Adbusters, the magazine for and about culture jamming, never ceases to amaze me. But this time, the thought-provoking issue is not their content per se, but rather one of the Letters to the Editor that they published. It is from a long-term reader named Taylor Hudson, who begins his missive with this gentle disconnection: “With a kind smile, I’m writing to share with you why I have canceled my subscription.” Taylor goes on to explain, in a long and very thoughtful letter, that “It’s not enough to criticize anymore. It is exhausting, disheartening and counterproductive… Adbusters has presented or railed around very few true solutions for fostering people’s happiness. For therein lies the real revolution, right? To claim the right to be happy and free?” [Adbusters does have at least one ‘campaign’ that is intended to foster happiness: Digital Detox Week. Regular readers will recognize its similarity to a regular rant of my own.]
I very much like the gentle manner in which Taylor Hudson made his point to Adbusters, and wish to do likewise for neuroethics. Not to disconnect, but rather to suggest that we regularly scrub our analyses of innovations in the neurosciences to be sure that they are not criticisms devoid of solutions. It is hardly news to point out that fields such as neuroethics can slip into the realm of nagging, raising alarms about new innovations and the harm they might bring to individuals, to society, to our very way of being. In fairness, this is a natural outcome of the kinds of issues that we deal with in the field, and probably all of us have tripped up now and again while attempting to avoid that particular pitfall. But really, it is easy to be a critic.
The challenge in neuroethics is to distinguish ourselves from the neuro-Technophiles, for whom all change is good, and from the neuro-Luddites, for whom all change is bad. Rather, I suggest that we strive to find a third way, using techniques of close observation to analyze ways in which advances in the neurosciences writ large are or are about to affect us all, and then offering innovative solutions to make it more likely that these wondrous, exciting and even inevitable changes in the world around us, to the extent possible, improve the human condition.
Image Credit: Smithereensblog