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Benjamin Franklin: Pioneer of Insurance in North America – Video Presentation by G. Stolyarov II

Benjamin Franklin: Pioneer of Insurance in North America – Video Presentation by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
November 6, 2015

Mr. Stolyarov discusses Benjamin Franklin’s multifaceted contributions to combating the threat of fire, including the founding of the first fire insurance company in North America – The Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insuring of Houses from Loss by Fire.

This presentation was originally prepared for and delivered at the October 26, 2015, educational meeting of the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the CPCU Society. This video and enhanced slideshow are a slightly expanded version of that presentation.

The slides can be downloaded in PowerPoint format  and PDF format.

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin (1767)
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin (1767)
To Prevent World War III, Do Not Arm Ukraine’s Regime – Article by G. Stolyarov II

To Prevent World War III, Do Not Arm Ukraine’s Regime – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
February 8, 2015

I can no longer say that this Cold War will not lead to a ‘Hot War.’ I fear that they could risk it. […]The statements and propaganda on both sides make me fear the worst. If anyone loses their nerve in this charged atmosphere, we will not survive the next few years. […]I do not say such things lightly….I am a man with a conscience. But that’s how it is. I’m really extremely worried.

~ Mikhail Gorbachev

I’m uneasy about beginning a process of military engagement without knowing where it will lead us and what we’ll do to sustain it. […] I believe we should avoid taking incremental steps before we know how far we are willing to go. This is a territory 300 miles from Moscow, and therefore has special security implications.

~ Henry Kissinger

It is an extremely dangerous development, which has been brewing ever since Washington violated its verbal promises to Gorbachev and began expanding NATO to the East, right to Russia’s borders, and threatening to incorporate Ukraine, which is of great strategic significance to Russia and of course has close historical and cultural links. […] The Russian autocracy is far from blameless, but we are now back to earlier comments: we have come perilously close to disaster before, and are toying with catastrophe again. It is not that possible peaceful solutions are lacking.

~ Noam Chomsky

Outside countries should leave Ukraine to resolve the conflict itself. However, even as the US demands that the Russians de-escalate, the United States is busy escalating! […] Why is ‘winning’ Ukraine so important to Washington? Why are they risking a major war with Russia to deny people in Ukraine the right to self-determination? Let’s just leave Ukraine alone!

~ Ron Paul

One can rarely find four thinkers as distinct from one another as Gorbachev, Kissinger, Chomsky, and Ron Paul, and yet, for all of their differences, each of them is clearly guided by a systematic, thoroughly considered intellectual framework. All four of these thinkers have concluded, starting from different practical and moral premises, that further escalation of the Ukraine crisis by the United States would be a dangerous, deeply inadvisable behavior.

Two of these thinkers – Gorbachev and Kissinger – played crucial roles in helping to maneuver the world out of the existential danger of the Cold War. One might consider them to have made tactical or even moral errors, but they deserve recognition for being among the cooler heads that prevailed, helping defuse decades-long tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union that could have easily ended in a nuclear holocaust.

The other two thinkers – Chomsky and Paul – are thought leaders of principled polar opposites of American thought, left-progressivism and right-libertarianism. While sharply at odds over economics, philosophy, and politics, these two systems are both vastly superior to the American political establishment, which is dominated by a tight alliance of special-interest pressure groups, whose primary purpose is to protect existing political privileges through lobbying at the expense of innovative entrepreneurs, consumers, and people of merit in general. Left-progressives and right-libertarians each have a vision of human dignity and morality that is driven by principles and conscience. The American political establishment, represented by virtually indistinguishable “neoconservative” Republicans and “humanitarian interventionist” Democrats, is driven solely by the impulse to entrench the politically connected interests of the status quo at all costs. While both right-libertarians and left-progressives strongly favor peace as an integral component in their project to improve human well-being, the amoral interventionist political establishment in the United States does not care about human well-being. Bombs will drop, drones will massacre innocent civilians, everyone will be deprived of privacy, dignity, and due process – but they will have their privileges and their dominance, even though the world might burn for it.

The “neoconservatives” and “humanitarian interventionists” in the United States speak and act out of misguided short-sightedness, but the pressure they constantly exert on President Barack Obama could be the greatest threat to world peace and the progress of human civilization today, turning a tragic but local conflict into one that could escalate into World War III.

Obama rose to power through left-progressive idealistic rhetoric, but he has shown to be far more inclined toward accommodation to the entrenched political establishment. Even so, he has been reluctant to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, as vestiges of his left-progressivism have given him justified unease at the prospect. Yet the chorus of establishment hawks has recently grown to a warmongering holler. The worst among them are John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who even seek to mandate that Obama send weapons to the Ukrainian regime of Petro Poroshenko and Arseniy Yatseniuk. This same regime has been confirmed to have murdered over 5,300 of its own civilian population, to have employed savage, indiscriminate tactics – such as the deliberate shelling of densely populated neighborhoods and the use of cluster munitions – to have reinstituted military conscription at the point of a gun, and to have incorporated overtly fascist paramilitary “volunteer” units into Ukraine’s military structure. American “neoconservative” and “humanitarian interventionist” politicians, in the name of humanitarian ideals (mostly, vague sound bites about “territorial integrity” and “national self-determination” – neither of which concepts they actually respect with any consistency), seek to aid and abet genuine moral monsters who have already killed thousands and terrorized and displaced millions.

