…and What It Says About American Values
This article explores an alarming perspective present in the United States, one that promotes self-preservation and greed. Let’s call it what it is, selfish hypocrisy.
Within this perspective, there’s the idea that those of us that “make it big” better not fuck it up for everyone. Instead, we should seek to standardize processes, remove obstacles to our success, and convince others to adopt the same philosophy. It’s called cultural assimilation, and it describes one way major and minor cultures interact within a specified region. It’s not always a bad thing but can manifest as vague ideals and complex systems designed to stifle change and encourage individualism. One study found that “trying to get Americans to think and act interdependently failed–and […] decreased motivation”. Our difficulty working with others is ironic and goes beyond petty ideals to highlight some of the less glamourous aspects of our culture. Read “Science Confirms The Obvious: Americans Are Selfish” for more on that.
Successful people are our representatives in the fight for visibility and recognition. We compare ourselves to them and are compelled to fight against obstacles to their continued success. Often, this leads to an unrealistic set of expectations. Those that fail to meet the expectations placed upon them are made social outcasts. Less frequently but equally damaging is the idea that people from a similar background to our own deserve a more significant break from the consequences of their actions. Maybe we think an easier time for them represents an opportunity for us. Either way, winners must continue to win or risk losing support.
We see examples of this with the judge that gave Brock Turner, “apparent swimming prodigy,” a six-month sentence, of which he served three, for raping an unconscious woman with a tree branch. More recently, we see Phylicia Rashaad’s immediate reaction to Bill Cosby‘s release from prison after allegedly drugging and raping more than 60 women throughout his lifetime. Her positive response: “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”. Of course, considering she’s the dean of students at Howard, she was widely criticized and promptly apologized.
Sha’Carri Richardson, the fastest woman in the world, and namesake of this article, recently failed a drug test and garnered mixed reactions from the American public. The results mean she will now miss the 100-meter dash competition, effectively crushing her dreams of winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics later this month. Some believe she should be forgiven for her misstep and allowed to compete, while others feel this is an opportunity for the 21-year-old athlete to learn a valuable lesson about consequences.
Consider the groups you’re a part of and the various rules you must follow.
Do you trust the systems you participate in? Would you promote this system to others?
How do our standards compare to the standard of behavior we expect from others? In the case of Sha’Carrie Richardson, are we virtue signaling? If we are, is that a bad thing?
What is Virtue Signaling?
Virtue Signaling is a term used to describe arguments intended to validate the speaker’s good character. There are several reasons why someone might do this, the most notable reason being a positive public image. It doesn’t take a Market Researcher to surmise some people believe public image is more important than character. When someone prioritizes public image, selective sharing is not only the norm; it’s expected. While there are many benefits to carefully constructing a virtuous public image, one problem with this line of thinking is its toll on mental health.
The most concerning and perhaps most-exhilarating aspect of this perspective is that you never know anyone’s true intentions. Could someone virtue-signaling be attempting to steer you away from a mistake? What defines a “mistake”? Who benefits from such a perspective; who doesn’t? Could someone virtue-signaling be maintaining plausible deniability or covering up a rotten core and malformed intentions?
Whatever the original intention, trust is scarce among people that subscribe to the selfish-hypocrisy mental model. Since participants prioritize themselves and the assumption is others will too, arguments are often presented in extremes to appear morally correct. If you aren’t familiar, check out Purdue Owl’s explanation of logical fallacies.
Why does any of this matter, and how does it relate to Sha’Carri’s position?
What Consistency Has to Do with Consequence
Sha’Carri’s failed drug test garnered international attention, but as a black woman living in Florida, our editor was particularly interested in the narrative developing in her own country. The 100-meter dasher accepted responsibility for her actions and agreed to a 100-day suspension ending three days before a race she’ll STILL have to miss since her world record-breaking accomplishment no longer counts. The criticism of Sha’Carri’s style is disturbing on its own, but coupled with recreational drug use, a fractured family, and the U.S.’ historical treatment of minority races; we are presented with a case study that speaks to the U.S.’ interest in cultural assimilation.
On July 2nd, 2021, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined forces with the subcommittee on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties to formally ask the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Association) to end Sha’Carri Eichardson’ suspension citing a lack of scientific evidence supporting anti-marijuana laws and a long history of systemic racism. She further argued that marijuana was legal for recreational use in Oregon, where Sha’Carri was at the time.
The WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) responded to Rep. AOC Saturday, July 10th. They wrote, “while we sympathize with the circumstances of this case and applaud Ms. Richardson’s accountability for accepting that the rules are in place for athletes worldwide, WADA simply plays a coordinating role in the development and publication of the prohibited list.”
