the pandemic, the fate of huge masses of people meant, in the best case, maintaining the balance of physical existence. And “philosophically speaking,” what’s wrong with wanting to survive? After all, life is generally nothing more than a losing battle for survival.
The struggle for survival may not necessarily mean “getting used to it”, it may mean a struggle – both the mobilisation of science and medicine to defeat the virus, but also (I hope) the social and political mobilisation to remodel our societies in such a way as to minimise the effects of future pandemics.
The other thing, no less disquieting than the first, that the epidemic has caused to appear with clarity is that the state of exception, to which governments have habituated us for some time, has truly become the normal condition. There have been more serious epidemics in the past, but no one ever thought for that reason to declare a state of emergency like the current one, which prevents us even from moving.
I don’t know which “more serious epidemics” Agamben is talking about. The “Spanish” flu pandemic? At that time, there were quarantines, for example in Portland, Oregon in 1918. Similarly, since the Ebola pandemic people were quarantined. In 2003, more than 150,000 people were quarantined in Taiwan alone, but the Eurocentric philosopher did not notice this.
It would be easier if Agamben gave examples of what governments he had in mind, which epidemics and when? Then it would be possible to estimate, which means were selected in a manner that was appropriate to the size of the pandemic, and when a given government used the pandemic to strengthen its power. And the scale of the closure we are experiencing is largely due to the incredible global connection we have experienced in recent years. This hyper-connection is co-responsible for the need for quarantine.
People have been so habituated to live in conditions of perennial crisis and perennial emergency that they don’t seem to notice that their life has been reduced to a purely biological condition and has not only every social and political dimension, but also human and affective.
I would like to ask Agamben: what kind of people, where, when? Many are used to living in conditions of eternal crisis and long-term emergency. In the case of the societies of Europe, the opposite is true, they were rather too insensitive to a potential crisis, too rarely alarmed by the threat of a pandemic. Too little time was spent on treatments to safeguard individual lives by strengthening public health. The problem of recent years has been the anti-vaccine fear and doubt mongers, not the tyranny of public health specialists and specialists.
Society that lives in a perennial state of emergency cannot be a free society. We in fact live in a society that has sacrificed freedom to so-called “reasons of security” and has therefore condemned itself to live in a perennial state of fear and insecurity.
What concept of freedom does Agamben have in mind? People who have died as a result of illness are less free than those who have sacrificed a part of their freedom and are quarantined. Sick people are less free than the healthy. Freedom is what determines how free we are from what restricts us, limits us. Let me remind you of an old, well known phrase: “Freedom is the recognition of necessity,” wrote Friedrich Engels in “Anti-Dühring.” Agamben on the contrary seems to assume that people have no bodies, don’t get hungry, don’t need clothes, don’t want to live. We are never absolutely free. Agamben seems to assume some kind of libertarian approach to freedom, where any restriction is a violation of it. Focusing on singular persons does not automatically mean that individual freedom increases, it is because, without the right social conditions, it means the loneliness of atomism, as Monika Bobako states: “Action proves possible only within the framework of the (ontical) structures of reality that limit it. It can therefore be said that exactly what restricts freedom also enables it to exist” (3). Pace Agamben, (ontological) security is a precondition of freedom.
It is not surprising that for the virus one speaks of war. The emergency measures obligate us in fact to life in conditions of curfew. But a war with an invisible enemy that can lurk in every other person is the most absurd of wars. It is, in reality, a civil war. The enemy is not outside, it is within us.
If Agamben had reached for any epidemiology textbook, he might have changed the metaphor. Viruses haven’t been invisible for a long time. The image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for CONVID-19 is widely available. Its social “visibility” is achieved through testing. Thanks to the tests we can identify the infected, quarantine them, secure the healthy and those at risk. The war on the virus is not absurd, it is a matter of procedures, tests. It’s a matter of metrological control of the epidemic. Metrology that is, measuring reality, making it measurable, is about making things visible, making them manipulable. Just because Agamben does not see the virus “with the naked eye” does not mean that we do not “see” it as a society. A little knowledge of metrology and epidemics would allow Agamben to see this difference. It is the discourse of the invisibility of the virus that allows leaders like Trump not to do responsible things in the public sphere. Is Agamben aware of who his statements are functional for? More testing means more knowledge, it is the possibility of a more precise policy, which can be carried out instead of multiplying bans (often irrational and just an excess of power). Of course, it will still be a difficult policy, based on a state of emergency, but it will be at least to some extent accountable.
