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Cure or Controversy?
When potent solutions challenge our moral compass, how do our stories evolve?
This is part of my “Art of Noticing” series, in which I learn, find, or discover the things around me that usually go unnoticed and turn them into an endless source of creative inspiration.
Today, I learned that exercise might be as effective as SSRIs in alleviating depression, and psilocybin might be several times as effective. It made me realize that the most potent cures are sometimes the most controversial.
DISCLAIMER: This is the part where I point out the hopefully-obvious fact that I’m not a doctor and don’t know anything official about the efficacy of treatments for anything. The above was something I heard, but I didn’t verify it. That shouldn’t impact the point of this post, though, because the point isn’t the anecdote itself. The point is what it made me think about. So … you know … don’t be dumb by making medical treatment decisions based on this post and then think you should sue me or something.
On a recent podcast (I forget which), I heard a scientist say that in certain studies, exercise appears to be about as effective in alleviating depression as SSRI antidepressants, on average, across large sample groups. He went on to say that psilocybin (think “shrooms”) was two or three times more effective than SSRIs. I don’t know if it’s true and I’m not telling anyone to do mushrooms where they’re illegal (see the disclaimer above), but that was a stunning thing to hear either way.
It got me thinking about something I could use in my storytelling. If a powerful but controversial remedy was discovered in a fictional world, how would society respond … especially if their own version of Big Pharma was in place at the time? The introduction of something like that could provoke a bottomless well of story ideas, prompting discussions about regulation, morality, and ethics.
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Here's how this "noticing" can benefit my stories and art:
The Ripple Effect of Controversial Cures
Incorporating potent but contentious medical treatments in a story opens up all sorts of options for folks like me. As with the real-world parallel of psilocybin and exercise in use for depression, introducing such remedies in a book could let me talk about all sorts of societal dilemmas, regulatory debates, and individual moral reckonings. It’s ironic: I despise politics, but the bitchiness surrounding politics makes for such great story fodder that I include it ALL THE TIME. (See also: The Beam.)
Exploring characters' varying responses to controversial remedies would also let me talk about deeply-held personal beliefs, biases, and societal structures. It gives me an opportunity to ask questions like: What drives a society to accept or shun new solutions if they’re effective? How do characters weigh the potential benefits against ethics? Or, more generally: what their nosy neighbors might think of their choices?
Introducing elements that challenge societal norms can really deepen the complexity of a narrative. While we might be tempted to stick with familiar ideas, it's often the uncharted, most-controversial topics that leave a lasting impression on readers.
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