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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Armstrong, Oprah, and "I Want to Ride My Enhanced Bicycle Where I Like"

"The court of public opinion weighed in decidedly against Lance Armstrong after he reportedly admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs to push his cycling career into high gear.
"ABC News, the New York Times and USA Today, citing unnamed sources, reported Monday night that the former cyclist finally admitted to using steroids during an interview he and Winfrey taped in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas."
(Ed Payne, "Public Takes Its Shots at Armstrong
After Reported Admission to Oprah," CNN, January 15 2013)
For more than a decade, Armstrong has denied he used performance-enhancing drugs. The USADA hit Armstrong with a lifetime ban after the agency issued a 202-page report in October, which said there was overwhelming evidence he was directly involved in a sophisticated doping program.
The report detailed Armstrong's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions. The USADA said it had tested Armstrong less than 60 times and the International Cycling Union conducted about 215 tests.
The agency did not say that Armstrong ever failed a test, but his former teammates testified as to how they beat tests or avoided the tests altogether.
Fable Aesop (620 BC - 560 BC)
"Truth and the Traveler"

"A wayfaring man, traveling in the desert, met a woman standing
alone and terribly dejected. He inquired of her, 'Who art thou?'

"'My name is Truth,' she replied.

"'And for what cause,' he asked, 'have you left the city to dwell
alone here in the wilderness?'

"She made answer, 'Because in former times, falsehood was
with few, but it is now with all men.'"

(Translated by George Fyler Townsend, 1814-1900)
This Aesop Fable has become regrettably more fact than fiction in respect to the rich and famous and their value for intrinsic truth. President Nixon and Watergate conspiracy, President Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, scores of star Major League baseball players and the steroid doping era, Hit King Pete Rose and his gambling addiction, college football coach Jerry Sandusky and convictions on charges of serial child molestation -- the headlines for many decades brim with news of lying.

The public has become used to people lying as a normal means of defense in the face of serious charges. No wonder so many people distrust even those in the highest positions and social stratum of American society. And now, in the face of overwhelming proof, Lance Armstrong is finally willing to come clean about using performance-enhancing drugs. Today, there is a genuine lack of shock and awe when our heroes and trusted public officials fess up. And, perhaps more disturbing, it seems more and more people could care less about whether these figures lie.

Today might be a good time to explore the definition of lying. You might expect the subject to be black and white in that truth is "good" and lying is "bad"; however, Tim C. Mazur of Santa Clara University, COO of ECOA, the world's premier organization serving ethics and compliance officers, allows us to study different views of truth, even those that pertain to when a lie may be more permissible.

Thanks to Mazur for some straight copy from the source. But, I believe it is crucial for understanding, and you may be surprised with the information. I hope the words I have taken here represent "excusable plagiarism." And, yes, I understand the falsehood inherent in that meaningless term.


"Sometimes a lie, a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive, seems the perfect response: a brother lies about his sister's where-abouts to the drunken husband threatening to harm her, a doctor tells a depressed patient that he has a 50-50 chance of long-term recovery when she is confident he'll live only six months, a son gives his late mother's estate to the poor after promising to honor her demand that the money be placed in her coffin. When trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation, perfect honesty may seem second best next to values like compassion, respect, and justice.Yet many philosophical and religious traditions have long claimed that rarely, if ever, is a lie permissible. What, then, is the truth about lying?"
(Tim C. Mazur, "Lying," Santa Clara University, The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics)

Viewpoint One: Lying Is Always Morally Wrong

"The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that lying was always morally wrong. He argued that all persons are born with an "intrinsic worth" that he called human dignity. This dignity derives from the fact that humans are uniquely rational agents, capable of freely making their own decisions, setting their own goals, and guiding their conduct by reason.
"To be human, said Kant, is to have the rational power of free choice; to be ethical, he continued, is to respect that power in oneself and others.
"Lies are morally wrong, then, for two reasons:
* First, lying corrupts the most important quality of my being human: my ability to make free, rational choices. Each lie I tell contradicts the part of me that gives me moral worth.
* Second, my lies rob others of their freedom to choose rationally. When my lie leads people to decide other than they would had they known the truth, I have harmed their human dignity and autonomy.
"Kant believed that to value ourselves and others as ends instead of means, we have perfect duties (i.e., no exceptions) to avoid damaging, interfering with, or misusing the ability to make free decisions; in other words - no lying."

