In a Corrupt Society, Cheaters Feel Righteous


In a society that is corrupt, cheaters are fueled by a sense of righteousness. Driving on the 401 near Brockville, listening to NPR, this is what I hear Daniel Coyle say, reacting to Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah.

It's a fantastic insight as to why someone like Lance would not only cheat, but continue to do everything he can to deny that it is cheating.

It also speaks to the larger culture, and the impact that sensational cheaters have, given the attention and spectacle that surrounds their rise and fall.

The righteousness arises from the perception, that not only is everyone else cheating, but that by cheating more, you're beating the cheaters at their own game.

Even further, it is a slippery slope when the cheating and corruption is wide spread. In politics, in business, in sport, it becomes the cultural norm. Either you feel like a sucker for following the rules, or righteous that you're smart enough to break them.

It reminds me of Dr. Ursula Franklin's definition of the word technology. She defines technology as "how we do things around here" speaking both to its normative powers, and the subjective relationship we tend to have with it.

I suspect that is precisely how Lance saw his doping. Merely an issue of employing the latest technology to his advantage.

Dr. Larry Schmidt argues in his book that our relationship with technology eliminates ethics. That we discard the ability to think ethically in our blind embrace of technology.

It begs the question as to whether Lance Armstrong will race again. Will he be forgiven by the American public, by potential sponsors, and by sports officials?

His narcissism is perhaps the most astonishing of all. The divide between his previous public persona and his actual private self that was driven by such raw ambition as to cheat by all means necessary. Some people are questioning how this could be the same person who helped them fight cancer. Yet others cynically react that they knew he was a cheat all along.

However the broader question comes back to corruption. Is our society corrupt? If so, to what extent? At what point does the level of corruption become self-reinforcing, as people believe that it is no longer cheating, but rather the way things are done around here.


This brings up all sorts of ideas around justice. He's been stripped of everything, is that his punishment? Just because he's not going to jail, will we try and rehabilitate him? Or will he always be a cheater?

Lance has brought a lot to the surface with his interview this week, though I am hesitant to blame society for the actions of cheaters. The rationale for banning any doping practices should be as much about protecting the athletes from damaging themselves as it is about ideas like "fairness of competition." So cheaters are literally harming themselves.

I try to split off (1) what an athlete is trying to accomplish (e.g. win) from (2) how they will go about doing it (e.g. within the rules). Lance admits to pursuing victory and by any means possible, which amounts to sport without sportsmanship. No matter how stringent the rules and regulation, you can't impose sportsmanship where it doesn't exist. Fortunately, I know a lot of people who find joy in competing (win or lose) when they have performed their best.

Maybe the societal issues is for us all to see the value in the "means" (e.g. performing well under pressure) as well as in "ends" (winning the yellow jersey).

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