The Global Catastrophe that Nearly Everyone Studiously Ignores

Allow me to point you to an attractively blunt assessment of the human condition from the Russian end of the rejuvenation research advocacy community, tidied up a little after the automated translation made a hash of it:

Needless to say, a catastrophe - something unpleasant. Global catastrophe - unpleasant globally. And what is the most global of global catastrophes? Probably the one that leads to widespread death. And here we must note that if nothing is done, then all living people will die with 100% probability. Of aging. Therefore, it is aging that is the global catastrophe that is unfolding silently throughout the course of human history.

"Unfolding silently" because nearly everyone in the world studiously refuses to characterize the consequences of aging for what they in fact are. Everyone will die of aging - everyone! - and that is somehow removed from the normal fervor and unified efforts that greet any other form of mass death. Take the tsunamis of recent years, for example, one of which managed to kill about as many people as die of aging in any given day. There was a global outpouring of funds, support, and activity following that tsunami. Yet every day, without cease, that many people again are killed by the effects of aging - and next to no-one cares enough to do something in response to this horrible ongoing loss of life.

This is an age of biotechnology, in which we have a good grasp on the causes of degenerative aging and how to approach treating them. The goal of producing medical technologies that can rejuvenate the old and grant additional decades of life might be accomplished within a few decades, given billions of dollars in funding and and tens of thousands of researchers and supporting workers. But that support doesn't exist today. The peoples of the world think about aging little differently than they did a thousand years ago - they haven't yet woken up to see what could be accomplished through medical science within their lifetimes. As a consequence of this lack of support, many, many more people will age, suffer, and die than might have been the case - ourselves included, unless we get our act together.


Probably a big part of the problem is that people see aging as natural. While most people accept the benefits of modern medicine, efforts to significantly increase the human lifespan could be viewed as unnatural or playing god. Most people seem unaware that in ancient times, lifespans were a third what they are today.

I hang out in the Yahoo Answers philosophy section, and one of the more common topics there is immortality. What surprises me is the sense of dread most people express when it comes to immortality. Most people, it seems, have no desire to live forever. Most of the reasons they give don't really apply to biotech-induced life-extension, but seem more based on mythological/magical versions of immortality. For instance many fear that they would continue to age without dying. Many others somehow think they would be the only one, and fear having to see loved ones constantly passing away over the decades and centuries. Probably the most common complaint against immortality, though, is simple boredom; people fear that if you live too long, you'll never do anything new again.

Methinks if we manage to significantly increase human lifespan, and/or cure aging, there will be a lot of people that refuse to take advantage of it, at least at first. They will want to live "natural" lifetimes. After a few decades or centuries though, as old societal taboos die out and people see that there is nothing to fear from a very long lifetime, it will gradually catch on and most people will do it, save for a few (probably religious) holdouts in the same way that the Amish still don't use a lot of modern tech.

Posted by: Andrew T at June 17th, 2011 8:51 PM

One of the reasons this cause (fighting aging) has compelled me is because by fixing something so destructive, it gives us the time and ability to address and fix so many other problems associated with humanity. Mistakes are not repeated and progress is made at an extraordinary pace.

I see this as a common concern expressed against living radically extended lives: the "wicked" will continue to remain wicked, maybe even become more powerful, and the price of living in the disparaging world will be not worth it. But I see the opposite. I see the world only becoming better as resources become less scarce and justice and fairness have a much greater chance at being served.

Posted by: Eric at June 18th, 2011 7:59 PM

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