The Biohacking Industry's Looming Ethics Crisis

By Jonathan Roseland  Connect    

Ethic Crisis
Recently a blogger in the Biohacking space, Mans Denton of, was sentenced to 8 years in prison for theft of historical holocaust documents. Apparently Mans had worked at The Mazal Holocaust Library in San Antonio, Texas and he pilfered several thousand documents with the intent to sell them to the highest bidder online.

When I first heard this story, I had three quite contrary reactions:
Disgust - At this man adding insult to injury to an entire people, by trying to profit from the theft of such ethnically sensitive documents.
Fascination - The part of me that's probably seen too many heist movies and enjoyed reading the autobiography of a thief who stolen $30 million in jewelry wonders how it went down... Did he just pack everything up in his backpack? Did he have to sneak in during the dead of the night? Was it a one man job or were there accomplices?
Curiosity - What Nootropic stack was he on? What inspired him to do this? Is this a case of smart drugs gone bad? How much did he make off the sale of the documents?

itunes-signupJust a week before his sentencing he was interviewed on one of the voices of the industry, Smart Drug Smarts podcast. I encourage you to listen to his interview, he comes across as a level headed and articulate 'normal guy' (well... normal for a Biohacker!)

Thankfully the mainstream media's coverage of the story didn't make the connection between Denton's dabbling in the smart drugs industry and his diabolical crime. However, Mans's crime is an excellent example of how ripe a target our industry is a highly publicized ethics crisis that destroys the credibility of products which genuinely make people happier and healthier.

Consider the respective reputations of these industries:
Pickup Artist industry
The closest thing to a sustainable men's personal development movement yet constantly demonized by the media and mainstream culture. One of the bestselling books of the past decade, hilariously threw the whole industry under the bus.
Search Engine Optimization industry
Ask any small business owner, who labors away 60-80 hours a week serving customers how they feel about 'SEO Experts' and the adverbs they use will be eerily similar to how hard working small business owners used to describe snake oil and yellow pages salesmen.
'Business Opportunity' industry
Has grown up quiet a lot from the scammy pamphlets you used to get in the mail, promising to show you how to get rich quick, too excellent educational programs like Pat Flynn's Smart Passive Income and Internet Business Mastery. This industry has been so unethical for so long that anyone teaching Entreprenuership or real estate investing is met with great skepticism almost universally. Consider the old maxim: The easiest way to get rich is to teach people to get rich.
Financial Services industry
Regarded as a morally bankrupt industry; strict government regulations and watchdog groups exist to police and protect consumers from this industry.

What do these industries have in common?
Male dominated - The Entrepreneurs, employees and the customer base are 80% - 95% male, with a lot of younger, single, high energy and aggressive young men.
Geeky - These industries are almost completely dependent upon technology and the Internet, just like the Entrepreneurs and consumers driving them. Everyone comes from computer science or IT backgrounds and spend the majority of their waking life staring at glowing screens.
Hacker mindset - Whether it's data analysis, ninja adcopy writing, specialized knowledge of psychology, a hot new software, a proprietary process, or outsourcing to a digital sweatshop in another country it's rare that you hear people in these businesses, say that their strategy for massive success is to work really hard, for a really long time, creating valuable products and providing really excellent service to customers.
Spectacular Advertising Claims - The advertising headlines in these industries frequently straddle hyperbole and puffery (advertising statements that no reasonable person would take seriously 'Redbull gives you wings')... SEO experts promise to place you in front of thousands of new potential customers monthly, stockbrokers pitch a stock at $15 that is going over $100, Internet marketing gurus promise you a 4 hour work week and a pickup artist on Youtube is going to show you how to meeting a girl on the street, make out with her in 5 minutes and bring her home for sex within an hour.

Obviously the above attributes describe the burgeoning Biohacking industry to an extent... Nootropics are rocket fuel for the hubris and ambition of young men, who are notorious for failing to empathize with anyone, especially their future selves.

