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The theme of The Great Divide is that the populations of the democratic world, from Boston to Berlin, Vancouver to Venice, are becoming increasingly divided from within, due to a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism. This is partly due to a complex mutation in the concept of liberal democracy itself, and the resulting divide is now so wide that those holding to either philosophy on a whole range of topics: on democracy, on reason, on abortion, on human nature, on homosexuality and gay marriage, on freedom, on the role of courts … and much more, can barely speak with each other without outrage (the favorite emotional response from all sides). Clearly, civil conversation at the surface has been failing -- and that could mean democracy is failing.

This book is an effort to deepen the conversation. It is written for the non-specialist, and aims to reveal the less obvious underlying ideological forces and misconceptions that cause the conflict and outrage at the surface -- not with any expectation the clash of values will evaporate, but rather that a deeper understanding will generate a more intelligent and civil conversation.

As an aid to understanding, the book contains a handful of Tables directly comparing modern liberal and conservative views across a range of fundamental moral and political “issues” so that curious readers can answer the book’s main question: “Where Do You Stand?” An interesting result in testing this exercise has been the number of people who find they “think” one way, but “live” another.    

 

Good Reading
Essays (37)
Monday
Feb272006

Sticks and Stones

When I was young, boys and girls used to taunt each other mercilessly at recess. Sometimes it was from real anger; sometimes just a kind of cover-up for some secret but unrequited affection. And of course no boy who wanted to live until lunch time would ever hit a girl. Violence against girls was always verbal. And the girls had a kind of primordial response, in a verse they always sang with a taunting cheerfulness. The verse was taught them by their mothers and as far as we boys were concerned was conclusively and irritatingly unanswerable: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”

Today I figure that verse must have been some kind of powerful cultural lesson speaking through the girls, teaching us – boys in particular - that words and the actions they ordinarily imply can always be separated or neutralized; that words have as much truth and power over you, or hurt value, as you are willing to allow them. The implication was that there is no reason to accept the face-value meaning of words or statements unconditionally or automatically unless you wish to, because if you do, then whoever utters them will be able to control your emotions, and therefore your life, at will. You would become their puppet, a victim of their every word and whim.

The “Sticks and Stones” verse was a powerfully protective schoolyard antidote to what might be called the primitive, or “magic” view of language that everyone sensed was an ever-present danger and that once embraced (inevitably in a moment of anger), would also be a concession to one’s own darkest animal nature. For the magic view of language is an almost certain mark of a primitive society and a primitive person, and it is likely to be found at the early stages of all civilizations, as it is in the earliest years of a child’s life. It is the belief that with words, chants, hexes, curses, incantations, and other sorts of mumbo jumbo we can control others, and maybe even future events. At bottom, it is the belief that a word is itself a substance, rather than like a sign pointing to a substance or an idea. Once the magic view is adopted by political cultures (or by religions) they soon start banning the verbal substances, or words, or ideas they don't like or that may be used to undermine their belief system, then they begin to ban (or jail) the person using them.   

At least as recently as the immediate post- World War Two era, the sticks and stones verse was known by virtually all children and it amounted to a deeply-embedded public philosophy of the liberal-democratic Western world to the effect that in order for ordinary words to be considered seriously they must have some proven connection with truth. Until then, they are just sticks and stones made of sponge that when thrown will bounce off you unnoticed; the poor thrower an object of pity.

In this respect I remember in the late 1960s staring in disbelief at a Life Magazine double-spread photograph of an immense black horde of tunic-clad Chinese students, perhaps a million of them, all chanting and waving their Red Book – “The Sayings of Mao Tse Tung” in the air with rabid fervour. I remember my feeling of pity as for an inferior form of life, or a sick dog, for here was a whole people trapped in what we now call “political correctness.” It was unimaginable then that we would ever stoop to such base mob-think and quite clear they had no conception of either political or language freedom, and that every “saying” was loaded with a pre-determined significance that could be contradicted only at the risk of great personal peril. What seemed clear was that such totalitarian societies are marked by their entrapment in or (if they were once free) their reversion to a magic view of language.

