Home › Dialogue Page › Human Redesign: Pharmaceuticals, Bioelectronics, and Genetics › Enhancement Usage and Changing Social Norms
April 15, 2016 at 4:09 am #5899
Something that strikes me as particularly intriguing is the discussion of the enhancement project as a somewhat novel phenomenon, one that will radically transform the way that we interact with each other and the world. I have two thoughts about the way that the proposals of the enhancement project, particularly in terms of bioenhancement for emotional manipulation and pharmaceutical advantage, have been framed: first, I think that something to note–and Dr. Bess certainly discusses this to a degree–is that the bioenhancement project will naturally occur over a period of time that will allow for an adjustment of our social practices, economic ideals, and normative regulations. Because of this, the way that society will react to or shape our taking on of bioenhancement will always have a degree of unpredictability, but will also create a “new normal” that will redefine how we see health and wellness and thereby “raise the bar” of what is considered an enhancement. To this end, I think that the framing of bioenhancement as a novel phenomena is interesting to examine, because we already see it happening today: our definition of wellness is far different than it was even fifty years ago, and we can already see how cognitive “enhancements” of today (like study drugs) have changed the “norm.” This brings me to the second point, which is that I think the novelty of the bioenhancement project is actually a little less mystifying and awe-inspiring than we may think. In other words, I believe that we need to recognize that this enhancement project has already taken hold, and that we already attempt to manipulate our feelings, behaviors, and the like through pharmaceuticals in particular. Widespread over-usage of anti-anxiety medications for non-medical purposes (which is discussed at length in the “Pharmaceuticals” section of the book) is already an issue, for instance. And in our current cultural moment, even though this usage is widespread, we still tend to value the “natural” state over the medically-induced one; we still seem to believe that it’s a more valuable emotion if it was attained autonomously. Because of this, whatever enhancements come about in the future with regard to emotional and cognitive manipulation, I believe they will be always compared to whatever state we believe is “natural” (the definition of which may, of course, shift). And with respect to whatever that norm becomes, enhancements will perhaps be largely taken on with a heavy dose of trepidation, as they are now. There is nuance to this, of course, as the new “normal” may be, compared to our current normal, very much enhanced. But I think that this degree of valuing whatever we consider “natural” will continue to be a pervasive one for quite some time, and will keep the enhancement project from advancing at some ridiculously alarming rate–and certainly is part of the reason that this is not a linear process.
April 15, 2016 at 4:53 am #5905
mermat, I agree that the widespread acceptance of what is normal has changed and will likely continue to change gradually over time, but I would like to add that this may not always be the case, as you have briefly touched on. I see two potential scenarios where this trend may halt:
First, at some point physically noticeable modifications to the human form may become so prominent and so widespread that the perceived average that is often associate with “natural” becomes lost. Take the stereotype surrounding Portland, Oregon for example. To a small degree, people tend to expect somewhat strange things to happen in Portland. This state of expecting something weird to happen makes the state of being weird more normal; however, it is not a singular, clear existence. Any average of the people in Portland would be a meaningless assessment of the population and, therefore, not representative of what the locals consider to be normal.
Second, almost all humans could develop cognitive abilities to the point that they may neglect the impact of concepts that do not present a definitive influence. This possibility relies on future humanity universally determining that “natural” is not a meaningful distinction.
April 15, 2016 at 3:19 pm #5916
I second OP——the division of “natural” and “enhanced” is a temporally contextual distinction at best, and is meaningless at worst. In Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the narrator contemplates the aversion to the unnatural and the technological: “The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha…which is to demean oneself.” I know this is a bit of a diversion from our usual semi-grounded discussion, but I think it’s important to get down to the core philosophical issues here. Is all of Nature natural? Is humanity a part of Nature? Is there a distinct boundary of the Self, and if so, if it necessary to maintain it?
In my humble opinion, it was the twentieth century that witnessed peak mechanization; peak separation of humans and nature. I don’t see this trend continuing this century. A continual integration of society, the world, and technology may come to make distinctions between such categories less meaningful.
April 15, 2016 at 6:56 pm #5952
RobbieEpps, I see exactly what you mean. However, I’m not arguing that there is ever a strict definition of what is “natural”–to the contrary, actually: I think that as we move toward a new definition of natural for each individual community and social context, things will always be compared to what has been defined as “natural” in the present.
As we progress, in other words, we will always compare ourselves to the norms of the present time. There will always be social norms to some degree, and I’m saying that the shifting of these norms (which is unpredictable and always happening) will be relative to the norms that exist before they shift.
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