What is worrisome is not so much or not only the present, but what comes after. Just as wars have left as a legacy to peace a series of inauspicious technology, from barbed wire to nuclear power plants, so it is also very likely that one will seek to continue even after the health emergency experiments that governments did not manage to bring to reality before: closing universities and schools and doing lessons only online, putting a stop once and for all to meeting together and speaking for political or cultural reasons and exchanging only digital messages with each other, wherever possible substituting machines for every contact — every contagion — between human beings..
Indeed, wars have left many worrying technologies. But nuclear power plants are not really such a technology, and what is more, in combination with renewable energy sources, they will probably be an opportunity for our societies in the future. University closures and online lessons are serious threats, the neoliberal shock doctrine can actually be implemented in a “post-virus” time. But a pandemic can also contribute to the opposite – to a renewed discussion about the public funding of science, to increased investment in research, to health protection. I do not know why “after the virus” people should stop meeting in groups. If a cure or a vaccine is invented, there is nothing to prevent such basic social behaviour from resuming. Moreover, the discussion about the replacement of people by machines does not have to lead only to dystopian conclusions. Automation plus basic income can be the most progressive demand, triggering new emancipatory and humanistic impulses.
But for this to happen we need a renewal of the political and, moreover, a renewal of our thinking about the biopolitical. History has moved on; the established hegemonic structures are shaking. We don’t know whether they will come back even stronger after the “virus turning point” or whether there will be a chance to remodel the world.
III. Post-political, neoliberal escape from responsibility vrs. the dawn of accelerationist hope
One thing you can see: the time of post-politics is over. Although Boris Johnson in hospital is still taking our attention, this time the creator of the show is a virus. Of course, such people as Orban, Bolsonaro, use this time to strengthen their authoritarian rule. People like Kaczyński or Trump are trying to combine post-political spectacle with authoritarianism. But still, whether they want to rule the police baton or post-political show, they are and will be held to some extent accountable for how many people die from COVID-19.
Neoliberalising states have been increasingly averse to fulfilling their positive functions in recent years, limiting themselves to the repressive apparatus and the court of post-political spectacle. This justified the lack of trust in the idea of the state and the growing criticism of it. But did the over-hasty criticism of the marriage of state and science not give them ammunition? Didn’t the criticism of biopolitics go hand in hand with dismantling the apparatus for “breeding people” and taking care of the welfare of the population: public health care, social security system?
Contrary to appearances, there was too little biopolitics, not too much. The state and politicians were no longer accountable for providing clean water, food, access to public services such as education, transport or health care. Critics of biopolitics from the Church of Agamben failed to distinguish between the political power that legitimates itself by ensuring the welfare of the population and the power that it ceded to the game of market arbitrariness. Paradoxically, by bringing everything into the political game, biopolitics critics resigned from this “bio” – in such view, power only legitimates itself within the framework of the legal-political play of the “state of emergency”. Criticizing the biopolitical “breeding” of people actually makes it easier to justify the neoliberal power of “the baton and the spectacle.” Since health care, education, health insurance, is such biopolitical violence, it is probably a good thing that political power is withdrawing from these areas. Freedom from biopolitical state interference, however, did not result in a decrease in the amount of state power but only in an increase in its irresponsibility. We don’t have to provide you with water, health, bread, but we do provide you with entertainment – and if you don’t like it – there is always a police baton instead.
In the critique of biopolitics there was no place for a positive biopolitics: a state management with the assistance of science and medicine. I agree that technoscience and modern medicine can become complicit with violence. But let’s not forget that medicine and science are also a war, a fight aimed at overcoming other violence stemming from the arbitrariness of the market, the arbitrariness of diseases, the arbitrariness of hunger. Do we dare to accuse Cuban doctors trained in philosophical seminars of “spreading” biopolitics? Or rather, we will remember that once the Left was not afraid to be promethean, nor to use ” just violence ” to fight human and non-human opponents. It is worth remembering that you can escape the simple binary divisions between medicine as a system and human experience when you look at the political achievements of evidence-based patient movements. Networks of support, solidarity, emphasis on official medicine, but everything in dialogue with evidence-based knowledge was a force for movement of AIDS patients. In this way they not only helped to overcome the disease, they created solidarity networks, but also changed the technoscientific medicine (4).