It seems to me that with the loss of religious sentiment and the ideal of transcendent truth that usually accompanies it, along with the rise of secularism, materialism, and let’s face it – our own brand of socialism – we, too, have reverted to the magic view of words. I mentioned a few examples in the last post. David Irving is in jail for three years not because of what he believes – he could have believed it and remained silent – but because of words that are assumed to be dangerous, like stones and not sponges. Now that is a little peculiar with respect to his subject, because he is in jail not for speaking a truth no one wants to hear, but for denying a truth everyone assumes. But the fact is that no one really knows whether six million Jews or five and a half, or four million, or seven million were killed in the Nazi regime.These numbers are all shaky and contentious estimates. But that is not my complaint.

My complaint is that totalitarian regimes universally cling to a magic view of language, and we have begun doing this ourselves. In his sobering book, Death By Government (New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers, 1996), Professor R. J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii, one of the few authorities on how many human beings have been killed, slaughtered, gassed, starved, etc. by various totalitarian regimes (Nazi, Soviet, Chinese, Khmer Rouge, etc) tells us in chapter 6 – “The Nazi Genocide State” – that the figure of “six million” Jews (his quotation marks, not mine, indicating the figure is to his mind historically unverified) is part of an even more grotesque picture, because  “the Nazis murdered from about 15,000,000 to 31,000,000 people, most likely closer to 21 million men, women, handicapped, aged, sick, prisoners of war, forced laborers, camp inmates, critics, homosexuals, Jews, Slavs, Serbs, Czechs, Italians, Poles, Frenchmen, Ukrainians, and so on. Among them were 1 million children under eighteen years of age.” (pages 111-113). The Soviet Gulag deserves a special place in history for the greatest number of killings. The total for that regime is 61, 911,000. The total given for the “lesser megamurderers” is 19,178,000 divided up between the Chinese, Japanese, Cambodians, Turks, Poles, Yugolslavs, North Koreans, and so on. All had horrific genocidal regimes of one kind or another.

Perhaps the most shocking conclusion of Rummel’s work, however, is that government is bad for your health: he shows that in all the wars of the 20th Century some 50 million military combatants died. That is terrible enough. But at least they died fighting enemies of their countries. They were trying to protect their loved ones and their nations. The real shocker, however, is that in addition to these soldiers who died, he confirms that 167 million non-combatants, all full legal citizens, were killed by their own governments. And that is just the confirmed number. He suspects the real, but unverifiable number is much higher.

I suppose it is a bit of a reach. But all these killer regimes took great pains to codify, and then punish citizens with torture or death, for misusing the state’s official political conception of language-as-magic. Perhaps we ought to think about that. Or better yet, if we want to start removing our own totalitarian language mentality, maybe we should once again teach our kids: “Sticks and Stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Friday
Feb242006

The Free Speech Fracas

Our beliefs are all children of history. So when it comes to understanding a central article of our political faith such as “free-speech” it helps to consult the parents who gave it birth. For it is a truism that what we ardently believe at any point in time was probably justified by something very different when it began. So with free speech, which is now an entrenched secular notion attached to anything we believe we have a “right” to express.

But the idea began with defenders of religious belief, very aggressively during and after the Reformation and practically speaking, mostly because the Gutenberg printing press radically altered the ownership of knowledge, transferring it from the private grasp of religious authorities to the hands of anyone who learned to read. Religious “free speech” soon became the banner used to defend the right of a citizen to follow a religious denomination – as long as it was a Christian denomination! The Puritans who fled England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries to live in Holland where this freedom was protected, from England where it was not, did so because they wanted this kind of “free speech.” Their resolute conception of America for which they would soon embark on the Mayflower was that it would be a New Jerusalem, and a haven for free speech. But I think I am correct in saying that they would have balked at the idea that this concept should be extended to heathen, such as non-Christians like the followers of Islam, and especially not to any who professed atheism, to them the most dangerous belief of all. In their respective histories, America and Canada were both noted for their passionate defense of “free speech” over the centuries. Nevertheless, until very late in the 19th century, anyone running for public office in most jurisdictions of both countries was required to be a Christian of one sort or another.

No sooner had the idea of free speech become widely accepted for religious beliefs that it was adopted for political beliefs too, mostly under the banner of Vox Populi, Vox Dei (“the voice of the people is the voice of God”); that is, for defending the idea of political democracy: that the people’s voice and God’s voice are the same. But even that statement was considered pretty heretical and out of bounds by many. And after all, it is. I mean, if you believe that God is by definition a being utterly different in kind and quality from us, a being so utterly perfect in power, justice, knowledge, and goodness that there can be no such equation, then how could the statement make any sense? Nevertheless, it was probably the Western world’s first and most effective political sound-bite.

