2012-10-18

Of Armstrong And Self-Delusion

So the reporters have come out of the woodwork to finally condemn Lance Armstrong for doping. I think a good example of this is today's Gregg Doyal column at CBS Sports. Note the particular case Doyal sets out against Armstrong:
Even people who supported Armstrong, people like, ahem, me -- right here, in January 2011 -- assumed Armstrong was guilty. But we were OK with it for two reasons. One, his cancer-fighting Livestrong foundation had helped raise so many hundreds of millions of dollars that we were willing to forgive the cheating, to see it as an ugly means to a beautiful end. And, two, Armstrong technically hadn't been caught cheating. So even if he was dirty, and even if he was lying to us about not being dirty, people like me could find a small island of doubt, just enough of a safe harbor to embrace Armstrong for the cancer-fighting force of nature he has been since 1997.
In other words, Doyal isn't upset that Armstrong cheated at all. He's upset that he can no longer maintain his previously held illusions about Armstrong.

Why Is This Lance Armstrong's Fault?
Fascinating, isn't it? Armstrong is alleged to have engaged in a "doping conspiracy," whatever the heck that is, and the likes of Doyal are only upset because they no longer feel they have sufficient means to maintain a fantasy about who Lance Armstrong is.

This is, of course, yet another example of what I was describing yesterday in my post about politicians. Doyal had a certain amount of faith in Lance Armstrong, in that Doyal wished to believe something about Armstrong despite not actually possessing any real evidence for that something. Doyal wanted to entertain the notion of a faultless, flawless athletic super-genius who, through the power of determination, could beat cancer and rise to near-mythological heights without the aid of chemicals. (One of the reasons this is silly is because, as I have previously mentioned, EPO is prescribed as part of many chemo-therapy regimens.)

The important thing to keep in mind here is that Lance Armstrong didn't actually do anything to upset Doyal. Doyal admits that he forgave Armstrong for cheating. It isn't Armstrong's fault that the USADA marched ahead with its anti-doping case. Armstrong fought it for as long as he could. It's the USADA who burst Doyal's bubble, not Armstrong.

Furthermore, no one asked Doyal to fall in love with the Armstrong legend. No one begged Doyal to make up excuses despite what Doyal himself considered to be mounting evidence against the case. No one twisted Doyal's arm. His falling victim to a sham facade is hardly the facade's fault.

This Is Faith, Undone
But all of this is emblematic of what happens when people lose their irrational faith in something. They cannot lash out at those they perceive to be telling the truth, because they must maintain faith in something, after all. Instead, they lash at those who they feel duped them. They always feel that being duped was somehow "unfair."

Thus, the man who loses faith in Christ resents The Church; the man who loses faith in Mohammad awakens a despiser of Islam; the man who loses faith in communism becomes an anti-nationalist; the man who becomes disillusioned by the government he believes in becomes an anarchist. And, yes, the man who wished to believe in the mythos surrounding a cancer survivor and Tour de France champion finds himself resentful of that "liar," Armstrong.

So it goes. They cannot - they must not - blame themselves for being tricked. They must maintain their innocence through all of this. If they themselves admit that they were only pretending to believe all along, then Pandora's Box is opened up. Sports, after all, is an extremely trivial matter. If one maintains such a preposterous faith when it comes to sports, then what must one conclude about one's beliefs in god and government? And ethics?

Few among us have the kind of strength to genuinely second-guess their most deeply held beliefs. Those who refuse to do so will respond with anger and fear whenever their illusions are burst. This is merely personal weakness. It takes an unflinching courage to evaluate one's beliefs and accept one's rational shortcomings at face-value.

So much easier to declare the universe a mystery and condemn all those who expose the lies we tell ourselves for what they are.