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Here's the Rage

Reason over at Fight Aging! (a blog I've been neglecting lately; I promise to do better) directs us to a passionate new blog called Longevity First, where Jay raises some fundamental questions:

Where Is the Rage?

Every year, over 50 million people die. Over 30 million of those deaths were not caused by murder, or suicide, or accidents, or war, or starvation, or contagious diseases. Rather, those 30 million deaths were caused by aging. To be more specific, those deaths were caused by the diseases that increase exponentially with age, diseases tied in a seemingly inextricable way to aging itself.

Where Is the Sorrow?

So where is the sorrow? Why does society seem content with apathy? Why does society seem so unfeeling about the outrage that is aging and death? Why don't people mourn the loss of countless thousands of people every day.

It is utterly frustrating to know that a cure for aging is possible, and in fact would probably cost less than what we are spending to cure cancer. It is utterly frustrating, because society is in denial. Not only a denial that such a cure is even possible, but in denial that such a cure is necessary and desirable. In short, society is content with letting aging and death continue to decimate the world's population every decade or so. (Note hear that I use the traditional meaning of decimate, to systematically kill one of every ten people.)

I look at this situation, and I can't help but wonder, where is the sorrow? Why don't people have empathy for the hundreds of thousands of people who lose a parent, sibling, child, or close friend, each and every day.

First off, I'm not sure it's fair to say that people "don't have empathy" for the masses who die every year, or every day. When the greatest monster of the 20th Century (a title hard won against fierce competition) cynically quipped that a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic, he was tapping into the fact that empathy tends to diminish with distance and that a very large loss of life is a difficult thing to grasp.

A lady I know from a community organization lost her husband (essentially to old age) about a month ago. He was a neat guy, and I was only just getting to know him when he died. I have to say that I feel his loss more deeply than I do any of the individual deaths resulting from the Tsunami tragedy (which occurred at about the same time.) And I'm probably more empathetic to his widow than I am to those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Does that mean I'm an uncaring lout? Possibly. But I believe that, somewhere along the line, empathy has to become more detached and intellectualized or we would all just drown in despair. The acceptance of death (and worse, the insistence that it is somehow a "good thing") which Jay rightly pleads against is no doubt a defense mechanism that our ancestors adopted thousands of years ago. As I have argued previously, our ancestors were rational creatures, as keenly aware of the fact that death sucks as we are — if not more so.

Our ancestors engaged in a war against death that we're still fighting today. They threw everything they had and everything they could think up at the enemy, and as a result we now have science and medicine and religion and, really, the whole of human culture. They were relentless and tenacious fighters, but (being rational creatures) they understood the limitations of the war they were able to wage. As a group, the clan/tribe/people would fight on until the end of time, making what progress they could against death. But as individuals, it had to be acknowledged that each and every soldier would one day fall to the enemy.

That was a terrible thing. An unacceptable thing. But it had to be accepted anyway. Refusing to acknowledge the inevitability of death would have made as much sense as refusing to acknowledge the inevitability of gravity. It was pointless, and you would go crazy if you thought too much about that kind of thing.

It's only within the past couple of centuries that human beings have had our first real victories in the war with gravity. Getting to the first hot air balloons, much less to Kitty Hawk, required an enormous paradigm shift on the part of a few visionaries. Only after these heroes showed the rest of the world that gravity could be beaten did the mass of humanity come around to shifting paradigms.

That's encouraging, but the "inevitability of death" paradigm is far more entrenched that the "inevitability of gravity" paradigm. There's so much more at stake. To acknowledge that life might go on for decades or centuries longer than we've ever known it to is to kindle a hope that lies hidden in the heart of every human being.

No, it isn't hidden. It's buried.

And why is it buried?

It's buried because the sum of human history (up to this point) shows us that it's a false hope, that those who engage in it stand to be crushed by disappointment. Life extension advocates need to realize that the opposition they encounter has less to do with ignorance or superstition or callousness as it does with this lingering (once rational, but now less so) fear. As Aubrey de Grey put it:

But the deeper question is, why do people find that sort of thinking attractive? I think the only reason is denial: people know they can't escape aging, so they find ways to convince themselves that it's okay not to escape it. When people cease to "know" that aging is inevitable, this whole way of thinking will vanish overnight.

Aubrey's right. And, unfortunately, I think the only way we'll get to the point where people no longer "know" that death from aging is inevitable is when we have some very youthful 80-120 year olds who can attest to it personally. Yes, a lot of people will needlessly die between now and then. But again, we're talking about an unprecedented paradigm shift. Once we cross that particular chasm, my guess is that things will happen very fast. The rage that Jay is looking for will be awakened, and it will completely reshape our world.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Here's the Rage:

» Phil Bowermaster on "Where's the Rage" from Fight Aging!
Phil Bowermaster of the Speculist has some interesting things to say about Jay Fox's piece on healthy life extension and advocacy entitled "Where's the Rage": Our ancestors engaged in a war against death that we're still fighting today. They threw ever... [Read More]

» I Wish I Was A Better Writer from Classical Values
As it is, I have a hard time balancing flippancy and venom. The more sincerely I feel about something, the more I'm drawn towards shrill peevishness and bilious ranting. Except, of course, when I talk about Leon Kass... I realize... [Read More]


Fortunately, life extension will not require a vote or a consensus to accomplish. In his book about the Wright brothers, Noah Adams wrote about how some Kitty Hawk ministers spoke against the Wright brothers - that they were tresspassing on God's territory.


The misgivings of those ministers didn't stop the Wright brothers any more than Leon Kass will stop de Grey.

All it will take is sufficiently advanced prerequisite technology, a few maverick geniuses, money, and (tragically) some time.

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