August 21, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.