An Anti-Deathist FAQ

As used in the longevity science community, deathism is a catch-all term for philosophies and viewpoints that encourage relinquishment of medical progress and acceptance of death by aging rather than the infinitely better alternative of medical research to extend healthy life and prevent age-related disease. If you have ever tried to persuade people that it is in fact a great plan to try to cure aging by controlling its root causes, you will have found that deathism is in fact very prevalent. Strangely, most people march towards a slow and painful death due to degenerative aging with little to no intent of doing anything about it.

Here are sections excerpted from a great short post by GrumplessGrinch at Carcinisation, a little something to show to those of your friends and family who think this way. As is usually the case in Fight Aging! posts, the links are added for reference rather than being in the original:

Q: What is Deathism?

A: Deathism is the belief that everyone should die.

Q: What is Anti-Deathism?

A: Anti-Deathism is the belief that death should not be mandatory.

Q: How the hell is that supposed to work?

A: Medical research. Aging has biological causes which we grow ever closer to unraveling.

Q: What happens when the earth is full of people because the population never stops increasing?

A: Space colonization is one possible answer, as is introducing disincentives for childbearing (like China did, though they went a bit overboard). But the earth's population is increasing regardless, so banning life-extension would only be a delaying tactic.

Q: Poor people already have much lower life expectancies than rich people. Won't life-extension technology just make this gap worse?

A: At first, probably, yes. That's how new technologies work. Two decades ago cell phones were only owned by rich people. Now they're transforming sub-Saharan Africa. Technologies (unlike wealth) trickle down.

Q: But it's wrong to focus on improving the lives of rich people when we could be helping the less fortunate!

A: Why don't you apply this standard to other types of medical research? Should we abandon all research into aging-related diseases like Alzheimer's, and instead use that money on charitable work abroad? I'm in favor of continuing to pursue many goals simultaneously, like humans do.

Q: The rarer something is, the more precious. So too for years. Life extension would devalue human experience.

A: Rarity is one source of value, but there are others. My favorite novel would not be improved just because I was the only one to ever read it.

Q: Extending human lifespans is unnatural!

A: So is polyester.

Q: But I don't want to live forever!

A: Okay. You don't have to.



I think this FAQ concedes too many disputable points to the objectors and doesn't confront them with the huge benefits they would be denying to people. Advocacy for rejuvenation biotech should, I think, focus on the benefits and not let the alleviation of most human suffering get buried under a mountain of dubious objections. On the other hand, many of these objections deserve a detailed deconstruction that exposes and undermines their faulty premises.

Posted by: José at July 18th, 2014 6:40 AM

As strange as it sounds, but there are LOTS of people that do not want to live for many years (or forever, if possible). The thing here is that we should create two separate groups: people that want to live for long time (or forever) and people that don't. We that want the first option, we can work and focus on helping this process, and leave the other group alone. But they should do the same, meaning stop bothering with questions and things that just slow down the process if they do not have any genuine interest in this. I'm not saying they should not ask the questions, but I discussed with quite a lot of intelligent and educated people (medical field, science, etc.), and I was shocked how they reacted at the idea of living forever. I believe it is more productive to focus our intelligence in a creative path and help stream down the process of discovery and implementing these technologies as soon as possible, instead of arguing with people that do not believe in such cause.

Also their attitude is based on traditional understanding that we cannot even live longer that previous generations, not even to mention extending life for centuries or milleniums. So that why is crucial that technologies that really work to appear soon on the market. Let's focus on that.

Posted by: alc at July 18th, 2014 6:41 AM

I agree and disagree with alc. We shouldn't be too preoccupied with the deathists since we don't need unanimous support to make progress. Where I disagree is concerning the nature of these people. They are self-deluded and will turn hypocrite at the first possible opportunity. They make their objections to fit with the zeitgeist of self-loathing and opposition to progress. Those are not the product of a deep and fundamental divide between two classes of people.

Posted by: José at July 18th, 2014 6:58 AM

Jose nailed it.

The best strategy is not engaging them at all. Anyone who willingly attaches themselves to an "ism" or "ist" (with any issue/for or against) is generally outrageous. It's a narcissistic and conformative way of thinking.

