CrossFit and Libertarianism

This article caught my eye recently.

“Why do you assume the labor market is inelastic?” read a recent tweet from the official account of CrossFit, the popular-but-controversial fitness regimen.

The tweet was related to an article by the free-market Cato Institute, which the fitness company sent out to its 115,000-plus Twitter followers. The article argues that minimum wage regulations can drive up unemployment.

It wasn’t a hack or some mistake. A deep libertarian ethos runs through the entire CrossFit organization, which has for some time been deliberately promoting polarizing articles and quotes.

What is interesting about the article is that it makes no attempt whatsoever to draw connections between CrossFit’s fitness philosophy and it’s political persuasion.  I’ll attempt to make the connection clear here:

Modern American politics is dominated by a lot of “wants” and “shoulds.”  For instance, the Democrats wanted the Affordable Care Act to yield a utopia where everyone had full-time jobs with healthcare benefits.  However, the incentives written into the law actually encouraged corporations to cut hours and cut their workforce.  The Democrats then acted shocked and scandalized, because the corporations “should” have kept those hours/jobs intact.  They conveniently sidestepped the fact that they created the incentives on which the corporations acted in the first place! 

The Republicans are no better in this regard.  They continue to be dominated by their SoCon wing and therefore legislate according to how they *want* the world to be.  They wish every adult was a heterosexual in a stable, nuclear family, so they legislate as if only those people exist.  They wish that drug addicts were rational decision makers, so they lead the way in tougher sentencing for drug users, relying on addicts (irrational by most definitions) to make rational choices based on fear of imprisonment.  The fear of jail that *might* keep a Senator’s kids from experimenting with drugs does not translate well to, say, children who grew up in a drug-using household.  Laws must be designed to create the right incentives for the people they affect (ie, people who are considering breaking them); not to serve as a guidebook to raising the perfect family.

The problem in both instances is that neither party respects cause-and-effect.  It seems basic, and it is, yet we continue to fail at it.  Just like you might expect someone who forgets how to breathe to suffocate shortly thereafter, it is instructive that our lack of grasp of basic reality is leading to an ever less effective government.

In contrast, I believe most Libertarians are at least marginally better at respecting cause-and-effect and intellectual integrity.  They tend to look at historical precedent to determine “what will happen?” and “do we want that?” and “does this make sense?”  For brevity, I will skip a lengthy discussion about Syria and use theOatmeal’s picture to replace a thousand of my words.  The point to express here is that both Democrats and Republicans have been attempting to shoehorn issues into their pre-conceived worldviews and are failing painfully, and there is an emerging awareness of this failure and a rise of voters who want to make policy that acknowledges the world as it is.  Whether or not these are textbook Libertarians, I suspect they have latched on to politicians who have claimed that title as an alternative to the sinking D/R ship.

So, where does CrossFit fit into this?  Simple.  First, feedback is immediate, unavoidable, and often exhausting and sometimes painful.  Anyone without a sense of cause-and-effect (the principle problem I see in Republican/Democrat policymaking) will quickly gain an appreciation for it.  If you believe that distance running exercises your legs enough that you will be a strong squatter and then you get crushed under 135lbs, there is no way to then look at your training buddies and continue to insist that not only has distance running benefitted your leg strength, but that they should join you on a running-based strength routine!

Second, It’s culture is dominated by achieving quantifiable results through hard work in a group setting.  Progress is recorded, publicly, privately, or both, and a lack of progress will prompt a change in behavior.  Compare this to the average gym-going man who puts two 45lb plates on the bar and benches 3×8 day in, day out, and never adds any weight to the bar (a Republican mindset of being satisfied with the status-quo and ignorant of wasted potential).  Or with the middle-aged woman who faithfully does her 5lb pink neoprene dumbbell curls for 6 weeks before giving up, cursing the skinny girls for “having better genetics” than she does, and scheduling plastic surgery (a Democratic mindset of blaming the status-quo on the unfair advantages of others and seeking drastic external remediation instead of self-improvement).  It is dedicated to finding what works and doing that, instead of pontificating about what should be done, who else might be responsible for helping, or attempting to re-define fat and weak as the new normal.

Going beyond that, I’d like to point out that CrossFit tends to get a reputation as an elitist cult, but in actuality it is probably the most open, inclusive training methodology there is.  With a focus on honest self-assessment followed by self-improvement, anyone can join at any point and participate.  Weights, sets, reps, even entire techniques can be scaled, modified, or adjusted so that all can participate in the group workout.  People get to know their fellow gym-goers and a sense of community develops.  “That Big Guy” who, at a regular gym, would lift alone, turns out to be Jim, the mechanic, who is great at deadlifting but comes in dead last on the group’s runs.  “Overweight Woman” who might otherwise be nervously trying to figure out equipment alone after joining a globo-gym turns out to be Karen, and she really appreciates the advice and encouragement she gets from her workout partners.  “The Little Guy” who might be afraid to ask for a spot instead can pace the group on runs and sets his sights on matching Jim’s deadlift strength…if maybe only on a pound-for-pound basis.  And thus three people who might otherwise be separated by where they are now are joined together by where they are all going.

On a final note, there is a saying in the community that there are no age divisions or weight classes in real life.  Your friend’s piano doesn’t care if you are 120 lbs or 220 lbs; it will be the same weight when you try to move it up the stairs.  How you prepare is up to you.  You can choose to be a fast yet weak 120lb marathoner, and you can have a string of great races, but that piano will still be there, and it still won’t care.  The fact you choose to stay 120lbs doesn’t make the piano mean.  It isn’t discriminating against you.  Life is full of unavoidable tradeoffs; no matter how much you “want” to be a 4:00-miler and an 800lb deadlifter, you have to choose.

So, there it is.  CrossFit’s training methods force its practitioners to acknowledge real physical limitations and tradeoffs every time they step into the gym.  This directly translates to a political worldview acutely focused on the likely actual outcomes of decisions.  As we are less able to finance fantasy and delay consequences with debt, American voters will have to confront reality and will vote accordingly.

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3 thoughts on “CrossFit and Libertarianism

  1. Pingback: Comedy: Part 4. Debt, Deficits, and Self-Limiting Mistakes | iParallax

  2. Pingback: CrossFit’s Sense of Community | iParallax

  3. Pingback: Reading Roundup: 14-02-09 | iParallax

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