Activism for Healthy Life Extension

Despite widespread apathy, disinterest and ignorance of science in our society, there has been a real growth in size and sophistication of healthy life extension communities in the past few years. As a group united in our vision for a better future, we have come to the point of being able to say: "We want to live healthily for longer. We want real, meaningful healthy life extension therapies. What shall we do to make it all happen?" This is the key question!

Copyright © Devon Fowler. Based on a piece by Devon Fowler that appeared originally at Transhumanity and the Immortality Institute.

150,000 people died today, from age-related conditions that we should be working harder to cure. I'm sick of the way in which society ignores this horrid toll. Each life is precious: an individual, complex human being; wishes, desires, knowledge, experience...all gone, destroyed, 150,000 times over every day. The apathy with which we greet this ongoing holocaust is shocking. Think about that for a moment; spend a little time thinking about you, your family and your friends suffering and dying because we cannot rouse ourselves to spend the necessary funds on anti-aging medical research. Don't push it out of your mind - get angry instead! A longer life and lasting, excellent health are rights worth fighting for, and this essay is a little meditation on what you should be doing in order to obtain both of these things.

In the course of my life to date, I have met a good number of the unfocused and apathetic people in the world. They drift with the currents, follow the distractions of the moment, and are afraid or unable to take a real stand on issues. Lives are affected and changed, often for the worse, because people didn't stand up to make a difference when they had the chance. They certainly don't want to think about the falling of the ax, 150,000 times each day. They hide from this unpleasant, ugly reality. It's easy to take life too lightly - after all, the ability to kick back, joke and procrastinate in the face of adversity is a form of defense against stress - but people let real, serious issues pass by without challenge: issues such as working to fight the ravages of aging and increase healthy life span. This problem can also be seen as a form of collective apathy and lack of focus in the media and society at large. Too many chances to make a difference, to fund serious research into aging and extending the healthy human lifespan, are let slip by, year after year.

Don't be one of these people! It doesn't matter who you are or what your background is, there are ways in which you can make a difference to your own healthy lifespan and the pace of medical research. It is a truism that you have to work for what you want in this life, as individuals or a society. Nothing is free and no goal is reached without corresponding effort, but by working together we humans can build great, lasting and ingenious monuments. Widespread activism and advocacy - the small contributions of countless individuals - have always been a vital component of human progress. They continue to be so today, especially in enabling the advance of medical science.

Funding for the many different fields of medical research ebbs and flows with public opinion, media exposure and the work of dedicated activists. Persistent publicity for a cause - such as fighting AIDS, defeating heart disease, funding cancer research and now healthy life extension - directly influences the money and time devoted to research. Cancer research received billions of dollars in funding precisely because public and media opinion loudly and overwhelming favored the search for a cure. It takes hard work to frame, place and keep a medical issue front and center in the mainstream of present day culture, but it unlocks purses far and wide. Venture capital, charitable, philanthropic, corporate, and government organizations all answer the popular call to fund medical research. Each group has their own reasons for doing so, but in each case, the call must be strident and widespread. If a need is shouted loudly enough, funding will be directed to answer that need.

Widespread demand for each new step of medical progress - however laudable or obvious it might be - doesn't spontaneously appear from nowhere, of course. As noted earlier, most individuals (and society as a whole) will let the most serious and pressing medical issues and opportunities pass them by. Support for medical research must be cultivated through activism, education and raising awareness: it is the advocates and public speakers who start the wheels of progress turning and help to overturn roadblocks as they emerge.

Bearing all this in mind, I can't help but feel that fundamental priorities are all mixed up for the bulk of humanity. We worship celebrities, money and sports. We eat unhealthy fast food and indulge in simple, pointless, trivial things that divert us from vital issues. Important matters such as ensuring greater quality and length of life fall to the wayside in the face of a mountain of details and distractions. For me at least, working towards a longer, better, healthier life is far more important determining who looked best at the Oscars, and far more rewarding than obsessing over sports scores.

In my eyes, healthy life extension is worth fighting for. I work to help make far longer, far healthier lives a reality. I may not be a scientist, but through writing I can convince people to feel as passionately as I do about this mission. In these early days, I can make a big difference by educating people about the possibilities and potentials of medical research, and of the need to support advances in real anti-aging medicine. I can help to kick-start and organize serious, large-scale activism, education and fundraising for life-extending medical research. It would make me happy if I lived in good health to 150 or more, but I've pledged not to become apathetic even if it proves to be impossible: there are too few years in life right now - and too great a promise in the latest medical research - to quit or lapse into despondency.

