By their stimulants, we shall know themBy
Margaret Talbot has a wonderful essay on a new trend on college compuses: the use of neuroenhancers like Adderall and Ritalin.
She says: “College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement.”
Talbot says that University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center, says that in the previous year 4.1 per cent of American undergraduates had taken prescription stimulants for off-label use. At some schools the rate is 25%. A 2002 study at one small college discoverd that 35% of students had used prescription stimulants nonmedically.
Talbot is not happy with what she sees here. She concludes her essay by saying, “Neuroenhancers don’t offer freedom. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity.”
Still, it looks as if some kids on campuses, to judge from Talbot’s story, are using Adderall in order to fund several lives: one as an accomplished student, another as a ‘party-hearty-Marty’ party animal, yet another of someone with a hedgehog’s passion for one thing, or a fox’s passion for everything. And this is huge news.
Gen Y have been defined as a generation of “rules and regs,” devoted to doing the right thing. This is another way of saying that THIS youth culture choose not to engage in the protest, rebellion, rites of May liminality that we have come to expect from youth. But here in Talbot’s article we see evidence that Gen Y may have found a way out of it’s orthodoxy. With the pharmacological intervention made possible by Adderall, it is now possible to have one’s cake and eat it too, to be a “good kid” and a “wild child” at the same time. And if this is true, it would tell us that we are on the verge of seeing youth culture as alternative culture flourish once more.
But there are other illuminations to be had in Talbot’s article, things stirring that will catch the eye of the anthropologically minded. This drug revolution actually has some supporters in high or at least morally elevated places. Talbot tells us that “some bioethicists are leaning toward endorsing neuroenhancement.” Wow.
Talbot does a nice job showing neurohancers in their larger, cultural context, as something that promises to enable and augment the human hardware in a way that appeals to transhumanists like Nick Bostrom and the futurist writer and inventor Ray Kurzweil.
As Talbot puts it,
Transhumanists are interested in robots, cryogenics, and living a really, really long time; they consider biological limitations that the rest of us might accept, or even appreciate, as creaky obstacles to be aggressively surmounted.
And this gives us two very different impulses in our culture…as usual. This transhumanists approach that treats the body as just so much beta hardware that badly needs a refit and a relaunch. And then there is the kinder and gentler approach that we carry with us still from the 1960s, the one that says the body is a temple to be treated with love and respect. How lovely.
I’m not interested in either option. But I love living in a culture that cultivates the opposite of every idea it cares about.
Talbot, Margaret. 2009. Brain Gain: The underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs. The New Yorker. April 27, 2009. here.
Thanks to Chrissy Kiernan for the image. See Chrissy’s thoughts on Adderall here.