‘Morality Pills’ May Be the US’s Best Shot at Ending the Coronavirus Pandemic, According to One Ethicist

Yves here. Lord help us, propaganda and “nudge theory” haven’t done a good enough job of getting people to do the right thing, or even what is in their own interest (in this case, like wear masks during a pandemic) so now experts are coming up more aggressive interventions. In this case, the author seriously proposes medicating people without their consent so as to increase their pro-social behavior. And this comes from a soi-disant ethicist? Did he miss that political theorists have debated since the days of the Greeks about what to do about minority views in democratic system? Or not even see the last season of Game of Thrones?

Clive has cited this clip apropos masks. Key section starts at 2:38:

Daenerys: It’s not easy to see something that’s never been before, a good world.

Jon Snow: How do you know? How do you know it’ll be good?

Daenerys: Because I know what is good. And so do you.

Jon Snow: I don’t.

Daenerys: You do. You do. You’ve always known.

Jon Snow: What about everyone else? All the other people who think they know what’s good?

Daenerys: They don’t get to choose.

There is a long history of medical brutality to enforce behavior, from foot-binding and genital mutilation to forced sterilizations and lobotomies. How about mandatory chemical castration for sex offenders (the law in Alabama for convicted child molesters and in California for sex crime recidivists).

The flip side is it’s not hard to argue that a lot of traditional societies did administer pro-social drugs through the ritual use of hallucinogens. And that suggests that if this ethicist thinks we need more “cooperative” medication, rather than forcing it on people, decriminalizing non-dealing-level possession of LSD, ayahuasca, and ‘shrooms would be the better way to go. But that introduces another level of problems: less anxious people are harder to control.

By Parker Crutchfield, Associate Professor of Medical Ethics, Humanities and Law, Western Michigan University. Originally published at The Conversation</strong>

COVID-19 is a collective risk. It threatens everyone, and we all must cooperate to lower the chance that the coronavirus harms any one individual. Among other things, that means keeping safe social distances and wearing masks. But many people choose not to do these things, making spread of infection more likely.

When someone chooses not to follow public health guidelines around the coronavirus, they’re defecting from the public good. It’s the moral equivalent of the tragedy of the commons: If everyone shares the same pasture for their individual flocks, some people are going to graze their animals longer, or let them eat more than their fair share, ruining the commons in the process. Selfish and self-defeating behavior undermines the pursuit of something from which everyone can benefit.

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.

My research in bioethics focuses on questions like how to induce those who are noncooperative to get on board with doing what’s best for the public good. To me, it seems the problem of coronavirus defectors could be solved by moral enhancement: like receiving a vaccine to beef up your immune system, people could take a substance to boost their cooperative, pro-social behavior. Could a psychoactive pill be the solution to the pandemic?

It’s a far-out proposal that’s bound to be controversial, but one I believe is worth at least considering, given the importance of social cooperation in the struggle to get COVID-19 under control.

Public Goods games Show Scale of the Problem

Evidence from experimental economics shows that defections are common to situations in which people face collective risks. Economists use public goods games to measure how people behave in various scenarios to lower collective risks such as from climate change or a pandemic and to prevent the loss of public and private goods.

The evidence from these experiments is no cause for optimism. Usually everyone loses because people won’t cooperate. This research suggests it’s not surprising people aren’t wearing masks or social distancing – lots of people defect from groups when facing a collective risk. By the same token, I’d expect that, as a group, we will fail at addressing the collective risk of COVID-19, because groups usually fail. For more than 150,000 Americans so far, this has meant losing everything there is to lose.

But don’t abandon all hope. In some of these experiments, the groups win and successfully prevent the losses associated with the collective risk. What makes winning more likely? Things like keeping a running tally of what others are contributing, observing others’ behaviors, communication and coordination before and during play, and democratic implementation of an enforceable rule requiring contributions.

For those of us in the United States, these conditions are out of reach when it comes to COVID-19. You can’t know what others are contributing to the fight against the coronavirus, especially if you socially distance yourself. It’s impossible to keep a running tally of what the other 328 million people in the U.S. are doing. And communication and coordination are not feasible outside of your own small group.

Even if these factors were achievable, they still require the very cooperative behavior that’s in short supply. The scale of the pandemic is simply too great for any of this to be possible.

Promoting Cooperation with Moral Enhancement

It seems that the U.S. is not currently equipped to cooperatively lower the risk confronting us. Many are instead pinning their hopes on the rapid development and distribution of an enhancement to the immune system – a vaccine.

But I believe society may be better off, both in the short term as well as the long, by boosting not the body’s ability to fight off disease but the brain’s ability to cooperate with others. What if researchers developed and delivered a moral enhancer rather than an immunity enhancer?

Moral enhancement is the use of substances to make you more moral. The psychoactive substances act on your ability to reason about what the right thing to do is, or your ability to be empathetic or altruistic or cooperative.