There are many others who feel the same way as I do. Despite widespread apathy, disinterest and ignorance of science in our society, there has been a real growth in size and sophistication of healthy life extension communities in the past few years. The Life Extension Foundation, the Immortality Institute and the Longevity Meme are but a few of these. We can thank the Internet, reports of new breakthroughs in medicine, and the actions of a core of motivated early leaders for this blossoming. Interest is growing as the first inklings and discussions of the future of life-extending medicine appear in the mainstream media. As a group united in our vision for a better future, we have come to the point of being able to say: "We want to live healthily for longer. We want real, meaningful healthy life extension therapies. What shall we do to make it all happen?"

This is the key question!

Healthy life extension, aging and anti-aging research is currently seriously under-funded in comparison to, say, cancer, heart disease or AIDS research. Progress is slow, since progress depends on funds. Slow progress means little media attention and public awareness, no matter how serious the cause, which in turn tends to mean little further funding will be available. It's a vicious, self-perpetuating circle. As of 2003, no healthy life extension or anti-aging medicine fundraising groups exist that are comparable in size, renown and success to the large cancer research non-profits. When you stop to think about it, this is a very strange state of affairs: everyone ages, and almost everyone is prepared to pay money to slow or halt the detrimental effects of aging. Witness the success of vendors, mystics and conmen claiming to supply "anti-aging" products of all sorts! Why is it that - with a billion dollar industry showing that people will pay for any old junk marketed as "anti-aging" - research on real anti-aging science is languishing?

One answer is that the wider public really doesn't understand the possibilities that could be opened up by well funded, near future medical research. Most people simply don't believe that aging can be beaten, and beaten soon. They have lived with the holocaust, 150,000 deaths every day, for so long that it is accepted and hidden as an immutable part of reality. Nothing could be further from the truth of course: aging is a medical condition, and as such is open to research, treatment, prevention, and, ultimately, a cure. Public confusion and ignorance isn't an insurmountable barrier - just recall what happened during the 80s for AIDS research. AIDS activists and educators at the time were well aware of the benefits future research could bring. They worked long and hard, and raised a great noise to the heavens. Lo and behold, the flow of money to AIDS research increased dramatically over the years. Today, AIDS in Western countries is almost a manageable, chronic condition rather than a death sentence. Tremendous medical advances took place across a span of only 20 years, a progression from unknown, untreatable deadly disease to vaccine trials and effective medications. When political and economic barriers are overcome, AIDS patients elsewhere in the world will enjoy the same benefits.

This same sequence of events could - and indeed should - happen for aging and its attendant life-threatening degenerative conditions. We need to overcome apathy and distractions, reorder our priorities, organize, speak to the media, educate the public and make ourselves heard! Medical advocacy is nothing new or revolutionary, and we have many past examples and a great deal of experience to draw upon. The strategies of fundraising and education for charitable causes are well known and well understood by the public - we will be following a well-trodden path while help researchers find a cure for aging.

Working hard for a cause can be difficult, especially in the medical field when tangible results can take years or decades to arrive. But I would argue that healthy life is priceless, and it is worth passionately fighting for every extra day we can get. I want to live in good health for as long as I possibly can, and I will stay as passionate and proactive as I can about healthy longevity no matter what the end result may be for me personally. Even if I eventually die from accident or disease, working for healthy life extension is still well worth it. I will have helped to gain additional time for each and every one of us, a gift beyond value.

You can help too. Keep reading.

It's worth taking a moment to think about how medicine gets better. Scientific progress is a wonderful thing; the hard work of advocacy, education and research, building the technology to make life longer, healthier and better. Progress means that we live in modern houses rather than crude huts. Progress means that we live in comfort rather than hardship. We must never forget that the vast majority of human beings who ever lived slaved just to stay alive for a few short decades, living amidst filth, ignorance, suffering and disease.

We are lucky, and we owe our longer, healthier lives to scientific and medical progress. Many people do forget the lessons of the past, however. They discount and belittle the tremendous benefits that medical science has brought to humanity. In fear of change, and at any cost, they would shackle the engine of progress and halt the advance of science. These people - luddites, conservatives, greens, bioethicists and others - have existed throughout history, but have always been defeated. A good thing too! Unfortunately, defeat often seems to mean that the next generation will live better, longer lives while fighting hard to prevent their children from enjoying the fruits of further advances.

Today, humanity stands on the brink of real, meaningful anti-aging medicine. Scientists talk of 200-year life spans, of defeating cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's. Far longer, far healthier lives are possible. Readily available therapies to repair and prevent the cellular damage of aging could be twenty years away with the right funding and research choices. Yet, people in positions of influence and power - President Bush, Leon Kass 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. We cannot dismiss these efforts. While Leon Kass is helping (in his own backwards way) to raise awareness of the possibilities of healthy life extension, he and his politician cronies have demonstrated a real ability to damage and hold back medical research. Kass and other bioethicists offer the rubber stamp justification for legislation - under debate in 2003 - that would shut down or criminalize vast swathes of anti-aging research in the US. Politicians in France, Germany and other EU nations have already done just this: it's not as though we can pretend that it can't happen elsewhere.

