The Fight Against Aging and the Fight Against Ageism

If the old are thought to be inferior, used up, done, then would the rest of the population be less likely to support efforts to help older individuals? Ageism is certainly a real phenomenon, but it is an interesting question as to whether it is a major factor in the challenges we face in persuading the world to support work on rejuvenation therapies. Consider that those people with influence and wealth sufficient to steer the path of research and development in medicine are largely older, not younger. To the degree that ageism is a problem, I'd have to say that it seems likely to me to be a matter of the elderly accepting the mantle of this prejudice upon themselves. Or perhaps a matter of the old and declining leading implementations of discrimination against the elderly and declined. But this is just a viewpoint; the author here, a long-standing member of our community of patient advocates, argues that ageism is a core concern.

To me, efforts to counteract biological aging and fighting chronological ageism are two sides of the same coin. But for many this is probably not the case. For one, this is just not an issue at all people in general think about. And yet, all the people reaching adulthood and more are taking hits both from biological aging and from ageism during their lifetime. If you work on counteracting biological aging, you are working on fighting one form of ageism already. And am also hoping that if you think yourself as one who fights ageism you will recognize that understanding biological aging and support scientific efforts to extend healthy lifespan might be the most effective way to support the life of older people in the long term.

The World Health Organization defines ageism as the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination towards people on the basis of age. The claim I would like to make is there are two forms of discriminatory ageism, but only one of them has a connection to biological age. The first type is intergenerational ageism, and the main machinery involved here is chronological age. If you think that the deleterious effects of biological aging is the main or only cause for prejudice against older people then imagine a world where biological aging doesn't exist, yet kids are still born and new generations develop their own culture and references. It seems clear that in a world like that ageism and tensions between generations would still be an issue. Biological aging is not needed in order for ageism to happen.

For the second type: does the existence of biological aging and the visible signs of biological aging trigger ageism all by themselves? Yes, this is classical ageism, rooted in a positive bias for the young, and it has a long, long history in human culture. This type of biologically triggered ageism goes one way though, as it affects only older people by definition.

By now you might have guessed the argument I'm going to construct: people working on interventions to counteract processes of biological aging are at the same time working on removing the physiological, cognitive differences between the biologically old and biologically young. So they fight not just biological aging but biologically driven ageism too. Minimizing the differences between biological ages and maximizing the differences between chronological ages, they will make it hard for decision-makers to build ageism into the very fabric of companies and other institutions.



'Consider that those people with influence and wealth sufficient to steer the path of research and development in medicine are largely older, not younger. To the degree that ageism is a problem, I'd have to say that it seems likely to me to be a matter of the elderly accepting the mantle of this prejudice upon themselves.'

I see the argument. But no one is immune to internalizing their society's toxic values, even if those values are detrimental to them personally. Today's older generation was raised in a world that had very rigid beliefs regarding what old people were supposed to do, such as dying at an easily-anticipated, convenient time. They themselves were taught to think this way about their parents and grandparents. It's hard to unlearn stuff like that.

Posted by: TL at April 17th, 2018 7:11 AM

I like what this guy/girl is writing, but the format of that blog is awful to the point of being near unreadable. Which is a shame, as being a WordPress blog, it should be fairly quick and easy to fix.

Posted by: Jim at April 17th, 2018 7:48 AM

"They can say: if you fight aging you are also fighting (whatever fighting mean here) the main carriers of aging, older people. The brief answer: this potential argument can only emerge as a result of sloppy language use, failing to specify which type of aging is used in the 2 expressions forming the statement. Clarification comes quickly once you realise that people fighting aging are actually fighting biological aging and the people promoting ageism are promoting chronological ageism."

There is a simpler answer. Aging is a disease, it's like race, sex or political opinions. Thus, like fighting cancer is not the same as fighting/discriminating cancer patients, fighting aging is not the same as ageism.

Posted by: Antonio at April 17th, 2018 9:05 AM

Great article, and something I very much hope to be involved in.

How society changes as we treat aging is something I'm very interested in.

We have so much work ahead of us. We just need ONE crack in the armor. Just one, and we can really get started. Nothing will change until we have it. People will just not believe in it until they can see it. Until then, ageism will be with us and any argument against it will be seen as wishful thinking.

Sad. Humans are such a horrible species. We all are inflicted with this disease and we attack each other based solely on its progression. What kind of culture is that?

Posted by: Mark Borbely at April 17th, 2018 12:23 PM

It is a fascinating thing witnessing a cause self-righteously reinforcing itself and hardening its shell against all other values and opinions. Of course every person wants to lengthen the good portions of their life and maximize their beneficial opportunities and experiences - but at what cost? How many other parts of the economy could be sacrificed and cannibalized to cure cancer, for example - say a sizeable portion of the National Science Foundation. Who would be sacrificed? Marine biology? Astronomy? Particle physics? Student investment in sciences? How about NASA? Surely a cure for ageing would cost at least as much to deliver as a cure for many of the most common forms of cancer. The sad reality of the world is that there is simply not enough resources financially and intellectually to provide all, or even most, of the Good that the noble causes of the world demand. And further to that is the notion that there exists the freedom of each person to pursue their own intellectual visions and spend their time and money on those items that provide the most value to them - this is the truest form of a free and noble society - and not even necessarily in a selfish or hedonistic sense. Yet, it is these folks that are most reviled for their disinterest, apathy, and frankly, disapproval, of the large-scale calling-up and drafting of resources for the causes only a true minority feel are a society priority. It is not uncharitable, ignoble, politically incorrect, or some other type of discrimination (age, race, gender, etc.) to simply be unmoved by the likely legitimate yearnings of an enlightened group. This is why we have productivity-focussed entities such as for-profit research enterprises, corporations, and honestly, the market system - a means of channeling the intentions of the most ambitious to meet their own and their allegedly holy society-spanning aspirations. But this is only valid if these A+ personalities seek not the resources of the 75% of the world, the sheep, who have other plans - be it their own or the use of their taxpayer contributions. Elon Musk does not seek the teat of the government to realize his lofty goal of saving the human race from asteroids or what-have-you - and that is an existential threat, not merely the fearful warblings of those who would fear the pain and non-existence of the end of life as 95% of every human being who has ever lived has experienced. I want to end ageing as much as I want the human race to live amongst the stars, cure poverty and in-opportunity, allow a standard of living and choice throughout the world as the G7 have; but there is a time to be productive and focussed, and that time comes when you give up being a charity and start being a useful and functional group: taking whatever measures, be it solitude, utter privacy, worldwide relocation, regulation aversion, etc., to achieve that path and destination. The nice and correct finish last. The open and collaborative are easily taken advantage of. The judicious and thoughtful are soon superseded. Accept the jungle and fret not the unfairness of it all. Eat or be eaten.

Posted by: Jer at April 17th, 2018 10:31 PM

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