A Certain Frustration

The best communities involved in advocacy and outreach are balanced somewhere between eagerness ("It's all so obvious, look what we could achieve!") and frustration ("But it's all so obvious - why don't they get it?"). Advocacy is hard despite its simplicity and time-worn, well-understood nature: it is hard because it is slow and incremental toil at the best of times, the human relations equivalent of banging two rocks together to make fire. You talk to people, you persuade people to your way of looking at things over and over and over again, making tiny little gains each time. For longevity science, the people willing to do this work are generally the bright sparks, the early adopters and foresightful folk who see the opportunity to defeat aging, see how plausible it is, and are full of enthusiasm for this goal. They are then run into the meatgrinder of tiny, incremental progress in persuading the world one person at a time.

Occasionally this isn't pretty, and hence the frustration. None of us are getting any younger, and while the science is so very obviously heading the right direction to produce working rejuvenation biotechnology, it is doing so very, very slowly. Only a minuscule fraction of the scientific community are working on relevant projects, there is next to no funding, and only a minuscule fraction of the public at large care one way or another. That needs to change, and changing it is slow going.

Here's some frustration from the Russian side of the community, translated, and further smoothed out by my edits:

It's aging that kills people. Also it's stupidity and greed that kill people. It exactly the stupidity and greed that prevents people from doing much to survive. The society spends an abysmally small amount of effort on life extension. Minimal interest and microscopic funding goes to studying of fundamental mechanisms of aging. Resources are being spent on any any old thing, but not on longevity. Years go by, and people become dung and rot in their graves. Because of their own stupidity and imbecility of others.

Almost everyone who comes to somebody's funeral should keep saying: "We are the sick people, we killed you by our passivity. Moreover, we keep on bringing death further on. The thought to identify the underlying reasons of death and to try to eliminate them doesn't even sneak into our empty minds. It's actually only money and pleasure that matter to us, and in indulging that we seek our own death."

I would have written "ignorance" in place of "stupidity," but Russian has a somewhat different set of overlapping meanings for words involving lack of knowledge, poor application of knowledge, and lack of intelligence. "Foolishness" or "unreasonableness" is as good a translation as "stupidity" from the original, I think. To my eyes people are rarely forthrightly stupid, but the small slice of attention that a person gives to matters outside his focus looks stupid from a distance - and most people give next to no attention to longevity science. That is foolish in this day and age, as it amounts to remaining blind to a tremendous opportunity just because you didn't take a small amount of time and effort to check on it.

There is a brass ring to be grasped: as someone who has spent a fair amount of time following the science and biotechnology, I can say with some conviction that it is clearly possible for us to engineer our way to agelessness in stages within a few decades from where we stand today. To do that, however, will require radical success in advocacy, fundraising, and growing the longevity science community over the next ten years.

Thus frustration stems from the size of the opportunity, the sheer obviousness of the imperative to defeat aging once you grasp it, and the feeling that the opportunity to achieve this goal in our lifetimes might be slipping from our grasp despite our progress to date. That's what things look like in the early stages of an exponential growth curve; it seems as though you'll never get there in time, but it takes off late in the game. Unfortunately it's also what things look like in the early stages of linear growth that will remain small - see the cryonics community, for example. We can't tell how the future will turn out, but we have to keep coming back to work at building it: the way to ensure the next few decades go badly for longevity science is to fail to try to do better.

You can't blame the rest of the world for not listening if you're not talking to them in the right way.


Very interesting post. It's an universal comment among the supporter of radical life extension: "Are the people stupid?", "Why can't they see what I have seen?"
I think intelligence is only one part of the problem. Even the most intelligent people in ancient times thought that earth is flat... But if you see a boat going farther on horizon you see well that the bottom of the boat disappears first, and it's only possible on a round surface.

Leave the old thinkings is difficult for everyone, to think outside the box doesn't need only intelligence, but maybe a special type of brain. I gave a thought to the hypothesis that level of dopamine could be the difference between tradition-driven people and the others, more risk-taking (in terms of changing their way of thinking)


We are not equal.

Posted by: Gilgamesh at November 10th, 2011 1:38 AM

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