This isn't an isolated disagreement over research, nor is it merely a matter of distaste in some quarters for advances in medicine and healthy life extension. These political battles are part of a bigger war against change and scientific progress. We see it in the globalization debate and arguments over genetically modified foods, stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. Politicians and influential, well-funded factions are working to stop or even turn back the clock of health and progress for everyone. While they could live as they choose in their own lives, they should have no right to force their views - and shorter, less healthy lives - on the world. Alas, they continue to try.

For my part, I say that we humans have spent more than enough time being self-destructive and afraid of change, striving to tear down scientific and medical advancement. Our history - thousands of years of terrible wars, horrible plagues, short and brutish lives - should have us seeking to be better than that. Tens of thousands die today, and every day, for want of cures that might already exist if there were less opposition and more resources devoted to extending the healthy human lifespan. For the sake of the dying, for our own sake, we simply cannot afford to lose these battles over medical research. Cures for cancer, regenerative medicine for nerve damage, working anti-aging medicine, and all the other possible medical miracles in the near future are by no means a done deal. Human science is capable of achieving so much that has simply not been done. We could have built permanent bases on the Moon, visited Mars, irrigated the Sahara, reforested the Americas and catalogued all life on the deepest ocean floor over the course of the last four decades. We have not. Likewise, there is no guarantee that advances in medicine will bring healthy life extension rapidly enough to help those of us reading this now.

This is why we must stand up and support the future that we believe in: more funding, more medical research, better medicine and far healthier, far longer lives. Too many people today, like Leon Kass, seem to worship death, but I know that each human being also possesses a strong instinct for life. Between public apathy and political opposition, we can't afford to look at healthy life extension as simply a cool health trend, or as hobby activism. It is a necessity, and the more I learn about it the more I feel that this is true. Healthy life extension encompasses everything we do as individuals; without health and life, we cannot enjoy any of the things we value - friends, occupations, interests, and so much more.

If you feel lazy, apathetic or distracted about the future of your health and longevity, snap out of it! Live runs out on us all too quickly. Healthy lifespan is shorter still, but you, I and everyone else can devote a little time to enabling longer, healthier lives. Activism for medical progress can have real results in these days of rapidly advancing science. So do something to support this cause! Read the Longevity Meme; join the Immortality Institute; follow the latest news; send a supportive message to an advocate or researcher; write angry letters to anti-research politicians; post to healthy life extension forums online; sign up for the Life Extension Foundation; donate to the Methuselah Mouse research prize. Perhaps most importantly, talk to your friends and convince them to help you.

Active advocacy groups don't exist in a vacuum: they are the sharp edge of a larger supporting community. The Longevity Meme, the Life Extension Foundation, A4M, the Immortality Institute, the CR Society and other diverse healthy life extension organizations, commentators, and online communities didn't spring into existence from nothing. They interact with and are encouraged and supported by many overlapping communities interested in healthy life extension. Every extra person who contributes 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 the Longevity Meme to a neighbor, introduce someone to the Immortality Institute, or mention the Life Extension Foundation at the office. Post Longevity Meme newsletters to bulletin boards and online groups. Go ahead! You'll be helping people and helping yourself.

There is no question as to the importance of healthy life extension - it may not be a matter of life and death for you today, right now, but it is for many people. One day, all too soon, you will one of them. Personally, I've grown sick of the distractions. I want more individuals to look at this problem head on and say: "Too many people suffer and die in this country, let alone the world. I'm angry because people who should be alive today are dead. Aging and death are an ongoing tragedy, a horror that we must fight." I want to see this said on CNN and the BBC, a loud acknowledgement of this unpleasant reality that we can - indeed, must - work to change.

The huge increase in AIDS research funding in the 80s and 90s is the crowning victory of this sort of grassroots activism and organization. In comparatively few years, AIDS moved from obscure disease to the center of media attention. The floodgates of research funding opened and AIDS progressed from death sentence to manageable condition for those with access to treatment. We can repeat these same successes in the fight against aging! In short, healthy life extension is not a niche or an oddity anymore, and hasn't been for a while. Fighting aging - fighting to stop the horrid ongoing toll of suffering and death - can produce real results in your lifetime. So let's stop avoiding the subject! If I can do it, so can you: stand up and take part in ensuring your future is long and healthy. Join the healthy life extension community and talk to your friends about this serious issue. Unending health and an unlimited, rosy future could be ahead...all it would take is for everyone to join in and help make it happen.

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