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‘O brave new world, That has such people in’t!’
Shakespeare, The Tempest
New scientific developments are changing the world, but whether the world of our children and grandchildren will be the hell of Huxley’s Brave New World or the sheltered paradise described by Shakespeare depends on how we choose to use these developments.
That choice will frequently be driven by our appreciation of what human beings really are. In this thought-provoking book Pete Moore presents an antidote to the scientific reductionism that so frequently seeks to narrow any definition of our species by single features, such as our genes or the ability of our brains. This exploration of the nature of humanity reveals the rainbow spectrum that makes us who we are. Through discussions with individuals whose lives help us to focus on individual aspects of our make up, Moore explores the difficult issues that are facing us.
This book provides a timely reminder that technology cannot be separated from its impact on real people and how their lives are changed for the better or worse. Medical developments offer tremendous opportunities for good, but if we loose sight of what it is to be human they also have the ability to be used for very dangerous, even evil purposes. We have a chance to influence this future. We should not ignore the challenge.
I crawled around the M25 motorway that orbits London, sitting in one of the thousands of cars attempting to squeeze through the tunnel under the River Thames. Few cars contained more than one passenger, most of whom were staring blankly ahead wishing to be somewhere else, but at the same time glad that their heaters were working against the bitter December wind and fine rain outside. My destination was Unit 6, Woodford Trading Estate, Southend Road, Woodford Green - a northern suburb of London. I followed Arthur White's impeccable directions, all the time wondering quite what he would be like.
My reason for chasing him down was simple. From everything I had read and heard about him, Arthur seemed to be an extreme example of someone whose life has been shaped by aspects of his embodied being, his physique. Now no one would doubt that being human requires that you have a human body, but what I wanted to find out was the extent to which the specific detail of individual's bodies could influence their life - could influence their experience of "being me".
For some people the physical attributes of their body may fit the cultural expectations of what is seen as beautiful. In some African cultures it could mean that a woman gains the security of a wealthy marriage because she has successfully fed to the point of obesity andbeyond. Her life and her character will be intrinsically affected by her physical size. In contrast, a woman in Western societies may gain fame and financial security by being thin in a way that stretches concepts of health. With these attributes she could rise to the peak of high fashion and stride down Western fashion catwalks, charging telephone-number-sized fees for a few hours work. Fame and fortune follow her physique and radically affect her self-esteem, though not always positively - there is many a catwalk model who tearfully admits to taking cocaine and other uplifting drugs to quash feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.
Glossy magazines shout from newsagents' heaving shelves, telling us that if we get the right image, if we take control of our physique, we can get the life we desire. We know deep down that this is partly hype, partly lie, but also that there is more than a grain of truth in it as well. Psychologists claim that you will form an opinion about someone within less than one second of your first meeting, and that they will be just as quick to judge you. Dressing right for the occasion and choosing colours that complement your skin and enable you to display yourself in the best possible light can influence decisions that mould your life. When searching through clothing shops you can choose vertical stripes to enhance the appearance of height, or horizontal bands to make you look less thin. The choice is yours. Image consultants have established an industry based on the power of self-presentation.
On the car seat next to me is a publicity shot of Arthur. He is clearly someone who knows how to tailor his appearance. The photo is in black and white, deeply shadowed so that the right side of his face disappears into the black background. His mouth is framed by a carefully manicured close-cropped beard, and his chin is outlined by the crisp white collar and immaculately worn black tie. His left eye stares straight out from under a gently raised eyebrow, in a way that offers an open challenge - "Want to take me on? I think not." Though in the case of Arthur, it wasn't his physical appearance that interested me as much as his physical capabilities.
You see Arthur is a power-lifter - not any power-lifter but the reigning world champion. Six months before I met him, he had won his sixth British title, and only a few weeks before my visit he had returned from Argentina with his third world title. At fifty-one, he was old enough to be the father of many of the other competitors. His heaviest official dead lift is 380 kilos; it's the British record and still stands from the time he set it in 1982. On top of that he's won the European title four times. He's a powerful man with a physical history - and that history includes physical violence.