For example, oxytocin, the chemical that, among other things, can induce labor or increase the bond between mother and child, may cause a person to be more empathetic and altruistic, more giving and generous. The same goes for psilocybin, the active component of “magic mushrooms.” These substances have been shown to lower aggressive behavior in those with antisocial personality disorderand to improve the ability of sociopaths to recognize emotion in others.

These substances interact directly with the psychological underpinnings of moral behavior; others that make you more rational could also help. Then, perhaps, the people who choose to go maskless or flout social distancing guidelines would better understand that everyone, including them, is better off when they contribute, and rationalize that the best thing to do is cooperate.

A moral booster rather than an immunological one?Jeffrey Hamilton/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Moral Enhancement as an Alternative to Vaccines

There are of course pitfalls to moral enhancement.

One is that the science isn’t developed enough. For example, while oxytocin may cause some people to be more pro-social, it also appears to encourage ethnocentrism, and so is probably a bad candidate for a widely distributed moral enhancement. But this doesn’t mean that a morality pill is impossible. The solution to the underdeveloped science isn’t to quit on it, but to direct resources to related research in neuroscience, psychology or one of the behavioral sciences.

Another challenge is that the defectors who need moral enhancement are also the least likely to sign up for it. As some have argued, a solution would be to make moral enhancement compulsoryor administer it secretly, perhaps via the water supply. These actions require weighing other values. Does the good of covertly dosing the public with a drug that would change people’s behavior outweigh individuals’ autonomy to choose whether to participate? Does the good associated with wearing a mask outweigh an individual’s autonomy to not wear one?

The scenario in which the government forces an immunity booster upon everyone is plausible. And the military has been forcing enhancements like vaccines or “uppers” upon soldiers for a long time. The scenario in which the government forces a morality booster upon everyone is far-fetched. But a strategy like this one could be a way out of this pandemic, a future outbreak or the suffering associated with climate change. That’s why we should be thinking of it now.

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85 comments

  1. Maritimer

    These socio-psycho researchers scare the hell out of me with their science. Folks should watch the movie Experimenter as an example.

    In my jurisdiction, Nudge Theory or Opt-Out is being used to get the dumb and stupid folk to Do The Right Thing:

    The monopoly power company has been granted the right to forced installation of Smart (maybe in the long run, Dumb) Meters but a knowledgeable citizen can Opt Out. But you must be knowledgeable since the power company does not tell anyone about Opt Out with their material. I Opted Out for privacy reasons alone.

    In my jurisdiction, they have also passed an Organ Harvesting Act and, again, you may Opt Out. But will there be Full Disclosure by the harvesters: to whom do the organs/tissue go? Do you want your organ going to a nasty Billionaire? Do you want your tissue to go to Big Pharma for research? And this Opt Out goes on your medical record, labeling you as a Dissenter and Refusenik, insults already used against those who would Opt Out on unproved vaccines.

    In this regard an interesting book is Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman wherein many techniques to manipulate the Human Mind are revealed and even wonderingly glorified. My recollection is that there is no reservation offered about the uses to which this research may be put whether Good or Evil. It is the Research that is important. The fact that there are over 2100 Billionaires who may use it as they wish is irrelevant.

    So, for me, beware the socio-psycho researchers and the good they will do me.

    Reply
  2. Noone from Nowheresville

    The Reavers, they made them. — Serenity

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-NVs68X_S4

    For more recent government drug administration

    At urging of Minneapolis police, Hennepin EMS workers subdued dozens with a powerful sedative
    EMS workers used date rape drug ketamine, stopping some suspects’ hearts or breathing.
    By Andy Mannix Star Tribune
    June 15, 2018 — 12:16pm

    https://www.startribune.com/at-urging-of-police-hennepin-emts-subdued-dozens-with-powerful-sedative/485607381/

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether

      > ketamine

      Eesh. Remember the Thai Cave Boys rescue? That’s what the extraction team used to sedate the boys, so they could be pulled through the water-filled cave by divers without panicking. Heavy, heavy stuff. Yikes.

      Reply
      1. Merf56

        So, they should have given them nothing and then all died from panicked induced drowning??? Really?? Very very poor example against this …

        Reply
        1. ZacP

          My understanding of his point was that the Thai rescue illustrates the effects of ketamine, and it’s scary to think about being made against your will to become so compliant.

          Reply
        2. Jack

          Two things:

          Were the boys given a choice?

          Were they told beforehand they were going to be ketamined or whatever it’s called?

          Reply
      2. rd

        That was after a lot of debate inside the resuce teams and govenrment with substantial medical support. I think a couple of the rescue divers were doctors.

        Reply
    2. Darius

      Ketamine is what the paramedics used to kill Elijah McClain in Aurora, Colo. A guy perfectly healthy, then he’s intercepted by the police, who call the paramedics, who kill him.