The civil war in Ukraine has thus far been confined within the borders of Ukraine, with modest support from Vladimir Putin’s regime for the Donetsk and Luhansk separatists. (If Putin’s support were indeed decisive or fully commensurate with his abilities, he would have occupied all of Ukraine by now – but his behavior demonstrates that this is not his intention. Putin does not have any grand design on Ukraine, and his sporadic assistance to the separatists has largely been reactive, to prevent their complete obliteration.) If the United States funnels weapons to the Poroshenko/Yatseniuk regime, a local conflict will be turned into a global one, with the United States fighting a proxy war against Russia. If the United States then makes the fateful step of introducing ground troops, the proxy war will quickly turn into a direct war. From a direct conventional war to a nuclear war is only a small step, which is why the actual strategists of the Cold War – wiser men than today’s hawks – understood that it would be unacceptable for the militaries of the United States and the Soviet Union to ever fight one another directly.

Arming the Ukrainian government will perpetuate its ability to inflict a massive death toll upon civilians. Furthermore, it would be completely counterproductive to any lasting peace. Both the separatists and Putin will see it as a validation of the claim that the United States has been behind the “regime change” in Ukraine all along. They will furthermore see it as another step toward Ukraine’s absorption into NATO – an alliance that was originally formed specifically to counter the Soviet Union. One of Putin’s consistent demands throughout the past year has been for a commitment that Ukraine’s membership in NATO would be out of the question. It should be an easy commitment to give – considering that NATO has no real appetite to allow Ukraine to join, and Ukraine’s precarious situation would only endanger the security of all other NATO members, who would be compelled to assist in any of Ukraine’s wars. Yet, instead of acceding to this one demand – which could resolve everything – Western governments have given the Poroshenko/Yatseniuk regime every hope of eventual NATO membership, with no intention of following through. Still, sending weapons at this juncture would strongly reinforce this hope on the part of Poroshenko and Yatseniuk, and the corresponding fear on the part of Putin.

While thoughtful men of principle and even hyper-intelligent ruthless pragmatists (like Kissinger) are against escalating the Ukraine crisis, the “neoconservatives” and “humanitarian interventionists” are neither thoughtful nor pragmatic. Many of them are driven by blind hatred for Russia and a desire to re-ignite the Cold War to re-live its alleged glory days. They would again place the world just a few steps away from nuclear annihilation, just to re-enter a paradigm which is conceptually familiar to them. They are so afraid of a possible new world of hyper-pluralism, individualism, accelerating technological progress, and the irrelevance of national boundaries – that they would place all humankind at risk just to avert their discomfort. Perhaps some of them truly believe their own rhetoric – that Vladimir Putin is a new Hitler and that the annexation of Crimea – a historically Russian territory until Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954 in order to gain support from the leadership of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic – is in any way similar to Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. (Never mind that Putin has never perpetrated a Holocaust and that the ethnic chauvinists, xenophobes, and anti-Semites are predominantly fighting on the side of the Ukrainian government and wearing Nazi emblems – while many of Putin’s unofficial allies have donned the emblems used by the Russian resistance to the Nazi invasion during World War II!) Perhaps some of the hawks truly believe that the United States has a moral duty to spread “democracy” and “self-determination” at the barrel of a gun to the rest of the world, and to serve as a global policeman, punishing all violations of these vaunted American principles. Yet what the ordinary people who suffer the consequences of American foreign-policy interventionism see are not “democracy” and “self-determination”, but rather dead bodies and homes reduced to rubble. Yes, Vladimir Putin is a ruthless autocrat who suppresses dissent and free inquiry. Yes, Viktor Yanukovych was a corrupt kleptocrat who sometimes employed thugs to deter and punish criticism of his expropriation of the Ukrainian people. At worst, Yanukovych may have ordered snipers from the Berkut police to fire upon the Maidan protesters during his last days in power (although it is perplexing why the snipers fired upon both the protesters and at Berkut police themselves). But neither of them murdered thousands of innocents among their own population, nor used indiscriminate shelling against them. It is one matter to suffer under a repressive autocracy, which will spare you if you keep your head down; it is quite another to quake under omnipresent brutality, murder, and destruction, from which no one is safe and where your next trip to the grocery store could result in your limbs being torn from your body. People who, under Yanukovych, were able to eke out a modest living and hope for gradual improvement, have been devastated and sometimes utterly destroyed by the savage Ukrainian civil war. A swath of Third-World barbarism has been carved out of a region that had, for seventy years, only known drab Second-World sub-optimality. Even if Putin were attempting to resurrect the Soviet Union – quite a far-fetched allegation – the Ukrainian government is creating another Liberia in Europe.

As tragic as it might be, Putin’s most advantageous response to any US decision to send arms to Ukraine would be to immediately escalate the situation, before those arms could arrive to make a difference on the battlefield. This means that the trickle of Putin’s support for the separatists would become a flood, and it would not be surprising if Russian forces directly and openly entered Ukraine and pressed toward Kiev. Undoubtedly, the Ukrainian military would put up a stiff resistance and turn every civilian settlement along the way into another Donetsk Airport. Tens of thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians would be killed in the process, and all of their lives would be lost in vain. Nobody truly wants this outcome, but the hawks in the US Congress are blinded by their desire to punish Russia. They fail to realize that this carnage is precisely the result they would get by further goading Putin on with escalation from the American side. In the face of such thoughtless saber-rattling, one should applaud the frantic, heroic efforts of European leaders – particularly Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s François Hollande – to forestall a deadly and irreversible sequence of events and to reach a diplomatic solution.

