A Council of Morally Enhanced People Can Resolve Global Existential Threats
People usually oppose neuroenhancements with the inequality argument, which states that neuroenhancements would benefit the individual but harm society. This argument fails when we talk about moral enhancements. Moral enhancement is in itself, innately has a positive impact on other people. In this paper, the definition of moral enhancement is taken from Thomas Douglas, “an enhancement that will expectably leave the enhanced person with morally better motives than she had previously.” I will use the terms moral and ethical almost interchangeably in this paper. I will first argue that moral enhancement is beneficial to society and that our current moral education is not sufficient in today’s world standards where we face many existential threats, such as climate change, nuclear power and war. I will then argue that a new and safe method is needed and suggest biomedical moral enhancements, and I will propose the creation of a council consisting of morally enhanced people and claim that it would benefit society more effectively and efficiently than the options we have today. Considering the primary goal of this paper, I will not go into the feasibility and methods of neuroenhancements. How it is possible and when it could be done are beyond the scope of this paper, which aims to suggest creation of a council by accepting the previously endorsed view that a safe and just neuroenhancement is, in principle, possible. However, I endorse pharmaceutical, genetic, and non-invasive brain manipulations, without changing the sense of self and disrupting autonomy, but increasing the positive, altruistic motives and outlook by reducing some polarizing feelings and thoughts.
Different cultures have different moral values. I want to define what I consider to be ethical behavior so that it is clear for the rest of the paper. To determine what is morally right, we need to do correct moral reasoning but also foster and use our moral emotions. Most times, the correct thing to do is context-dependent, but all evaluation requires a correct understanding of reality, how things actually are, detached from one’s subjective point of view. I call this understanding wisdom. Knowing that suffering is universal is the foremost step so that we understand all people want to be free of suffering and be happy. This understanding puts all living beings on the same boat and helps us focus on our similarities than our differences. I believe the path to ethical lifestyle is both a top-down approach, reasoning to modify our behaviors, as Plato thought, and also bottom-up, reflecting on our behaviors and their consequences to shape our reasoning, as Aristotle thought. Some of the right feelings for morality are compassion, empathy, kindness, nonviolence, honesty, self-awareness/reflection, wholesomeness, and consideration of other living beings in everyday life. Some of the wrong, non-ethical behaviors are lying, stealing, killing, and sexual misconduct. We can foster virtuous behaviors by actively engaging in them and reflecting on our actions, but it is a continuous and active process. As Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Potter Stewart said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”
Having good moral values is considered by many philosophers as a virtue. From the earliest times, philosophers argued that virtue is something to achieve, which would bring self-fulfillment. Living a life of right manners and motives leaves the person feeling blissful and at ease as there is nothing negative that the person is thinking towards others, nor others want something wicked for the person. So, we can say, being morally enhanced is desirable for the individual. It is easy to see why the moral enhancement of a person is beneficial to society as a whole. The morally enhanced person works less towards one’s benefit and understands that benefiting others is beneficial for everyone, including herself. She contributes to the betterment of others. She feels the duty of ‘easy rescue,’ which would mean if the cost to the person is minimal while the benefit to somebody else is significant, she will be motivated to make that small sacrifice. She will experience more altruistic feelings. If a person being morally enhanced is good, it only follows that society being morally enhanced is even better for everybody. Therefore, we should all want to be morally enhanced.
For 150,000 years, in most of human history, we have lived in small communities, existing as hunter-gatherers, engaging with few people and using primitive technologies. Our moral reasoning evolved to facilitate cooperation within that small group of a maximum of 150 people. We are loving and caring towards people close to us, but distrustful of strangers. We are well adapted to that environment physically, psychologically, and morally. Accountability was straightforward in smaller groups, people felt responsible for what they did as it affected the people they knew. From an evolutionary standpoint, human technology advanced too rapidly in the last couple hundred years for our moral values to keep up. Our psychology didn’t improve fast enough to enable us to cope with new moral problems that relates to people across the world we have never met. New technologies are brought to life every single day now, and we use them without evaluating what moral questions that technology brings. We are more interconnected with people around the globe, which can cause polarizations and alienations as people from different parts of the world who reject the same things/people can find and fuel each other as the internet also made groupings easier. Social platforms we all use are designed to show news and points of view that correlate with ours, which causes a great misrepresentation of reality. Human brains are not fit to live in such connected world that we created ourselves as our psychology is fit for living in small groups. Therefore, our moral reasoning is not fit for today’s ethical needs. Our traditional moral enhancements consist of education and correction. Today’s moral enhancements are not enough in the high-tech world where multiple existential threats exist.
