Friday, March 28, 2008

On Boycotting the Olympics

I'm not sure why the liberals aren't calling for a boycott of this summer's Olympics in China, in reaction to the ongoing oppression and brutality being inflicted on the Tibetans. A country like China is not fit to host an event that is about bringing together diverse nations in the spirit of competition. If I were head of the IOC, I would pull the Olympics from China, find a country that already has the infrastructure to host the games, and reschedule them for next summer.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I am an ignorant, commie liberal, or at least that's what I've been told in the comments a few times. Still, when it comes to the China issue, I find myself agreeing completely with the conservatives. Why is it that three of the more conservative governments in the West (Germany, France, and Canada) are threatening China with a boycott, but not the more liberal nations? Yeah, the EU, which is fairly liberal, is also making threats, but they are largely controlled by the larger nations, which includes Germany and France.

And in the media, I haven't seen any liberal columnists calling for a boycott, but this morning in The National Review, Jason Lee Steorts makes the case for a boycott of the opening ceremonies as a way of saying, "We are not pleased to be in your nation." That may be the best option available, but it sucks. We should boycott the whole damn thing.

In a more decent world, China would not be allowed to host the Olympics.

This is partly to say that the brutality of the Chinese government is incompatible with the ideal that the Olympics are thought to represent. But it is also to say that no country has a right to the Games. When the IOC chooses a host, it deprives the losers of nothing to which they are entitled. To award is thus to praise. It is to praise the host city’s economic conditions, its tourism infrastructure, the excellence of its swimming pools. But it is not merely to praise in this way, because the Olympics do represent an ideal — of individual achievement, and, by extension, of liberty. To award them is therefore also to praise the host for embodying that ideal. This would be true even if the IOC did not wish its decisions to carry that implication: for it would know all the same that its decisions are so taken. Here we begin to understand why a normally constituted person recoils at the thought of its giving the Games to Pyongyang.

Many normally constituted persons did not recoil when the IOC gave the Olympics to Beijing, and their feeling was not wholly detached from reality: The Chinese government is not, after all, Kim Jong Il. But the lesser evil is evil still, and there is nothing hyperbolic in the use of that word to describe the Chinese Communist Party. The bill of indictment against it is familiar, though one should remember that it comprises much more than the bloodletting, fifty years of it, in Tibet. There is also the persecution of Christians and other religious groups, the laogai system (a Chinese Gulag), the suppression of free speech (grown worse under Hu Jintao). To put the matter schematically, there is the Chinese government’s belief that it may obliterate anybody who opposes its policies.

No one of consequence is calling for an all-out boycott of the Beijing Games. The Dalai Lama himself does not favor this, though he offers no reason for his view. Probably he knows a total boycott would be unpopular. It would “hurt athletes” (true, if hurt here means revoke an opportunity for professional attainment) “without doing much good” (perhaps true if good is defined in terms of outcomes). Meanwhile the tanks roll across Lhasa, and we ask ourselves whether, against that grim backdrop, it is frivolous, or cowardly, or worse, to applaud athletes for running fast.

Each will have his answer to that question. But the answer should depend at least in part on whether it is possible, while still competing in the Games, to deplore the Chinese government’s wickedness.

And that is the force of the argument for boycotting but the opening ceremony. If diplomats and athletes were to walk out, or simply not to attend, this would serve as a denunciation of the Chinese government’s latest outrages in Tibet. It would implicitly revoke the praise that the IOC has bestowed upon the Chinese government. It would be a way of saying: “We will compete here, for we did not choose to compete here. But we are not happy about it. And we want the world to know that, in our opinion, this government is not worthy.” Yes, that is symbolism. But then the implied praise that this symbol is meant to cancel out has itself been conferred symbolically.

Read the rest of the column.

No comments: