A Terrible Reason to Oppose Healthy Life Extension
Here is a short piece on the immortal dictator argument that shows up from time to time as one of the reasons given to continue to let billions die of aging: "But what if, the critics continue, you had a dictator who could live more or less for thousands of years? Wouldn't it be a good thing if he was guaranteed to die at some point and the people he oppressed had a chance to start anew? Wouldn't the sacrifice be worth it? No, it wouldn't, and here's why. Basically, we're being asked to give a potential means of extending our life spans so we can be sure that just a small handful of people and their cronies would be dead at some point in time. We can't always kill them or depose them, so we'll be outsourcing the assassination to nature. Anyone see the problem here? Of the over seven billion people who aren't dictators, who do we think is expendable enough to die alongside our targets for the sake of the anti-dictator cause? If I may reach for a little hyperbole, how different is the logic that all the billions who will die in the process are fair game because their death helps the cause from that of all terrorist groups who believe that civilians of the countries they hate can be on the hit list because killing them hurts an enemy and may force him to retreat? This is a rather crass way of saying that the ends justify the means and I doubt that they really do in this case. We could take this logic further and cast all modern medicine as being a dictator enabling technology. Maybe last week Assad would've tripped, fallen, hurt himself, then got his wound infected and was soon dead from septic shock, helping to end the civil war in Syria. Does this mean we must now give up our disinfectants and advanced medical treatments to make sure bad people die easier?"
Opposition arguments to life extension have several common points:
1) All of them are based on the notion that curing aging is somehow conceptually different than curing any other disease such as cancer or diabetes.
2) Opposition to life extension involves an assult on individual liberty, in general.
The best political outcome one can entertain is that people be made secure in their individual liberties and left free to pursue their own interests. Mortality of dictators would seem at first to enable this outcome, but the reality is much more subtle. Dictatorship is not the only kind of generally rotten government that exists in the world. We also have military juntas, theocracies, de-facto absolute monarchies (e.g. North Korea), actual absolute monarchies and single party states (a kind of oligarchy). These non-representative governments either have power sharing or a succession mechanism that renders them resilient against individual mortality.
Furthermore, some representative governments are deeply flawed themselves. Among these are democracies that lack rule of law and safeguards for minority rights and those in which there are deep divisions and animosities among the electorate. Two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner is not much of an improvement over dictatorship and it may be worse in some cases. It is not at all uncommon to see Middle Eastern dictators actually apply the brakes against some of the worst forms of victimization that the majority public would visit upon victims in a fury of religious zeal.
Any benefit to the freedom and dignity of individuals derived from the mortality of dictators is equivocal at best. With more space and a more suitable venue I could even make out an argument that in the particular situation of the world today it is a detriment. In any case it can't possibly weigh against the staggering amount of suffering and death imposed by ageing or even the ways in which ageing inherently constrains the capacity of individuals to exercise their liberty (cf. "Putting Aside What You'd Rather Do Because You're Dying" of Oct. 18).
It would be worth mentioning that death by aging is more or less irrelevant in the case of dictators, please mention a few dictatorships that have ended with old age and look into it, their right hand men or sons have taken the reigns and continued in the same fashion; Stalin or Kim Jong-Un/Il. Only, ONLY, violent deaths have led to ends of dictatorships, brought about by lesser men have ended their rules, see Hitler or Ceausescu. Furthermore, dictators can release power on their own initiative see Gorbaciov.
Without getting into the varied politics of the world, as they are or as they are made to appear, I would mention two things.
1. Intelligent people can be naive. It is a bad assumption that only we, who have foresight and ethics to anticipate and consider rejecting giving some sort of biological immortality, have the skill set to end aging. Universities and governments seem to be against ending aging, as evidenced by their extremely limited publication of data on stem cells and longevity. Meanwhile private corporations, which are less capable of solving the problems we play with, multiply. There is no guarantee they will release the cures to aging to the public, what is rare becomes more valuable, yet they will eventually fall under the control of a dictator or other entity that will claim their work and probably keep it for themselves and their clique. I pity the private researchers, because if they have full knowledge of such work, the researchers will likely be killed to keep it a secret. There's less risk if they only know a fraction of the solution since their owners will take solace that the information is compartmentalized. My point is, from my perspective, biological immortality will fall into the hands of solely dictators and the like, unless we make it public before them.
2. Having an increased lifespan, imbued with centuries of experiences of being tricked into supporting bad regimes, may actually make it more difficult for dictators and the like to take power and retain power. History repeats itself if we don't learn history, but what if we recalled history? Perhaps human brains don't have the capacity to retain so much information as to be relevant, but it's something to consider. Biological immortality certainly would change a lot about politics and governance.
I'm not certain myself whether or not biological immortality is a good idea right now. The prospect of a 1 world semi eternal government does not appeal to me because I believe even the best governance we currently have is far from incorruptible and the more independent states rising and falling the faster it will be perfected, or perhaps rendered obsolete, through trial and error. But I am certain Western societies have everything needed to implement the basics of biological immortality right now. What complications might arise are something that can only be known with certainty through implementation. So the scenario we face isn't whether or not we will give them biological immortality, but whether or not we give it to those without the means to take it from us by force or coercion.
Taking the issue of bad governance apart from biological immortality. I believe the solution to bad governance is to raise the average intelligence. If you are concerned about immortal dictators or an immortal clique, know that you have no ability to stop it from occurring and busy yourself with raising the average intelligence before the semi eternal cabal becomes a reality.
I think immortal dictators would be a good thing or at least the kind of problem you want to have. It's like "overpopulation", wouldn't you rather have the problem of having so many people you don't know what to do with them all than the problem of having so few people you can only do things a small tribe can do?
More importantly though, people emulate the upper class and immortal dictators would mean that people would be copying them trying to become immortal. If the guys were evil, they would try to slaughter the population to stop them, but if they just did nothing than we would gradually have a larger class of people who were basically immortal. Immanuel above essentially answers our question here.