Hatred, Steroids, and Materialism

December 22, 2007 § 22 Comments

Writer Jim Kalb has apparently finished editing a book and is back to blogging again. Bursts of activity at Turnabout tend to absorb a significant portion of the space of available interesting things to say and leave me with fewer interesting things to say myself. Here is a piece on attempts to divide truth into self-contained mutually exclusive complete-in-principle domains, a tendency of thought I call positivism. Here is one about how our inability to say what we don’t like about steroid use in athletics is related to rejection of an authoritative understanding of human nature. Here is one about the vice of hatefulness and how modern ironic views of “hatred” turn it on its head because we have “lost a serious and intelligent understanding of sin.” Interesting stuff.

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§ 22 Responses to Hatred, Steroids, and Materialism

  • Rodak says:

    Zippy–The objection of die-hard sports fans to steroid use is primarily with reference to records. This is particularly true of baseball, the interest in which is driven by statistics and records. Nobody really gets upset about steroid use by football players. But a juiced-up freak like Mark McGwire or Sammy Soso breaks–nay, demolishes–a hallowed home-run record that has stood for nearly forty years, after breaking the previous record that stood for well over thirty, people feel cheated. A monstrous Barry Bonds erases the career home-run record of Hank Aaron, who surpassed the Babe fair and square? String ’em up!Pro wrestling fans (whoever <>they<> are) clearly revel in the freakish (or unnatural, if you will) bodies of their heroes.With juiced football players, you get more bang for your buck; that’s what people like.But, in sports like baseball, and track and field, where records are all important, performance enhancing drugs are a sacrilege.

  • Scott says:

    I asked a semi-pro soccer player if that game would ever get popular in America. He said no because it is a game that doesn’t lend itself well to statistics. So for a while I’ve often thought Americans like statistics more than sports. Now I have to wonder if it is not so much statistics as <>gambling<> that we are in love with (which is of course heavily statistic driven). I wonder if much of the objection to steroids is the idea of the loaded dice screwing up the point spread.

  • Rodak says:

    Scott–It is certainly true that gambling is a major impetus for interest in sport in America. This is particularly true of football. I think that the presence of steroid monsters on teams is just one more factor to take into account when computing the odds, though==like knowing which horses are good mudders when betting on races on a wet track.I continue to maintain that it is the violation of records that is the most crucial aspect of reaction against steroid use.

  • zippy says:

    Loaded dice and records are no doubt intermediary concerns. But that raises the question of why the natural man’s achievement is thought to represent a “good” record while the unnaturally augmented man’s achievement is not.

  • Rodak says:

    <>why the natural man’s achievement is thought to represent a “good” record while the unnaturally augmented man’s achievement is not.<>Speaking only about baseball,this is the case, first and foremost, because the drug use is illegal, is proscribed by league rules, and is, therefore, “cheating.”But there is a distinction to be made between the world of records and tradition, and the world of entertainment and cheap thrills. Fans like to go to Candlestick Park and see Barry Bonds launch baseballs of the stadium to be scrambled after by men waiting for the balls on the water in boats. That is spectacle; and spectacle justifies the price of admission on any given day.There is a high price to be paid for that, however, when the record book is published, when the Hall of Fame is considered, when the integrity of the sport is the subject, and when the traditions of baseball are being taught to the children who will play the game in the future. In terms of history and tradition, baseball is like no other American sport.

  • zippy says:

    <>Speaking only about baseball,this is the case, first and foremost, because the drug use is illegal, is proscribed by league rules, and is, therefore, “cheating.”<>But why is it cheating? Because it is unnatural.

