The Chariots of Fire mentality is dead and gone

I was living in England back in 1981 when Chariots of Fire was first released.  It’s been a while since it came out, but you probably remember that it was a movie based upon the true story of two actual British runners (and their fictional friends) preparing for the 1924 Olympics.  I loved that movie.  I loved the British-ness of it.  I loved the beautiful recreation of 1920s England.  I loved the contrast between Harold Abrahams, the driven Anglo-Jew, and Eric Liddell, the committed Scottish Evangelist.  And of course, I loved Nigel Havers.  There’s just something about him….*

Anyhoo, I got the opportunity to watch the movie again the other night and was struck by something very different from today’s world.  [SPOILER ALERT]  A pivotal plot point in the movie occurs when Liddell learns that the race he is most likely to win — the 100 meter sprint — will be held on a Sunday.  He announces that he cannot and will not run on the Lord’s Day, and holds to this position despite having a great deal of pressure brought to bear on him by the powers that be, including some peers of the realm and the Prince of Wales himself.  In the movie, the deux ex machina who breaks this stalemate is Nigel Havers’ character, who, having already won a medal, graciously offers Liddell his place in the 400 meter race.  (In real life, Liddell knew about the Sunday conflict some months in advance, and trained for the 400 meter race.)  Liddell not only runs the 400 meter race, he does so at a sprinter’s clip, and wins.

The movie shows tremendous reverence for Liddell’s principled stand.  After Liddell sticks to his guns and Nigel Havers saves the day, Lord Birkenhead, who is the head of the British team, and the Duke of Sutherland, who was one of those who tried to convince Liddell to run, have a few words:

Duke of Sutherland: A sticky moment, George.
Lord Birkenhead: Thank God for Lindsay. I thought the lad had us beaten.
Duke of Sutherland: He did have us beaten, and thank God he did.
Lord Birkenhead: I don’t quite follow you.
Duke of Sutherland: The “lad”, as you call him, is a true man of principles and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from himself.
Lord Birkenhead: For his country’s sake, yes.
Duke of Sutherland: No sake is worth that, least of all a guilty national pride.

I was thinking how differently things would have played out if 1924 had been like 2012.  Rather than simply refusing to run, Eric Liddell would have sued the Olympic committee, claiming that they were violating his right to religious freedom.  Of course, he would have lost, because he was asserting a Christian religious right.  Had he practiced a more politically correct religion, he might have had a different outcome.

Nowadays, if private institutions don’t bend to an individual’s will, the individual doesn’t walk away, as Liddell did.  Nor does the individual create a competing society, as Jewish lawyers did when they were barred from white shoe law firms.  Instead, the individual insists that a private organization accommodate him, even if to do so is completely inconsistent with the ethos of that organization.  For example, last year, a Muslim woman sued Abercrombie & Fitch (a store I despise) claiming that her boss fired her for wearing a hijab.  This wasn’t a first for the company:

It’s the latest employment discrimination charge against the company’s so-called “look policy,” which critics say means images of mostly white, young, athletic-looking people. The New Albany, Ohio-based company has said it does not tolerate discrimination.

Still, Abercrombie has been the target of numerous discrimination lawsuits, including a federal class action brought by black, Hispanic and Asian employees and job applicants that was settled for $40 million in 2004. The company admitted no wrongdoing, though it was forced to implement new programs and policies to increase diversity.

Why not let the company do business its way?  Why sue that skanky organization?  Isn’t it better to stick to your principles (e.g., “Muslim woman quits Abercrombie rather than comply with sleazy, white trash dress code”), and then to fight Abercrombie in the market place (e.g., “Muslim woman, after being fired by Abercrombie, creates modest clothes fashion dynasty”)?  Why should Abercrombie, which is marketing a “look,” have to accommodate those who don’t meet the look?

