Doug Casey on the Olympics

Recently by Doug Casey: ‘Atlas Shrugged’

L: So Doug, the queen of England parachuted into the arena with James Bond to kick-start the Olympics. I’m sure you must have some comments on the – literally – passing parade.

Doug: Well, you know I’m no great fan of royalty. She’s the leading representative of a useless, repressive, corrupt, and anachronistic institution. PR flacks are doing their best to rebrand her in an appealing way; she’s essentially a commodity. So part of my mind was hoping her chute wouldn’t open – even though I obviously wish no ill to an aged grandmother.

L: Awww… C’mon, Doug. You know it was a stunt double.

Doug: [Laughs] Of course – somebody expendable. But skydiving isn’t overly dangerous; I have 59 jumps myself. Nonetheless, it’s really beyond me why mobs of people would want to go to the Olympics. They go to a city that becomes – if it wasn’t already – a prime target for any bad boys out there who might want to make a terrorist point. Much more dangerous than the presumed terrorists, however, is that the British have turned the place into an armed, totalitarian police state for the duration of the Olympics. The place is crawling with soldiers, and the rooftops of buildings have been commandeered for anti-aircraft fire and snipers.

L: Crisis and Leviathan, Doug. You know they’ll never take down any extra “temporary” cameras and “security” devices they installed. Why spend more money decommissioning them when they can leave them up and keep a tighter rein on their subjects?

Doug: Of course. And London is already wired with thousands of cameras watching everything. But back to the Olympics. Rooms at such a time must be near impossible to get and exorbitantly priced when they can be had. I hate mob scenes.

But maybe the most important reason for those concerned with the actual sports is that you’ll get a much better, closer view on your wide-screen in the comfort of your home. You go through all the trouble and expense of going, just to be there, only to find yourself sitting behind a pillar – or missing the crucial point if you happen to glance away at the wrong time. And in an auditorium it’s quite hard to hear the commentary.

So I really don’t see the point of going at all.

L: Where’s your patriotism, Doug? Don’t you want to go and cheer for the US?

Doug: Ah, yes. My country is the best country in the world – because I was born here. Patriotism is widely viewed as a virtue, but it’s actually no more than a romanticized view of nationalism. Rabid patriots are just jingoists, as rational and dangerous as a bunch of chimpanzees eyeing a neighboring band.

L: Of course everyone’s country is the best – don’t be so uptight with your bourgeois logic.

Doug: [Chuckles]

L: But Doug, most people can’t skip around the globe on a lark the way you do. The vast majority of the people watching the Olympics are doing so on TV and never would have even thought of actually going.

Doug: Okay then, let’s look at the Olympics themselves. Back in 776 BC, when they first got started in Greece, individuals competed, representing their different city-states. But in those days, every citizen knew almost everyone else; the people living in those cities – which were very small by modern standards – were related by extensive family ties, shared cultural and linguistic bonds, shared philosophical contexts, and more. So an individual from Athens could be considered reasonably representative of his fellow Athenians, as would a Spartan.

But today, Some kid-athlete from Detroit or San Diego or New York almost certainly has little in common with me – certainly less than my friends scattered around the world. He or she doesn’t represent me, or America, for that matter. Anyway, there no longer is an America, only the US. And almost none of these other nation-states today are truly “a people.” They’re cobbled together hodgepodges of various mutually antagonistic racial, ethnic, linguistic, and other classifications of people, resulting from war and conquest. Most people in most countries today don’t have anything significant in common, except the name of the government on their ID papers.

So the whole idea of having individuals representing countries in sporting events makes no sense at all today.

L: What has always startled me is the way the achievement of some individual athlete is a source of pride to people who happen to be coerced into paying taxes to the same government. A gold medalist’s achievement is that athlete’s achievement, not Germany’s, nor China’s – and certainly not that of other Germans or Chinese.

But many people seem to have a strong need to be part of a tribe. Being a sports fan gives people something to belong to, something they can feel proud of when things go well, even if they had nothing to do with it. Doesn’t this supposed competition among nations have root in the same psychology?

Doug: Well… you may be right. I guess my beef isn’t really with people who want to enjoy the Olympic spectacle, but with these nation-states that have co-opted the event for political grandstanding.