“A bad peace is better than a good war,” counsels an old Jewish and Russian proverb. Benjamin Franklin agreed. “There was never a good War, or a bad Peace,” he wrote in his bestselling Poor Richard’s Almanack – one of 18th-century America’s civilizing moral influences. Right now a sub-optimal peace – what some would consider a bad peace – is the best that could be hoped for in Ukraine. This would involve some manner of sustainable demarcation between the territory held by the Ukrainian government and the rebel People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. It does not matter whether this demarcation takes the form of officially recognized independence or broad “regional autonomy” – as long as the shells stop falling and the civilians stop dying. National borders are artificial fictions, but human lives are real. It does not matter where officials and diplomats decide to draw their lines on the map, as long as the result is a mutually acceptable understanding of future behaviors, by which living humans would be spared from slaughter.

The Minsk Agreement reached in September 2014 was unsustainable precisely because the Ukrainian government never intended to abide by the agreed-upon demarcation line; Ukrainian troops stubbornly held onto the ghastly, apocalyptic ruin of the once-state-of-the-art Donetsk Airport, despite the fact that it will never be usable as an airport again. According to the Minsk Agreement, the Donetsk Airport was to fall within the autonomous separatist-held territory. Its location was sufficiently close to the city of Donetsk for the Ukrainian army to continue to shell civilian neighborhoods. Understandably, the separatist rebels could not tolerate such a situation of perpetual bombardments, and so they threw their forces at the airport in wave after wave of bloody assaults, until it finally fell. Unfortunately, what also fell in this struggle was the entire premise of a sustainable demarcation line. The Ukrainian government would not respect its commitments, so the separatists saw no need to respect theirs as well. They have launched an offensive in the hopes of creating more buffer territory around their capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk. Tragically, this offensive involves shelling of population centers such as Debaltseve and Mariupol, whose residents are innocent victims, much like the inhabitants of Luhansk and Donetsk. In perpetrating these attacks, the separatists have become as bad as the regime forces they oppose – using the same indiscriminate tactics and the same mass-impact weapons.

It does not matter which side bombards the civilians of Eastern Ukraine, who used to be one another’s neighbors and whose social, cultural, and economic lives used to be tightly intertwined. All of these assaults are a savage, ultimately pointless folly. The lives they take can never be restored, and the ill will they engender can never abate. This is why the idea that the Ukrainian government should ever regain de facto control over the separatist-occupied regions is an absurdity. Who would accept living under a government that murdered their neighbors and families and ruined what meager livelihoods they had? A lasting peace agreement might keep these territories nominally within the boundaries of Ukraine, in order to save face diplomatically, but the actual governance of these territories must be delegated to the people who live there, even if these people would make economically and politically counterproductive decisions. Donetsk and Luhansk might well become neo-communist enclaves and will certainly need decades of painstakingly slow economic recovery to restore 2013-level standards of living. However unfortunate this may all be, it is better than children being blown to bits. If peace is restored, along with free movement across borders (which existed prior to the civil war), the more ambitious and talented residents of these territories will be able to emigrate to the West, to Israel, or even to Russia, where their prospects would be greatly improved. Such emigration has already been happening for decades and has enabled the best minds and the better cultural vestiges of the former Soviet republics to be preserved.

With two key points – (i) broad autonomy for the rebel-held areas, separated by a buffer zone to prevent shelling of population centers, and (ii) a commitment for Ukraine never to join NATO – a peace plan might just avert escalation of the savage Ukrainian civil war. There may still be occasional violations of any resulting cease-fire, since neither side has full control over its fighters. However, redirecting the incentives and conversation away from escalation and toward peaceful coexistence is imperative to avoid making this tragedy worse. Eventually, if peace becomes the general rule rather than the exception, armed attacks in the region could equilibrate to a level very close to zero, and the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics could become unofficial statelets, like Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia – de facto autonomous enclaves that are governed poorly but pose no threat to world peace or to anyone outside their boundaries.

If, on the other hand, weapons are sent to the Poroshenko/Yatseniuk regime and events spiral out of control into a World War III, then all of human civilization would be in grave danger. Decades of economic, technological, and cultural progress could be wiped out in days. The infrastructure – not just in Eastern Ukraine but in the West itself – could be devastated sufficiently to bring about another Dark Age, if humankind survives at all. Gone would be the dreams of colonizing other planets, dramatically extending human lifespans and curing chronic diseases, creating radical abundance through technological innovation, and obliterating age-old superstitions and oppressions. The old hawks who seek to relive the Cold War would plunge the world into a predicament far worse – all because they could not let go of their fear, their hatred, and their obsolete zero-sum “us versus them” worldview. Putin would, of course, also be complicit in such a scenario, but not because he would have made the first move. His foremost objective – as has been the case for every Russian autocrat – will be to avoid humiliation and save face, to claim a dignified resolution with an image of strength – no matter what the substantive outcome, in order to avoid domestic unrest. For Russian strongmen, much is forgiven – but losing a war (or seeming to lose it) is unacceptable and is practically a sentence of deposition, if not death. This is why, if the West ratchets up military pressure on Putin, he will have no incentive to put the brakes on the deadly cycle of escalation.

The saber-rattling of hawks in the US Congress and their supporters threatens the progress and the very survival of humankind. One can only hope that cooler heads – the thinkers, the thoughtful idealists, the pragmatists, the diplomats – will prevail and enable a local conflict to remain local and to eventually subside. The next few decades will be crucial for setting the course of human civilization for millennia hence – if people of conscience will be able to wrest those millennia from the short-sighted jingoists who would rob us of them.

