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Olympic Oppression?

February 27, 2010

Recently on Nathan’s blog a discussion has broken out about the Olympics and based around the words of a commenter opposed to the games. Predictably the opposition to the games revolves around the dispossession of rights among the ordinary people of Vancouver. Really though, this isn’t new, the powerful and the elite will always find away to take things away from the poor. The powerful and the elite will find ways to create their own private playgrounds where the rest of us are excluded (the gold medal men’s hockey game tickets top out around $25000 I heard). It works this way in every human economic system and it’s tempting to resign oneself, like the teacher in Ecclesiastes, to the ways of the world. What is really oppressive about the Olympics is how we are all supposed to like it. I mean rich people also have private playgrounds in places like Macao or Monaco but we aren’t all expected to embrace these playgrounds like we are the Olympics. It would be nice if some Olympics organizers would just own up sometime and say “look, we’re bringing in a bunch of amateur athletes because they’ll act as free entertainment for celebrities and captains of industry, by the way, your taxes pay for this so we’ll let you watch at home too.”

Is it thrilling spectacle at times? Yes. Does that mean that one ought to support it without reservations? No.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2010 1:57 am

    It’s true, it will always be there. I’m finding it harder and harder to balance not being a cynical whiner who is against everything and someone who turns off my conscience and just lets life happen. I’m not content with either, yet I feel like I tend to pick one of them, there has got to be something else.

  2. February 28, 2010 6:05 pm


    Would you say that the sin of the Olympics’ rich and powerful is one of omission, of ignorance, or of willful disregard? I am trying to see how the new Pharisees conceive of sin. I guess that the most important thing is that the chief sinners are the wealthy and powerful, because they like to have their exclusive parties (like smoking stogies and drinking champagne and beer on the rink after winning the gold medal?).

    I don’t see how any of this protesting helps. To me it appears as heavily motivated by the politics of envy. As my friend explained to me this morning, the real problem is that the money spent on the Olympics should have been spent to help the poor, provide housing, lasting jobs, etc. This strikes me as envy. One begrudges how the funding is spent. George Will recently said at CPAC that envy is the one deadly sin of the seven from which the sinner does not receive even momentary pleasure.

    Finally, I suggest the politics of envy does nothing to help the poor because it places the responsibility for their situation on others. Walter Williams has explained the formula for avoiding poverty as such:

    Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And, finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior.

    Williams’ formula emphasizes personal responsibility. It seems to me that having the Olympics or not having them will neither help nor hurt Vancouver’s poor. Spending the money on the poor instead of on a big international circus will not help the poor. For the problem of the poverty will not be solved by throwing money at it. Liberal democracies have been throwing money at poverty for decades now, and the problem has not gone away or even become less. Many, myself included, believe that welfare has only exasperated the problem.

    We live in Canada, not Haiti or sub-Saharan Africa where there is little hope of escaping endemic poverty. Many millions of poor have come to North America, including my own forebears (on both sides of my family), and have enjoyed the freedom to make a very nice life here. They were not, for the most part, oppressed nor discriminated against because of their poverty but allowed to work, to study, and to realize their potential.

    Source, Walter Williams’ article:

  3. March 4, 2010 1:37 am

    You really didn’t bother to read my post. First of all, I don’t know what would make me a “new Pharisee” and therefore I very much doubt I can speak intelligibly about one. What I said I found troubling about the Olympics is how we are all expected to derive some noble sentiment from them how Canada as a nation was supposed to “come together” and support the games. Being critical about something like that may hardly have anything to do with envy. Accusing the poor of envy does not provide the rich with anything more than an ad hominem attack. Calling someone envious is almost as sneaky an attack as calling your opponent “defensive.”

    • March 4, 2010 8:45 am


      I did read your post several times. Originally, after hurriedly writing my comment, I wondered whether I’d unfairly lumped you with the new Pharisees. But I see from your comment that it was probably fair, at least to certain degree. For you accept uncritically the argument that the Vancouver Olympics were a just a big party for the rich. You add in fact to that argument by mentioning the price of hockey tickets. Of course, Maple Leaf tickets and Raptor tickets are also very expensive. Does that make the NHL or the NBA a party for the rich? Should the funding that goes into these sports be spent on the poor instead? Let’s be consistent. Certainly the sins of professional sports are greater than that of the Olympics, because they do their gig every year, week after week, and not just every two years. Maple Leaf gardens, the SkyDome, and Air Canada Centre take up an inordinate amount of space in downtown Toronto that the Federal government and evil Stephen Harper should use to build low-cost housing for the poor and homeless which number nearly 10 times the homeless of Vancouver!

      The first definition of envy according Webster’s is (11th ed.): “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” This perfectly sums up the protesters’ complaint: they resent the Olympics; it is being done to their detriment and to the advantage of the rich; the money should have been spent on them instead so that they can have housing and adequate support. This is an unadulterated case of class envy. The community organizers like Diewert and Oudshoorn contribute by stirring up and adding legitimacy to the envy of the poor; it doesn’t usually take much to get that emotion stirred up after all. And once stirred up, it doesn’t take much more before it leads to vandalism, theft, and eventually in certain cases, to murder, which too often happens when the masses rise up and murder those that those that they believe to have wronged them. The most recent example that I can come up with off the top of my head is the Rwandan genocide, where the Hutus were stirred up to murder as many as a million Tutsis (a less dramatic example would be the recent anti-Kikuyu riots in Kenya)–if the mass murder doesn’t happen here in Canada, it’s because the envious poor and their organizers are still a relatively insignificant proportion of the population. But it seems that the number of sympathizers is growing.

      So you start with the premise that is based upon envy. It is this notion that the Olympics are done for the sole benefit of the rich for their own selfish pleasure all others be damned; it is an unfair assessment of the Olympics which is full of envy. Many people benefit from the Olympics, not simply the rich, but every poor schlub who got a job providing security or hammering a nail (who managed to show up for work not wasted), First-Nation owned businesses, vendors selling hot dogs, my chiropractor, my sister who rented out her condo at Whistler, the athletes (they’re not rich are they?), and many others.

      And nobody, not even one person, ever told me that if I wanted to be a good Canadian, I had to somehow cheer for the Olympics. I didn’t follow the events on TV but only heard about the news through newspaper reports or third hand. So I am a neutral and indifferent observer with regard to the Olympics.

  4. March 4, 2010 11:18 am

    Repeating your misconstrued version of what you think I said does not enhance its truthfulness.

    Really though, is everything down to envy? Were the black civil rights leaders just envious of their white neighbours’ ability to vote and their enjoyment of non-bombed houses of worship? Making envy such a broad (and therefore meaningless) category is a great way to obfuscate actual injustice.

    • March 4, 2010 1:04 pm

      I suppose you refer to struggle led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 60s; I would have agreed with them because they were asking for the elimination of oppressive laws discriminating against them. I consider, however, the some later evolutions of the Civil Rights movement, e.g., the Rainbow Coalition of Jesse Jackson and the work of Al Sharpton et al. to be detrimental to the cause of equality and harmonious race relations, because they thrive on stirring up resentment and envy. Local laws preventing blacks from voting would be a violation of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution. I’ve told you that I am proud of my ancestors who fought for the emancipation of the slaves, and I do believe in equal treatment under the law. I am against the bombing of churches, the breaking of windows and other violations of private property rights.


  1. What about emphasizing personal responsibility when helping the poor? « The Righteous Investor
  2. What is envy? « The Righteous Investor

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