So What if Lance Armstrong Doped?
That’s the question the Future Culturalist is asking.
So what if he used performance-enhancing drugs and underwent blood transfusions to boost his strength and endurance?
It worked, didn’t it?
Seven times it worked.
The only thing Armstrong should be guilty of is continually denying his involvement in the doping program. He should feel no shame in reaching and, indeed, surpassing the absolute pinnacle of human athleticism. Few people in the history of the world have shared the view he commands from that lofty height. And how did he get there?
EPO. Cortisone. Testosterone. Steroids.
And an awful lot of hard work.
As a result, he — as well as fellow dopers Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, et al. — can rightfully join the ranks of great men of sports, such as this guy:
The Future Culturalist knows what you’re thinking. “But the dude cheated,” you insist. “He lied. Repeatedly.”
All true claims. The Future Culturalist can’t argue there.
But here’s a question for you: Why is performance-enhancement frowned upon as a matter of course only in the world of sports, whereas in all over professions and industries, people can dabble with performance-enhancing drugs with relative impunity (except where the law is concerned, of course)? Should it change our opinion of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s startlingly imaginative (and, some might say, ultimately meaningless) Romantic-era poem “Kubla Khan” once we acknowledge that he composed it in a white heat after waking from an opium-induced dream? Should the poem be “disqualified” from the Norton anthology of Western literature because its creator had an unfair advantage over poets who chose not to take opium?
What about Papa Hemingway, who prided himself on “doping”? One of his most famous quotes is “Write drunk, edit sober.” At least his buddy Fitzgerald had the decency to write his novels clean (allegedly). Is The Great Gatbsy, therefore, a “purer” novel than For Whom the Bell Tolls, more demonstrable of unadulterated creativeness the most naturally talented humans can muster?
How about the Beatles, the Doors, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix? Should their music be accompanied by an asterisk warning listeners that they were “cheating” (using cannabis and other mind-altering drugs)?
You get the point. The analogy, though imperfect, isn’t quite as apples-and-oranges as you might initially think. The biggest difference is that professional athletes have a contractual agreement not to dope (and, if caught, their past victories are routinely stripped from their records), whereas professional writers, artists, actors and musicians have only the law to fear. Otherwise, the elements of competition and “fairness” still apply in the performing and fine arts. Don’t they?
So what does all of this have to do with speculation of life and culture in the future?
In brief, attitudes toward doping, especially among young people, are already shifting from intolerance to leniency. This trend will likely continue and might even reach the threshold where doping is necessary if professional athletes reasonably expect to compete with other “augmented” athletes.
We’ve already discussed how, in the next half-century or so, computer implants in the brain will become widespread, vastly enhancing our processing power, calculation speed, prediction-making and the like. Can you imagine how exciting a football game would be if all players not only doped but were also enhanced with computer implants, granting them lightning-fast reflexes?
The Future Culturalist assures his readers that such games will be slightly more exhilarating than the classic robot football arcade game Cyberball 2072.
Inevitably there will come a time when all professional sports leagues and groups and organizations must ask themselves whether they will continue to “fight the good fight” and disallow doping and other forms of augmentation… or concede that humans, when given the liberty to pursue performance-enhancement by whatever means, can do some pretty incredible feats once considered superhuman. Like winning the Tour de France. Seven times. After surviving testicular cancer. If sports commissioners choose to go with option two, they most likely will move to establish two separate leagues within each sport — one for dopers and one for non-dopers — both with their own unique codes of conduct.
It’s hard to imagine a 2099 in which spectators’ attentions are still being captured by non-augmented, “normal” humans — exceptionally athletic though they are — performing at pretty much the same caliber of skill humans have today. No doubt “classic” sports will survive as a niche market for the sentimentalists and nostalgists, but by and large, sports played by augmented men and women will become the norm.