“Death is Wrong” Reviewed by Robert W. Franson of Troynovant

“Death is Wrong” Reviewed by Robert W. Franson of Troynovant

Read the excellent new review by science-fiction author and literary essayist Robert W. Franson of Death is Wrong. The review is published on Mr. Franson’s website Troynovant, which offers extensive literary and philosophical analysis.

Here is an excerpt: “Death is Wrong is a short book, clearly written and easy to read. I like the personal approach: it doesn’t talk down and is quite accessible. A striking concept presented quite reasonably and supported matter-of-factly. There are apt quotations from a variety of thinkers, including several of my personal heroes of modern times: Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Friedrich Nietzsche. These people and some scenes from nature are nicely illustrated by Wendy Stolyarov. For readers who want a little more about the background concepts, there is a brief Appendix discussing the seven basic causes of senescence, such as cell loss and atrophy. There are some links for further learning. It’s a good book, entertaining and thoughtful, and certainly gives us a challenge to think about.

The Continuing Al-Qaeda Threat – Article by Ron Paul

The Continuing Al-Qaeda Threat – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
February 2, 2014
Appearing last week before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that he could not say the threat from al-Qaeda is any less today than it was ten years ago. It was a shocking admission. Does he mean that the trillions of dollars spent fighting the war on terrorism have resulted in no gains? That those who urged us to give up some of our liberties to gain security have, as Benjamin Franklin warned, lost both?

There may be reasons Director Clapper would want us to believe that the threat from al-Qaeda is as strong as ever. An entire industry has arisen from the government’s war on terror, and for both the government sector and the security-industrial complex the terrorist threat is big business. Economic pressure has thus far not affected the military or intelligence sectors – despite false claims that the sequestration cut military spending. However, emphasizing continued high threat levels without being able to openly explain them due to secrecy requirements is one way to keep the security budget untouched.

Also, emphasizing the continued high threat level from terrorists overseas is a good way to frighten citizens away from their increasing outrage over reports of massive domestic spying by the NSA. Unfortunately Americans may still be more willing to give up their liberties if they are told that the threats to their security remain as high as ever.

What if Clapper is telling us the truth, however? What would this revelation mean if that is the case?

For one, it means that we have gotten very little for the tremendous amount of spending on the war on terrorism and the lives lost. We are told that the military and intelligence community can protect us if they are given the tools they need, but it appears they have not done a very good job by their own admission.

More likely, it may mean that the US government’s policies are causing more al-Qaeda groups to arise and take the place of those who have been defeated by US drone and military attacks. Clapper does mention that there are so many different al-Qaeda franchises popping up it is difficult to keep track of them all, much less defeat them. But why is that? A former State Department official stated last year that every new drone strike in Yemen that kills innocent people results in the creation of 40-60 new enemies. Likewise, the young girl from Pakistan who had been brutally shot by the Taliban for her desire to go to school told President Obama during a White House meeting that “drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people.”

Are there more al-Qaeda groups out there because our policies keep creating new ones?

On that point, Clapper said to the Senate that in Syria the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front “does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland.” It is all the more disturbing, then, to have also read last week that Congress voted in secret to resume sending weapons to the Syrian rebels, who are dominated by al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. We have read about US-supplied weapons meant for “moderates” in Syria being seized by radicals on several occasions, and the Voice of America reported last year that our Saudi “allies” are arming the same al-Nusra Front that Clapper identifies as a threat to the US. Is the US Congress arming the very people who will commit the next attack on US soil?

Why is al-Qaeda as much a threat as it was ten years ago? Perhaps it is that we continue to fight the wrong war in the wrong manner. Perhaps because we refuse to consider that many overseas are angry because of our government’s policies and actions. After ten years of no progress, is it not time to try something new? Is it not time to try non-intervention and a strong defense rather than drone strikes and pre-emptive attacks?

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Why I Wrote a Children’s Book on Indefinite Life Extension – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why I Wrote a Children’s Book on Indefinite Life Extension – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 21, 2013

My greatest fear about the future is not of technology running out of control or posing existential risks to humankind. Rather, my greatest fear is that, in the year 2045, I will be 58 years old and already marked by notable signs of senescence, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking my morning coffee, and wondering, “What happened to that Singularity we were promised by now? Why did it not come to pass? Why does the world of 2045 look pretty much like the world of 2013, with only a few cosmetic differences?” My greatest fear is that, as I stare into that mug of coffee, I would recognize that it will all be downhill from there, especially as “kids these days” would pay no more attention to technological progress and life-extension possibilities than their predecessors did. My greatest fear is that they would consider me a quixotic old man, fantasizing about a future that never was, while they struggle to make ends meet in an ever-more hostile economy (which would look much like our own, except farther along in the sequence of gradual decay, because nobody cares), strangled by labyrinthine restrictions arising out of Luddism and change-aversion within the widespread society. In short, my greatest fear is that our present will be our future, except that I and the present generation of longevity activists will lose our youthful vitality and will ourselves be rapidly approaching the abyss of oblivion.

So I needed to do something. I am not a doctor or biologist, but I did vow at the age of five that I would devote my life to the struggle against senescence and death – so I needed to make good on that promise. My articles, videos, and occasional donations to life-extension endeavors are all well and good, but I also wanted to make a unique contribution that could turn the tide of cultural attitudes toward life extension and toward death itself. After years of brainstorming and months of concerted activity on the part of both me and my wife and illustrator Wendy Stolyarov, the result is Death is Wrong – an illustrated children’s book on life extension that is the first of its kind.

