It is in the nature of things for people to become more accepting of the imperfect state of the world and the flawed human condition with advancing age, to lose that youthful indignation and urge to change all that causes suffering and injustice. We can blame a range of things for this, but I suspect that it has a lot to do with the growth in wealth and connections that occurs over the years for most individuals. Whatever your starting level, on average the 50-year-old you will be in a better place than the 20-year-old you. The gains you have amassed merge with nostalgia in a slow erosion of the desire to tear down walls and shake up your neighbors: things are better for you, and isn’t that a good thing? Not everyone is this way, of course, but it is a dynamic to be aware of in your relationship with the world. It is human nature to measure today against yesterday, and feel good about gains that are relatively large but absolutely small.
Acceptance of death and aging is the mindset I am thinking in particular here. The unpleasant ends of life are dim and distant myths when you are young and vigorous in your search for world-changing causes. It is the rare young individual who is willing to devote his or her life in preparation for a time half a century down the road. The older folk who feel the pressures of time and encroaching frailty are those who have become more accepting, however. To fight aging and work on rejuvenation treatments is an intrinsically hard sell in comparison to many other ventures. The youth think they have time to focus on other matters first, and the old have come to terms.
Nonetheless, with rapid progress in biotechnology year after year the number of people needed to get the job done is falling rapidly. Ten million supporters willing to put in a little time or money (rather than just a wave and a good word) and the careers of a few thousand scientists and biotechnicians is probably more than is needed at this point, a level of support that lies in a similar ballpark to that of the cancer or stem-cell research communities. We are not there yet, though support for scientific, medical approaches to the treatment and prevention of aging has grown in a very encouraging fashion over the past decade. At any time in the next year or so you might see mainstream press articles in noted publications favorably mention the SENS Research Foundation, regenerative medicine, Google’s Calico initiative, and progress in genetic science all in the same few paragraphs.
We are here, where we are, precisely because numerous people retained a youthful fire and verve, and indignation and horror of aging and death. Despite the ever-present opposition from a mainstream that once mocked aging research, these iconoclasts put in the work that has raised funds, created organizations, and changed minds: all seeds for tomorrow’s grand rejuvenation research community. This is a work in progress. But let us take a moment to admire some of the fire from those driving things along at the grassroots level:
Accepting death is in fact choosing it. In the face of recent discoveries and progress in science, medicine, technology – it is a matter of choice. Pretending to be fearless in the face of death isn’t some form of heroism. It isn’t reasonable or courageous. It is quite the opposite. It is taking the easy way out. Let’s repeat it – death really is the easy way out. You fall asleep; you get a bullet; cancer kills you; some choose suicide; some accept aging and its effects as an inexorable given. The hard truth here that we should be prepared to acknowledge is: accepting death is the true cowardice, no matter the circumstances. Fighting it and choosing life is the true courage.
Critics of indefinite life extension, don’t put on a snide, condescending face and tell me that you aren’t afraid of death, because you are, too.
By your own knee-jerk flippancy, reactionary admission, you are also afraid of life. You’re afraid of death, and you’re afraid of life. You say, right to us, all the time, that you don’t want to bear to deal with the drastic changes, you don’t want to live without all your friends and family around, you don’t want to live with war still being a reality anywhere. You can’t stand all the jerks and the dangerous people, and rich people, or tyrants, controlling you for one decade longer than a traditional lifespan. The thought of it makes you want to jump into your grave right now to get away from this big, bad, scary life.
You, my friend, are afraid of life. Living scares you. You think of life and you cower. You see the challenges of life and you’re too scared to face them. You wouldn’t dare form and join teams and initiatives to meet those challenges on the intellectual combat fields of dialectics and action. You don’t have what it takes. Life isn’t for you. It’s not your thing. So love your death, fear your life. Do that if that’s what you want.
I am afraid of death. It scares me to think of losing my life. I value my life. I have no shame in that. That is the reasonable thing to do. What I have shame for is that anybody would think that being afraid of death might possibly be something to mock.
You mock us for being afraid of death. We are afraid of death; it’s a logical and positive thing to be afraid in the face of it. It reminds a person to take action against danger. It’s your being afraid of life that is to be mocked. So stand up and tell us how afraid you are of living. We promise not to look upon you with too much shame, and we promise to lend you a hand if you need help crossing over to the land of reason.
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.