Tuesday, April 11, 2006

'I could use a new adrenal cortex, doc. And while you're in there...'

I've written a lot of articles in my life. If you tote up everything--full-length features, essays, first-person memoirs, short "FOB"* takes, and you give me credit for reprints as well as originals--I'd have to guess I'm closing in on 1000 published pieces by this juncture. And among all that work, compiled over a span of some 24 years, nothing has ever caught on like my current opinion piece about Barry Bonds and steroids.

Written originally for the Los Angeles Times, it has now been reprinted in 10 newspapers (not all of which are Google-ized, for some reason), including the Chicago Sun-Times, the San Jose Mercury-News and, today, the Philadelphia Inquirer--all ranking dailies in their own right. In one sense, of course, the piece is topical/timely, given the new baseball season, the furor over "what to do about Barry," and baseball's just-announced investigation of steroid abuse, led by former Sen. George Mitchell. But I think the essay's appeal goes deeper than that. I think the Bonds hook is really just the sizzle here--and that the steak is the questions the piece (implicitly) puts forward about the nature of being: Again, what makes you who and what you are? And how much can you change what you are--especially by "artificial" means--and still be you? And, the biggest question, Is there anything you can do to yourself that makes you manifestly not-you?

Those, anyway, are the sorts of questions that have tended to come up, at least from more enlightened hosts or callers, during the handful of radio appearances to which the Bonds essay has led. They're serious and pertinent questions, too--issues we're going to have to grapple with at some point, because technology's onward march is not about to stop. Today, "surgical enhancement" conjures images of facelifts and boob jobs, relatively superficial stuff. Tomorrow? It could mean (and almost surely will mean) the rewiring of internal circuitry and replacement of whole sets of critical organs and other "spare parts." It could mean implanting printed circuits into people's brains to remediate their weak points and/or further augment areas in which they already excel. (What happens on American Idol once you can buy a voice? What happens to med-school entrance requirements once you can buy intelligence?) The days of relying on syringes and capsules for a competitive advantage (in sports or in life) will seem oh-so-quaint.

Makes you wonder, what will they throw at ballplayers then? Computer chips? Scalpels?

* Industry shorthand for "front of the book"--those short pieces in the front of a given magazine that usually tell you things like how to cook a better hamburger, apply make-up that will stay on even in the pool, or keep your kids from meeting registered sex offenders over the internet.


Rodger Johnson said...

Metaphysically speaking, YOU is the sum of all beliefs and disbeliefs that are held by you. It is YOU failing and succeeding, learning and thinking. YOU is all that inside a flesh and blood vessel.

This assumes that YOU is understood as a spiritual being transcendent to space, time and body modification.

This notion of YOU always changes, adapts, and once the beginning has begun, the end is beginning again. Life breaks away, time resumes and as what was contracts, the new YOU expands, until the next new experience starts the process over again.

Steve Salerno said...

OK, then--for argument's sake--if I decide I'm going to have a complete physical makeover (at the end of which I look exactly like Brad Pitt) and also, at some future point (once it becomes possible), a complete personality makeover, such that I also absorb all of Pitt's talents and attributes--am I still Steve Salerno? Or am I now Brad Pitt 2?

I don't see how you can simply argue that a person is always who he/she is, regardless of how much he/she changes. There have to be practical limits. Don't there? I mean, when you reach the point where all you have left is your name--you're still the same person? No matter what?

Rodger Johnson said...

You're being to pragmatic in your thinking. And, you're taking the personality thing to the absurd.

You've studied philosophy -- probably know of Heidegger -- and the thought behind existential, phenomenology and metaphysical philosophies.

What I'm proposing is a very real consideration -- that the notion of YOU is boundless.

Body modification has nothing to do with the change of YOU, only the change of the shell recognized as YOU.

Bonds will be Bonds with or without the 'juice'. Steve will always be Steve regardless of whether he looks like Brad Pitt.

Steve Salerno said...

What a sad realization. So my fate is sealed?

Actually, I know I'm going a bit "over the top" with some of the questions/observations in these posts. Just trying to "get something started," as they say.

Thanks again for weighing in, Rodg.

Rodger Johnson said...

Yes, your fate is sealed. As much as you secretly want to be Brad Pitt, it will never be so.

Am I right in my understanding that fate and destiny are fixed?