Death is Wrong - by Gennady Stolyarov II, Illustrated by Wendy Stolyarov

Death is Wrong – available in both paperback and Kindle editions – fills an important void. Virtually everyone learns about death as a child, and the initial reaction is the correct one: bewilderment, horror, and outrage. Yet there has been no resource to validate these completely correct first impressions. Almost immediately, the young ones are met with excuses and rationalizations, so that they might be consoled and return to a semblance of normalcy. Over millennia of facing indeed inevitable demises, humans have constructed elaborate edifices of rationalization, designed to keep thoughts of death from intruding upon their day-to-day lives. While understandable in eras when technological progress could not have been expected to attain radical life extension (see Benjamin Franklin’s famous lament that he was born too soon), today such evasions of the grave wrong of death are among the most counterproductive attitudes imaginable. Now that technological progress could bring us into the bright age of indefinite longevity within our lifetimes, every atavistic remnant of the old death acceptance poses a barrier that must be surmounted. The fewer barriers life-extension progress encounters, the faster indefinite lifespans will arrive for us; the more of us will be preserved from oblivion.

While transhumanists and life-extension advocates have made headway with conveying their aspirations for the future to some of the most technically educated and philosophically inclined adults, the mainstream of society remains pervaded by the old death-acceptance arguments – religious and secular: from the fear of “playing God” to the specter of overpopulation. Every mind held captive by these traditional and Malthusian pro-death prejudices is a mind that will at best not help life-extension progress and at worst hinder it greatly – a higher likelihood for the most intelligent purveyors of the death-acceptance mindset. People who embrace these notions and find them credible (despite the relative ease of debunking them using logic and evidence) largely do so because the fallacies were ingrained into them since childhood, with no counterarguments being presented or even posited as conceivable. So, if the antidote to these fallacies is to be most effective, it must be administered in childhood.

Death is Wrong will be easily understood by most eight-year-olds, though my aim is to encompass as young an audience as possible. The beautiful and detailed illustrations will help keep young minds engaged as they read about long-lived organisms found in nature, as well as the great advocates of life extension from the past and the present (featured in the book are Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Marquis de Condorcet, Friedrich Nietzsche, Alan Harrington, and Aubrey de Grey). The book discusses successes in animal life extension, along with providing a concise introduction to Dr. de Grey’s SENS program and the seven principal types of damage that must be addressed in order to reverse senescence. Parts of the book are autobiographical: they describe my own experiences as a child finding out about death and vowing to combat it. The book also focuses of refuting the common pro-death rationalizations and presenting young readers with all of the amazing opportunities and possibilities that can only exist if humans live much, much longer than is presently the case. At the end is a call to action and a list of further resources for young readers to find out more and to become involved with the life-extension movement.

Some may question my tactic of assailing death itself directly – an approach that strikes at the very attitudes enabling acceptance of the Dragon-Tyrant in the room (not the elephant, because elephants are largely innocuous). Yet this is not the time for prevarication or for dampening the rhetoric to the point where one only advocates greater “healthspans” or “compression of morbidity” or any incremental stopping place for progress. While the achievement of indefinite lifespans (and functional immortality, through improvements to the safety of humans’ environment and to the institutional incentives to avoid violence) will not come all at once, and incremental discoveries and lifespan extensions will certainly be the process leading to the goal, the goal itself – defeating death – should not be forgotten or dismissed. The grave wrong of death is worse than that of slavery – once a ubiquitous institution that every society took for granted. William Lloyd Garrison, the 19th-century abolitionist, recognized that the way to get slavery to disappear was to emphasize the feasibility and desirability of its complete eradication: “Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend.” [1] Truer words were never spoken when it comes to the abolition of innocent human death. For those of us life-extension advocates who cannot participate in the research directly (other than donating money and other services to aid the researchers), the most promising path to follow is the example of William Lloyd Garrison. We should emphasize the urgency, the moral necessity, the undeniable justice of abolishing the death of innocent humans as soon as possible. We need to transform the culture so that it comes to reject death much as it was transformed to reject slavery after millennia of blithe acceptance. Then the research funding will flow, the votes and political rhetoric will follow, and even theologies and philosophies will be reinterpreted to view the fight against death on Earth to be the natural conclusion of every religious faith and secular ideology.

The spread of Death is Wrong to children is just one piece of the strategy of advocating for the abolition of the death of innocents. I would admire and embrace every activist project – including other children’s books – aimed toward this same cultural transformation. For those who have been wondering how they personally could contribute to the prospects of achieving indefinite longevity within our lifetimes, I hope that this book offers inspiration as well as some concrete possibilities for action. Even a single pro-longevity activist in a community could make a tremendous difference by donating copies of Death is Wrong to libraries, schools, bookstores, and children’s activity groups – or directly to children with whom the activist is acquainted.

Perhaps, if enough of today’s children read Death is Wrong, they would not view us life-extension advocates as hopeless oldsters lost in unattainable fantasy, thirty-two years into the future. Rather, they would be young alongside us, working to build a human civilization truly worthy of the name – one that is permeated by peace, prosperity, virtue, and a striving to ceaselessly progress as humankind comes to inhabit, develop, beautify, and ennoble the universe at large.

[1] Quoted in William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease, eds., The Antislavery Argument (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1965), p. xxxv.

