Quickie Post — The Academic Argument for Morality Pills

On the top of the world — Baldur and Tyr take a break – Wallowa Mountains, OR

I’m not going to go on too much about this, as I expect this particular piece on inventing a Morality Pill will blow up on its own. In this piece, Parker Crutchfield, Associate Professor of Medical Ethics, Humanities and Law, Western Michigan University, advocates for a “morality pill” to ensure conformance with wearing masks, or other such icks, that are deemed by authorities to be socially beneficial.

Never mind the difficulty in developing such tech. — pharma companies are notoriously bad in developing any such pill that actually lasts, and the idea that flooding brains with one-size-fits-all chemicals is truly atrocious — it just doesn’t work. What is really interesting (well, at least if you’re coming to this blog in the middle of Outer Space!) is the full-on display of the memetics of rigid, hierarchically driven social structures! In the piece, Crutchfield advocates for a dopamine/something pill because

“Democratically enacted enforceable rules – mandating things like mask wearing and social distancing – might work, if defectors could be coerced into adhering to them. But not all states have opted to pass them or to enforce the rules that are in place.”

When I talk about how values inside the social structure transferring to values inside the design instantiation (in this case, a conformance pill) I can’t really think of a better example. A pill is the uber-identifiable Authoritarian fragment (if folks would take this, everyone would just think the same!) And also a totally unrealistic solution, on any level. Brave New World, anyone?

To be fair, Crutchfield does disclose this is a thought exercise. But these kinds of things get to be wearying. The viewpoint never once mentions human development, or creating a larger sense of responsibility inside a society so when this happens, folks, having NOT been lied to about a dozen different things, actually listen to their experts, and act on their agency to create coherence and conformance. What about having a thoughtful conversation on raising ethical folks in the first place?

If the COVID-19 pandemic will show anything over the long run, it is that two of the most COVID-winning societies relied on developed agency and empathy to beat the bug. Those two societies, Sweden and New Zealand, attacked the problem at their v-Meme level where they were at. One (Sweden) was faced with the “continental spread” problem, and while they started rough, they’re now ending strong. The other (New Zealand) was faced with the “Island containment” problem, and, at least temporarily, used social cohesion and developed agency to solve their problem. I don’t know enough about the other big winner – Vietnam – but if I had to guess, having been there, won through powerful residual homogeneous national identity that got everyone on the same page.

One thing the author also does not discuss is the presence of High Conflict People — part of the deeper problem behind a lack of meaningful disagreement. I’ve supported all sorts of interventions regarding COVID-19. One can go back and look at my blog record, with dates (just type into the Google for my site, ‘Empathy in the Time of Coronavirus’). That said, I’d never assume 100% certainty, no matter where I was. There simply wasn’t the information out there. Yet how we handle people who do assert such things is still something we have not explored during this crisis. Regardless which bin on the political spectrum you’re placing your chips.

The solution for more ethnically and culturally diverse nations like the United States will never be a pill. It’s not even a good solution for nation-states like Vietnam. As I’ve written before regarding managing complexity, there are no short-cuts for developing your people with empathetic evolution. But it would help if members of the academy themselves would put a little more thought into this. We are supposed to act like the collective brain reservoir after all.

P.S. I became aware of this post through Twitter pal Adam Townshend, who RT’ed the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics RT of the Medium publication. That Tweet didn’t last long, which is in itself memetically interesting. As I’ve maintained, academic v-Meme operating points are almost always intrinsically authoritarian — a professor recommends a pill, and that sits well in the immediate collective overmind. And yes, I even find myself drifting into the “sit down and shut up!” mode myself from time to time.

But the fact that it was also almost immediately taken down is also, maybe, a bit encouraging. There is the negative potential that The Berman Institute just didn’t want the status blow of a controversial, and largely unsupportable position. But it also might mean that we can reflect on our natural instincts and get to our better nature. That’s the power of Second Tier thinking. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

2 thoughts on “Quickie Post — The Academic Argument for Morality Pills

  1. Here are some passing thoughts. The commonality between Sweden, New Zealand, and Vietnam might be that they have strong, coherent ethno-nationalist cultures. They have a sense of, more or less, being a single people. At whatever vmeme level they are at, it is shared by most of the population and leadership.

    That is definitely the opposite for the United States that really isn’t a single culture and society. As an empire, the US is splintered populations that largely haves lives, governments, and cultures distinct from and autonomous of other regions and states. The state governments struggled with the federal government while city and county governments often found themselves in conflict with state governments. Economic inequality, culture war, and civil unrest further divides the country or rather empire.

    Now consider two other examples. Both Italy and Spain were hit hard by Covid-19. And both countries, as I understand, are divided up into separate regional cultures. One region of Italy responded better with lower infection while other regions were overwhelmed, with less centralized national authority to take over similar to the dysfunctional US pseudo-federal system. As for Spain, it has the multicultural legacies of an old empire but without the old imperial power itself, such that there is no single national policy.

    Liked by 1 person

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