Is "Deathism" a Useful Term?

Today, we ponder the use of words, as is the fate of all those who reach the end of a day without the energy remaining to do something that is actually useful. "Deathism" and "deathist" are neologisms still in that fuzzy state of settling to a final dictionary meaning - should they ever accrue the sort of usage that leads to notice by the lexical powers that be. When I say deathism, I mean a point of view or philosophy that promotes death. In the context of Fight Aging!, that almost always means death by aging: deathist views are those of technological relinquishment, apologism for degenerative aging, and shying away from the medical progress that could eliminate the death and suffering caused by aging. A deathist individual is one who advocates or adheres to one of these worldviews, with modern Malthusian environmentalism (an ofttimes disturbing outgrowth of the civic religion) and traditional religious cultures being the largest communities.

There is, however, a certain dismissiveness and scorn that can soak into short *-ist terms. "Oh, you support X, you're just another Xist!" The world is full of dumb arguments, knee-jerk rationalizations, and heads stuck in the sand when it comes to aging and the potential future of rejuvenation biotechnology. It is enormously frustrating to live in the madhouse, among the lemming herd babbling as they head for the cliff, at the bottom of the pit of nihilism, in the city of suicidal barbarians - but not everyone who fails to rally to the cause is just another deathist, either figuratively or literally. There are always subtleties.

Would it help to call people to call more respectable aging apologists something like "death advocates" instead? I've no idea. Some of their viewpoints are entirely legitimate, in that they actually want to age and die, and are explaining why. Others are far less so, in that these talking heads have no problem in advocating for states to use force to block the development of ways to reverse aging. That's something I have a hard time treating with any respect; it's actually far, far worse than any plausible modern war or the other equally terrible things that people conspire to do to one another in the name of government. A bare few days of postponement of the advent of rejuvenation biotechnology costs more lives than US military adventures of the past decade or so. Two years of postponement tops the highest estimated death toll for the Second World War. The current regulatory structure imposed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can easily accumulate decades of postponement of new medical technologies over successive business and development cycles. For the greatest crimes of governance, one only has to look to medical regulation.

In any case, back to deathism; this meandering post was prompted by a short piece over at the Rational Argumentor:

Who Are the True "Deathists"

My view on this matter is a nuanced one. It is crucial to make a distinction between (i) people who simply hold the common "tragic worldview" - who accept their mortality as inevitable and try to "make peace" with it and (ii) people who actively work to stop life-extension technologies. The former are simply mistaken and can be reasoned with, persuaded, or at least led to gradually become more comfortable with life extension as it becomes ever more real. The latter, however, might not be open to persuasion and might pursue legislative action (or worse) to stop life-extension research. Every person's arguments should be addressed civilly and intelligently.

The label "deathist" is not uncivil per se, however, and has its place with regard to people who cannot be swayed by argument or evidence from a position that is actively hostile to life extension. [Calling] these people "deathists" is not aimed at persuading them, but rather at alerting possibly more objective third parties of the dangers of their views. If there is still the opportunity to persuade someone, then labels of this sort should not be directed at that person.

There are all too few life and death matters in this modern world of technology and comfort. The one we all touch on, and which will most greatly affect us all, is the pace of progress towards biotechnologies that can repair and reverse aging. It is the most important line item of the day, and the one most ignored in comparison to its importance.

Comments

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.