      Reply
  3. Amfortas the hippie

    small town, far exurban orbit north of houston, circa 1986:
    I was a stoner…primarily because those were the only clique that accepted me(i “blew their minds”, and thus was a form of entertainment).
    while getting high in one of the abandoned subdivision projects…or tripping on shrooms or acid at someone’s house or deer lease…and thinking about the state of the world, secretly dosing the general population with Xtacy or LSD would invariably be put forth as a potential solution to the societal ills we saw all around us(satanic cult scares, corporate hair metal as envoys of satan,cops chasing potheads, and not caring about the rednecks with baseball bats…nor about the Very Important People who everyone knew were child abusers, or kept a girl locked in a cage out back…)
    having partaken of many entheogens in my time, I am all for having the freedom to explore one’s mind, and what it’s connected to at those deeper levels…legalising and legitimising those substances would be a good thing.
    and i see nothing wrong with a chemically induced meeting with god, or the spirit of the universe or whatever(the details don’t really matter).
    the problem is that every such spiritual endeavor carries the threat of being used by the psychopaths in charge to head off any challenge to the status quo and worse.
    just look at how the religion purporting to adhere to the socialistic and humanist utterings of a jewish carpenter has been misused in service of war and rapine…from Constantinian Shift….to much, much worse since around 1970.
    Lack of connection…to other humans…or to “Nature”(as if that is a somehow separate category from “Human”)…or whatever one’s conception is of the Ground of Being(and the pluralistic corollary that we must allow others to find that in their own way, instead of universalising our own conceptions) …is the problem.
    we’re made into cogs and vehicles and just so much machinery for consumption…shorn of the ability to think for ourselves, let alone to feel like we’re part of something ineffable and grand.
    it’s no wonder, really.
    we tend to universalise the wrong things….”my religion”(whether islam, snake handling xtianity, the “catholic”(“universal) church, or neoliberal antihumanism.)…”is the only TRUE religion)
    it’s that single vision i mentioned the other day.
    I am more than my skin tone or genitalia or profit producing capacity..

    (and…it wasn’t Dylan, but Walt Whitman, who said:”Do i contradict myself? verily, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes
    He also said “I am not contained between my hat and my boots”)

    Reply
  4. vlade

    People say there’s a thin line between the right thing and the wrong thing.

    That’s actually wrong. There are few, if any, absolutely good things, that would benefit literally everyone, at all the times.

    There are only choices, and the consequences. Given that we can’t predict the full consequences for most of our actions, we have to accept that there will be problems.

    Of course, that leads to second order of problems – if you accept that there will be problems, it can often lead to marginalisation and saying “so what, someone is going ot get hurt, so let’s do something anyways”, or conversely, either a decision paralysis or closing your eyes and claiming that your solution _is_ the right one and does not hurt anyone.

    IMO, the main thing here is the ability to take the responsbility and live with the consequences. Because consequences are the only things guaranteed.

    Reply
    1. Krystyn Podgajski

      You cannot do good without first creating bad. It is a natural law. Know this and you will not have a moral bone left in your body, but you will still always do the right thing, and you will most likely do a lot less.

      Reply
      1. Nick Alcock

        Nothing quite like argument by assertion, is there. (This seems debatable at best and outright untrue at worst and surely depends on how you define “good” and “bad”, but, no, you just assert it.)

        For the record: this is not a natural law. The universe is not so kind. Natural laws know nothing of “good” and “bad” and are quite happy to vaporise the paltry skin of complicated chemistry known as all life on earth without a qualm (the complete destruction of all life and the loss of all history without trace would probably be considered bad, right?). Far larger events happen many times in the cosmos every day. The universe does not care.

        Reply
        1. Henry Moon Pie

          “The universe does not care.”

          For someone so critical of “argument by assertion,” you’ve sure made a very big claim without much evidence.

          As to Krystyn’s point:

          Everybody knowing that goodness is good makes wickedness…

          That’s why the wise soul does without doing, teaches without talking

          .

          Tao te Ching, # 2, trans: Ursula K. Le Guin

          Reply
  5. Stephen The Tech Critic

    > For example, while oxytocin may cause some people to be more pro-social, it also appears to encourage ethnocentrism

    Whoa, can’t have that! Just imagine what would happen if you just handed out LSD to the public, calling it “consciousness expansion”. You might accidentally start a counter-cultural revolution!

    Just kidding of course. Drugs like LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin are powerful psychotherapeutic tools but hardly elixirs of enlightenment, especially without some kind of cultural frame. At the very least, people must be willing participants, and this is not merely an “ethical” requirement. Forced administration of such drugs, with or without peoples’ knowledge, would likely have the opposite intended effect. And ethically speaking, forced administration of psychedelic drugs in the context of “social/cultural normalization programs” could be considered tantamount to torture or ethnocide in certain cases. I find it rather appalling but not surprising that the author fails to account for the enormous abuse potential of such practices.

    While I may be reassured that this author seems to be rather ignorant of the functional limitations of the drugs he mentioned and that it’s not likely we’ll discover any drugs that achieve the intended effects anytime soon, I’m concerned by the emerging authoritarian inclinations of the PMC as of late.

