If erasing memory about a person was possible, on balance, it would cause more harm than good
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Assume that erasing memories causes no brain damage.
Read the title carefully, it is erasing memories about a specific person, not object, not place, etc.
2. Non-ES Options
Pro is reliant on a restrictive set of options for treating those with psychological problems (e.g. trauma and depression). People either live with these issues, seek out professional help (medications and therapy) or self-medicate. While therapy can be effective, there are a lot of patients who are refractive to such therapy (as many as 50% of those that go through therapy), particularly among those with PTSD.[1-3] Even when it does work, therapy is a long and grueling process that can last years during which time they will continue to suffer. Meanwhile, prescription medications usually focus on selective serotonin inhibitors, which can have non-response rates as high as 40%. Even with the full suite of treatment in a primary care setting, there is a 30% likelihood of recurrence, relegating many of those with PTSD to continue their suffering interminably.
As a result, many suffering from PTSD (almost 50%) engage in substance abuse. In particular, alcohol dependence often results from a desire to drink in order to avoid or dull a negative experience in one’s life. Those experiences often result from interactions with others. These range from actual traumas and cases of abuse to separating partners. “Coping motives appear to be a risk factor for alcohol dependence even when severity of depression and frequency of negative alcohol consequences are statistically controlled.” Applying this to my argument, trauma is a risk factor for increased alcohol dependency, meaning those with trauma are more likely to cause continuous and substantial physical and psychological damage to themselves and others in both the short and long term. Others drugs, many of which are illegal and dangerous, cause their own unique harms in an attempt to escape their pasts.
These strategies fail so thoroughly and so often that we should be actively searching for promising replacements. But ES technology is not just promising – it’s established to be safe, accurate, and 100% effective. The difference could not be more staggering.
3. The Scope of the Problem
“On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.” “4 in 10 women and 4 in 10 men have experienced at least one form of coercive control by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” Whether it’s physical or psychological, each of these results in trauma, with individuals exhibiting depression, suicidal behavior, addiction to drugs, neurological disorders, and PTSD.
These people stay in these abusive relationships for many reasons including: fear, belief that the abuse they’re receiving is normal, embarrassment or shame, and feelings of love for the person. In Pro’s world, they are required to work through these problems while enduring continued abuse. In Con’s world, these can be resolved simultaneously by erasing memories of their abuser, allowing the abused to escape further abuse more quickly.
But the Con world solves more broadly. Imagine removing the repeat flashbacks and sources of lasting depression and anxiety for rape victims, who often cannot move on from the psychological trauma of their encounters well after they physically heal. This could also address abuse from relatives or friends, which notoriously leave lasting and deep scars. Even expectant mothers who have experienced miscarriages and stillbirths, which can result in lasting psychological wounds, could get relief.
Moving on from obvious traumas, let’s talk about a much more common experience: breakups. Studies with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that just thinking of their former significant other elicits a response similar to pain. This also “lights up the same parts of your brain as cocaine users who are waiting for their next line. In other words, love is addictive, and breaking up with someone is like going through withdrawal.” This pain and addiction cycle is fueled by each thought about the former significant other. For some, dealing with rejection leads them to question their own basic worth, falling into a self-deprecation trap from which it can take years and even decades to recover. Pro’s world lacks meaningful recourse, condemning them to persistent psychological suffering, whereas the ES tech affords them an effective, efficient and safe means to move on.
A. Right to Forget
Pro argues that individuals should not be allowed to forget others because those memories belong to those who feature in them. There is no legal body on this planet that would say other people bear any ownership over your memories, much less that individuals have some inherent right to be remembered. Forgetting someone, whether by simply failing to recall them or out of induced amnesia, is not nor should it be a criminal act. Your memories are yours to modify, plain and simple. The right to forget someone isn’t affected the means by which it is accomplished, nor will the capacity to treat someone as forgotten functionally change. Religious communities ostracize members, functionally forgetting them, as with off the derech (OTD) Jews and ostracized Mormons.[17, 18] Giving those people the means to erase a person from their memories can only generate the same outcome.
B. The Price of Failures
Pro also argues that it’s important to learn from our failures. I agree. However, Pro’s argument is inherently flawed: people abusing drugs are not learning from their failures. They are caught in a vicious cycle harming themselves and those around them. If Pro could guarantee that every individual who encounters these problems will come out the other side stronger, then he might have a point, but contrary to his point, many do not move on from their traumas. Many do not move on from depression. You can and will still learn lessons – removing some people from your life doesn’t remove you from life and its school of hard knocks – but we should give people better options than the ones they currently turn to when they are in pain.
