Ending the Traditional Run to Moderation

Wealth and large-scale funding have a strong association with conservatism. This is in the dictionary definition sense, of course - an emphasis on established institutions and standards, and a preference for gradual development over abrupt change. The more weight there is to shift, the more slowly and carefully it moves.

Conservatism is really the bottom line when it comes to asking why there are no highly-funded organizations with an outright, up-front mission of research to attain radical life extension. The manifestations of this conservatism differ between funding cultures, but the source is the same. Venture funding in medical research, for example, is guided into the rut that is the FDA and the regulatory notion that aging is not a disease and therefore no therapy can be approved to treat it. If your business plan involves fighting bureaucracies in order to get your product out there, I can safely say you're not going to get very far in your search for seed capital. So for all the futurist talk behind closed doors, you will hear not a peep on healthy life extension even from those funded companies working away on technologies of great - and entirely obvious - application. To talk about extending the healthy human life span is the instant death third rail of funding in medicine.

On the other side of the fence, philanthropists look to mainstream institutions in medicine, ossified as they are, for guidance. So the situation isn't much better. Extremely wealthy philanthropists such as Larry Ellison and John Sperling take the incremental approach, whether developing a corporate ecosystem to support new technologies or supporting mainstream gerontology. With very few exceptions, this is simply the way things work.

So it is that the run to moderation is what we have traditionally seen from advocates of radical life extension who are pushing into business or funded research. Large-scale money comes with strings, and those strings are tied taut to the conservatism of the funder or funding organization. You can see this in practice in gerontology; a great many scientists agree with biomedical gerontologist and outspoken advocate Aubrey de Grey on the moral necessity of the fight to cure aging, but all too few are willing to step up and say so on the record.

This whole situation must - must! - change if we are to see great strides in extending the healthy human life span, in fighting the horrors of degenerative aging and winning, within our lifetime. I do not believe that any plan that relies on a sea change in human nature will work, however. Conservatism and wealth go hand in hand, and this will continue to be so while humans still think, feel and interact much as they do today. Rather, we advocates must work to turn what were once seen as unthinkable goals for radical life extension into the conservative, mainstream position on the future of medical research.

I have talked before about the merits of the suitable outrageous extreme as a cultural device for advancing the cause of healthy life extension. This device has been working, and working well. A few years of making a plausible scientific case for medical technologies capable of supporting healthy life spans of 1,000 years or more has already notably moved the debate. Supporters of healthy life extension in the mainstream can now openly discuss and advocate 10 and 20 year healthy life extension with no funding repercussions. We can certainly keep this process going, but progress is damaged by those who make the run to moderation, taking a vow of silence or accepting lesser research goals in return for funding. Every voice that falls silent makes it that much harder to gain support for our position.

Aubrey de Grey is absolutely right to present the fight to defeat aging as a moral cause. It is exactly that. 100,000 people lose their lives to aging each and every day - there is little any of us could do that will have more impact on the world than helping to stop this carnage. Those who advocate the defeat of aging must find the means and courage to continue to speak out in support of radical life extension even as they are reaching for the funding that will enable their work to continue and grow.

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