    Thinking through all the crazy Liberal IdPol / “cancel culture” / cult-inquisition stuff going on these days, I made a connection to the Nebari race in the TV SciFi/Fantasy serial “Farscape”. The Nebari’s specialty was the mind cleanse, which was a kind of cultural purification process (involving an electronic brain-implant torture device, of course) that was performed on subjects who did not conform to the Nebari’s extremely strict norms of social behavior. IMO, the whole series is worth watching, and I can’t say much more without giving spoilers.

    Reply
    1. Judith

      Yes, regarding the false notions about the commons. He might also like to read about CIA experiments with psychoactive drugs. (Wasn’t there a link here just recently?)

      Reply
        1. Alex Cox

          I thought the same thing – this sounds like CIA mind control experiments from the 1950s. Wonder who funds his research?

          Reply
  6. Mel

    This is what modern professionalism is like. You can hire a professional accountant to control what goes into your accounts, and you can hire an ethicist to control what goes into your ethics. It’s not that the result you get will be something that some ancient fogey would have called “ethical” .. the important thing is that your result will be couched in the terms of ethics, and will fit within the discourse of ethics. You can take it to the Ethics Bank, and they will know what it is.

    Reply
      1. Amfortas the hippie

        like so much else, they’re selling the appearance of ethics.

        regarding the contradiction between freedom to come up with your own thing, and having to live together with others who have the same freedom…that’s always near the roots of our problems.
        The problem,maybe, is that we’re prone…whether by nature or nurture or both…to look for hard fast simple explanations and rules.
        but that gets us right back to orthodoxy and unconsciousness…around and around, in Socrates’ cycle of social formations….
        I like Habermas for a way forward….”more enlightenment”…and discourse as a way of updating and temporarily arriving at some commons….and continuing to talk about it as conditions change.
        there’s no end of the tunnel, but there’s lights along the way, if we can find the switches in the dark.
        Linear time is a bummer, because it posits an End State.
        call it the Fukyama Trap, perhaps.

        Reply
      2. Mel

        That would be the goal, I guess. Professional ethicists could delineate ethical issues clearly enough that actuaries could properly price the risk of ethical accidents.

        Reply
  7. Krystyn Podgajski

    Well why do y’all think they suddenly wanted to legalize cannabis? They are already doing what the article fears!

    https://quitmarijuana.org/blog/oxytocin-and-marijuana-an-overview-of-the-uc-berkeley-study/

    Why do we experience euphoria from smoking marijuana, you ask? A recent study by researchers at the University of California (the Berkeley campus) reveals that that THC triggers the release of Oxytocin, the same hormone in the brain that gets released during close positive social interaction, such as a hug or kiss with a close friend or lover.

    Reply
    1. rob

      There may be “a kernel of truth “in that…. but basically it is hogwash.
      Cannabis is not “anti-social”. it doesn’t “turn people into loners”…. society turns people into loners…. most stoners, bake with friends at every opportunity… and always have. It may even be that people are born with a certain “wiring” in the brain, and self medicating is what people do to “re-wire” themselves… The fact is, there is an anecdote out there, for every situation , you would like to imagine…
      People have been smoking weed for way too long for these ” studies” who pretend one ” fact” is all they need to justify a totally unrelated conclusion.
      The facts may be that people have different reactions to various substances, but a study like that which flies in the face of all of the experiences , of all the people I know, and have known for decades….doesn’t stand out as anything but a likely bias of the authors.
      That is the beauty of psychedelics…. they are not “reproducible”…. the setting effects the outcome.Even for the same person. People ought not be taught “fear”…under the guise of “science”.

      Reply
      1. Krystyn Podgajski

        Anecdotally I will have to disagree. I have two friends who are heavy users who recently quit smoking. They were extremely antisocial when they were smoking pot and now they’re our pleasure to be around. my one friend would just stay in her room all day after work. And now even she notices the change. We are not talking about old school pot anymore. This new stuff is way different, and way stronger. I agree that society plays a role, but the weed is not helping any.

        pro cannabis people never talk about the genetic variability of outcomes and taking the drug. And that’s a big problem.

        Reply
        1. lyman alpha blob

          I keep hearing that the new stuff is way different. I’ve been hearing it for decades now. That has not been my experience at all.

          Perhaps for someone trying marijuana for the first time, today’s weed packs a bit more punch than what one could find in 1968, or maybe there are higher concentrations of THC in some edibles than you would get from smoking. But I don’t see much difference at all just smoking a joint between what was available in the late 80s and what’s available today.

          Your mileage may vary of course.

          Reply
          1. Krystyn Podgajski

            Maybe you have just gotten used to it. But there is science behind the talk.