You’ve got China, with 1.3 billion people that can cull millions of athletes for the best of the best, and you’ve got some small places like Lichtenstein or Palau, with only a few thousands of people – it doesn’t mean a thing if China’s athletes trounce the team from Tuvalu.

It seems to me that the whole thing would be more wholesome and meaningful if the Olympic organization were set up to enable any individual or team from around the world to enter and compete against any other from anywhere else in the world. That would bring people from around the world together to root for the best, without stirring up jingoism and dangerous national pride.

The thing is that the Olympic games have become corrupt and outlived their original useful purpose – like any human institution that grows old. The current iteration of the Olympic games, in my opinion, really went off the rails with the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was the Nazis who firmly established the precedent of hijacking the games to showcase nationalistic propaganda. The British seem to have kept up that sorry tradition with their opera on the NHS, the nationalized medical system, with hundreds of patients and nurses on giant beds. Bizarre and pointless, I thought.

I believe the tradition of the competitors standing at attention while their national flags wave and anthems play started in 1924 – but I think that’s inappropriate at any sporting event. I really don’t know why I should have to endure the national anthem of any gang of crooks calling itself a government before any sporting event, and I disapprove of standing up for any of them. And most of those anthems are about as dissonant as rap music – with the notable exceptions of the EU’s Fourth Movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and France’s La Marseillaise. In the US, The Star Spangled Banner only became the official US anthem in 1931, and it only became customary to have it before games during WWII. But now, anywhere in the world before a sporting event, there’s always a national anthem. I don’t know what a national anthem has to do with sports.

L: I suppose that rules out the World Cup for you, then.

Doug: None of those sporting events that are supposedly between countries make any sense to me. I mean, where there used to be a Soviet Union fielding sports teams, now there’re 15 countries fielding them. There used to be a Czechoslovakia; now there’re two countries to cheer for – in the former Yugoslavia there are five. And in Germany, there used to be two of each team to cheer for, and now there’s one. It’s a completely meaningless way of grouping people, and counting the achievements of people this way means even less. It makes no sense for people to have any loyalty to these arbitrary lines drawn on maps.

I suppose some might feel some bond of kinship for the people of a region they inhabit who share a culture, language, history, and so forth. Or, for that matter, if a corporation you work for decides to field a team, it might make sense to root for your group… and groups of people might come together for other reasons that bind them and sponsor sports teams. I could see it making sense in many ways – but the idea of nation-states co-opting this process and turning it into a vehicle for political propaganda is just awful.

It turns the objective of friendly competition and camaraderie on its head, substituting ritualized warfare in its place and spreading international tension instead.

Just look at all the boycotts that have been conducted over the years – not just the Americans in 1980 and the Soviets in 1984, but lots of other countries in other years. It’s shameful, because the athletes who had the misfortune of holding the wrong passport were denied the opportunity to compete because of some politician’s whim. That alone is an excellent reason the Olympics should be denationalized.

L: Okay… So what about college football or basketball tournaments? Do you ever go to those to watch the athletes perform? They are privately funded and organized and usually not political.

Doug: I've got no problem with them, although I have to admit that I’m not big on cheering on teams. Unless the teams include people I know and care about. I really got into polo, as you know. I love to watch team sports just for the athleticism – the poetry in motion – but I rarely really care who wins or loses… unless I have money on the game. I mostly like watching the instant replays and highlights in slow motion of any kind of athletic activity, frankly.

L: You don’t feel a need to be there in person when opposing gangs of gargantuan, semi-armored, hobnail-booted thugs break each other’s bones for possession of an inflated pig bladder?

Doug: [Laughs]. No, no. I really don’t. As I said before, I dislike crowds – most particularly violent ones.

L: But you grant that that’s just your personal preference – nothing wrong with those who get a thrill out of being there to be there?

Doug: To each his own. But that brings me to a whole other reason why the Olympics as they are today should be abolished. Where does a broke government, like the one in the UK, get off spending some $30 billion putting on a sporting event that’s got no chance of breaking even? It’s unethical in the extreme for over-indebted entities to spend money they don’t have on events they don’t need, only to stroke the egos of the politicians and bamboozle voters, while the economy continues deteriorating under the dead weight of their hands.

It’s shameful that people who may have zero interest in a circus are forced to pay for it.

L: Worse than Nero fiddling while Rome burned?

