I was making the bed with the TV on. I always make the bed with the TV on. It keeps me company while I do a rather boring, routine task.
Anyway, there was this middle-aged man on the screen holding a pill. He said he had helped to perfect this pill, and that it was now helping to save many lives. It had taken them, he said, twenty years to perfect the heart medicine. At the time he started working on it, his own father had just begun to have problems with his own heart. There was a touching picture of the man when he was much younger, apparently at some sort of a graduation ceremony, and his own father standing next to him. By the end of the commercial we knew that the medicine had not come in time to save the man’s own father. I was pretty choked up by the end of the commercial, and I hadn’t even finished with making the bed; that’s how engrossed I was.
So, then it occurred to me. We have pills to fix almost every human frailty you can name. There are pills for heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, AIDS, headaches, backaches, colds, fevers, allergies, piles, even Carter’s Little Liver Pills. Just last night in the news they announced an experimental drug that has a lot of promise that helps people to quit smoking and lose weight – at the same time. And here’s the fascinating part: It works by turning off the part of your brain that causes you to get the munchies when you (or someone you have heard of) uses marijuana. In other words – You can affect the physical behavior by manipulating the psychological trigger. Hmmmmmmm.
What if we had a pill that could “turn off” or at least “turn down the volume” on the part of the brain that controls aggression? Or put another way – What if there were a pill to turn up the control of aggression (which, if memory serves, is a function of the frontal lobe of the brain). Better yet, what if there was something we could put in the drinking water all over the world. Just a drop or two per gallon – nothing you could taste – nothing that could hurt you – that would just make us all a little kinder, a little gentler, a little less prone to violence, and as a result, a little more courteous and civilized.
Oh, I know, I know. The ACLU would be all over this in a heartbeat. And there is the “law of unintended consequences”. There are probably some people who shouldn’t be tampered with at all. The Dalai Lama comes to mind.
Okay. So back to the pill. Something that would have to be prescribed. Something prescribed, say, for people who can’t seem to control their violent behavior. People who used to be described as “incorrigible”. Career criminals (only of the violent type – not kleptomaniacs). Child abusers. Spousal abusers. Drive-by shooters. Rapists. Terrorists.
And what about road rage? Think of all those people who can’t seem to keep their fingers on the steering wheel in traffic. Then think of all the awful stories about how raising one finger (literally) caused terrible reactions with guns and six-car pile-ups.
What all of these people seem to have in common is an inability to inhibit their aggressive behavior. I mean, what if there was a pharmaceutical fix? Can you imagine the change in the world?
Suppose the penalty for all violent crime was such a prescription, along with re-education, of course – old habits die hard. Think of all the energy, time, and other resources that could be redirected toward reducing poverty, increasing educational opportunity, maintaining our environment – even achieving world peace. (Yes, it seems that there are some political leaders and a hodgepodge of dictators and demagogues who could use a dose or two!)
It’s just a thought.
© 2004 Robin Munson