The same is true for the constant effort to get the Boy Scouts of America to allow gays.  Instead of trying to remake the Boy Scouts, why don’t gays take a principled stand of walking away from the Boy Scouts and — here’s an idea! — creating their own alternative to the Boy Scouts, when that is more friendly to the GLBT community?  I suspect, actually, that one of the reasons they don’t is because their membership might lag.  The Boy Scouts announced recently that they are reaffirming their “no gays” policy partly because parents like the policy.

More than that, why have we created a country where there is no high road but, instead, only a litigious road?


*Maybe what I like about Havers his is antipathy to bicyclists.  There’s nothing wrong with bicycles or bicycling, but I can tell you that, in the San Francisco Bay Area, they have a dangerous arrogance based upon their “green-ness.”  They ignore traffic rules, often drive in mobs, and can be scarily aggressive towards cars.  I live near a road that is a popular sunny day destination for weekend bike wariors, and I have to say that it can be terrifying to round a curve and find two of them lolling down the middle of the road.  Havers is open about his contempt for this attitude:

Comments on cyclists

Havers wrote an article in 2004 the Daily Mail, criticising cyclists:

“Today’s pedal-pushers… appear to think they are above the law… [and are a] new army of Lycra-clad maniacs… I am heartily sick of the lot of them.”

He added in 2006:

“I was asked what annoys me most. I said cyclists, because they are all bastards, and since then it just hasn’t stopped”.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • 11B40


    I’m with you on the bicyclists.  My understanding is that,in the last couple of years, three elderly pedestrians have been killed in collisions with our two-wheeled dervishes. The most recent made some really interesting posts to the internet after his collision, so interesting that a police investigation of his behavior was announced. 

    I trace all this back to the Critical Mass demonstrations and how the city allowed monthly disruptions of citizens right to travel and do their commerce to allow a bunch of ill-mannered two-wheelers to vent their frustrations. By kowtowing to the fanatics, our rulers pretty much guaranteed that the situation wold only get worse.

    In an interesting addendum, I did see a report on local TV news about Frisco cops ticketing bicyclists for violating the vehicle codes along Market Street. Of course, the cops were on foot, so they mostly got the really dumb ones.  

  • lee

    Three random thoughts re: cyclists…

    When I was living in Marin and working in the City, sometimes I’d drive to work; sometimes I’d take the ferry. If I drove on Critical Mass days, those idots never disrupted my commute. But on Critical Mass days when I’d take the ferry, it was terrible–scary, nerve-wracking, dangerous, and I’d be lucky to make it to the ferry on time. I was NOT surprised when they attacked that mother in a van with small kids a few years back. They are insufferable,’sellfish and self-centered.

     I went to Indiana University right after “Breaking Away” came out. Steve Teeich has A LOT to answer for. I blame that film for starting the bicycle fanaticism that we are suffering through to this day.
    About 20 years ago, a guy who had been big in the East Bay bicycling community was in a bicycling accident that left him with spinal cord injury. His bicycling buddies all dumped him. He wrote about his experiences with them after his injury, and noted how shallow, insufferable and self-centered they were–and he had been. That made them REALLY angry and they tried to portray him as a uber-****head. 

  • lee

    More in response to the body of your entry: I totally agree with you. I would not want to be a member of a club who doesn’t want me to be a member. I’d prefer to start my own, even better club and show them up. (How Brandeis came into existance, as well as the Jewish fraternities and sororities. And the black fraternities and sororities…)

    That being said, I do understand the desire to sue–REVENGE! And maybe a little bit of a search for justice…

    But I appreciate better, for example, what Christian parents concerned over the direction of the Girl Scouts have done–they have started a Christian-oriented scouting organization for girls.  I think that can be the better route. Frankly, I would’ve loved to have seen Harvard and Yale and the like be taken down several pegs by the state schools, and places like Brandeis and Howard. Because Harvard and Yale are as bad as they were a hundred years ago, but now can congratulate themselves on their “openess” and feel all smug and superior, while denying admission to 4-H-ers and Future Farmers from Nebraska and Iowa. 

