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Malthus Predicted Penury on the Eve of Plenty – Article by Richard M. Ebeling

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Categories: History, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatRichard M. Ebeling
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Those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the so-called Western World (Europe and North America) rarely appreciate the historical uniqueness of our material and cultural well-being compared, not only to many around the globe today, but to westerners just a handful of generations ago.

A mere 200 years ago, in 1820, the world population numbered only around 1.1 billion people. About 95 percent of that number lived in poverty, with 85 percent existing in “extreme poverty.” By 2015, the world population had increased to over 7 billion, but less than 10 percent lived in poverty. Indeed, over the last quarter of a century, demographers calculate that every day there are 137,000 fewer people around the world living in extreme poverty.

This escape from poverty originated in Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the freeing of men and markets from the heavy-handed regulations and commercial restrictions of government. Especially since the mid-twentieth century, that liberation from poverty has been slowly but surely enveloping more of the people in the so-called “developing countries.”

Before this economic revolution of human betterment was made possible by free, or at least freer, markets, life around the world was (borrowing part of Thomas Hobbes’s famous phrase) basically nasty, brutish and short for virtually all of mankind.  The idea and ideal of material prosperity for humanity as a whole was merely the dream of a few dreamers who concocted utopian fantasies of remaking society to make a better world. For some at the end of the 1700s, the French Revolution served as the inspiration to believe that now that the “old regime” of power, privilege, and political position was being overthrown and a “new dawn” was opening for humanity.

The destruction of the ancient institutional order opened the door for remaking society and its structure; and with the institutional transformation could come a change in man. There emerged a new version of Plato’s belief that human nature was primarily a product of the social environment. Change the institutions within which men lived and the character of man could be transformed over time, as well.

William Godwin and the Collectivist Remaking of Man and Society

A leading voice in support of this “transformative” vision was William Godwin, a British social philosopher and critic, who argued that selfishness, poverty, and the form and content of human relationships could be radically made over, if only the institution of private property and the political order protecting it was abolished.

He argued for this new understanding and conception of man and society in his books, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), and The Inquirer (1798). Indeed, some have argued that Godwin was one of the first of the modern advocates of “anarchism” – an ideal society without a system of political coercion in which men will cooperatively and collectively live and work for a higher “common good.”

The guiding principles in Godwin’s political and economic philosophy (which received some revision and modification between the three editions of Political Justice during his lifetime) were:

First, the moral foundation of all human actions should be based on the individual being concerned with the interests and betterment of the collective society, and not himself; any judgment concerning the ethics in men’s behavior should not be based on the results those actions produce, but the intention or motive behind the actions undertaken.

Second, that human nature is not a universal “given,” but rather man is born like a “blank slate,” the content of which can be influenced by the social environment and the education experienced by the new mind.

Third, that poverty is not and need not be an essential part of the human condition; rather, it is the result of the institution of private property that gives what rightly belongs and should be shared equally by all men to some by arbitrary political power and legitimacy; a “new society” of communal work and sharing will raise production to unimaginable levels, abolishing poverty and creating plenty.

Fourth, this would be coupled with the fact that as there was less concern with material want, people would turn their minds to intellectual pursuits; this would result in a reduction in the sex drive, and a falling off in reproduction and the number of people in society. Thus, concerns that a materially better off world might mean a growth in population exceeding the capacity to feed it was downplayed. Besides, there were plenty of places around the world to which any excess population could migrate.

Said William Godwin in Political Justice:

“If justice have any meaning, it is just that I should contribute everything in my power to the benefit of the whole . . . It is in the disposition and view of the mind, and not in the good which may accidentally and intentionally result, that virtue consists . . .

“Human beings are partakers of a common nature; what conduces to the benefit or pleasure of one man will conduce to the benefit or pleasure of another. Hence it follows, upon the principles of equal and impartial justice, that the good things of the world are a common stock, upon which one man has as valid a title as another to draw for what he wants . . . What can be more desirable and just than that the produce itself should, with some degree of equality, be shared among them?”

What if some individuals refused to sacrifice for the collective, and were unwilling to bend their own self-interest to the betterment of the societal group? Godwin was equally direct that the individual had no right to his own life if his foregoing it served the needs of the collective:

“He has no right to his life when his duty calls him to resign it. Other men are bound . . . to deprive him of life or liberty, if that should appear in any case to be indispensably necessary to prevent a greater evil . . .”

Thomas Malthus on the “Natural” Limits to Human Betterment

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) was an ordained minister who became interested in various themes in political economy and became famous for arguing against the theories espoused by William Godwin. His father, Daniel Malthus, took a view sympathetic to Godwin’s on man, human nature, and society. Thomas took the opposite view and ended up writing his famous, An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers (1798).

The gist of Thomas Malthus’s argument was that physical capacities to regularly increase the supply of food for human survival falls far short of the natural inclinations of human reproduction. Thus, the growth in population, when left unchecked, and given the “passions” of men and women, has the tendency to outrun the supply of food.

Hence, there were natural limits on the improvement of the material conditions of man, which no change in the political, economic, and social institutions of society, by themselves, can assure or bring about a “heaven on earth,” as prophesied and promised by Godwin and others.

Not surprisingly, the book caused a firestorm of controversy. Malthus’s apparent “pessimism” concerning the possibility of improving the human condition through conscious social change led the British social critic and essayist, Thomas Carlyle, to call economics, “the dismal science.”

Malthus argued that human existence is bound by two inescapable principles that have not and are not likely to change, given all of human history: the need for food to exist, and the degree of sexual passions of men and women for each other, which he enunciates in his Essay on the Principle of Population:

“I think I may fairly make two postulata. First, that food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary, and will remain nearly in its present state.

“These two laws ever since we have had any knowledge of mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of his nature; and as we have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are . . . I do not know that any writer has supposed that on this earth man will ultimately be able to live without food.

“But Mr. Godwin has conjectured that the passion between the sexes may in time be extinguished. As, however, he calls this part of his work, a deviation into the land of conjecture, I will not dwell long upon it at present, than to say, that the best arguments for the perfectibility of man, are drawn from a contemplation of the great progress that he has already made from the savage state, and the difficulty of saying where he is to stop.

“But towards the extinction of the passion between the sexes, no progress whatever has hitherto been made. It appears to exist in as much force at present as it did two thousand, or four thousand years ago.”

The Checks on Mouths to Feed: Misery and Vice

Malthus then made his famous statement concerning the relationship between the “geometric” rate of unchecked population growth in comparison to the “arithmetical” growth in the rate of food production. Eventually, the rate of population growth would overtake the rate of food production, the result of which would be a “natural check” on population through poverty, starvation, and death.

“Assuming then, my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first process in comparison to the second.

“By the law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal. This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere; and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind . . .

“This natural inequality of the two powers of population and of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way of the perfectibility of society.

“All the arguments are of slight and subordinate consideration in comparison of this. I see no way by which man can escape from the weight of this nature. No fancied equality, no agrarian regulation in their utmost extent, could remove the pressure of it even for a single century. And it appears, therefore, to be decisive against the possible existence of a society, all the members of which, should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure; and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and families.”

Malthus argued that taking periods of 25 years as a benchmark, the accelerating growth in population would finally reach a crisis point relative to the rate of food growth.  What, then, may check this growth in an unsustainable population? Malthus concluded only two factors. What he called “vice” and “misery.”

Fearful of marrying before he can support a family and bring about starvation and ruin to his offspring, a man may delay and defer marriage until he feels financially able to care for a wife and children. But this results in “vice,” since the sexual urges lead men to search out physical gratification outside the bonds of matrimony, and the birth of illegitimate offspring.

Or it brings about “misery,” due to a failure to defer marriage, and the bringing into the world children for which means of subsistence do not adequately exist. This results in starvation and premature death of children and adults that brings the population and its growth down, again, to a level sustainable from existing food production.

Malthus added that if Godwin’s proposal for a greater community of property and equality of distribution of its output were to be introduced it would soon diminish the incentives for work and effort and set men into conflict with each other. Or as he put it, weakened private property rights would soon set in motion “the black train of distresses, that would inevitably be occasioned by the insecurity of property.”

Tempering Nature’s Constraints through Moral Restraint

In 1799, after the publication of An Essay on the Principle of Population, and then again in 1802, Thomas Malthus went on trips around parts of Europe. He collected a large amount of historical and demographic data on population (to the extent that such data then existed). He used this to publish a second edition of the book in 1803 that was substantially increased in size and factual information, as he had been able to gather it.

To his previous argument, Malthus now added an additional factor that could serve as a check on population, and could even keep population growth sufficiently under control so that standards of living might rise, even in the long run. This was what he called “moral restraint.”  This was a conscious act to defer marriage until an individual had the financial means to adequately support a family, and the will to renounce the temptations of “vice.” That is, to abstain from sexual gratification outside of marriage. Said Malthus:

“It is of the utmost importance to the happiness of mankind that population should not increase too fast; but it does not appear that the object to be accomplished would admit of any considerable diminishment in the desire for marriage.

“It is clearly the duty of each individual not to marry till he has a prospect of supporting his children; but it is at the same time to be wished that he should retain undiminished his desire for marriage, in order that he may exert himself to realize this prospect, and be stimulated to make provision for the support of greater numbers . . .

“And if moral restraint be the only virtuous mode of avoiding the incidental evils arising from this principle, our obligation to practice it will evidently rest exactly upon the same foundation as our obligation to practice any of the other virtues.”

Unleashing of Free Markets Negated Malthus’ Prediction

Given the seven-fold increase in world population since 1820 discussed above, accompanied by an even more dramatic fall in global poverty over the last two hundred years, Malthus’ warnings and fears seem to have been totally undermined by the facts of history. Population has exploded beyond all experience in human history during the last two centuries, yet all of these billions of additional mouths are increasingly fed and with a rising standard of living for a growing number of them.

