Lance Armstrong: Pioneer or Cheater?

*subhead*Transhumanist poster boy.*subhead*
After Lance Armstrong admitted that he cheated with performance enhancing drugs, I was waiting for the transhumanists to claim him as their own. It didn't take long. The title of this Wired piece says it all: "Lance Armstrong should be celebrated as a pioneer in human enhancement."

The premise? Sure Armstrong broke the rules, but maybe it is the rules that are wrong and not Armstrong. Maybe we should allow and promote human enhancements in sport so that they will be safer, not just for the athlete, but for us coach-potatoes as well. Professor Andy Miah, Director of the Creative Futures Institute at the University of the West of Scotland, writes:
There's no getting away from the fact that breaking the rules is wrong. Everyone agrees that rules should be kept to preserve the game -- unless of course they are bad rules. Everyone agrees that there are good reasons to make dangerous drugs and substances illegal in sports -- unless of course they could me [sic] made safe. But, what if anti-doping rules can be shown to increase the risks athletes take or the harm they suffer?...

Why on earth should we make a fuss about doping technologies that make athletes perform better? This is the purpose of their activity. "But, it's unfair!" I hear you cry. So, make it legal. Give everyone the same chance to use it and then let us focus on monitoring the risks. It will be easier, since the substances and techniques will be known -- best practices for optimising doping will even be published....

Instead of a World Anti-Doping Agency to police the cheating athletes, we need a World Pro-Doping Agency to help invest more money into developing safer forms of enhancement. This agency would publish a list of permitted enhancements, rather banned ones. It would allow individuals who were not born with the physiological tendencies of the self-selecting elite athlete population to use technology to become competitive, not just in sport, but in any career where biology matters -- and some would say that this is all of them.
And there it is. It is not just elite athletes that need enhancements. It is anyone "in any career where biology matters" which is "all of them."

Unfortunately, these promises of safe enhancements for everyone will easily woo our society that can no longer think its way out of a paper bag.

The Lance Armstrong story is not an endorsement for enhancements. It is a cautionary tale for those who would go down the road of widespread human augmentation. Armstrong felt compelled to enhance because otherwise he could not compete against other athletes who were also enhancing. With enhancements, coercion is the name of the game. Enhance and compete, or be a natural and sit on the sideline. What a "choice."

That maybe fine with you because you are not an athlete, but what if, in the future, you need cognitive enhancers to be a doctor or a lawyer. As a natural, you won't be able to even get into medical or law school, let alone compete with those who pop their magic pills or have an artificial intelligence chip installed in their nervous system. Even Miah will admit:
Tomorrow's athlete will need today's doping just to remain competitive in the extremely stressful performances we enjoy watching.
Sounds like bodily autonomy to me.

I am reminded of environmentalist Bill McKibben's sage warnings about entering the world of human enhancements. He predicts that it will become a "biological arms race" where no one gets ahead. We will all take drugs or perform invasive procedures on our bodies just to be the "new normal." I will add that any natural will be less-than-normal and possibly considered less-than-human.

And don't get McKibben started on enhancing our children. He is horrified by the realization that once we start augmenting our children, someday we might look at them as "obsolete" models.  McKibben warns parents, "The vision of one's child as a nearly useless copy of Windows 95 should make parents fight like hell to make sure we never get started down this path."

Unfortunately, the Wired tribute to Armstrong trots out the typical transhumanist claims that these kinds of enhancements will be available to everyone. As Miah urges, "Give everyone the same chance to use it and then let us focus on monitoring the risks."

Except not "everyone" will have access. To lower classes in the developed countries or those in abject poverty in the third world, those augmentations for "everyone" will remain out of reach.

Miah also makes the well-worn fallacious argument that all of us are already "enhanced" because we have fluoridated water and get vaccinations. Since you are already "enhanced," why not try this cognitive enhancing drug, or get yourself a cyber-brain in a fanny pack, or even chop off your perfectly good limb and replace it with a bionic one?

A lot of people fall for what I call the "transhumanist trap" because they cannot see that immunity and strong teeth are natural body responses to environmental stimuli. Natural is not what transhumanism is about. Transhumanists want to go beyond natural to things nature could never accomplish on her own.

I have said before that the way sport goes, the rest of humanity will follow. The more we praise those in sports who enhance their otherwise healthy bodies, we take another step closer to transhumanism.