Parenthetically, one of the reasons I believe democracy has very little chance of long-term success in places such as Iraq, is that any Muslim worth the name will never concede that counting mere human heads can produce the truth, or establish “rights.” As we once were, they are still “people of the Book,” and so to them only God can know the perfect truth or have rights in any ultimate or pure sense. Humans have only duties, and very limited and qualified rights. So watch for more trouble in the Middle East that will be traceable to this very conflict between a Western Christian concept now secularized, and their living religion. At bottom, and so unlike ourselves, Muslims will never believe that democracy is a method than can separate or determine true and false. They will see it as what it really is, and as we saw it before we sacralized the concept and began justifying all things in its name: a political means to secure power. They will use it, once, to impose the truth of their beliefs – once and for all.

Things are very different for us, because our secular societies are now at something like stage three of this process, in which free speech is no longer mostly a matter of defending religious beliefs, or political beliefs (with the exception of our hordes of “interest groups”) but mostly personal beliefs, the first of which is our belief in the right to personal free expression itself. Hence, journalists all over the Western world who sense - quite rightly - that their profession as journalists is menaced by assaults on “the principle” of free speech (even thought this principle, as they intend it, has only evolved very recently into its current personal and professional form) are expressing themselves with a strange combination of rational passion and outrage, if there can be such a thing. Their expression must be rational because they are Enlightenment children who believe in the efficacy of reasonable debate. But it is passionate because debate is the very instrument under attack, for in societies given over to ultimate truth of any kind, there can be no toleration of debate. And that is true whether it concerns religious defamation as in Muslim societies or the secular-democratic orthodoxies of political correctness such as we rely on to enforce beliefs ourselves. There is not much difference between being called to kneel and ask forgiveness before an Imam, or before one of our many Human Rights Commissioners.

At any rate, the lightning has all struck at once in the form of a jail sentence for the British historian David Irving last week for speaking too freely against the Holocaust; the Danish cartoons for ridiculing the Prophet of Islam; the departure of Harvard’s president Lawrence Summers for speaking his mind freely on a lot of things, and not long ago in Canada the tribulations and punishment of a Toronto printer who refused to speak – that is, who refused to print homosexual material because it was against his religion.

Thursday
Feb232006

The Politics of Blood and AIDS

The “tainted blood” issue is in the news again in an attempt to sort out who lied to whom, and to place blame for a scandal that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people. The injustice of this should make any normal person very angry. “Tainted” means blood with the HIV virus (or with whatever agent[s] in blood are thought to cause AIDS). I knew a father of four who went for shoulder surgery, got tainted blood in a transfusion, and later died of AIDS. Excuse the expression, but this whole business was and remains a bloody outrage. The Red Cross was implicated and faulted publicly – just a wrist slapping - for supplying tainted blood beginning in the 1980s. But the real culprit is a society that was, and remains willing to hide the stark and continuing reality that it is by far male homosexuals who get AIDS in the Western world, and that there were, and are still, radical homosexuals who insisted then, and continue to insist now that AIDS is a mainstream disease and so they should not be excluded from giving blood. I say “radical” because at the start of all this there were a few angry homosexual men on record engaging in “blood terrorism”. Which is to say they felt discriminated against as homosexuals, and saw it as their right to get even with a patriarchal and “homophobic” society by donating their own tainted blood. The more or less true picture on the connection between AIDS and male homosexuality can be obtained from Health Canada, HIV/AIDS Surveillance. They have a website www.aidssida.cpha.ca You can also call them at 613-725-3769 and ask to be sent the “HIV and AIDS” info as a hard copy.