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4987131/

            A total of 38,681samples of cannabis preparations were received and analyzed between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2014. The data showed that, while the number of marijuana samples seized over the last four years has declined, the number of sinsemilla samples has increased. Overall, the potency of illicit cannabis plant material has consistently risen over time since 1995 from approximately 4% in 1995 to approximately 12% in 2014. On the other hand, the CBD content has fallen on average from approximately 0.28% in 2001 to <0.15% in 2014, resulting in a change in the ratio of THC to CBD from 14 times in 1995 to approximately 80 times in 2014.

            Reply
            1. rob

              I think you are looking at it wrong.
              All that talk of “stronger weed” doesn’t really take into account that back in the day, my friends would sit down and smoke a 1/2 oz, or an oz…. or so… on any given night. Now we wouldn’t have to buy pounds,we would just be getting ounces. The strength, is just equivalent were the dose the same. And nowadays, I like the stronger weed because I don’t have to smoke as much. Now people can vape, or do bong hits and smoke less. Good for the lungs, but really people are probably imbibing similar amounts of thc. They used to have rolling papers that came in rolls. to make “big joints. At a beach party, we rolled a quarter pound joint that was smoked by about fifty people standing along the stairs going up and down the cliffs of long island.
              And there was some really good weed back then… you just had to get some while it was around. there was also tons of “bhang”, nowadays not worth smoking. But I remember the thai stick, the chocolate buddha, the afghani ,the good green….. etc…Names just meant less back then. I still have a bag from turkey that had a five pound block of the blonde hash…
              And back in the eighties, I remember doing school reports of the “science” that was done at government labs where they were getting this official “schwag”/garbage weed… to show what would happen…
              I remember the propaganda about smoking causing cancer in rats… which was really….. if you smoked 120 joints a day for ten years, you would be getting an equivalent of what we are giving to these rats… and you may… get cancer… well I’ll be…
              Don’t forget, weed has been used for thousands of years. so the science has to remember that this isn’t something cooked up at perdue labs..
              When I was in nepal in the early nineties, I remember that only the old people smoked… and the hash in those days was great.Landrace plants growing all over… people with bags of kief to roll into joints… and you could get it for a dollar. A person I knew was a peace corp volunteer who was in a village where all the people did to make money was make hash… the whole mountainside was covered in pot. In pohkra there was a ten foot tall pot plant,buds and all, in the middle of the tables at a street side eating spot… Another friend of mine used to go to jamaica once a year to help with the harvest…. he came back one time with a 1/2 pound of some “white” weed… would match todays good stuff, taped to his legs on the plane… the airways were lax back in the day.

              Reply
                1. Nick Alcock

                  Of course the human brain also coevolved with cocaine, magic mushrooms, and all manner of lethal diseases (albeit, in some cases, way back in our evolutionary history). If it didn’t, they couldn’t affect us at all.

                  Coevolution is not always, or even often, friendly, even if it can and does lead to astonishing evolutionary innovations. All predator/prey relationships are coevolution in action.

                  Reply
        2. rob

          Actually Krystyn,
          “pro-pot” people who aren’t some jerk kid trying to goad some other newbie into doing something they are not comfortable with, have been saying for decades ,” to each his/her own”. I’ve been smoking for almost 4 decades now, and I have to say…. the new weed is great. I am a big fan. But really it is just ” the old good stuff” that is being hybridized to create new versions. After all, hash and hash oil, and kief…. have always been around, if you wanted thc levels above 20% or 30%. I was cooking with herb 30 years ago… and the edible path… is also great…The only thing new , is the selection people get to make, instead of just getting what is coming through . And the new science of production, is bringing better consistency. Which is a good thing.
          There have always been people having different experiences… one friend of mine would take speed and get drowsy, and when he would do “downers” it would get him up…. But that doesn’t really effect the discussion at all..
          Meaning, some people want to decide things for other people because of how things effect them. I don’t tell people who don’t like pot…. they should smoke it anyway… and all I’m saying is that that study, was really trying to say things that aren’t true of everyone… but offer a one size fits all prescription.
          This is like the abortion issue, having a choice doesn’t mean doing it is mandatory. But having a prohibition of anything, means people can’t decide for themselves.
          I would say though that as far as “giving the people bread and circuses”is surely some peoples rationale for allowing the end of marijauna prohibition. But really, the people who have faced the persecution for the love of weed for the last five decades during the “drug war”, who are the people who want it legalized, are not in it to control the population.
          After all, 70 years ago, it wasn’t really a big deal. It was still growing on the sides of roads in ohio, and elsewhere.People smoked it , and nobody really cared.
          In fact the legalization of pot, is one of(if not the only) good thing going on in this world.on a policy front.
          And of, course… good luck to your friends finding out who they are.

          Reply
  8. flora

    Maybe we need politicians who actually give a toss about the entire country, not just their DC and personal environs. Pols who don’t go on vacation in the middle of a crisis.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      Right. Give the politicians and big business leaders the drugs to promote more pro-social behavior.