Three Specters of Immortality: A Talk from the Radical Life-Extension Conference in Washington D.C. – Article by Franco Cortese

Three Specters of Immortality: A Talk from the Radical Life-Extension Conference in Washington D.C. – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
October 20, 2013

Author’s Note: The following is a transcript of a talk given at the recent Radical Life Extension Conference held in the U.S. Capitol on September 22,2013. Talks were also given by Antonei B. Csoka, Gabriel Rothblatt, Tom Mooney, Mark Waser, Gray Scott, Josh Mitteldorf, Maitreya One, Jennifer ‘Dotora’ Huse and Apneet Jolly. A special thanks to David Pizer for making this article available for distribution at the upcoming Society for Venturism 2013 Cryonics Conference in Laughlin, Nevada, on October 25-27th.


I would like to address what I consider to be three common criticisms against the desirability and ethicality of life-extension I come across all too often – three specters of immortality, if you will. These will be (1) overpopulation (the criticism that widely available life-extension therapies will cause unmanageable overpopulation), (2) naturality (the criticism that life extension is wrong because it is unnatural), and (3) selfishness (the criticism that life-extension researchers, activists, and supporters are motivated by a desire to increase their own, personal lifespans rather than by a desire to decrease involuntary suffering in the world at large).

But first I would like to comment on why this would be important. I would consider two of the three critiques – namely the naturality critique and the selfishness critique – to be largely unfounded and vacuous; I don’t think they will be real worries when comprehensive life-extension therapies arrive. I think that the overpopulation critique does have some weight to it; we do in fact need to plan for and manage the effects of a growing population. However, the overpopulation critique is wrong in assuming that such affects will be unmanageable.

So if at least 2 of these 3 critiques are largely unfounded, then what’s the worry? Won’t they simply disappear when life extension is achieved, if they are really so baseless? Well, yes, but the possibility of their turning out to be right at the end of the day is not what makes them worrying.

What makes them worrying is the fact that they deter widespread support of life extension from the general public, because they stop many people from seeing the advantage and desirability of life extension today. A somewhat common, though thankfully not predominant, attitude I find from some longevity supporters is that work is being done, progress is being made, and that the best course of action for those who want to be around to benefit from the advances in medicine already on the developmental horizon is simply to live as healthily as we can today while waiting for tomorrow’s promise. I don’t think this attitude necessarily deters progress in the life-extension field, but I certainly don’t think it helps it very much either. I think such people are under the pretense that it will take as long as it needs to, and that there is nothing the average person can really do to speed things up and hasten progress in the field. Quite to the contrary, I think every man and woman in this room can play as central a role in hastening progress in the field of life extension as researchers and scientists can.

This is largely due to the fact that just what is considered worthy of scientific study is to a very large extent out of the hands of the average scientist. The large majority of working-day scientists don’t have as much creative license and choice over what they research as we would like to think they do. Scientists have to make their studies conform to the kinds of research that are getting funded. In order to get funding, more often than not they have to do research on what the scientific community considers important or interesting, rather than on what they personally might find the most important or interesting. And what the scientific community considers important and worthy of research is, by and large, determined by what the wider public considers important.

Thus if we want to increase the funding available to academic projects pertaining to life extension, we should be increasing public support for it first and foremost. We should be catalyzing popular interest in and knowledge of life extension. Strangely enough, the objective of increased funding can be more successfully and efficiently achieved, per unit of time or effort, by increasing public support and demand via activism, advocacy, and lobbying, rather than by, say, direct funding, period.

Thus, even if most of these three criticisms, these specters of immortality, are to some extent baseless, refuting them is still important insofar as it increases public support for life extension, thereby hastening progress in the field. We need massive amounts of people to wake up and very explicitly communicate their desire for increased funding in biomedical gerontology, a.k.a. life extension. I think that this is what will catalyze progress in the field – very clear widespread demand for increased funding and attention for life extension.

This is something I think each and every man and woman here today can do – that is, become a life-extension activist and advocate. It is not only one of the easiest ways in which you can contribute to the movement – it may very well be the most important and effective ways that you can contribute to the movement as well. Send an email to the International Longevity Alliance (, an organization dedicated to social advocacy of life extension, which is compiling a list of life-extension advocates and networking them together. Arrange and organize your own local life-extension rally or demonstration, like the one held last year in Brussels. This could be as easy as holding up signs supporting scientific research into aging in the most traffic-dense location in your local area, recording it, and posting it on YouTube.

And so, without further ado, I’d like to move on to the three specters of immortality.

1. The Unmanageable-Overpopulation Critique

Firstly, I’d like to turn a critique of the possible undesirable societal and demographic repercussions of life extension. The most prominent among these kinds of critiques is that of overpopulation – namely that the widespread availability of life-extension therapies will cause unmanageable overpopulation and a rapid depletion of our scarce resources.

I think this critique, out of those three critiques addressed here, is really the only one that is a real worry. That is because potential negative societal repercussions of life extension are a real possibility, and must be appropriately addressed if they are to be avoided or mitigated. And don’t get me wrong – they are manageable problems that can be handled if we make sure to plan for them sufficiently, and allocate enough attention to them before their effects are upon us.

According to some studies, such as one performed by S. Jay Olshanksy, a member of the board of directors for the American Federation of Aging Research (and the foremost advocate and promulgator of the Longevity Dividend), if the mortality rate dropped to zero tomorrow – that is, if everyone in the world received life-extension therapies comprehensive enough to extend their lives indefinitely – we would experience a rise in population less than the growth in population we experienced following the Post-World-War-II baby-boom. Global society has experienced dramatic increases in population growth before – and when that happened we extended and added to our infrastructure accordingly in order to accommodate them. When significant increases in life extension begin to happen, I expect that we will do the same. But we must make sure to plan ahead. Overpopulation will be an insoluble problem only if we ignore it until its perceptible effects are upon us.

