Lance Armstrong and Social Norms

As I write this, the big story in the news is Lance Armstrong’s confession on Oprah Winfrey’s show. The 7-time Tour de France winner now admits to having used banned drugs in all his victories.

This ends more than a decade of vehement denials. During that time, he bullied his accusers, pocketed millions in endorsements that should have gone to the real winners and, despite his all-American image as a cancer survivor and champion, was apparently a really nasty guy.

Three aspects of this affair reinforce my optimism about our progress as a society.

First, you just can’t get away with things anymore. Within my lifetime, the press more or less ignored president Kennedy’s cheating on his wife. Now, the flow of information is so relentless, and the hunger for it so insatiable, that you can’t even get away with cheating in bike races.

That would be cause for trepidation rather than optimism if it weren’t for the second aspect. Our moral norms are becoming more humane. We are more concerned with whether someone has defrauded fellow competitors than whether he has the right sexual orientation, belongs to the right church, or has ever smoked marijuana. I think we’re increasingly pointed in a healthier direction.

Third, our punishments are more humane. Few people care whether Lance Armstrong goes to jail. His public humiliation is so thorough that it’s hard to imagine his life would be made much worse. More constructively, I do hear calls for him to make financial reparations where they’re due. I haven’t heard anyone suggest we amputate his legs à la sharia law or even put him in the stocks.

I’m not happy that Lance Armstrong cheated, but I am happy that our society is functioning increasingly well.

4 responses to “Lance Armstrong and Social Norms

  1. My opinion may be unusual, but I appreciate increasing public skepticism about individual heroes in general. I’ve always raised my eyebrows at comments such as “So-and-so was human all along.” Of course. What else could they be, and why would anyone have ever assumed otherwise?

    It seems to me that complaints about a “lack of genuine heroes” are missing the vital point: we shouldn’t be searching for heroes in the first place. If someone needs a hero to inspire them to Just Do The Right Thing, then that’s an indictment of their fragile moral core. Heroes aren’t real, but heroism can be a real ideal when we pursue it, instead of showering accolades on our supposed “betters”.

  2. I shake my head at the whole deal. While it is a not a good thing that he was dishonest (maybe about what he did then, maybe about what he’s doing now), the claims being made are based primarily on assumption and besides the underlying point. While study’s may show performance enhancements from using drugs, there is no way of knowing if they are the defining factory in his victories. There is also no way of truly knowing who else in the race used them. Other than this supposed ‘confession’, there is no concrete proof that he used drugs whatsoever meaning he was so ingenious that he left no loose ends to unravel or that they never existed in the first place. So the deeper question is “Why?” and “Why now?” When we look at the political repercussions, it should clear that this confession is first and foremost a political move. Is anyone else able to see this incident as empowering, ultimately the government, to further molest our right to privacy among other things?

    • >> Why now?

      I think it’s because the evidence had finally become overwhelming. It’s true that there was no physical evidence, but there was a LOT of testimony from his former teammates and others.

      If his confession was a political move, it was ill-timed. If it had either come promptly or when all of us had reached that mellow period of old age, he would have stood a better chance of being forgiven.

  3. Yes, if it was supposed to be politically advantageous for him he chose probably the worst time in his life. Consequently, it’s the USADA that benefits. It is possible that Armstrong came out before being exposed as is often the case. However, I find it rather convenient that this confession coincides with Obama’s most recent executive order with both foremost solutions resulting in further invasion of privacy.

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