      As for the above, it merely reinforces the paranoia in some quarters that the virus is all about social control. One could point out that “public health guidelines” are constantly changing and that Fauci himself at first said not to wear masks. While I believe people should wear masks in stores as a courtesy if nothing else this has morphed into a notion by some that you are threatening my life by not wearing a mask even though the science is hardly definitive. Indeed there seems to be some doubt whether any active government intervention will “end” the virus as opposed to merely suppress it for awhile until it reappears later.

      Therefore this “ethicist” is promoting a sort of guilt before proof approach to the law where the assertions of technocrats will control society. I’m starting to feel more paranoid myself.

      Reply
  9. rick j shapir

    Including foot-binding among your list of “medical brutality to enforce behavior” suggests that you have never read Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. The motivation behind foot binding was clearly to demonstrate that one can support dependents who are incapable of doing useful work.

    Reply
    1. fwe'zy

      Doesn’t take away from its medical brutality or role in enforcing behavior. Even the fact that some women liked having their feet bound, or the fact that some men liked the sweet rotting flesh smell, doesn’t take away from those. Veblen references always welcome, tho.

      Reply
      1. witters

        It is, but it remains too an act of ‘conspicuous consumption’ in Veblen’s sense: “The use of wealth as a display of one’s superior riches.”

        Reply
    1. hunkerdown

      The Hamptons are not a dispensable prescription.

      It’s telling that the Professor didn’t advocate the elimination of bourgeois politics, which is very arguably the root cause of mask non-compliance. I suspect that the class system would fall right apart when the predators that comprise the ruling classes are no longer capable of keeping the beasts under management and in the shooting zoo.

      Reply
  10. The Rev Kev

    Jesus wept. I have not read an article like this since that one a few short years ago when another professor was saying that perhaps re-introducing limited slavery was not such a bad idea. I suspect that Parker Crutchfield just wants his old life back again which lead to this rant. If he is an Associate Professor of Medical Ethics, Humanities and Law, then perhaps he should devote his time to other questions to do with medical ethics. How about-

    Is it ethical for a corporation to charge $3,000 dollars on a treatment that only costs a dollar to manufacture so that only people like the good professor can hope to afford?

    Is it ethical for a corporation to manufacture and push drug to all and sundry when they know that that drug is so dangerous that it leads to the death of over 40,000 of their fellow citizens in an annual basis?

    Is it ethical to bankrupt tens of thousands of families annually in order for a corporation to make more money than god?

    How about another tack. Is it logical for a government to lie to their citizenry about the usefulness and safety of masks for months. And then wonder why those same citizens jack up when told that they now have to wear masks? He seems to think that the answer is to keep people doped up on happy pills for ‘moral enhancement’ or some such. Maybe he is tired of the riots and total dissatisfaction of people with the remnants of their lives under a crumbling system. I see that Noone from Nowheresville and Amfortas at least have also thought of the origin of the Reavers when the good professor is spruiking some sort of happy pill on ‘moral’ grounds. So I have one final question for this professor of ethics-

    Is it ethical that when a population are totally unhappy with a deteriorating system under the stress of a general financial collapse as well as a world wide pandemic, to recommend happy pills to deal with their problems? That is akin to having a coupla suffering a broken marriage to just gobble up some happy pills to forget their troubles rather than dealing with them face to face. Not a good idea that.

    Reply
    1. rob

      You are completely correct, but that is “high school level stuff”.. and this guy clearly is at a “kindergarden” level of understanding….
      how about the ethics of him taking money to write of something he has no understanding of..

      Reply
    2. Anonymous

      Is it ethical that when a population are totally unhappy with a deteriorating system under the stress of a general financial collapse as well as a world wide pandemic, to recommend happy pills to deal with their problems? Rev Kev

      That depends; for those in charge:

      It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
      It is not for kings to drink wine,
      Or for rulers to desire strong drink,
      For they will drink and forget what is decreed,
      And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
      Proverbs 31:4-5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      For others:

      Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
      And wine to him whose life is bitter.
      Let him drink and forget his poverty
      And remember his trouble no more.
      Proverbs 31:6-7 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      Reply
  11. rob

    this article proves this “professor” ought to get another job. Were he to have even the basest clue as to what “good” is. This guy is clueless, despite it being his field of “research”….. well there is some money paid to his employment that was heartily pissed away.
    So much to just say,”WOW”…WTF?
    This guy seems to want to re-start where MK-ultra left off. He is looking for “soma”… but seems to have no actual experience of acid,or shrooms…. of oxycontin… . his “theory” is so baseless, it can only come from ignorance.
    I actually think that as a society, we would be better off were all these hallucinogens and psychoactive plants were “legal”. Legalize the cannabis, the acid, the mushrooms,etc…
    Things like oxycontin and should be left to the realm of pain relief… they are not too likely to “enhance” ones worldview….
    All experimentation needs to be at the discretion of the user… always. This moron thinking he can “dose” the public to be better citizens… is a fascists dream. The state had its “psychedelic trials”…. generally all going horribly wrong…. imagine that giving people something to trip on in a sterilized hospital setting under the scrutiny of doctors in lab coats, who offer no “connection” to nature…. as opposed to people being in a comfortable setting, where one is free to roam… as needed..can change the result from good to bad…not really reflecting what the substance can do at all… but those results have already been observed… so why is this person too thick to learn from past mistakes?
    It really just says this guy is ignorant of “ethics”.. and drugs. and is just someone getting paid to do something he is unqualified for.
    WoW?

