27 January 2008

The relentless carnage

Imagine a terrible disease.

Imagine that this disease is rather like AIDS. Given enough time, it kills every single person who suffers from it. It kills them all very slowly and rather horribly, by a gradual process of wasting and degeneration -- weakening the body, dulling the senses, enfeebling every organ, enervating the sex drive, sometimes even deadening the memory and the capacity for reason, so much so that identity itself begins to fade as death approaches.

Now imagine that every person on Earth has this disease.

Imagine that there is no cure. As with AIDS, science has found ways to alleviate some of the symptoms and to slow down the degeneration a little, but that is all. Only a small but growing number of visionary scientists even dare declare that a cure is possible.

Imagine that among the religious and the tradition-minded, there are many who believe that this disease is good -- who actually oppose all efforts to find a cure. The relentless toll of misery and death means nothing to them. The disease must be preserved, must be allowed to continue to torment and kill, for ever and ever.

This is the situation we are actually in right now.

The disease is called aging.

When the clock strikes midnight tonight, it will mark the end of yet another day during which approximately a hundred thousand human beings worldwide died of old age. The same thing happened yesterday -- another hundred thousand people died of old age yesterday, too. The same thing will happen tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and so on. A hundred thousand a day. That's equivalent to a small city being wiped out every day. It's a greater toll than September 11 every hour.

We have come to accept this terrible situation as normal because for the whole history of our species there was nothing we could do about it, any more than we could do anything about smallpox or the Black Death. The aging process was beyond our understanding -- indeed, it was far beyond the range of things we were mentally equipped to question. It was simply a given, an immutable fact of existence.

We are on the verge of being able to change that.

There is no greater moral imperative for modern science and technology, or for the governments which to a great extent fund and guide scientific research.

Every objection, every obstruction and delay, every vile law discouraging stem-cell research written by ignorant legislators brainwashed by Bronze Age religious taboos -- all of it prolongs the reign of this merciless horror that scythes down a hundred thousand of us every day.

A hundred thousand a day. Tens of millions every year. All of them cast into oblivion, never again to experience anything, to learn anything, to think anything.

I am infuriated with those "bio-ethicists" who actually want this relentless carnage to continue forever because they believe that a slow, ghastly, meaningless death is somehow an integral part of being human. I am frustrated with the millions who actually take a kind of pride in their bovine passivity in the face of the doom that slowly but surely creeps toward them, even when their eyes are opened to the possibility that a massive onslaught of money and brainpower could liberate our species forever from this horror in as little as twenty years.

I don't want to die. I don't see any reason why I should die. I don't see any reason why you should die either.

We can do it! But we as a species need to wake up both to the reality of our situation and to the fact of our power, now, to do something about it.

Like billions of others you are in a trance. And if you stay that way, eventually it will kill you.

Wake up!


Anonymous the deacon said...

Thank you for the challenging thoughts. Though I am not opposed to stem-cell research, I would not agree with the statement that “every vile law discouraging stem-cell research written by ignorant legislators brainwashed by Bronze Age religious taboos” or the implication the bio-ethicists are resisting change. Clearly there are many opponents of stem-cell research who are driven by ignorance and/or by emotions and fears. There are just as many supporters who are driven by their own fears, ignorance and unrealistic expectations.

Yet there are some who are asking some hard questions and pushing the scientific community to think through the whats, hows, whys and the consequences. We need to have people who question major developments. Just because it can be done does not mean we should do it. We need people who question the value, hows, whys of a range of advancements from genetic engineering to chemical utilization in the foot chain, from cloning to energy development. Such questions give us pause so that we can think through issues in a thoughtful manner. While not moving forward as quickly as I would desire stem-cell research is moving forward. Hopefully the next election will help bring forward greater progress, but hopefully the hard questions will still be asked and rationale expected.

27 January, 2008 19:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

There are just as many supporters who are driven by their own fears, ignorance and unrealistic expectations.

I've never seen any examples of this. The evidence of the enormous potential of stem cells is very clear. The problem is that it hasn't yet penetrated into the mass public mind. People don't realize what accomplishments have been delayed by the Bush administration's obstructionism. Aubrey de Grey:

Embryonic stem cells have been used to cure animal models of some of the most fearsome diseases human beings suffer, such as juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy, stroke, Parkinson's disease, a form of paralysis caused by a virus that induces a standard mouse model of ALS, and -- very recently -- macular degeneration (Ending Aging, pp- 247-248).

These are not "expectations". These things have already been done -- in animals. What remains to be done is to adapt the technology for human beings, test it, and move on to mass implementation to actually help the millions of humans who suffer from these conditions.

or the implication the bio-ethicists are resisting change

Not all of them, as my phrasing made clear, but there is definitely a strong pro-death element among so-called bio-ethicists. I'm thinking particularly of people like Leon Kass.

We need to have people who question major developments. Just because it can be done does not mean we should do it.

We have never had any shortage of people who "questioned" technological progress. Many religious people objected to the first treatments for venereal disease on the grounds that they would encourage "immorality". Vaccines, contraception, flight -- almost every innovation has been attacked by timid people who thought mankind was getting above its station and trespassing where God did not mean us to go. Yes, of course not every possible thing should be done. But when we have religious fanatics in Congress and the White House obstructing research that could lead to cures for stroke damage and macular degeneration in humans, this is a clear-cut case of good against evil. The same is true of the deathists who oppose research to finally eradicate the curse of aging which kills about forty million people a year.

Hopefully the next election will help bring forward greater progress

Choose life.

but hopefully the hard questions will still be asked and rationale expected.

What more rationale do you need beyond saving the lives of forty million people a year?

Thanks for commenting.

29 January, 2008 04:58  
Blogger tina said...

I'm all for stem cell research, but what about over population? If we live forever, what then? I'm just curious.

30 January, 2008 04:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Hi Tina, thanks for commenting.

Overpopulation is a common objection to life extension. To put my response to it in a nutshell:

- We don't know for sure that ending aging means people would live forever. It would mean people would live as long as they want to. For obvious reasons, we don't yet know how a person who had lived 500 years would feel about living another 500. Several people who comment on this site have said they wouldn't want to live forever even if they could. I don't believe them, but that's what they say.

- Birth rates in most rich countries and many poor countries are already far below replacement level. Even if death from aging is gradually eliminated, population growth will be quite slow by the standards of the last 200 years.

- The Earth's population is now almost 20 times what it ever was before about 400 years ago, yet the standard of living is much higher. Most people even in the Third World have a higher real standard of living than people in the richest countries did 400 years ago. Famines used to be regular occurrences everywhere; today they're almost unknown despite the huge increase in numbers. Technological progress has been expanding our ability to produce wealth from new sources much faster than our population has grown. Right now, technological progress is accelerating even while population growth slows down, and this trend will continue to escalate.

- The main reason overpopulation might be a bad thing is that it might lead to shortages and conflicts which might kill people. But aging is killing huge numbers of people right now. I put a higher priority on the real, present problem than on the possible, future one.

As Aubrey de Grey says, would ending aging create problems? Of course it would. Would it create any problems as serious as the death of a hundred thousand people a day? No.

30 January, 2008 06:59  
Blogger Leah said...

A fascinating perspective. I fully support stem cell research, though I don't know that I support immortality. I'm in favor of improving quality of life for as long as we do live, and certainly we shouldn't put off improving and extending lives until we solve the problems of overpopulation. These are separate issues.

28 August, 2010 19:58  

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