I found him doing an afternoon shift looking after his wife's warehouse. Unit 6 was stacked with shoeboxes clad in Christmas wrapping paper and packed with simple toys - each one donated from some schoolchild and heading out to needy children around the world. I realised that one of them had come from my son. If Arthur's coat had been red rather than blue and his beard considerably longer, he would have been a dead ringer for Santa, keeping watch over the volunteer workforce as they packed cases to a background of Christmas carols.
Meeting him was almost an anticlimax. At 5 foot 10 and 17 1/2 stone, he wasn't as physically intimidating as I had anticipated - but then I suppose I am 6 foot 2. And when we shook hands my hand came back unscathed, the bones uncrushed. But there was no doubt in my mind that I had just put my hand into an open vice. It had been his choice not to close it.
We moved to the quiet of an upstairs office and Arthur unpacked some of his past. His body had always been a key asset in life, and as a child he soon realised that it was built to win. Aged 14 he was chosen to be part of his school's athletic team. It wasn't a prestigious establishment, but Fairmead Secondary School soon had a runner to be proud of. Arthur's speciality was sprinting and he enjoyed sports more than anything - sprinting is all about power and gritty determination. By the time he was 16 he had raced to become the West Essex Junior Champion at 100m, and then Essex Junior Champion, equalling the national 100m record.
Lifting weights is part and parcel of any training programme in athletics and is particularly important in sprinting where pure explosive power is critical to success. "I started weight training purely to assist the athletics that I was involved in - just to get some strength. Things drifted on from there really," commented Arthur, but the drift was impressive.
Arthur's body wasn't particularly big; in fact it has never gone over 18 stone, which for a heavyweight lifter is modest. But he found that it was strong - the genetic heritage underlying the way his muscles operated had provided him with a powerful legacy. "As my body developed I felt good about myself. Call it vanity, but it gave me courage when I started looking at the opposite sex, though the first time I saw the girl who became my wife I became shy," he chuckled.
In 1968, aged 17 he left school and set out to conquer the world. Within three years he had a job as a carpenter and had married Jacqui. As with many school sports victors, the reality of work meant that time was pressed and weight-training was relegated to the status of a hobby, something to do as a wind-down at the end of a busy day. All the same, Arthur started pumping iron at one of the more serious gyms in Forest Gate, north London. Run by Wag Bennett, it was frequently used by major hard-core bodybuilders including the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I met a weight-lifter there who was Commonwealth Champion and was in the '64 Olympics, George Manners, British Champion, and he took me along to the Bethnal Green Weight-lifting Club, which is where I trained for abou' 18 or 19 years," Arthur explained.
Training became less of a hobby and more of an obsession, lifting weights for a couple of hours five days a week. The training was carefully organised so that smaller muscles got the attention they needed and techniques were practised thoroughly. To compete in power-lifting, athletes need to perform three exercises: squat, bench and dead lift. It's the accumulation of the three that gets you the total to win overall. "In competition it may be that you weren't the best squatter or the best bench or even the best dead lifter, but the three added together would give you the gold medal."
"The glory of a young man is in his strength, says the Bible," smiled Arthur. He knew this more than most. While many youngsters pretend they would like to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arthur was on his way. "You get a role model, not necessarily the right one, and it does build your self-esteem, you know. But then again any sport I think, or anything you are good at, if you develop it, does build you up," he said.
Arthur loved his body. He loved checking how it was developing in the mirror-lined gym walls, and it was shaping up nicely. The muscles were clearly defined as they rippled beneath his skin. It was just as well that he had been born with exceptionally strong tendons and bones, otherwise he might have torn himself apart, or crushed himself as he worked out.
His body also affected his mind. He began to have vivid dreams of using his unusual strength in heroic situations and started to fantasise about being invincible. He built up scenes of train crashes in which he alone survived the initial impact unscathed, and used the power of his body to haul railway carriages off fellow travellers. On another occasion his fantasy involved him climbing from a wrecked car only to find an enormous piece of metal spiked though his body. To the amazement of onlookers he simply pulled the offending item out, threw it to one side and strolled off. Nothing could touch him.
By 1975 he was competing regularly, breaking records in British, European and Commonwealth competitions. He was also self-employed, running a large building contractor's and had a baby daughter. Arthur's physique had now hugely affected not only himself, but also those around him. Life was hectic, but life was good.