    Reply
  12. diptherio

    Dosing everyone via the water supply?!? Is this guy insane? Has he ever tripped his balls off? Does he even know what he is suggesting? An unexpected and unasked for mushroom or acid trip is guaranteed to freak the crap out of most people and will certainly NOT lead to more pro-social behavior. It will lead to a lot of really bad trips and will result in even higher levels of (totally justified) paranoia. Psychedelics don’t magically make you more cooperative, as this dunce seems to think. If they did, the sociopaths on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley wouldn’t be into mirco-dosing, now would they? This guy is an idiot, and a dangerous one at that…or maybe he’s just trippin’.

    Reply
    1. rick shapiro

      I hear that the Yippies are back, with a plot to destroy the Republican Party. They plan dump milk of magnesia into water supplies all over the country. -loosen up a lot of attitudes.

      Reply
  13. Merf56

    Heck’s Bells….. half the country is on antidepressants and anti anxiety drugs and the country is still chockablock full with haters and angry people… some of the angriest people I know are on antidepressants as a matter of fact. This author is off the wall. Is it too much to hope it was written as a Jonathan Swift style essay? Otherwise it’s just bonkers.

    Reply
  14. none

    How about giving the morality pills to politicians, who claim to be moral anyway, so they shouldn’t object. Heh.

    Did they do something like forced morality in Star Wars? They made millions of morality-enhanced clones of Django Fett, but Django got them to leave the morality enhancement out of one of the clones, Boba Fett. That’s the one Django raised as his son. Of course the moral clone army was used for a highly moral purpose, namely preserving and enhancing the might of the Empire. Again heh.

    Reply
    1. diptherio

      Not satirical, sadly. Looks like he’s been writing peer-reviewed papers on this for awhile now:

      Compulsory moral bioenhancement should be covert

      Some theorists argue that moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory. I take this argument one step further, arguing that if moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory, then its administration ought to be covert rather than overt. This is to say that it is morally preferable for compulsory moral bioenhancement to be administered without the recipients knowing that they are receiving the enhancement. My argument for this is that if moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory, then its administration is a matter of public health, and for this reason should be governed by public health ethics. I argue that the covert administration of a compulsory moral bioenhancement program better conforms to public health ethics than does an overt compulsory program. In particular, a covert compulsory program promotes values such as liberty, utility, equality, and autonomy better than an overt program does. Thus, a covert compulsory moral bioenhancement program is morally preferable to an overt moral bioenhancement program.

      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30157295/

      Creepy, creepy stuff, presented in earnest. [shudder]

      Reply
    2. Irrational

      I hope you are right.
      As a minimum a bio”ethicist” should consider the potential adverse effects of administering these drugs to an entire population with different tolerances, use of tap water (or whatever the medium) etc.

      Reply
    3. Yves Smith Post author

      In addition to what Diptherio said, The Conversation does NOT do satire. It has lots of serious academic institutions and not-for-profits as funders.

      Reply
      1. witters

        Well, it doesn’t ‘do it’ intentionally, but sometimes it slips through just because of their ‘seriousness.’ (Not this time though – “Bioethicists” take themselves to be “applied ethicists”, and these benighted people think i) ethical truth is to be found in ‘Ethical Theory’, ii) they themselves have a handle on what that theory is, and iii) they are uniquely qualified to “apply” that theory to the complexities of the world in a rationally and ethically impeachable way. I think of them as a College of Dunces.)

        Reply
    1. Nick Alcock

      He does say oxytocin is a bad choice, and why (it seems to be “pro-tribal”, encouraging close bonds and simultaneously encouraging hatred of the “other”).

      Not that his idea is *good*, mind you.

      Reply
  15. freedomny

    This guy has lost his marbles. I do think though that we should be giving psychological tests to anyone who wants to run for public office to ascertain any sociopath tendencies.

    Reply
  16. Tom Stone

    John Yoo would be the perfect choice to craft the needed legislation!
    After all, he’s a tenured professor at UC Berkeley and you can’t get more liberal then Berkeley, can you?
    Call it the “Make America Good Again ” Act.

    Reply
  17. HotFlash

    I wish I could remember the name and author of the sci-fi story about a world where all of the politicians wore bombs on their backs and every one of their constituents had a button that would set the bomb off. The narrator asked his guide, as politicians across the landscape exploded at intervals, how there were still any politicians left. IIRC, the guide responded, “Oh, there’s always someone willing to do the job.”

