Instruments or authors?

After Lance Armstrong defiantly tweeted a picture of himself reclining on his couch under his seven Tour de France yellow jerseys on Tuesday, I got an email from a friend who wrote "this guy is operating on a different level" ...

What he meant is that, for people such as Armstrong, the end always justify the means, which is not so much a "different level" as a life philosophy my friend wants no part of.

"Do we really expect people, after a lifetime of systematic behaviour to be contrite and see the 'error' of their ways? He is lying there on his couch thinking, 'people don't understand. I won fair and square because EVERYONE was doping'."

What's more, perhaps Armstrong is right to feel like that?

There's plenty of different types of people in the world but I think we've all met two of the larger classes of humans: those for whom the end justifies the means and those for whom the end is only meaningful and moral if achieved in the "right" manner.

Of course, there are plenty of others who muddle through between these two schools of thought, switch back and forth, or are so hare-brained and befuddled they don't even realise they're making this choice.

Taken to its extreme, the former of those two expressions is embodied by the writings and thoughts of Niccolo Machiavelli - particularly his masterwork The Prince - in which he argues that pretty much any form of violence, deception, betrayal or manipulation can be justified if it allows a ruler to retain power.

I'm pretty sure Lance Armstrong would count himself a Machiavellian but, more to the point, so would many of our business, political, union and military leaders, not to mention advertisers, graziers, glaziers, geezers and freezer salesmen.

When pressed, many of these people would no doubt describe their moral attitude in utilitarian terms - that they believe in doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people - that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.

And if you accept this philosophy, Armstrong may well be right in feeling justified in his actions. If we're to believe the revelations of the past few months, it seems more top riders were doping than not during the Armstrong era.

If so, it would have been impossible for him to compete, let alone dominate and win, if he didn't also dope. And without those wins, he would never have risen to prominence and inspired millions of cancer suffers to battle the disease.

Many military and political leaders adhere to the same philosophy - some people may die or suffer - but it'll save the lives or pain of many others.

It's how the US rationalised dropping atomic bombs on Japan, it's how pharmaceutical companies justify torturing animals to perfect medicines for humans.

In Armstrong's case, it's a backwards rationalisation because I doubt very much he was thinking about inspiring cancer patients when he first started juicing - he was thinking about getting rich and famous and being lauded as the best.

And let's not kid ourselves "he had no choice".

In his popular Harvard lecture series Justice, Michael Sandel, explaining the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, says that the "by any means necessary" school of thought reduces us to "instruments rather than authors of the purposes we pursue".

It is the capacity to make the choice between the means by which you achieve your end that "is what gives human life its special dignity. Respecting human dignity means regarding persons not just as means, but as ends themselves".

"And this is why it's wrong to use people for other people's [or your own] well-being and happiness," says Sandel.

Armstrong abused his own body, then used his teammates, the media, his sponsors and then played bait and switch trying to tell us "the end" was to inspire millions of cancer sufferers and their families.

His tweet shows it was always about him and just how inverted his morality was and continues to be.


The Cancer Council NSW has launched a new campaign to encourage men to talk with each other about their health. Having had a small role with the Men's Health Committee designed to brainstorm ideas for the campaign, I gotta say I'm stoked with how hard CCNSW has gone.

Check it out ... I reckon this'll get people talking.

The point?

Compared to women, Australian men are 84 per cent more likely to die of cancers that are common to both. That is 6,900 more male deaths in Australia per year.

Shit Mates Don't Say asks blokes to fix the fixable. Thirty per cent of cancers can be prevented so CCNSW are asking men to take their health into their own hands and make some simple changes.

Have a regular game of footy with your mates, swap the greasy burgers for lean meats or barbecue some prawns, don't drink as many beers, and if something is up, talk about it.

There is some shit men just don't say, but talking about health concerns is the first step to doing something about it. So get on it, talk about it and do something about it – simple preventative measures and regular checkups can save lives.

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