Clearly, Malthus, writing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries underestimated one important influence that was beginning during his lifetime: market-based industrialization. Investment in productive capital equipment, especially in agriculture, began to dramatically increase the output and the nutritive quality of food produced per unit of cultivated land. This included the development of modern chemistry to increase harvests and productive strains of crops. Thus, food production has grown exponentially, and not, as Malthus feared, “arithmetically.”

Urbanization has resulted in a conscious choice by married couples to reduce the size of families. In farming societies with limited mechanization, each child is an additional mouth that comes with two hands to help in the working of the land.  Hence, children are “investment goods” in agricultural society, both for work to be done and offering support for parents in their old age.

In industrial, urban society, children are additional mouths to feed that supply little or no extra income to the family during most of childhood. Hence, children are “consumer goods” that consume income, and reduce the standard of living of the family.  In addition, the cost of urban residential living space has influenced the incentives about sizes of families. And, of course, the development of birth control has greatly influenced the ability and widened of the choice of how many children to have, and when.

In fairness, what Malthus and many others failed to see or anticipate was the explosion of production, industry, and commerce that was soon set loose by expanding economic liberty in the nineteenth century. This unleashed entrepreneurial innovation and discovery of market opportunities in the pursuit of profits. This was made possible by ending the trade protectionism, domestic regulation, heavy tax burdens, and paper money inflations that enveloped all of Europe, including Great Britain, during nearly the quarter of a century of war from 1791 to 1815 between first Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France against practically all of the rest of Europe.

The difference was made by the arrival of peace and the beginning of a conscious introduction of economic liberalism, first in Great Britain and then other parts of the European continent, and independently at the same time in the United States. Only then was free market capitalism’s potential horn-of-plenty able to begin to release its bounty upon humanity.

Malthus’s Contributions to Human Understanding

Many historians of economic thought have pointed out the various weaknesses, exaggerations, inconsistencies, and factual errors in Malthus’s argument and the changing premises and arguments in the various editions of his Essay on the Principle of Population. Indeed, one of the leading such historians, Edwin Cannan, stated that Malthus’s analysis, “falls to the ground as an argument, and remains only a chaos of facts collected to illustrate the effect of laws which do not exist.” And Joseph A. Schumpeter even said that the actual pattern of birth rates with industrialization and urbanization accompanied by growth in food production suggested “a sort of Malthusianism in reverse.”

But even with its weaknesses and factual errors, others have seen an enduringly valuable contribution in Malthus’s theory of population. No less than an authority than the Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, in his treatise, Human Action, suggested that in Malthus’s work can be seen a contribution equal to the discovery of the logic of division of labor and the spontaneous workings of the market order for the betterment of human circumstances:

“The Malthusian law of population is one of the great achievements of thought. Together with the principle of the division of labor it provided the foundation for modern biology and the theory of evolution; the importance of these two fundamental theorems for the sciences of human action is second only to the discovery of the regularity in the intertwinement and sequence of market phenomena and their inevitable determination by the market data . . .

“Malthus showed that nature in limiting the means of subsistence does not accord to any living being a right of existence, and that by indulging heedlessly in the natural impulse of proliferation man would never have risen about the verge of starvation. He contended that human civilization and well-being could develop only to the extent that man learned to rein in his sexual appetites by moral restraints…

“Nonhuman beings are entirely subject to the operation of the biological law described by Malthus . . . But the case is different with man. Man integrates the satisfaction of the purely zoological impulses, common to all animals, into a scale of values, in which a place is also assigned to specifically human ends.

“Acting man also rationalizes the satisfaction of his sexual appetites. Their satisfaction is the outcome of a weighing of the pros and cons. Man does not blindly submit to a sexual stimulation . . . He refrains from copulation if he deems the costs – the anticipated disadvantages – too high.”

Thomas Malthus, even with the limits and incompleteness of his analysis, can be seen to have made essential contributions to understanding the inescapable human condition. First, man at any time exists under a scarcity of the means for his ends.  Other things held given, the larger the population the greater needs to be the available supply of food and other necessities of life, if the standard and quality of life are not to be diminished. The only way to prevent a decline in standards of living is for there to be increases in capital investment that increase production and the productivity of the workforce more than any increase in the population.

Second, given the level of capital investment and technological knowledge, there is an optimal size of a society’s population, below which more people means greater net output, and above which there results less net output. And, third, the political and economic institutional circumstances can make a difference in that they may foster capital investment, more forward-looking choices by individuals, and incentives to save and work.

On this latter point, Malthus was well aware of the dangers from overreaching and expanding governmental power in terms of their threat to liberty and popular self-improvement. In the expanded, fifth edition of his Essay on Population, which appeared in 1817, he warned that ignorance of the laws of nature and the essential institutions of a free commercial society can easily lead astray mobs of people whose violent actions may open the door to despotism.

This sets the stage for a dangerous confrontation between individual liberty and political authority, in which people must always be watchful and knowledgeable so as to check the government’s drive for unchecked power. Malthus warned:

“The checks which are necessary to secure the liberty of the subject will always to some degree embarrass and delay the operations of the executive government. The members of the government feeling these inconveniences while they are exerting themselves, as they conceive, in the service of their country, and conscious perhaps of no ill intention towards the people, will naturally be disposed on every occasion to demand the suspension or abolition of these checks; but if once the convenience of ministers be put in competition with the liberties of the people and we get into the habit of relying on fair assurances and personal character, instead of examining with the most scrupulous and jealous care the merits of each particular case, there is an end of British freedom.

“If we once admit the principle that the government must know better with regard to the quantity of power which it wants than we can possibly do with out limited means of information, and that therefore it is our duty to surrender up our private judgments, we may just as well at the same time surrender up the whole of our constitution. Government is a quarter in which liberty is not nor cannot be very faithfully preserved. If we are wanting to ourselves, and inattentive to our great interests in this respect, it is the height of folly and unreasonableness to expect that government will attend to them for us.”

Thus, Thomas Malthus’s contribution may be said to be the following: Man is above all other life forms on earth in that he is able to use his reason to control his passions when they may entail costs greater than the anticipated benefits; at the same time he can use his rational faculties to devise ways to escape limits that nature places upon him by planning ahead to increase his future productive and income earning capacities to improve his standard of living. And that to do so most successfully there must be the necessary institutional prerequisites, among which freedom, property, and peace are the most essential.

Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

See the original article here.

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“Inferno” and the Overpopulation Myth – Article by Jonathan Newman

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Categories: Culture, Economics, Science, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Jonathan Newman
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Inferno is a great thriller, featuring Tom Hanks reprising his role as Professor Robert Langdon. The previous movie adaptations of Dan Brown’s books (Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code) were a success, and I expect Inferno will do well in theaters, too.

Langdon is a professor of symbology whose puzzle solving skills and knowledge of history come in high demand when a billionaire leaves a trail of clues based on Dante’s Inferno to a biological weapon that would halve the world’s population.

The villain, however, has good motives. As a radical Malthusian, he believes that the human race needs halving if it is to survive at all, even if through a plague. Malthus’s name is not mentioned in the movie, but his ideas are certainly there. Inferno provides us an opportunity to unpack this overpopulation fear, and see where it stands today.

Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) thought that the potential exponential growth of population was a problem. If population increases faster than the means of subsistence, then, “The superior power of population cannot be checked without producing misery or vice.”

Is overpopulation a problem?

The economics of population size tell a different, less scary, story. While it is certainly possible that some areas can become too crowded for some people’s preferences, as long as people are free to buy and sell land for a mutually agreeable price, overcrowding will fix itself.

As an introvert who enjoys nature and peace and quiet, I am certainly less willing to rent an apartment in the middle of a busy, crowded city. The prices I’m willing to pay for country living versus city living reflect my preferences. And, to the extent that others share my preferences or even have the opposite preferences, the use and construction of homes and apartments will be economized in both locations. Our demands and the profitability of the varied real estate offerings keep local populations in check.

But what about on a global scale? The Inferno villain was concerned with world population. He stressed the urgency of the situation, but I don’t see any reason to worry.

Google tells me that we could fit the entire world population in Texas and everybody would have a small, 100 square meter plot to themselves. Indeed, there are vast stretches of land across the globe with little to no human inhabitants. Malthus and his ideological followers must have a biased perspective, only looking at the crowded streets of a big city.

If it’s not land that’s a problem, what about the “means of subsistence”? Are we at risk of running out of food, medicine, or other resources because of our growing population?

No. A larger population not only means more mouths to feed, but also more heads, hands, and feet to do the producing. Also, as populations increase, so does the variety of skills available to make production even more efficient.  More people means everybody can specialize in a more specific and more productive comparative advantage and participate in a division of labor. Perhaps this question will drive the point home: Would you rather be stranded on an island with two other people or 20 other people?

Malthus wouldn’t be a Malthusian if he could see this data

The empirical evidence is compelling, too. In the graph below, we can see the sort of world Malthus saw: one in which most people were barely surviving, especially compared to our current situation. Our 21st century world tells a different story. Extreme poverty is on the decline even while world population is increasing.

world-population-in-extreme-poverty-absoluteHans Rosling, a Swedish medical doctor and “celebrity statistician,” is famous for his “Don’t Panic” message about population growth. He sees that as populations and economies grow, more have access to birth control and limit the size of their families. In this video, he shows that all countries are heading toward longer lifespans and greater standards of living.

Finally, there’s the hockey stick of human prosperity. Estimates of GDP per capita on a global, millennial scale reveal a recent dramatic turn.

rgdp-per-capita-since-1000

The inflection point coincides with the industrial revolution. Embracing the productivity of steam-powered capital goods and other technologies sparked a revolution in human well-being across the globe. Since then, new sources of energy have been harnessed and computers entered the scene. Now, computers across the world are connected through the internet and have been made small enough to fit in our pockets. Goods, services, and ideas zip across the globe, while human productivity increases beyond what anybody could have imagined just 50 years ago.

I don’t think Malthus himself would be a Malthusian if he could see the world today.