Posted by: jonathan at July 18th, 2014 11:32 AM

Look, some of us just don't think it's going to happen, alright? Not everyone who objects to SENS or Calico or whatever is some religious wacko who thinks we're playing god. Some people just plain don't think life-extension is going to happen in our lifetimes. It's too far off. We're skeptical. Claims that aging will be cured within our lifetimes (and its always within our lifetimes, isn't it? None of you ever say "Oh, we'll probably beat aging in about 100 years") raise our hackles, to be bluntly honest. Stop throwing the "deathist" label at everyone who thinks SENS is a big fat waste of time.

Posted by: WiseGenius at July 18th, 2014 12:12 PM

@WiseGenius - Have you actually got any specific fact based reasons why you or "some people" think the SENS/rejuvenation biotechnology agenda is a "big fat waste of time" that you'd care to share with us?

Posted by: Jim at July 18th, 2014 12:42 PM

@WiseGenius: Why does the premise that aging won't be defeated for 100+ years mean SENS is a waste of time? We'd need to get started at some point anyway, and beginning now is the best way to keep that number, whatever it may currently be, from getting even bigger.

Also, you've missed the fundamental point that nobody is claiming we'll dismantle aging in one fell swoop. We'll make incremental progress that will add, on average, a few years here and there, meaning that some people will be able to 'hang in there' until more wide-ranging treatments are available. Not everybody, for sure, but not nobody either.

Posted by: Andrew at July 18th, 2014 1:16 PM

The answer to the population question is not space colonisation. The answer is that the population question is a big fat canard. Firstly, defeating aging won't cause a population explosion, and even if it did there's no good reason such a situation should not be manageable. There's no such thing as overpopulation absent the systemic mismanagement of economies and resources.

Posted by: Ben at July 18th, 2014 3:36 PM

I do not believe that extending (healthy) life will lead to overpopulation. In contrary, I believe that medical technologies that will extend
undefinitely healthy life will actually lead to decreasing world population. When people know that they have an open end then marriage institution will decrease, then families will have far less amount of kids and at a much slower rate. Yet, still people will try to kill each other (that is human nature), or die from drugs overdose as people will be less careful since "science can cure it all". So I strongly believe that the sooner we put on the market technologies that slow down/stop/reverse aging, the better. Yet, the whole world will use different "units" to measure life.

Posted by: alc at July 18th, 2014 4:11 PM

Voluntary Euthanasia is a bad (and deathist) idea. I have every intention of making medical care compulsory, and making suicide a crime. Governments will want to too, but they will want to for economic rather than moral reasons.

Overpopulation is a real problem, and you are hopelessly naïve. But so what? No problem justifies murdering billions of people slowly and painfully. Solve the major humanitarian problem of aging first, then we can worry about the minor ones.

@WiseGuy, if aging was solved exactly 100 years from now, that would mean some people alive today would benefit from it. It would mean the first person to live to 200 would be 16 years old now. Except in real life they wouldn't go straight from nothing to a cure, they would first (say 10 years earlier) have ways of making a few people live to 125 rather than the current max of about 116. Meaning a few people who are 25 now would benefit. That's very much a worst case scenario though. 100 years of medical progress is a LOT. And the technology to enable it will go even faster in 100 years. Work is already well under way on the main treatments that would be needed, like organ printing, so I think 50 years would be far more realistic.

Posted by: Carl at July 19th, 2014 11:41 AM

@johnathan: You need to engage the deathists for the simple reason that, being the majority, they hold the assets to the advancement of our own quest.
And by "deathists" I'm not just counting the hardcore pro-death; I include the lots of persons having even a slightly negative opinion about living much longer.

@Carl: Voluntary Euthanasia is a good idea, and should be implemented much faster so as to save many from unbearable sufferings.

Posted by: Nico at July 19th, 2014 12:48 PM

"Voluntary Euthanasia is a bad (and deathist) idea. I have every intention of making medical care compulsory, and making suicide a crime. Governments will want to too, but they will want to for economic rather than moral reasons."

That is fucking terrifying. Your idea of a better society is one in which everyone is forced to become immortal, and can never kill themselves even if they wanted to. Yes, we should do everything we can to prevent suicides because the vast majority of suicides are due to depression and other mental illness. But outright saying "suicide should be a crime and healthcare should be compulsory"...holy shit.

Tell me, what should the punishment be for people who try to commit suicide? And don't try to say "Oh, no punishment is needed", because you JUST SAID that it should be a crime. You have every intention of making it a crime. So then, what do you have in mind for punishment?

