Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Challenge Nature's Character Designs : And Then, What?

"Five or ten years ago the evidence seemed to suggest oxytocin was just this universally good thing -- that if we just dosed everybody up with oxytocin they'd all be walking around like love puddles."
"We no longer consider ADHD a moral failing because we've medicalized that moral failing. And that is part of what moral enhancement is about -- to recognize the natural diversity of brains, and that some of us are just born with a poor roll of the dice that doesn't give us enough self-control, executive function or capacity for compassion or moral cognition."
"The world will be happier; we'll probably all be happier."
"[Or] We could end up in a world where every kind of political or moral deviance is subject to some kind of mandatory treatment."
James Hughes, executive director, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Willington, Connecticut

"The reality is that there is not much out there that allows us to do these sorts of things. Look at the miserable failure that is modern psychiatry. We just don't really understand how the brain works."
"But it's also true they're making progress in leaps and bounds, and I have personally no doubt that these kinds of drugs will eventually exist."
"Your gut response would be, well this would be a pleasant place to be. But what if the country next to us did the exact opposite, and invested in drugs that made their compatriots more aggressive, more competitive?"
"How do we decide that constitutes a moral deficiency? Who should be allowed to make these decisions about what is good and what is bad?"
Udo Schuklenk, bioethicist, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
Fotolia    Ethicists warn that a pill to make people more "moral" could pave the way to a world where every bad act begets chemical treatment, voluntary or not.

Most people -- at least those who use their cerebral capacity to observe and to hope to achieve a moral balance within themselves to better reflect the positive elements of human nature -- make a well-considered effort to observe standards of thought and behaviour consonant with self-respect, to become a part of the social contract that urges individuals to think of others even as they think of themselves, to achieve the golden rule of moderation in all things, and to emulate a well-known pattern of moral behaviour while feeling empathy for those whose condition in life stifles them.

At the same time we are very well aware that among us live other people who have no intention of succumbing to an iota of compassionate attitude toward the unfortunate of the world, and look only to advancing their own lives to acquire wealth and social position and in some instances, power. These are the manipulators who feel entitled to investing all their energies and using any means seen as useful to promoting themselves to arrive at their ego-laden destiny. Move down the scale a little further and the sociopaths and psychopaths appear, those against whom civilization guards itself.

With another turning into yet another new year, people look at themselves to appraise where they appear on the judgement scale, and many vow to change certain elements of their character and values and priorities, and behaviour in the hope of improving themselves to match self-set standards. Usually, those promises-to-self, earnestly arrived at and with full intention of reaching those goals fade with the passage of time as we resort to old habits, comforting ourselves with the assurance that we're not so bad the way we are, after all.

What if all this rigmarole could be by-passed by the simple expedient of using an engineered chemical meant to steer our natures toward making better choices for ourselves, to make us more moral, caring and careful individuals without breaking a sweat? Just such ideas are the precinct of neuroethicists enthralled with the idea that altering the chemical balance and hormones that people are naturally endowed with, by the use of prescribed artificial enhancements could make of us all the people we strive to be proud of.

Who imagine that pharmaceuticals, implanted brain electrodes and/or other types of bio-medical means should be promoted to alter society to make us less selfish and self-absorbed, more attuned to the world around us and how we may better live our lives while at the same time being valued members of a co-operative society. Thoughts of tamping down aggression and other emotions that make people anti-social appears to attract those who believe in the efficacy of such interventions

Proponents of moral enhancement through such means point to the technical advances that science has enabled the world for good and for ill. Technology allows us to live with the kind of comfort and communication, ease and stress that has catapulted the world toward a tighter global community. Yet it is also one that issues threats and commits deplorable acts of violence, reducing opportunities for those who are tyrannized and forced to live in penury. With the larger threat of weapons of mass destruction capable of annihilating populations and laying the world to utter ruin.

So, if bioenhancement could be undertaken on a universal scale we could, in theory, become more decent, moral and responsible, to ourselves and to others. Those who value free will and the capability to make their own personal decisions, to be responsible and responsive, won't regard that potential with welcoming assent. They may have achieved a laudable moral plateau distinguishing them from others who have no intention of so doing. And those whose character disposition is venal and controlling would see no reason to alter the way they are, giving them great satisfaction as despots.

At the present time people use prescribed drugs for other purposes; high blood pressure and depression, where antidepressants such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), along with drugs affecting the release or metabolism of oxytocin, known as the love and bonding hormone are already involved in moral modification through the auspices of the drugs, yet they are not fully aware of the effects such drugs have on them. In a 2013 study, 40 healthy volunteers were given the high blood pressure drug propranolol, resulting in men and women being steered toward judging harmful actions as being morally unacceptable.

This is a drug whose use increased a natural aversion to doing harm to others, as well. SSRIs, in addition, seem to act on people to make them more trusting of others. Yet a 2014 Princeton University study concluded people given oxytocin were likelier than others not taking the drug to engage in "group-serving dishonesty", where they took to lying often and more spontaneously, in a concerted effort to bring benefit to the group they represented. Trifling perhaps, in comparison to altering the character of psychopaths.

"They're so far off out of the norm that maybe bringing them back to the norm would be generally understood to be advantageous", offered Brian Earp, associate director of the Yale-Hastings program in ethics and health policy at Yale University. "...You might take a pill that makes you more susceptible to, or find more compelling the sorts of moral lessons you're already engaged in", he offered. Unless we just decided to work with greater deliberation on our own initiative, under our own agency, without artificial chemicals, to achieve a lifetime goal of decency.
What if all it took to make you a better human was a little pill?
What if all it took to make you a better human was a little pill? -- Postmedia files

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