The Importance of Improvement

It is unfortunate and noteworthy that the loudest institutional voices in Western culture seem to have an aversion to human enhancement. It is the ideal of equality run rampant, heading for its inevitable Harrison Bergeron endpoint - equality by leveling down to the lowest and preventing new heights from being achieved. Destruction is the only thing that politicians are really good at, sad to say, and egalitarianism, much like communism, is pretty in its abstract ideals but horrific when put into practice:

This rejection of human enhancement is in essence a rejection of the urge to improvement - and is thus one of a number of important hurdles standing in the way of widespread support for the development of rejuvenation biotechnology. Living longer than your parents did? That's an enhancement, and a great many talking heads would like to see laws written to prevent such technologies from ever seeing the light of day.

Yet the urge to improvement is everywhere else in evidence in our societies, as noted in this subtle injection of transhumanist ideals into the Discover Magazine website:

Just because I'm not ill [and] not injured, doesn't mean that I am, by default, as healthy as I could be. For some bizarre reason, we don't think about our bodies that way when it comes to health care and self improvement. We don't pursue excellent health the way we strive to be better in our hobbies and work. So, where did we get the idea that mediocre health is good enough?

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But here's the interesting thing: neither the US nor the UK have regulations in place for prescription pharmaceuticals that are not therapeutic. Drugs that don't cure an illness but still have a beneficial effect have one of two paths: either find an illness they do cure or invent an illness that the drug seems to cure. An example of the latter is Viagra. I don't care what the DSM says, erectile dysfunction is not real illness. But Viagra works. It doesn't "cure" anything, but it sure makes a lot of people's lives better, which is [a] great thing. But it's a massive problem that there is no way for drugs that make our health better to find their way onto the market. And there in lies the problem. Save vaccines, modern medicine just doesn't know what to do with medicine that prevents disease or improves a person's life.

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Prevent and improve. Those are the two words I'd argue are most underused in every other aspect of human health care. Why does self-improvement not include pharmaceuticals that make us smarter or stronger or happier? Because we've been convinced and told and reminded and scolded that taking a pill means something is wrong with you.

And so to aging and longevity. The bureaucrats of the FDA do not recognize aging as a disease, and so will not approve treatments for it. In a culture that is hostile to human enhancement, winning support for the reversal of aging will be that much harder. This is one of many ways in which freedom matters greatly in medical research. Under the systems of regulation in place in the largest markets of the world, researchers and commercial developers are far from free to turn proven science into commercial products, and far from free to convince their fellow countrymen to try something new.

We humans are the species that improves ourselves and creates value from our surroundings. That is our defining characteristic - and yet, paradoxically, so much time and effort in this day and age is devoted to sabotaging the engines of progress.

Comments

Can "degenerative metabolism" be considered an illness instead of aging ?

Posted by: Jarod at April 22nd, 2011 4:53 AM

Finally, I see someone put into words precisely what I've thought for a long time. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the worst expression ever invented, and is one of the founding principles of conservatism. God I hate conservatism. Why the hell would anyone celebrate cautiousness and stagnancy?

Posted by: Iain Eves at April 23rd, 2011 3:28 AM

My bet would be that this anti-science/anti-progress attitude is part of bigger syndrome including conformity, extreme deference to authority/laws/law enforcerment, religiousity, nationalism, uncritical military support, rigid acceptance of historical myths, reflexive defense of status quo, ...

Posted by: Lou Pagnucco at April 23rd, 2011 9:38 AM

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