On Longevity, Stagnation, and Freedom
Permalink | View Comments (6) | Post Comment | | Posted by Reason

As I'm sure long-time readers are aware, there are all too many people in the world who would force you and I to suffer greatly and die from old age for no better reason than they want to and they can - concentration of power is the enabler of great horrors.

Politicians and government employees - with or without the tacit approval of the governed - have done far worse than force old age upon people in the past; the power to cause death and misery is only restrained by the threat of the same. Those with power insulate themselves from the consequences of actions that would bring just retribution upon others, however. There is no good cause for believing that an ugly future of mandated and enforced limits on life span could not occur -complacancy for our freedoms and tolerance of the abuse of power are the first steps down that sorry path.

A blog entry by Nydra at Betterhumans prompted this line of thought. It's a response to the stagnation objection to healthy life extension, a particularly poorly formed objection amongst many poorly formed objections - but this one touches on (or rather tramples over) the topic of freedom more than most.

The entire fulcrum of this comment seems to be the notion that individuals must necessarily be sacrificed so that some central tenet of nature may be upheld for the "greater good". I question the notion that a maximally "good" and ethical society must condemn people to death, despite the possibility of developing healthy life-extending technologies. Though some people certainly garner meaning and motivation from awareness of their own mortality, this is not true of all people. I do not see why the "death is meaningful" folks should get to decide the lifespans of those who disagree. As far as I am concerned, people who want to die are welcome to do so, but those who would rather stay around longer should have that option.

Freedom, in other words, in the form of self-ownership; the freedom to do as you see fit with your own body. But the trampling in the stagnation argument occurs earlier in the quote above, in the assumptions underlying a "greater good." Who gets to decide, and how do they get to force that decision upon others? Words like "we," "society" and the like - indeed, any assumptions of unity or of speaking for groups - are tricky pieces of camouflage for people who are employing force to have things their way, usually at your expense.

Further discussion on this matter would be greatly appreciated, since the "stagnation" argument against radical life extension seems to be nearly as frequently encountered these days as the "overpopulation" argument.

Agreed. More discussion is the way to show these arguments to the world as the nonsense they are. People change, and long-lived people will likely change more. If people refrain from change, that is their choice, and I would like to live in the sort of society where choice without harm is respected. What sort of person calls for institutionalized murder when faced with a free choice that does not impact him or his possessions?

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The term "greater good" is particularly troublesome when applied to anti-life-extension arguments. I don't think it is possible to define a "greater good" that also includes a clause that individuals are disposable.

Many people seem to forget that what they know as "society" is comprised OF individuals -- autonomous beings with varying notions of what their own Best Possible Life is. Of course, cooperation can enhance the lives of individuals and our neighbors, but cooperation is not synonymous with some sort of forced paternalistic rule.

There are few notions I can thing of that are more dangerous than a governing body with the power and "popular blessing" to restrict the lifespans of individuals based on poorly-thought-out ideology. I'd like to know how the anti-life-extensionists plan to implement the restrictions of healthy life extension technology or the systematic execution of citizens that have, in someone's arbitrary estimation, "worn out their welcome".

Posted by: Nydra at May 16, 2006 11:05 PM

Mandated lifespans will never happen. To implement them as policy you would need to convince elected representatives to pass a law that effectively set an upper limit on their own life and the lives of the people who vote for them. In a era of radical life extension, this could not be accomplished. It would be easy to do now, since life extension is not a reality yet - however, when it comes to the crunch of killing people against their will, it just won't happen.

Posted by: Yo-yo at May 16, 2006 11:55 PM

Stagnation is an ironic argument for people who are trying to stop progress to use. -that is the counter argument against them.

On overpopulation I just say bs..stop sending food aid to Africa and funding catholic priests and muslim clerics who tell Africans not to use condoms before you talk to us. The developed world could have 10 times the population it has now and we would manage.

Posted by: aa2 at May 17, 2006 1:31 AM

The overpopulation argument is just silly. A human uses about 100w of energy to live. A 1m sq. gets something around 1000w of energy. So 10 people can theoretically live on ever 1m sq. Even with great inefficacies the earth can support 1 person per meter.

Posted by: Joe at May 17, 2006 8:58 AM

I remember reading this post a while back when it first showed up in my feed reader. And I thought of it again today when reading a post in another blog.

I could never understand why some people think that dying is such a great wonderful thing. Or why these same people seem to be offended at the thought of people not dying.

Which brings me to the point of posting here today. Katie at h ttp://spaces.msn. com/lilk8tob/ (I get an error when I leave the url intact) posted on her blog today (5/22/2006) about a man who found out he only had 6 months to live and how he was trying to figure out how to tell his wife and kids.

Now, tell me, would these 'pro-death' people be able to look this guy in his eyes and tell him that his dying was for the greater good? Or any kind of good for that matter.

Posted by: Trisha at May 22, 2006 4:47 PM

This didn't address the issue of stagnation. Wouldn't eternal life mean that, since the older people had more skills and experience, they would occupy positions of power - as they do now - but would never vacate them. There would be no new talent and no new ideas coming through - the establishment would be fixed, stagnated, locked into an ageocracy. As the great economist Paul Samuelson said, "Theory advances with every funeral". How would we advance if there were no funerals?

Posted by: Leon at April 4, 2012 3:53 PM
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