A couple of interesting, worthwhile articles drifted my way via the usual channels in the past couple of days. This first piece illustrates perfectly why Malthusianism, the inability to understand that present limits change through human action, is so much a part of opposition to healthy life extension - it's just as much a worship of death as the maunderings of Kass and others.
And yet, alongside the ethos of human rights and the development of heroic medicine, contemporary society appears estranged from its own humanity. To put it bluntly: it is difficult to celebrate human life in any meaningful way when people - or at least the growth of the number of people - are regarded as the source of the world’s problems. Alongside today’s respect for human life there is the increasingly popular idea that there is too much human life around, and that it is killing the planet.
today’s Malthusians share all the old prejudices and in addition they harbour a powerful sense of loathing against the human species itself. Is it any surprise, then, that some of them actually celebrate non-existence? The obsession with natural limits distracts society from the far more creative search for solutions to hunger or poverty or lack of resources.
Life - and by extension, the necessary means and medical technology to make that life worth living - is the goal of healthy life extension. Oblivion and poverty are the goals of the modern Malthusian. This is a reminder once more that the greatest obstacle to healthy life extension research is not the technological hurdles, but rather those amongst us who would see us all age and die to satisfy their errant beliefs.
On a more positive note, the second article sees Freeman Dyson reinforcing a bandwagon I jumped on a while back. Radical, competitive, inventive decentralization in any given field is a wonderful sign of progress; it tends to come about only when the costs of taking action have fallen past the point at which amateurs get involved, and when the old centralized priesthood has failed to use force to maintain their grip. At that point, a field of human endeavor can't help but be competitive and inventive - it's what humans do best. We are starting to see this transition in biotechnology, and can hope that the massive, interfering governments of this modern world are not turned to shut down the freedom to innovate by the sort-sighted and the foolish. Says Dyson:
Biology is now bigger than physics, as measured by the size of budgets, by the size of the workforce, or by the output of major discoveries; and biology is likely to remain the biggest part of science through the twenty-first century. Biology is also more important than physics, as measured by its economic consequences, by its ethical implications, or by its effects on human welfare.
I see a bright future for the biotechnology industry when it follows the path of the computer industry, the path that von Neumann failed to foresee, becoming small and domesticated rather than big and centralized.
Once a new generation of children has grown up, as familiar with biotech games as our grandchildren are now with computer games, biotechnology will no longer seem weird and alien. In the era of Open Source biology, the magic of genes will be available to anyone with the skill and imagination to use it. The way will be open for biotechnology to move into the mainstream of economic development, to help us solve some of our urgent social problems and ameliorate the human condition all over the earth.
The bounty of the future is in human freedom, decentralization, competition and collaboration, not in those monolithic institutions that strive to repress and control through use of government force.