Luckily, there are a number of existing solution-paradigms to other, somewhat related problems and concerns that can be leveraged to help mitigate the scarcitizing effects of overpopulation on resources and living-space.

Contemporary concerns over the depletion of non-renewable resources, such as but not limited to climate change, can be leveraged to help lessen the detrimental effect overpopulation might have on non-renewable resources.

Another contemporary solution paradigm we can leverage to help mitigate the detrimental effects of overpopulation on living space is seasteading. This is the notion of creating permanent dwellings and structures at sea, essentially floating cities, outside of the territory of governments – more often than not to get around legal complications relating to whatever the prospective seasteaders wish to do. This movement is already bringing about designs and feasibility studies relating to the safe construction of very large floating cities.

The most common solution-paradigms proposed to combat the problems of resources and living space are space colonization and regulating how many children people can have. I think that long before we turn to these options, we will begin to better maximize the existing living space we have. 75% of the earth’s surface area is water. I think that we will colonize the oceans long before space colonization becomes a more economically optimal option. Further, we currently don’t use the living space we have very well. We live on the surface of a sphere, after all. There is nothing in principle preventing us from building taller and building deeper. We can take from existing proposals and feasibility studies pertaining to megastructures – that is, very large man-made structures – to build much bigger than we currently do.

Another existing field that can help lessen the potential resource-depleting effects of a growing global population is agricultural labs, indoor farming systems, and vertical farms. Such systems are in use today for large-scale food production. This would allow us to take all the space we currently have devoted to agriculture (roughly 40% of earth’s total land-area according to some estimates – see here and here) and move it underground or indoors.

Thus overpopulation is a real worry, but we have the potential solutions to its problematic effects today. We can leverage several existing solution-paradigms proposed to combat several contemporary problems and concerns in order to manage the scarcitizing effects of overpopulation on resources and living space.

2. The Naturality Critique

I’d like to turn to the Naturality criticism now – the criticism that life-extension is unnatural, dehumanizing and an affront to our human dignity.  – This could not be farther from the truth. The stanch revulsion we have of death is right; appropriate; a perfectly natural response.

Besides which, “naturality,” insofar as it pertains to humans, is an illegitimate notion to begin with. For us human beings, naturality is unnatural. It is we who have cast off animality in the name of mind, we who have ripped dead matter asunder to infuse it with the works of our mind – we who have crafted clothes, codes, cities, symbols, and culture. Since the very inception of human civilization, we have very thoroughly ceased to be natural, and to such an extent that unnaturality has become our first nature.

Firstly, one thing that I think undercuts the critique of naturality rather well is the known existence of biologically immortal organisms. There are in fact known organisms where the statistical probability of mortality does not increase with age. Meaning that if one kept these organisms healthily fed and in a good environment for them, then they simply shouldn’t die. Not only are there proofs of concept for biological immortality – but it can be found in nature unmodified by man.

Hydras, small freshwater organisms, do not undergo cellular senescence and are able to maintain their telomere lengths throughout continued cell division. The jellyfish Turritopsis Nutricula can, through a process called cellular transdifferentiation, revert back to the polyp stage (an earlier stage in its developmental cycle) a potentially indefinite number of times. Planarian Flatworms also appear to be biologically immortal, and can maintain their telomere lengths through a large population of highly proliferative adult stem cells. And if you can believe it, an organism as commonplace as the lobster also appears to be biologically immortal. Older lobsters are more fertile than young lobsters, and they don’t appear to weaken or slow down with age.

There is then such a thing as biological immortality. In biology it’s defined as a stable or decreasing rate or mortality from cellular senescence as a function of chronological age. Meaning that barring such accidents as being eaten by prey, such organisms should continue to live indefinitely.

I also think that this is great proof of concept for people who automatically associate the magnitude of the endeavor with its complexity or difficulty, and assume that achieving biological immortality is technically infeasible simply due to the sheer profundity of the objective. But in regards to naturality, I think the existence of such biologically immortal organisms goes to show that there is nothing necessarily unnatural about biological immortality – because it has already been achieved by blind evolution in various naturally-occurring biological organisms.

Secondly, I think that the long history of seminal thinkers who have contemplated the notion of human biological immortality, the historical antecedents of the contemporary life-extension movement, help to combat the naturality criticism as well. Believe it or not, people have been speculating about the scientific abolition of involuntary death for hundreds of years at least.

As early as 1795, nearly 220 years ago, Marquis de Condorcet wrote

Would it be absurd now to suppose that the improvement of the human race should be regarded as capable of unlimited progress? That a time will come when death would result only from extraordinary accidents or the more and more gradual wearing out of vitality, and that, finally, the duration of the average interval between birth and wearing out has itself no specific limit whatsoever? No doubt man will not become immortal, but cannot the span constantly increase between the moment he begins to live and the time when naturally, without illness or accident, he finds life a burden?”

Here we see one of the fathers of the enlightenment tradition speculating on whether it is really that absurd to contemplate the notion of a continually-increasing human lifespan.

In 1773, 240 years ago, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Jacques Duborg, first praising the sagacity and humanity demonstrated by his attempt to bring animals back from the dead, and then describing what can only be a harkening of cryonics and suspended animation, where he wishes that there were a way for him to be revived a century hence, and witness the progress in science that had been made since the time of his death.