While respecting Sha’Carri for making a decision consistent with the system in place, they don’t condemn baseless regulation and seem to miss the point of AOC’s letter. Instead of writing supporting updated regulation or lifting Sha’Carri’s suspension, they passed the buck back to the United States. The WADA argued that the US has been “one of the most vocal and strong[est] advocates for including cannabinoids on the prohibited list.” as though it were not the same argument AOC was making.
The assumption that drug-free signifies correctness is an example of virtue signaling and a widespread belief in American culture. One debunked rumor trolled that Sha’Carri’s replacement was a “Mormon runner who wants to inspire kids to say no to drugs.” The misinformation has since been banned from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but not before propagating quickly across social media.
The lie went viral because it was both notably upsetting and easy to believe. Postmodern perspectives such as those held by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez find the prohibition of recreational intoxicants to be much more appalling than previous generations. Since drug policy in the United States disproportionately affects minority cultures, external forces like the WADA wouldn’t dare touch the issue with a ten-foot pole. So naturally, support to modify legislation grows slowly and inconsistently.
The Onion argued it was some petty bullshit.
Clearly, Sha’Carri is a trending topic…
But the issue of harmful legislation that disproportionately affects people of color while adding little to no clear value is nothing new. For decades, organizations such as Operation New Hope have changed lives by acknowledging the “broken criminal justice system” and taking purposeful action towards ending mass incarceration. They work to remove obstacles preventing previously incarcerated individuals from reintegrating into society. ONH reports that they provide program members with a “second chance” to contribute to society. The last four administrations have praised them for their ability to reform the previously incarcerated, but it’s hard to ignore how closely a “second chance” resembles cultural assimilation.
The truth is, Sha’Carri only had two choices after news of her failed drug test broke.
She could either accept the suspension or not. Accepting the suspension could have manifested in a myriad of ways. Sha’Carri could have chosen the path of AOC and many others by protesting the policy, but Sha’Carri knew the policy was in place when she broke the rule. She made a conscious decision to cope with her mother’s death in a way that felt right to her and accordingly accepted the consequences of that action. Although the Onion has SEVERAL points, we applaud Sha’Carrifor for honoring her word and adhering to a policy she’d already agreed to.
Sha’Carri Richardson ran the track’s length in 10.64 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. We should celebrate that and consider it evidence of an antiquated view of recreational drug use. Who decides the most appropriate way to mourn within a melting pot of cultures?
Sha’Carri will not compete and has lost the opportunity to run the 100-meter dash at the Tokyo Olympics. Still, she has started a conversation that ideally ends with a renewed outlook on recreational drug use and abolishing policies banning non-performing enhancing drugs in athletic competitions. Many sports such as baseball, hockey, and football have already relaxed their drug policies to account for marijuana.
Systems + Identifying Opportunities for Growth
Systems work best when we are consistent. Without functioning systems, our environment begins to decay and will eventually return to a natural state of chaos. That said, systems without clear benefits are a waste of time. AOC’s point to systemic racism highlights the trouble with creating a system in isolation. Without the voices of many different people and a listening ear, we force cultural assimilation on anyone with a strong enough desire to succeed within a specified area.
Issues as long-drawn and painful as systemic racism are enough to turn anyone off to systems. We don’t advise this perspective but understand how frustrating it is to participate in a system that only recently recognized your personhood. We also understand that not everyone believes virtue signaling is a negative thing. According to Jamil Zaki and Mina Cikara, who wrote for TIME, “Opinions can work this way: when a particular viewpoint gets a lot of attention, people assume it’s popular, and shift towards it. We receive signals, and are changed by them.” Their perspective supports virtue-signaling because of its contribution to “moral clarity,” although they note the hypocrisy and cynicism of certain token gestures. Jamil and Mina argue that it helps humans resolve widespread issues quickly, like a guide.
When asked for a statement, Nike shared that they “appreciate[d] Sha’Carri’s honesty and accountability and [would] continue to support her.”
At Orchids Octopi, LLC, our views most closely align with Nike. It’s time AGAIN for an open, honest discussion about recreational drug use. In business and life, honesty, accountability, and consistency are critical to success. We respect people and businesses that honor agreements.
Sha’carri Richardson’s drug test deserves your attention because it’s an opportunity to review the systems we have in place and identify room for growth. Let’s acknowledge the bullshit policies that led to Sha’Carri’s suspension and replace them with evidence-based solutions.