[ExI] Pistorius

Dave Sill sparge at gmail.com
Tue Jul 31 20:34:58 UTC 2012

On Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 3:52 PM, Tomasz Rola <rtomek at ceti.pl> wrote:

> On Sat, 28 Jul 2012, Anders Sandberg wrote:
> > I have been asked to write a piece on Oscar Pistorius participation in
> the
> > olympics (and not the paralympics). Not being very sports interested
> myself, I
> > would be curious to hear what more sports interested members of the list
> (if
> > any) make of the whole thing.
> >
> > Normalization of enhancement, the olympics as a biomedical freak show,
> > personality cult, or recognition of enormous tenacity?
> As far as I can tell, sport has two aspects about itself:

I think there are more than just these two...

1. A popular one, where "folk" would gather and see how "our guys" (out)do
> "other guys" and be proud etc etc, there is also some connection with
> religious rituals, festivities, show of power and maybe more. There is
> also this thing about people from the slums who by their own willpower
> and spirit raise themselves to the level of the mightiest of the world,
> i.e. heroic tale told/printed part after part by the media ("see, you
> could have done this too, if you worked hard enough") - compare to
> gladiators who could gain freedom and wealth if they entertained
> spectators well enough.

I think first of all you have to consider the differences between
participating in sport and sport as entertainment. And you need to separate
professional players from amateurs. Some people play golf simply because
they enjoy it. They don't get fame or fortune, and they may not even enjoy
informal competition. At the other end of the scale are professionals who
play because they're good enough to make a living at it. They may not even
enjoy playing it. But not every sport is equally spectator-friendly or
potentially lucrative.

Then there are the spectators. They may or may not have ever played the
game, but they enjoy watching others play it. For the most part, spectators
prefer watching the best players.

> 2. Competitive one, where "guys" want to be the first because it gives them
> lots of money, their sponsors can bet and earn even more.

There are lots of competitive athletes who want to be first just because
they have competitive spirit. The two sports in which I compete, autocross
and rowing, are strictly amateur. Cheating is pretty uncommon because
there's not big money at stake.

So we have
> erythropoietin and anabolics (as well as pregnancy-abortion cycle used in
> the role of doping, I hear), and computer-designed shoes and helmets and
> bicycles, and computers analysing and optimising body movements and so on.
> Heroic aspect slowly dims and is outgrown by industrial-financial aspect.
> Sporthumans become less amiable, and it is harder to identify with them or
> their success as they are more and more a living laboratory glass.
> With this in mind, and remembering we love heroic stories, Pistorius fits
> very well. Without his prostheses he would have been limited and maybe
> even pitiful. Now, add his strong will to carbon fibre and we have great
> man. I feel much more sympathy to him than to few other sportsmen, even
> though at the same time I try to analyse the issue without emotional
> arguments.

Running isn't a professional sport. There are a handful of runners who
could live comfortably on endorsements, but most competitive runners do it
because they enjoy the competition. But they don't enjoy unfair
competition. If they have to compete against people with motorized shoes or
jetpacks, they'll likely stop trying. There's nothing preventing folks with
motorized shoes from holding "motorized shoe" running competitions. But
pretending they don't offer an advantage over non-motorized shoes is silly.

The first aspect will have to stay because there is a growing need to feed
> masses with entertainment and cheap bread. The second aspect will have to
> stay too, only behind the courtain. So Pistorius is enfant terrible of
> sport, unable to hide his legs under the rug and use them at the same
> time.

He wants to be accepted as a normal runner but that's just not likely to
happen anytime soon. Yes, it's unfortunate. Maybe his speed really is
result of his ability and not his artificial legs. The problem, I think, is
that we don't know definitively if his legs give him an advantage.

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