Tuesday, February 17, 2009

HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE THEM. The Alex Rodriguez press conference today about his steroid use was not very interesting to me but for some related thoughts it stirred later.

Though his manipulation of the evidence was completely cynical -- he portrayed himself not as a Major League ballplayer who injected steroids, but a mixed-up kid who'd never been to college and experimented -- I imagine that by his own standards Rodriguez really believes he's in the right. His strongest argument -- and, it seemed to me, the talking point with which he was most comfortable, though he used it sparingly lest it muddy his show of contrition -- was his own performance "foul pole to foul pole" in his post-juicing days. That's his proof that he wasn't making himself into something he's not. He is, to his satisfaction (and that of the reporters, from the way they danced around it) a great ballplayer. Steroids didn't get him there, he did.

If there's a moral issue in it for him, that's it. Clearly the stuff about letting down fans and colleagues and parents was something to be expected of any star obliged to duck a rap in public, like his professions of ignorance. But you'd have to be pretty sentimental to think A-Rod feels shame about juicing. His initial reference in the earlier Gammons interview to the "loosey-goosey" MLB environment at the time suggests that he has compartmentalized his drug use. The issue of breaking MLB rules is for him a nuisance, not an agon, and since Bud Selig rather than Bart Giamatti is running the show, this superstar doesn't have to worry much about getting bounced.

This came to my mind again when I read what Megan McArdle wrote today about shame. In brief, she supports it as a means of social control, in a way indistinguishable from those of professional scolds like Rod Dreher, whom she defends, but for one thing: she excludes behaviors in which she is herself engaged and of which Dreher et alia disapprove.

Here, as traditionally, McArdle lavishes scorn on those she does think need to be made to feel shame, specifically people poorer than her ("having a baby you know you can't care for") and people richer than her ("paying yourself a lavish bonus out of taxpayer-provided funds to bail out your crappy, insolvent bank"). She doesn't consider that these people may also be impervious to shame for their own reasons. For her shame is something that should be felt by those who are not Megan McArdle or close enough.

If she chooses to behave differently than Preacher Dreher will countenance, she is undisturbed and will yet drop a coin in his collection plate, because what he stokes in his hellfire she believes to be a useful commodity, so long as no embers touch her garment.

And why should they? She has a good job and a safely contrarian niche that allows her to talk libertarianism without getting dumped among the downscale Ron Paul people. And all this is the result of her own hard work. It's not like she knocked over a liquor store or spent beyond her means. Surely the Preacher won't disdain her coin; foul pole to foul pole, she earned her place among the elect.

Update: Sure enough, Preacher Rod endorses McArdle's essay. I get sick of being right sometimes.

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