Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Phony and Phonier

Observers cannot stop scratching their heads and nodding in disbelief at the inept naïveté  with which David Petraeus and his mistress-biographer Paula Broadwell tried to conceal their doomed escapades. Indeed, one would expect slightly greater sophistication from the spymaster of the Free World, and even from a West-Point-educated lieutenant-colonel from the U.S. Army reserve. I suspect, though, that their childish silliness has an easy explanation.

Here is my neat theory. Most accounts about the Petraeus-Broadwell affair note that they were both extreme fitness fanatics. Some recent research has indicated that physical exercise can be addictive in the most literal sense. If we connect these dots, how surprised should we be to find out that yet another form of addiction has led to impaired personal judgment, multiplied by two?

Which leads me to wonder about other extreme fitness crazes in recent years. There have been multiple reports about young men spending their hard-earned weekends competing in supermarathons and triathlons, bare-knuckle fist fights, races across bizarre obstacle courses, etc. Many of these competitive events charge the participants hefty fees, and don’t disburse any cash prizes. Yet, crowds of Wall Street traders and other white-collar shock troops are eager to test themselves. One famous race known as Tough Mudder was even started by a Harvard Business School graduate who, according to a NYT article, deliberately targeted the “cubicle-bound masses yearning to breathe free.”

The weekend warriors carry with pride numerous cuts and bruises over their – judging from the pictures – pumped-up and mostly hairless bodies and limbs. Cultural skeptic Kay Hymowitz once referred to their type as “capitalists on steroids” – the toughest of the toughest in a world where nice guys (and gals), I am afraid, do tend to finish last (yet another stereotype supported by some recent research – so some stereotypes may exist for a reason, after all…).

As with the Petraeus-Broadwell duo, I would question many of the professional and private judgments of such extreme fitness junkies – to say nothing of the valuation mechanism of a socioeconomic matrix which continues to reward them so richly more than two years after the release of “Inside Job.” But, as the old proverb says, the caravan must move on…

P.S. Our daughter has been reading and commenting (for schooling purposes) on The Catcher in the Rye for a few weeks now. As we talked about the book once, I was reminded of Holden’s chief complaint about the world he inhabited back in 1951 – that almost anyone he met was incurably phony. Who knows, he might have suffered from some sort of dissociative disorder and misjudged perfectly normal individuals. Still, I do wish he could wake up from hibernation on 12/12/12; and behold the deeper truth contained in that famous advertising slogan: “You’ve come a long way, baby.”