A Thoughtful Response to – Would you use Performance Enhancing Chemicals at Work

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transhumanjackA recent article I wrote on performance enhancing drugs in the workplace received great interaction once it was published online.

Andrew sent a personal message to me and it was so inline with the engagement that I was hoping for that I asked him to write a response for publication.

The tone of my original piece was consciously provocative. The explicit objective was to raise awareness that in the future world of work technology will be able to do many things for / to us. In this reality the discussion should be primarily engaged with ethics and not only technological capability.
The future world of work technology discussions must engage with ethics and not only technological capability Click To Tweet
This edited quote from Andrew’s response sums it all up: “the unbridled pursuit of the mastery of human nature and human troubles through technology can issue in a world peopled by creatures of human shape but of shrunken humanity…We cannot evaluate any proposed enhancements or alterations of our humanity unless we have some idea of human dignity, some notion of what is estimable and worthy and excellent about being human.”

Thank you for your response Andrew.
I know from other interactions that there are some who are excited by the possibilities Cognitive Enhancers bring to the workplace – if you would like to write a response on the other side of the original article please contact us, we’d love to consider publishing your response too.

maxresdefaultA response to the article, “Cognitive Enhancement Chemical Technology in the New World of Work” (also described, more explicitly,  on the Tomorrow Today website as “Would you use performance enhancing drugs at work?)  posted on the Tomorrow Today Website by Raymond de Villiers  the 16th September 2015.

I found that this article raised a number of issues which disturbed me.

I will start with the moral issue and a quotation from the article;

“Before we get morally engaged at the concept of drugs at work we need to remove emotion from the equation, to see these chemicals as medical technological advances.”

In business we are morally engaged…moral engagement does not necessarily equate to emotional involvement. Click To TweetIn business, as in all of life, we are always morally engaged. Also, contrary to what  this quotation seems to suggest, moral engagement does not necessarily equate to emotional involvement. A failure to act morally and ethically inevitably has consequences, as the financial crisis of 2008 continues to remind us. At the time of writing this response, we are witnessing the unfolding of the VW scandal involving the falsifying of diesel emission standard tests, likely to result in huge financial and reputational loss for VW.

The article is sympathetic to the use of performance enhancing drugs in the workplace ( to the point of being deliberately provocative ?).However, it does end with a note of caution;

“Our role as leaders and managers—— requires that today we involve not with the technology but with the ethics of their use. We need to ask ourselves what we will accept and what we will not. Then we need to accept that in some cases our answers to these questions may put us at a technological disadvantage —-”

Our role as leaders requires that we involve not with the technology but with the ethics of their use. Click To TweetI would have liked this conclusion to be more emphatic. If acting ethically places us at a technological disadvantage then that is the price we should be prepared to pay.

I am not clear what quite is meant in the above quote, when it states that leaders and managers should not be  involved with the technology of using performance enhancing drugs.

I can understand that managers need not be involved with the technology of ,say, a computer but here we are dealing with human minds and human dignity and management simply has to have  some grasp of the “technological“  issues involved. These issues are unique to the “bioethical” age we have now entered.It would be correct  to say that the greatest asset a business possesses  is the collective ability stored in the minds of it’s employees. However, these minds are also very fragile and need to be sensitively nurtured and developed if a business is to reach it’s full potential. A company has no say over what it’s employees do in their private time (which, hopefully, it does not try to usurp ) and cannot prevent  employees taking performance enhancing drugs of their own volition. However, I do not think that an employee should ever be encouraged or requested to take any drug that results in enhanced performance beyond the natural ability of the employee. It any event, at the present time this would be both unethical and  illegal. It is such practical issues that the article ignores. An examination of the drugs listed reveals that, on the whole, they have around for a number of years and are used in the treatment of patients with mental disorders. I have not researched the entire list, but both Aricept and Mondafinal are available only on prescription and have significant potential side effects and should not be taken except on medical advice. It would be foolhardy in the extreme for a company to source this type of drug on the internet and then make it available to employees. I do not know what is meant when it is suggested that graduates joining a company may be taking ”off label’” cognitive enhancers. Logically this suggests that generic equivalents via the internet. Anyone doing this without medical advice is ignoring the potential long term health risk.