There, you will see a kind of bureaucratic collusion to hide the truth by avoiding honest language. When it started reporting on AIDS in 1980, Health Canada used categories like “homosexual” and “heterosexual” to sort out the incidence of HIV-AIDS, because prior to its political renaming, AIDS was labeled “gay bowel syndrome” by every specialist in the place. But around 1992 or thereabouts the language was changed to such as the cute abbreviation “MSM”. This means “men who have sex with men,” and the clear intent of that language change is to make homosexual behaviour seem innocent and just like a sex act between a man and a woman. These reports go on to quietly inform you that somewhere around 85% of all HIV-AIDS deaths in Canada from the 1980s until now have been from MSM “sex”. I use quotations for “sex” because as argued in a blog I wrote a week ago it is not possible for homosexuals to “have sex” in any proper sense of the term. In short, the intent of the language change and the acquiescence of the Red Cross and so many other “health” professionals has been to remove stigma from homosexual behaviour and to pretend that AIDS is “everyone’s disease.” Don’t believe it. At least in Western countries it is overwhelmingly a disease of homosexual males, and thousands of these poor souls have died of AIDS in the past 30 years (though AIDS is still a very minor disease by ordinary standards. Far more die every year of breast and prostate cancer, for example, than die of AIDS, though these diseases are given about a tenth of the money for research that is given for AIDS).

To top all this horrendous discussion off – and this, too is hush-hush due to the fact that there is by now an enormous HIV-AIDS industry/bureaucracy/and national-international aid machinery established to “conquer AIDS” – it is by no means clear at all that HIV is the “cause” of AIDS. Indeed, also getting off the ground in the 1980s was a group that then called itself “Rethinking -AIDS”. They have another name now. But this is a collection of four or five-hundred established scientists who are pretty certain that HIV is NOT the cause of AIDS. About 50 of them, including Luc Montagnier, the French scientist given many awards as the co-discoverer of the HIV virus, met in Amsterdam in 1992 at an “alternative” AIDS conference to assail the “HIV dogma.” An in-depth study of this controversy is by Peter Duesberg, Inventing the AIDS Virus (Washington: Regnery publishing, 1996). Duesberg, though a distinguished professor at Berkeley, has become a pariah in the AIDS establishment for his work. Instead of facing the arguments, the full force of denkverboten (the German word for “forbidding of thought”) has been brought to bear on his work and career by his opponents.

Their position is drawn from two sources. First, the absence of proof. As Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis (who wrote the foreward to Duesberg’s book) put it: “If there is evidence that HIV causes AIDS, there should be scientific documents which either singly or collectively demonstrate that fact, at least with a high probability. There are no such documents.” (London Sunday Times, Nov.28, 1993). You can access lots of similar material, at www.virusmyth.net including in-depth essays on the African “Aids” crisis (quotes used here for reasons you will see if you study up on the way Africa has no standard scientific requirement for distinguishing AIDS from the many other diseases that are rampant there).

And second, it seems to be the case that even if HIV is “associated” with AIDS, it may not manifest, or “cause” AIDS and this conclusion arises because so many people in whom the HIV virus may be found, but who do not practice homosexuality, never get AIDS, though it is quite likely to manifest if you are given blood from an active homosexual with AIDS. The main argument of HIV-theory opponents is that “co-factors” are required in combination with the virus and then you will likely come down with AIDS. But not without them. What are the co-factors? They are behaviours and practices associated mostly with male homosexuality: primarily frequent anal sex, heavy drug use, especially nitrates used to heighten the senses, multiple sex partners, heavy alcohol use, chronic fatigue, poor diet, etc., etc.

Getting at the truth is a lot of work.

Wednesday
Feb222006

Education and Population

Education and the State

The unions are trying to shut down Toronto schools again. I suppose unions once had a place securing decent working wages during the early stages of modernization. But now they seem like protection schemes that promote an inverse ratio between work and pay. Once I was hired by the CBC to do “colour commentary” for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. There was always a fellow sleeping the day away at the back of the studio when we had to do “voice-overs” for the day’s shoots. When I asked Tom McKee, the well known CBC-TV sportscaster who the fellow sleeping at the back of the room was, he said “he’s the ladder man.” What, in the world is a ladder man? Well, Tom explained, not without cynicism: “union rules state that if we ever need a ladder, it has to be fetched by a union guy. That’s him.”

As for unions and our schools? Perhaps it serves us right, for when as families and communities we surrendered education to the state, the downward slide in education began. We need to take back the schools so that the teacher’s paymaster is the community (the families) whose kids are being educated, instead of the state. A voucher system would start us on that road: each family gets a voucher for every school-aged child that can be used to pay for any school of their choice (koo-koo schools don’t qualify). But with such a system in place (I understand Holland has done this sort of thing for some 80 years), schools and their teachers suddenly care a lot more about whether or not their clients - the families of the kids - are pleased with the product in which they have just invested their voucher. Critics hate vouchers and say the poor get hurt by them. But I say no, it is precisely the poor, trapped inside the state’s declining education system, who benefit the most. The rich already have wealthier neighbourhoods and therefore better public schools due to a higher tax base, but they also have private schools as an escape from state education. A voucher system privatizes education for rich and poor alike. A terrific book on this question of why in the world citizens of the Western world ever surrendered education to the state in the first place, is by a Canadian, E.G. West, Education and the State (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1994) originally published in 1964. A good read.

