Anniversary Post: PGA Tour Inc v Martin

Casey MartinOn this day in 2001, the case PGA Tour Inc v Martin was decided. This was when Casey Martin sued the PGA for the right to compete in their golf tournaments using a golf cart. According to the official rules, golfers must walk the course. But Martin was born with Klippel–Trénaunay syndrome, which made it difficult to walk. He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and won. I’m mixed on this issue. On the one hand, I’m glad for Martin and I think he should have been able to play using a golf cart. On the other hand, why in the hell is a silly sporting event making its way to the Supreme Court?

But speaking of silly, Scalia and Thomas dissented in this case. (I’m sure Alito would have too, had he been on the court at that time.) They argued Martin should have to walk because of… Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.” I’ve always (really: always) thought it was a stupid story. What I most remember from it is the ballet where the dancers are weighted down so as to equalize their abilities. The story satirizes attempts to mandate egalitarianism. The problem is that every conservative on the planet uses this childish short story as the ultimate slippery slope result of any and all attempts to create a more equal society.

I’ve always felt that Vonnegut was an overrated writer. I still admire him, but people think him far more clever than he ever was. And “Harrison Bergeron” is him at his worst and most facile. There is literally no point to the story. It is more or less Atlas Shrugged without the “happy” ending. The thinking that goes into the story is the same kind of sub-Nietzschean nonsense that Ayn Rand peddled. But what are we to think? That feeding poor children will lead to the elimination of talents? Had Vonnegut thought the whole thing through, he would have realized that such “egalitarian” laws would naturally make people seek out endeavors where they would not need to be handicapped. But of course, diving into the questions he raised was never his thing.

Vonnegut certainly must have hated the way his story was used, at the same time it reinforced his generally low appraisal of humanity. But it isn’t surprising that minds as simplistic as Scalia and Thomas (neither would need radio device to disrupt their thoughts if they lived in the world of “Harrison Bergeron”) would grab on to the most careless and simplistic of Vonnegut’s allegories. But at least seven of the justices sided with Casey Martin. Of course, today, it would only be five or maybe six.

Happy anniversary to PGA Tour Inc v Martin. In another ten years, it may well be overturned!

4 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: PGA Tour Inc v Martin

  1. Oddly conservatives seem not to be familiar with Deadeye Dick, Vonnegut’s novel length appeal for gun control. It also has a good bit about police brutality, corrupt authority, and some really funny dialogue. Or his anti sex policing story Welcome To The Monkey House. I think conservatives have a weird fetish for sports and the purity of sports culture, as the perceive it, because of their love of hierarchy. It’s why the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ meme is such a reliable anger button for them. Of course it doesn’t interest them to know that that meme is dated, and largely apocryphal. It’s just what the ‘know’ about the evil (sic) those liberals are up to subverting all that is good and true about America. So. Fucking. Tiresome.

    • I haven’t read Deadeye Dick. I have have to check it out. I don’t mean to suggest, however, that these conservatives have actually read Vonnegut! I doubt they’ve even read “Harrison Bergeron.” But it is a story they tell each other. Vonnegut, of course, was pretty radical. I think sports appeals to conservatives for exactly the reason you mentioned. And it is clear: one runner is faster than another. Of course, as I’ve spent a lot of time talking about, the differences between top athletes are so small as to be trivial. From my perspective: so what? If Usain Bolt had never been born, it wouldn’t matter in the least. That’s an idea that drives conservatives crazy, “But then the 100 m world record would be lower!” So what?!

  2. I am reminded of your “food stamp surfer” post. When it comes to the arts, it is Conservatives who are hostile to artistic, literary, musical and architectural excellence. In their ideal world, unless your parents are wealthy, anyone who pursues a career in the arts must do in conditions of dire poverty. Essentially, homelessness and hunger will act as the weights and fetters and blinders that Harrison Bergeron carried.

    It is also amusing to see the straw man argument that says that liberals cannot countenance any inequality in artistic talent and cultural achievement. It is particularly ironic because we tend to have better taste in and appreciation for music, art, literature and architecture. If anything, liberals celebrate and appreciate those have extraordinary talent in those fields.

    The only time we do not celebrate talent is when it is “talent,” that magical quality that is used to justify the outsized remuneration of business elites. In the conservative mind, questioning why the CEO of a failed company gets a severance the size of some countries’ GDP is akin to wanting to burn down the Sistine Chapel or handicapping a skilled ballet dancer.

    • Well put. Although I’ve never quite understood why it is that conservatives generally are lacking in the aesthetics department. Republicans don’t even seem as capable of hiring equivalent talent, although they have gotten better recently.

      Speaking of the surfer kid, remember when Craig T Nelson was whining on Glenn Beck’s show about how no one helped him when he was starting out and on food stamps and welfare. It always comes back to the same thing: everything is allowed if you are the “right” kind of person. All this concern about the young Josh Duggar’s ruined life would never be extended to a young black man from the city. It is royalist thinking. Disgusting really.

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