This ain’t gonna be a popular opinion, but since when have I let that stop me?
Long time ago there was this thing in America called Prohibition. If you wanted to drink alcohol you were a criminal. The act of imbibing in spirits was considered against the law. You couldn’t buy, sell, consume, or possess it. This is not a new concept. The Chinese tried it a long time ago, and the Russians and Hungarians more recently, but here in the United States it was federal law for 13 years from 1920 to 1933. Failed a little bit after the stock market crash of 1929 which led to The Great Depression. I guess the American government had more important things to sort out than what you decided to put inside your body. This is still an ongoing argument. There are still people who believe no one should be allowed to put mind altering drugs of any kind into their bodies, even under supervision of a doctor. However, when it comes to alcohol it simply was not cost productive to police laws of prohibition. Every day people enjoy alcoholic beverages in America. Every year there’s statistics of drunk drivers killing themselves and others. People have evidence on both sides of the argument which is compelling, but whether it’s right to drink or not, the cost to police people’s behavior in this area simply outweighs any benefits, and like it or not some people are just gonna be irresponsible behind the wheel whether they’re drinking or not.
More recently in this country we’ve had a different kind of prohibition. We call it The War On Drugs. Granted, I can’t defend the big guns like heroin or cocaine. I’ve seen way too much evidence showing that some drugs simply fuck you up beyond rational excuses to do it anyway. However, I haven’t seen any evidence suggesting marijuana is any worse than alcohol. In fact I have seen evidence that places marijuana as less dangerous in many ways than liquor. There’s other factors involved too though. Though both drugs smell and affect local environment in a way that’s unpleasant to teetotalers, the use of alcohol is slightly less offensive. If you get too close to someone you can smell it on his breath, and if someone spills a beer it can stink up the room, but smoking weed gets in your clothes and the smoke just goes everywhere. Attempts to hide the smell with incense and ventilation systems is simply not effective enough for those easily offended by the stench. I happen to not mind the smell too much but sometimes it can trigger my sinuses. I’m not easily offended though. Others freak out over the slightest whiff tho they’re not at all allergic. They act offended because they’ve been taught to do so. It doesn’t really hurt them, but it does make them unpleasant to be around when they are exposed to it.
Now when it comes to other drugs like steriods and “performance enhancing substances” which sports enthusiasts argue about and some of them use and some of them don’t and some of them do use but pretend they don’t and some of them don’t use but wish privately they could, et cetera, I have seen conflicting evidence regarding the dangers and benefits. I’m not personally convinced either way. I do know that if we used these drugs more often, we’d learn more about them more quickly. However, it’s not socially acceptable to use human beings as lab rats regarding how various chemicals affect our physiology. There’s also a very complicated cause and effect issue here.
Let’s say we let any athlete enhance their performance through any kind of drugs they want to try. Not every athlete’s gonna want to experiment in an attempt to improve their performance in any given sport, and those who do will be seen as having an advantage. Those who don’t want to risk their bodies in this way will and do complain that if this was allowed they wouldn’t be able to fairly compete with those who do, provided the drugs work. If the drugs don’t work and the guy’s heart exploded halfway down the track, then the guy who was clean would be conflicted as he accepted the medal. Did he beat a fellow competitor, or did he beat the fellow competitor’s drug dealer?
One thing I have noticed in recent years is that although I no longer believe in anything, there are some ideas I still seem to consistently find myself supporting and encouraging, even though some of them are unpopular and considered by other people as outrageously stupid. One of my ideas is this concept that an individual should have the right to decide what happens to his or her own body. My rights end somewhere between my fist and your face, but if I’m punching myself in the head, I should be allowed to do that if I choose. This idea that I seem to support carries me through many arguments including the abortion debate, assisted suicide, domestic disturbances, stand your ground laws, the exercise of religious beliefs in public places or around those who disagree w/said beliefs, and many other areas as well. One of the areas that applies to the next paragraph is sports doping.
