Spreading the Word That Death is Wrong – Article by G. Stolyarov II
Who could have thought a month ago that an illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension would become a fiercely, passionately discussed phenomenon not just in transhumanist and futurist circles, but on mainstream publications and forums? And yet that is exactly what has happened to Death is Wrong – certainly the most influential and provocative of all of my endeavors to date. I am thrilled that it is precisely my pursuit of this most fundamental and precious goal – preservation of the life of every innocent individual – that has achieved greater public exposure, controversy included, than anything else I have ever done.
Our Indiegogo fundraiser to spread 1000 copies of Death is Wrong to children, free of charge, is gaining momentum and has exceeded 50% of our $5000 goal. (Funds pledged stood at $2,690, or 53.8% of the goal, as of March 30, 2014.) The generosity of our 60 donors so far has been tremendously encouraging and inspiring to me. Anything can still happen until the April 23 deadline, and spreading the word about this effort has been my top priority for my discretionary time. The distribution effort has also been jump-started, with 77 books sent out to longevity activists already. The books will have an international reach; 50 of them have been sent to the United Kingdom and 5 to Poland, while the remaining 22 were sent to activists in the United States. The US and UK shipments have arrived already, while the shipment to Poland is en route. The funds that were pledged via PayPal presently allow for immediate shipment of at least 107 additional books to those who seek to distribute them. I continue to post regular updates regarding the fundraiser’s resources and recent developments on the Indiegogo Updates page as well as on The Rational Argumentator.
The instructions to request copies of Death is Wrong for distribution to children remain the same:
- Send an e-mail to email@example.com.
- Provide your name, your mailing address, a statement of your support for indefinite life extension, and a brief description of your plan to spread the book to children in your local area. Remember that all copies received pursuant to this initiative would need to be offered to children free of charge (as gifts or reading opportunities) and may not be resold.
- Provide the number of copies of Death is Wrong that you are requesting.
- Preferably, provide an indication that you would be willing to send photographs of the books that have been delivered to you as well as events where you will be distributing the books.
I cannot express enough gratitude to the many people who have been diligently spreading the word about Death is Wrong and the fundraiser, and who have contributed their time and talents pro bono to help make this endeavor a success. One such individual is Peter Caramico, a filmmaker and advocate of life extension and cryonics, who has, in affiliation with LongeCity, developed a beautiful outreach video for Death is Wrong. The video is narrated by me and my wife and illustrator Wendy Stolyarov and utilizes some of the art from the book, along with additional inspiring images. You can see a preliminary version here on Peter’s Cryonics Culture video channel. I hope to spread this video soon to galvanize support for the book and its message – but it is, in its own right, a work of great potential impact for the ideas of life extension.
March 2014 has been a month of whirlwind publicity for Death is Wrong. The month began with an appearance by Wendy and me at the Transhuman Visions 2.0 Conference in Piedmont, CA, on March 1. This was an excellent opportunity to present the book to a future-oriented audience and to engage in many one-on-one conversations afterward. You can see a video of our presentation here and download the presentation slides in PDF and PowerPoint formats.
Numerous stories on Death is Wrong have appeared in high-profile online publications. I am most pleased with the articles whose authors performed thorough research on the book and contacted me directly with thoughtful questions. Leanne Butkovic of Fast Company and Rebecca Hiscott of Mashable published fair and accurate stories. I was also pleased to be interviewed on March 22 by Richard (RJ) Eskow on his program The Zero Hour. The 9.5-minute discussion included a brief introduction to the book, recent reactions to it, the morality of fighting death, how defeating senescence might motivate people to more resolutely combat and avert other perils and risks, and why I aim to spread the ideas of indefinite life extension to children. Mr. Eskow offers on The Zero Hour a thoughtful and intelligent forum for the serious consideration of both contemporary and emerging issues, including transformative future technologies and their potential societal impacts. He presented me with challenging yet straightforward questions – ones I was pleased to address and to provide my perspectives on, as these questions and challenges play an important role in the public discussion that has emerged regarding Death is Wrong.
On March 29, I was interviewed by Stephen Euin Cobb for his excellent podcast The Future and You. Our extensive discussion will be developed into two forthcoming episodes of The Future and You, scheduled to be posted on April 2 and April 9. I have scheduled additional media engagements and, in the meantime, maintain steady correspondence with many who are making the success of Death is Wrong possible. Expect more great content and great publicity for the life-extension message soon.
