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Why the New Right Loves Nootropics

The ideologies behind mind optimization

Illustration by Ariel Davis

A class of supplements bills itself as neuroenhancers or nootropics—compounds you don’t need a prescription for that promise to augment your mental functioning without side effects. A notable subset of the people interested in these brain pills—and sometimes hawking them—are on the right. It’s not hard to see how today’s pressures might make a person want to amplify their cognitive abilities, but is there something about the idea of chemically optimizing one’s mind that meshes especially well with a conservative politics? In Episode 2 of The Politics of Everything, the Australian writer Richard Cooke joins hosts Alex Pareene and Laura Marsh to talk about vitamin regulation, the history of amphetamine usage in the arts, how nootropics fit into the tradition of right-wing snake-oil peddling, and the unmistakable influence of the movie Limitless, which celebrates a mysterious substance that vastly improves its protagonist’s brainpower—and spurs him to commit a murder.

Later in the episode, campaign reporter Walter Shapiro calls in from South Carolina with a dispatch on the state of the primary race and his reflections on the possibility of a contested convention.