Monday, December 17, 2007

Performance Enhancement.

Today I had a delay before work, and had an opportunity to stop on my way and pick up some performance enhancing drugs at the local coffee chain. It's no secret that I am not a morning person. Every person who deals with me during the first half of the day is no doubt effected. I'd love to make caffeine a part of my everyday morning ritual, but unfortunately my digestive system can't bear up under the acid in standardly-brewed coffee. For some reason, espresso doesn't have the same ill effects on my stomach lining. Would that I could process that dark and bitter sludge the convenience stores serve up- that would make a lot of folks very happy. So anyway, there's a little extra treat for those in my presence today.

The whole idea of this legal stimulant makes me think a lot about the current hubbub affecting major league baseball. I wonder what would happen if employers throughout our nation suspended and/or fined their employees for chemically "enhancing" their job performance. I imagine there would probably be a revolution the likes of which our good old forefather Jefferson called for when he talked of the blood that nourishes the tree of liberty. It seems to me rather hypocritical to pick on these multimillionaire heroes basking in the public spotlight. Our society demands extremes- run faster, get stronger, and work harder. Is it really any surprise that professional sports figures look for that extra edge? There is so much (not the least of it huge sums of money) riding on the outcomes of these games.

I think it's important to remember that these contests are games. Yet at the same time, they serve a very crucial role in our particular society. They condition us for war. It may seem flippant to make a comparison between an amusement played with a ball, and the blood-drenched activities of war. Obviously warfare has a greater power to change lives permanently. But our sports obsession grounds young people in the concepts of militarism, and without sports I think it would be more difficult to conduct our special form of international diplomacy. How do we get our populace to understand the idea of "us versus them"? In what ways can we illuminate the importance of victory for its own sake and at any cost... or for no discernible purpose at all? For such answers- simply attend a high school football game on Friday night, or go over to your friend's house on any Sunday during Autumn or Winter.

Clearly then, if winning is the important thing... we must do everything we can to meet that goal. There used to be something called "good sportsmanship", which included elaborate structures and the threat of peer disapproval as a response to violations of this informal code. There also (not coincidentally) used to be "rules of engagement" in war. The time when "will to power" was tempered by such attitudes is long gone. The tragedies of the Twentieth Century made them obsolete. We have finally and completely accepted "total war", and this means the only acceptable outcome is victory at any cost. Try suggesting that our soldiers should limit their means for winning on the battlefield- you will risk being called a defeatist, or even worse- a traitor.

Given the current state of things- when I heard President Bush's comments on the George Mitchell report concerning doping among baseball players, I was appalled by the (admittedly customary) hypocrisy. Dubya's actions in the War on Terror have not been mitigated by international law nor the guarantees of the Bill of Rights. He will go to any lengths to achieve his objectives (whatever they may actually be). If you think the US military would stop short of administering performance-enhancing drugs to our armed forces, then you are hopelessly naive. I know that the latest revelations about athletes "cheating" with steroids sets a bad example for our children, but there is nothing novel about this in the world of sports today... nor in the sphere of actual militarism. Of course (as usual) the mainstream media has missed the "real story". Our sports are a reflection of our nation's values, and unfortunately this entire controversy is woefully consistent with our times.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous jefg said...

Are you suggesting that America's favorite "game" or past-time is no longer baseball? Truth is, I cannot understand why the Congress feels the need to be so heavily involved in what is a private matter, and something I don't think was illegal (i.e.; athletes using performance-enhancing drugs in baseball). It they are looking for things symptomatic of larger issues in America, there are plenty of other bigger (more appropriate) fishes to fry. The again, it's about media and politics.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Yeah, I guess that's what I'm suggesting- out here it certainly seems like its football. But war? Maybe.

I agree. It's a media circus, and the levels of hypocrisy throughout society on this issue have gotten me down.

7:26 PM  

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