Opponents of Longevity Science Should be Encouraged to Think Critically About How Exactly They Want to Die

If you survey people on the topic of developing new medical technologies to enable longer lives, you'll find what looks like widespread opposition to the idea. We are a very conformist species, and in an environment in which everyone else ages to death by 80 or 90, that life span is the goal that many people declare themselves set for - but with a few years added on top to signal personal superiority without veering into a claim that would cause loss of status for other reasons. There is little to no thought given to the realities of the situation, the suffering and pain and loss; this is plain vanilla conformism. Similarly, we live in an age in which anti-technology, pro-death environmentalist philosophy has become so mainstream that the average person in the street feels the need to declare themselves in favor of fewer people, shorter lives, less growth, and less technological progress in order to conform. The Malthusian delusion of impending or actual overpopulation is used as a justification to do nothing to prevent the deaths of billions, and at the small scale as another reason not to publicly declare the urge to live longer than your parents.

People who don the hair shirt to decry their wealth, the technology that sustains them, and their life spans, as well as attempts to improve these metrics, are invariably far from poor when their position in life is considered in the context of the bigger picture. There is a level of attainment in society as a whole at which people become sufficiently insulated from the realities of poverty, or the realities of a lack of technology, or the realities of old age, to forget how things used to be or how life is lived by those who are actually poor or frail. This is pervasive in wealthier nations. Too many people fail to critically consider what it would actually mean to be aged, to have your friends dying around you, and to be diminished, weak, in pain, and dependent. They don't give serious thought as to how exactly it is they will die in this model for the future they put forward, in which their span of health and years follows that of their parents. Then there are the hypocrites, those who have given it thought, but take the shallow path of conformity, helping to weave the web of quiet lies, distortions, and omissions that pervade so much of our society.

The point is made here that perhaps we advocates should do more to persuade people to think meaningfully about what exactly it is that they plan for their own fate. There are personal consequences that accompany the goals declared in opposition to progress in medicine to treat aging, or even when simply following the herd to say that you don't want to live any longer than your parents or grandparents. Many people have a profound misunderstanding of the relationship between medicine, aging, and age-related disease, and of what that will mean for their own lives. Yet they are all doing their part to make it incrementally more difficult for improvements in medicine to be funded, to gain support, and to come into being. On the large scale and over the long-term, the progress that happens is the progress that has broad support across the population as a whole.

How will you die? Cancer, Alzheimer's, Stroke?

I have stated that it is basically a matter of time before we get the diseases of old age (cancer, stroke, dementia...) under control. It is impossible to tell when it will happen. Could be a couple of decades, could be 45 years, could be a century or a bit more. As a precaution, you should never trust anyone who says he can predict the future more than a couple of years in advance. However, progress that is not impossible in principle tends to reliably happen, on its own schedule. Whenever we will get the diseases of aging under control, we will end up with drastically extended healthspan. Simply put, most of us end up sick or dead because of the diseases of old age. Without these diseases, we would end up healthy for much longer. Stating that the diseases of aging will come under control at some point in our future should not be controversial. And you would hope that people would see this as a positive outcome.

Not so.

The prospect that we may finally defeat aging is either rejected as being too improbable, or, more commonly, is rejected as being undesirable. Recently, one of my readers had this very typical reaction: "As for extending human life, I'm not for it." If you tend to agree with my reader, please think it through. Aging does not, by itself, kills us. What kills us are the diseases that it brings, such a stroke, dementia, cancer. So if you are opposed to people living healthier, longer lives, then you are favorable to some of these diseases. I, for one, would rather that we get rid of stroke, cancers and dementia. I do not want to see these diseases in my family.

If you are in favor of short human lifespans through aging, then you must be opposed to medical research on the diseases of aging such as dementia, stroke, and cancer. You should, in fact, oppose anything but palliative care since curing dementia or cancer is akin to extending lifespan. You should also welcome news that members of your family suffer from cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. They will soon leave their place and stop selfishly using our resources. Their diseases should be cause for celebration. Of course, few people celebrate when they learn that they suffer from Alzheimer's. Yet this disease is all too natural. Death is natural. So are infectious diseases. We could reject antibiotics because dying of an infection is "natural". Of course, we do not.

I am sure that, initially, some people expressed concerns regarding the use of antibiotics. Now that we are starting to think about eliminating the diseases of aging, people object to that as well. But let me assure you that when it comes down to it, if there are cures against the diseases of aging, and you are old and sick, you will almost certainly accept the cure no matter what you are saying now. And the world will be better for it. Please, let us just say no to dementia, stroke and cancer. They are monsters.

Comments

The blog author is still a bit muddled in his thinking. He expects cancer, Alzheimers, and strokes to come under medical control in the coming decades, but that it will be unlikely that medicine will be able to keep people in a youthful state of around 30 biological years of age this century. He is perhaps still thinking that you can deal with the diseases of old age piecemeal one at a time without actually dealing with the damage that is aging.

