24 August 2008

I rage

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Dylan Thomas, Wales, 1951

Imagine an old man -- a very old man.

Ninety-plus years of life have taken their toll. He feels weak even at the best of times. He can no longer work, he can no longer run, he can no longer think or remember as clearly as he once could. But why?

Biochemical waste products have accumulated within his cells, degrading their function. Beta-amyloid has built up throughout the intercellular spaces of his brain, causing Alzheimer's disease. Mitochondrial DNA mutations have spread free-radical damage throughout his system. His heart and brain have suffered cell depletion because key cells in those organs do not divide and are thus not replaced when they die. Protein-molecule glycation has stiffened and weakened his blood vessels. DNA mutations in his cell nuclei have turned some cells toxic, perhaps even cancerous. If it were not for these things, his body and mind would still be as vigorous as they were when he was thirty.

These forms of cumulative damage are not qualitatively different from the kinds of degenerative diseases which medical science is already well on the way to solving. Indeed, treatments for most of them are already at least theoretically imaginable or in some cases already at the animal-testing stage. The aging process is not an immutable fact of life which we need to simply take as a given. It is a biological-engineering problem, albeit a fearfully-complex one.

The old man lies down to sleep, and sometime during the night, something goes wrong. Most likely his heart, having beat two and a half billion times without rest, simply gives out. His blood ceases to flow. His brain cells, starved of oxygen, begin to die at the rate of billions every second. The intricate network of trillions upon trillions of synaptic connections which make up this one unique individual's personality and consciousness and memories, dies and shrivels and begins to decompose into meaningless mush. He is gone. Decades of experience and memory and thoughts vanish into nothingness. The aging process claims another victim, one of the hundred thousand humans it will kill this day -- as it kills a hundred thousand of us every day, week by week, month by month, year by year.

I hate cemeteries, those morbid monuments to the inability of our species. There the rotted residua of what were once living, self-aware beings lie buried, never again to see or hear or think or imagine or learn, under stones engraved with the pathetic lies of our absurd, futile religions -- forged to comfort those who yet live and mourn the dead. No, they are not in some asinine Heaven, they are not at rest, they are not anywhere. They have simply become not.

But we are no longer helpless. This is not 1951. We today can do more than rage. We can fight!

Yet still I rage. I feel loathing and contempt for those people who damnably stand against mankind's cause in this great struggle, those who proclaim bovine acceptance and passivity toward decrepitude and death, those who want this ghastly carnage to keep forever scything down human beings in the future as it has always done in the past.

When a 30-year-old dies of some disease, we view it as a horror and a tragedy. Everyone supports the struggle of medical science to eradicate those few diseases which still kill young people. But the 90-year-old is no less worthy. It is an unspeakable outrage that a human being should die merely because he has existed for a long time. It is an unspeakable outrage that any human being should accept and embrace death as our right and proper fate.

We humans will not have truly triumphed until our greatest and most terrible enemy -- death itself -- is beaten. This is war -- a war of self-defense against this hideous thing which is slaughtering our kind, killing a hundred thousand of us every day. We must ignore the naysayers and pessimists and fatalists. We can do this. Our minds and our knowledge have grown great enough. We can defeat this enemy. We can kill death.


Blogger Prash said...

We can kill death

Frankly, I wish I die at the age of 95. I am really happy that there is death (when I think about my death at old age). But when I think this:

I just got back from a funeral of my American friend. He fell from a 38th floor. He was young (just 39 years old). He fell from his balcony by accident when he went there to have a smoke before sleep.

I really don't know...

At 95, I am sure that I would embrace death maybe not with happiness but accepting it as fate and I always knew that I am going to die one day or the other.

24 August, 2008 23:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I wish I die at the age of 95.

I think when you are 94 you will feel differently, especially if you can still be healthy and vigorous at that age.

I would embrace death maybe not with happiness but accepting it as fate

By the time you reach that age, we will be long used to the fact that we don't think of death as "fate" any more.

25 August, 2008 06:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never been taught anything my whole life except to see death as part of a natural organic process. It is hard to imagine "life" without it.

It will be interesting to follow the debate that will ensue as the idea of not having to accept "fate" sinks into the human psyche. I know I find it hard to grasp.

25 August, 2008 08:19  
Blogger Prash said...

Only future will tell us ! I don't how I will think about that in 10 years...95 is a long way to go !

But when you say that we are not fighting for those who are older and we think it is not worthy enough for a fight...I agree with you. But at the same time, I understand (doesn't mean that I agree).

25 August, 2008 08:40  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I suspect we will adapt more easily than many imagine, especially since the innovations that do away with aging will be phased in gradually as they are developed, rather than all becoming available at once.

Humans used to accept periodic famines and epidemics, mass illiteracy, and a 50% infant-mortality rate as just being inevitable facts of life, too. We today would consider such conditions almost unendurable. Fifty years from now we will look back in similar revulsion and disbelief upon a time when humans used to age and die.

25 August, 2008 08:44  
Blogger Fran said...

I thought I left a comment... anyway, you know how I feel, but this is a thought provoking matter.

And I never shy away from those.

26 August, 2008 09:20  

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