The Birth Dearth

It won’t be much longer before national panic sets in on the question of “The Birth Dearth,” which is the title of a good book by Ben Wattenberg published in the late 1980s, and warning us all that the TFR, or Total Fertility Rate of just about every Western nation except the USA has been below replacement rate for decades. The National Post along with other media in the West has been running a series on this matter lately. It’s about time. When I was at Stanford University in the 1960s one of the professors we saw jogging daily at Angell Field, was Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, which was then an enormous bestseller predicting world-wide starvation due to overpopulation by the 1980s. Everyone began talking about ZPG, or Zero Population Growth. The best antidote to Ehrlich is probably still Jacqueline Kasun, The War Against Population (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).

All this brings to mind G.K Chesterton’s famous quip: “the answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is part of the surplus population, and if he is not, how he knows he is not?” At any rate, overpopulation devotees always run from this topic when you tell them that if we allow the space of an average coffin per person, the entire population of the world could be placed inside a crate just one mile square, and if you shoved the crate over the rim of the Grand Canyon, you would be looking down at it. (I can hear the calculators coming out!)

But it is sobering to consider that almost everyone back then echoed the overpopulation fear, despite the obvious fact that the wealthiest places on earth are its densely populated cities. Now, a mere 40 years later Westerners are facing the much more serious problem of underpopulation. All states keep statistics on birth and death rates, and dividing one rate into the other produces some interesting speculation about the future. In order for any population to remain stable, every woman must produce 2.1 children in her lifetime. But the coming disaster is already at work, and it is estimated that if trends continue Europe will be smaller by some 200 million people by the year 3000. As former French Prime Minister Chirac put it, “Europe is vanishing. Soon our countries will be empty.” Americans are still breeding enough. Barely. But Canadians are not (a present TFR of about 1.53). And both nations have been using immigration to stave off the inevitable. Immigrants do tend to have more children – until they get modernized. Then they stop breeding, too.

As what I call “The Great Die-Off” looms (anyone over 55 now will be in that group) states will hit the panic buttons and then all current policies and laws will be rapidly reversed. Now the radicalization of Western societies may have come about through ideological and political manipulation. But the return to tradition will be triggered by the practical realities of survival, and not by ideology (pace, conservatives!).

So here is my prediction: sometime in the next twenty years all Western nations will abruptly panic. In a very short order, they will create emergency social and economic policies and draconian laws, and establish new forms of political correctness to encourage much higher TFR rates. The Four-child family will come roaring back; feminism of the radical, anti-family kind will become extremely unpopular, and anyone preaching it or teaching it will become a social pariah; the practice of homosexuality, the gay  lifestyle, and gay “marriage” will once again be seen as unnatural, unpatriotic, against the good of society and driven underground, if not recriminalized; huge tax relief and tax credit and school subsidy packages and mortgage relief will be created to encourage large families, and so on. Bet on it.

Tuesday
Feb212006

More Sport Confusion

Yesterday I fingered politics, drugs, and money as the three most obvious ways elite sport has changed drastically in the last 40 years. When Canada’s Bill Crothers won a silver medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, on a dirt track (not on today’s much faster artificial surfaces), in a time that remained the Canadian record for some thirty years, we could be certain beyond any doubt of the following: he was not dependent on any state support; he was not taking any banned drugs; and he was not running for prize money.

So I ask readers to try this mental experiment: try to imagine a Canadian runner today winning a silver medal in the 800 meters, and then learning that he receives, and expects to receive money from taxpayers to continue running; that he is taking several banned substances, but denies taking them; and that he wins $25,000 to $50,000 for placing in a major international meet.

If both these athletes were competing in separate meets on the same day, which one would you prefer to watch? Which athlete would you value as more authentic, and which performance as better (even though they both win a silver medal)? If they both broke the world record on the same day, in the same time, which one ought to get credit for it?