Posted by: Jim at April 28th, 2016 5:11 AM

The author has a very anti-environmentalist bent in his politics and likes to suggest that environmentalism = the urge to die with everyone else.

Sometimes, you need to set aside your political delusions and maybe just talk to a few people. I'm quite liberal, quite an environmentalist, and I am about the strongest supporter of SENS and other technologies (to the tune of my wallet) that you'll find.

So please, give up trying to link fatalism to environmentalism.

Posted by: bmack500 at April 28th, 2016 8:01 AM

Reason,

The things you mention are part of the reason why I've started to doubt more and more of well see any of these potential treatments on a widespread basis. I don't doubt the science will be there eventually, but I have serious doubts on society's acceptance, for sure. And to me, it always seems like that the proponents of longevity are indifferent if everyone wants the treatments - they want everyone to have the choice, not be forced, whereas the people against longevity seem to take the "if I don't want it, no one can have it" stance.

And yes, the average person is very much the status quo with the views on this topic. We here are a very small fraction of the overal population, and mostly likeminded, along with the people in couple other online communities. The average guy on the street thinks life extension is impossible, or undesirable, and in a state of extended decrepitude. In my experience taking with people about it, most people come around when I ask if they'd like to live longer in good health, or even in the health of a 50 or 60 year old.

Posted by: Ham at April 28th, 2016 11:50 AM

Ham, I'm a fan of the idea that you can best judge people by their actions and not their words. If the desire of people was truly to die a painful diseased death after a long spell of degradation, why then do they try so hard to look, feel, hopefully stay healthy?

Hundreds of trillions of dollars are spent on beauty products. Sportswear is the modern fashion. Healthcare spending is off the charts, and most of it is spent on eking out just a few more months of life for the terminally ill.

If these kinds of preventative treatments come to be, you will not be able to STOP people from clamoring for them, even if the end result is that they could potentially live for hundreds of years. They will say one thing and do another, I guarantee it.

Posted by: Seth at April 28th, 2016 2:46 PM

Seth, I get what you're saying. It's strange how people are so willing to plop down billions on beauty products, but get irked about actually living longer and healthier. I hope you're right when you say people would be clamoring for these treatments once their available. But I also think a lot of the ones who will be clamoring for them will be going out of their way to oppose them leading up to their creation. People tend to be hypocrites. We'll see though, as this is all speculative.

Posted by: Ham at April 28th, 2016 6:31 PM

Ham said: "But I also think a lot of the ones who will be clamoring for them will be going out of their way to oppose them leading up to their creation. People tend to be hypocrites. We'll see though, as this is all speculative."

Just take a look at medical history, and of course other scientific history by extension. Did people not always oppose the good stuff before it actually became available to them? Some people are just simply following the herd. They have no opinion on their own, they do not care to think. If the group says a new technology will bring harm, then they will just pick up that sentiment and repeat it ad infinitum. That should not matter so much to us, because once the therapies become available, they will all desire to benefit from it. I talked with my grandma not too long ago about the possibility that these anti-aging therapies may be available in 20 years from now, and that if she is still alive, she may be able to benefit from it. She told me she does not want to live long, complained about how the world is becoming worse, etc. etc. etc. However, I think the moment she is presented with the choice, she will seize the opportunity to extend her life. People say they do not want cake, but still they eat cake, because it is too sweet. The unfortunate thing for us is that radical anti-aging science is not getting enough funding. Still, we need to find just the right people to support us. If only one or two billionaires were to see the potential of SENS research or any other SENS-like organisation, then humanity could be saved. I am optimistic that we will somehow get the financial support we need, but I also feel that time is running out for so many people, perhaps including myself. I do not know whether I can become 40 years old with my current medical conditions, but I will do my best and hope for the best, trusting the strength of my body.

Posted by: Biology Fan at April 29th, 2016 10:48 AM

Biology fan,

Sorry to hear about your medical conditions. How old are you? I'm 29 and I'm iffy on what, if anything that I'll end up seeing. Who knows. I'd like to think that more funding will get directed towards sens style treatments but only time will tell. Money is coming into the field, but for different approaches.

I do think you're right that many people will change their minds, if the opportunity presented itself. But as of now opponents of longevity seem to go out of their way to make supporters feel guilty for daring to actually want to live longer. Give me a break, you only get 1 life, And I don't know why others think they should have a say in how long someone else's life lasts though. Not to mention that longevity usually gets painted poorly by the media and in books, etc... Which tends to probably sway people's opinions. But who knows, i guess everyone feels like their opinion on the matter needs to be heard.

Posted by: Ham at April 29th, 2016 2:12 PM

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