On March 29, I was interviewed by Stephen Euin Cobb for his excellent podcast The Future and You. Our extensive and multifaceted discussion will be developed into two forthcoming episodes of The Future and You, scheduled to be posted on April 2 and April 9. I have scheduled additional media engagements and, in the meantime, maintain steady correspondence with many who are making the success of Death is Wrong possible. Expect more great content and great publicity for the life-extension message soon.
Among publications that did not contact me, Death is Wrong was also mentioned by James Moore on the Huffington Post in his poignant article “Transhumanism and All My Mortal Friends”. Extensive discussion – both in support of and in opposition to the book – was fueled by articles and posts on Motherboard (including a German version), Disinformation, and Slashdot. Two articles in Italian – a critique by Pietro Minto on Il Foglio and a rebuttal by the author of the transhumanist Estropico blog – also discussed Death is Wrong. A wonderful review of Death is Wrong also appeared on the blog Me and My Kindle. Some of the outlets that covered the book missed various details (e.g., my age or the fact that it was my mother – not my grandfather – who initially informed me about death), but I am pleased that the general message – the feasibility and desirability of indefinite life extension – is being spread and discussed, as that, more than anything else, was my goal in writing Death is Wrong.
Giulio Prisco wrote in his excellent review of Death is Wrong and its impact, “Have the Stolyarovs found the way to make transhumanist ideas go viral? Perhaps yes. Provocative strong messages get heard, and teaching children that death will be cured is very provocative in today’s dull, defeatist, politically correct cultural climate.” I agree with this assessment. Death, in fact, is obviously wrong; it is the Dragon-Tyrant in the room – but millennia of ingrained cultural acceptance and rationalization have obscured this truth in the minds of most. The direct, straightforward denunciation of death is needed to jolt people’s minds toward recalling the raw travesty of death, without the soothing embellishments that lead many to miss the core truth: death is wrong! In the mind of a child, reacting immediately to the grim prospect of the future demise of every human currently alive, the probability that this truth will remain unclouded is greater, as long as adequate support is provided for the desire to resist and fight death.
Even one book, one expression of the message that combating death through the pursuit of indefinite life extension is both feasible and desirable, can make all the difference for a young mind. Contrary to the assertions of some, I seek not to indoctrinate children, but to achieve the exact opposite – to inoculate children against indoctrination from pro-death arguments by showing them that those are not the only arguments around. I have never been one for suppressing discussion or disinclining others from considering a position. As a staunch supporter of free speech, open dialogue, and even the most vigorous public debates, I see the unfettered expression of every viewpoint – be it true or false, profound or vapid – as a necessary aspect of the free market of ideas. Free discussion drives forward an iterative approach toward greater understanding of reality and a better implementation of that understanding for the improvement of human well-being. Even in engaging the falsest ideas, one can improve one’s knowledge of truth and one’s ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. Yet it is impossible to be alive today and to avoid encountering arguments, both religious and secular, commonly presented in favor of mortality. The risk to children is the opposite: that they will not encounter any arguments other than those accepting death as “normal” or “natural” or “part of life”. If we want children to think critically about this literally most vital of issues, we cannot be content with them being exposed to one side – the side of death acceptance – only.
Death is Wrong is a conduit for children toward life-extension science, transhumanist philosophy, and thinking about the world-changing effects of emerging technologies more generally. For the book to have the greatest impact on a young mind, it should be used as a means to further exploration – hence its Appendix and list of links at the end. Perhaps 15 or 20 years in the future, a child who reads this book this year will remember it as one of the formative moments in his or her intellectual growth. Perhaps a young person’s decision to study and pursue advances in biology, regenerative medicine, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, cryonics, or aeronautical engineering will have Death is Wrong as one of its early catalysts. Perhaps a prolific artist, author, or philosopher will grow up and communicate the message of life extension in powerful, inspiring ways as a result of the jolt of inspiration contained in Death is Wrong.
