I read "Memory Blunting: Ethical Analysis" by the President's Council on Bioethics, excerpted from Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (2003) and appearing in Neuroethics: An Introduction with Readings, edited by Martha J. Farah. I did so because I am taking a neuroethics class and we're supposed to show that we're thinking about neuroethics stuff at least a bit outside class. Also because I'm super-interested in how neuro-stuff (especially neurodivergence but really all things neuro-) is represented in fiction (especially young adult speculative fiction.) I'm pretty much chucking my notes (drawn parallels, expressions of annoyance, and the occasional "OK that's legitimate") on my blog because as important as a lab notebook is, I like notes that are typed and searchable. This part is just the connections I've drawn to Allegiant. More later.
The council starts by asking when we would want to reduce the emotional impact of an experience, and why we should/shouldn't in a given situation. Definitely good questions to consider.
These questions remind me of the ending of Allegiant. We have the protagonists wiping the memories of everyone at a government agency in what boils down to self-defense -- the agency was going to do the same to their entire city "experiment." Not that the experiment was particularly experimental, nor was it particularly based on how genetics actually works, though it was certainly eugenic as all heck. So here we get memory wipe as government control over a eugenic project and as self-defense against said government control.
We also see individual level decisions about memory elimination: Four brings a vial to the city with the plan of using it on one of his parents, who are leading opposing factions in what has become a civil war. He believes that if one of them will stop, so will the fighting as a whole (and then maybe the government won't memory wipe the entire city.) He gives his mother a choice instead of using this vial (he doesn't like memory wipes as an act of war/control/defense/greater good) and this winds up working. She agrees to leave the city.
Or Peter: He is cruel. He knows it. He wants to change. He knows people are the product of their experiences and choices to enough of an extent that he'd have a hard time doing this (and therefore just ... wouldn't) without the aid of wiping his memories. He wants to forget himself. Interestingly, he's the only individual-level memory wipe that we see go through. He forgets himself. In the epilogue, we find out that he's still not the nicest of people, but he's not the person he was before, either. He did make a (slightly) different self, and the difference matters. (Things like not stabbing rivals in the eye while they sleep are just slightly important.)
Four/Tobias, again. After Tris dies, he takes a truck and goes into the city with a vial of the memory serum. His friend Christina stops him, because "The person you became with her is worth being. If you swallow that serum, you'll never be able to find your way back to him." And with eliminating the memory entirely of who he had been and what he had done, I even think I might buy this argument. I will, however, note that this would be a complete elimination of memory. This isn't blunting the emotional impact, making a thing you can remember be less traumatic to recall. This is making the event gone, like it never was, instead of softer, so you can look at it instead of needing to bury it.
And why do I read and understand the neuroethical arguments in dystopian science fiction?
Maybe it’s something you have to be Autistic to see, but all of their storytelling is
Every writer is making a narrow and overly specified claim about
the nature of social pressure, taboo, deviance policing, human fulfillment, and
the methods by which a person located in a certain sociological position might resolve
the needs inherent in their system.When I read, this is what I examine. A writer’s inability to fully represent society
is simply a way of stating their warrants to me, and the individual scenes carry
not only emotional value, but grounds for the conclusions drawn in the depiction
of the change in the main character’s state. All of your fiction is an argument about a
time and place. (Monje 29)
(That's also from The Us Book, which I read and which you should read. Specifically, it's from "Reintroducing Art to the House of Rhetoric.")