The ambiguous coupling of modern science, including medicine, with the state made scientific experts allies of power. It was a source of great temptation and could corrupt. Lessons from the countries of so-called “real socialism” show successes as well as bitter costs, abuses linked with it.Of course, we must learn from the mistakes of modern capitalism, such as, for example, co-responsible for the pandemic large-scale animal farming. Today we already know that it is impossible to exploit “cheap nature” as innocently as we used to. Of course, we know that it is no longer possible to return innocently to Soviet-style socialism, which sees its own agency in the smoking chimneys of factories.
Yet the lessons of once “actually existing socialism” are not only about socialism; it is worth remembering that power depended, at least to some extent, on experts. The „breeding” of people requires expert knowledge, and it was advisable to listen to those who knew what to do so that we would not die. Of course breeding is an ambiguous term, contaminated with eugenics; I use it consciously to emphasize my full awareness that my proposals do not overlook threats and abuse. In my view, breeding rather refers to the household, pre-political conditions of the existence of policies. Arendt threw the household out of her optics for thinking about politics. Only that freedom “in the political sphere” is not possible without the physical establishment of a biological security sphere. By suppressing this fact, we are not invalidating biology, but we are suppressing it. Indeed, the reflection on “breeding” is historically burdened. Consider the Enlightenment absolutism of Frederick II the Great, who as der Kartoffelkönig, devoted a great deal of attention to thinking about the biological well-being of the population. Let’s not retreat from deliberately confronting this ambiguity!
When the legitimacy of power was biopolitical, and the state was to provide for the operation of the “apparatuses of security,” then the voice of experts could to some extent influence the shape of power. After all, it would be unfortunate if in our “kennel,” the citizens lived shorter, less healthy lives than in the competition “kennel”. The post-political authority stops worrying about this. It grew up in times and thanks to the success of modernity, whose fruits it happily consumed. The (still) working “apparatuses of security” kept our post-political spectacles alive. Only, that’s exactly what ends.
This is because, contrary to the legal-political ontology of Agamben, Schmitt, Kaczyński, Trump, Johnson, there has always been something beyond politics, beyond the legal order, beyond the post-political scene. Yes, Agamben is right when he points out that the modern state created a specific kind of exclusion symbolized by the term homo sacer. Only he does not notice that it is not the only kind of exclusion. That is why I propose that biopolitics should be treated as a game, a dialectic of (at least) two mechanisms, management of people, population, “breeding people” burdened, unfortunately, with the risk of the emergence of a pathological excess of sovereign power – which homo sacer symbolizes. But there is also a second mechanism, a naked process of violence connected with the lack of interference, violence resulting not from an excess of political, state or simply subjective interference, but violence resulting from failure to act, from omission, from not preventing.
It is easy to account for abuses of management responsibility, more difficult to account for omissions. James C. Scott in his book Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed is preying on failed projects to improve the human condition. However, he did not write a second book about the victims resulting from the failure of the state of science to improve their fate Yes, Euro Atlantic philosophers in their parochialism can dream about the pre-modern world, some 250 years back, and it may seem to them that it was better then without a biopolitical state. But their dream has two fundamental flaws: 1) By promoting this obscurantist vision of the golden age of the past, they become allies of plagues, floods and famine, hiding their victims so that the pre-modern picture looks nice. 2). They also show their Eurocentric face, not noticing that the biopolitical projects allowing the emergence of vast, demographically numerous communities, humanity was already able to produce hundreds or even thousands of years before European modernity (this was particularly evident in classical China) (5). Yes, criticism of state power underpinned by a scientific, biopolitical rationale, is important and necessary, but it should be balanced by criticism of the world that emerges when without it. Yes, let us speak up in defence of homo sacer – the victims of violence of the state apparatus machineries, but let us also speak up for those who died because there were no “machineries” to stand up for them:
I would like to propose the concept of homo nyama to define a human being as a flesh, whose fate is the result of capitalist changes. Homo nyama is a hidden condition of (…) capitalism, a victim of naked violence, a nameless death, from hunger or flooding, a death so “unimportant” that it is even invisible to the biopolitical apparatus of demographic power. Homo nyama dies, often not even subjected to formal violence, the oppression of the state. Homo nyama is (…), it is a drama of naked life subjected to the power of hunger, cold, disease, slave labour on a plantation, oppression in the “shadow interior” of a household, being reduced to the role of exploited, beaten, raped meat (6).
