As I'm sure you know, Cato Unbound has been hosting an exchange of essays and opinions on death and radical life extension over the past ten days. On the pro-being-alive-and-healthy side are Aubrey de Grey and Ronald Bailey, while Diana Schaub and Daniel Callahan preach the wonders of deathism. I was following along up to the Callahan essay over at the Longevity Meme:
We lock people up for the same amount of time if they kill people with a gun or with a booby-trap bomb, even though the interval between the murderer's action and the victim’s death differs by several orders of magnitude in the two cases. The same irrelevance of that interval applies to the saving of lives, since action and inaction are morally indistinguishable. We are close enough today to defeating aging that serendipity does not define the timeframe: the sooner and harder we try to do it, the sooner we'll succeed. Thus, our inaction today costs lives - lots of lives.
It is sad that so many people would choose the stasis of the now - and death and suffering without end, over and over - rather than immensely positive change and opportunity through longevity science. Talking nonsense about petrified, unchanging ageless societies is projection, methinks.
the highest expression of human nature and dignity is to strive to overcome the limitations imposed on us by our genes, our evolution and our environment. Future generations will look back at the beginning of the 21st century with astonishment that some well-meaning and intelligent people actually wanted to stop biomedical research just to protect their cramped and limited vision of human nature. Our descendants will look back, I predict, and thank us for making their world of longer, healthier lives possible.
The first four essays - the three above, and my stopping point of Daniel Callahan - form a basis for further responses. Both Ronald Bailey and Aubrey de Grey have posted more as of today.
Obviously then Callahan must regard the hundreds of millions of his fellow human beings who would take advantage of cheap effective age-retardation treatments as being somehow delusional - they don’t know their own best interests. I suppose that’s possible, but it is far more likely that Callahan is especially deep in thrall to what de Grey calls the “pro-aging trance.”
Callahan then tries to suggest that we have no evidence that radical life extension would be “good for us as human beings” - and this is where he embarks on the main thrust of his argument, the primacy of society over the individual. First of all, he seems to have a very curious idea of what does and does not constitute evidence for or against a proposition. If the only admissible evidence that something will happen is that it has already happened, I challenge Callahan to tell me why he believes that the sun will rise tomorrow. The true nature of evidence, of course, is that things have happened which have various features in common, and which thereby lend support to a general hypothesis that all things of a particular sort that happen in the future will have a particular property. In this case, the body of evidence is rather formidable: it is hard to find people in good health, of any age, who will volunteer to die tomorrow (and, again, if we do find such people we call the Samaritans).
Accepting any form of primacy of "society" (whatever that might be) over the individual is where everything starts to go wrong. It is the top of of a very long and jagged slope down to the worst excesses of facism and communism. Place nebulous concepts above the well-being and self-determination of individuals, and the institutions of theft, redistribution, force and violence will spread - for any individual right is up for sacrifice to the icons.
Here we have one small part of that struggle in the present day: the incredible fact that we even feel it necessary to debate those who would use the power of the state to limit our lives and access to medical technology even more drastically than is presently the case. When the resources of government are so great and stifling that it affects every part of our lives, we are right to be wary of those who might turn those resouces to our detriment.