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Friday, January 18, 2013

Did Lance Armstrong's decades of lying and cheating make the world a better place?

I've lied and cheated in a variety of ways and probably will again, though I've promised to keep it at a minimum and fight the urge at every turn.

I'm far from perfect; none of us is.

But the depth and length of the lies Lance Armstrong told is just amazing. Compare the clips of previous interviews in which he vehemently, almost violently denied doping and attacked anyone who even hinted that he did to the one he did last night with Oprah Winfrey. He is lying personified.

He is not someone who lies, but a liar of epic proportions.

Again, we've all told lies (or at least I have), some big, some small. But I imagine that most of us feel bad about it and try to not do it frequently. And even when we did, we didn't defame and sue the people who dared tell the truth about us. Armstrong said his ability to do that was scary, as well as his ability to convince himself he wasn't cheating even as he cheated. It is, but so much more.

The harder question is this, though. Would the world be worse today had he not had the ability to do that sort of consistent lying for all those years, lies which helped him become an icon and all-time great athlete who was able to use his fame to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to help cancer patients live better? He would not have been nearly as successful in his life without those lies and his cheating.

It it clearly a different scale, but many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners, and the United States of America came into existence because those who abhorred the institution compromised with those who wanted it to continue forever. It was a deal with the devil. But had not that deal been made, would we be where we are today?

Another case is when JFK was able to beat back the drums of a potential World War III by deceiving the public. That deception saved a lot of lives.

The biggest difference, though, between what the anti-slavery founders and JFK did and Armstrong is that they made incredibly difficult decisions primarily in service of a larger, greater cause, whereas Armstrong ended up serving a greater purpose because he first chose to lie for personal gain. Even the Joe Paterno example doesn't fully fit, because Paterno, from everything we know, did a ton of good for decades and lived an upstanding life while doing so and got caught up later in a horrible situation in which a lot of people got hurt. 

That's what makes the Armstrong case such a fascination. Would it have been better had he not lied and he remained a strong cyclist, but not one who could win the sport's most prestigious event 7 consecutive times, providing a platform he used to bring comfort to thousands if not millions of people?

We want to believe that good only comes from good. Maybe we need to stop lying to ourselves.

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