IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > CognitiveLiberty > PrivacySurveillance > Staff > Enablement > Kyle Munkittrick
Four Loko and Our Irrational Fear of Cognitive Enhancement
Kyle Munkittrick   Nov 21, 2010   Science Not Fiction  

Four Loko is in the news! For a caffeinated malt liquor drink that comes in an assortment of barely palatable flavors, it sure is generating a lot of controversy.

The FDA is banning it! People are taking sides and making bathtub home-brew! Politicians are binge drinking it for SCIENCE! Some folks think the ban might be classist or infringe our freedom of speech!


Why is everyone so upset over this disgusting fusion of energy drink and booze? The official answer:

The FDA says it examined the published peer-reviewed literature on the co-consumption of caffeine and alcohol, consulted with experts in the fields of toxicology, neuropharmacology, emergency medicine and epidemiology as well as reviewed information provided by product manufacturers. FDA says it also performed its own independent laboratory analysis of these products and listened to experts who have raised concerns that caffeine can mask some of the sensory cues individuals might normally rely on to determine their level of intoxication.

Allow me to translate: the caffeine, guarana and taurine make it so that you’re less aware you’re drunk, so you get more drunk. Caffeine and alcohol, what a novel combination! Apparently the FDA has never heard of Red Bull and vodka, Irish coffee, or even a rum and Coke.

More importantly (or more hilariously) the FDA seems to think that people who purchase drinks like Four Loko and Joose make a point to pay attention to “sensory cues” to “determine their level of intoxication.” My absolutely unscientific and unverifiable opinion is that it is very hard to rely on “sensory cues” when one is “blackout, fall-down drunk.”

But that’s not the real point, is it? If it was, we’d ban every possible combo of caffeine and alcohol. What’s at stake here is our society’s fear of cognitive enhancement…


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a Computer Science graduate from Purdue University. She developed encryption and network security software, which inspired the eHuman Trilogy—both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception are available at Amazon, the third installment is expected in early 2016. She is a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.


I can agree that governments are inherently conservative, and while the executive staff at the FDA are all going our for rum and cokes later today…LOL…to forget how drunk they are….they don’t think it ethical (whatever that means) to allow a legal entity to provide ambiguous alcoholic beverages to their 21 year old children speeding down the 495 past the FDA headquarters…LOL… It’s okay, as long as its not formally allowed by the Federal government… Hypocrites!

I recall hearing that one major reason people were up in arms about drinks like these was due to how they are being marketed; namely that they are marketed as energy drinks rather than as alcoholic drinks.  That being said it doesn’t negate your point that the mixing of stimulants and depressants has been going on for a long while (I used to enjoy a good Jack and Coke myself.)

I regards to your comments about coffee versus caffeine pills I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the added benefits of drinks like coffee (antioxidants, etc) that are not currently found in pill fomr, not to mention the shear aesthetic pleasure that comes with a perfect cup of Earl Grey.  One must never discount the aesthetic.

“What’s at stake here is our society’s fear of cognitive enhancement.”  “The answer seems to be that we have a bias towards imperfection and inaccuracy in our enhancement.”

I would suggest that few people are interested in “cognitive enhancement” per se when they aim for the caffeine. They just want be more awake and think more clearly. Now, we can discuss whether “cognitive enhancement” is truly the same as “thinking more clearly.”

Good point; you have a way of getting right to it. Take Gingrich, just say, he is brilliant, the higher-brain of the GOP today, as in 1994- ‘97. Yet his mind is so filled with self-deceived memes, “thinking clearly” does not apply in his case; plus his mind is spread out all over the intellectual horizon. Even Forrest Gump & Chauncey Gardener had more common sense—a simpleton can be wiser than an out-of-touch higher-brain.
Next year will see high-comedy, what is now secreted away shall be shouted from the rooftops and laughed at in every TV room.

“you have a way of getting right to it.”

And you have a way of getting right to blasting people from the GOP, for no relevant reason.

The reason is extreme disappointment at how the GOP has left a frightful mess for Obama to attempt to clean up, and since you are a Rightist blogging at a techno-progressive site, responding in this manner is IMO quite relevant to the issues of today & tomorrow. I like Reagan for his role in ending the Cold War, however in the past two decades the GOP has been clueless. First the heartless George HW Bush and his “read my lips, no new taxes”, plus his dithering after the Warsaw Pact dissolved. Then the presidential candidacy of the dorky Bob Dole. Then eight mostly wasted years of Dubya. To top it off, in ‘08 the GOP repeated the same mistake of ‘96: running another dork for president. The GOP has squandered the post Cold War dividend.
Veronica, if the GOP would think for itself, it wouldn’t need the Tea Party. And that is relevant, because starting in January the GOP will somehow find a way to botch it yet again, they have been on a negative roll for 20 years. The GOP will boost the economy as they did 1995- ‘99, but they will mess it up bad, as they lack the strategic coherence they possessed in the 1980s. I’m very concerned about Gingrich, as we will have to listen (it’s hard to avoid GOP trumpeting) to his grandiose ‘conservative’ futurist blarney for another four years. Now, ‘90s nostalgia is fine, but not THAT sort of nostalgia. BTW, here is what a wiser conservative than Gingrich wrote:
“Because our discoveries and inventions change the human environment faster than that of any other animal, there is always a temptation—to which today’s techno-conservatives, like Newt Gingrich, often fall prey—to think that such changes may usher in an age of harmony and plenty that will solve the dilemmas of politics. Evolutionary biology shows that this is simply a pipe dream. Our nature assures that we will simultaneously be obsessed with our relative status in society and possess unequal abilities for acquiring higher status. Thus individuals will always seek to use the government as a means to rearrange their relative positions. No matter how much wealth free trade produces, no matter how much information the Internet transmits, the central problem of politics will remain: how to empower the government for safeguarding life and property, and yet simultaneously constrain it from eviscerating civil society and expropriating property.”

PS, Veronica;
Back on-topic? next time Newt decides to smarm-on about the Future (and his latest glitzy & expensive book) email him; tell him to take a small dose of sodium pentathol.
I post too much at one time, so since this is a holiday weekend I wont blog at all ‘til next week. But please keep in mind YOU left a window open for what I brought up above, YOU wrote:
“Now, we can discuss whether ‘cognitive enhancement’ is truly the same as ‘thinking more clearly.’ ”
You blog at a progressive site as a conservative (or whatever you are) and expect no back-talk? Such is further evidence IMO of the poor thinking of the GOP which cannot be improved by any cognitive enhancers, as you correctly alluded to. What I intensely dislike is rightwingers opening intellectual cans of worms, and then they say “let’s not go in that direction, it is disturbing things too much”, yet they want to stir things up, and end up doing so in the most disruptive ways. I can remember back a half-century, and have never known a more dislocated decade than the last one. For brevity’s sake, as Reagan had something to do with ending the Cold War, IMO Bush had something to do with the extreme distortions of 2002- 2008—
Bush could use some sodium pentathol, as well.

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