Is neuroscience becoming a political issue?
One of Britain’s leading magazines, Spiked, has launched a campaign to make the
public aware of the dangers of the politics of the brain. Brendan O’Neill warns
that both conservatives and liberals believe that “they have both the right and
the capacity to invade our brains and reshape how we perceive and interact with
the world around us”. O’Neill points out that Prime Minister David Cameron’s
new coalition government has set up a “behavioural
insight team” at 10 Downing Street and that an influential liberal think
tank has established a “social brain project”.
The aim of these policy wonks, he says, is
“to find subtle ways to change our behaviour, not through the old, Blair-style
bossy approach of telling us what to do, but by offering incentives, by
‘priming’ us with subliminal messaging, by changing the ‘choice architecture’
of our daily lives so that we are influenced, sometimes unconsciously, to
behave in what the government considers to be the right way.”
Popularised by the recent best-seller, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Wealth,
Health and Happiness, the policy-makers are encouraged by neuroscience research
which claims that much of human motivation is unconscious and that it can be
successfully manipulated by what Spiked calls “the brain cops”.
“Most shockingly of all, the nudge brigade
sees it as its responsibility to exercise willpower on our behalf, because apparently we’re too fickle to do it ourselves.
The government should become a ‘surrogate willpower’, says Mindspace; government action can ‘augment our freedom’ by pushing
us to make the right choices. They don’t only want to remake our minds; they
want to become our minds, Big Brother-style. It speaks volumes about the nudge
statists that they cannot see what a whopping contradiction in terms it is to
label government pressure as ‘freedom’ and external interventions into our
brains as the exercising of ‘willpower’.” ~ Spiked,