Activism is very important. Persistent and vocal advocacy for a cause directly influences the amount of money flowing into that cause: think of the fight to cure AIDS, cancer research, Alzheimer's research and now healthy life extension. Productively framing, placing and keeping a problem front and center in the mainstream of our culture is hard work, but that education and persuasion unlocks purses far and wide. Government money is usually the least of these resources. Far more funding comes from venture, charitable and corporate concerns. Corporations and venture capitalists see mainstream culture explicitly in terms of needs and markets for future products. If a need is shouted loudly enough, money will be directed to answer that need. Charitable causes answer the same needs - and more certainly goes to those needs shouted loudly from the rooftops - but through voluntary donations and giving.
Why Is Publicity Important?
Research and research funding ebbs and flows on public awareness and public opinion. Government funding is usually a small amount of the whole if a field is popular or well known. If the market sees money to be made by selling people what they want to buy, then companies will bloom and research funds will pour forth.
The science of healthy life extension, aging and longevity research, is currently very underfunded in comparison to, say, cancer, heart disease or AIDS research. When you stop to think about it, this is a very strange state of affairs. After all, everyone ages. Almost everyone is prepared to pay money to slow or halt the progress of aging. Witness the success of vendors claiming to supply "anti-aging" products!
So why is aging and longevity science languishing in comparison to other fields? One answer is that the wider public really doesn't understand the near future potential of this research. The blame for this state of affairs may or may not be laid at the feet of the scientific community, but it isn't an insurmountable barrier. We can look at what happened in the 80s and 90s for AIDS research, for example. Activist groups were well aware of the possibilities that future research could bring. They worked long and hard, and raised a great noise to the heavens. Lo and behold, the flow of resources to AIDS research increased dramatically. Today, AIDS in Western countries is almost a manageable, chronic condition rather than a death sentence - and this happened in only 20 years. When political and economic barriers are overcome, AIDS patients elsewhere in the world will enjoy the same benefits.
Something like this could - and indeed should - happen for the degenerations of aging. We need to organize, speak up and make ourselves heard.
AIDS funding in the 80s and 90s is one crowning example of a victory for activism and advocacy. In a comparatively short few years, AIDS moved from obscure disease to the center of media attention. There was a close relationship between activists and researchers by that time. The floodgates of research funding opened and AIDS progressed from death sentence to manageable condition for those with access to treatment.
There is a point to this examination of past history: we should be trying to repeat the sucesses of the fight against AIDS for aging and longevity research. This branch of science is woefully underfunded and still largely funded by governments - a recipe for slow progress. Major corporate concerns and venture capitalists do not yet see a potential market worthy of investment. The same goes for major philanthropic organizations. Why is this? One reason is that we don't see the loud clamor and noise of people demanding a real cure for aging. There is no ACT UP (one of the loudest early AIDS activism groups) to cultivate, shape, channel and present the nascent demand for longevity research and medical technologies to repair and reverse the damage of aging.
Active advocacy groups are the point of the spear, and can only come into being with the support of a large community. Effective advocacy cannot exist in a vacuum. Fight Aging!, the SENS Foundation, the Methuselah Foundation, the Alliance for Aging Research, the American Aging Association, the Immortality Institute, the CR Society, and other diverse pro-life-extension organizations didn't spring into existence from nothing. They interact with and are encouraged and supported by many overlapping communities interested in healthy life extension.
There has been a real growth in size and sophistication of healthy life extension communities across the past decade, largely thanks to the power of the Internet and the actions of a core of motivated leaders. As a united group, they have come to the point of being able to say: "Real, meaningful healthy life extension is what we want. Let us make it happen!"
How Do We Make It Happen?
What can you do to help the development and awareness of future healthy life extension therapies? I suggest the following easy ways to get started and get involved:
- Subscribe to the Newsletter
We'll keep you up to date on current events, news and healthy life extension activism projects. You decide when and where to join in when we do something new and interesting.
- Join the wider healthy life extension commmunity
Join the community and get talking! Make a donation to the SENS Foundation to support their longevity research; subscribe to the CR Society mailing lists; join the Immortality Institute forums; keep up with the news posted here at Fight Aging!
- Tell your friends about Fight Aging!
Fight Aging! is well worth sharing. The more people who know about healthy life extension and are willing to help out, the better off we all are. Bring all your friends along and swell the ranks of people interested in longer, healthier lives.
- Take action today!
Visit the Take Action! section and see what's going on. Chances are, there's an activist project that you could quickly and easily help with. You'll be helping to ensue your future health and longevity; every little bit counts!
For a final thought, let's come back to growing the community. If you stop to think about it, every extra person contributing to the healthy life extension community directly increases all our chances of living a much longer, healthier life. Everyone can help, and it doesn't take much effort.
Every wall is built one brick at a time. Have you mentioned healthy life extension to your friends today? Show Fight Aging! to a neighbor. Introduce someone to the Immortality Institute or mention the Methuselah Foundation at the office. Post Fight Aging! articles or newsletters to bulletin boards or online groups you belong to. After all, this is no different from sharing the normal run-of-the-mill health advice. Go ahead! You'll be helping people.
In short, healthy life extension is not a niche community anymore, and hasn't been for a while. So let's stop behaving like one.
Scientific progress is a wonderful thing. Progress means that we live in houses rather than caves; that we live in comfort rather than hardship. We shouldn't forget that the vast majority of people slaved just to stay alive for a few short decades in past centuries, living in filth and disease.
Many people do forget. They discount and belittle the tremendous benefits that science has brought to humanity. They would shackle the engine of progress and halt the advance of science. They have their reasons; fear of change often heads the list. Luddites of one form or another have existed throughout history, but have always been defeated. A good thing too! But defeat simply seems to mean that the next generation will live better, longer lives while fighting hard to prevent their children from enjoying the same benefits.
Today, humanity stands on the brink of real, meaningful longevity medicine. Readily available therapies to repair and prevent the damage we suffer simply from living could be mere decades away. Yet, people in positions of influence or power (such as Leon Kass, former chair of the President's Council for Bioethics, and Francis Fukuyama, to name but a few) devote their time to blocking research and speaking out openly against extended health and life.
This isn't isolated, and this isn't just a matter of distaste for advances in medicine for healthy life extension. It's part of a bigger war against scientific progress in all forms. We see it in the globalization debate, in local, national and international politics, in arguments over genetically modified foods. Influential and well-funded factions want to stop or even turn back the clock of progress for everyone. While they can live as they like in their own lives, they have no right to force their views on the world. Alas, they continue to try.
Unfortunately, we cannot dismiss the efforts of people like Leon Kass. While he is helping (in his own backwards way) to raise awareness of the possibilities of healthy life extension, he and his bioethicist cronies have a real ability to damage and hold back medical research. Their voices are used to justify legislation to restrict, shut down or criminalize vast swathes of important, relevant medical research in the US. France and Germany have already done this: it's not as though we can pretend that it can't happen elsewhere.
We cannot afford to lose these battles! The longevity-enhancing, age-repairing medicine of the future is by no means a done deal. Human science is capable of achieving so much that has simply not been accomplished, or even attempted in the years to date. We could have had permanent bases on the Moon, irrigated the Sahara and catalogued all life on the deepest ocean floor over the last 50 years. We have not. Likewise, there is no guarantee that advances in medicine will bring radical life extension rapidly enough to help those of us reading this now.
We must stand up and support what we believe in: more medical research, freedom for researchers, better medicine and healthier, far longer lives!
Last updated: December 7th, 2010.