Let us turn out attention to an age old debate. One that has been running for many years, and will no doubt still be running for many years to come. I have recently sacrificed my own trips to the gym to concentrate more on studying and reading, but does that mean that my knowledge is better than someone else’s strength? Does David still beat Goliath? Does Nerd beat Jock? Is brain better than brawn?

Since the biblical stories written centuries ago it has been the standard duel. Even today it is an ever-present format for battles and challengesArt of Manliness writes “They are the two stock characters of many a movie and television show, especially those set in high school or college: the jock and the nerd. Brains and brawn. The meathead and the brainiac… The jock excels at sports, but has little between his ears. The nerd is a whiz in the lab but a total klutz on the field. The only time the two come together is when the jock reluctantly asks the nerd for tutoring help so as not to be kicked off the team for failing grades”.

We are all familiar with this tale. It is the “dichotomy we grow up with, the two categories we are told we may aspire to. And it’s a trend that only seems to have accelerated in our modern times”. In careers of the distant past, you needed to be physically strong and superior. Life was a struggle, and those living in Medieval and feudal times needed to withstand all the hardships of existence in that era. You needed to be strong to survive, and quite often strength was all that you could hope to achieve as education was off limits to many people. Farmers, smiths, soldiers, and labourers were all common professions, there were no theorists or lawyers, and very few accountants and lecturers.

Though physicality is still important now, it is not so necessary. Revolutions in technology and innovation in the workplace means that human intensive work is declining. Machines and robots are taking the places of humans in many professions, and even in professions where humans are still needed, they no longer need to be as large and physical as they were previously. Farmers now have access to harvesters and tractors, builders can use cranes and all the electronic tools designed to make work easier.

I believe that unless you are an athlete or a bodybuilder there is really no need to go further than a certain level of physical strength. Do not get me wrong, it is vital that people remain fit and healthy, but unless you are in a certain career that demands absolute peak physical levels, the hours and hours of work in the gym may be unnecessary. Indeed it has been shown that being in the gym for more than a certain amount of time does not actually benefit you, it may in fact damage you. Presidio Fitness believes that a “meaningful workout” should last no more than 30-45 minutes.

This should not be viewed as an attack on those people that attend the gym, I used to attend regularly and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. The gym though, was not my life. I enjoyed the feeling of working out, the endorphins that are produced, the after-glow of a good session, but I made time for other things. Physical strength and image should not be the be-all and end-all of someone’s life. I am very much in support of a fit and healthy life, but I am also a very firm believer in expanding your knowledge and working on your mental strength as well as your physical strength.

Perhaps people attend the gym because they enjoy it, because it is their hobby and they like to be fit and healthy. Perhaps too, there are some people that go who are only interested in the vanity side of things. The ones who believe that beauty and attraction are purely physical, the shallow idea that image is everything and if you do not have a six-pack and bulging muscles, you are not worth looking at. Unless you look like the model on the cover of Men’s Health then you are not a man. Fight Club portrays this nicely as the two protagonists are standing on a bus looking at a Calvin Klein advert, “Is that what a man looks like? Self-improvement is masturbation. Now self-destruction…”

There is a darker side to fitness and health and that is because of the influence of capitalism. With the media promoting an impossible standard of beauty for the large majority of us, we are constantly left with the feelings of insecurity and unworthiness. Gyms, fitness groups and businesses selling products make billions of pounds of profit from customers each year. Following Christmas and the obligatory over-spending on presents and food, rather than saving money, one of the first things people tend to do is follow a New Years resolution and head straight to the gym. Even over the last few years where we have experienced terrible financial troubles, gyms across the country are increasing their profits. The Gym Group reported in 2012 that their turnover grew by 88%, “from £7.2m to £13.5m”. A few years before that Duncan Bannatyne saw his chain of gyms record “pre-tax profits of £12.6m, which were up 38% on the previous year”.

Something is seriously wrong in a society whereby eating disorders are so common, yet still the media promote an anorexic standard of beauty. Whereby gyms and fitness groups are recording increased profits year after year, yet still the rates of obesity, and the average BMI is increasing. Something is seriously wrong in society whereby an image of a person is rated more highly than the substance of that person. Why is there a celebrity culture where we hang on their every tweet and instagram, yet the people who truly have something to say are ignored and marginalised.

There is such an emphasis placed on people’s appearances, but why is this emphasis not present when we look at people’s character and intelligence? Surely just as much attention should be given to the mental strength and the inner beauty, as is given to the physical strength and outer beauty. Once again I believe that capitalism has a role to play in this. People are able to educate themselves and improve their knowledge without having to spend tremendous amounts of money. Plastic surgery is not required, neither are gym memberships, neither are shopping sprees for the latest designer clothes. The internet provides a wealth of free information if you know where to look, and local libraries are available to everyone, free of charge. A gym costs money, and libraries are free, so anyone looking to exploit people’s insecurities for monetary gain are bound to focus on the physical side of things, rather than the mental. In essence, brawn is promoted over brain, and our societies fascination with looking good rather than being smart, reflects this.

The focus by the media is on the inadequate physical appearance of the populace. It encourages you to look better, do more and be fitter. You should aspire to have a six-pack, get a toned stomach and lose that baby weight as soon as possible. But where is the focus, and where is the encouragement to learn? Thomas Jefferson spoke of the importance of having a well informed populace but it seems that our stupidity is more beneficial for those running our lives. Our own shallow vanity is only focusing on our image when we should really be looking deeper than that.

I would argue that a more educated, knowledgeable person is going to get further in life than a physically superior one. In terms of careers, qualifications and employment, there are very few lines of work that put a greater emphasis on physical ability than they do intellectual know-how. Even within the careers whereby strength and physical superiority are required, intelligence still plays a vital role. Muhammad Ali, is remembered as a great not only because he was an incredible boxer, but also because he was a brilliant thinker. An intellectual man, a sort of philosopher both inside and outside the ring. The greatest boxer that ever lived, and the “Sportsman of the Century” according to Sports Illustrated, was known just as much for his brain as for his brawn.

Look at the people that have changed this world and made a difference. Look at those who are remembered, whose names everybody knows, those that have gone down in history and will be learned about throughout the ages. Overwhelmingly they are the ones that use their brains, rather than their brawn. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, the list goes on. It seems that even genetically brains appeal more than brawn. According to German geneticists, “by favouring intelligence over strength and looks, our female ancestors set in motion a process that, over thousands of years, has developed the modern human brain”. It seems as if their sexual selection process, “running hand in hand with the fact that brighter individuals are more likely to survive anyway, has resulted in a tripling in the size of the human brain over 2.5million years”. Perhaps then an emphasis and greater focus on mental capabilities rather than physical, not only improves our personal life but also the life of humans as a species.

I would like to see a society whereby libraries are promoted in the same way that gyms are. Where friends share library nights as well as gym nights. Where people update their Facebook status’ with “Hard work in the library tonight, got through three books”. Until as much emphasis and devotion is put into learning and mental self-improvement, as image and physical self-improvement, this society will sadly not become a reality. The iconic American broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite once said, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation”.

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