Six years later Arthur was lifting for Britain all over the world, travelling throughout Europe, North America and India. He made opponents tremble and gained celebrity status. He won the British Championships, the European Championships and came second in the World Championships.
Work and family commitments kept Arthur out of competition for a few years, but in 1985 he again challenged for the European title. This time he came third, two places behind his ambition. Being beaten was not part of his plan and Arthur was frustrated that his body had let him down. He became more anxious about his body when a growth appeared in his throat. It needed to be surgically removed. Then his father died. Reality cut in. These things called bodies weren't as infallible as he had started to believe. He became vividly aware of his own mortality.
Arthur's desire to win became a desire to win at all costs and soon he had found a source of assistance - chemical assistance - steroids.
I think the people you mix with have an influence on your life. I was training in many different gyms where drugs were rife. They were easily obtainable, relatively cheap, and you think it's a quick and easy way of getting to the top of the sport you are in. So I just went along with the crowd. Everyone else was doing it, so I was doing it. I was fuelling my body with steroids, I was running my own business, training hard, obviously I had a family to look after and I was getting mentally tired.
Combined with the packed lifestyle, the steroids started to cause mood swings. Arthur combated this by taking amphetamines, and then added cocaine to the cocktail to boost his energy levels. Now he could work hard enough to run his company and pay for his house in England and a villa in Spain, and do his training.
But working as hard as he could still left him with not enough cash to fuel his drug habit. At £200 a week, paying for pills, powders and injections was beginning to hurt - and it all had to be found without his wife knowing, and she ran the company books. A weight-lifting mate suggested a solution - door work. Being a bouncer could get you anything up to £400 a night if you were big enough, looked mean enough and had the right contacts. Arthur's body had taken him a long way from the youthfully ambitious schoolboy sprinter who simply thrilled to win.
It was remarkable thinking back to how doing drugs changes you. Steroids change your psychological outlook on life. Basically they are hormones. Pumping yourself full of strong male hormones causes an imbalance - it has got to be wrong. The psychological outlook is phenomenal, it just goes AWOL, it goes absolutely AWOL, and it had a massive effect on me, and my life, you know. And everything around it, my wife, my family, my kids.
Now the consequence of Arthur's physique took him into new territory. The world of fanatics' gyms is no place for the fainthearted, but security work at notorious nightclubs is guaranteed to get your adrenaline running. Being nervous at first, he soon found one unexpected advantage. Not only was he getting paid, but also as part of the job he frisked punters at the door. This gave him a valuable cache of drugs each evening. The work boosted his income; the confiscated drugs reduced his outgoings.
On top of this, he also started to love the violence that came with the task of evicting troublemakers. He knew that he was stronger than any of the punters and that he could win any fight; the heat of the moment adding bravado to his strength.
It had now been a few years since he had competed, but Arthur decided it was a good time to grab another title. He walked cockily into the 1987 British Championships and came second to someone he felt he should have beaten easily. This spurred him on to more serious training and later in the year he won silver in the World Championships.
But long-term use of drugs wrecks your body and ultimately destroys your life.
They nearly killed me. I left my wife; had an adulterous affair; ruined my business; I lost everything - homes, cars, money, family - the lot. The drug addiction was killing me. I had an X-ray done in 1992 and it clearly showed that my heart was ballooning to the size of a football. Steroids harden arteries and cocaine tries to pump the blood around too quick - you don't really need to be a rocket scientist to know that something is going to go wrong. Nine guys that I have known, all under the age of 40 taking steroids and cocaine, have had massive heart attacks. One guy in particular was called John Paul Sigmason, an Icelandic fellow who was three times the World's Strongest Man. It was all over the television. He was 32, 6 foot 4 and 23 stone, and dropped dead while training. Steroids and cocaine ... Heart exploded ... And that's the way I was going.
At one point Arthur realised that there was another way his body could earn money - serious money. He started running an illegal debt-collecting business for the big men in east London. It was a business that used violence as a basic currency of persuasion.
Excerpted from Being Me by Pete Moore Excerpted by permission.
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1. An embodied being.
2. A conscious being.
3. A genetic being.
4. A historic being.
5. A related being.
6. A material being.
7. A spiritual being.
8. A sexual being.
9. A social being.
10. Free to be me.