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?"

Link: http://worldofweirdthings.com/2012/08/01/a-terrible-reason-to-oppose-life-extension/


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.

Posted by: abelard lindsey at August 9th, 2012 12:01 PM

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).

Posted by: José at October 22nd, 2012 1:11 PM

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.

Posted by: Immanuel at January 7th, 2014 6:00 AM

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