Doug: Yes; at least Nero didn’t pretend to be doing it for the people’s own good.

L: Hm. Isn’t Mitt Romney the guy who made a set of winter Olympic games profitable?

Doug: That’s what they say. But even if a government isn’t broke and could make money on the games, it still has no business sponsoring sports teams or getting into show business. It politicizes what should be private endeavors and brings corruption and inefficiency to what would otherwise be more dynamic and interesting sport-related businesses.

Why not have governments sponsor absolutely everything? Next will be NASCAR and monster trucks.

L: [Laughs]

Doug: As an aside, I have to say that I’m so unimpressed by Romney. I really don’t know where the Republicans find these hostile, angry, old white men who do nothing but embarrass those who don’t want to vote for the Democrats.

Anyway: the Olympics should be run as a strictly private enterprise, completely separate from and devoid of any government or nationalistic influence. They should be run by whatever rules work best for attracting the largest audiences and making the most money and open to any athlete from anywhere who qualifies. That would end the unethical drain on taxpayers, make for better sporting events, and enable athletes to shine and prosper without having to kowtow to politicians.

L: But without government control, sports might not be fair… the horror!

Doug: That’s another thing. This whole “level playing field” illusion is ridiculous. There is no level playing field between China and the Vatican City, when it comes to capacity to field a world-class wrestling team. And this hysteria about keeping drugs out of sports is a government-pushed idiocy that has nothing to do with creating the best sporting events possible. If athletes can take performance-enhancing drugs or other treatments to perform better, why shouldn’t they? Others can as well; and if they’re dangerous, it’s up to each athlete to weigh the risks and benefits – that calculation becomes part of the sports.

There could be leagues for purists, “natural” practitioners who don’t use any enhancements beyond hard work and, different “no-holds-barred” leagues for those who want to see what maximum human potential might be. There’s nothing wrong with using drugs to enhance performance – the problem comes from cheating. And cheating is cheating in any field, whatever the accepted rules are.

L: I suppose there will be leagues in the future for people who were “naturally conceived” and genetically altered or optimized people.

Doug: Exactly. Already, different people from different places have access to different training equipment, different amounts of time to train, different levels of support, different kinds of medicine available – there are all kinds of inequalities. A completely level playing field is not an option. Drugs certainly are an option. Let there be freedom of sports, and let people compete in accordance to whatever rules they agree to, without interference by governments with irrelevant agendas. Let a hundred flowers bloom.

L: That could lead to some pretty interesting sporting events…

Doug: It will. Actually, at La Estancia de Cafayate, we’re having a duodecathalon – a kind of Renaissance-Man Olympics I designed. My idea is that the physical nature of the sports you see in the Olympics is great – but combining it with an intellectual element could make it better. Anyway, you no longer throw a discus or a javelin in day-to-day modern life. So, my duodecathalon will include chess, a quiz contest, poker, and billiards, as well as an equestrian event, parcours, tennis, golf, archery, skeet, and the 100-meter freestyle, among other things. We’re hoping to do a trial run of the first one in early November at one of our semiannual events, and then make it into a regular attraction. The idea is that it shows the spirit of the place and showcases some of the things you can do there. Part of the spirit of Estancia is the theme of Mens sana in corpore sano.

L: Very cool, Doug. I know you’ve wanted to do that for a long time, but didn’t know you’ve actually got it started. Will you compete?

Doug: [Chuckles] I’m afraid I’ve destroyed my body to a degree that will prevent any inspiring athletic performances on my part, but I like the idea of getting to be the emperor who gives the thumbs up or down at the end.

L: [Laughs] I can just see you doing that! Well, while we’re mentioning world-class events, we should mention one that’s much closer than Cafayate for most people: our upcoming Navigating the Political Economy Summit. It’ll be September 7 – 9, in Carlsbad, California, near San Diego.

Doug: Yes, it’s always interesting to meet our readers at our summits, and I have to say, David [Galland] has lined up some excellent speakers this time.

L: I’m looking forward to it, too. But to wrap up on the Olympics, as interesting as this conversation has been, I don’t see any compelling investment implications that can be acted upon before the revolution… do you?

Doug: Not beyond its general implications as a sign of our times.

L: All right then, until next week.

Doug: We’ll be in Lithuania. I’m really looking forward to teaching with you again – see you there.