From 1979 until the late 1980s I was a jogger. For the first few of those years I'd go for a run most days, and then it got to be fewer and fewer days until my jogging fizzled out. Early in 1992 I took up walking instead, trying to do a 3- or 4-mile brisk walk (sometimes further) five or six days a week. That habit I have kept up until now, though in busier or 'lazier' periods I'll be doing it three or four times a week rather than five or six.
All this is by way of explaining that I really like walking and haven't ever got bored with it in the way I did get bored with jogging. And I therefore agree with Lynsey Hanley when she says in today's Graun that walking is good and, more particularly, that it gives you knowledge of your local environment. This latter is a good in itself, whatever beneficial byproducts it might also throw up. I know that when Adèle and I moved from Manchester to Cambridge just over two years ago, I found it enormously satisfying using my afternoon walks to 'map out' the neighbourhood in which we now live, seeing how everything connected up and feeling more in control (rather than the total stranger I'd been to begin with) as bit bit by bit I made my way around south Cambridge.
What I'm much more doubtful about is Hanley's way of connecting walking and the knowledge it yields, as opposed to not walking and the ignorance it yields, with the interests of... capitalism. She has come to believe, she says, 'that there is a vested interest at work in capitalism that ensures we do as little of it [walking] as possible'. The supporting argument for this belief of hers is that walking is 'one of a number of antidotes to ignorance, binding us to our environment through the accumulation of local knowledge'.
One of the reasons I'm sceptical of Hanley's view is that I don't think it's remotely plausible to say, on the basis of the historical record of capitalist development, that there has been a vested capitalist interest at work in maintaining ignorance. In fact, I think this would be a preposterous claim. There may be specific interests amongst capitalists at any given time in preferring ignorance of certain matters to knowledge about them. But, overall, capitalist development has also helped to disseminate education and knowledge, from basic literacy to the acquisition of technical skills, from impelling scientific advances to making the products of culture more widely available, in a way that was historically unprecedented. Furthermore, the experience of walkers, as valuable as it is, isn't uniquely privileged as a source of information and knowledge. Cyclists, users of public transport and, yes, even drivers of private cars acquire their own kinds of knowledge from their respective activities, knowledge which is also relevant to the making of sound and/or just public policy.
The theme walking-is-good-and-(therefore)-opposed-to/by-capitalism is all too familiar as a variant of the idea that capitalism is all bad and that nothing good has or can come of it - an idea that is as false today as it always has been.