Sunday, July 24, 2005

Le Tour, Encore

Well, by George, he did it, Bush! A seventh straight win of the Tour de France by cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. An incredible feat, given that the Tour has to be one of the world's longest and most gruelling sports events--I personally know of none longer than this one, or more demanding. To climb a single one of those mountains, even the smallest, on a skinny two-wheeler, would be more taxing than even the fittest of most of us human beings could tolerate. To conquer them, day by day, at incredible speeds, is almost unimaginable.

Kudos to Lance then. For a man not expected to survive his bout with cancer only a few short years ago, it's an incredible feat. His eagerness to share his victory with every other cancer sufferer and survivor is also exemplary. His gifts to those who share this particular misfortune with him transcend simply his support for research and treatment through his now justly famous Lance Armstrong Foundation (I have been amongst those millions of yellow bracelet wearers, Bush: I wonder if you share that in common with me? It's not beyond the realm of possibility, I suppose.) Of equal importance is is gift of defiance and hope. It may be something of a cliche to say that he's an inspiration, but it's worth repeating. We need as many Armstrongs as we can get in our global struggle against disease--not to mention poverty and hunger. I'm thankful for the compelling example he offers to the world.

All this said--and not to detract in the slightest from Lance Armstrong's triumph--I do find in myself some small part that reacts with disfavor to the all-consuming professionalism of his approach. Maybe it's the "old European" in me that your Rumsfeld once famously deplored. In Armstrong's case, that has meant a single-minded dedication to winning this single race, the Tour de France. It has meant a steely concentration on the technical aspects of what is needed for victory--whether the full year of mental and physical preparation, or the technological refinements to the equipment that have preoccupied him. Having been brought up, I suppose, at a time when amateurism was the hallmark of all sports, from soccer to the Olympics, I have watched the increasing professionalization with dismay. Even cricket, for God's sake, Bush, has gone professional, if you can imagine...! The worst symptom of all this, from my spectator standpoint, is the outrageous salaries commanded by the top players, and the commercial exploitation of their gifts. It's as far out of whack as the indecent compensation your corporate pals enjoy.

Okay, so I'm an old fuddy-duddy. I deplore change--some aspects of it, anyway--and progress. I'm sure it sounds that way. And yet, thinking again of your Rumsfeld and his comments before the invasion of Iraq, I contemplate what the professionalization of war has wrought: great efficiency, perhaps. What your Rumsfeld referred to as "Shock and Awe." We have learned to kill and maim in ever greater numbers, with ever greater efficacy. But alas, to no great advance for our human species. "Professionalism" seems to me to belong in the same boat as commercialism and corporate globalization. We get better and better, faster and faster, more and more successful in our efforts--but to what lasting effect, and to whose benefit? It worries me that this extraordinary man, Lance Armstrong, has put all of his redoubtable efforts into becoming superhuman. When do all we learn to simply be more human?


dennis p said...

Dear Peter, Have you seen any of the magazine or newspaper articles pointing out how "hot" religion is? Recently I learned that a slight acquaintance of mine, a self-styled businessman, has turned to The Bible, reading passages to friends quite spontaneously, much to their amazement, or not so. Perhaps they should have seen it coming.
This evangelical religious thing is a fad! Just like all the other fads I have seen in the past sixty years. This is more conformism, nothing more or less. Perhaps you didn't experience the flapper lifestyle ( a bit before me ), the fad of rock 'n roll lifestyles, or 'modern living', or Beatnik, existentialism, or the hippie movement. But you do know New Age and Alternate lifestyles, radical activism, and especially Consumerism, including SUV's, fast food, Yuppies, Slackers, instant gratification and all the rest. Well this is the same thing, a stupid conformist and aggressive fad.
It's a code to fit in. And, of course, these SUV and pickup truck lovers are going to do all the same things as their neighboors and closest friends: network associations through their church, align themselves with a line of reasoning against social threats, act piously and sincerely to hide their hypocrisy, laugh and cry on cue along with their minister of worship, and rally for the man who says God speaks to him. Not to mention, yell at the television when a touchdown is foiled. Just like their buddies would expect them to. Ra-ra team, give 'em hell ( and brimstone ).
Or, if they're 'cultured', they might attend an exhibition at The Getty, of Rembrandt's paintings of The Late Religious Portraits. 'Twas the same in Rembrandt's day. Poor Rembrandt was just a genius portrait painter. But he had to tack on the sure fire theme of religion, a big fad back then too, to get some interest in his portraits.
Amazing how the Getty staff came up with this show at this time. A small indicator that fads are commercially based phenomenon. Evangelical television is a big indicator of it.
And that's how, for me, fads like 'religion' always ultimately come down to money. Something to fill your magazine or newspaper with. Or, if you think bigger money, to go out into the world and shove your bull onto others, "marked by militant or crusading zeal". definition: evangelical, Merriam-Webster .
dennis p 05

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for the rant, Dennis. Do we know each other? In the next couple of days, I'll be posting a quote on religion from Carl Sagan, which I think will interest you... Keep reading, and thanks for joining me. Best, Peter

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Looking for prostate cancer information I came across this post. I totally agree with you and would feel the same way!