Lance Armstrong almost died of cancer several years ago, but he beat it, through in no small part to the use of various chemical substances which doctors administered to either fight the cancer or strengthen his immune system after almost killing his body to fight the cancer. Cancer treatment is brutal, to put it mildly. Chemotherapy involves attacking the cancer by putting poisons into the body so dangerous that sometimes the treatment could kill you if the cancer doesn’t. We’re getting better at this as we learn more about it, but essentially you have to make the environment the cancer is thriving in so horrendous that it gives up the ghost, and that means making the human body practically near death in order to kill the tumors. Lance Armstrong not only survived this, but after it was over, he got his body strong enough to compete with others who did not have to fight cancer, and he won his share of cycling races. However, at the time and then for all these years after the fact, Lance Armstrong had to fight with people policing sports and human behavior. There were allegations that he used drugs to enhance his performance, giving him an advantage over other cyclists.
The guy was able to use drugs to save his life, but he isn’t allowed to use drugs to improve his cycling? Am I the only one who sees hypocrisy in that?
“Oh well it’s different when you’re competing with other people.” One can easily argue that anyone who didn’t ever have cancer was at an advantage over Lance Armstrong, but no one insisted that other cyclists go get cancer, survive it, and come back to the track before they can go up against this guy. Everyone has areas where we excel and suck. None of us are identical, so we’re all going to have different levels of preparedness and capability regarding various tasks. When you see any people lining up for some sort of competition, they’re not all equals in that particular sport. In usually small and sometimes in bigger ways, some people simply have an advantage over others. It’s never really a fair race, no matter how many rules you lay down to try to prevent that.
Back in 2008, Oscar Pistorius was disqualified from the Summer Olympics cuz the International Association of Athletics Federations deemed him too fast. They felt the “mechanical advantage of the blade in relation to the healthy ankle joint of an able bodied athlete is higher than 30-percent.” Less than a century ago it would have been unthinkable to have this debate. Heck, about a decade ago it’d been impossible. If you didn’t have feet, you can’t run. Today, that’s no longer the case thanks to prosthetics which are designed to improve the performance of the disabled or “physically challenged.” At one time, a prosthetic was intended to give the user some small percentage of cosmetic and functional usability to their limbs, but it’s hard to imagine people ever thought some day we’d be arguing that these devices are an improvement on the human body. Now, Oscar Pistorius has competed both in competitions designed for the physically challenged and he’s run alongside “the able bodied” outside the Olympics, and in 2012 the Olympic committee did let him compete. He didn’t win but he’s broken records elsewhere and though in some ways he may have an advantage over people who have to worry about their achilles tendons, but in other ways they definitely have an advantage over him. I’d say it kinda evens out.
But there’s definitely some inconsistency in the policing of this “fairness” isn’t there? Some years he’s allowed to compete and some years he is not. I’m sure a lot of this is due to politics and the ongoing debate. It depends on who is judging in what events, the rules and policies of the different organizations putting up these various championships and paralympic events, and other variables I don’t even understand or care to investigate further. My point is, no one has found a way to consistently deal with these issues, and it doesn’t look likely that anyone is going to figure it out.
We are not all created equal, despite our efforts to believe that we do. Some are born with deformities that others simply don’t have to worry about. Some are born with advantages and other people work really hard and train really well under proper supervision and with intense study to be the best they can be at such and such, while other people train only half as hard yet seem naturally suited to the task that they compete and even excel over those who struggle to keep up. Then there’s people like me who get winded just typing. Then there’s people like Stephen Hawking who has immense physical limitations but has not let it hinder his ability to explore the depths of space or the quantum world with the sheer force of his willful mind.
There are different competitions for the physically challenged and the able-bodied. There are many different levels in many competitions even among the able-bodied. As I understand it, physically challenged track races differ depending on if you have one or both limbs. In boxing I understand the fighters are divided based on their weight, so a little guy doesn’t have to go up against a big brute to prove his competency. We already departmentalize these differences we observe among us. So why can’t we have separate competitions for people who promise to use no performance enhancing drugs, and those who want to utilize our latest technologies and sciences to their fullest extent, and push the envelope of what the human body is capable of doing by exploring everything mankind currently has at its disposal?
This way, those who want to say “clean” can do so, and those who want to get dirty and face the 21st century can do that too. We lost the war on drugs a long time ago. It’s time we own up to that, and get with the program.
Who knows? Maybe someday we can learn how to use drugs more responsibly. Not just to make people feel brief bliss at the cost of withdrawal and pain later. Maybe we can figure out how to improve these drugs in such a way where there would be both immediate and long term advantages, without negative side effects. It will take trial and error, but we’ll get nowhere if we’re afraid of our own shadows the whole ride there.