Human civilization advanced but also used this technological power to create many different global problems and existential threats. These include war, climate change, and nuclear power. These problems have been going on for years, and we still haven’t taken the necessary measures, for example, for climate change, a pressing issue that is getting worse. The problems aggravate as the years pass, and human capacity to cause large scale destruction increases exponentially. Humans are smart animals, but we tend to only care about the immediate future and people who are close to us. We fall into what economists call the tragedy of the commons, which is a situation when individuals act according to self-interest while using a shared-resource (here, all of the world’s resources), and this results in draining the shared resource, and detrimental to the common good. It all began with private property, but I believe the consumerist and individualist Western culture made this problem worse. The political and cultural figures we have chosen also endorse ethical egoism as they tend to disregard the common good for the world and act on self-interest (which includes nationalism). So, my claim is that if we have many existential threats and have little means of controlling them, we must be doing something wrong, and current solutions and organizations are insufficient. This insufficiency means today’s traditional moral education is not enough for us to deal with these global issues. If today’s traditional moral education isn’t sufficient, we need to consider other safe and just options. If biomedical/neural enhancement is safe and just we should allow and even promote its use, considering the first argument in which I argued collectively being morally enhanced is good for the society as a whole.
We have many national and international organizations trying to figure out the global issues, and considering the many smart people working on these, it’s apparent that it is not easy to resolve. Organizations like the United Nations fail to resolve global issues as they are entangled with politics, and because of the size of these organizations, inner power structures and hierarchy affect their efficiency. They also need a lot of capital and resources. If we had an effective organization dealing with such issues, we wouldn’t have as much growing existential problems. It only follows that we don’t have an organization good enough to deal with global issues, so if we want to survive, we need a new unbiased, just, and ethical organization to help resolve global problems.
I am suggesting the creation of an international council consisting of 14–18 people between the ages 20–50, all of which will be from different countries, representing various cultures. This highly selective council, “the Council for the Resolution of Global Existential Threats,” will serve as a hub for ethical reasoning and practical solutions for pressing global issues. People in the council will have to have an education in at least five of the disciplines that will be mentioned, being experts in at least two of them. The disciplines include philosophy, psychology, sociology, environmental science, law, political science, physics, history, biology, and medicine. At least two people on the council at each time will be proficient in each of these disciplines, as we need to have multiple opinions from experts, and all of these disciplines being represented is crucial in resolving world problems. Members have to go through an extensive and intensive traditional moral education that is thorough, taking into consideration all the countries and different cultures. What will be especially exceptional about this council is that its members have to go through moral bio-enhancement to ensure the work being done is solely for the greater good for all human beings. The council’s agenda is nothing other than overall human well-being, focusing on global issues such as nuclear power, war, overpopulation, ecological collapse, climate change, hunger, diseases, and poverty. The council will change some members couple at a time, with the time limit of 5 years per member to ensure members won’t get attached to be a member of the council, and lose focus on the greater good. As this will be a global initiative, the council will have full access to all the data from all the countries around the world so it can do its job; but the council won’t share it with anyone, and members will sign a nondisclosure agreement, and even may go under memory-erasing if by the time its technology is made possible and safe. The council will work on the pressing issues every day, debating and considering options so we can ensure our survival while respecting other and future life on earth. The council will release action plans that need to be followed, either compulsory or advisory, depending on the pressure and timeliness of the matter. For example, for climate change, many measures can be advised to be completed within a period, while if an epidemic happens, the council can debate and decide the best measures and make it compulsory for countries to enforce it to its citizens. The council’s quarters can be in an international territory, and council will work effectively and efficiently because of its size and the intellectual level its members have. Considering the number of members and thoughtful, thorough, wholesome, and expert opinions, the council should reach to best answers possible in shorter amounts of time and with less capital, just more cooperation. Another benefit is that now governments and citizens will have an authority to look and listen to in times of distress, who will provide the correct information, which in turn will eliminate the misinformation chaos we usually have. A study (Young, 2013) on the effects of meta-ethical views in everyday moral behavior found that if people are primed to regard ethics as an objective fact (moral realism) than a subjective preference, they show improved moral behavior. This council might provide this objectivity that we all need to act morally better and feel more responsible for our actions.