Jonathan Newman is a recent graduate of Auburn University and a Mises Institute Fellow. Contact: email

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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It’s Time to Postpone Your Appointment with the Grim Reaper – Article by Gerrard Jayaratnam

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Categories: Philosophy, Science, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatGerrard Jayaratnam
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How long would you like to live for? Is there a limit to how long we can live for? These are not questions you hear often, but do not be surprised if they are repeated more frequently in the future. The reason? Life extension. It is the concept of living well beyond the average lifespan. [1]

Humans are already living longer due to vaccines and improvements in sanitation. [2] The World Health Organization reported that the average life expectancy at birth increased from 48 years in 1955 to 65 years in 1995, and is projected to rise to 73 years by 2025. [3] As medical techniques continue to improve, we are more inclined than ever to pursue life extension. [1] Indeed, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to China’s First Emperor, prolonging life has been an ever-present thought in society. [4, 5] Both individuals failed to escape death, but the idea of life extension ironically lives on. Even so, is it truly possible and what should upcoming doctors and scientists consider if they are to join the most ambitious of quests?

The “Horcruxes” of reality 

In the fictional Harry Potter series, “Horcruxes” were objects where people could hide a fragment of their soul in an attempt to take one step towards immortality. [6] Of course, humans cannot split their souls and hide them in objects, but there are several proposed means by which life extension may be achieved. [1] This is a testimony to the progress within the life extension field, but there remains much room for improvement.

Eat less, live more

Caloric restriction (CR) is one proposed method for life extension. [1] In the CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) trial, 218 non-obese humans were randomised to either a control group or an intervention group. The latter aimed for a 25% reduction from baseline energy intake. At the end of the 2-year study period, the intervention group had significantly greater reductions in circulating levels of TNF-α – an inflammatory marker involved in many age-related diseases. [7] Dr Alexander Miras, winner of the 2014 Nutrition Society Cuthbertson Medal for his research on bariatric surgery, acknowledges that the study was a “good first step,” but argues that “the evidence in humans is lacking.” “A definitive RCT (randomised controlled trial),” Dr Miras continues, “would be very hard, if not impossible.” He also spots a glaring consequence of CR. “My personal approach is to avoid caloric restriction as this leads to hunger which is an unpleasant feeling. I would rather live a shorter life, but enjoy my food.”

Manipulating telomerase

One alternative is modulating telomerase activity – as attempted with the anti-ageing TA-65MD® supplement. [8] Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes [9]; they resemble the aglets on the ends of shoelaces. Just as shoelaces would unravel without the aglet, chromosomes would lose vital DNA sequences in the absence of telomeres. [9] Our cells divide over time, causing telomeres to shorten. Once the telomere becomes too short, cell division ceases, and short telomeres correlate with cellular ageing. [10] Telomerase is an enzyme that can oppose telomere shortening [10] – it was what Hamlet was to King Claudius; what exercise is to obesity; and what junior doctors, in England, will be to Jeremy Hunt.

Reactivating telomerase in telomerase-deficient mice reversed both neurodegeneration and degeneration of other organs. [11] This proved the concept that boosting telomerase activity could have anti-ageing effects, but there is little proof that this occurs in humans. While the mice were telomerase-deficient, humans normally have some telomerase activity. It is like giving food to someone who has been fasting for hours and to someone who has just eaten a three-course meal – the starved individual would unquestionably benefit more. A 12-month long RCT, involving 117 relatively healthy individuals (age range: 53-87), found that low-dose TA-65 significantly increased telomere length when compared to placebo. High-dose TA-65, however, failed to do so. [12]

Dancing with the devil

What is more worrying than treatments that may be ineffective? Side effects. Telomerase is a double-edged sword and by reducing telomere attrition, it can promote unlimited cell division and cancer. [9] Elizabeth Blackburn, co-winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her role in the discovery of telomerase, has doubts about exploiting the enzyme. Speaking to TIME magazine, she said, “Cancers love telomerase, and a number of cancers up-regulate it like crazy. . . . My feeling would be that if I take anything that would push my telomerase up, I’m playing with fire.” [13]

A cauldron of rewards

CR and boosting telomerase activity are just a small sample of life extending techniques, yet there is the notion that such techniques will be intertwined with risks. However, risks are always weighed against rewards, and Gennady Stolyarov, editor-in-chief of The Rational Argumentator and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, believes life extension would bring “immense and multifaceted” rewards. “The greatest benefit is the continued existence of the individual who remains alive. Each individual has incalculable moral value and is a universe of ideas, experiences, emotions, and memories. When a person dies, that entire universe is extinguished . . . This is the greatest possible loss, and should be averted if at all possible.” Stolyarov also envisages “major savings to healthcare systems” and that “the achievement of significant life extension would inspire many intelligent people to try to solve other age-old problems.”

Former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, disagrees with this view and argues that mortality is necessary for “treasuring and appreciating all that life brings.” [14] Hence, increased longevity could lead to an overall reduction in productivity over one’s lifetime. Perhaps Kass is correct, but the array of potential benefits makes it seem unwise to prematurely dismiss life extension. In fact, a survey, which examined the opinions of 605 Australians on life extension, highlighted further benefits – 23% of participants said they could “spend more time with family” and 4% cited the opportunity to experience future societies. [15]

Learning from our mistakes

Conversely, life extension may result in people enduring poor health for longer periods. 28% of participants in the Australian survey highlighted this concern. [15] Current trends in life expectancy reinforce their fears. Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, explains, “Currently, in most countries in the developed world, life expectancy is increasing at approximately 2 years per decade, but healthspan (the years spent in good health) is only increasing at 1.7 years. This has major consequences . . . as more of later life is spent in poor health.” This is a consequence of treating “killer diseases” – according to Dr Felipe Sierra, director of the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging. “The current model in biomedicine,” says Dr Sierra, “is to treat one disease at a time. Let’s imagine you have arthritis; cancer; and are starting to develop Alzheimer’s disease. So what do we do? We treat you for cancer. You now live longer with Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.” A better approach is clear to Dr Sierra who stresses the importance of compression of morbidity – “the goal is to live longer with less time spent being sick.”

Learning from our successes

Even with Dr Sierra’s approach, individual boredom and social implications, including overpopulation, would still be problems.[16] According to Stolyarov, the boredom argument does not hold up when facing “human creativity and discovery.” He believes humans could never truly be bored as “the number of possible pursuits increases far faster than the ability of any individual to pursue.”

In his novel Death is Wrong, Stolyarov explained that the idea that society could not cope with a rapidly expanding population was historically inaccurate. The current population “is the highest it has ever been, and most people live far longer, healthier, prosperous lives than their ancestors did when the Earth’s population was hundreds of times smaller.” [16] If it has been achieved in the past, who is to say our own society – one far more advanced than any before it – cannot adapt?

The verdict

Life extension research is quietly progressing, and there is a good chance that it will eventually come to fruition. Although there are doubts about current techniques, Dr Sierra draws attention to novel interventions, such as rapamycin, which “delay ageing in mice.” He concludes that the next challenge is to “develop measures than can predict whether an intervention works in a short-term assay.” Such measures would provide the scaffolding for future clinical trials that test life extension techniques.

Given what may be gained, it is no surprise that artificially prolonging life is exciting some in the same way the Tree of Knowledge tempted Eve. The impact on society? Impossible to predict. It would undoubtedly be a big risk, but perhaps in this complex and uncertain scenario, we ought to remember the words of the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” [17]

Gerrard Jayaratnam is a student of Biomedical Science at Imperial College London.

References

  1. Stambler I. A History of Life-Extensionism in the Twentieth Century. Ramat Gan: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2014.
  2. National Institute on Aging. Living Longer. 2011. https://www.nia.nih.gov/research/publication/global-health-and-aging/living-longer.
  3. World Health Organization. 50 Facts: Global Health situation and trends 1955-2025. 2013. http://www.who.int/whr/1998/media_centre/50facts/en/.
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Epic of Gilgamesh. 2016. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Epic-of-Gilgamesh.
  5. Lloyd DF. The Man Who Would Cheat Death and Rule the Universe. Vision. 2008. http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/history-shi-huang-emperor-china/5818.aspx.
  6. Rowling JK. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury Publishing; 2005.
  7. Ravussin E, Redman LM, Rochon J, et al. A 2-Year Randomized Controlled Trial of Human Caloric Restriction: Feasibility and Effects on Predictors of Health Span and Longevity. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2015;70:1097-1104.
  8. A. Sciences. What is TA-65®? (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/what-is-ta-65/.
  9. De Jesus BB, Blasco MA. Telomerase at the intersection of cancer and aging. Trends Genet 2013;29:513-520.
  10. A. Sciences. Telomeres and Cellular Aging. (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/telomeres-and-cellular-aging/.
  11. Jaskelioff M, Muller FL, Paik JH, et al. Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase deficient mice. Nature 2011;469:102-106.
  12. Salvador L, Singaravelu G, Harley CB, et al. A Natural Product Telomerase Activator Lengthens Telomeres in Humans: A Randomized, Double Blind, and Placebo Controlled Study. Rejuvenation Res 2016; ahead of print. doi:10.1089/rej.2015.1793.
  13. Kluger J. The antiaging power of a positive attitude. TIME. 2015.
  14. Than K. The Psychological Strain of Living Forever. Live Science. 2006. http://www.livescience.com/10469-psychological-strain-living.html.
  15. Partridge B, Lucke J, Bartlett H, et al. Ethical, social, and personal implications of extended human lifespan identified by members of the public. Rejuvenation Res 2009;12:351-357.
  16. Stolyarov II G. Death is Wrong. 2nd ed. Carson City, Nevada: Rational Argumentator Press; 2013.
  17. The Huffington Post. 11 Beautiful T.S. Eliot Quotes. 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/26/ts-eliot-quotes_n_3996010.html.

