On a recent Immortal Life debate/discussion thread, I was asked to participate in a conversation about whether advocates of indefinite life extension should call their opponents “deathists” or whether such a label is counterproductive. Another question on that thread concerned the use of the designation “immortalist” to refer to an advocate of indefinite longevity.
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. These are not your rank-and-file skeptics of radical life extension, but rather people such as Leon Kass, Sherwin Nuland, Daniel Callahan, John Gray, and Nassim Taleb, who will not be shifted from their anti-life-extension views and who have made considerable amounts of money out of attacking pro-longevity ideas. 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.
As for positive labels, I can proudly attribute the term “immortalist” to myself – not because I think that indefinite life extension will by itself bring immortality (it will not), but rather because I think that any condition that more closely approaches immortality is a desirable one. Thus, I support not only the lifting of upper limits on lifespans, but also major improvements in protection against asteroids, earthquakes, weather events, vehicle accidents, infectious diseases, and manmade conflicts. I oppose anything that can destroy an innocent human life.