Mr. Valentin. Lots of points to discuss. Let’s start with the big one.

Fundamentally, we can never know whether or not free will exists or not. It’s why it is primarily a philosophical discussion, and not one rooted in science. We’ve chosen to narrow the focus on this topic to a particular societal problem (performance enhancing drugs) and the implications that result from a world with free will or one without it. This conversation illuminates the  word practicality. My argument is that by taking into account the way human beings have grown up evolutionarily and the “illusion” of free will we believe to possess, we cannot practically function in a society that operates under no free will. We need to feel that we can accomplish goals as a result of our decisive actions, that we can imagine and compose art by the use our creative mind, that we choose to love our wives or husbands, and that our children are ‘special’ in their own way. A lot of these very basic emotions and behaviours that we cherish as a species are rooted in a non-binary free world. (I’ll get to the non-binary part in a bit). If we assume there is no free will whatsoever, we cannot and should not take active ‘pleasure’ from positive experiences. And moreover, people will tend to hold less responsibility for their negative behaviours. Yes, there may be rules and governance set up to ‘fix’ these people — in extreme cases, sending them to a jail, or in less extreme cases, maybe cognitive-behaviour therapy. However, an average Joe will blame himself less for committing a crime, because “I didn’t choose this. It happened to me”. Now, he will still face consequences to his actions, but Joe himself, can he evolve, or improve his behaviour, without an active involvement? A society set up this way feels like every other failed attempt at an imagined utopia.

So what is this non-binary free world I mentioned? This is what our society currently operates under. Specifically in regards to the justice system, in most cases, we consider the do-er responsible for their actions, with a few exceptions to this rule: people with a severely low IQ, young children, and as mentioned earlier, the insanity plea. In these cases, and others as well, we deem the person operating more reactionarily to their environment. You can argue that they still have free will, but with the given inputs they live under,  the probabilistic range of actions they can choose from are inherently broken. And therefore, they cannot be held responsible for their actions. Taking to more extreme cases and ones that are more concentrated in time & context, we can make the argument that the individual only could have reacted in a certain way given the inputs, and had no free will. In certain cases, we deem people to possess free will and in others, we do not. So what does this all mean? It means that we operate under a spectrum of free will, with the same grey area that our society is pervasively befuddled with. And in this grey area, I believe, practically, it is best to live in.

What I do contend to you is making a shift on this grey scale of free-will. For example, a young man, Jerry, who lives under overtly worse socioeconomic conditions than an another fella, Bill, should be treated differently under the justice system. If Jerry is malnourished, grew up in a world with inputs much different and much worse than Bill’s then, and consequently committed a crime, society should make an attempt to “fix” him, as you suggest, rather than put him away. The same may not be true for Bill. This whole idea speaks to the one of the few things I retained from my learnings of psychology in university: the fundamental attribution error. We place too much emphasis on a person’s internal characteristics to explain their behaviour, rather than the more-likely correct, contextual circumstances.

Where does this all fit in with sports? I came across a fantastic article on the topic by Malcolm Gladwell. Give ‘er a read. It speaks to a lot of your points and has honestly shifted my thinking on the topic. To summarize briefly, Gladwell speaks about various natural beneficial genetic mutations that have arisen in the world: iodine enriched coastal regions boosting IQ, Eero Mäntyranta, a red-blood cell rich Olympic gold medalist, baseball players with 20/10 vision, to name a few. He further makes the point that, in the case of Lance Armstrong, his US Postal service team, and cyclists of his era, by injecting themselves with EPO and their own blood, they were “levelling” the genetic playing field.  Tyler Hamilton, one of Lance’s teammates in his run, says in his book The Secret Race:

“EPO granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both training and racing. It rewarded precisely what I was good at: having a great work ethic, pushing myself to the limit and past it. I felt almost giddy: this was a new landscape. I began to see races differently. They weren’t rolls of the genetic dice, or who happened to be on form that day. They didn’t depend on who you were. They depended on what you did—how hard you worked, how attentive and professional you were in your preparation.”

You’re right when said I used the word “shortcut” unfairly . The drug, rather than a shortcut, enabled the individual to work their hardest and push their potential. So instead of letting random chance be in the control of this genetic lottery, you can argue that Armstrong, Hamilton and other competitors were taking genetic fate into their own hands, shifting the grayscale of free will into their own hands, and ultimately testing their particular range of will-power.