The Racism Cure?

This story leaves me cautiously, skeptically optimistic:

Heart disease drug found to reduce racist attitudes

Although racism is widely believed to be a learned behavior, findings from an Oxford University team suggest that taking a heart disease medication may also help mute subconscious racist attitudes in individuals. Researchers gave the drug propranolol to 18 subjects, and placebos to a control group of the same size. Those that received the drug scored markedly lower on a standard test that measures subconscious racial bias. Does this mean we could one day see a pill to counter racist tendencies?

Propranolol was developed in the 1960s and was the first successful beta blocker developed. It is used to treat hypertension, anxiety and panic, with performers often using it to prevent stage fright. It is also being investigated as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The drug inhibits the amygdala, which is a region of the brain involved in processing emotion, including fear.

Reasons to be cautious or skeptical:

1. The entire notion of medication that makes people "morally better" is creepy and opens up all kinds of possible avenues for abuse.

2. How exactly does this test identify "unconscious" racism? It's easy to imagine a test like that being loaded with all kinds of biases and other baggage.

HOWEVER, assuming that there really is something going on here, that something is kind of interesting and potentially very cool.


What interests me is that the drug is used to treat anxiety and panic. And stage fright. It makes perfect sense that an effective treatment for various forms of irrational fear would be effective against another form of the same thing. And this helps make it clear that irrational fear is exactly what racism is.

Stephen Gordon and I have talked about implementing "moral treatments" on FastForward Radio on more than one occasion. It's likely that there will be any number of cures for any number of moral failings (or perceived moral failings) in the near future. The most important consideration when implementing such a treatment is that it be voluntary. Nobody should take the Anti-racism pill, or the Kindness pill or even, sadly, the Don't Bore the Person Next to You on The Airplane pill, unless it's a problem that the individual recognizes in him or herself and has specifically decided to do something about.

If any one morality pill were to be forced on others, I think it would have to be the Don't Try to Coerce Other People pill. (And I really wish that one existed.)

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