An objection to this argument can be made towards the council by saying that this council diminishes individual and countries’ sovereignty. Having the authority to self-govern is one of the most essential and primary rights each of us has. Many wars have been fought in the name of sovereignty, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. This focus on sovereignty comes from the concern for personal freedom, but that of the near future, as humans tend to focus solely on immediate results. Nobody would want to be told what to do and what not to do from a council of 16 people, especially if none of the members are from its own nation. This idea of freedom is the core of liberalism, which is a political and moral philosophy that most countries are a part of, and many people subscribe to. People who focus on individual rights will be opposed to my suggestion of the council.
This idea of having the freedom to do anything is exactly what causes the tragedy of the commons. If each person lives as if she is the only one living and having the rights to use anything and do whatever, we can’t expect to survive for a long time. Natural resources are limited, and our will to consume is vast. It’s in our biology and how we are wired to only think of the short-term consequences and goals. My answer to the objection is sometimes, concern for personal freedom can be overridden for the benefit of the collective. Collective good is beneficial for us all in the long term. There will be some constraints either advised or compelled by the council, but that is for the common good and is critical for survival. Also, the reports of the council will be enforced from a governmental level; then, each government will make changes according to what is ordered in consideration with the country’s own values and problems. Sometimes, potential harms are more significant than immediate short-term effects, such as some constraints in lifestyle. So, we must forgo some short-term practicalities we have for the benefit of other people, the planet, and future generations. For example, using single-use plastic is very practical, and one doesn’t have to even think about what happens to it, and everybody uses them. For the benefit of the environment, we can be forced to stop using plastic altogether. It would be a somewhat unusual transition, but once we stopped, we will then get used to it, and perhaps even create new and cleaner options. With over 8 billion people on the planet, we can’t be expected to change our behaviors just because it’s the right thing to do, especially if many people we know are doing it anyways. Therefore, we need compulsory measures to fight possible existential threats.
Having better motives lead to better consequences and self-improvement. Human nature develops faulty material desires, which leads to non-ethical motives, but it has the capacity to live an ethical life, given the right motivations. We are not different from other animals; we’re driven by the force of evolution and survival, which doesn’t care about peace, happiness, or justice. We tend to maximize the benefit of our own in-group over out-group. We have love and compassion for our close ones, so we need to find a way to enlarge that grouping so those feelings can reach everybody in the world. I don’t know whether humans are by nature calm or violent, but I know we have the capacity to be either way, and it’s up to us. We get to choose what we do each day, so we can decide what kind of person of values we want to be with our actions. Human technology advanced fast and left our lizard brains confused. The technology we use today has effects across the world, which means we have effects across the world. Now, we can use our technology to make ourselves morally better and perhaps find a solution to the world’s most pressing problems. All we can do is increase our chances of better actions, and if we can do that with just and safe biomedical moral enhancements, then that’s what we should do. I’m not saying traditional moral enhancement is useless, but that it’s not enough, considering the wildfires in California and Australia, and the multiple hurricanes around the US. We should improve and widen the traditional moral education while also focusing on developing biomedical moral enhancement. Morality can and must be more than preventing harm; it must also be about benefiting each other. We all have a responsibility towards each other because when climate change becomes irreversible, or when countries send off their nuclear bombs, we will be all in this together. If humanity doesn’t want to be its own demise and become extinct by one or more of the existential threats, then it must work on biomedical moral enhancements and think about the creation of “the Council for the Resolution of Global Existential Threats,” which would enable a group of people with extraordinary ability to ethically reason about our problems and find solutions. We can definitely find solutions to the problems we face if we can work together and use our technology for the better.
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