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Of Muscle Tone and Mixing Meds: Should Athletic Doping Be Legal?
Emily Gertz, 15 Aug 07

The use of medication to adjust our moods, suspend our menstrual cycles, improve our concentration and take the edge off our panic is growing not just common, but also ever more socially acceptable. So are we really that far from a future point when doping to improve physical prowess will be considered just another part of an athlete's winning arsenal? Sanctioning such pharmaceutical skill enhancement -- long a staple of the typical cyberpunk novel and an assumed part of the e transhumanist vision of the future -- is apparently gaining adherents in the world of sports journalism. According to a sports columnist for a major American daily paper, quoted in the Columbia Journalism Review, this view has become "shockingly fashionable" among sports writers. The CJR notes that a recent editorial in the journal Nature predicts that "[b]y the end of this century the unenhanced body or mind may well be vanishingly rare." Cheating's not kosher, of course, but changing the rules? Worth discussing, according to Nature.

It's not really that far-fetched an idea. Beta blockers are often used by people with irregular heartbeats to even things out; now musicians take beta blockers, legallly, to dull their anxieties before auditions and cope with stage fright. The anti-depressant Wellbutrin is also prescribed to help people lose weight or quit smoking (both potentially relevant to getting and keeping particular jobs).

Perhaps, despite the furor and fury that illegal doping generates, we're actually moving towards the transhuman moment, when people begin to use the discoveries of contemporary science and technology to surpass their human limitations while still being recognizably human. (Although when you look at the extremely hypertrophic muscle development of some athletes, that last can be debatable.) And as long as this kind of assist to human potential remains illegal, it effectively creates a sort of class system, mostly accessible to those atheletes privileged by wealth, status, or both to take advantage of what doping does for their prowess, as well as much more likely to be misused with potentially fatal results.

How do we redefine the inherent value of sport in measuring human physical accomplishment -- an important cultural standard for as long as humans have recorded history, and probably longer -- when it's no longer simply a question of athlete versus his or her own physiology, but instead one of how well the athlete tweaks his or her mix of dope?

Well, maybe it's not that heavy. The CJR article reminded me of a favorite exchange from the scifi cartoon Futurama, between characters watching a "blernsball" game:

Leela: "Miller's on a pace to hit 70 blerns."

Professor: "He's good, all right, but he's no Clem Johnson. And Johnson played back in the days before steroid injections were mandatory!"

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Comments

I'd suggest that we move to the same sort of regimen we have for other pharmaceuticals, which are regulated to insure that they don't (generally) kill or otherwise permanently harm their users. The argument that this is somehow 'unfair' seems absurd to me - some athletes (mainly in the developed world) have access to multi-million-dollar training facilities, while others (mainly in the developing world) train on farm roads. It might even be that doping would level the playing field, so to speak, as it should be cheaper to get up and running.


Posted by: Toby on 15 Aug 07

I'd suggest that we move to the same sort of regimen we have for other pharmaceuticals, which are regulated to insure that they don't (generally) kill or otherwise permanently harm their users. The argument that this is somehow 'unfair' seems absurd to me - some athletes (mainly in the developed world) have access to multi-million-dollar training facilities, while others (mainly in the developing world) train on farm roads. Given that, it might even be that doping would level the playing field, so to speak, as it should be cheaper to get up and running.


Posted by: Toby on 15 Aug 07

Seems like redefining "sport" to me. I think sport is suppose to be mental (and many studies have shown that what truely separates the (non-drug-enhanced) greats is stellar focus, visualizing, and some training. You are making it more like a video game or RPG: Ooo I found a Potion of Strength now my player has 18/00 Strength!". Note the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners training on those farm roads pretty routinely kick our butts!


Posted by: Garth on 16 Aug 07

I don't disagree with your position, Garth. But it seems like it's fast becoming obsolete in a world where success in athletics isn't just a source of personal satisfaction or social acclaim, but can mean the difference between a life of financial struggle and one of wealth or at least assured comfort. In short, money changes everything.

Perhaps one thing the future holds are two arenas of athletic competition: dope-free, and pharmaceutically enhanced.


Posted by: Emily Gertz on 16 Aug 07

The warping of the value system is a whole 'nuther issue! Money does indeed change everything, but it doesn't make for happiness (see Bill McKibben's Deep Economy) and should we all be sriving for maximal STUFF or maximal HAPPINESS (even just personally, disregarding the morality of vast inequality et.al.)

The point (it seems) of WorldChanging is envisioning a BETTER future.


Posted by: Garth on 16 Aug 07



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