Miah makes this clear in a Huffington Post piece about Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee that ran in the 2012 Olympic games with prosthetic limbs. (Pistorius, by the way, is not an example of a transhuman as some would claim. He is just a guy born without fibulae who needs prosthetics to walk and run.) Miah writes:
In this era, the definition of the normal human will also have evolved -- indeed, our species will have evolved -- and we will find that these attempts to separate able or disable, normal or enhanced, Olympic or Paralympic are futile. In the future, there will be just one Games, the Transhuman Games.
I can't wait to celebrate the "Transhuman Games." The inspiring stories of the struggles to get performance enhancing drugs and the sacrifice of having perfectly good limbs hacked off and replaced with the latest in prosthetics. I am looking forward to it. Aren't you?

Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly


  1. The Borg...resistance is futile!

  2. So, you find a group you don't like and then decide you want government to be whatever it is that group doesn't want?
    You have principles, but appear to lack a principled approach to government. This is because you'd be perfectly happy with the leviathan, provided it imposes your views on other people. You protest only when it pinches you.
    There are many people who would benefit from therapies in the U.S., but who cannot get them because our government likes to target doctors who try to use particular therapies. The sport's world is almost absurdly besides the point- at this point drugs are ubiquitous and they could only benefit (in term of long term health effects) if they didn't have to hide the use. They could get better advice rather than hiding what they are doing and relying on locker room science.
    The principled approach is to keep government out of these decisions. Certainly the leagues could make any rules they like, but consider this, if anyone 6'3 or shorter is muscular and weighing in well above 200lbs, he is almost certainly using. I know this because I am 6'3 and was interested in the topic after losing a lot of weight. 200lbs is as jacked as I can get, and even that seems impossible right now as I can't seem to budge 170lbs. But I used to think I could be lean an muscular at 235lbs, which is a reasonable guess given some of the monsters out there, but I was wrong. So, the leagues use these rules to pretend like they are against it, but gravity betrays the truth. The rules are easily evaded. There are even people who make a living helping athletes game the rules.

  3. Arthur - you are yet another reader who has wrongly inferred something I did not imply. Where in this piece do I mention government intervention?

  4. I meant August, not Arthur. My apologies August.

  5. Yes August, because your experiences with a private, self-made or consumer-market training regimen are an accurate reflection of what can be expected of professional athletes whose day-job consists of nothing but training, and whose regimen was created by multi-million dollar world-class experts.

  6. Sophia's Favorite, you really should endeavor to make some sort of sense.
    I don't know what you are talking about. Your mode of discussion seems to be create a bunch of assumptions about me out of thin air, and then make sarcastic comments about what you've made up. I have never taken steroids, if that is what you are suggesting, and it is hardly relevant to my point. If we are allowed freedom both experiences you refer to would be improved because the people experiencing these experiences would be able to seek out more knowledge and advice freely, without worrying about possible jail time.

    Rebecca, I felt your piece implied the status quo is somehow preferable to a freer system, one the transhumanists would no doubt applaud. My apologies if this is not accurate.

  7. I make no assumptions. Nor do I make things up. Nor am I suggesting that you have ever taken steroids, it is very sad that you are so illiterate as not to grasp my point.

    You argue from your experiences—the classical fallacy of "generalization from the self"—that all athletes must be using steroids, since you peaked well below their level. Is that not what you were arguing? And I was concerned to point out that your experiences are in no way indicative of what people with thousands of times your resources can achieve without steroids.

    For the rest, you are a libertarian fetishist with no understanding of why athletic competition exists, nor of why it is regulated. Are you so utterly contemptibly weak you don't understand what cheating is?

    One piece of advice. When you are so utterly without honor as not to understand why sporting handicaps exist, you are not permitted to be self-righteous about snipers not fighting fair.

  8. To expand upon my characterizing you as a libertarian fetishist, August, you assume that Rebecca wants state intervention. She said nothing of the kind.

    Did you know the Tour de France is a private event? We are discussing what a private event privately counts as disqualifying private individuals from its private competition.

    You appear to say that, because (for some reason you cannot articulate) you wouldn't want the state regulating this, the rules of the private competition should be changed.

    Or in other words, "that which is not permitted to the state should not be permitted to anyone". Is not "wants his political principles to be the sole principles of all interactions" the definition of an ideologue?


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