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Mises on Protectionism and Immigration – Article by Matt McCaffrey

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Categories: Economics, History, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatMatt McCaffrey
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The economic causes and consequences of immigration are among the most important issues facing the world today. Both pro- and anti-immigration advocates are digging in their heels, and both sides look increasingly unlikely to relent. Despite the bleak outlook, however, there is still hope for a peaceful and charitable discussion of the economics of immigration.

With that in mind, I want to consider Mises’s thoughts on the topic. For Mises, emigration and immigration are motivated by a simple economic fact: the conditions of production are not the same in all places. Natural and human conditions change constantly, and as a result, the productivity of land, labor, and capital do so as well. Therefore in order to take advantage of changing conditions and produce in the most productive ways possible, people must constantly migrate to those places where their contributions are most valuable (1919, pp. 84–85).

The desire to move from low-productivity to high-productivity regions is for Mises the fundamental explanation for the migration of peoples, and limits overpopulation (1919, p. 85). We can say a country is relatively overpopulated when the same amount of capital and labor is less productive there than in another nation. Reducing overpopulation means reducing this “disproportion” by allowing for the mobility of persons and goods (1919, p. 86). In Mises’s view, mobility was an achievement of liberalism:

The principles of freedom, which have gradually been gaining ground everywhere since the eighteenth century, gave people freedom of movement. … Now, however — as a result of a historical process of the past — the earth is divided up among nations. Each nation possesses definite territories that are inhabited exclusively or predominantly by its own members. Only a part of these territories has just that population which … it would also have under complete freedom of movement, so that neither an inflow or an outflow of people would take place. The remaining territories are settled in such a way that under complete freedom of movement they would have either to give up or to gain population. Migrations thus bring members of some nations into the territories of other nations. That gives rise to particularly characteristic conflicts between peoples. (1919, pp. 86–87)

Mises has two types of conflict in mind: economic and social. Economic conflict occurs because domestic workers resent that fact that immigration bids down their wages:

[I]n territories of immigration, immigration depresses the wage rate. That is a necessary side effect of migration of workers and not, say, as Social Democratic doctrine wants to have believed, an accidental consequence of the fact that the emigrants stem from territories of low culture and low wages. (1919, p. 87)

Social conflict can also arise. Mises emphasized, however, that in most cases immigrants are obliged to give up their national identity and adapt themselves to the culture of their new home. Only in relatively extreme cases, such as European imperialism, was it historically possible for immigrants to replace original inhabitants and their cultures (1919, p. 89). In fact, according to Mises, strong cultures need not resort to government in order to protect themselves:

A nation that believes in itself and its future, a nation that means to stress the sure feeling that its members are bound to one another not merely by accident of birth but also by the common possession of a culture that is valuable above all to each of them, would necessarily be able to remain unperturbed when it saw individual persons shift to other nations. A people conscious of its own worth would refrain from forcibly detaining those who wanted to move away and from forcibly incorporating into the national community those who were not joining it of their own free will. To let the attractive force of its own culture prove itself in free competition with other peoples — that alone is worthy of a proud nation, that alone would be true national and cultural policy. The means of power and of political rule were in no way necessary for that. (1919, pp. 103–04)

However, for Mises, cultural considerations are mainly an aside. In general, he saw conflicts over immigration as being driven mostly by protectionism rather than insurmountable differences in human beings or cultures (1935). In particular, domestic unions support government policies to restrict immigration and thus keep low-wage competition out of the labor market:

Public opinion has been led astray by the smoke-screen laid down by Marxist ideology which would have people believe that the union-organized “proletariat of all lands” have the same interests and that only entrepreneurs and capitalists are nationalistic. The hard fact of the matter — namely that the unions in all those countries which have more favorable conditions of production, relatively fewer workers and thus higher wages, seek to prevent an influx of workers from less favored lands—has been passed over in silence. (1935)

As Per Bylund notes, this is precisely what is happening in Sweden, where unions prevent the integration of immigrants so as to keep wages high. Protectionism at home also breeds protectionism abroad, as foreign nations try to cope with lower productivity through their own regulations designed to counter “unfair” competition on the world market. As economic conditions worsen in those countries where migration is prevented by the state, conflict becomes inevitable:

[People in these countries] will certainly still have just as much cause to complain as before — not over the unequal distribution of raw materials, but over the erection of migration barriers around the lands with more favorable conditions of production. And it may be that one day they will reach the conclusion that only weapons can change this unsatisfactory situation. Thus, we may face a great coalition of the lands of would-be emigrants standing in opposition to the lands that erect barricades to shut out would-be immigrants. … Without the reestablishment of freedom of migration throughout the world, there can be no lasting peace. (1935)

In this way, protectionist policies inevitably lead to conflict and the destruction of human life and welfare. In fact, Mises even hints that government policies aiming to control the movement and employment of individuals suffer from the same problems socialist central planning does (1919, p. 85). At the same time, entrepreneurship and the division of labor are the foundations of a rational social order, and neither is possible without free labor markets.

The main threat facing society then is illiberal ideology, and the only solution to this “principle of violence” is to develop a consistent liberal philosophy to serve as the basis for a peaceful society (1951, p. 49).

Mises believed that any society that rejected the values of liberalism was doomed. In an age of nationalism, protectionism, and war, it’s easy to see what he meant.

Matt McCaffrey is assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester.

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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The Role of Aging in Society – Article by Demian Zivkovic

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Categories: Culture, Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatDemian Zivkovic
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Take the following situation. We discover an extremely contagious virus. It infects you and your loved ones, and quickly propagates through all of mankind. As a result, 150,000 people die every day. It kills more than twice the number killed in the Holocaust every three months, and in 30 years, it will have killed 1.5 billion, around one in six people. How high would this score on a list of global priorities? There’s no doubt the situation would be grave. Most people would demand immediate action.
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But that’s just a thought experiment, right? Not really. Every day, 150,000 people do die from age-related disease. Not only the cost in lives is monumental; societal and economic costs are also on the rise. According to the Dutch Statistics Authority (the CBS), the amount of people older than 65 (retirement age) will have increased to 27% in 2040, from the current 19%. As more people are born, this also means more people die from age-related disease, taking all their knowledge, expertise, and productivity with them. In short: If we don’t do anything about the consequences of our aging population, we face severe consequences.
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So what is the best way to deal with the problem of our society aging?

There is no simple solution. More conventional healthcare barely improves quality of life, while just letting people die is not an ethical option. Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian and philosopher, argues for thinking more radically about solutions to societal problems. According to his essay “Een pleidooi voor de utopie” (A plea for utopia) in the Dutch magazine “De groene Amsterdammer”, we have lost the ability to think in such a way; We only look at marginal improvements, instead of looking at changes that could radically improve and change our society. So if we do explore more radical solutions, what can we do?

Professor Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D. in biology, Chief Science Officer of the prestigious SENS Research Foundation, and partner at the Gerontological Society of America, argues that we could look at a radical intervention in human aging. According to de Grey, the best way of solving many of these problems is to cure aging at its source. De Grey is not the only one who holds that opinion. Alphabet, Inc.‘s biotechnology subsidiary (Calico) also views the problem from this position. This point of view obviously raises quite a few questions. Critics claim that de Grey’s vision is impossible or undesirable. Proponents point to the massive advantages of curing age-related disease.

One of the arguments put forward is that short-term thinking causes many economical and societal problems. Economist Joseph Stiglitz speaks about rent-seeking (“Rent-Seeking and the Making of an Unequal Society”, 2014), economically destructive behaviour in which an individual or business enriches itself while harming the entire economy in the process. Environmental concerns are also a very large issue. Since people (if they are lucky) don’t get to live much longer than a hundred years old, many people find it very uninteresting to think about what our behaviour is doing to the environment on the long term. But what will it mean for these problems if we have to let go of short-term thinking, because we live for a much longer time? One thing is for sure: If de Grey’s vision becomes reality, a lot will change in our society.

Economy, Environment, and Overpopulation
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Short-term thinking has a catastrophic effect on our economy and environment.

The previously mentioned economist Joseph Stiglitz claims in his article that our economy is suffering serious problems, since rent-seeking is causing society-wide destruction and inequality. For centuries, economists, philosophers, and ethicists have been considering how to stop such unethical behavior. Usually, they looked at different moral developments, better regulations, or restructuring society as solutions.

In his work “The Power of Context”, Malcolm Gladwell makes the claim that the environment and the context we live in have a large impact on our behaviour. Human life knows a few certainties; one of them is that you will die within a century. One may have children or grandchildren, but very few people are concerned about the fate of their heir several hundred generations down the road. In my interview with him (2014, Nakedbutsafe magazine), Professor de Grey argues that many people would be much more concerned with the long term if they knew they would still be around in several centuries, and there’s a lot to be said about that. Instead of waging a fruitless and hopeless war on selfishness, it may be more prudent to use it to improve the world.

De Grey’s solution essentially means inventing the fountain of youth through advanced biotechnology. He wants to do this through a method called “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence” or SENS. SENS essentially involves periodically repairing accumulated damage from aging, so it never reaches a critical point where it turns into a specific illness. De Grey is not the only one who is looking for a solution for aging: Google Ventures heavily invests in such technology.

In 2013, Google founded a company called Calico, which entered a partnership with AbbVie. With a record investment of two billion dollars, most money ever put into a start-up, the ambitious firm wants to create a fundamental understanding of aging and use said understanding to eventually cure said aging. Bill Maris, president of Google Ventures, has already made the famous claim we will be able to have technology to live 500 years within our lifetimes. Another actor in the corporate sector is BioViva, whose CEO, Elizabeth Parrish, has become the first human on the planet to get treated with a combination of in vivo gene therapies to slow down aging.

The approaches of Calico, SENS, and BioViva look at the problem from different angles, but they have one thing in common: they are not looking at ways to extend the lives of sick, disabled seniors. Instead, they are looking at a method to not simply extend life, but to extend health. They are looking at methods to stop this biological aging from happening. Life extension is merely a side effect. After all, if a 200-year-old has the vitality of a 40-year-old, why would an aging population be a problem? Even though the population will age, the percentage of “elderly” people will decrease, and so will age-related suffering and related economic pressure.