  • jj

    Well I hate to say it but a big piece of the problem is, of course, lawyers.  Far too many lawyers, far too little for them to do – so they’ll tell any asshole with any kind of brainless gripe: “sure, you got a case!  Let’s go get ’em and make history, righting this ancient wrong, generations yet unborn will revere your name… and: blah-blah-blah, BS-BS-BS, pay me.”  Instead of just saying: “oh for chrissake, go away and take a shot at growing up; it’s never too late.”  Which was once the normal response from adults.

    When there were far fewer of them there was actual useful stuff for them to do.  (Less than they’d have you believe, but still: something.)  Now there really isn’t, unless they contribute to inventing it.  Thus the commercials.  Thus I’m informed through the mail at least twice a month that I’m a member of a class against which some corporation has evidently commited an outrage, and me and every other member of the outraged class will be awarded 49 cents and a new can opener – counsel to get $60 million.

    As long as they all think passing the bar is tantamount to receiving a license to be a millionaire; as long as they all think their time actually is worth at least $350 an hour (Jesus Christ raised people from the dead for free, and as a volunteer fireman I directly preserved at least two lives I know of over 25 years – free.  What a dope I was, eh?); as long as they all think being able to misuse the sense of a few Latin phrases (people who actually do speak Latin laugh at most legal uses of it: it’s tone and sense deaf) entitles them to bend society out of shape, we’ll be replete with this kind of crap.  Does her own lawyer give one damn about the “larger issues” behind some Islamic dame’s right to wear a bag over her head at Abercrombie & Fitch?  Of course not, there are no “larger issues.”  Why sue that skanky organization?  Come on, you know the answer to that one:  they have money and her lawyer’s having a slow week, and he’s got a payment due on the Mercedes!  If it was purely about justice and the only reward was that a point of view prevailed, no dough; well then, the point would have been equally established – but the matter never would have been brought.

    In fact, I think if you’re arguing a matter of fundamental rights, you shouldn’t get paid at all.  You should do it ‘because it’s the right thing to do,” not an investment opportunity.  Believe some of your own BS, counselor.  You expect (well, not really) everybody else to believe it, right?  And fundamental rights are, after all, fundamental.  Why should advancing or defending them be an opportunity for a new house in a better neighborhood and a Ferrari?  

    Holder – famous lawyer – thinks a picture ID shouldn’t be necessary to vote.  Leaving aside all the other simple stuff we do that requires one, from renting a car to opening a bank account, I’ll advance the idea that you don’t need one – or a fingerprint, DNA sample or five witnesses – to take the bar exam in your state, either.  Lawyers take themselves far too seriously, to the detriment of everybody.  Time to let a few people who never went near a law school and can’t freely toss around mangled fragments of Latin re-make the broken system.  They’d probably think a lousy hundred bucks an hour was pretty good pay, too.       

  • lee

    Just to add something to what you wrote, JJ, the other problem is JUDGES (a subspecies of lawyer) who should be saying, “Oh, for chrissakes! Take a shot at growing up! It’s never too late.” They can do a LOT to rein in the insanity.


    Bicyclists do produce some of the most arrogant people on the road. I have come up on cyclists while responding to an emergency call, red/blue lights and siren going, and they won’t get out of the lane of traffic.  When I see them run red lights or stop signs, they are very difficult to pull over, as they seem to feel that it is thier right to ignore the rules of the road.  It really does diminish ones sympathy for the ones that blow one stop sign to many, and get smacked.

  • michal

    it’s ramadan right now from 20 july to 19 Aug
    Muslims can’t have anything by mouth during the daylight hours.
    I don’t follow the Olympics so I don’t know if the muslims are competing but the scenario you are putting forward exists in fact this year for them.  Unless all the muslim athletes are competing in the evening hours?