Thursday, March 17, 2016

Who Wants to Blow Up Their Dreams?

It's Tournament time. March Madness is upon us. Starting today, sixty-four men's college basketball teams will compete for a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Championship. With games played in sold-out stadiums and broadcast on four television networks, the NCAA stands to earn billions of dollars from the Tournament. There's an argument to be made here (and many have made it) about the injustice of a handful of old, rich, white men reaping extraordinary profits from the unpaid efforts of scores of young, mostly black students. In a recent article in ESPN the Magazine, writer Howard Bryant cites the efforts of attorney Donald Yee to overthrow the NCAA system. "No other large-scale commercial enterprise in the United States treats its performers and labor this way," Yee says of the NCAA's relationship with student-athletes. But he also suggests that the players have to power to make massive changes. "This generation of players has more tools at its disposal than any other to be heard and to organize," he says. "If they adopted a Twitter hashtag of #disruptthefinalfour for the NCAA tournament, they would at least start a discussion."

I have no doubt that one or more players or teams launching a social media campaign or threatening to boycott the tournament would cause quite a stir. Yet who is willing to exercise that power? Even if I adopt the wholly cynical view that college basketball players are unpaid laborers, a few of whom can use the Tournament stage as a springboard for fame and future NBA riches, I can't help but believe that at some level all of them care at least a little bit about winning the tournament. No one plays sports at this level if some part of them, however small, doesn't love competition and the thrill of victory. This desire is probably even stronger in walk-ons who truly play for free and those who have no hope of a professional future in basketball. They have little incentive to play other than that they love to do so. As a former college athlete, I imagine I would be far too thrilled at playing for the biggest prize in my sport to get caught up in making a political statement. It's one thing to boycott buses because you don't want to sit at the back or to go on strike at a job you don't particularly like for a better wage. It's another thing entirely to jeopardize playing the game you love and the tournament of your dreams to advocate for changes that won't occur until after you graduate. There's a case to be made that college basketball players can and should overturn the NCAA system. It's going to be much harder to convince them to turn their backs on their dreams.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

KineSophy in Practice

          Over the course of several previous articles, I have argued for a comprehensive ethical theory that incorporates virtues of fitness alongside the more commonly recognized moral virtues. I proposed three ethical precepts of human movement, postulated a two-tier hierarchy of virtues based on the principle of scalability, and demonstrated the relationship between the secondary and primary virtues with an emphasis on physical fitness. All told, this a project spanned the better part of three years. At this point, I would like to go beyond the ethical theory and say a bit about what an actual human life should look like under the guidelines of KineSophy.
          I will begin with a distinction I first encountered when applying to colleges. In order to maximize their higher education prospects, high school students are encouraged to be either well-rounded or well-obliqued. Well-rounded means the student demonstrates strong academic performance over a variety of subjects and participates in several extracurricular activities within varying disciplines. Well-obliqued means the student shows extraordinary academic proficiency in a particular academic subject or deep commitment to a particular extracurricular activity. A student with a 3.5 GPA distributed evenly over all subjects and who plays the lead in the school play and is the captain of the soccer team is well-rounded; a student who gets straight As in advanced mathematics classes and has led the school to state championships in engineering competitions is well-obliqued.
  A similar distinction applies when weighing the different domains of virtues that make up an ethical theory. The common view of ethics is well-obliqued; people like Mother Teresa, who devote their entire lives to helping others, are generally considered the most ethical individuals. Alternatively, since we also consider intelligence a virtue, an ethical theory which prized this quality might hold Stephen Hawking as one of its exemplars. In contrast, the ethical theory I have developed in KineSophy is well-rounded. It considers virtues in physical, intellectual, personal and moral domains to all be important. I don’t intend to argue that a well-rounded ethical theory is superior to a well-obliqued one, but it is worth noting that adhering to a well-rounded ethical theory does not detract in principle from any particular domain of virtues. In contrast, as I have shown in previous articles, a pursuit of physical virtues is actually complementary to the pursuit of other virtues (and vice versa). But if you want to devote your life solely to giving to the poor or unlocking the secrets of the universe, more power to you. If you want to pursue a good life of movement, learning and live-and-let-live morality, go right ahead.

In particular, I have advocated for three ethical precepts of human movement:
1. A human being should be able to lift an object equal in weight to his or her own body off the ground.
2. A human being should be able enjoy a meal or use the toilet while squatting instead of sitting.
3. A human being should be able to travel 5,000 meters (roughly the average distance to the nearest hospital in the United States) on foot in thirty-six minutes.
Based on the principle of scalability, I have argued for a distinction between secondary virtues like physical fitness, intelligence, courage and honesty, and a primary ethical concern, according to which it is always wrong to violate the personhood of another human being through murder, torture or rape. Secondary virtues are scalable for relevant considerations of age, capability, circumstance and psychological state, whereas the primary concern of human inviolability is not. Furthermore, the practice of secondary virtues, including those related to physical fitness, support one another and help develop the primary ethical concern. So under the ethical theory I have promoted in KineSophy, a person should pursue fitness, intelligence, bravery, honesty, justice, kindness and other moral virtues while respecting the inviolable personhood of others.
          Finally, the KineSophy ethical theory requires continued effort. In the words of psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley “The climbing man or animal must use force and purpose to ascend or to maintain himself at a given height. To fall or slide downhill he need only cease his efforts and let go.”[1] Every sphere of virtue demands persistent striving to maintain the standards of that virtue. Those who do not maintain their strength, mobility, speed and endurance will not continue to meet the minimum standards of human movement, just as those who do not actively guard against harming others or do not continue to develop their cognitive abilities will fall short of ethical standards in these domains. Yet the KineSophy theory does not encourage mere maintenance of minimum standards, but impels individuals to continually surpass themselves and expand their physical abilities in conjunction with their other virtues. In future articles, I will point to real people who exemplify these values, who have found a balance between physical and all other virtues.

[1] Cleckley, Hervey. The Mask of Sanity. Third Edition. St. Louis: The C.V. Mosby Company, 1955.