D. The Slippery Slope
Pro’s slippery slope scenario is faulty. Even within the ES narrative, Joel’s attempts to move to unrelated memories did not result in their deletion; Clementine was just removed from places where she should not have been, and Joel was relocated back to relevant memories. That was also a case where the patient was actively working against the ES tech. The head of the company, who had been doing this for years, had never seen it before. No other patient went to unrelated memories during the procedure. The notion that memory aberrant memory removal would become common and result in huge gaps in the memories of these patients does not hold up.
E. Black Market
The formation of a black market only applies if access to this technology is somehow limited. Neither I nor my opponent as ascribed such limitations. Moreover, these machines are likely expensive and the expertise to use them is clearly complex. This would be akin to arguing that there would be a black market for MRI machines. Pro will have to provide evidence that black markets have been built around similar technology previously, and I do not see any evidence of that. Finally, there are black markets already for the prescription medications that many of these people are already abusing. Access to this technology will drive people away from those dangerous black markets and towards validated, safe technology.
The Con world, which includes the ES device, addresses a great deal of psychological trauma and sources of depression that goes unsolved in Pro’s world. Remember, this technology is a form of treatment that does not exist in Pro’s world and has no functional equivalent. At no point in this debate has Pro endeavored to defend any of the methods used to address the trauma common to victims of domestic abuse, childhood abuse, rape, miscarriages, or stillbirths. The experience of a breakup, which many of us will experience in our lifetimes and which can send us into spirals of self-deprecation and leave us spinning through cycles of pain and addiction, is similarly unsolvable for many in Pro’s world. Only with this technology is there a chance for these people to break away from their traumas. Only in my world can those with terrible traumas escape PTSD, which comes with that terrible risk of suicide. Only in my world do these people have an alternative to drug dependencies that harm them and those around them.
Pro’s world has no benefits. The only argument he still cares about at this point in the debate is the possibility of government misuse, which is still utterly baffling to me. Pro straight drops every point I’ve made against this, so allow me to summarize those points.
- Government misuse requires hefty investments on the parts of
those governments, including expensive machines, substantial technical
expertise, and huge time commitments to each individual.
- The government would have to round up individuals, force
them to take everything that reminds them of a given person from their
property, set it in a room with a neurologist who will force them to look at
them individually, map them all to their brains, and then spend an overnight
session with each one to remove that single individual.
- The government stands to gain almost nothing by doing this. Taking
away their knowledge of a given person doesn’t turn them into a slave or a
robot, as Pro has claimed in previous rounds. It just reduces their volume of
knowledge slightly. Pro has yet to provide any convincing story regarding how
this would be used within the bounds of the device we’ve been discussing.
- Even if you believe that this device could be used to erase other
specific memories, the whole point is meaningless. You want a slave or a robot
instead of a person? Lobotomize them. It’s much less expensive, much less time
intensive, requires little technical expertise, and is far more permanently
- If anything, all of the examples Pro keeps providing only
emphasize how absurd this point is because each of his examples of totalitarian
governments clearly had much bigger aims. Hitler had no interest in wiping
minds on course to killing millions in death camps. Japan was much more
interested in physical conquest than mental conquest. North Korea has developed
its own cult of personality without such a device and has focused on its own
destructive power. The key uniting characteristic is this: they use hard power
to control their people and others. What possible benefit could they stand to
gain by utilizing substantial resources to erase very specific portions of the
memories of their people? Pro never says.
- As for terrorists stealing this technology, we should all
prefer that they waste tremendous amounts of resources and time to get a hold
of and use one of these devices, especially when many of these groups currently
aim to acquire a nuclear weapon.[https://www.amacad.org/publication/reducing-greatest-risks-nuclear-theft-terrorism]
So, even if you believe that countries or terrorists would try to use this
technology for nefarious purposes, that’s just more reason to vote for my side
in this debate because it will only slow them down.
Meanwhile, my case is clear and uncontested. At best, Pro has provided reasons to believe that the ES tech will not be a panacea. That’s fine because nothing is. My world has clear and established solvency for a great deal of real-world problems. I have supported those claims with evidence and warrants, whereas Pro’s own claims remain fanciful, built only on notions of what could happen if this technology functioned in ways it clearly doesn't and if countries threw out their established interests.
Vote for the side that recognizes the ES tech for what it is and not some monstrous abstraction thereof, where it will be used for the good of tens of millions who suffer without recourse. Vote Con.