Pointing out Ašţal Journal

Today I'll point out the Ašţal Journal as something that might be of interest. The name is apparently taken from the constructed language of Ithkuil, and represents the sudden realization of possibilities when someone conveys to you an idea you've never considered before:

This is a journal of ideas that eagerly hopes to act as a place of open discussion about the intersection between longevity, overpopulation, and space exploration, as well as a general discourse on a broad range of other subjects. Through it, we wish to inform anyone interested about new and exciting developments in these fields, as well as ways in which they can contribute to the leading-edge research being carried out around the world.

The general position in the longer articles seems to be that overpopulation is a real concern, but one that can be controlled and evaded with foresight. That isn't a position I agree with at all, on the grounds that I don't see that overpopulation or the threat of it actually exists, and no more foresight is needed to maintain that state of affairs that is ordinarily deployed by every participant in the broad market of human society - just the sort of everyday economic foresight that led to the broad and successful efforts to radically improve agricultural techniques in the 1960s and 1970s in response to perceived opportunities in the market brought about by advancing technology.

There is no shortage of suffering in the world, but realize that everywhere that plague, famine, and utter poverty still exists it is maintained and enforced by avaricious, ruinous governance. Every populous region presently poor and dangerous could have had a trajectory just like that of South Korea over the past 60 years or so, from a largely agrarian to a largely information economy. That this did not happen universally is not a matter of how many people live in a region, or its level of natural resources: look instead to war, looting by political leaders, and other deliberate barriers to the growth of market economies. The inhumanity of man is the root cause of what most people casually label as overpopulation. Sufficient resources exist to support many more people than are currently alive, and those resources are constantly growing and changing with advances in technology.

A couple of items from the Ašţal Journal that are worth a glance are quoted below:

A Q&A with Aubrey de Grey

Ašţal: What are the main obstacles to reaching faster decisive breakthroughs in rejuvenation research?

Aubrey de Grey: Money, money and money. Originally there were two other obstacles: there was no plan, and there were far too few top scientists interested in the problem. One of the things I'm proudest of is that I've been able both to come up with a concrete, plausible plan (SENS itself) and also to bring a large number of world-leading scientists on board to implement it - just so long as the resources necessary to do so are available.

Ašţal: How much of an impact do you reckon private initiatives like the Calico project will have on the future landscape of longevity research?

Aubrey de Grey: Calico has the potential to be a complete game-changer, simply because their budget is so large. It's a hugely encouraging start that they've hired awesome people outside the field, such as Art Levinson and David Botstein, to head it up: that makes me pretty sure that they won't make the mistake that the Ellison Medical Foundation did of just following the failed strategies of the past. It may not work out, of course, but all the omens are really encouraging.

Ašţal: What kind of public policies would best support the goal of longevity?

Aubrey de Grey: The single most important change in public policy that is needed is to restructure medical research funding in a manner that takes account of the inextricable linkage between aging and the diseases of old age. At present, huge sums are wasted on the futile attempt to treat the diseases of old age as if they could be eliminated from the body, like infections. Once it is properly recognised that the diseases of old age are simply aspects of the later stages of a lifelong process of damage accumulation, it will also be recognised that the best way to combat those diseases is by preventative maintenance at the molecular and cellular level. Then we will see an appropriate prioritisation of research themes and a great acceleration of progress.

The Necessity of Longevity

In essence, the prejudice toward understanding senescence and death as intrinsic properties of life, together with a misconstrued notion of the goals of longevity research, are biases which have yet to be eradicated from the collective mentality. We have told each other stories for so long, that those stories have become reality and our intuitions myths. Our common sense has been demoted to second-rank reasoning, and in the process we have become the victims of our own bemusement. Of course, as long as a viable option is not brought forward we are likely to continue opposing obvious scientific progress in light of a mitigating ideal.

Notwithstanding these initial fears, the outlines of a solution are unequivocally beginning to take shape, but as long as we continue to adopt the question of longevity as a moral issue, and not a scientific one, we will not gain purchase on the far shore. There is no way to predict whether these technologies will be useful in the long-run until we try them out, but we must stop thinking about longevity and rejuvenation through the lens of individual prejudices and work towards integrating it as a viable long-term goal for the advancement of the species. I am willing to argue here that the pursuit of viable rejuvenation is the most desirable course of action in terms of the active prevention of senescence, disease, and eventually, death.

Overpopulation and Its Discontents

Overpopulation abides as the poor relation of the great world problems, eternally relegated behind the saraband of food shortages, endemic wars, diseases and epidemics, and now climate change, although all of these issues ostensibly spring from the same root cause: the very object of this essay.

Overpopulation puts humanity at existential risk, most notably at the meso-level where it threatens the life of large groups of people, both of its individual members (as a direct life threat) and of the form of life they embody (as a cultural threat). On the one hand, there is a strong case for overpopulation as a major political and philosophical issue as it will shape the problems à-venir. On the other hand, most of our current understanding remains flawed, regrettably confining it to a demographic and economic problem.

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