The Sparkling, Distracting Trinkets of the Now

Far too much energy is spent on looking at what presently exists, our present state of being in ever greater detail and fine degree of measurement, when rampant change is the nature of the day. Why are people willing to spend inordinate amounts of time and energy examining and debating which narrowly separated socio-economic groupings of humanity live a year more in health here or year less in health there? This is an age of foaming scientific revolution and rapid progress in biotechnology and medical science, in which all these factors are changing very rapidly. Time spent carefully drawing lines between groups of people - that will be erased almost immediately with the speed of change these days - is time not spent helping to make lives better.

It seems evident to me that I should spend far more effort in relation to progress in the fields that will add decades to healthy life spans in due course, swamping all minor variables of the human condition. Those small differences are insignificant in that context - and will become increasingly so as success in medical research continues.

So why is it that most people care so much more about the shiny, distracting trinkets of the now, a few years more or a few years less than someone else, in comparison to the far more important issue of the desired future and how to get there? I wonder. I seem to recall saying much the same thing in connection with research into telomere length and socio-economic status back in 2006:

[We should] recognize that time is far better spent acknowledging that we're all suffering from a condition that will deliver suffering, pain and death - and then doing something about it rather than simply observing it.

We are all doomed unless we dig ourselves out of the hole of aging via the future of medical technology. What does it matter that some of us are a handful of percentage points more or less doomed than others, largely through our own actions in exercise, diet and other controllable factors? It's still doom, and we'll all be just as rescued by technologies capable of repairing the damage that is aging.

My thinking was steered this way once more by a brace of recent articles on education level and longevity - which is just another correlation in the general pattern of wealth, use of medical resources, good health practices, and all that other fun stuff that fits in with "socio-economic status." I don't see more in the way of separating causation from correlation this time around - and the press is generally much more interested in playing the game called "who has more" in any case. Not a forward-looking group, mainstream journalists, nor much acquainted with context in terms of past and future. They are the voice of the shiny trinkets of the now. See what you think:

Harvard Researcher: Education Key to Longevity

"We looked at life expectancy at age 25," Meara says.

"How many additional years can you expect to live if you arrive at age 25 and your education has stopped at high school, or sooner? Versus how many years, can you expect to live if you've reached aged 25 and you've gone on to at least some collegeā€¦"

Meara says they found that in 1990, a 25-year-old who only had some secondary school could expect to live for a total of 75 years. In 2000, a 25 year old with some secondary education could also expect to live to the age of 75.

In contrast, for a better educated 25-year-old, they could expect to live to the age of 80 in 1990. Someone with a similar education level in the year 2000, could expect to live to be more than 81 years, 81.6 years to be exact.

Longevity rising for educated:

"If you look in recent decades, you will find that life expectancy has been increasing, which is good, but when you split this out by better-educated groups, the life expectancy gained is really occurring much more so in the better-educated groups," said lead researcher Ellen Meara, an assistant professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School.

The answer may lie with tobacco. About one-fifth of the difference in mortality between the groups can be accounted for by smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer and emphysema, Meara said.

A large chunk of the rest of the difference is likely related to exercise habits and excess body fat - obesity is at least as damaging to healthy longevity as smoking, and possibly more so when combined with lack of exercise. We can also throw in psychological stress for consideration; plausible evidence suggests that chronic stress damages biochemistry into more rapid aging over the years.

I could go on - there are all sorts of ways in which we can choose to damage ourselves, or let damage continue at a greater rate due to circumstances we can control. All of this is irrelevant and unimportant, however, when compared to the speed with which medical technologies for the repair of aging are developed. If we can make that happen rapidly enough, we're all rescued. If not, we're all doomed.


nice write

Posted by: at March 22nd, 2008 4:52 AM
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