Viewpoint Two: Virtue Ethics and Lying Depending on the Development of Character

"A second perspective, virtue ethics, also maintains that lying is morally wrong, though less strictly than Kant. Rather than judge right or wrong behavior on the basis of reason and what people should or should not do, virtue ethicists focus on the development of character or what people should be.
"Virtues are desirable qualities of persons that predispose them to act in a certain manner. Fairness, for example, is a virtue we may choose to strive toward in pursuit of fulfilling our human potential. In virtue ethics, to be virtuous is to be ethical.

"Though the nature of virtue ethics makes it difficult to assess the morality of individual acts, those who advocate this theory generally consider lying wrong because it opposes the virtue of honesty. There is some debate whether a lie told in pursuit of another virtue (e.g., compassion: the brother's lie to his sister's drunken husband is motivated by compassion for her physical safety) is right or wrong.
"This apparent conflict between virtues is managed by most ethicists through a concept called the unity of the virtues. This doctrine states that the virtuous person, the ideal person we continuously strive to be, cannot achieve one virtue without achieving them all.
"Therefore, when facing a seeming conflict between virtues, such as a compassionate lie, virtue ethics charges us to imagine what some ideal individual would do and act accordingly, thus making the ideal person's virtues one's own. In essence, virtue ethics finds lying immoral when it is a step away, not toward, the process of becoming the best persons we can be."

Viewpoint Three: Utilitarian Ethics and Lying As Morally Acceptable When Resulting Consequences Maximize Benefit or Minimize Harm

"According to a third perspective, utilitarian ethics, Kant and virtue ethicists ignore the only test necessary for judging the morality of a lie - balancing the benefits and harms of its consequences. Utilitarians base their reasoning on the claim that actions, including lying, are morally acceptable when the resulting consequences maximize benefit or minimize harm.
"A lie, therefore, is not always immoral; in fact, when lying is necessary to maximize benefit or minimize harm, it may be immoral not to lie. The challenge in applying utilitarian ethics to everyday decision making, however, is significant: one must correctly estimate the overall consequences of one's actions before making a decision. The following example illustrates what utilitarian decision makers must consider when lying is an option.
"Recall the son and his dying mother described earlier. On careful reflection, the son reasons that honoring his mother's request to settle the estate and deposit the money in her coffin cannot be the right thing to do. The money would be wasted or possibly stolen and the poor would be denied an opportunity to benefit. Knowing that his mother would ask someone else to settle her affairs if he declared his true intentions, the son lies by falsely promising to honor her request. Utilitarianism, in this example, supports the son's decision on the determination that the greater good is served (i.e., overall net benefit is achieved) by lying.
"Altruistic or noble lies, which specifically intend to benefit someone else, can also be considered morally acceptable by utilitarians. Picture the doctor telling her depressed patient that there is a 50 percent probability that he will recover, when in truth all tests confirm the man has only six months to live. The doctor knows from years of experience that, if she told this type of patient the truth, he would probably fall deeper into depression or possibly commit suicide. With the hope of recovery, though, he will most likely cherish his remaining time. Again, utilitarianism would seem to support the doctor's decision because the greater good is served by her altruistic lie.
"While the above reasoning is logical, critics of utilitarianism claim that its practical application in decision making is seriously flawed. People often poorly estimate the consequences of their actions or specifically undervalue or ignore the harmful consequences to society (e.g., mistrust) that their lies cause.
"Following the examples above, the son's abuse of his mother's faith in him and the doctor's lie undermine the value of trust among all those who learn of the deceits. As trust declines, cynicism spreads, and our overall quality of life drops.
"In addition, suggesting that people may lie in pursuit of the greater good can lead to a "slippery slope," where the line between cleverly calculated moral justifications and empty excuses for selfish behavior is exceedingly thin. Sliding down the slope eventually kindles morally bankrupt statements (e.g., "Stealing this man's money is okay because I will give some to charity.") Those who disagree with utilitarianism believe that there is potentially great cost in tolerating lies for vague or subjective reasons, including lies in honor of 'the greater good.'