“Your observations on the causes of death, and the experiments which you propose for recalling to life those who appear to be killed by lightning, demonstrate equally your sagacity and your humanity. It appears that the doctrine of life and death in general is yet but little understood…

I wish it were possible… to invent a method of embalming drowned persons, in such a manner that they might be recalled to life at any period, however distant; for having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence, I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country! But… in all probability, we live in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science, to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection…

Thus the notion of human biological immortality through science and medicine is not as new as most of us are probably quick to presume. Men of stature and intellect, respected and admired historical figures, have been contemplating the prospect for hundreds of years at least.

Thirdly, I think that religion itself exemplifies our desire for indefinite lifespans. This may seem counter-intuitive considering that many criticisms of life extension come from underlying religious arguments and worldviews – for instance that we shouldn’t be playing god, or messing with the way god created us. But the fact is that most religions have a conception of the afterlife – i.e., of eternal life following the physical death of the body. The fact that belief in an afterlife is a feature shared by almost all historical religions, that belief in an afterlife was conceived in a whole host of cultures independent of one another, shows that indefinite lifespans is one of humanity’s most deep-rooted and common longings and desires – indeed, one so deep-rooted that it transcends cultural distance and deep historical time.

3. The Selfishness Critique

Now I’d like to turn to the third specter of immortality – the criticism of selfishness. Whereas the first specter of immortality was a critique of the ethicality of life extension, this second specter is more a moralistic critique of the worthiness of actually spending one’s time trying to further progress in the field today.

The view that life-extension researchers, activists and supporters are arrogant for thinking that we somehow deserve to live longer than those that came before us – as though we were trying to increase public support for and interest in life extension merely for the sake of continuing our own lives. This, too, is, I think, a rather baseless criticism. Every life-extension researcher, activist, scholar and supporter I know does it not solely for the sake of their own lives but for the sake of the 100,000 people that die every day due to age-correlated causes. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, 100,000 people will die from aging today, lost forever to causes that are in principle preventable and ultimately unnecessary. There are roughly 86,000 seconds in a day. That works out to a little more than one death per second. That’s about equal to the entire population of Washington, DC, dying every week, 3 million preventable deaths per month, and 36.5 million deaths per year. A group larger than the entire population of Canada will die from aging this year – and the fact that it sickens so few of us is incredibly sickening to me. This is an untenable situation for a civilization as capable as ours – we who have reshaped the world over, we who have gone to the moon, we who have manipulated atoms despite out fat monkey fingers. Humanity is an incredibly powerful and unprecedented phenomenon, and to say that we simply cannot do anything about death is to laugh in the face of history to some extent. Recall that very learned and esteemed men once said that heavier-than-air flying machines – and a great many other things we take for granted today – are impossible.

We cringe and cry when we hear of acts of genocide or horrible accidents killing thousands. But this occurs every day, on the toll of 100,000 deaths per day, right under our noses.

Doing something about this daily cataclysm is what drives my own work, and the work of most every life-extension supporter I know. The life-extension movement is about decreasing the amount of involuntary suffering in the world, and only lastly about our own, personal longevity, if at all. The eradication of involuntary death via science and medicine is nothing less than the humanitarian imperative of our times!

And again, this is something that I think each and every one of you can take part in. Become a life-extension supporter, advocate and activist. It may be not only the easiest way that you can contribute to hastening progress in the field of life extension, but the most effective way as well. Thank you.


Franco Cortese is a futurist, author, editor, Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, Ambassador at The Seasteading Institute, Affiliate Researcher at ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, Fellow at Brighter Brains Institute, Advisor at the Lifeboat Foundation (Futurists Board Member and Life Extension Scientific Advisory Board Member), Director of the Canadian Longevity Alliance, Activist at the International Longevity Alliance, Canadian Ambassador at Longevity Intelligence Communications, an Administrator at MILE (Movement for Indefinite Life Extension), Columnist at LongeCity, Columnist at H+ Magazine, Executive Director of the Center for Transhumanity, Contributor to the Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology, India Future Society, Serious Wonder, Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. Franco edited Longevitize!: Essays on the Science, Philosophy & Politics of Longevity, a compendium of 150+ essays from over 40 contributing authors.

Evolution Has No Moral Value; Life Extension Does – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Evolution Has No Moral Value; Life Extension Does – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov responds to two statements by Michael Garfield and makes the case that evolution should not be pursued as a moral goal in itself; rather, the survival and increased longevity of every individual should be pursued, since our rationality, technology, and moral compass allow us to transcend the cruelty of primeval natural selection.

Mr. Stolyarov also refutes the allegation that older people somehow necessarily become resigned to or accepting of their own death. He presents counterexamples of individuals who lived past the age of 80 and who wished to continue living indefinitely.

See Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts on scientific progress and life extension: “The rapid progress true science now makes occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born too soon. It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the power of man over matter. We may, perhaps, deprive large masses of their gravity, and give them absolute levity, for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labor and double its produce: all diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured (not excepting even that of old age,) and our lives lengthened at pleasure, even beyond the antediluvian standard. Oh that moral science were in as fair a way of improvement, that men would cease to be wolves to one another, and that human beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity.”

– “Life as the Origin and Basis of Morality” – Video Series by G. Stolyarov II – Part 1 and Part 2
– “Eliminating Death – Part 1 – Death as Waste” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “World’s Oldest Man Wants To Live Forever” – WayOdd
– “Robert Ettinger” – Wikipedia