The lifehacking philosophies, and value propositions of Biohacking products have yet to make it into the sphere of public thought and awareness.
Does the average stressed out, overworked, multitasking person think:
Wow! I'm really stressed out today and have a ton to do! I should really take some Piracetam along with doing 10 minutes of Heart Rate Variability meditation to get coherent and maybe finish the day with some Dual N-Back training to better habituate mental compartmentalization.
Highly unlikely. Even in our fairly health conscious society more likely they are thinking...
Wow! I'm really stressed out today and have a ton to do! A mega-slice of pizza at lunch will make me feel better and then this evening I will have a beer or two (or three!) while watching Game of Thrones! Maybe I'll pickup a pack of smokes, just to get me through the day!
Or more optimistic...
Wow! I'm really stressed out today and have a ton to do! I will make sure to take my multi vitamin and hit the gym HARD this evening!

We have a really golden opportunity to solve these people's problems and turn them into loyal, repeat consumers of Biohacking products while at the same time giving them the gifts of happiness, health and life extension. However, given the spectacular effects of our products, we are just a few well publicized ethics bad calls away from being labeled con men and liars and raked over the coals in the court of public opinion.

Numerous mainstream media pieces have already tried to scandalize the widespread phenomenon of college students using cognitive enhancers to improve academic performance. I'm concerned that the first time a potential new consumer hears about Biohacking will be in the context of a 'Helpful new product is actually bad' style nightly news attack piece (sandwiched in between commercials for soap and shampoo) or cleverly demonized to a laugh track on a popular sitcom.

What can we do to prevent an ethics crises that sets our industry back? It's about habituating ethics on a personal basis, balancing narcissism with altruism, Biohacking will power, practicing intermittent sobriety, and ethical hedonism along with studying philosophy via passive information consumption.

What can those in the industry do to minimize moral hazard?
Talk about ethics
I would like to see ethics become more a part of the conversation about Biohacking. It may even be good to introduce an pledge or ethical practices doctrine that Entrepreneurs in the industry who share these values can sign.
Say no to MLM
While Biohacking products and philosophies are fairly well aligned with the way MLM companies work this is a sure fire way to destroy the credibility of our transformational offerings. MLM is not an intrinsically good or bad business model but if we had to pick one industry with the worst reputation it would undoubtedly be multi level/networking marketing.
Market too and hire women
Women add a caring and preserving energy to organizations, the feminine balances out the masculine. The advantage to the bottom line of hiring women is that they can develop products that can appeal and be more effectively marketed to the fairer sex.
Price for your consumers NOT your competition
I think one of the biggest sources of unethical behavior in business is price competition. Brazil waited as long as possible to make slavery illegal because it allowed them to undercut the price of coffee produced by any other country. The problems solved and benefits that Nootropics offer consumers are worth anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars monthly, given the perceived benefit I encourage my fellow Entrepreneurs to price their products sufficiently high enough to avoid moral quandary over quality of product, paying employees well, etc. If pricing your product at $50 will make it competitive, I encourage you to price it at a $100 instead, the extra profit margin will justify the time and effort it takes to develop a product that is well beyond reproach.
Test for purity
The supplements industry is still a wild west, where unethical agents can sell a product which contains none of the advertised ingredients or is of dubious quality. Pass the cost on to the consumer who will be thankful for the highest quality, legitimate product.
Personal responsibility
A real easy way to get people to step up their ethical standards is to ask them to personally stand behind what they are selling. In this age of Facebook, social media and instantaneous digital access; if I were to screw one of my customers or clients, within about 5 minutes of Google searching, they could find my mom and tell her about it (granted my mom is a little famous).

To my fellow Entrepreneurs in the industry I encourage you to treat your respective businesses, the way the 5 good Caesars treated the Roman empire; as something to be preserved, not as a golden goose for a life of luxury and hedonism. Be Augustus not Caligula.

In the comments below, how can we preempt and hopefully prevent a moral crisis?

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