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The title of Gilbert Meilaender’s article “Why Remember?” immediately forces the reader to think about the answer as he or she reads the following passages. The entire article is Meilaender’s struggle to answering his own question by presenting various views on memory and the need to store it. The author’s essential message involves three stages: people should possess the power to erase traumatic, negative memories through medical technological advances such as anti-anxiety medication, people can decide not to erase memories and use past experiences as means of redemption, and that human lives are intermingled, relying on each other for integrating forgotten memories to create a wholesome narrative. However, there are some issues with these claims which Meilaender explains. The first and most basic problem is that humans are surrounded by limitations, both physical and emotional. The most intense limitation is the sense of not knowing how one narrative or story will turn out since all human lives are actually narratives based on the past memories.
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Being able to fight Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by erasing harsh memories is greatly needed as human beings should be required to forget certain life events. Meilaender believes that this is the not only obligated but the only humane thing to do. It is unfair that victims should be forced to remember their injustices and learn to live with the haunting memories. He passionately asks the reader, “Why should they suffer such painful memories if the means to relieve them are at hand?” (21). Even people who have not faced horrible injustices should have the control to organize and select their memories for a wise man only remembers things that will benefit his livelihood, wellbeing and personality. By having organized thoughts, one will work more efficiently and effectively. Gilbert uses a dialogue between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to demonstrate this point by saying, “Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order” (21).
Meilaender’s position about the purpose or erasing memory is at stake here, so he becomes his own critic and shows the challenges posed. Even though people are able to delete certain memories through beta blocker anti-anxiety medication, this will pose high risk problems in the legal system when witness accounts are required to punish criminals. The author mainly cares about the pain people feel when forced to witness certain crimes and wants to reach out the reader, acquiring empathy for the victims who did not choose the negative events to happen in their lives. Regarding Hermann Goering’s son, Gilbert quotes David Novak who states, “Hermann Goering’s son did not choose to be Hermann Goering’s son; he did not choose to be born a German in the 1930s. What he did choose, however, was to make his own life in a place where everyone assumes a new name, in a place not of Germany or even of this world” (22).
Even though Meilaender makes a concise and humane point about erasing people’s painful memories in order to help humanity as a whole, he fails to see the larger dangers of such a move. The pharmaceutical industry continuously struggles with medicine side effects, even for simple headache relievers. Erasing a memory requires reaching an entirely different level and the side effects will be undeniable. In fact, there will be more evil done than good as the positive memories will be at risk for deletion as well. The author also fails to ask the bigger question: without our memories, good or bad, how will our personalities be affected? The truth is that people’s personalities will cease to by dynamic and remain static lines since there will be a lack of balance and well-roundedness. When one forgets certain experiences, he or she will lose a great chunk of the individual identity. Besides, if the negative experience takes place again, the victim will be forced to relive it which might also trigger the past version.
Furthermore, Gilbert’s three points do not intermingle well with each other and stand separately on their own. He repeatedly contradicts himself when he desires that memories should be erased and then changes his mind because the past experiences can turn into lessons and ways to redeem oneself. After citing realists and scientists, he jumps to religious texts, looking at the redemption as one entirely religious. Quoting the Bible, he states, “The ancient Israelites are commanded by their Lord, ‘remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you’” (22). Making another jump, the author inserts a new opinion that people’s memories are actually connected with each other which means that people who cannot remember things should not worry or be treated as they have others to share their memories with. This contradicts Meilaender’s humanity claim since this would not be the fair thing to snatch someone the pleasure of storing memories and letting strangers into their private thoughts.
In her article, “Memory-Erasing Drug Tested for PTSD Patients,” Terri Parker interviews PTSD patients about their willingness to take the new drug shown to delete negative memories or tone them down. However, people, both on the professional medical level and the victims, did not hesitate to show their criticism for the drug. Dr. Alberto Fernandez-Milo, who is the Chief of Mental Health at the Riviera Beach’s Veterans’ Administration Hospital answered, “Erasing memories? That sounds a little too sci-fi” (Parker). Furthermore, Jennie Carter, who is dealing with the pain of losing two children in a fire purposely set by her husband, flatly refused to end the pain at the cost of a pill by saying that “no matter how bad her memories get some days, she’ll never try to erase them with a pill…something is going to trigger your mind and that memory is going to come back, and if you’ve never dealt with that in a normal way, if you’ve put those memories on pause, how are you going to deal with that?” (Parker).
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