    Me, I would add ‘experts’ to the bomb-wearing group — economists, maybe, but this guy for sure. Did he become an ethicist to find out what an ethic was? If so, he shoulda failed, but given my experience with Higher Education, he probably got a doctorate.

    Reply
  18. Dwight

    He wants to do away with both the informed and the consent in informed consent, which I thought was central to law and medical ethics. What are the teaching at ASU and WMU? This guy teaches in the med school and consults on clinical trials?

    Reply
  19. David

    This is clumsy and unintentionally hilarious, but it does actually, raise an interesting point of principle: is it permissible for a government to force behaviour on citizens, directly or indirectly, in the public good? Most people would say “yes”, in the sense that we demand that people obey motoring laws, for example, not drive while drunks, ands forth. Beyond libertarians, who think that the governments should have no power to force them to do anything, there’s also a considerable constituency in Europe, at least, who think that governments have already overstepped the mark since 2001, and that no further limitations on personal freedom (like lockdown) are acceptable. But if you take the contrary view, why and how is this proposal unacceptable in theory – never mind whether it’s practicable? What’s the conceptual difference between forcing people to stay at home and wear masks when they go out, and putting something in the water to encourage them to do so?

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      doing shrooms has never, ever made me want to wear a mask…and in fact, on a few occasions(when i got into the stems more than i should have), i thought i was being suffocated by a mask when i most certainly wasn’t.
      I’m surprised this guy is publishing out in the open like this…i figured his brand of science was kept deep in the bowels of cia/etc facilities.
      proto-eichmann, right there.

      Reply
      1. lordkoos

        A social system that needs a drug to enforce empathy for others is truly on its last legs… the end times indeed.

        Reply
    2. Fritzi

      In one case it is possible that they realize that there are good reasons for the law (assuming there are for sake of the argument, though I definitely think there actually are, or can be, depending on the severity of the situation), realize that their convenience does not outrank the wish of others to live and stay unharmed, which gives those that don’t agree with this the possibility to make an informed choice to break the law, in full knowledge of the consequences they risk.

      In the other case there is no room for any such informed, meaningful decisions.

      It’s kinda funny.

      According to what I have been told all my life, I would have thought that that the first option would be perfect with conservative conceptions of morality.

      Reply
      1. Amfortas the hippie

        “According to what I have been told all my life, I would have thought that that the first option would be perfect with conservative conceptions of morality.”

        lol. that’s the most frustrating thing about “conservatives”.
        the apparent comfort with which they live with so many cognitive dissonances is pretty remarkable.
        of course, “progressives” are going in that same direction in their own way…but the gop rank and file perfected it long ago.

        Reply
  20. Tom Bradford

    Who gets to decide what’s ‘moral’?

    Abortion? Abortion only to save the mother’s life? Compulsory abortion of the defective fetus? Pre-marital sex? Homosexuality? An eye for an eye? Not sharing your family’s last loaf with starving strangers? Does an 80-year-old widow have a better ‘moral’ claim to a place in the Titanic’s life-boats than a 20-year-old father? Suffering a witch to live? Switching the points to save the lives of five strangers or your child’s?

    Would you want a morality pill prescribed by the Pope? Your local Imam? An atheist? Donald Trump? An ethicist?

    An unbelievably crass article.

    Reply
    1. Tom Bradford

      To enlarge on my criticism, the author assumes without question that it is ‘immoral’ to act against the interests of the community at large. Yet is it not possible to argue that to continue on mankind’s present course of environmental exhaustion and destruction, global warming etc. is making the earth uninhabitable for future generations and thus immoral. Hence allowing ‘nature’s’ remedy of a pandemic to reduce the population, and hence the load, is in fact the moral response.

      Reply
    2. ChrisPacific

      Yes, there is a massive unstated assumption in all of this, namely that the authority responsible for the decision to make something like this compulsory (or worse, covert) can be trusted to act morally. For example, does anybody think that Wall Street CEOs, corrupt revolving door regulators, or those who were complicit in the robosigning/mortgage fraud affair would be prioritized for morality meds? Or would it be used in the US to further criminalize poverty?

      Another unstated assumption is the idea that morality is absolute and we won’t get differences of opinion over what is or isn’t moral. This is almost self-evidently not true, and needs to be addressed. The author tried to finesse it by defining it as cooperative and pro-social behavior, but what about somebody like Martin Luther King, for example? Would the Civil Rights movement have been possible if something like this had been in place?

      Reply
  21. orlbucfan

    The author is a mix of yahoo stupid and nuts. It is not ethical to force psychedelics on the general public, period. A lot of folks can’t handle them. I did plenty of LSCrazy and mushrooms back in the day. No problem, no flashbacks, etc. but everyone is different. It smells like a stinky form of fascism to me.

    Reply
  22. 1 Kings

    By the way, I will take this guy’s pills, but only if he goes first. And via the down shaft, not the mouth…

    Reply

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