I also like how you pretty much directly contradict the FAQ. The FAQ tells deathists that they "don't have to" live forever if they don't want to. And yet here you are, pretty saying "Yes, you DO fucking have to".

Posted by: WiseGenius at July 19th, 2014 3:02 PM

@WiseGenius: Commenter "Carl" didn't write the FAQ, he is not obligated to agree with it, nor are we obligated to agree with him. As a matter of fact I disagree with Carl because I am (like Reason) a libertarian and I oppose all forms of aggression and coersion. Might I suggest that Carl's ineffectual little power fantasies are less "terrifying" than the fact that the government has made illegal many effective and potentially effective forms of treatment for age-related disease so that many people are suffering and dying right now who are prevented from helping themselves and making their own choices? Are you more concerned with the potential infringement of rights of people who want to kill themselves or the actual infringement of rights of people who want to live?

Posted by: José at July 20th, 2014 8:24 AM

I don't have a problem with people who would choose to go this path; what I do have the problem with is the idea that people in such a future may automatically be treated to live this way and then have to 'opt-out' if they would prefer a natural lifecycle, and I find this horrific. What about people like my friends and I, who do not value immortality or life extension but do value reproduction and natural selection as the meaning of life? To us, the individual self is just a part to play for one's family, honour, and town. It doesn't matter which individual does something, just as long as they are one of your group.

These views you espouse here on immortality and anti-death, they are so alien, so inhuman, I have no idea just what to make of them. I had never believed in evil before, but this philosophy, it's like someone sat down to come up with something that runs precisely opposite to the very definition of goodness.

Posted by: muskrat at July 29th, 2014 1:06 PM

@muskrat: You're watching too much sci-fi movies and reading too many age-old fairytales.

Nobody should ever force you and your kind to live longer and in better health by default. Die sooner and painfully if you prefer to, this isn't our concern. Thankfully, your value judgements will be taken away altogether.

Posted by: Nico at July 30th, 2014 4:15 PM

Nico, if The Analects and Lieh Tzu count as fairytales, then sure.

And for as long as my descendants and my friends' descendants and our traditions keep alive, then no, these value judgements will not be leaving. And by alive I mean reproduction and natural selection - I see immortality as the opposite of life, not death. All of these arguements transhumanists are making are in favour of consciousness, not life. Or do you argue the same for plants and fungi?

What I meant about being imposed in the future though was the same thing as has happened with cars or electricity or vaccination. Now it is illegal to go without these things, if you raise your children without having electricity or running water in your house and refuse vaccines you run the risk of having them taken away by the state, even though it should be entirely within the family's decision. And living without a car has become increasingly less possible since their invention, as more and more society is set up under the assumption that everyone has a car, grocery stores and schools being an hour's drive away, town offices not letting you tie up a horse or dog team while you're inside, etc. In most cases it's not explicit denial of that lifestyle, but it does force it out. You have to have an entire community set up, like the Hutterites, if you really wish to live that way, and even then most of the Anabaptist groups are being forced out of their lifestyles just by things like rising land prices and decreasing value of manual labour. No one's intentionally trying to force them to stop living the way they wish to, but they are being forced nonetheless.

Where I live, there are thousands and thousands of miles of uninhabited timberlands, almost all owned by the logging companies. There is no one living inside, and for the most part allot of the land goes unused because it would be too costly to log the more remote or mountainous or boggy parts that comprise much of it. Yet, suppose 30 or even a thousand people went out there and lived on unused land, ate unused plants and animals like the cattails and the porcupines, and kept to themselves, they would be kicked out. Yet they would be effectively operating in an entirely different niche.

I believe that if long scale life extension or the belief system behind it ever gets widespread acceptance it will become even more difficult for people to live in other styles of life from the norm, not even just along the more self-sufficient styles I'm describing. The muskrats go live their lives almost entirely outside the scope of humans and humanity, they occupy the spaces people don't want, and eat nothing a human is competing with them for, and they and their families and descendents are left along. If one has to be a muskrat to avoid being the recipient of these 'benefits', well then in that case I want to be a muskrat and for my children and their descendents also to be left alone. I do not see this happening if such a heavily consciousness-based philosophy became mainstream.

Posted by: muskrat at July 31st, 2014 2:22 PM

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