It is not the one-sided criticism of biopolitics that we need, but a rational evaluation of it. Let’s stop mumbling pseudo-humanistic and theological dreams of being outside biopolitics. Let us dare to confront the reality: the great projects of collective work such as states, cities, necessarily “breed people,” and “manage” them, their bodies, and their biology. Our societies are so numerous, so complex, that they cannot survive without such machines of collective action. Let us dare to propose an accelerationist project of positive biopolitics undertaken in the name of the struggle against hunger, disease, death, or whatever else humans experience as homo-nyama – exposed to the power of arbitrary existence. This does not mean that we are to be blind, that our project will generate exclusionary power, will create homo sacer. Nor does it mean that we must succumb to the blind capitalist mechanism of growth for itself. The project of accelerationist biopolitics may in practice mean a conscious slowing down, suppressing part of the needs, restriction of excess consumption to make our societies more resilient to future pandemics or climate change. Securing ontological and biopolitical safety should be a step to more just societies. As we remember for Vladimir Lenin Communism is Soviet government plus the electrification of the whole country, let us propose this basic idea: accelerationist communism is the power of democracy plus biopolitical security for all.
The task for us is to carefully look for the best possible democratic biopolitical (self-)breeding project, without fooling ourselves that not doing anything will overcome hunger, disease and death.
(1) Homer, The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. London: Penguin, 1990. Book IX, lines 189-91. Pp. 256. Thanks to William Coker for pointing out this parallel.
(2) This phrase was inspired by a discussion with Krzysztof Nawratek.
(3) M. Bobako Hegemonia – polityczny wymiar bezpieczeństwa ontologicznego, w: Bezpieczeństwo ontologiczne. (red.) Artur Dobosz i Andrzej Piotr Kowalski: Oficyna Wydawnicza „Epigram” (Eidōlon) Bydgoszcz 2007, s. 131.
(4) Steven Epstein, “The Construction of Lay Expertise: AIDS Activism and the Forging of Credibility in the Reform of Clinical Trials” Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 20, No. 4, Special Issue: Constructivist Perspectives on Medical Work: Medical Practices and Science and Technology Studies (Autumn, 1995), pp. 408-437, Steven Epstein, Impure Science. AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge, University of California Press 1998.
(5) It is worthwhile to explore further the notion of yangsheng:
“The power that is mobilized in yangsheng practice is not a domination from above or resistance from below, and it has little to do with the weapons of prohibition or deduction of life. Although yangsheng cooperates with state discourses, even enjoys its collaborations with the state, it creates a space apart. This space may not be much larger than that occupied by a group of retired people with swords, and it may not be much more significant for politics than the everyday powers of personal effectiveness. But yangsheng nevertheless achieves a kind of mastery. It exerts control over life from within, practicing the civilized arts that give form to life.”
Judith Farquhar, Qicheng Zhang, “Biopolitical Beijing: Pleasure, Sovereignty, and Self-Cultivation in China’s Capital”, Cultural Anthropology, 2005 Vol. 20, Issue 3, pp. 303–327,323
(6) Andrzej W. Nowak Europejska nowoczesność i jej wyparte konstytuujące „zewnętrze, „Nowa Krytyka” 26-27/2011, s/ 279.”
Andrzej W. Nowak, philosopher, academic teacher and researcher, works in the Philosophy Department of Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland. His current research focus is on (social) ontology and social studies of science and technology. Propagator of Immanuel Wallerstein’s theory of the modern world-system, particularly interested in the study of semi-peripherality. Tries to merge the ontological sensitivity of post-humanism with the Promethean promise of modernity and Enlightenment. Author of books: Ontological Imagination. Philosophical (re)construction of phronetic social science (2016, in Polish), Agency, System, Modernity (2011, in Polish)and co-author of Whose Fear? Whose Science? Structures of knowledge and socio-scientific controversies (2016,in Polish). An active participant in public life, occasional columnist, blogger and a devoted bike tourist as well as a marathon runner.