Did I expect that the book would cause considerable controversy? Of course. Death is Wrong challenges one of the most ingrained mindsets that has prevailed in virtually every tradition, and even dominates many contemporary secular points of view. I consider the acceptance of death and the attempts to justify it to be a cultural Stockholm syndrome; many people seek to normalize death in the abstract because they fear that a condemnation of this Dragon-Tyrant would drive them to despair about their perceived predicament of inevitable mortality. So many espouse rationalizations for death, even as they resist death in practice day to day in working to improve their lives materially, to avoid and minimize risks, and to employ technology for the benefit of their health and for incremental life extension. Most people accept modern medical treatments such as heart surgery; most people accept that it is desirable to live into one’s eighties and nineties – but why do they not accept the prospect of regenerative medicine and of routinely living beyond 100, 120, 500, 1000, 1,000,000 years? It is this irrational disconnect between incremental acceptance of life extension and its rejection as a concept that I seek to expose and remedy. It can be expected that some people will not appreciate their most closely held assumptions and premises being disputed in a direct, unapologetic manner.
Death is Wrong is a paradigm-shifting book in part because it poses hitherto unexpected challenges to both the mainstream “left” and the mainstream “right” (a good sign, in my view, that I have created something original and genuinely progressive, life-affirming, and liberating). The highest-profile negative review of the book was written by Joelle Renstrom of Slate – who, to her credit, did read the book, but reiterated many commonplace fallacies regarding indefinite longevity and its impact. Mark Shrayber of Jezebel echoed some of Renstrom’s criticisms but was more sympathetic and even-handed in his tone. In the greatest irony and most astounding self-contradiction I have yet encountered regarding the American “pro-life” movement, Judie Brown of the misnamed “American Life League” called my book – a book, recall, that proclaims death to be wrong and life to be right! – a “grave concern”. Why? Because I refuse to die on the presumptive timetable ordained by “the God of our creation” as the American Life League conceives of him. I think this, more than anything, shows the true colors of the “pro-life” label as it is used by certain religious fundamentalists in the United States. They are not for life; they are for death on their deity’s terms. When someone actually speaks in favor of extending and preserving life through science and technology – they of course do not support that, even though most of them resort to it regularly in practice through the use of modern medicine. Interestingly enough, Judie Brown lambasts Joelle Renstrom – my critic on Slate – as often as she warns her readers about me, Death is Wrong, and transhumanism. While the death-acceptance strains of both the “left” and the “right” continue to clash with one another – largely over hot-button minutiae whose discussion will be rendered obsolete by future technological progress – let us hope that the field of genuine cultural influence will become increasingly open to us life-extension advocates.
While my intention here is to chronicle the responses to Death is Wrong, rather than to rebut my critics (which Eric Schulke has already done in part through his response to Renstrom’s review), I would like to address a few common misunderstandings, as they have reappeared in one article after another. First, it is true that I fear death; I would be engaging in ludicrous bravado if I denied it. What sensible person who values his life would not fear its end and use that fear to motivate even some modicum of risk aversion? In their excellent article, Eric Schulke and Wioletta Karkucinska explain that fear of death is, indeed, nothing to be ashamed of. But is my life “ruled” by fear of death, as Joelle Renstrom suggests? Was fear of death my motivation for writing Death is Wrong? Absolutely not, and I had said as much to Fast Company. However, because my full response was not printed, I will present it here. I said that fear only exists in the face of the possibility of losing something one values. The reason I wrote this book is not primarily that I fear death, but rather that I love life and wish for all innocent humans to have the opportunity to live indefinitely. But I also see no shame in fearing the loss of what one loves. One does not fear the loss of that, to which one is indifferent. When Meghan Neal of Motherboard wrote, on the basis of the Fast Company article, that I fear death (a true statement), she nonetheless did not reflect my more nuanced position that love of life – not fear of death – is the primary motivation for those who seek to live indefinitely longer, myself included.
Still, prevailing cultural aversions to fear per se are just as irrational as prevailing cultural aversions to anger, sadness, disgust, and other so-called “negative” emotions per se. These emotions have their places in the right contexts – as justified responses to sometimes grossly sub-optimal and unjust aspects of reality, as motivators for us to ameliorate real, urgent, pressing problems in the world. No emotion is wrong in itself; events in the real world (like death!) can be wrong, as can a mismatch between an emotion and the reality faced by an individual experiencing it. We should love life and fear death; we should not love death or fear life.
