Addressing the Litany of Errors

Have you ever had one of those discussions wherein, after you have carefully made your points, the other side responds in such a way as to demonstrate that they were not even listening? Welcome to the world of advocacy for longevity and real anti-aging research, where you can hear the same tired, erroneous, debunked objections today as you could two decades ago. Witness a recent article on Aubrey de Grey's work that starts out well but abruptly falls off the precipice:

The first and most obvious drawback to the indefinite postponement of death is the spectre of catastrophic overpopulation. De Grey has an answer.

He suggests that in the future people should be given a choice - either live forever young yourself, or have children.

How simple and convenient. And how likely do you think people are to accept that?

What, in fact, would be the point of living interminably without children?

It sounds like a charter for the supremely selfish.

The achievement of endless life doesn't seem to me the pinnacle of human progress De Grey believes, but merely its end.

De Grey suggests that people who expect to live for centuries would take better care of the world. Perhaps. But who exactly will these people be?

You can pretty much guarantee that the anti-aging therapies will be available only to those who can afford it - which means wealthy Westerners, predominantly Americans.

Do we really want these people to inherit the Earth?

And what of the rest of humanity? What are they to make of it all?

Will it mean the end of war, famine, poverty - or will it make these things worse?

The perceived prize for the winners would be that much greater and the loss so much more that conflict would surely be bitter.

How would you feel about knowing you'll live long enough to see the next Ice Age, the next major meteor strike on the planet, the next world war?

How can De Grey and his fellow fantasists be sure all their work won't simply be swept away by a pandemic of as-yet unknown disease?

And on this Good Friday, is it fair to question whether lengthening our stay in this world is simply postponing our arrival in the next? There will be those who think so.

Most writers settle for three objections or so, with Malthusian concerns about population as a favorite (debunked by many, many authors including Max More) - not so here; this ambitious soul has reeled off a real litany of errors and pessimism. The error most worthy of being addressed in this post - all have been tackled many times before by far better writers than I - is a profound but sadly commonplace misunderstanding of economic realities. Economics means change; prices move, wealth changes hands. The poor are not always poor, high prices are not always high. All new technologies - medical technologies included - are only available to the comparatively wealthy at the outset. High prices relect the need to recoup the cost of initial development and research. Costs and prices drop rapidly with the passing of time and increasing adoption, however. Reliability and effectiveness increase at the same time. To paraphrase a poster from Slashdot, "that the wealthy act as guinea pigs for new medical treatments and fund the continuing improvement and wider availability of such treatments should appeal to your class warefare soul."

I'll leave up to you folks to address the other points in the comments, should you feel so inclined. I'm more interested in the larger question of successful education and advocacy; all of these objections to healthy life extension have been debunked, addressed, talked out and analysed again and again over the past decades (and even prior to that). Why do they keep cropping up as knee-jerk reactionism to any mention of healthy life extension research when a few minutes of research would uncover the history of discussion on these points? How can we as advocates do a better job of making people aware of the good counter-arguments?

Suggestions taken.

Comments

change the conversation from concepts to individual people.

Population is a concept- Grandma is a person.

simple - not easy.

Posted by: Dave at March 30th, 2005 6:20 AM

I think at this point in the game, both sides that are making arguments on the subject are seen as extremists, and until we can change the way that the general public views the technology and even the idea of healthy life extension, it won't be taken seriously. I have seen this with my wife, she believes that I'm a nut for thinking that we will ever be able to extend human life span, her main argument being that if god wanted us to live longer then we would. I tried to make the point that as short a time ago as the last century the average lifespan was maybe half what it is now, should we go back to that?, but it was futile, she didn't even want to try to see my side of the argument. I think that until the idea that it can be done becomes a lot more common, then we are fighting a losing battle. Hopefully that's where the M-Prize will come in, so that when people see that it CAN be done (albeit in mice at first), then they will take more interest in actually doing it.

Posted by: David Canning at March 30th, 2005 3:57 PM

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