Over the past couple of years, I have been sort of a silent surveyor of the emotions people have for Lance Armstrong. You need not go to Austin, Texas for this privilege. Its right here on the internet.
While Mr. Armstrong's Twitter account is bludgeoning with over 1.5 million followers, fierce wars are being waged in forums, blogs, news websites, sports commentaries, opinion columns and even video sites like Youtube and Metacafe. I wonder if the numbers of people and the sheer amount of time spent/wasted in these 'word battles' make any sense to a casual observer at all.
To give you a small perspective, take Yahoo Sports for example. On stories such as this one in YS, the number of comments from people who were interested in trading and exchanging the war of words on the topic of who was right and who was wrong is easily over 1900. Yes, you read right. One thousand nine hundred comments.
Now, if you go through such comments like you slowly flip the pages of a fat book, you can sort of arrive at a general trend of what people are thinking. This trend has been overwhelming many websites. People are all thinking in this direction. Its the number ONE herd attitude that has been behind the persona of Armstrong.
If you have read these comments or have experience in dealing with them, much of them hold one underlying thought process, which may be associated with a fallacy of the human mind. Its a cognitive bias and I talk a little about it towards the end of this post.
I won't call out anyone's specific comments, but lets see what that dominant herd attitude is...put in my own words, in a clean and decent fashion, without tears, yells, screaming or inappropriate language :
"I'm a huge fan of this athlete and you sir, are wrong if you aren't. If one is a survivor of a disease that has touched many, has achieved a great athletic feat in sports successive times and has managed to bring huge amounts of recognition for the sport and money along with it, that person is simply too great and should be automatically immune from criticism or have the privilege of being reserved from criticism in spite of shoddy behavior. This is because the sum of the parts are excessively good even though the individual constituent parts maybe bad, as you say. You are simply jealous of someone else's success."
Let's substitute the appropriate words for the general terms :
this athlete = Lance Armstrong
disease that has touched many = Cancer
recognition for the sport = recognition for cycling
This is the underlying idea. Simple.
Now I don't know if there are any readers of my blog out there who are neutral about this Armstrong phenomena or entirely against his attitude. But if you are, you know that the above sentences are what is being fed down your throat over and over again. It has been blended like juice in many forms and has different variations but the recipe is the same. It doesn't matter how much scholarly criticism you round up against the figure of Armstrong. It doesn't matter which objective sources of information you cite for your arguments. You will get the same juice from the 'followers' to drink.
This is the herd behavior because it also rubs on other people like a virus and soon, they all begin to think alike, even though they have not done their own research on who they are voicing for. Its like fashion. Today something new comes along, quick start believing in it. The blind fanaticism then runs like a pandemic.
Now it doesn't take much to see that this blind fanaticism over one man has obviously taken religious proportions. And there are consequences if you don't follow.
Many of Lance's detractors may have come across a certain stigma in the public. What is stigma? It is a state of being discredited or rejected in society. And here's the cause of that stigma : If you don't like Lance Armstrong in your circle of friends or any group of people, then its likely you're somehow viewed as not being religious. You don't fit in the herd. There must be something wrong in your head.
The religion here is that of supporting the fight against cancer through the faith and and a Herculean worship towards Lance Armstrong. It is a religion because its followers are bound by its ideals and to thinking, talking and having faith in the powers of a human demigod, a personality behind this disease, all the time. You are not to criticize, only support no matter what the circumstances.
To signify you are part of this loyal cult, you will engage in exclusive practices such as wearing yellow and black, an elastane wristband, donating lots of money to his charity, taking part in his mega charity rides, all this while carrying high the torch of the day the demigod survived cancer. You may even build a shrine for him, right in the neighborhood gym or at the local bike shop where you will adorn the walls with lots of pictures of his face or his sweaty body riding a bicycle.
While all this is going on, the demigod high the throne of the food chain being adored, loves the adoration so much that he becomes a full time narcissist, converting the adorers into money and further adoration. Its a perpetual cycle. If he can't do this himself, there are others on the royal bandwagon to help in the process. They then take a share of the pie too. $$$ !
Whether you consider this religion good or bad is up to you, but it is a cult considering the size of the adulation, the inflated fascination towards one individual and the sheer number of his followers.
If you're a detractor of the religion, you could be easily viewed not only as a detractor of the god, but as an atheist to this goal, this ideal, this philosophy of the fight against cancer. You don't recognize that he came back from the dead, you don't recognize that he is the savior, you don't recognize that he dominated in a sport after he resurrected, you don't recognize that he has the power to save people from death because of his fame and power. You may not even recognize what cancer is!
Now sit back and think. Which other great story has a parallel to the story of Lance. Maybe not literally, but still? Jesus Christ rose from the dead, 3 days after He was crucified. And then He promised He would return to save the world and provide salvation to those who believe. You're a Christian if you believe in Him and have a one to one relationship with Him, if you believe in what he can do for you. Billions believe in his power to heal and to work miracles in their life or anyone's life.
The name of Christ has been associated with one of the greatest victories in the history of human civilization. It has been associated with the greatest battle yet to come. It is one of the holiest of the holy names. Yet, lets not forget that even such a revered individual and prophet such as Jesus Christ has not been immune to criticism. The Holy Bible has been turned upside down and inspected with the greatest precision and critical eye. Detractors, such as Richard Dawkins, are celebrities today. Its a little ironic, but he happens to have his own big following.
If millions believe that Jesus has the power to forgive your sins, protect or cure you and fight evil, are you looked upon as a bad person if you fight Jesus and his followers? What gives you the monopoly to think that Jack is wrong and morally a bad person if he does not follow what you believe?
In other words, if Jesus Christ and the Bible can be debated in a sound manner as is happening in many educated circles today, why not Lance Armstrong?
Well. Uh-oh. It doesn't work that way. In fact, if you do the same against Lance Armstrong, you're a jerk, a dick, a piece of shit, someone who doesn't value life or success and is a hater for the fight against cancer.
Really? Never has been the word 'hater' so overused and out of context. Who talked anything about cancer here? We're talking about the man. We're talking about his personality. We're talking about his wrongdoings and serious misdemeanors that need a place for focused, intelligent discussion.
Nope. Not allowed. ACCESS DENIED. We will delete your comment. Our management will have you banned. He fought cancer, he's a cancer survivor. He won the Tour de France 7 times. Sorry, we believe in him and We're Holier Than Thou. You will hereby be an outcast.
Sadly, when celebrities and their egos attain larger than life proportions, so do the fallacies in the minds of their followers who engage in this hero worship, a cult phenomena. It is largely termed as cognitive bias. Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias. This refers to a form of selective thinking that focuses on evidence that supports what believers already believe while ignoring evidence that refutes their beliefs. You can see it in all comments on all websites in support of Lance Armstrong. This will be a wonderful terrain for those of you interested in social psychology experiments. You can see it happening from a distance. You can study it. But you'll be wasting your time if you enter the Church and question its belief system.
All Hell will then break loose. Run for your life.
I suspect that the Church of Lance Armstrong was founded on the day he rose from death and defeated cancer. It is very real, and it is here to stay for a very very long time. Yet, thousands of people all over the world fight the disease with little fanfare and emerge as survivors. Who really gives a fish about them?