In an interview, Dr. Brett Wingeier owner and developer of Haloneuro mentioned that his company, and by extension he himself, are on the receiving end of a fairly consistent stream of criticism. The Haloneuro company specializes in neuroadaptive (neuroplasticity and stimulation of the neurological system) research and the design and manufacture of products for harnessing that research. In describing the criticism directed at his enterprise, Wingeier indicated that the critics seem to all share a concept of “fairness” and find offense with his work on the basis that it violates their understanding of this principle. The conception of fairness which underlies the anger is concerning today because it speaks to a willingness to negate the contribution or abilities of others through an assumption of an “unfair” paradigm.
Wingeier explained that professional athletes and musicians comprise the primary customer base for his company because its research and products are intended to accelerate the training process for muscle memory. Athletes and musicians are similar in that they have a pressing need to train constantly whilst avoiding unnecessary repetition in order to minimize the risk of injury. Haloneuro’s primary pitch is that its training uses available technology, specifically a certain type of headset, in a scientifically backed, non-invasive, natural way.
Cost is the first complaint of the “fairness” campaigners. The equipment is fairly expensive, though not particularly out of reach for a dedicated athlete or musician for whom the training would be an investment. According to the “fairness” warriors, expensive equipment is “cheating” because it is not accessible to all due to cost. The rebuttal to the cost argument offered by Dr. Wingeier was that Haloneuro products are priced at approximately the same amount as an annual gym membership. Gyms function on a business model where the cost of very expensive equipment is spread across a large mass of consumers. Essentially, gyms are a form of collectivization of exercise equipment. This is not an appropriate model for Haloneuro because its products are highly individualized, aside from being useful for a relatively niche demographic. The fairness-cost paradigm is a notion based on a collectivist approach, which fails to account for the difference in needs between professionals and casual participants.
The other complaint for the company’s critics concerned the idea that the training was a form of “cheating.” These critics focus on the use of technology and modern neurological research in the learning process. Wingeier described these opponents as luddites who ask questions such as “what’s wrong with old-fashioned repetition?” Since one of the central purposes of neuroadaptive training is to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury, the question is asinine. The critics’ central idea, though, is still one of “fairness” with the implicit objection being that accelerated learning training creates unequal outcomes.
The second category of criticism is more concerning than the first. This is because it is the basis for a society in which any effort to improve yourself or to even maintain skill level is cheating - if it is cheating to take advantage of what is available to one. Nothing in the neuroadaptive approach is unnatural, as Dr. Wingeier carefully pointed out; there is no taking of drugs, no transhumanist procedures. He equated his company’s work to that of medical doctors. They just take advantage of what is known in the scientific community and they use that knowledge to benefit their patients. They recommend dietary changes. They prescribe or change fitness routines. As he said, if that type of “change is cheating, well then so is wearing a coat to keep warm.”
The word “luddite” in the context of Dr. Wingeier’s company is both apt and revealing because he was described his products as used by people who have to learn continuously in order to keep their livelihoods. The modern-day luddites, like the original Luddites, oppose technological development, but not from fear that they will be put out of work by the new technologies. After all, it is unlikely that the modern keyboard warrior luddite is someone whose professional needs are the same as those of a career athlete or musician. Rather, the opposition is now based on rejection of harnessing knowledge out of fear of inequality of outcome. In the view of the critics, any tool or learning aid which creates difference or advantage is to be rejected, even if the equipment belongs to fields of such specialization that there is almost no relevance to the general population.
The “fairness” argument and the “cheating” accusation are flung around casually and have become ubiquitous. In the autumn 2018, a school in England made international headlines when it banned certain types of coats, claiming that the move prevented “poverty shaming,” in an implicit vision of fairness. At regular intervals, there are brouhahas in the US over standardized testing, advanced placement courses, application essays, and the way in which these metrics are “unfair” and “disadvantage” X or Y demographic. These polemics are invariably cast in terms of “fairness” and how test prep, tutors, even study time are forms of “cheating.”
We might ask why the periodic bouts of concern over “fairness” and “cheating” merit more than the most cursory attention given that such debates have existed throughout human history. While it is true that there is nothing new about rhetoric dividing society into “cheaters-victims” and “fairness-unfair advantage,” the included narrative has taken root in current political discourse in the US. Senators Warren and Sanders on the overt socialist side have built the bulk of their platforms on the popular appeal of such division. Sen. Rubio, a neoconservative, joined the “fairness” brigade with an article “The case for common goods capitalism,” which was cut down from a speech he gave at Catholic University in Washington DC. Fundamentally, Rubio’s manifesto, in the name of being “fair” to workers and protecting them from competitive differences, is a call for a return to the soft socialism of the mid-twentieth century, which was an economic model that ended with stagflation and the joint rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the Anglo-American sphere. Our concern today ought to be that the “fairness” brigade in their social justice warmongering is part of broader shift that will drag society into a future where all difference is frowned upon, and having a competitive spirit, drive to become better, or merely a desire to grow are synonymous with “cheating.”