However, not everyone is optimistic about these changes. Critics are concerned about what a radically extended life will mean for overpopulation. They argue that if nobody dies, we will have so many people that we will either have to kill people, or make reproduction illegal. While such a top-down approach may seem like “common sense”, there’s a lot to be said about why such drastic top-down measures will be unnecessary. Steven Johnson, a best-selling popular science author and media theorist, introduces the concept of emergence (Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, 2001). Emergence refers to patterns in complex systems which can’t be reduced to the properties or behaviours of an individual element of the system. Johnson uses the ant colony as an example: while no single ant coordinates the behaviour of the colony, the entire system is self-organizing and thus functions perfectly. An ant colony, but even more so human society, is a good example of an emergent system.

A simple example of this self-organization is the distribution of bread. There is no central authority that plants where bakeries should be located, how much grain should be produced, what logistic solutions should be used for bread transport to people’s homes, or what bread prices ought to be. In fact, such central planning has been tried several times in history. In communist dictatorships such as the Soviet Union and North Korea, centralized attempts at steer society have had catastrophic results. However, if emergence of self-organisation does its job, a society flourishes. We can see this same effect work on overpopulation and birth rates. According to the World Health Organisation, the fertility rates plummet as life expectancy skyrockets. Countries that have the highest life expectancies have the lowest birth rates. Japan, which has one of the highest life expectancies has a negative birth rate; its population is in decline, even though no central planning has intervened in any way.

This hypothesis is also supported by virtually all historic trends. Every widespread average life-expectancy spike was met with a plummet in birth rates. When our life expectancy went up because of the invention of antibiotics, our birth rates hit historic lows. We see the opposite in countries where life expectancy is very low. The country with the highest birth rate is Nigeria, while it’s one of the poorest countries in the world. The average life expectancy in Nigeria is below 55. According to the United Nations, countries with low life expectancy have by far the largest effect on overpopulation.

Regulation of population is therefore unnecessary; a complex system such as modern society self-regulates and corrects itself. This idea is in line with Gladwell’s theory of context-dependent behavior; the context largely defines our behavior. And as a self-organizing system, society demonstrably changes the context to steer our behavior in effective patterns. A dystopia where government has to regulate reproduction or death is very unlikely.

Philosophical Arguments

If Gladwell is right about context as catalyst of behaviour, what will the effects of a society devoid of biological aging be on our humanity? Not all arguments against radical life extension are pragmatic in nature. The conservative bioethicist Leon Kass is one of the opponents of radical life extension pondering this question. He argues that indefinite life extension is unnatural and thus undesirable. Kass also claims that we won’t appreciate life if we life “forever.”

“Time is a gift, but the perception of endless time or of time without bound in fact has the possibility of undermining the degree to which we take time seriously and make it count.”

~ Leon Kass (Aging Research, 2004).

Kass makes a comparison with the ancient Greek gods to argument why life’s shortness gives it purpose.

Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey presents human beings whom he names as mortals. That is their definition in contrast to the immortals. And the immortals for their agelessness and their beauty live sort of shallow and frivolous lives. Indeed, they depend for their entertainment on watching the mortals who, precisely because they know that their time is limited, and that they go around only once, are inclined to make time matter and to aspire to something great for themselves.

~ Leon Kass (Aging Research, 2004)

While these arguments may seem somewhat of a philosophical take on many common criticisms, they are easily debunked. Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva and a pioneering entrepreneur in the field of gene therapy, argues against the idea that we should accept something because it’s considered “normal.” (“Liz Parrish speaks at People Unlimited on transcending the aging paradigm with gene therapy”, 2015). She argues that “normal” is a situational opinion which constantly changed throughout the entirety of history. In 1665, dying of infectious disease was normal. During this time only one percent of all humans died from aging: Infectious diseases were responsible for more than three quarters of all deaths before we developed the first immunization therapies – the development of which is similar to the process to defeat aging with gene therapy today. Just like today, there was criticism of the development of vaccines and antibiotics, even though lifespans and health were greatly improved by the use of these advancements – and the arguments have stayed very much the same.

Parrish is not the only one who provides a strong argument against the vision of Kass. Reason, creator of the Fight Aging! blog, is another intellectual who is very skeptical about Kass’s position. In his rebuttal of Kass (“Leon Kass, Mystic” by Reason, 2004), he compares Kass with an alchemist, a modern mystic:

“The alchemists of old stood atop what little knowledge of chemistry they had and built a speculative religion of hermetic magic, transient wishes, celestial signs and hidden gold. Leon Kass stands atop what little biotechnology we have today (and seems to have a good grasp thereof), building his own structures of fanciful thought, equally disconnected from the real world. 

All of Kass’ arguments against longer, healthier lives are essentially mystical and devoid of real substance.”

In “Leon Kass, Mystic” (2004), Reason wonders if Kass’s philosophical musings are enough of a reason to condemn billions of people to a slow and painful death. Just like the alchemists, Reason argues, Kass’s vision is based upon ancient texts and his own subjective knee-jerk reactions, instead of researching the world around him. Reason postulates that this is the fundamental difference between a mystic and a scientist: The mystic is immune to impractical facts, consequences, and reality.

De Grey also argues against the bioconservative position. He rejects the idea that longer lives will somehow lower our appreciation of life. We will be able to start a new major when we are fifty years old, or a new career when we’re a hundred and fifty. The very fact that we have so little time causes us to experience “lock-in” in our careers and choices. This causes boredom and stress. The amount of time we lose switching to doing something we may enjoy a lot more is too radical, because we have so little time to begin with. Radical life extension seems more likely to actually cure the problems its critics claim it will cause (such as boredom, stress, or disenchantment with life).

Conclusion

Treatments for age-related diseases are on their way, and curing aging is big business. The first people are already getting early treatments, and the prognoses are positive. Society will have to adapt to the changes that come with these treatments. It is very important to explore options for adequately engaging public opinion in favor of curing age-related disease, to mitigate massive economic and human losses that these diseases currently cause, and to create the legislation and framework needed to implement these technologies in a fair, responsible, and sane way.

Bibliography

Bregman, Rutger (2013). Dromen is niet eng; Essay Pleidooi voor de utopie. De Groene Amsterdammer, jaar 137, week 20. https://www.groene.nl/artikel/pleidooi-voor-de-utopie.

Gladwell, Malcolm (2000). The Power of Context. In R.E. Miller & Spellmeyer (Eds.), The New Humanities Reader (Fifth Edition, pp. 148-167). Print.
 *** 
Stiglitz, J. E. (2012). Rent Seeking and the Making of an Unequal Society. In R.E. Miller & Spellmeyer (Eds.), The New Humanities Reader (Fifth Edition, pp. 148-167). Print.
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Johnson, Steven. ‘Emergence: The connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software’, 2001. In ‘The New Humanities Reader’, Richard E. Miller, Kurt Spellmeyer, Wadsworth, 2011, pp. 151 – 165

De Grey, Aubrey D. N. J. (2005). Resistance to debate on how to postpone ageing is delaying progress and costing lives. EMBO Reports, 6(Suppl 1), S49–S53. http://doi.org/10.1038/sj.embor.7400399

Kass, Leon (2004). Aging Research.  http://agingresearch.org/sage/Default.aspx?tabid=60

Reason (2004). Leon Kass, Mystic. FightAging.org. https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2004/04/leon-kass-mysti.php
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Parrish, Elizabeth (2015). Liz Parrish speaks at People Unlimited on transcending the aging paradigm with gene therapy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87OUb8TBwX0
 *** 

Demian Zivkovic is the president of the Institute of Exponential Sciences  (Facebook  / Meetup) – an international transhumanist think tank / education institute comprised of a group of transhumanism-oriented scientists, professionals, students, journalists, and entrepreneurs interested in the interdisciplinary approach to advancing exponential technologies and promoting techno-positive thought. He is also an entrepreneur and student of artificial intelligence and innovation sciences and management at the university of Utrecht.

Demian and the IES have been involved in several endeavors, such as organizing lectures on exponential sciences, interviewing experts such as Aubrey de Grey, joining several of Mr. Stolyarov’s futurism panels, and spreading Death is Wrong – Mr. Stolyarov’s illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension – in The Netherlands.

Demian Zivkovic is a strong proponent of healthy life extension and cognitive augmentation. His interests include hyperreality, morphological freedom advocacy, postgenderism, and hypermodernism. He is currently working on his ambition of raising enough capital to make a real difference in life extension and transhumanist thought.

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Overpopulation: Pictures vs. Numbers – Article by Bradley Doucet

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Categories: Politics, Science, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatBradley Doucet
June 15, 2015
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Two hundred years ago, there were about a billion humans in the world. Today, there are seven billion and counting. This fact has some people concerned that we’re going to run out of food, energy, or other important resources in the foreseeable future. Some worry that we’re going to pollute the natural environment so much that we render it uninhabitable, or at least much less habitable.

As an example of such concerns, a friend of mine recently posted a link to a series of photographs purporting to show that the planet is overpopulated. The first shows “Sprawling Mexico City roll[ing] across the landscape, displacing every scrap of natural habitat.” Another shows greenhouses “as far as the eye can see” in Spain. Another still, a surfer threading the eye of a wave that is littered with garbage.

Some of the photos in this series are actually quite beautiful, but some are indeed ugly, and all are arresting. Yet as evocative as these images are, the scenes they depict are just tiny snippets of an enormous planet. Mexico City, sprawling though it is, covers an area of about 1,500 square kilometres. That may sound like a lot, but it’s just 1/100,000 of the Earth’s 150 million square kilometres of land area. The things illustrated by these photos may be bad—although some are frankly neutral—but they tell us nothing about how widespread the specific problems they allude to may be. To determine the scope of the population issue, pictures are not sufficient; we need the help of numbers.

How Many Is Too Many?

