At first thought, a morality pill seems to be the urgent need of the hour. Until you dig a little bit deeper.
The irony—those who support the idea want to give it to someone else.
The CBC show on the ethics of the morality pill prompted me to ask a few people about their feelings on the subject. Interestingly, no one admitted to needing one but most knew someone else that required to change, morally of course.
While one person immediately offered her mother-in-law as the perfect test case, another was sure his boss (and naturally the staff too) would benefit from a few doses. Just till the pangs of good conscience coerced him into signing a salary increase perhaps.
A third wanted to give it to a relative involved in a property dispute with her. How convenient?
And a fourth was sure that politicians would make the ideal candidates. A view many would support.
It does not take any in depth analysis to figure out that in most cases, these individuals would gain from the enhanced moral goodness of the candidate they had served up. Morality at its finest!!!
So is the hypothetical morality pill meant to be a prescription to cure someone else’s selfishness, corruption and immoral behaviour? Or, a self-regulated antidote that we might occasionally need to keep our own values in check?
Psychologists maintain that this moral outrage, which most of us have an overdose of, is self-serving. Outwardly protesting injustice makes ‘you’ feel that you are a good person…like the expression is doing something to correct a wrong. Making you feel less guilty about your role in the problem or neglecting to be part of the solution.
Researchers believe this is especially true in the case of abstract situations like the effects of climate change 20 years from now. Or the poverty in third world countries we are not exposed to. Or the homeless in our cities that we have never seen. All of which seems less real to us and therefore difficult to empathize with.
Some individuals I talked to also believed that taking the pill might make them “too good” (Is there such a thing?) and would not serve their ‘best interests’. After all nobody wants to be taken advantage of. Whether it is increasing their donations to a religious institution or being more accommodating with someone they didn’t like. The giving in is difficult.
Would I take the morality pill? No! That’s because I would not ingest any medication if I could avoid it. Call it the side-effect or action-reaction phobia. If you have ever taken the time to read warnings on any medication, then you know what I mean. Often it seems that the adverse effects far outweigh any good it could do.
As experts who raise questions about the ethics of having or administering such thought-altering medication rightly say, the motives of the pharmaceutical companies that produce them are rarely altruistic.
I also believe that taking the morality pill would be a dehumanizing experience. Take away our ability to think and react naturally which is a true reflection of morality.
We have become a medication-dependent society where there is a pill to fix everything. Even situations where common sense would suffice. Like taking beta blockers to reduce anxiety before an exam or board presentation.
Call me old-school or medically ignorant for simplifying the argument. But I strongly support the philosophy of going back to the basics. Which relies on self-regulation not medication. Except when deemed medically life threatening.
Also, I don’t like to be controlled in thought or action. By pill or person. I have seen the effects of anti-depressants which some see as the stepping stones to the morality pill.
Two friends who took them after rather devastating events in their lives experienced serious mood swings. The highs were too loud, verbose and unbecoming. I almost suggested taking a sedative to calm them down. Except it meant another pill. The lows were frightening and getting off the pills was a whole different nightmare. Withdrawal symptoms aside, the anxiety of having to cope without the pill brought into question the whole issue of dependence.
Then there are concerns about the interpretation of morality and how this could affect the outcome. This really surprised me. Since when is morality a grey area?
For instance, cheating on your partner or your taxes are both wrong. This is not open to interpretation, degrees of goodness or badness. Perhaps I need a dose of the new morality?
They say that this moral subjectivity could also raise a volcano of ethical dilemmas. Like should we celebrate or rethink physician-assisted suicide?
One area where most agree the morality pill would be beneficial is in eradicating anti-social and criminal behaviour.
Worry not ! The morality pill is not coming anytime soon. So you don’t have to think about who to give it to.
In the meanwhile we can use our subjective, divisive and self-serving moral yardsticks to judge everyone but our perfect selves.