Sports Enhancements

I guess I am turning to this a little late, but that seems to be the main argument Sally Jenkins made on the 20th.  Her argument is that the sports doping debate has been occluded by the powers-that-be to conflate therapy and enhancement and that we need to be sophisticated in our analysis.  I’ll say meh to that conclusion, even though this article reads as a support for my politics in this matter.

Disclosure.  Professional athletes are freaks.  There is nothing normal nor average about them.  Even the mental abilities of the best ones are truly astounding.  This whole doping is bad debate seems to begin by neglecting this.  Selling sports as some sort of Horatio Algers bootstraps story is ludicrous and I would contend harmful.  How many millions of people have slighted their education and opportunities all in the name of the glory and riches of the never-to-be-attained ranks of professional sports?  It’s infuriating.   I support enhancements.  I can fall back on some “free choice” grounds and sound like Rand Paul.  But I prefer a more cyborged explanation: their is no natural, no pristine, no level playing field.

The very ground the anti-dopers are trying to reclaim/preserve is a fiction.  A dangerous one.  We should move beyond it.  Jenkins’ article actually sets back this movement.  First, her distinction between therapy and enhancement is not at all rigorous.  Muscles grow simply by being destroyed and needing to heal, therapy.  All enhancement is therapy.  Soft-pitching a scientific rational to the other side is not a worthwhile endeavor.

Second, a focus on this distinction does not advance where the debate really needs to be.  The debate should not be about what is a fair treatment for athletes (fair only within a circle of athletes).  Rather, we should see sports as a vehicle for propelling medicine and science about the body.  There is so much money involved, not to mention emotional attachments, that this is the cultural referent most publicly accessing the intersections of body, science, and values.  Why then would we proscribe the cutting-edge?  These advances trickle down to civilians.  A more direct method of infusion would be ideal, but this is what we have to work with.

One thought on “Sports Enhancements

  1. ejb

    This is all very well put. I really can’t agree more.

    The one thing I’d “add” is that not only is the distinction between enhancement and therapy difficult to draw- it’s basically impossible/dangerous. Obviously all concepts are susceptible to the semantic slippery slope argument (as Nietzsche lays out very clearly in “On Truth and Lies…”)- a “leaf” or “chair” lacks clear ontological boundaries, as does everything else. But for “human form”- not only are clear distinctions contrived- but necessarily dangerous. Identifying the “authentic” or “natural” human form has a very very nasty history. And you can’t distinguish “therapy” from “enhancement” without identifying the baseline norm.

    Man, are we on the bad side of this public argument at the moment now. :/

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