“We undeniably face huge challenges,” admits Hans Rosling in the opening minutes of Don’t Panic: The Truth about Population, “but the good news is that the future may not be quite as gloomy and that mankind already is doing better than many of you think.” In this hour-long documentary, Rosling, a Swedish professor of global health and a renowned TED-talk speaker, makes the numbers behind population growth come alive. And while not denying that human activity does indeed often cause pollution as a side effect, and does indeed use resources, he challenges the narrative of the doomsayers.

Most importantly, he drives home the fact that population growth is already slowing. Yes, Bangladesh’s population has grown dramatically in his lifetime, he tells us, tripling from about 50 million to about 150 million. But do we need to convince Bangladeshis to have fewer children? No, because the job is already done. Although still a poor country, Bangladeshis have grown richer in recent decades. As many of them have moved out of extreme poverty, child mortality rates have plummeted, and birth rates have fallen in turn. Bangladeshi women now have just over two children each on average.

There are still places in the world with much higher birthrates, of course, primarily in rural parts of Asia and Africa. But contrary to public perception, much work has already been accomplished. And as more of the poorest nations move out of poverty in the coming decades—Africa and Asia being home to the fastest growing economies in the world—birthrates will come down everywhere. The best estimates are that we will hit about 9 billion by mid-century, and top out at around 10 or 11 billion by 2100. After that, no more population growth.

But 11 billion is still a lot. Can the Earth sustain even that stable population?

We should of course try to limit our negative impact on the environment as much as we can, within reason. But that is precisely what we have been doing as we have gotten richer and have been able to afford to care more about the state of the natural environment. And contrary to what doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich predicted in the 1960s and 1970s, there has not been mass starvation in the industrialized world, and there has been less and less of it in the poorer parts of the planet. If you think the future nonetheless still looks grim, you may not be looking hard enough, because there are in fact many reasons to be optimistic.

Are there now, or will there soon be, too many of us? Part of your answer to that question depends on whether you think of each new human being as just another mouth that needs feeding, or whether you recognize that those mouths generally come attached to human minds—the ultimate resource.

 

Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is Le Québécois Libre’s English Editor.

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Longevity Logistics: We Can Manage the Effects of Overpopulation – Article by Franco Cortese

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Categories: Economics, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
November 5, 2013
Recommend this page.
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This is a more popularly-oriented version of a scholarly article in review for the Journal of Evolution and Technology.

By far the most predominant criticism made against indefinite longevity is overpopulation. It is the first “potential problem” that comes to mind. But fortunately it seems that halting the global mortality rate would not cause an immediate drastic increase in global population; in fact, if the mortality rate dropped to zero tomorrow then the doubling rate for the global population would only be increased by a factor of 1.75 [1], which is smaller than the population growth rate during the post-WWII baby-boom.

Population is significantly more determined by birth rate than by death rate, simply because many people have more than one natural child.

This means that we should not see an unsustainable rise in population following even the complete cessation of death globally for a number of generations. We will run into problems 3 or 4 generations hence – but this leaves us with time enough to plan for overpopulation before we’re forced to resort to more drastic solution-paradigms like procreation-bans and space colonization.

Moreover, there are a number of proposed, and in some cases implemented, solutions to existing, contemporary problems that can be utilized for the purpose of minimizing overpopulation’s detrimental effects on living space and non-renewable resource constraints. These contemporary concerns include climate change and dependence on non-renewable energy sources, and they are only increasing in the amount of public attention they are attracting.

While these concerns and their potential solutions were not created by overpopulation or with overpopulation in mind, the potentially negative effects of an increasing global population can be effectively combated all the same using such contemporary methods and technologies.

Thus we can take advantage of the solution-paradigms developed for such contemporary concerns as climate change and dependence on non-renewable resources, and borrow from such movements as the sustainability movement and the seasteading movement, so as to better mitigate and effectively plan for the negative repercussions of a growing global population caused by the emergence of effective longevity technologies.

In a session with The President’s Council on Bioethics (as it was composed during the Bush Administration), S. Jay Olshansky [2] reported calculations he performed indicating that complete cessation of the global morality rate today would lead to less population growth than resulted from the post-WWII “Baby Boom”:

This is an estimate of the birth rate and the death rate in the year 1000, birth rate roughly 70, death rate about 69.5. Remember when there’s a growth rate of 1 percent, very much like your money, a growth rate of 1 percent leads to a doubling time at about 69 to 70 years. It’s the same thing with humans. With a 1 percent growth rate, the population doubles in about 69 years. If you have the growth rate — if you double the growth rate, you have the time it takes for the population to double, so it’s nothing more than the difference between the birth rate and the death rate to generate the growth rate. And here you can see in 1900, the growth rate was about 2 percent, which meant the doubling time was about five years. During the 1950s at the height of the baby boom, the growth rate was about 3 percent, which means the doubling time was about 26 years. In the year 2000, we have birth rates of about 15 per thousand, deaths of about 10 per thousand, low mortality populations, which means the growth rate is about one half of 1 percent, which means it would take about 140 years for the population to double.

Well, if we achieved immortality today, in other words, if the death rate went down to zero, then the growth rate would be defined by the birth rate. The birth rate would be about 15 per thousand, which means the doubling time would be 53 years, and more realistically, if we achieved immortality, we might anticipate a reduction in the birth rate to roughly ten per thousand, in which case the doubling time would be about 80 years. The bottom line is, is that if we achieved immortality today, the growth rate of the population would be less than what we observed during the post-World War II baby boom.

We would eventually run into problems, of course, a century down the road, but just so you know the growth rates would not be nearly what they were in the post-World War II era, even with immortality today.

In other words we will only have increased the doubling-time of the global population by a factor of 1.75 if we achieved indefinite longevity today (e.g., a doubling time of 140 years in 2000 compared to a doubling time of 80 years). This means that we will have two to four generations worth of time to consider possible solutions to growing population before we are faced with the “hard choice” of (1) finding new space and resources or else (2) limiting or regulating the global birthrate.

An alternate study on the demographic consequences of life extension concluded that “population changes are surprisingly slow in their response to a dramatic life extension”. The study applied “the cohort-component method of population projections to 2005 Swedish population for several scenarios of life extension and a fertility schedule observed in 2005,” concluding that “even for a very long 100-year projection horizon, with the most radical life extension scenario (assuming no aging at all after age 60), the total population increases by 22% only (from 9.1 to 11.0 million)” and that “even in the case of the most radical life extension scenario, population growth could be relatively slow and may not necessarily lead to overpopulation.” [2]. The total population increase due to the complete negation of mortality given by this study is significantly lower than the figure calculated by Olshansky.

Finding innovative solutions to new and old problems is what humanity does. We have a variety of possible viable options to increase the resources and living space available to humanity already. Moreover, there are several other contemporary concerns that are invoking the development of technological and methodological solutions that can be applied to our own concerns regarding the effects of overpopulation. Surely we can conceive of optimal solutions to these problems (and the more pressing a given problem is, the more funding it receives and the faster the solution to it is accomplished) – and take advantage of the growing methodological and technical infrastructure being developed for related and convergent problems – within the time it will take to feel overpopulation’s effect on living space and resources.

We could, for instance, colonize the oceans [3, 4, 5], drawing from the engineering, construction techniques used to build, maintain, and safely inhabit contemporary VLFSs (Very Large Floating Structures). 75% of the Earth’s surface area is, after all, water. This would increase our potential living space 3-fold – and I say “potential” because we surely don’t currently maximize living space on the 25% of the Earth’s surface occupied by land. Furthermore, humanity has as yet barely ventured beyond the surface of the earth – which is a sphere after all. There is nothing to prevent society building higher and building deeper. Indeed, with contemporary and projected advances in materials science and structural engineering, there is no theoretical limit to the height of structures we can safely build – the space elevator being a case in point. And while there will indeed be a maximum size wherein building higher becomes economically prohibitive (a limit determined to a large extent by the materials used), contemporary megastructures [6] indicate that very large structures can be built safety and cost-effectively. Underground living [7, 8, 9, 10] is another potential solution-paradigm as well; underground structures require less energy, are protected from weathering effects and changing temperatures to a much greater extent than structures exposed to the elements, and are less susceptible to damage from natural disasters. Furthermore, there are a number of underground cities in existence today [11], with existing techniques and technologies used to better facilitate contemporary underground living, which we can take advantage of.

In fact, the problem of limited living space is a contemporary problem for certain nations like Japan, and active projects to combat this growing problem have already been undertaken in many cases. This means that there will be an existing host of solutions, with their own technological and methodological infrastructures, which we can benefit from and take advantage of when the problematizing effects of growing global population become immediate. Not only can we take advantage of the existing engineering methodologies developed for use in the construction of VLFSs, but we can also take advantage of the growing body of knowledge pertaining to megastructural engineering and even existing proposals for floating cities [12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18]. Another possible solution is artificial islands [19].

Furthermore, in recent years the topic of Very Large Floating Structures [21, 22] has experienced a surge of renewed interest occurring in tandem with the increasing interest in seasteading [23, 24], – that is, the creation of very-large-floating-structures for reasons of political sovereignty as well as to allow corporations to get around the laws of a given nation by occupying an area outside of exclusive economic zones. This renewed interest can only increase the amount of attention and funding these concepts receive, in turn increasing the viability of VLFS designs and their underlying structural-engineering and energy-production concerns.

Another contemporary movement that will prove advantageous for our own concerns with the effects of overpopulation on living space, working space, and resource space is the growing green movement and sustainability movement. The problem of resource scarcity is already upon us in many areas, and there exists contemporary motivation for finding more resource-efficient ways of making energy and producing goods, and for lessening our dependency on non-renewable energy sources. Climate change has only become an increasingly predominant concern in international politics, and many incentives exist to lessen our dependence on non-renewable energy sources as well as to lessen the environmental impact of contemporary civilization, which is itself another oft-touted problematic concern possibly resulting from overpopulation. Developments in these areas are only set to continue, for reasons wholly unrelated to the effects of overpopulation, and when those effects come to the fore we will have a collection of existing methodologies that can then be harnessed to lessen the impact of overpopulation on living space and resource scarcity.

