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Friday, January 18, 2013

Rules are rules?

Lance Armstrong is a dirty cheater. He's also a philanthropist who's spent countless hours helping millions of cancer victims and their families. Some people love him; some people hate him. I don't really have an opinion, although what I remember most about him is a dodge ball movie.

I won't make many friends with my argument here today. I won't find many who agree. That doesn't matter. I hope you consider what I have to say fairly, and if you want to talk about it, please feel free to comment below.

I don't think that taking performance enhancing drugs is cheating.

I said, I don't think that taking performance enhancing drugs is cheating. Whether it's safe or not is a different question, and certainly one that should be examined, but I'll never understand why everyone thinks there's something wrong with it.

Let's look at both sides of this argument:
The use of performance enhancers is cheating because it violates constitutive rules of the activity. Since such use is cheating, it is wrong and we should expect the disqualification of competitors who are caught doping. This conclusion is established through a simple and straightforward argument. Cheating is the deliberate, knowing, and voluntary violation of certain constitutive rules in order to gain a competitive advantage. Since the violation is knowing, the attempt to gain an advantage is illegitimate and unethical, and the advantage sought is thus unfair. The knowing and voluntary use of proscribed substances is an attempt to gain such an unfair advantage. Some specified performance enhancers, anabolic steroids for example, are listed as proscribed substances in certain sports. The deliberate use of steroids is thus an illegitimate attempt to gain an unfair advantage. We conclude that their use is cheating.
Well, I've just got to say it. I'm flummoxed flabbergasted and appalled! That's the argument against performance enhancing drugs? I re-read that paragraph several times and all it says is that rules are rules. You can boil it all down to that one sentence: Rules are rules. What a fatuous and asinine argument that is! Why? Why are rules, rules? What were they before they were rules? Not-rules? I'm serious. Every time somebody holds forth with the rules are rules, point I just feel like winding up a bitchslap like Roger Clemons winding up a fastball. So what? Rules are rules? I suppose water is water too? U.S. Water, Mexican water. It doesn't matter because guess what? Water is water, right? What, you have a problem with Mexican water Amigo?

Here's the other side:
There is no difference between elevating your blood count by altitude training, by using a hypoxic air machine, or by taking EPO [erythropoietin]. But the last is illegal. Some competitors have high PCVs [packed cell volumes] and an advantage by luck. Some can afford hypoxic air machines. Is this fair? Nature is not fair. Ian Thorpe has enormous feet which give him an advantage that no other swimmer can get, no matter how much they exercise. Some gymnasts are more flexible, and some basketball players are seven feet tall. By allowing everyone to take performance enhancing drugs, we level the playing field. We remove the effects of genetic inequality. Far from being unfair, allowing performance enhancement promotes equality.
Well, that's just a solid argument in my book. I'd like to hear your argument against that one. I'll just bring up a few more points and call it a day.

Some people say that using performance enhancing drugs is cheating because people who follow the rules don't use them and therefore the ones who do have an unfair advantage. Well, that's true I guess, as far as it goes, but then again, competitors use a variety of strategies that other competitors don't use, many times because they can't afford them, many times because they don't know about them, many times because they're physically unable to follow them. One thing is certain; the ones who utilize the most effective training strategies tend to win the most competitions. Here's what gets me though: when it gets right down to it, the only argument is that it's unfair to use them because other competitors don't use them and so they just don't do it... because rules are rules! Do you see where this is going? "RULES ARE RULES," IS NOT AN ARGUMENT!!!!

Ok, let's look at this a different way. What if we subject the whole performance enhancing argument to my favorite technique: Reductio Ad Absurdum?

Suppose your argument is that because these performance enhancing drugs are not natural, because they're artificially invented by some mad-scientist type in a laboratory somewhere it's just naturally wrong. You see artificial is unnatural and therefore should not be allowed. We don't want some crazy mad-scientist Dr. Jeykll pharmaceuticals causing Mr. Hyde up in here. Yes that's right! We're only going to allow natural herbal supplements. But what if?... What if somebody found a plant that did the same thing as anabolic steroids? Let's just pretend that this plant has been growing in the jungles of Borneo for thousands of years. It's a secret closely guarded by the Ibu Dayak, a tribe of headhunters. These savages have been shrinking heads since time immemorial and seeing as how they don't want their own heads to be shrunken in return, this performance enhancing plant they've discovered is a highly prized, highly valued, closely guarded professional headhunting secret.

Ah! but then you say: No No No! Rules are rules! Absolutely no performance enhancing drugs whether they are natural or artificial are to be allowed. Except vitamins of course. And maybe some other stuff that's not all that effective. Well actually there's a whole list of artificial mad-scientist chemistry that's apparently okay to use. I guess a board or a panel gets together and looks at the evidence. If the artificial or naturally occurring substance actually does have real physical benefits it's not allowed. So by that logic I suppose we should also prohibit protein? And exercise? And practice? These are all things people take or perform before a competition that helps them perform at a higher level during competition.

Taking performance enhancing drugs during the off-season is not allowed. They call that cheating. Ok, well, since we're declaring something somebody does when they're not even playing the game cheating, how about we also declare that what the competitors' parents did before they were even born can also be cheating? I mean, if chewing an Ibu Dayak headshrinker leaf, five years before you ever even learned how to ride a bicycle is cheating, then obviously that means that if your parents chewed it before you were born then you're now likewise perhaps a cheater today. I'm sorry sir, it's come to our attention that your mother was spotted chewing a leaf from Borneo when you were living in her tummy, therefore you'll never be allowed to compete in any sport in the known universe...ever. Sorry about that old boy, better luck next incarnation. This is Reductio Ad Absurdum. How far back are we going to go to make sure there's no cheating? Adam and Eve?

Before you stand up and declare that I've just erected a straw man fallacy, consider the state of genetic science. Who is to say that scientists won't genetically engineer a super athlete in a test tube and then put it in mama's tummy? Would that be fair? What if they gave a kid flippers? Not allowed you say? Well what if I'm some kind of mutant-freak with webbed feet and because of my naturally occurring mutation I become a world-champion swimmer is that fair? If that's fair then what about a mechanical advantage Like Oscar Pistorius? If he can have blades then who is to say what kind of artificial appendages a swimmer could have? You see where this is going don't you? I guess we'll just have to come up with something regarding how effective these fake legs/flippers are allowed to be. There will have to be a panel or a committee or something. They'll need to make some rules...

If genetic manipulation is against the rules, what about a program where the top competitors are selected and crossbred so that ever more talented and powerful athletes are born? This is not natural selection it's artificial selection and therefore...You can't compete because both your mother and your father were athletes and that unfair pairing constitutes a sort of reproductive cheating strategy...sorry pal, rules are rules.

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