We are ambivalent about performance enhancing drugs. Not just illicit kinds, but even those that reduce sadness, anxiety, or tolerate reality more effectively. Of course there are those people that are too eager to take medications, classifying every twinge into a disorder that demands a google-able treatment, but by and large, as a psychiatrist, I see the opposite. People want to be “better,” however that may be defined, while skipping reliance on a therapist or medication.
Skip B, go directly to F. If only that were possible.
I was interested that this theme is reflected by two recent entries into the neurothriller sci-fi genre—Limitless (the Bradley Cooper movie) and Harmony (the Project Itoh novel, and winner of the PKD 2010 Special Citation). Both of these works wrestle with a basic question: to accept or eschew technology that allows for betterment?
In Limitless, Cooper’s schlub is transformed into the uber-renaissance man through a mind-altering pill. The movie is that surprisingly rare occurrence when good casting, performance, script and cinematography collaborate to tell a story. Tension builds though toward the end of the movie: the character is soooo much cooler on drugs, we don’t want the schlub back. Faced with this dilemma, what ending to give? A “just say no to drugs” ending is disappointing, but a “drugs are cool” ending feels morally…what? Cheating? Illegal? Dangerous? Or just wrong? I’ll avoid spoiling.
Harmony is a journey that starts with a health totalitarianism and ends with the question of whether imperfect health (and mentality) isn’t the very essence of humanity. The world built, and the choices Itoh made, explore discomfort with government mandated-health and biological improvements in decision-making. In a world where perfection is possible, choice is the true essence of humanity.
While Limitless glorifies the quest for betterment through pharmacology, Harmony warns against it. Yet, they share a similar message: control is more important than health, perhaps more valuable than life itself.
There seems to be no argument that we’re perfect. Clearly, we all accept that we’re being beta-tested, and there’s room for improvement. However, we will accept technology-assisted upgrades as long as no one’s addicted (or can be your own dealer), and no one mandates the upgrade.
Perhaps the universal human experience isn’t the longing for happiness or immortality, but primarily the desire for control. In which case, as we increasingly enter a world of technological advances, whom will we ever trust enough to accept them?