Put this way, we can more clearly see that the difference between former elite athletes and those of today lies in certain underlying oppositions between independence (runs because he loves it) and dependence (would quit without state support); between honesty (takes no banned substances) and dishonesty (takes them, but denies it); and between sport for its own sake (runs to win the race) and sport for money (runs to win money).

These ovcerall difference was driven home for me when my own daughter won the Canadian Junior Championship in the 400 metre hurdles in Montreal, in 2000 (in 60.7” a good time on a rainy, windy day). There was a moment of great joy that got suddenly deflated. Just after crossing the finish line, and after the hugs and all, we both noticed a huge woman and a mean-faced official hovering very close. It was the urine police. We were sternly informed that my daughter was to be closely followed for the next hour or so, whereupon the big lady would go into the toilet stall with her and watch her urinate into a small bottle. My heart sank as I realized that all this meant a presumption of guilt. My daughter and all those who strive for athletic success in Canada are automatically presumed guilty unless proven innocent. That is the cloud under which we have placed all our sporting youth, and somehow we think it normal.

Speaking of "normal": in the National Post (p.A20) today, sport journalist David Owen argues we should accept and even promote performance-enhancing substances and be concerned only for the health of our athletes. Let’s get on with “safe” chemical and genetic-enhancement of everything, is the theme. Well, it’s the modern approach to all difficult moral issues: let’s arrange to avoid such question entirely by switching the focus of concern – in this case to doing no physical harm. But why are we so concerned about physical harm, and not at all about moral harm? Seems to me that in terms of how we get through life, and short of dying, our moral disabilities are far greater impediments than our physical ones.

And there are other flaws in his case. First, we simply do not know what harm many drugs do until decades later. Remember thalidomide? Remember the Vioxx and Celebrex drug recall last year? There is no end to possible future pharmacological harm simply because all drugs have side-effects, and if they do not, they are not drugs. Whether or not they get to market (or are taken off the market) is always a question of weighing risks against benefits. If you read the Pharmacology Handbook for a few minutes you will never want to take any drug again. Just about every one of the entries mentions the risk of mortality stated as a percentage of users. Second, permitting performance drugs on Monday would mean finding them put in the bodies of ten year-old gymnasts by glory-hungry coaches on Tuesday. No thanks. And Owen is just plain wrong on EPO and the dangers of red-blood-cell boosting. Insiders in the cycling and cross-country skiing world will tell you that in the past 20 years a shocking number of otherwise healthy international-caliber athletes have died from EPO. When they use too much of it their blood gets so thick their hearts stop. I have heard of cyclists whose trainers have had to stand on guard in their bedrooms at nights and wake them periodically to make them walk around whenever their heart monitors show their heart rate dropping dangerously low.

This goes on, and it is distressing, and I don’t care how many pharmacologists or experts in “practical ethics” (Oxford Professor Savulescu, in the Owen’s article), or sport journalists (Owens himself), try to justify it as “the radical modernization of human beings.” It is quite the reverse. It's the radical dehumanization of human beings.

Last testimonial: I know personally a man now in his mid-forties now who traveled to Europe to race under the tutelage of the Ontario Cycling Association when he was fifteen. I don’t know if he would repeat this now for fear of getting someone in trouble. But when I asked him, with an excited anticipation what it was like to travel with a provincial team at such a young age? He brought me down hard when he looked me right in the eye, and said: “Billy, the coaches gave us uppers to race, and downers to sleep.”

Monday
Feb202006

Can The Olympics Survive Success?

Sport has to be some kind of addiction. I remember, at about age ten reading track and field books under the bed-covers by flashlight after lights-out; going to school tired but happy, dreaming of what it could possibly be like to win a race. Please God, make it happen.

Sport - you can love it and hate it at the same time; the glory and the agony. In this respect it reproduces so much of the fullness of life, and all this in myriad private settings where young boys and girls learn about striving to their utmost, about winning with dignity, and losing with grace. And it is surely the Olympic Games, more than any other event that comes to mind as a monument to such sporting glory.

