Putting Aside What You'd Rather Do Because You're Dying

Many dubious arguments are fielded in support of aging and involuntary death: every status quo, no matter how terrible, gathers its supporters. This is one of the deeper flaws inherent in human nature, the ability to mistake what is for the most desirable of what is possible. A hundred thousand deaths each and every day and the suffering of hundreds of millions is the proposal on the table whenever anyone suggests that human aging should continue as it is.

Massive campaigns of giving and social upheaval have been founded on the backs of a hundredth of this level of death and pain - but the world has a blindness when it comes to aging. Such is the power of the familiar and the long-standing: only heretics seek to overturn it, no matter how horrid and costly it is.

Nonetheless, this is an age of biotechnology in which aging might be conquered. There are plans and proposals, set forth in some detail, and debate over strategy in the comparatively small scientific community focused on aging research. So arguments over whether the development of means of rejuvenation should take place at all, reserved for philosophers and futurists in the past, now have concrete consequences: tens of millions of lives and untold suffering whenever progress is delayed. It should always be feared that a society will somehow turn to block or impede research into therapies for aging - worse and more outright crimes have been committed in the past by the members of so-called civilized cultures.

One of the arguments put forward in favor of a continuation of aging and mass death is that without the threat of impending personal extinction we'd collapse into stagnation and indolence. As the argument goes, only death and an explicitly limited future gives us the incentive to get anything done, and so all progress depends upon aging to death. I state the proposition crudely, but this is the essence of the thing, flowery language or no.

This is a terribly wrong way of looking at things: it denies the existence of desire independent of need. It casts us as nothing more than some form of Skinner box, unable to act on our own. This is another example of the way in which many humans find it hard to look beyond what is to see what might be: we live in a state of enforced urgency because we are all dying, because the decades of healthy life are a time of frantic preparation for the decline and sickness that comes later. It is normal, the everyday experience, for all of us to know we are chased by a ticking clock, forced to put aside the things that we would rather do in favor of the things that we must do. We cannot pause, cannot follow dreams, cannot stop to smell the roses.

Some people seem to manage these goals, but only the lucky few - and then only by twining what they would like to do with what they must do. It's hard to achieve that end, and it is really nothing more than an ugly compromise even when obtained. Yet like so much of what we are forced into by the human condition, it is celebrated. One more way in which what is triumphs over what might be in the minds of the masses.

Given many more healthy years of life in which to do so, we would lead quite different lives. Arguably better lives, not diverted by necessity into a long series of tasks we do not want to undertake, carried out for the sake of what will come. We could follow desire rather than need: work to achieve the aims that we want to achieve, not those forced on us. Because of aging and death, we are not free while we are alive - and in any collection of slaves there are those who fear the loss of their chains. The longer they are enslaved, the less their vision of freedom. Sadly, in the mainstream of our culture, it is those voices that speak the loudest.


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