to raise to a higher degree…


Julian Savulescu`s article Enhancing Equality is silly in too many ways to go into here. But he does talk about performance enhancing drugs and because drugs seem to be my interest field in relation to the posthuman, I wanted to consider the role of these drugs carefully. What follows are some initial thoughts about how we might complicate the term `enhancement` and think about drugs in a more nuanced way. (I know this isn’t the assignment but I couldn’t miss this opportunity to get feedback-sorry!)

  1. It strikes me that the kind of enhancement that Savulescu describes is a kind of escapism.

    He figures the human as full of `barriers` (p.200). I wonder if we might see the parallel here to drug taking motivated by a desire (or perceived need) to escape the sick or unhappy body and compare that to drug taking motivated by a desire to temporarily experience an alteration in perception/gain new awareness? The former is more characteristic of the addict, the later of the recreational or therapeutic user.

  1. Or is this a false distinction? Are all drug takings an escape of sorts?

    To escape the organized body (in Deleuzian and Guattarian terms) and to build a Body without Organs, I first need to free myself of the socially imposed conventions and meanings imposed on my body and drug exploration can assist this effort.  Would this then be an escape from conventionality as opposed from an escape towards convention fulfillment?

  1. Is it also possible that what concerns me is simply a question of temporality?

    The person who is taking a concentration enhancing pill (such as Ritalin) or a behavior altering pill (such as Prozac), is doing so on a long term basis (or so Savulescu implies). They are attempting to permanently change their body and way of being in the world. This not only has health implications which Savulescu ignores but it also feels metaphorically problematic to me. By contrast the occasional user is temporarily disorganizing their bodies in order to experience different states of being (anything from madness, to hyper intelligence or retarded intelligence-as measured by that unwieldy apparatus the IQ test- to peace to affectual interconnectedness). However they return (one hopes) to a more or less stabilized version of self, albeit one equipped with new awarenesses and a body loosened from the inevitability of organization. This feels like a more careful but also a more profound way to enhance because the gap between ordinary and other is witnessed rather than obscured.

  1. Could we perhaps also draw a distinction between performance enhancing drug use and perception enhancing drug use?

    Performance enhancing drugs are designed to fit the person better into the given society and cultural norms, ambitions and criteria for success (and of course I cannot but take issue with Savulescu`s suggestion that admission into the army constitutes success). Perception enhancing experiences are more likely going to reveal or highlight to the individual their own current condition. Thus the wisdom of only taking drugs when your emotional condition is sound and happy. There is perhaps less outcome design and more unpredictability. Less an intention to be elsewhere and more of a facing, a taking note? Might we call this the enhancement of enchantment?

  1. How then might we think about the idea of change in relation to enhancement?

    The first impression of any enhancement narrative is that it is about change for the better. But reading Savulescu I was struck by the narrow field of normality toward which he is hoping enhancement will lead people. It also struck me as a very traditional humanist, rational, control orientated version of humanity, not one based on the reimagining of human/other relationships (be they animal others, material others or human others such as those with differently abled minds and bodies or those enjoying polyamorous relationships). This is a posthuman not based on changing the role of, decentering or reimagining the human, it is a posthuman which does not disorganize the human body but re-stratifies and hyper-organizes it. We are not talking about change but exaggeration of the status quo. Alternatively the kind of moment enhancing or perception enhancing experiments of the some-time drug user, may look essentially inactive. Certainly there would be less the intention to achieve and more the intention to be or notice in these experiments . If we imagine exaggeration of the current state being coupled also by a peaceful acceptance of that state (as many recreational /therapeutic drugs such as MDMA tend to offer) this experiment does not at first look like the kind of revolutionary experience that is going to propel the human into a post anything.

  1. I think however that a posthuman which is not based on excess but on acceptance avoids a number of unhelpful tendencies.

    Firstly it avoids delaying the posthuman into the indefinite future, secondly it avoids the destructive bent of a narrative of enhancement which believes that the current given is insufficient and inadequate and (perhaps most dangerous of all) requires expensive dependence on a product (here the figure of the drug addict looms).

Instead we need a posthuman effort which tunes into the always already present posthuman condition; a condition which enables the individual to experience a disorganizing of the body and in so doing propels them into a more expansive imagining of what normal, healthy, successful or good might mean.

In this way the failures in imagination evidenced in Savulescu`s work are avoided and the animal/material/environmental other can be related with in a way that is radically different from Savulescu`s anthropocentric, difference obliterating agenda. It is through our interaction with unpredictable otherness within ourselves, our species and our world that we are forced to expand and reevaluate ourselves.

Thus equality is not found in the hyper activated body of the night shift worker, forced to fight his own biologically given instinct to sleep in the name of productivity and capitalist efficiency but is to be found in the chaos within which we are all flung and tossed.

The picture attached is suggestive of the fact that we are already products of chemical enhancement (caffeine and sugar fuel much of our excesses of productivity) but if these enhancements become normalized and invisible, how helpful are they in challenging us to reimagine ourselves?

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