But can the Olympic Games survive its olympian success? There is some doubt, and reflection on how sport has changed in the past half century gives pause for concern. Fifty years ago there was still a keen moral distinction to be drawn - one immediately grasped by the public - between the amateur and the professional. An amateur was a lover of sport, someone who fit sport into life, and not life into sport. This distinction is very old, was clearly illuminated in classical Greece and Rome, found its most recent flourishing during the Renaissance, and until very recently had to do with the social ideal of human leisure. In its proper sense leisure has nothing to do with laziness or taking it easy. It has to do with the creative and non-utilitarian use of free time in pursuit of the fullness of life through personal development. This implies an ability to distinguish sharply between doing something for its own sake, as an end in itself, and doing something as a means to an end. The easiest way to know if someone is doing (I did not say “playing”) sport as a means to an end is to ask if they earn money from it. When you think deeply about this, you come up convinced there is something more pure and admirable about doing something for its own sake than doing it for money. For an amateur will do what he does because he loves it, whereas we cannot tell why the professional does what he does, for he may do it even if he hates it.

Call me a dinosaur, call me out of step with the times. Fine. But I say let’s go back to the future. For in a nutshell, and as much as I love it, here is what is wrong with Olympic sport, and what has to be changed to avoid the complete disappearance of pure sport in the next fifty years.

1) Politics: We are creating Welfare Jocks and Jockettes. Sport has been shanghaied by welfare states in the free world, and the model for this takeover was former communist states like East Germany. This has meant a vastly diminished engagement of local communities (as coaches, officials, parents, and community supporters), and legions of athletes who grow up thinking they will be looked after by the state. At a sports meeting prior to the 1976 games I listened with a growing disdain to a prominent thirty-year old Canadian Olympian who stood up and pleaded with government officials for “compensation for lost education.”

2) Drugs. In far too many sports, you cannot succeed without drugs. This is mostly true for explosive sports (sprinting, jumping, throwing – citius, altius, fortius!); for strength sports (such as weightlifting); and for endurance sports (any sport requiring sustained endurance such as cycling, marathon, and cross-country skiing). I still watch a fast 100 metre race; I still watch the tour de France; and I love cross-country ski racing. But in my heart of hearts I know almost all these people are on drugs. They are cheats; they are chemistry champions; they have learned to lie with pride; and this will never stop. At every Olympics there will be drug busts and police raids. And next, we are going to see genetically-engineered champions. So for me, something wonderful about sport has died.

3) Money. I already said it. Sport is now a way to get very rich. First, by getting on the government sports-dole as a “carded” athlete with a monthly stipend, and then by scoring “the big win.” Some actually do this. The very few we hear about. But for every one of those there are hundreds who neglect the fullness of their own personal development and education – who neglect the true meaning of leisure - by hanging on for the big win that will never come. And there are also hundreds – I know some – who simply quit when they get the word from Ottawa that they will not be carded. The end for me was when I heard that now at Track and Field Grand Prix races, a Bar of Gold is placed on the track at the end of the 100 metre run as the gleaming prize and highest glory of the sport. I say bring back the laurel leaf!

There is also something very wrong about having an “Olympic Team” of multi-millionaire, thirty-something hockey players. The wrongness was driven home during the last games when the closing ceremonies came. As the camera panned over some of the faces of these aging millionaires, the dignitary stood up and said: “I invite the youth of the world to gather once again to celebrate the Olympic spirit, in Turin, Italy.” A lot of those fellows did not look like “the youth of the world” to me. Fact is, in men’s hockey at least, we have passed over the youth of the world.

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And that is why I coach high school athletes. Because they are still getting the best of it.  But I do not counsel them to go forward after university, unless they are prepared to change their lives according to the three realities above. This weekend, at the Ontario Indoor Track and Field Championships five of our York Flyers kids brought home six medals. This coach was pretty happy! * Gold medals in the Juvenile Girls (not yet 18) 200 metres, and the 400 metres * Silver medal in Juvenile Boys 400m. * Gold medal in Senior Men’s Long Jump. * Bronze medal in Senior women’s 60m Hurdles. * Silver medal in Senior women’s Long Jump. It was great fun.

But besides high-school sport – in the very young - where do we mostly find sport undertaken in the sense of true leisure today? In the very old. At the “Masters” level. Masters sport is a huge and growing activity. Just one example: at the World Masters Track and Field championships in Buffalo New York a few years ago, more than 6,000 older athletes came to compete in just this one sport! Masters sport, populated mostly by people who do it for the pure love of it, is booming. But there are warning signs.

At this same Buffalo competition, a 75 year-old man was disqualified from the 100 metre sprint for taking drugs.