The Fable of Speeding and Prance Legstrong

Imagine that the Teetotaler party came to power. They stood for family, safety and old fashioned values. Their first target was the car and the speeding culture. They wanted driving to be as safe as possible. Indeed, they would have preferred it if there were no driving cars at all and people returned to bicycles or horsedrawn carts. But they knew that was impossible. People were used to driving cars.

So they slashed the speed limits from 100km/hr to 50 on open roads, and 60km/hr to 20 in built up areas. This, it was proven, was a safer speed to drive at.

Nearly everyone, however, sped. It was just more convenient – you could do so much more. And it cut down travelling times for work, so people could get a competitive advantage by getting to work earlier and leaving later.

Some professions involved speeding. Couriers, truck drivers, and salesmen all sped. There were a few speed cameras but they picked up people only rarely and many had camera detectors installed in their cars. People continued to drive at 100km/hr, just as they always had. Those who were caught were punished heavily – banned for a couple of years.

However, the benefits of speeding, or going at what was the previous limit, vastly outweighed the punishments.

One particularly successful courier was Prance Legstrong. He used to speed and deliver packages quicker than any other service. He established DEEHL, a courier service that became more successful than US postal. Pretty soon, he was a multimillionaire.

Prance was the all-American dream. He set up a charity to help homeless people and starving African children. He saved thousands of lives.

But the Teetotaler party did not like Legstrong’s success. He stood for everything they hated. Unfortunately they had never caught him speeding. But they had caught some of his company. They got 21 or so and offered to waive their punishment for speeding – they would not be banned – if they testified that Legstrong had been speeding and said that he made them speed.

This was of course absurd – they were speeding before they joined his company.

Nonetheless, they all testified and the Teetotaller party produced a document concluding that Legstrong was the worst example of a speed-demon in human history. They had to make an example of him.

At a triumphant speech the President of the Teetotallers said:

Legstrong has no place on the roads; not now, not ever. We must have zer0 tolerance for speeding. We have a new weapon in our war on speeding: the coerced testimony of comrades, a time-proven method of enforcing rule and law.

They banned him from driving for life. They dismantled his company and demanded that he pay back all the money he had earned as a courier and company director. Consequently his charity folded and many people died as a result.

People began to wonder whether all this was really necessary. Hadn’t the speed limit been 100 km/hr in the past? And hadn’t it been safe enough then? And after all, wasn’t everyone speeding?

One radical pundit suggested that rather than so punish Legstrong, they should return the speed limit to 100km/hr and give people the freedom to drive faster than 50. Laws had to be enforceable, he said, and safety and old-fashioned values had to be weighed against other values.

But this was now said to be just too dangerous – too dangerous for our children. It was against the very spirit of a democracy.

Previous Posts and Articles on Doping in Sport and Lance Armstrong

Stop Persecuting Armstrong: Time for a Doping Amnesty in Cycling

The Ban on Doping, Not Armstrong is the Problem with Cycling

Why Does the USADA Want Convicted Dopers to Win the Tour de France

Why We Should Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2004; 38:666-670 

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10 Responses to The Fable of Speeding and Prance Legstrong

  • ledge says:

    Prance was the all-American dream. He set up a charity to help homeless people and starving African children. He saved thousands of lives.

    Truly this Prance is a god among men, a paragon of virtue, a stellar example to all, it is utterly inconceivable how anyone could disagree with any of his business methods or his utterly selfless and heroic charitable work.

  • ledge says:

    Do let us know though, what the actual benefits are, in the real-world basis for your analogy, of all cyclists having to dope themselves to the eyeballs in order to stand a chance in any cycling race.

    • Julian Savulescu says:

      Apologies for the omission- I have now updated the post with some of my previous blogs and also articles on the subject which give more detail

      • ledge says:

        Ok, although I disagree with it I don’t doubt that your position is a considered one, unfortunately that’s not evinced by this article which is a poor analogy and just reads like concern trolling. Although you cleverly use terms like “competitive advantage” really there is no similarity in benefit between being able to drive faster in your daily and business life, and being able to ride a bike faster in a race; and the lionisation of “Prance”, irl a bully and a liar whose charitable work, valuable though it is, has been vastly overstated, is bizarre.

        Really this is a cultural issue as much as if not more than a health and performance one. I doubt the majority of the public want drug taking to be common in sports, and there are plenty of cyclists who don’t want to have to dope, and it seems the tide is turning in their favour.

        • Irene says:

          If a courier could drive faster than another one he could beat his competitors in the business and therefore be the most successful, earn the most money etc. Likewise, a cyclist who goes faster beats his competitors in his business and is therefore the most successful. I don’t understand what the problem is with the analogy? The benefits seem to be rather similar. The value to the customer may differ (but it may not- we have known about doping in cycling for years but it remains popular, in fact is increasing in popularity)

          Secondly, Prance is not a bully (as far as we know); Lance has been accused of being a bully. He may well be, but a) I am not sure the testimony of people whose careers and reputations depend on people believing that they used to take drugs when under his influence but now they ride clean is exactly bullet proof. b) He is not being banned or stripped of his title for being a bully but for doping. Being a bully is not against UCI or WADA rules. Quite probably many or most elite athletes are unpleasant people- it is a hard, precarious, stressful life where you have to put yourself first to win (doped or undoped) and I wouldn’t have thought that makes for the nicest people. USADA are trying this case in the court of public opinion instead of a real court- that gives them license to use whatever tactics they want to win. But it doesn’t meant they are right to do so.

  • tranjo says:

    When will we start stripping degrees from students who use performance enhancing drugs like Adderall and Provigil? These dangerous drugs offer students with a remarkably unfair advantage – students can stay awake all night, and be as alert as a cat in the AM/during tests. These dangerous PEDs help some students win spots in top academic colleges and universities, depriving their fair honest hard-working drug-free counterparts the chance at the best education possible. We want natural academics.

  • tranjo says:

    The AADA mission will be as follows:

    “The mission should be to protect clean students by preserving the integrity of academic competition not only for today’s students but also the students of tomorrow. We have heard from many students who have faced an unfair dilemma — dope, or don’t compete at the highest levels. Many of them abandoned their dreams and left academics because they refused to endanger their health and participate in doping. That is a tragic choice no student should have to make.

    From day one in this case, as in every potential case, the AADA Board of Directors and professional staff did the job we are mandated to do for clean students and the integrity of schools. We focused solely on finding the truth without being influenced by celebrity or non-celebrity, threats, personal attacks or political pressure because that is what clean students deserve and demand.”

  • De Pietro says:

    Genius post, thanks Julian.

  • Wayne Yuen says:

    Wait…. why is doping necessarily connected to endangering one’s health? Moreover, if doping was legalized, doping could be done much more safely under doctor and coaches supervision, and not in the dark, where it couldn’t be monitored and regulated for safety.

    Some of the things we’re talking about, are things like giving yourself a transfusion of your own blood before the race…. Explicitly prohibited by the Tour de France, which poses very little health risk, but does increase your performance because you increase red blood cell density, increasing oxygenation.

  • Julian Savulescu says:

    True Wayne. I have argued that myself – see the other pieces cited. I wanted to grant for argument’s sake that there was some risk. Doping is safer than driving. And it does not kill innocent bystanders

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