24 August 2012

On the return of shame-culture

Two things. First:

After a decade of fighting allegations of drug use and doping, Lance Armstrong has given up.
World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey says Armstrong's decision to drop his fight against drug charges,[...] was an admission the allegations "had substance in them". (Source)
That allegation only works by the rules of shame-culture, not those of guilt-culture, which apply in all reasonably advanced legal cultures. (I've outlined the distinction--which is not mine--here.)

It is perfectly understandable that Armstrong, against whom nothing has been proved, has finally decided that there is no way he can win; he can't prove a negative, so he might as well not bother. It's not as if it matters any more.

It is not possible to conceive of any evidence he could produce which would refute the allegations--that is the test of a shame-culture, whether in a class of students or a work setting or a political arena.


But the peculiar arrogance of the Anti-Doping Agency (there seem to be several outfits involved) is highlighted by their apparent belief that they can strip him of seven Tour de France titles. Just like that. As far as I am aware the USADA does not run the Tour de France. The contest operates under the auspices of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the world governing body--who have not yet pronounced on the matter.

I know only what I have picked up from the general media--not even the sporting press--so I may have it all wrong. I'm not an advocate for Armstrong--but I am interested in the peculiar construction of  "authority" in the sporting arena. Whether it is the IoC, FIFA, or a range of lesser bodies--and leaving aside the issue of corruption, which is clearly entangled with the culture--there appears to be a pervading atavistic shame culture, which is tied up with their unaccountability.

I first noticed this 40+ years ago in connection with a youth club I was associated with in Moss Side in Manchester. I remember a committee meeting at which we considered the implications of being fined--financially-- by the local amateur football league for not having fielded a team for a match, which put the very continuance of the club in jeopardy. I was sure they couldn't legally do that. My more experienced colleagues patiently explained to me that it made no difference; if you wanted to play football, you had to have other teams to play with, and that was arranged by the league, and so you had to play by their rules. In this case the league committee was merely bossy and a little unimaginative*, and there was no evidence of corruption, but it is easy how that might arise in such a context.

Add loads of money, and create a toxic, unaccountable and powerful sub-culture, which is reflected in shame-culture in an institution, a community, a church**...

*  And, as one of my colleagues observed at the time, what would one expect? These were working-class volunteers who were much more familiar with sticks than carrots, as opposed to us middle-class do-gooders who parachuted in to "help".

As one local commented, not unkindly, when I moved on, "I know you meant well, coming to live here; but the essential difference was that you were here by choice and now you can move on by choice. We don't have that choice." But that's another story.

**  ... or of course in the latter case, one which is powerful enough to over-ride the legitimacy of allegations.

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