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9.12.08

Stupid, Stupid People

There has been somewhat of a stir caused by the recent publication in Nature of a commentary supporting the use of cognitive enhancement drugs. Prescribed for a variety of psychiatric conditions from ADHD to narcolepsy, certain drugs have the potential to significantly increase various mental functions such as concentration, memory retention, and willpower in people who are otherwise 'healthy' and 'normal'. Cognitive enhancement drugs may thus be the quickest, easiest, and cheapest method of raising the bar of average human intelligence.

A number of common ethical-moral ideals held by the general public stand in the way of the widespread acceptance of such cognitive enhancement drugs, as well as the concepts of cognitive enhancement and cognitive liberty in general. Such attitudes include the following:
  • Drugs are bad, only losers do drugs
  • Medicine should only be used to treat illness as prescribed by doctors
  • It's not fair for people to 'cheat' by using drugs to get one up on the competition
  • You should be content with the abilities god/nature gave you
I won't argue directly in this post against such ideals; I could write volumes, and others already have. I'll just set out the basic counterargument that I think easily trumps them all:
  • People are so fucking stupid.
We're jumped-up apes adapted to live in nomadic tribal units, hunting meat and gathering berries. Cultural evolution has changed more about our species in the last 6000 years (give or take) than biological evolution has changed in the last 6 million; the genetics that program our brains has been outpaced by our technology. The smartest among us are psychologically unstable; the most creative are the most depressive, the most logical are the least socially adept, the most charismatic are the most ethically blind. The vast majority of humans are like sheep, grazing at the trough of consumer culture, hypnotized by information overload, easily manipulated by the demagogues and ideologues and moralists and propagandists. Our thinking is shaped by the biases and prejudices learned at our parents' knee. We choose what we agree with before seeing the evidence, then reject any evidence that disagrees. Any kind of prolonged and serious consideration of basic beliefs and ideals is painful to us, so the majority shy away and let their chosen 'authorities' tell them how to act and react. We can't absorb or comprehend more than a fraction of the vast and growing pool of information. Our entire society is a vast mechanism of social control institutions designed to herd us into accomplishing some sort of collective action, because without the machines of church and state and family grinding us under we dissolve once again into a vicious mass of warring tribes. Thus, the greedy and the egomaniacal form an oligarchy-by-default, using the creative and intellectual classes as their tools for the manipulation of the common herd. We're just so. Fucking. Stupid.

Every generation has had a 'drug culture' which experimented with the newest 'forbidden' substances, exploring the extremes of ecstasis and degredation, passing their knowledge on to future cadres of cognitive libertarians. It amuses me intensely to think that today's drug culture includes the corporate bosses and performance-obsessed workaholics along with the junkies, the dropouts, and the freaks. Of course there will be victims on the way to understanding the nature of these drugs, addicts and burnouts and untoward side effects, blasted minds and ruined lives. Well, these people choose their own fate and the risks they take. There needs to be more extensive scientific testing and more effective public education on the effects of cognitive enhancement drugs, but most of our understanding is for better or worse going to come from the experiences of people who choose, of their own free will, to try better living through chemistry. If the concept of cognitive enhancement drugs catches on it could well lead to a massive enhancement in our collective ability to understand and think rationally about our world and our society, and by Satan do we ever need it.

As for myself, I'd love to get my hands on some Modafinil, just to see what it's like. Maybe it would help me get more and better writing done.

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