Second, why did I not address the “double-edged sword” of technology, as Renstrom alleges? I think that the potential of technology to be used for ill is expressed so often that it is a truism. Yes, some technologies can be used to kill or otherwise harm people, deliberately or accidentally. Yes, it is important to use technologies prudently and ethically, with considerations for the likely effects of a particular application. But this is like saying, “Yes, you can choke if you eat food. You should chew and ingest carefully.” But just as the possibility of choking is not an argument against food, neither is the possibility of technological misuse an argument against technological progress, or even against unfettered progress. The developers of new technologies themselves are among the most conscious and thoughtful about possible risks. The users of new technologies, too, have the moral responsibility and the rational incentive to use their judgment to minimize harms to themselves and others. The coercive imposition of harm by some against others – irrespective of the level of technology used – should be deterred and penalized by law and by public opinion. Furthermore, the discussions of various emerging risks in academic and policy circles has been so extensive and thorough that we are not at risk of understating the risks. We are at risk of the exact opposite: understanding the benefits of radical technological progress and thereby foregoing the achievements that are or shortly will be within our technical grasp. As I previously expressed, what I fear most is not runaway technology endangering humankind, but rather a drawn-out stagnation because the majority of people and the institutions they control are overly fearful of innovation. There are enough diverse voices cautioning us; I do not need to be another. Instead, I would be a voice encouraging humans to progress, to improve their lives, and to mitigate the already existing risks we face every day because we humans are insufficiently advanced, both in our technologies and – for most of us – in our attitudes toward them. And, of course, what bigger risk is there than that of each of our eventual demises? Are we to ignore this very real and ubiquitous Dragon-Tyrant before us, only to speculate about dystopian futures which are remote in probability at most?
Some – mostly those who did not read the book – allege that I advocate for an unrealistic indestructibility, yet Death is Wrong focuses primarily on life extension through the reversal of senescence. It is true that this would not remove all sources of risk, and accidents and disasters would remain possible. I am not offering or projecting a panacea. Rather, I make an observation of a far more proximate nature – that radically greater longevity from any causes would dramatically affect humans’ attitudes toward other risks and present a considerable incentive to develop technologies and societal solutions to reduce the probability of harm from those sources as well. I elaborate upon this tendency – one that is already well underway – in my article “Life Extension and Risk Aversion”. I do see the possibility for some people not to die at all due to the continuation of this risk reduction through technological and societal progress. This technological immortality is distinctly different in kind from the mythical immortality of gods and spirits. Every being, now and in the future, remains subject to natural laws; in Francis Bacon’s words “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” To keep living without bound, one must learn how to harness the natural laws to make it so – and one must continually maintain the conditions that enable such harnessing to occur.
Finally, do I intend for children to be paralyzed by worry about death? Quite the opposite! I want them to grow up motivated to fight it and to win new territory for life. Irrespective of whether any given individual will overcome death or achieve indefinite life, the goal remains a worthwhile one. One of Joelle Renstrom’s most perplexing misunderstandings about Death is Wrong was that children might be led to think that those who died were somehow wrong. Why would I blame the innocent victims of death? It is death that is wrong, not they. Furthermore, death is still wrong, even for those who do not manage to escape it. As Dr. Bill Andrews of Sierra Sciences puts it, we should “cure aging or die trying”! It is better to put up a good fight and lose, than to resign oneself to defeat without trying. It is better to, in Dylan Thomas’s words, “rage, rage against the dying of the light”, than to delude oneself by considering the dying to be good in some illusory “greater” sense. Children, in the everyday course of learning about reality, cannot avoid seeing the massive cruelty, suffering, and barbarism still present in the world. Compared to the genuine travesties committed by Nazi Germany – justifiably considered an important part of history for children to learn about – is not the message that death can be combated and possibly overcome a message of hope – an inspiration to action rather than a call to despair? I certainly think so, and I will proclaim this message proudly.
Now is the time for massive cultural change – catalyzed by this discussion about the fight against death, a discussion that prevailing mindsets have avoided for far too long. Let there be controversy and debate, as long as enough people come to see the need to make a decisive push for scientific and technological progress now, in our lifetimes, while we still have a fighting chance as individuals. A colossally better future – be it one of indefinite longevity, radical abundance, and/or the technological Singularity – will not come about automatically. It requires people to bring it about through action and advocacy. It requires us, and it requires today’s children as well.