Mental models

Speaking of psychoactive drugs, this article from N+1 (hat tip--I'm afraid I can't remember who) on Adderall is really very good. One of the things that struck me was the language that pharmaceutical companies use to market the drug:

Adderall has been on the market since 1996. It is produced by the British drug maker Shire Pharmaceuticals, and is currently the 125th most popular clinical drug in America. The Shire website offers some vague information about ADHD, the disorder for which Adderall is prescribed, and warns that the consequences of untreated ADHD can include relationship problems, drug abuse, and frequent job changes. There is a link for people who are already taking Adderall. "Congratulations!" it reads. "By taking ADDERALL XR, you're showing your commitment to reaching your potential in all aspects of your life—and to being the person you were meant to be."

This is very similar to the language that people often use to talk about anti-depressants--I'm thinking particularly of Listening to Prozac, but it's a pretty common meme. This strikes me as wrong; any meaningful sense of "meant to be" probably does not rely on a physician prescribing you long-term pharmaceutical treatment. I'm trying to unpack why we have such a deep need to believe that we are accessing our truest self through drugs. Part, I assume, is social stigma; no one wants to think that the personality they came with is something that needs fundamental alteration, so instead we think of our ADD or depression or just suburban ennui as some sort of fallen state from which we have a moral duty to escape. For depressives, too, there's the uncomfortable fact that their depressed self is the more accurate self--depressed people generally see social relations, and their place in them, more accurately than the healthy, so seeking treatment is in some way a conscious decision to blind themselves to reality. Indeed, it's a form of self-murder.

But if you don't like the self you got, surely you're entitled to murder it and replace it with something better. Whether or not your true self is the sick one or the better one, you only have one life and limited scope for action; why should you fritter away your opportunities just because nature destined you to be scattered or sad?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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