Cheating on a moral fibre diet

Charles Gordon March 28 1988

Cheating on a moral fibre diet

Charles Gordon March 28 1988

Cheating on a moral fibre diet


Charles Gordon

To understand why nutritionists will be the guardians of the new standards of morality, you first have to understand why new standards of morality are needed at all. And then you have to understand why those new standards have to be lower than the old ones.

No one could live up to those. Politicians tried to tell the truth all the time, but you know how it is. They tried not to do little favors for their friends, but what, in the end, are friends for? They tried not to make money while in office, but some of them just had the touch, you know.

So they fell, one after another, and were banished. Meanwhile, all was not rosy in the private sector. Captains of industry and soldiers of commerce were detected making improper use of inside information. When they weren’t doing that, they were taking each other over, for reasons that nobody could understand, and without improving any of the Leading Economic Indicators.

Athletes couldn’t live up to the old standards either. The old standards told them to play the game not for money, but for the little kid in the hospital—to show loyalty to the squad, be cheerful and sign autographs. Hardly anybody could do it. Pretty soon athletes began defecting to teams that would pay them more, charging for autographs and experimenting with chemical means of enhancing the athletic experience.

Well, you sort of expected politicians to crumble. And athletes—hell, they’re only kids, right? Exposed to the temptations of the big city for the first time, given too much money to play with, under extreme pressure and living in a goldfish bowl. You try living under pressure in a goldfish bowl. Even goldfish have trouble doing it.

But evangelists, men of the cloth, that was different. You expected them to be able to maintain high moral standards. For one thing, they knew exactly what high moral standards were from talking about them all the time. They were quickly able to spot the flaws in others. For another thing, they spent an awful lot of time in church.

But there they were in the newspaper headlines, showing human frailty and a lot else, too. There they were on the television news, weeping away, asking for forgiveness and

watching the contributions dry up.

That is the story so far. And now: who is going to judge anybody anymore? Who is good enough to cast the first stone, or even the 16th?

If no one can live up to the rules, there are two things we can do. The traditional way is to toughen enforcement. The modern way is to change the rules. Under the new rules, there would be a new standard of morality, administered on a sliding scale. Absolutes are too inflexible. Politicians would be allowed to make a little money, but not too much. They would be allowed to help their friends under certain conditions. They would have to declare a little of this and a little of that.

No one would criticize athletes for certain types of greed and occasional moodiness. They would be allowed to delegate their agents to visit the little kid in the hospital. Captains of indus-

We sort of expected politicians to crumble. And athletes—hell, they're only kids, after all, right? But evangelists?

try and soldiers of commerce would be allowed to wheel and deal under laboratory conditions, as well as play Monopoly for money. As for evangelists, they would be allowed to sin under specified conditions. Every so often they would have to fill out the proper forms in order for forgiveness to be prearranged.

Such procedures are easily established in our modern world. People will live happily ever after and morally, too, as it is understood under the new definition of the term. The difficulty is in finding anyone to enforce the new standards. Who among us can do it?

Well, what about sportswriters? Sportswriting is often thought of as being among the morally superior professions. Sportswriters have the ability, rare in our society, of being able to tell when a person is not performing to the best of his or her ability. Sportswriters can recognize when athletes choke; they can unmask the selfishness and vanity of athletes who complain about management decisions. And they can do it six days a week—seven, if there is a Sunday edition.

As moral arbiter, the sportswriter could make an interesting contribution in all walks of life. He would be able to tell ballerinas when they were loafing. He would be able to identify slumps in provincial cabinet ministers. He would be able to say when a chef couldn’t take the pressure, when a social worker should be traded and when a bus driver was asking for too much money.

Despite all these attributes and despite the fact that no sportswriter has ever, to anyone’s knowledge, made a mistake, there are other groups that are held in higher esteem, according to the usual polls taken on such matters.

Pollsters, for example, always do well in such polls. So do accountants. Accountants have never been caught doing anything bad. That could mean that they never do anything bad. Or it could mean that no one understands what they do. Either way, it should count for something. Accountants would be natural moral arbiters, although it can be argued that the cold, hard facts associated with their profession make people feel less warmly toward them than toward, say, television anchormen.

Television anchormen always rank among the most respected figures in North America and could do the job as moral arbiters quite presentably. On the negative side, one television anchorman in the United States expressed an opinion the other day, a terrific controversy arose as a result and the profession may not recover from it.

When you examine the situation in depth—discarding, for what may be unfair reasons, ballroom dancing instructors, wine tasters, real estate agents and veterinarians—only the nutritionists of North America remain worthy of standing in judgment over us. The old temples have fallen, our bodies are the new temples and the nutritionist is, ex officio, high priest, charged with making sure that, if we cannot have moral fibre, we at least have fibre.

In a society more concerned with eating right than doing right, only nutritionists can command our respect by telling us whether we are being healthy about it, whatever it is we are doing. With nutritionists in charge of enforcing the new standards, we will live in a better world, and with less cholesterol, too.

Charles Gordon is a columnist for The Ottawa Citizen.