  • But what are the limits of what is natural?A writer on Slate (I’ll hunt down the link if you like) mentioned that Tiger Woods’ laser eye surgery rendered his vision better than 20/20. Yet we don’t think of Tiger as a cheater.I don’t think “unnatural” is the crux of our problem with steroids–we don’t call it immoral when a man missing a leg uses a prosthetic, or when a ship’s captain uses a device to enhance his vision. I think the initial objection to steroids is because they are “harmful.” They have–or they are perceived to have–detrimental side effects on the bodies of those who take them. Because of this initial objection, they are illegal/against the rules, and these two factors help create the negative feelings.The line between natural and unnatural is a blurry one. Bikers who oxygenate their own blood and reinfuse it are cheating, but U.S. Olympic teams sometimes train at high altitudes to boost their stamina.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Well, I don’t think much of the Kari Konkala (sp?) pieces at the Taki site (which I avoid for the most part anyway). At least, I don’t think much of the one on pride. I didn’t read any more of the one on hate. The one on pride just looks like making use of Christian categories to criticize a foreign policy with which the author disagrees. Despite all the talk about the profound studies of pride in the 17th century, there really isn’t a lot there in the piece itself that is so profound. And the attempt to apply “turn the other cheek” to foreign policy is just dressed-up Christian pacifism. For all I know, the author may really be a scholar of 17th century manuals on sin. But even if so, he (or is it she? I can’t tell from the name) is nonetheless so obsessed with politics that he can’t talk about pride without talking about those awful neoconservatives and how “unchristian” their foreign policy is. Which, in my opinion, is boring rather than important. And what a cute implication that the antichrist may be an evangelical “neoconservative.” There’s an “oooo” for ya! Fairly sophomoric, if you ask me. By the way, the author seems to imply that evangelicals all over the country think the antichrist will be Muslim. I’ll admit to being a tad out of touch, and I haven’t read the “Left Behind” books, but wasn’t anything like what they thought when I was a kid. So throw evangelical-bashing, and sophomoric evangelical-bashing (did the person mean “James Dobson,” because he said “Charles Dobson”?) into the mix.Sorry Kalb apparently liked it.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I guess he meant “Charles Dobson.” I can’t claim to know much about him, but evidently he’s an evangelical baddie to this Kari Kontakala. Yawn.

  • Rodak says:

    <>Here is one about the vice of hatefulness and how modern ironic views of “hatred” turn it on its head because we have “lost a serious and intelligent understanding of sin.” Interesting stuff.<>I just got around to reading this one. It occurs to me that the steroid use of Barry Bonds, who was already a great player prior to resorting to the use of illegal substances, was prompted by pride. Bonds was not able to tolerate the adulation for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa that was being generated by their steroid-fueled homerun duel. He was, thereby, seduced into following their shameful lead in a (successful, as it turned out) bid to regain his position as top dog: pride goeth before a fall.Thanks, Zippy, for this post. The article on the Taki site brilliantly articulates something which I’ve been struggling to say about “christians” for years.To those who respond to the message of this piece by saying, “Yawn. We’ve heard all of <>that<> before” I respond: Is that so? Consider this: <>any time you think that you are hearing something completely new, you will be very safe in giving ten-to-one odds that it’s also completely false.<>It is nearly impossible to get any reaction other than scorn from a typical American–on either end of the political spectrum–by suggesting that pride is not a supreme virtue.It is certainly a function of the “cognitive dissonance,” concerning which I’ve written both on my own blog and in various comment boxes around the blogosphere, to be <>unable to perceive<> the contradiction between pride and “mere Christianity.”

  • Rodak says:

    Re: <>attempts to divide truth into self-contained mutually exclusive complete-in-principle domains<>One of my stated reasons for finally deciding to launch my own blog (after years operating strictly as a combox troll), was that I realized it would be a good way to from time to time promote the writings of < HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_weil" REL="nofollow">Simone Weil<>.Easily the most compelling aspect of her intellectual brilliance was that she truly understood all of human knowledge–from divine revelation to art to scientific/mathematical inquiry–to be part of one Reality, and wrote of it that way. She, in fact, wrote for the purpose of proving exactly this. I have found this to be extremely rare. Although Simone Weil cannot be called an “orthodox” Christian, I suppose, a careful study of her thought will repay the scholar many times over.A study of her biography, as well as her writings, will also provide the reader with a brillian portrait of humility personified. The standard reaction to real humility in our culture is to immediately condemn it as overweening pride. I have seen Simone Weil criticized as the kind of person whose hidden agenda is to be crucified on every hilltop. Pride fuels our decadence.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    My “yawn” response was because of the programmatic nature of the pride piece. Maybe the piece on hate isn’t so much. I’m far more interested in applications of the vice of pride to personal actions in baseball or blogging than in all of this interspersing of references to “neocons” in parentheses between the items in a list of the characteristics of pride, or speculations about the antichrist and evangelicals. The pride piece seemed to me over-the-top and not religiously helpful or inspiring because childishly fixated on going on and on about the guys the Taki folks like to go on and on about.

  • Rodak says:

    Well, the guys he is going on and on about have masssive power and drastically affect the lives of millions and millions of people. That kind of justifies going on and on about who they are, what motivates them, and what they do, imo. That they are neocons is hardly irrelevant to any of the above. You frequently refer to that which you don’t agree, or that which contradicts your point of view, as “childish,” or puerile, or immature, etc. It is so much easier to be dismissive in this way than it is to engage the discussion. I thought that this was a tactic of “nanny state” liberals?

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    My point is simply this: There is to me something fairly distasteful and not very interesting in implying that one is going to discuss some vice from a Christian perspective, bringing in hundreds-of-years-old historical commentary, and then focusing on *nothing but* the people with whom one disagrees politically. I mean, I’m a pretty politicized writer in blog entries (not in scholarly work), and I don’t think I’d ever do that. The author of the blog piece implies that we’re going to get some sort of historically-informed insight into the vice of pride, but to my mind all he (still don’t know if that’s a male or female name) does it to give us the information that he doesn’t like the people he calls “neocons,” that he has a certain set of foreign policy ideas (which we could have guessed anyway from the site on which the piece appeared), and that he doesn’t like evangelicals. It didn’t really tell us anything very interesting about the vice of pride. I also did not think that the attacks on evangelicals in the piece were particularly insightful. I just strongly disapprove of taking one’s scholarship (if we assume that the person has real scholarly knowledge of the 17th-century works he mentions) and dragging it together with politics in the way that this piece did. You speak of engaging the arguments, but it’s hardly an argument to say merely, “Hawkish foreign policy such as those nasty neocons like is prideful.” Not to my mind, anyway. People debate this foreign policy all over the place at great length, but the business about the vice of pride adds nothing to the discussion that I can see. I suppose that a committed pacifist might think so, but then that depends too on the arguments for committed and absolute pacifism.

  • zippy says:

    Phil: interesting about Tiger Woods, I did not know that. (I have a similar situation with my contact lenses, which correct my otherwise poor vision to much better than 20-20. The similarity ends there: I have no golf talent whatsoever).I do think we make unconscious distinctions between what is “not-natural” (e.g. a prosthetic leg) and “anti-nature” (steroids); but you are certainly right that the line is blurry, and technology complicates things. I doubt we’d be completely sanguine if a man with super-powered prosthetic legs won a world record in the 50-yard dash.As for the rest, I confess I only read the hate piece at Taki and was more interested in Kalb’s comments than in what prompted them. Linking to things which prompt interesting thought isn’t wholesale endorsement. I think there is some truth to the notion that what today passes for “anti-hate” is itself often a thin-skinned hatefulness. Sugarplums and wise men and such have me a bit too distracted to give too much in depth thought to them, but a better understanding of vices and their inversion by modernity may be worth a re-visit after God’s visit to earth as an incarnate small child has passed.Meanwhile, Merry Christmas everyone!

