Friday, March 9, 2012 / 4:58 pm

Hate Groups, Weight Groups

Should we use pills to cure the world of its woes?

by Tony Chavira

An obese KKK person in a wheelchair
Sometimes the internet is spot on.

At a time when the white supremacist market is flooded with options, the KKK brand is apparently losing some traction. Slate fills in the blanks:

The number of hate groups in the United States is on the rise, but the Ku Klux Klan is losing chapters, according to data released on Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The number of KKK chapters dropped from 221 to 152 in just one year. Why is the Klan shrinking?

Consolidation and defections. The Klan is not a stable organization. There’s no real national leadership, and chapters are constantly appearing, disappearing, splitting, and merging. In 2010, to take one example, the True Invisible Empire Knights of Pulaski, Tenn., merged with the Traditional American Knights from Potosi, Mo. to form the True Invisible Empire Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. […] Such mergers decrease the number of chapters without necessarily changing membership totals.

Before the fear that there are possibly more racist white supremacist groups out there than ever before (with possibly more overall racist people on the scene as well) envelopes you (as it should, to some degree, in a melting pot society such as ours), allow Yahoo News and the good researchers at Oxford University to bestow upon us a scientific harbinger of good fortune and future equality:

A commonly prescribed drug used to treat high blood pressure may have the unintended benefit of muting racist thoughts in those who take it.

A new Oxford University research study found that Propranolol, which works to combat high blood pressure, anxiety, migraines, and a number of heart ailments, affects the same part of the central nervous system that regulates subconscious attitudes on race.

That's right: we're gonna start curing racists with pills. It's (possibly) a disease now.

Of course, it's not yet ready to be prescribed as a cure for the “racists,” but the idea that racist thought and behavior can be managed with medication isn't really that far off from taking pills to mitigate depression or disassociative personality disorder: conditions that are both brought on by endogenous factors (i.e. you're born with them) and exogenous factors (i.e. they're brought on by stuff that happens to you). Besides, if alcoholism is a disease, racism can be a disease too.

The underlying idea of using pills to regulate behavior is immense though. By this understanding, you could control potentially any unhealthy or antisocial behavior with pills. Not to say, you should still have to freedom to say “no thanks, Doc” but at least the option can be there for you.

At the very least, it opens up an interesting new idea involving race relations: that there is potentially a mind-state that is not at all influenced by those subtle divisions we feel. For any factor (race, language, “otherness”… anything) it may be possible to find a state of mind that is completely thoughtless and bias-less though the miracle of science! That idea is both interesting and miraculous to me. I don't know about you, but I'd love to hear Professor Cornell West discuss post-race after taking part in a trail run. Or watch him and Rush Limbaugh sit around and chat about urban poverty after popping a heavy dose.

On the other hand, the ethics of using pills to regulate behavior seem kind of dark and extend well beyond racism. Even to realms that may determine how free you really are.

Consider this: Medicare has recently begun to crack down on the number of cases filed for wheelchairs. Turns out, 60% of wheelchair claims were paid despite a) haphazardly slapped-together paperwork or b) that most devices were for people who didn't need them and were just plain ol' lazy.

Now what if you, as a Medicare auditor, discovered that almost 25% of people with disabilities were obese (which was true in 2002). That's at least 1-in-4 claims that you know–for sure–are brought by people who eat themselves into disability. Would you prescribe a pill to keep them from eating to the point of obesity? Is that not, similarly, behavior regulation? When a ton of obese people are ordering wheelchairs and taking Medicare cash away from people who are dying of–say–cancer, couldn't you argue that they are exhibiting anti-social behavior? Even psychotic behavior (after all, they are essentially exhibiting a kind of sadomasochism).

I'm not trying to defend racism by any means. I just think that we need to be careful. Fantastic as it may be to have discovered a) that racism may have a pharmacological component and b) that we may be able to regulate it, we have to remember that we become a stronger society through conflict and resolution. We need to continue to allow one other the freedom to feel ways about things freely. We may not like it, we may even hate it or find it disgusting, painful or disturbing, but talking about and working with your problems head on is always the best way to address them.

Besides, sometimes admitting you have a problem is the only way to move forward. Anti-racist pills would be a fantastic tool available to those with so much hate in their hearts that it literally impairs their judgements and stunts their emotional and mental growth (similarly to an antidepressant or an antipsychotic).

But pills themselves are only tools. The final product, a complete and thoughtful person, can only really be constructed with a lot of hard work.

Tony Chavira is the President of FourStory, a nonprofit organization that promotes fairness and social justice through strong writing and storytelling. He is also the Program Developer at RACAIA Architecture, writes and posts comics at Minefield Wonderland, and teaches Business Report Writing at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
tony@fourstory.org

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