The predominance of these problems, as well as the amount of attention and funding they are expected to receive (and thus the viability of their potential solutions), will only increase as we move forward into the future. The solutions we have to the potential problems of overpopulation – namely resource scarcity and lack of living space – will not only increase as the effects of overpopulation get closer, but the technological and methodological infrastructures underlying those solutions will also become more tried, tested, and robust, fueled by contemporary concerns over decreasing living space, climate-change and resource scarcity.

While space colonization is the most frequently proffered technological solution to the possibility of future overpopulation, I think we will turn to various Earth-bound solutions to increasing humanity’s available living space, as well as the space available for agricultural labs, that is the manufacture of food-stuffs, or indoor farming systems [25, 26, 28], before colonizing the cosmos becomes an economically optimal option. I think these sorts of solutions will be employed long before humanity is forced to either regulate the birthrate or move into the cosmos.

Moreover, people who wish to have children will have incentive to support politicians running on policies promoting new solutions to decreasing living space. Consider the number of U.S. taxpayer dollars spent during the Space Race, with no immediate material or scientific benefit (other than to prove it could be done, as well as to maintain rough militaristic equality with the USSR to some extent, as the state of rocket technology was indicative of the state of ballistic technologies like missiles). If humanity is forced to choose between having children and receiving the medical treatments that will keep them from dying, surely people will be motivated to fund initiatives and projects aimed at solving the problems of decreasing living space and increasing resource constraints due to a growing global population.

It is important to remember that the largest increase in life expectancy we have experienced historically was followed by a drastic decrease in birthrate over the next few generations thereafter. Before the Industrial Revolution, English women had on average 6 children. In 2000 the average was less than 2.

Figure 1: Fertility Rates in England, 1540-2000

Note: GRR = Gross Reproduction Rate, NRR = Net Reproduction Rate
Source: Wrigley et al. (1997) p. 614. Office of National Statistics, United Kingdom.

The drop in birthrate following the industrial revolution has several causes. Chief among them is the fact that children were considered to some extent as assets, helping with maintaining the family livelihood, often by doing agricultural work on a family farm or helping with household chores (which were much more extensive then). Another large determining factor is a high rate of child mortality; thus families would have multiple children in anticipation of losing some to death. But with a rise in living conditions, the child mortality rate dropped drastically – and as a result we stopped having more kids in anticipation of some of them dying. Moreover, we started treating children less as assets and more as people to nurture and raise for their own sake. Longer lives, and less susceptibility to death in general, appears to have made us better parents.

Thus it is not only possible but probable that we will see a similar drop in the birthrate as a consequence of a significant future increase in average lifespan, with people having children much later in life, when they are more financially stable and when they have done all the commitment-free things they’ve always wanted to do. Without a looming limit on one’s available reproductive lifespan, there will be no pressing motivation to have children “before it’s too late” – and this alone could very well facilitate an unprecedented decrease in the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of the global population.

Evidence indicates that the drop in birth rate was neither limited to England, nor an isolated result of the Industrial Revolution. A net drop in the TFR seems to be a longer-term trend concurrent across the globe. It is likely that the drop in the TFR is due to the same factors as the drop in birth rate following the Industrial Revolution – increasing life expectancy and continually improving living conditions allow people to have children without expecting a portion of them to be lost to death, to have them for the sake of having children rather than as assets to aid in maintaining the family livelihood, and to have children later in life due to the increase in one’s reproductive lifespan that comes with increasing life expectancy. The fact that the drop in TFR is not an isolated historical event is advantageous because the global population is affected by birth rate much more than by the mortality rate. Hence we may see a continuing decrease in the TFR occur in tandem with increasing life expectancy, leveling out the imbalance created by a mortality rate of zero by a larger than has been heretofore anticipated. (Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, World Factbook.)

Let us suppose, for a moment, the worst: that indefinite longevity is achieved and we completely ignore (i.e., fail to plan for) overpopulation until its effects start becoming readily apparent. Even in this seeming worst-case scenario, overpopulation is not likely to result in any great tragedies. In such a case we would be forced to limit the global birthrate until we are able to implement the solutions that would allow us to sustainably procreate again. If people have a strong enough desire to continue having children, then they will express their demand and politicians will consequently base their policies upon deliberative initiatives to increase available living and agricultural space – and get elected if the desire to freely procreate is strong and widespread enough. Failing to plan for overpopulation will simply be a wake-up call, letting us know that we should have been planning for its effects from the beginning, and that we had better start planning for them now if we want to continue to freely procreate.

Thus while overpopulation is the most prominent and most credible criticism against continually increasing lifespans, and the one that needs to be planned for the most (because it will eventually happen, but it will lead to sustainability, resource, and living-space problems only if we do nothing about it), it is in no way insoluble, nor particularly pressing in terms of the time available to plan and implement solutions to shrinking living space and resource space (i.e., the space occupied by resources such as food, energy production, workplaces, etc.). We have a host of potential solutions today, ones we can use to increase available living space without regulating the global birthrate, and decades following the achievement of indefinite lifespans to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the various possible solutions, to develop them and to implement them.

So then: where to from here? Overpopulation is still the most prominent criticism raised against indefinite longevity, and if combated, the result could be an increase in public support for the Longevity movement. You might think that the widespread concern with overpopulation due to increasing longevity won’t really matter, if they turn out to be wrong, and overpopulation isn’t so insoluble a problem as one is inclined to first presume. But this misses a crucial point: that the time it takes to achieve longevity is determined by and large by how strongly and in how widespread a manner society and the members constituting it desire and demand it. If we can convince people today that overpopulation isn’t an insoluble problem, then continually increasing longevity might happen much sooner than otherwise. At the cost of 100,000 deaths due to age-correlated causes per day, I think hastening the arrival of indefinite longevity therapies by even a modest amount is somewhat imperative. Hastening its arrival by one month will save 3 million lives, and achieving it one year sooner than otherwise will save an astounding 36.5 Million real, human lives.

Thus, we should work toward putting more concrete numbers to these estimates. How much more living space can be feasibly created by colonizing the oceans? How deep can we really dig, build and live? How high can we safely build? Is there a threshold height or depth where building higher or deeper becomes too economically prohibitive to be worth the added living, working or resource space? What are the parameters (e.g., material strength/cost ratio, specific structural design) determining such a threshold?

First, we need to collect and analyze the feasibility studies that have already been undertaken on floating cities, artificial islands, VLFSs and the new solution-paradigms that are emerging to combat the contemporary concerns of sustainability and resource scarcity. In short, we need to compile data from the feasibility studies that have already been done, and the projects already implemented. Then we need to plan and commission further feasibility studies, undertaken by engineers and geologists, to build upon the work already accomplished in feasibility studies pertaining to existing designs for floating cities and other Very Large Floating Structures. We need to put some numbers to the cost the additional space for food, resources, work and living necessitated by widely available life-extension therapies. We need to do some hard calculations to show that the effects of overpopulation are problems that can be solved using existing megascale engineering and construction techniques and materials, safely and economically. We need to show the world that it has more space than it ever thought it had, and that such solution-paradigms as cosmic colonization and procreative regulation are neither the only ones, nor necessarily the most optimal ones. We need, in short, to show them that, in this case, where there’s a will there’s a way, and that the weight of waiting is too high a price to pay.

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.

References:

  1. Presidents Council for Bioethics: Transcripts (December 12, 2002): Session 2: Duration of Life: Is There a Biological Warranty Period? 01.
  2. L. A. Gavrilov and N.S. Gavrilova. “Demographic Consequences of Defeating Aging”. Rejuvenation Research. 2010 April; 13(2-3): 329–334.
  3. Ibid.
  4. McCullagh, Declan. “Seasteaders” Take First Step Toward Colonizing The Oceans.” CBS News, October 9, 2009. 02
  5. Pasternack, Alex. “Bioengineer aspires to colonize the sea.” CNN, January 12, 2011. 03
  6. Banham, Reyner. Megastructure: urban futures of the recent past. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.
  7. Tsuchiyama, Ray. “Ocean Colonies as Next Frontier.” Forbes, April 24, 2011. Accessed August 1, 2013. 04
  8. “Inside Underground Cities.” Before Its News. 2013 March. 05
  9. South, D. B., and Freda Parker. “Underground Homes – Good or Bad?” Monolithic, January 22, 2009. 06.
  10. Good Earth Plants & Greenscaped Buildings. “Underground Living.” Last modified May 6, 2013. 07.
  11. Kelly, J. “10 Amazing Underground Cities”. Listverse.com. January 22, 2013. Accessed August 1, 2013. 08
  12. Gammon, Katharine. “Building Artificial Islands That Rise With Sea.” PopSci, June 8, 2012. 09
  13. Cottrell, Claire. “A Survey of Futuristic Floating Cities.” FlavorWire, November 2, 2012. 10
  14. “Cities on the Ocean.” Technology Quarterly – The Economist. Q4 2011.
  15. Bonsor, Kevin. “How the Floating Cities Will Work.” HowStuffWorks. n.d. 11.
  16. DigInfo TV. “GREEN FLOAT – a Floating City in the Sky.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 12.
  17. National Geographic. “Pictures: Floating Cities of the Future.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 13.
  18. Emerging Technology News. “Self-Sufficient Floating Cities Planned for 2025: Japan.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 14.
  19. “An artificial island in Hambantota.” News.LK, August 2, 2013. 15
  20. Goodier, Rob. “The World’s 18 Strangest Man Made Islands.” Popular Mechanics, n.d. 16
  21. E. Watanabe, C.M. Wang, T. Utsunomiya and T. Moan. “Very Large Floating Structures: Applications, Analysis and Design”. CORE Report No. 2004-02. Centre for Offshore Research and Engineering National University of Singapore. 17
  22. C.M. Wang, and Z. Tay. Very Large Floating Structures: Applications, Research and Development. In The Proceedings of the Twelfth East Asia-Pacific Conference on Structural Engineering and Construction — EASEC12. Edited by LAM Heung Fai. Singapore: Department of Civil Engineering, National University of Singapore Kent Ridge, 2011. 18
  23. World Architecture News. “Seasteading, United States.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 19
  24. The Seasteading Institute. The Seasteading Institute Annual Report 2008. Rep. n.p., n.d.
  25. Nagy, Attila. “14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors.” Gizmodo, June 17. 20.
  26. Meinhold, Bridgette. “Indoor Vertical Farm ‘Pinkhouses’ Grow Plants Faster With Less Energy.” Inhabitat. Last modified May 23, 2013. 21.
  27. TerraSphere. “Urban farming 2.0: No soil, no sun.” Accessed August 1, 2013. 22.
  28. The Vertical Farm Project – Agriculture for the 21st Century and Beyond. “Vertical Farm Designs.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 23

 

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

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The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
October 20, 2013
Recommend this page.
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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.