  • Rodak says:

    “…bringing in hundreds-of-years-old historical commentary, and then focusing on *nothing but* the people with whom one disagrees politically.”What good are the eternal truths of the Christian religion, if they cannot be applied as standards by which to evaluate the morality of contemporaneous policies and activities?And why should politics and Christian morality be compartmentalized, as you would have it, by persons who advertize themselves (as Bush did) as Christian, for the sake of making political hay?I find your whole point of view to be totally self-referential. It does not address the points made in the article on pride at all, but merely reiterates your own point of view. And, frankly, proves Kari’s point.

  • zippy says:

    I should say, I suppose, that I don’t in principle have a problem with pointing to the neoconservative democracy-building adventure in Iraq as an example of hubris in extremis, nor to specifically labeling it <>neoconservative<> hubris. Those characterizations appear to be <>true<>, and the fact that they are contemporary doesn’t make them less true. Now to some extent that isn’t helpful if one’s objective is to initiate a dispassionate conversation about the vice of pride, and (having now read the piece at Taki) there is plenty to criticize in the particular piece. But I’m hardly one to complain about choosing controversial contemporary issues to prompt discussion of more fundamental issues. The recent hubbub here over sterilization is a case in point: I deliberately chose a case that I thought illustrates a very general point – that (under the moral theology of Veritatis Splendour) in order to stop doing something intrinsically evil one must change one’s <>behavior<> not merely one’s interior disposition or intentions toward one’s behavior – and at the same time has extraordinary immediate and contemporary implications (some 40% of Catholics have had themselves sterilized, some significant portion of whom are thus quite plausibly impeded by their own chosen action from ever having morally licit sexual relations ever again).So while I agree with some of Lydia’s criticisms of the pride piece, and indeed both pieces can be criticized on a number of levels, I’m not particularly moved by the invocation of partisanship. Sure, neoconservative hubris as a particular example of the vice of pride in action is partisan. Sure, it tempts one to engage in some kind of tu quoque on some corresponding example. But that is just the sort of fire and brimstone that the truth can withstand, and away from which pretensions fall.I mean, when push comes to shove, the Iraq war <>is<> a glaring example of neoconservative hubris.

  • Rodak says:

    <>I doubt we’d be completely sanguine if a man with super-powered prosthetic legs won a world record in the 50-yard dash.<>I seem to recall that issues involving persons with prosthetic legs be allowed to compete with fully “natural” athletes has, in fact, come up–and it was not allowed.Does this ring a bell with anybody?

  • Rodak says:

    It should be noted that the person complaining about the political uses of the discourse on pride completely ignored my <>two<> efforts to relate it to other things: i.e. the steroid issue, and the philosophy of Simone Weil.I thought that the poltical argument was so obvious–pretty much a given–as to not be that interesting as a point for additional discussion.I continue to think that the interesting aspects of that piece are not the political ones, but the much wider considerations of the pernicious effects of pride permeating nearly every facet of our lives, despite our proclaimed Christianity. I find much truth in that. I propose Simone Weil as a modern individual who managed to be political, and to excel in her field, without being brought down by pride. I propose Barry Bonds as her photographic negative in those respects.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Rodak, it was Kari Kontakala (now I figured out it’s a guy) I was complaining about in my talk about politicization, not you. I agree–you tried to apply the question of pride to other and more interesting areas. I do note that Kalb said that the piece on hate (which I’ve now skimmed) was “somewhat odd.” Indeed. Kalb’s own point about sensitivity training is more insightful than anything in the linked piece, given the analysis of hate quoted as having to do with exaggerating and dwelling on slights and what-not. I would myself be inclined to say that’s just one aspect of hatred.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    And Merry Christmas right back to you, Zippy.Our wise men are sort of hanging back a ways from the creche. We’ll bring ’em over in twelve days or so.

  • Rodak says:

    Well, Lydia, this is no day for bickering. Let’s just go back to <>Merry Christmas<> and leave all such inharmonious considerations for later!

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