Insult or LSD?

Heart not in the COVID-avoidance fun? How about a few insults to get you in the mood for the pending vaccine, or the forcible injection of a psychoactive drug such as LSD to make you more of a socially responsible mask wearer?

The virus is nasty, for sure, and like others from the corona family, it can be lethal. But we have very few hard-and-fast facts about COVID-19 and how to treat it, and so the information vacuum has been filled with fear and propaganda.

These are perfect growing conditions for the skeptic, a broad church that includes doubters who maintain the virus doesn’t even exist and the patients we’ve seen on our televisions are actors, to those who claim the death rates have been made up.

With propaganda and fear not winning the day, governments need to quell the skeptical “fake news” storm somehow and have grasped a weapon familiar to every schoolboy: the insult. The US government has called on the insults department at Yale University to come up with a fine selection in readiness of a vaccine being launched.   

Are you just a selfish prig, for instance? Does that rock your boat? How about you’re an antisocial misanthrope who puts his life ahead of others? Or maybe you’re a coward. (What?  Frightened of a vaccine that’s been fast-tracked without any safety trials?) Perhaps you’re just an ignoramus who doesn’t understand science. Yes, an antivaxxer.1

The researchers have been firing a fusillade of insults at random to a group of 4,000 participants who have presumably been paid to be insulted. The lucky few in the control group are instead given a benign message about the benefits of bird feeding. 

As for the rest, they were put into one of 12 subgroups, and were told they were selfish, cowards, ignorant, or antisocial, or were putting the lives of their loved ones—parents and grandparents, for instance—at risk.

How the impact of these insults is measured is another thing entirely. Compared to the bird feeders—no, we weren’t insulted at all, we love birds—how do the researchers gauge just how hurtful the insults were? But, then, I’m probably just an ignoramus who doesn’t understand science.

Then there are those who won’t wear a mask or do proper social distancing. These are people who place their own sense of personal freedom or discomfort ahead of the common good, argues Parker Crutchfield, a professor of medical ethics at Western Michigan University.2

Despite being an academic, Crutchfield has little time for argument or debate. He thinks these social outcasts should be forcibly injected with a psychoactive substance.

Extreme? Yes, Crutchfield agrees, it’s “a far-out proposal,” but he claims it’s worth considering “given the importance of social cooperation in the struggle to get COVID-19 under control.”

Psychoactive substances can make people more moral (discuss), he argues, and they include all the bad boys in the pharmaceutical bag, such as benzodiazepines, MDMA (ecstasy), uppers like amphetamines and cocaine, barbiturates and LSD. 

Despite the bad press, these drugs  increase your likelihood to do “the right thing” or make you more empathetic, altruistic or cooperative, says Crutchfield. Oxytocin is a chemical that helps increase the bond between a mother and her child, for instance.

And if you’re more of a fun fascist, you might force psilocybin—the active part of “magic mushrooms”—on your victim. Magic mushrooms reduce aggression in those with “antisocial personality disorder” and help sociopaths recognize emotions in others.

Drop some acid, and it could improve your moral behavior or make you more rational, muses Crutchfield, presumably never having met anyone tripping out. 

But the dream Crutchfield is really holding out for is a “morality pill” (over to you, Bill Gates). After all, the military has been dishing out pills like these for years, he argues.

Not sure the aim is to make them more moral, because they presumably wouldn’t want to kill anyone after that, and that ever-reliable source, Wikipedia, seems to agree, explaining that psychoactive drugs have been used in the military to “suppress fear and reduce empathy,” the very opposite effect Crutchfield hopes for.

No, until Bill comes up with his morality pill, we’ll have to stick to trading insults, à la Yale.  Welcome to the brave new COVID world.



1; NCT04460703

2, August 10, 2020