Friday, July 27, 2007

Sports and Doping

Tibor R. Machan

When my good friend expressed to me his views on the doping at the
Tour de France, I wrote back to him: "I don't care." He was a bit
upset but didn't protest too much. Why, indeed, should one care about
everything that's going on in the world? Sports are probably what the
economists' claim that there is no disputing taste applies to most
uncontroversially. I like tennis a lot, you baseball, she swimming,
and so on. None is superior; I don't care how much you are attached to

But getting back to doping, why is that such a big deal? My friend,
who is a very smart cookie, had a few insightful things to say about
this that may be worth considering for those who do care. As he put
his point,
"Why do some folks oppose doping? We only watch when
the athletes do things that people shouldn't even be able to do. The
drugs only facilitate this 'supernatural' power. Take a sport, like
football. Clearly the athletes like the dope. The team owners love
it. The spectators love it. Who is against this? A question was
asked of high school athletes: If drugs guarantee a ten year career
in professional sports at the price of shortening your life by ten
years, would you take the drugs? To my amazement, only 70 percent
said yes. Maybe the 30 percent are, like, really stupid, or they were
questioned in the presence of some adult—maybe a parent—and lied. If
TV says we will only buy your stuff if you eliminate dope, then dope
would be gone. That would require that the advertisers boycott drugged
sports. Not sure that will happen. For some reason cycling is trying
to police 'performance enhancing' actions. Why? No one else is trying.
Vino was charged with getting a blood transfusion. This is a routine
action inside a hospital, probably routine in sports (a lot of trouble
though); seems like a tricky thing to test for, much better to catch
the guy in the act…."

For me, in contrast to my friend, the more telling issue is that in
nearly every area of life people make ample use of artificial
enhancements. They wear makeup, eye glasses, toupees, high heels,
shoulder pads, and hundreds of other items that they believe will help
them do better at various tasks, more or less important. Such is what
comes from our ability to be creative and to apply this capacity to
self-help. So what? Why protest? If the kind of authenticity that the
opponents of doping want were really a great human good, why not
object to all these artificial enhancements?

Maybe there is some entrenched bureaucracy at work here
that makes a good living off the monitoring, testing and punishing of
doping but I do not see why bother. If we all knew that there are no
bans against doping, and if we made it evident that going to excess is
dangerous, what else is needed?

I suppose the myth of "clean" sports is a powerful one and among the
officials highly prized, though for the life of me I cannot see what
the point is. Not when we consider how ubiquitous artificial
self-enhancement is among people and how little is the harm that comes
from it, all things considered.

I did start by saying I do not care and, yes, I don't. I shall not
send this missive to officials of the Tour de France or any other
sport. But I respect my friend's contributions to debates about
matters of widespread concern to members of the public and so I
thought I would air his views, along with my own, to stir up a little
forthright thinking about the matter.

Yes, yes, doping can be harmful but everything, really, can be when
overdone. So I suggest that we just stick to sensible warnings and
leave the matter to the athletes and their consultants. And the those
interest can be forewarned and enjoy the sports knowing full well what
is going on.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Shadows of Stalin

Tibor R. Machan

Although the Republic of Georgia is more inclined, as a country and even as a government, toward a system of free market capitalism, it is far from having implemented it. When it comes to neighboring Armenia and its unfortunate adversary, Azerbaijan, they are very far from having made progress toward the free society.

I am not someone who likes looking at disasters—rubbernecking has never been my habit and I recall find it very difficult to read books by Alexander Solzhenitsyn about the labor camps in the old Soviet Union. Even tales of heroic resistance to totalitarianism through history failed to appeal to me because while the heroism was admirable, there was too much of the misery in the stories being told.

Nonetheless, I have been doing a lot of lecturing lately in former Soviet bloc countries such as Bulgaria, Poland, Armenia, and so forth. Every time I land in one of these countries I go through some unwelcome emotional upheavals because I can easily imagine not having managed to escape what happened in them, even though I did, in fact, escape it all when I was smuggled out of Hungary in 1953 as a young kid. The experience of hiding from the well armed, murderous border guards was enough to encourage in me a life-long interest in the study of the difference between free and oppressed countries, between those that have been seriously influenced by individualism and classical liberalism and those that have followed the path of collectivism and the planned system of political economy. And this, in turn, has lead to my writing on the topic and to being invited conferences, seminars and such to engage in debates and make presentations in the discipline of political economy, including in some of these countries. Seeing the interest shown in the ideas and ideals of the free society by many people in these societies has also lessened my reluctance to think about the Soviet era.

One observations I have come away with this time, as I travel and lecture in the Republic of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan is that if you find people there who defend the old system, they do so much more forthrightly than those who champion them in the West. Those who favor collectivism in the West tend to soften its tenets considerably. They don’t talk so much about ruling others but of how they need help. They don’t speak of how most others are stupid but how the system deceives them and leadership is needed to protect them from such deception.

The few defenders of the old regime in the former Soviet bloc countries where I have visited are more direct. Most people are stupid and need the smart ones among us to tell them what to do, how to live, what goes to pursue, and so forth. It is not equality or community that is important but being made to do what is right and that is something only the bright people know. So they should rule, period, whatever the results. We know, they figure, that when these bright people rule, no one can really control them, and no one can guide how they will implement their rule. So, full confidence is necessary in their role as leaders of the mob. All those nice sounding substitutes for forthright authoritarianism can be dispensed with. What is important is to make sure that those in the know get to run the show.

I have to say that it was refreshing to argue with folks who didn’t mince their words, didn’t use all the euphemisms as they defended a top down fully planned society. There was no mention of the need for democratic participation—after all, why consult all those stupid people who needed to be ruled when the reason they need to be ruled is that they are clueless about how to live?

Sometimes it would be so nice to have colleagues of mine at Western universities who champion statism come right out and defend the idea without mincing words, without prettying up what they are advocating, namely, a society ruled by the elite of which they would surely be members.