The Right-Wing Brain and the Quacky Chemicals They Peddle

Illustration by Eddie Guy

The rightwing's commentariat’s love affair with Nootropics, Alpha Brain, Gorilla Mind Smooth, Brain Force Plus...

New Republic - September 3, 2019

"Taking Dawn to Dusk will make you computerlike, complete with “gears” and an internal clock—a dehumanization that is offered as a release, not a threat. In the fantasy propagated by these products, people don’t resist being deformed by work, they embrace it."

On my desk sit four containers of brain pills. Though they are made by four separate companies, they are similar enough in appearance and content to be almost interchangeable. The ingredients mention green tea extract and bacopa, B vitamins and black pepper extract. The names of the formulae—Alpha Brain, Gorilla Mind Smooth, Brain Force Plus, Dawn to Dusk—are displayed in clean, futuristic fonts. Three of the bottles are tinted the tone of limousine windows. All sport the cartoon iconography that signifies increased brainpower: firing synapses, lightning bolts, glowing bulbs. The pills’ most important similarity, however, is not represented on the labeling: Each can boast the endorsement of a prominent right-of-center media commentator.

Onnit Alpha Brain claims to support “memory and focus,” and when the podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan began taking it daily, he insisted that his ability to form sentences “seemed smoother.” The best-named pill, Gorilla Mind Smooth, was formulated by the alt-lite author Mike Cernovich (with the help of researchers). Its capsules are half-red and half-black, and when Cernovich first took a prototype version, he tweeted that he could feel neurons regrowing in his sleep. Brain Force Plus is a best-seller on the Infowars Store, where it helps fund Alex Jones’s war for your mind. Ben Shapiro endorses Dawn to Dusk, distributed by BrickHouse Nutrition. Unlike the others, this supplement is moderately caffeinated, and, whether by design or accident, its effects seem to encourage Shapiro’s rapid-fire, small-caliber mode of speaking.

These substances are variously called nootropics, neurotropics, or nutraceuticals, none of which are very accurate names. Nootropics, the term used most frequently, literally means “mind-bending,” but the products are intended to heighten focus rather than cause a psychedelic reorientation of perception. The medical community is skeptical of nootropics, and discourages their use. In most studies, the pills tend to do no better than a placebo. Their side effects and dose dependency are not well understood, and because they are listed as supplements, not drugs, they remain unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. (In the 1990s, the lobbying effort to prevent supplement regulation produced an ad, starring Mel Gibson, wherein a man’s house was raided by a swat team in search of illicit Vitamin C.)

The most pronounced side effects I suffered began before the pills were delivered. Even ordering them provoked a mild sensation of unreality; before checkout, there were options to pay via cryptocurrency or make a donation to a psychedelic research center that treats PTSD. Afterward, a payment to Free Speech Systems appeared on my credit card. Endless congratulations for my recent purchase piled into my in-box. Alex Jones wanted to talk almost daily, and has since contacted me 55 times, once with an invitation to “Eliminate Unwanted Invaders.” “Hereeeeeeee’s BrickHouse!” began an email subject line from BrickHouse Nutrition, more Jack Torrance than Ed McMahon, before acknowledging my purchase with a “Mic Drop” and a “Standing Ovation.” ...
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