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May 28, 2002

The Future of Mind Control

The May 23, 2002 issue of the Economist, has several articles constellated around neuroethics and the future of cognitive liberty.

Cover Story: The Future of Mind Control

Additional Story: Open Your Mind: The Ethics of Brain Studies

Read a letter to the editor of the Economist by CCLE co-director Richard Glen Boire

Dear Economist,

Your cover story on “The Future of Mind Control” raises a myriad of vital issues. Your article sends the siren call that we must begin addressing these issues immediately if we hope to live in a future that respects personal freedom and human rights.

One thing missing, however, was the impact of today’s “war on drugs,” – a government policy that is, in principle, all about mind control.

At their most fundamental level, today’s laws banning the use of certain drugs are indistinguishable from yesterday’s laws aimed at banning certain books. (Both text and drugs augment thinking.) Both types of laws place barriers around and within the individual’s mind. Both types of laws are inimical to the fundamental principles that animate democratic society, and both types of laws violate basic notions of individual freedom and self-determination.  The war on drugs is no more about “evil” pills, powders, and plants, than the laws banning books were about paper and ink.

A neuroethical future must recognize that individuals are entitled to cognitive liberty. As long as a person’s behavior does not cause harm to others, the government has no authority to outlaw certain knowledge, certain ways of thinking, or certain states of consciousness. A corollary is cognitive autonomy—a person has the right to remain free from the surreptitious or compelled use of technology (including drugs) to manipulate, surveil or control the mind.

A future that does not recognize these fundamental rights will be grimmer than any dystopia even Orwell could have imagined. The right to control your own consciousness is the quintessence of freedom.

 -- Dr. Richard Glen Boire

Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE)

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