Mental jumper cables: Tweaking political and religious belief

Lionel (né Michael Wm. Lebron) is an Emmy® Award winning trial lawyer, published author, proud husband, legal analyst and news decoder, essayist, bluegrass guitarist, (out)spoken word performer and raconteur, vegan, talk radio veteran, pioneer podcaster, political atheist with a black belt in realpolitik and “[a]n intellectual known for his irreverent political and social humor” (Newsweek), “[who] wears the mantle of Lenny Bruce, with Lenny’s own tropisms: The Oblique, The Irreverent, The Tangential, The Concupiscent, The Polymorphous Perverse, The Arcane, The Numinous” (Jerry Wexler).
© Amir Cohen
What if instead of prosecuting or incarcerating people for undesired behavior, we could merely prevent undesired thinking? Science fiction may now be science fact.

recent study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience entitled “Neuromodulation of Group Prejudice and Religious Belief,” found that using directed and targeted magnetic energy via transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a noninvasive procedure that sends various pulses to the brain to activate certain regions, researchers shut down the brain’s threat perception with nearly a third of patients more tolerant to immigrants and claiming they didn’t believe in God. Think of the implications.

So the question that must be asked is what if religious faith and prejudice against immigrants or any particular group or faction could actually be altered mechanically? In a more clinical presentation the study found that: "[p]eople cleave to ideological convictions with greater intensity in the aftermath of threat. The posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) plays a key role in both detecting discrepancies between desired and current conditions and adjusting subsequent behavior to resolve such conflicts."

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Imagine a mental reeducation camp without the camp. Without surgery or confinement and the scars attendant hereto. What this study shows is the inter-connectivity between the repression of a particular belief or perception and its side effects. To wit, the ability to dampen the awareness and appreciation of fear and increase tolerance and acceptance of a class, say immigrants. Imagine reversing in effect certain ethnocentrism and xenophobia by shunting the ability to appreciate or generate fear of class members. And with less fear, less worry, less anxiety and less apparent need for a higher power that would normally assuage the fear and anxiety attendant thereto.

Imagine taking a population or a mere sample and being able to squelch fear mechanisms and reactions. Mollifying and calming and quieting that group, class or faction. So long, civil unrest, dissatisfaction, disquietude. Sayonara, protest and anger. Just come in for a tune-up. Perhaps even a court-ordered adjustment or realignment. There’s no indication yet as to how long TMS treatments would last or how deep and permanent the applications would be.

But let’s get real Brave New World, shall we? Imagine repeat offenders, the problematically resistant and recalcitrant being collected and brought to the sentencing magistrate who either orders or provides as alternative sentencing the chance to slip on the magic TMS brain coil and have an attitude adjustment. No surgery, pills, scars or recovery. Jiffy Lube for the noggin. Or, to be more precise, in view of the rather tenuous evidence of efficacy, think’ Iffy Lube’.

The range of applications is endless. We, as a society that has no apparent problem with pharmaceutical intervention and application for a host of maladies that can be shoved into the latest edition of DSM-5, should have not the slightest cause for pause in calling for a tiny tweak to reverse intolerance. And hate. You know, hate, as in hate crimes. Which would make for a perfect application source as punishment and treatment. Racist? We’ll fix that. Misogynistic, homophobic? Taken care of.
But what to do about God? Well, the literature seems to indicate that when the pMFC fires less, a resultant diminished belief in God is seen.

I commend to you Abby Haglage’s piece in The Daily Beast:

The University of York’s Keise Izuma says the study was fairly straightforward. “People often turn to ideology when they are confronted by problems,” says Izuma. “We wanted to find out whether a brain region that is linked with solving concrete problems, like deciding how to move one’s body to overcome an obstacle, is also involved in solving abstract problems addressed by ideology.”

The decision to remind people of death, he says, was motivated by previous research on people’s habit of seeking out comfort in religion when presented with death. “As expected, we found that when we experimentally turned down the posterior medial frontal cortex, people were less inclined to reach for comforting religious ideas, despite having been reminded of death,” he said.

Imagine this scenario. Mass applications of TMS affecting targeted pMFC activity. Less fear, more tolerance BUT less religiosity and devotion to faith. I can see it now. Anger from catholic Catholics. Protestant protestations from the religious right. Connections made between intolerance and piety. Heavens! The news decoder and media analyst in me salivates at the discussion and debate this inspires.

The implications of this are beyond tantalizing. And the ethical considerations daunting. I can see many faced with this dilemma should TMS tweaking and pMFC adjusting become not only safe and efficacious but de rigueur. Religious faith attrition may be a natural component of life, of trauma and circumstance. Questioning and reexamination can be considered healthy and beneficial. Mother Teresa, after all, spent almost 50 years without sensing God in her life. Today, Agnes Bojaxhiu could merely hop on the table and slap on God’s jumper cables for an instant faith boost.

And with xenophobia and fear and faith, you can bet that other regions of the brain will be investigated and pinpointed – patriotism, romantic love, job satisfaction. I can just hear ‘Big Pharma’ letting out a ferocious roar of protest as this noninvasive and nonchemical application is deemed to be an existential threat to lucrative psychotropic and SSRI regimens.

The constitutional, due process and human rights implications are evident. You can bet that with the introduction and application of any new remedy and treatment, the first thing to anticipate and brace for is the nefarious and insidious application. We live in a narcotized world with countless Americans walking around in drug-induced fog. Willingly and happily, I might add. Can you imagine what this would mean to a society committed to the latest in attitude adjustment? Nonsurgical, noninvasive abracadabra noddle noodling.

The United States of Pharmacopeia enters a new chapter in its history. Brace yourself.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.