"Critics of utilitarian justifications for lying further note how difficult it is for anyone, even honorable persons, to know that a lie will bring more good than the truth; the consequences of actions are too often unpredictable."

(Tim C. Mazur, "Lying," Santa Clara University, The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics)

My View

Let's look at virtue ethics. I fail to see how Lance Armstrong has been using deceit to develop a better character. It seems more likely to me that he has used professional sports, his foundation that raises money for cancer survivors, and his incredible winning record of seven straight years at the Tour de France to bolster his ego, fatten his pocketbook, and feel fail-safe above the rules intended to insure equality of competition in his beloved sport. After all, this is the man who once said:

"To all the cynics, I'm sorry for you, ... I'm sorry you can't believe in miracles. This is a great sporting event and hard work wins it.”

Armstrong has had numerous opportunities in the past to confess his lies and bemoan his false steps. He is likely incapable of conceiving the "unity of the virtues." If he was, Armstrong would have considered the damage his lies have done to his competitors, to his fans, and to his charitable organization. To adamantly lie and tell the world over and over he did not cheat makes Lance a narcissist with one focus -- to win at all costs and use this ugly reputation to preserve his self worth.

How about the test of utilitarian ethics? Has Armstrong adequately considered the overall consequences of his actions before making decision after decision to lie repeatedly? I think the only answer to this question is that Armstrong considered a single consequence of his lies --  that he was never going to be forced to admit his guilt -- and in this fatal conclusion, he misjudged the real probability of this eventually happening. He was blind, perhaps because of his gigantic ego, to the predictable.

And, as Armstrong kept delaying telling the truth, he caused his own "slide down the slipper slope" as he underestimated the cost of his denials. People, even his staunch supporters, now mistrust him and are unable to view him as a truly repentant man. Armstrong hurt most his truest believers who once defended their idol through blind trust in his words. He, in no shape or form, committed a "noble lie." Fundraising, you say? Is this man the ethical, moral spokesman so sought by reputable charities? I think not.

Most believe any confession Armstrong makes now is done merely for the possibility of being reinstated -- a reinstatement in his sport or a reinstatement in the belief of his adoring public.

So, do I believe that lying is always morally wrong? The philosophy of Kant cannot be denied as hogwash or as an outdated standard. Even if many people today do not practice telling the truth for its intrinsic worth, those with absolute integrity are rare and valuable assets in our society. Lance Armstrong was once viewed as a person with unbridled will and integrity. Now, in my opinion, he must pay the price for his lies and misdeeds.

I see the judgment of an earthly penalty decided by man in a different light than the judgment of a spiritual penalty decided by God. Just as a learned philosopher may explain a moral reason or an ethical reason for a human being to tell an occasional lie, God may offer Lance Armstrong amazing grace no matter his sin. Faith and grace are the saviors of mankind.

Still, I think the symbols in Aesop's "Truth and the Traveler" hold true today. Far too many of us dwell in the City of Convenient Lies while Truth has been pushed to the fringes of our society. Oliver Wendell Holmes, regarded by his peers as one of the best writers of the 19th century, once said, “Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits the all.” How many terrible things that happen originate as the result of a single, devastating lie? I often wonder how a deceitful person ever experiences the joy of a true accomplishment.

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