No indication is given of just how much the performance of an employee would be enhanced by taking one of the drugs listed. There is no suggestion that the use of a drug  genuinely  increases the IQ of the user. There is also the  need to balance the increase in the current  level of performance with a possible degradation in long term performance as a result of the cumulative side effects of the drug.

Frankly, the article does not put forward a very attractive slant on the new or a future “world of work”

It seems to be a world where return on capital trumps the well being of employees.

I  need to examine the rather improbable, but nevertheless possible, example of the surgeon  about to operate on me. Would I ask him to take a cognitive enhancer to make sure he is extra alert? The answer is quite simply, no. If I did, I think he would regard me as slightly demented and offer me a prescription for Aricept !. If I was bold enough I might ask if he had just had a good nights sleep . I recall an operation I had under a local anaesthetic. I was very impressed by the calm way in which the operation proceeded in the theatre with classical music playing in the background,

I am interested that some of the drugs listed have for many years been  prescribed for patients with Alzheimers and other mental disorders. What has been well documented is the therapeutic role of music for people with dementia or Alzheimers. A quote from Oliver Sacks book “Musicophilia” is appropriate;”The aim of music therapy in people with dementia ——– seeks to address the emotions, cognitive powers, thoughts and memories, the ‘surviving ‘ self of the patient, to stimulate these and bring them to the fore. It aims to enrich and enlarge existence,  to give freedom stability, organization and focus.” Whilst the aim set out in this quote may seem almost impossible to achieve , a further quote from this wonderful, life affirming book is appropriate,’” Music of the right kind can serve to orient and anchor a patient when almost nothing else can.” What is remarkable in these quotes is that they echo the benefits that might also be available from the use of performance enhancing drugs.

What these quotes also point to is that alternate means of creating an atmosphere which enhances creativity and productivity exist.

It is my experience that people are at their most productive and creative when they are enjoying their work, are not under undue pressure (accepting that there will be times when an extra effort may be required) and have time for family life.

People are most productive and creative when enjoying their work, and not under undue pressure Click To TweetThe article I am commenting possesses a dreadful dehumanizing quality. It is complete anathema to me to suggest that someone looking for advancement should contemplate taking a drug to enhance performance. However, we need to consider that at some point in the future ”cognitive enhancers” will become available which do not have an associated health risk. Whether they actually contribute to a life of “fullness and flourishing” is debatable

The article seems to reduce persons to their utility value and if this is so then the future for the world of work is very bleak.

So a “conversation” is necessary and  it should focus on, “Human Dignity in an Age of Bioethics.” Here, I am deliberately quoting the title of a collection of essays published in 2008  and commissioned  by the United States  “ President’s Council on Bioethics.” I can think of no better way of concluding than by quoting selectively from an essay by Leon Kass entitled ”Defending Human Dignity.”

The biotechnical revolution may, as optimists believe, serve to to enhance human dignity. It may enable many more human beings – biologically better equipped , aided by performance enhancers , liberated from the constraints of nature and fortune– to live lives of achievement, contentment and high self esteem come way may.

But there are reasons to wonder if life really will be better if we turn to biotechnology to fulfill our deepest human desires. To a society, armed with biotechnology, the activities of human life may come to be seen in purely technical terms and more amenable to improvement than they really are. We may get exactly what we ask for and fail to recognise what it costs in terms of our humanity.

Armed with biotechnology, the activities of human life may come to be seen in purely technical terms. Click To TweetAs Aldous Huxley prophetically warned us , the unbridled pursuit of the mastery of human nature and human troubles through technology can issue in a world peopled by creatures of human shape but of shrunken humanity, engaged in trivial pursuits , lacking science, art religion, and self government; missing love, friendship  or any true human attachments–.

Technology can issue in a world peopled by creatures of human shape but of shrunken humanity Click To TweetWe cannot evaluate evaluate any proposed enhancements or alterations of our humanity unless we have some idea of human dignity, some notion of what is estimable and worthy and excellent about being human.

We need to understand the nature and worth of human flourishing  in order to to recognise both the true promise of self improvement and the hazards of self degradation, we need to understand true nature and worth of human agency and human activity– in short , we need wisdom about human dignity and what sustains and enhances it– and what destroys it.

(No copyright  restrictions are printed in the book of essays so I presume one is able to freely quote from it)

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