Introduction

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 (info@longevityalliance.org), 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.

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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.

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Radical Life Extension Won’t Cause Resource Shortages – Article by Reason

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Categories: Economics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
October 6, 2013
Recommend this page.
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That overpopulation exists at all is one of the most prevalent delusions in the modern world: thanks to the environmentalist movement, a cause that has ascended near to the status of civic religion, the average fellow in the street thinks that there are too many people alive today, that resources are stretched to breaking point, that the future is one of Malthusian decline, and that horrible poverty in the third world is caused by the existence of too many people. All of these points are flat-out wrong. Humanity is wealthier and has greater access to resources today than at any time in history, the variety and amounts of available resources are growing at an accelerating pace due to technological progress, the earth could support many times more people than are alive today, and where there is poverty it exists due to terrible, predatory governance and the inhumanity of man – it exists due to waste and aggression amidst the potential for plenty.

Even this pro-longevity piece by George Dvorsky subscribes, as many do, to the false idea that somehow we are consuming too many resources and will run out. This is silly: resources are infinite, because through technological progress we constantly develop new ones. People live in an age of change, with each new decade clearly different from the last, and yet live under the assumption that everything will remain the same going forward. Being worried about running out of anything that we use today is like being worried about running out of candle wax in 1810, or running out of room for horse breeding operations in 1840, or running out of food in 1940. All false concerns, and all false for exactly the same reasons: we are not static consumers of resources, we are net producers of resources.

Quote:

Make no mistake, it’ll take us a long, long time to get there, but we’ll eventually find a way to halt the aging process. Owing to advanced medical, regenerative, and cybernetic technologies, future humans will enter into a state of “negligible senescence,” a condition marked by the cessation of aging and the onset of everlasting youth. It sounds utopian, but as biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey has repeatedly noted, it’s simply an engineering problem – one that’s not intractable.

I’ve been debating this issue for the better part of a decade, and I’ve heard virtually every argument there is to be said both in favor of and in condemnation of the possibility. I’m not going to go over all of them here. But without a doubt the single most prominent argument set against radical life extension is the issue of overpopulation and environmental sustainability.

As a final note, there’s a certain inevitability to radical life extension. It’s the logical conclusion to the medical sciences. So rather than futilely argue against it, we should come up with constructive solutions to ensure that it unfolds in the most non-disruptive way possible.

Link: http://io9.com/no-extreme-human-longevity-won-t-destroy-the-planet-1440148751

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries.  

This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license.  It was originally published on FightAging.org.

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Longevity’s Bottleneck May Be Funding, But Funding’s Bottleneck is Advocacy – Article by Franco Cortese

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Categories: Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
August 21, 2013
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When asked what the biggest bottleneck for Radical or Indefinite Longevity is, most thinkers say funding. Some say the biggest bottleneck is breakthroughs and others say it’s our way of approaching the problem (i.e., that many are seeking healthy life extension, a.k.a. “aging gracefully”, instead of more comprehensive methods of indefinite life extension), but the majority seem to feel that what is really needed is adequate funding to plug away at developing and experimentally verifying the various, sometimes mutually exclusive technologies and methodologies that have already been proposed. I claim that Radical Longevity’s biggest bottleneck is not funding, but advocacy.
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This is because the final objective of increased funding for Radical Longevity and Life Extension research can be more effectively and efficiently achieved through public advocacy for Radical Life Extension than it can by direct funding or direct research, per unit of time or effort. Research and development obviously still need to be done, but an increase in researchers needs an increase in funding, and an increase in funding needs an increase in the public perception of RLE’s feasibility and desirability.
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There is no definitive timespan that it will take to achieve indefinitely extended life. How long it takes to achieve Radical Longevity is determined by how hard we work at it and how much effort we put into it. More effort means that it will be achieved sooner. And by and large, an increase in effort can be best achieved by an increase in funding, and an increase in funding can be best achieved by an increase in public advocacy. You will likely accelerate the development of Indefinitely Extended Life, per unit of time or effort, by advocating the desirability, ethicality, and technical feasibility of longer life than you will by doing direct research, or by working towards the objective of directly contributing funds to RLE projects and research initiatives.

In order to get funding, we need to demonstrate with explicit clarity just how much we want it, and that we can do so while minimizing potentially negative societal repercussions like overpopulation. We must do our best to vehemently invalidate the Deathist clichés that promulgate the sentiment that Life Extension is dangerous or unethical. It needn’t be either, nor is it necessarily likely to be either.

Some think that spending one’s time deliberating the potential issues that could result from greatly increased lifespans and the ways in which we could mitigate or negate them won’t make a difference until greatly increased lifespans are actually achieved. I disagree. While any potentially negative repercussions of RLE (like overpopulation) aren’t going to happen until RLE is achieved, offering solution paradigms and ways in which we could negate or mitigate such negative repercussions decreases the time we have to wait for it by increasing the degree with which the wider public feels it to be desirable, and that it can very well be done safely and ethically. Those who are against radical life extension are against it either because they think it is infeasible (in which case being “against” it may be too strong a descriptor) or because they have qualms relating to its ethicality or its safety. More people openly advocating against it would mean a higher public perception of its undesirability. Whether RLE is eventually achieved via private industry or via government-subsidized research initiatives, we need to create the public perception that it is widely desired before either government or industry will take notice.

The sentiment that that the best thing we can do is simply live healthily and wait until progress is made seems to be fairly common as well. People have the feeling that researchers are working on it, that it will happen if it can happen, and that waiting until progress is made is the best course to take. Such lethargy will not help Radical Longevity in any way. How long we have to wait for RLE is a function of how much effort we put into it. And in this article I argue that how much funding and attention RLE receives is by and large a function of how widespread the public perception of its feasibility and desirability is.

This isn’t simply about our individual desire to live longer. It might be easier to hold the sentiment that we should just wait it out until it happens if we only consider its impact on the scale of our own individual lives. Such a sentiment may also be aided by the view that greatly longer lives would be a mere advantage, nice but unnecessary. I don’t think this is the case. I argue that the technological eradication of involuntary death is a moral imperative if there ever was one. If how long we have to wait until RLE is achieved depends on how vehemently we demand it and on how hard we work to create the public perception that longer life is widely longed-for, then to what extent are 100,000 lives lost potentially needlessly every day while we wait on our hands? One million people will die a wasteful and involuntary death in the next 10 days: one million real lives. This puts the Deathist charges of inethicality in a ghostly new light. If advocating the desirability, feasibility, and radical ethicality of RLE can hasten its implementation by even a mere 10 days, then one million lives that would have otherwise been lost will have been saved by the efforts of RLE advocates, researchers and fiscal supporters. Seen in this way, working toward RLE may very well be the most ethical and humanitarian way you could spend your time, in terms of the number of lives saved and/or the amount of suffering prevented.

This is a contemporary problem that we can have a direct impact on. People intuitively assume that we won’t achieve indefinitely extended life until far in the future. This makes them conflate any lives saved by indefinitely extended lifespans with lives yet to come into existence. This makes them see involuntary death as a problem of the future, rather than a problem of today. But more people than I’ve ever known will die tomorrow, from causes that are physically possible to obviate and ameliorate – indeed, from causes that we have potential and conceptual solutions for today.
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I have attempted to show in this article that advocating RLE should be considered as “working toward it” to as great an extent as directly funding it or performing direct research on it is considered as “working toward it”. Advocacy has greater potential to increase its widespread desirability than direct work or funding does, and increasing both its desirability and the public perception of its desirability has more potential to generate increased funding and research-attention for RLE than direct funding or research does. Advocacy thus has the potential to contribute to the arrival of RLE and hasten its implementation just as much, if not more so (as I have attempted to argue in this article), than practical research or direct funding does. This should motivate people to help create the momentous momentum we need to really get the ball rolling. To be an RLE advocate is to be an RLE worker. Involuntary death from age-associated, physically remediable causes is the largest source of death, destruction, and suffering today.  Don’t you want to help prevent the most widespread source of death and of suffering in existence today?  Don’t you want to help mitigate the most pressing moral concern not only of today, but of the entirety of human history – namely physically remediable involuntary death?

Then advocate the technological eradication of involuntary death. Advocate the technical feasibility, extreme desirability, and blatant ethicality of indefinitely extending life. Death is a cataclysm. We need not sanctify the seemingly inevitable any longer. We need not tell ourselves that death is somehow a good thing, or something we can do nothing about, in order to live with the “fact” of it any longer. Soon it won’t be fact of life. Soon it will be artifact of history. Life may not be ipso facto valuable according to some philosophies of value – but life is a necessary precondition for any sort of value whatsoever. Death is dumb, dummy! An incontrovertible waste convertible into nothing! A negative-sum blight! So if you want to contribute to the problems of today, if you want to help your fellow man today, then stand proud and shout loud, “Doom to Arbitrary Duty and Death to  Arbitrary Death!” at every crowd cowed by the seeming necessity of death.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

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