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Sydney Morning Herald: Racist? Angry? The answer may be in a pill

Sydney Morning Herald: Racist? Angry? The answer may be in a pill:

A pill to enhance moral behaviour; a treatment for racist thoughts; a therapy to increase your empathy for people in other countries - these may sound like the stuff of science fiction but, with medicine moving closer to altering our moral state, society should be preparing for the consequences, according to a book reviewing scientific developments in the field.

Drugs such as Prozac, which alters a patient’s mental state, already have an impact on moral behaviour but scientists predict that future medical advances may allow much more sophisticated manipulations.

“Science has ignored the question of moral improvement so far but it is now becoming a big debate,” [says the deputy director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and a Wellcome Trust biomedical ethics award winner, Dr Guy Kahane]. “There is already a growing body of research you can describe in these terms. Studies show that certain drugs affect the ways people respond to moral dilemmas by increasing their sense of empathy, group affiliation and by reducing aggression.”

Researchers have become interested in developing biomedical technologies capable of intervening in the biological processes that affect moral behaviour and moral thinking, says a Wellcome Trust research fellow at Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre, Dr Tom Douglas. He is a co-author of Enhancing Human Capacities, published this week.

“Drugs that affect our moral thinking and behaviour already exist but we tend not to think of them in that way,” he says. “[Prozac] lowers aggression and bitterness against environment and so could be said to make people more agreeable. Or oxytocin, the so-called love hormone … increases feelings of social bonding and empathy while reducing anxiety. Scientists will develop more of these drugs and create new ways of taking drugs we already know about.”

You should read the whole thing. But I want to call attention to a few sections further down, as they set off all kinds of alarm bells in my head:

Kahane does not advocate putting morality drugs in the water supply but does suggest that if administered widely, they might help humanity tackle global issues.

Meulen suggests moral-enhancement drugs might be used in the criminal justice system. “These drugs will be more effective in prevention and cure than prison,” he says.

So, a lot to unpack here. First, the idea of Prozac and other similar drugs as moral enhancements. That strikes me as wrong, but I also don’t know having not used them.

Also, who was bringing up putting these drugs in the water supply? Scary.

Is moral behavior so hard to achieve that we need to drug people up in order to achieve it? What does that say about Western culture?

Anyway, I’m interested in your thoughts on this.

From The Angry Black Tumblr | Comment below or Reblog @ Tumblr

9 comments to Sydney Morning Herald: Racist? Angry? The answer may be in a pill

  • Prozac is already marketed to women under the name of Sarafem, a drug to control the made up disorder called PMDD..PMDD didn’t exist until the patent on Prozac ran out…The drug maker received a new patent by creating a new disorder, PMDD, and renaming Prozac Sarafem for women..happens all the time…back in the 50′s and 60′s drug manufacturers marketed Valium to women to keep them calm and quiet so they wouldn’t upset their husbands..It’s not a small leap to imagine that someday they will add things to the water to control the population..

  • In the Western World, people are still struggling with the notion that morality is a direct function of how religious (or God fearing) a person is. That somehow there is no innate sense in us that tells us what is right and what is wrong.

    Once a culture has separated itself from religion then the question of “how children will learn morality” becomes and interesting discussion to have. It means that parents will have to be more engaged in teaching their children what morality is. How boring is that? Instead there must be a quick pill someone can take and then we’d be done with this whole teaching kids thing.

    Okay, so I’m reaching with that comment. But drug companies know exactly what they are doing. If, in fact, this pill they advertise actually affects moral thinking, shouldn’t they be advertising it to prison systems? No?

  • murahta

    Apparently some folks still haven’t seen Firefly . . .

  • I’m definitely against behavior altering drugs being administered widely. I mean, racists anger me just as much as the next rational person, but they have a right to control their behavior. If this actually works the way it’s supposed to (and I’m skeptical) and racists go to doctors and have it prescribed to them then that’s fine. But controlling the population through mind altering chemicals just seems like a slippery slope to me.

  • Brandy

    The notion of any widely-used pill to control society is terrifying at best… ugh… and increased empathy will not control racist thoughts. White people are taught from an early age that black people are “less than” and it’s dehumanizig thinking like that that causes otherwise very empathetic people to stop caring… lots of white people are taught to look at black people like animals. This won’t help with any major issues in the kyriarchy. Empathy and responsible thinking must be taught.

    Secondly, PMDD is a real mood disorder. I have it, I have lived it, I have been driven to near-suicide by it and I refuse to have my experiences diminished. Try living your life with three weeks of non-stop tears, anger, and self-hatred, then experiencing a week of calm, and not knowing why you’re acting this way when everything is fine… hormones can cause major depresson if not left in check. Are you telling me that Post-Partum Deression isn’t real either and that doctors just want to make money off them too?

  • Given how racist the justice system is, the people in prison probably don’t need “racism cures” as much as the people who are putting them there do.

  • bananacat

    PMDD is what used to be called PMS. Yes, PMS used to be the term for a real disorder that affected some women but not all of them. Then it became slang to apply to all women to dismiss their opinions and justifiable feelings. Meanwhile, some were still having these symptoms that interfered with their lives, and a diagnoses of PMS was no meaningful, so they gave it a new label, PMDD. The women who actually have PMDD might not appreciate their suffering being so easily dismissed.

    As for a morality pill, I’m doubtful. I have taken Prozac and while it did affect my mood and behavior somewhat, it certainly wasn’t a universal positive. Most or all of the changes were morally neutral, such as being more outgoing or impulsive. It didn’t change my level of empathy, anger, hatred, etc.

    I do think there are diseases where people want to behave a certain way but they have a hard time behaving in the way they want to. In these cases, I think it’s perfectly fine to help them control their behavior with medication, as long as it’s completely voluntary. But these are specific cases of specific diseases and not something that would work for most people.

    Drugs for mental illness also tend to have high rates of side effects, which makes them less suitable for widespread use.

  • That article is so full of shit.

    Firt of all, the title is misleading because racism is never discussed. Also, the whole theory of “morality in a pill” seems to be based on the vaguest notions of what morality means.

    I’ve taken psychotropic medication for anxiety and depression. They are not magic pills that changes your personality. An asshole is still an asshole, with or without meds.

    As for putting it in the drinking water, it’s already there:
    http://www.webmd.com/depression/news/20040810/prozac-in-drinking-water-likely-so

  • I guess instead of being morally mandated out of existence, like Janice Raymond wanted, we trans people will be morally medicated out of existence.

    Naturally, the decisions on who is “moral” and who should be medicated out of existence will be determined by those who are in power.